This interview took place on my old compound many years ago at the Wild Animal Training Center (WATC). For those who have read my Almost Human Series, you will recognize what inspired me to create the setting where Dr. Chris Raven works and lives.
The audiobook of Becoming Human is about to be released. The actor/narrator, Kevin Chambers did an excellent job of bringing my humble effort to life. Here is a link to a sample: https://www.dropbox.com/s/
The Back Story
As an author, I’m pleased that readers have found my books, and from that success, I have developed a fan base. But, there are pitfalls to success. I find that I’m spending way too much time talking about writing instead of writing.
At first, it was validating to receive invitations to do newspaper and television interviews. I was excited to share the backstory of my books and talk about the techniques I had learned concerning my practice and craft. However, now I’m finding that I am spending most of my time marketing my product; my books. I am concerned that my books are becoming just that, products.
For me, book signings, interviews, and blog posts have become thieves of time. These endeavors tap into a different part of my brain; a part that seems to pull me away from my characters and the world I create in my novels.
After the release of Becoming Human, I found myself spending more and more time talking about writing instead of writing. I found myself going down a subtle and slippery road that led to not writing about what was most important to me; my third novel in the Almost Human series.
Recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. I need to taper off talking about writing and WRITE! I plan to get back to my morning routine of actually writing at least a thousand words, if not more and finish, my next book, More Than Human. I think starting the day writing first will add balance to any “marketing” that follows.
How about you? I’d love to hear from fellow writers on this subject. What are your solutions and practices, or is this even a problem for you?
I had a great time appearing on NBC KSEE24 talking about my new book, Becoming Human. Click on the photo above to view the interview.
Exploring the Ethics of Science
By MARY-JUSTINE LANYON
Renaissance Man – that term sums up the essence of Running Springs resident Ken Decroo. The retired educator has been a building contractor, a college professor, a teacher, a principal, an operator of fishing boats, an animal trainer.
Decroo is now an author. His first book, Almost Human, grew out of a conversation he had with two of the actors on the set of the movie Animal Behavior. Decroo was on set with Mike the chimp, whom he had taught some sign language. One of the actors, Armand Assante, told Decroo he couldn’t believe how humanlike Mike was.
“I put on my professor hat and told Armand about the similarities between humans and chimps,” Decroo said. “There’s a difference of one chromosome. The chimp is more closely related to us than they are to a gorilla.”
That conversation led to Decroo sitting down at the typewriter and writing the beginning of what would become a three-book series.
In Almost Human, creatures with the enormous strength and power of a chimpanzee and the intelligence and size of a human being are discovered in a remote area of equatorial Africa. Drs. Ken Turner and Fred Savage follow the rumors of these chimp-human hybrids, wanting to study them. The government, however, wants to exploit them.
While it took Decroo Thirty years to complete the first book, his second flowed much more quickly. He will be signing copies of Becoming Human at SkyPark at Santa’s Village on Feb. 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. All the proceeds from sales of the book will go to the PTA beautification project at Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School, where Decroo served as principal.
Decroo did not have a vision for a sci-fi thriller series but his characters, he said, “didn’t like the ending” he wrote for Almost Human. “There was more to tell,” Decroo said.
In Becoming Human he has tried to “flush out the ethics of science and our human relationship to animals – how it can go awry very quickly. Some of the characters are in it for the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Others are in it for how that knowledge could profit them,” Decroo said.
In Dr. Turner, readers will see the “ethics of what we owe animals.”
Much of what happens in Becoming Human actually occurred when Decroo was working with Washoe, a chimp he taught to communicate using 350 words of American Sign Language. “We were approached by the Department of Defense, offering us strings-attached grants to do research on the retrieval of dangerous devices using chimps. They put a lot of pressure on us but we weren’t interested,” Decroo said.
In the book, however, “they do bend. It’s tempting when there’s that kind of money involved.”
Decroo’s series of books – the third one, which will be called More Than Human, should go to press in the spring – “has to do with the ethics of science and the ethics of people who work with animals – what is expected of us. We don’t always come up to snuff,” Decroo said.
Becoming Human sets up the third book, in which Decroo will tie in some of the mysteries and myths of the Pacific Northwest.
Decroo said he usually writes in the evening when it’s quiet. “Some days the characters come and help me out,” he said.
Decroo is somewhat baffled when people ask him if he ever gets writer’s block. “Writers write – that’s what they do.” And while he tries not to set goals, if he writes 2,000 words, that’s a good day. A couple of hundred words is a less good day – but it all adds up, Decroo noted.
