Tuesday, March 26, 2024

#AuthorInterview with Pam Atherstone, author of Copper and His Rescue Friends

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Pam Atherstone, author of Copper and His Rescue Friends.

FQ: First, I'd like to congratulate you on writing such a heartwarming book. I enjoyed every page of "Copper and His Rescue Friends." With several books to your credit, what inspired you to write a book about animal rescue?

ATHERSTONE: Thank you so much; I’m always thrilled to know people enjoy my stories.

My inspiration for “Copper” is the current situation in the pet world, specifically dogs. I feel that most of the problems with shelters and rescues being overwhelmed by unwanted dogs are a consequence of the pandemic. People staying home, especially those who worked remotely, obtained canine companions. However, those wonderful companions became an issue when they returned to work. So, the poor dogs have been surrendered to shelters or dumped off somewhere for people who care to deal with them. It’s a very sad situation, and by writing this story and targeting the middle school age group, I hope to educate and inspire the younger group to step up and help in some way.

FQ: Copper is delightful! Is he based on a real dog?

ATHERSTONE: Copper is a figment of my imagination, coupled with memories of a labrador mix in my childhood neighborhood. That dog was Duffy. He was big, he was yellow, and although Duffy was never in a rescue situation, I could see his personality come alive in Copper, as I wrote.

FQ: What about the other dogs and cats in the book? Are they based on real animals? And are their stories real, or are their stories based on cases you've encountered?

Author Pam Atherstone

ATHERSTONE: The other animals are a combination of stories I have heard from people in rescue, my own experiences, and some inventiveness. For example, Amethyst, the antisocial Siamese who accepts love from an autistic child, was based on a personal experience. The real cat was a calico who had suffered endless torment from a woman in her nineties who had dementia. When the woman passed, and we had to find a home for the cat, we found that no one could handle her until one day, when she instantly connected with an autistic child. It was a true miracle to witness the loving bond form between them.

FQ: Rusty's story really hit hard. When he explains, "...one day, my ears started bothering me; they burned down deep inside...my human mama started brushing my ears, and the more she brushed, the more they hurt. I tried to pull away from her, but she kept holding me down and brushing and brushing; I finally couldn't take it anymore, so I bit her hand..." Wow, how sad. It really shows kids to look for underlying causes when dogs act out. Is Rusty a real dog? Or is this a real case? And if so, what was actually wrong with Rusty?

ATHERSTONE: Yes, Rusty was a real dog. His story was sadder than I related. Cockers and other long-eared dogs often suffer from ear infections. However, the real Rusty had ear mites that penetrated his brain, causing permanent and irreversible damage. Unfortunately, his aggressiveness could not be reversed, so he had to be euthanized.

FQ: Telling the story from Copper's viewpoint was a great idea. Was it hard to write the story this way? I have to imagine that you had to put yourself in Copper's mind as he tried to figure out what was going on.

ATHERSTONE: Writing from Copper’s point of view was fun. How many cute memes and videos have you seen on social media putting words into the mouths of pets? This was probably the underlying inspiration for me. We all seem to anthropomorphize our animal companions in some way, so why not let them educate as well? I hoped doing so would draw young readers into the story and make it enjoyable.

FQ: Rescue work must be very close to your heart. Do you currently help out at a rescue? Or do you have experience working with rescue animals?

ATHERSTONE: Except for my horse, who was born in my pasture, all of our animals are rescue animals and have been for more than forty years. Suka, our husky, was found roaming the streets of a drug-filled ghetto neighborhood, scrounging through drug paraphernalia, looking for food. She was about six months old and emaciated, and her fur was matted when she came to us. She is now six years old and a fantastic, loving pup. Chloe, a Staffordshire terrier-Shar-pei mix, was dumped on the road on a scorching day (108f) when she was about nine months old. She was scared and had minor burns on her paws when my son found her and brought her home. She’s now two and quite a handful. She’s always into something, but we love her endlessly. We also maintain a colony of feral cats and have adopted an abandoned pot-bellied pig.

My time is limited, but I assist when I can. Our local shelter depends on volunteers for many things. Even if I only have enough time to help prepare meals, wash bowls and blankets, and do other menial tasks, it supports the overworked staff. I also help in supplementary ways; monetary and equipment donations and education opportunities can go a long way to assisting those who can give their all for our innocent, loving companions.

FQ: Your book talks about some harsh realities - a family member dying, abusing an animal, etc. Was it hard to decide what to discuss or in how much detail?

ATHERSTONE: It was sometimes hard to decide on the amount of detail to include. The harsh realities of life are just that—realities. I want kids to know that these things happen and that they should know about them. Some of the tragic stories those in rescue have told me would make you sick to your stomach. While I wanted to be honest about the realities, I didn’t want to overdo them. I want to educate without being sensationalistic. That is also why each chapter ends with a life lesson, whether it’s for Copper or the reader.

FQ: You've written both children's books and adult fiction. Do you prefer one over the other? Do you find one easier? I know some people think, mistakenly, that children's books are easy to write. What would you tell them?

ATHERSTONE: Each genre has its own challenges. I write historical fiction for adults, which requires extensive research, character development, story continuity, and attention to the small details.

Children's picture books can be challenging in getting a complete story into a few short pages of text worded in a way small children can understand. If the author writes in rhyme, the story must follow the rules of poetry and still make sense. Something I haven’t really achieved as yet, although I have tried. Then, once you have the story perfected, you must consider the illustrations, especially if the author is not an artist. Finding an illustrator is another research-filled process.

“Copper” is aimed at mid-grade readers, but that was a challenge, too. Research on word count and current language is necessary, as is consideration for the different reading skills within an age group. I consulted several teachers and received helpful feedback, although some of it was contradictory and confusing.

FQ: In your biography, you mention enrolling in a writing class that spurred you to start your writing career. What would you tell others who want to start writing but are hesitant? Should they take a writing class? 

ATHERSTONE: I encourage everyone considering writing to take a class, workshop, or join a critique group. These opportunities enable one to learn the chosen genre technique and connect with other writers. The camaraderie and feedback are invaluable to developing the craft and expanding one’s knowledge.

Since that first class, I have attended all-day workshops and seminars, joined critique groups where authors write in all genres, including screenwriting, and been invited to join the National Association of American Pen Women and the Dog Writers Association of America, two prestigious writing organizations.

I wouldn't be writing at all if it had not been for that first writing class (which I still attend).

FQ: What advice would you offer someone who wants to get involved in helping animals in need?

ATHERSTONE: ADOPT DON’T SHOP- give a shelter or rescue pet a new chance at love and a good home. So many of the animals in shelters and rescues come from backyard breeders and indiscriminate reproduction. Buying from these people only encourages them to keep breeding for the money.

If you can’t adopt, FOSTER. Fostering is essential because it allows the animal a chance to decompress. Many dogs do not do well in the shelter environment; they shut down emotionally or become reactive, actions that prevent them from finding new homes. However, fostering allows them to be who they are and discover there is love for them.

If you can’t foster, VOLUNTEER. Volunteering is something children can do. Cleaning bowls or cages, taking dogs on walks, brushing cats, and showing them love are huge assists to rescue workers.

If you can’t volunteer, DONATE. Rescues are typically non-profit organizations that can use funds for veterinary bills, medications, food, vaccinations, and spay and neuter procedures. In addition to monetary donations, shelters, and rescues can always use blankets, towels, sheets, pet beds, leashes, and collars.

If you can’t donate, EDUCATE. Learn about what rescues and shelters do to save unwanted or abused animals. Encourage friends and family to have their pets spayed and neutered. Tell people about the importance of microchipping pets and keeping the microchip information up to date so lost animals are returned to their owners and don’t end up in shelters. My horse is microchipped, too.

Copper and His Rescue Friends is my small way of helping by educating children about rescue and donating the proceeds from the book's sales to local rescues to help them help the animals.

Anyone can do something to help save lives!

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