He tells the story of seeing a woman sitting on a beach in Mexico, reading Almost Human. It was a sight that amazed him.
And Decroo was amazed when he heard from Stephen King. Apparently, King had been considering writing a book with the same title, Almost Human, and came across Decroo’s book. “He bought it, read it, liked it and realized it was very different from what he was thinking of doing.”
That led to an exchange of emails between the two authors. King has offered some sage advice, like don’t read any reviews. He told Decroo that’s what his agent is for. He also suggested writing the first draft of a book with the door closed – in other words, don’t show that to anyone. “Don’t think of grammar, don’t edit,” King told Decroo. “You don’t want to affect the rhythm and flow of the story.” The second draft is the one you show to a select few people you trust.
Decroo said he developed the characters in his books based on real people “so people will know there are people who work with animals who truly love them.” Part of the purpose of writing these books is to show characters who are defined by their love of the animals.
“I tried to shed some light on worlds right under our noses that the average person doesn’t know exists,” Decroo said. “The culture of circuses and movies – I was part of those worlds.”
Ken Decroo will be signing his book Becoming Human at SkyPark at Santa’s Village on Feb 7 from 4 to 7 p.m.
I’ve been invited! Hope you will join us.
I’m often asked what the backstory is to my Almost Human Series. Recently, I wrote a short collection of some of my stories. In one way or another, they’ve worked their way into my novels, Almost Human and Becoming Human. You can get a free copy by signing up for my newsletter on this blog or email me at email@example.com. These experiences served as the foundation on which I built my characters and settings. The plot came from a deeper place, late at night, when the characters came to visit me and tell their stories as I wrote.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “In order to write about life you must live it.” While I’m not Hemingway, I believe this and have tried to write about what I know and have lived. Most of the time, my writing is loosely autobiographical.
Here is the first chapter of Animal Days. I hope you enjoy it!
Chapter One, Animal Days – Kenneth L. Decroo
One evening the mid-eighties, while working as the technical adviser and chimp trainer on the movie Animal Behavior, I relaxed after a long day of filming on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico with the movie’s human stars, Karen Allen and Armand Assante. After a few drinks, Armand commented on how humanlike my chimp Mike seemed. Mike, the animal star of the movie, played a chimp who used American Sign Language.
I put on my university professor hat and pontificated on all the traits we humans shared with chimps. I mentioned that they differed from us by only one chromosome; that we could catch a cold from them and them from us; that they had the same ABO blood type groups like us, and that they were more closely related to us than a gorilla. I talked about my work as a linguistic research assistant on a project in Reno that had successfully taught chimps to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) as used by the deaf.
The information fascinated them, and Karen asked, “Since chimps are so closely related to us, could they breed with humans?
“The famous primatologist Robert Yerkes once mentioned in one of his lectures that it was not only possible but also it’s rumored that the Soviets had attempted it in the 1920s,” I replied— remember that we’d had at a few drinks! “The rumor goes as far as suggesting that the Soviets had had success but the hybrids were on a ship that had burned at sea.”
My audience’s eyes widened, and we continued talking into the evening.
After the bar closed, I drove back to my accommodation, rolled some paper into my old Royal typewriter, sat down, and wrote chapter two. The setting is the University of Nevada, Reno, where I’d worked. In that chapter, Dr. Ken Turner gives a lecture filled with the information I’d shared with Karen and Armand.
The hour grew late, and I had an early call time. I’d just finished chapter two and was preparing for bed when Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald played on the radio. Inspired by the music, I rolled in another paper and wrote the first chapter in which a Soviet cargo ship carrying a mysterious cargo runs aground during a big storm. And so The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is another link in the circle that became the Almost Human Series.
I wrote those two chapters in 1984.
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING: “Becoming Human by Kenneth L. Decroo is a frightening tale of science unguided by ethics, and the devastation that can be wrought by government agencies that operate without benefit of effective oversight. Step-by-ominous-step, the author takes you from the relatively benign environs of Reno, Nevada to the dark menace of the Congolese jungles, to the even more dangerous environs of smuggling dens in Germany and the Netherlands. An eclectic, and all-too-believable cast of characters will hook your interest from page one, and at the end, leave you breathless and looking over your shoulder and wincing at every sound.” Charles Ray, Awesome Indies Book Awards.