A powerful tale. ~Kirkus
Told in vivid, heartbreaking detail and filled with strong, developed characters, this novel tackles an important theme in a compelling way. In Kiri, young readers will find a protagonist who, although at times afraid, finds the courage to do what she believes to be right. ~Booklist
Earnest, heartfelt, and passionate, this book will likely inspire new environmentalists. ~Bulletin
The Last Panther, Assistant Professor Todd Mitchell’s latest book, was officially released this week. A book launch party is being held tomorrow, Friday the 25th, at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House, 5-6:30 pm, (find out all the details here). Even though it’s a busy week for him, Todd was kind enough to take the time to answer a few of our questions about the book, his process, and his advice for aspiring writers.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
For years, I was looking for a book that could be used to discuss, with young people, our connection to the greater ecology, and the ways we can act to address some of the biggest environmental problems we currently face. I wasn’t able to find the sort of book I was looking for, though. Most novels that addressed issues like climate change, resource depletion, and species extinction were for older audiences. And the books I did find that addressed such issues were often apocalyptic and depressing. Then, one day, it hit me: Why not write the book I’m looking for? Why not create a story where I could explore, from all angles, the issues I care most deeply about?
It’s funny how long it took me to come to that conclusion. I think I spent a long time avoiding writing about the issues closest to my heart because I feared it would be too difficult to explore such issues in an entertaining way. I wanted others to shoulder the burden of figuring out how to tell such a story. However, writing this book wasn’t a burden at all. Once I gave myself permission to tell the story I wanted to tell, it became the best writing experience of my life.
You mentioned that you wrote this book with your daughter. How was that process different from writing your other books?
This is what made writing this book so much fun: I knew exactly who I was writing for. My daughter, Addison, was ten at the time I developed the first draft. Every night, I’d read a chapter to her and get her feedback on what she liked, what confused her, and what other ideas she had for the story. Then I’d revise that chapter, keeping her feedback in mind, and how she reacted to the story as I read it.
I think having a clear audience in mind is vital for any writing project. This was the first time, though, that I was able to read to that audience on a nightly basis and get her feedback. I’m grateful for all that Addison added to the book (the pet rat was her idea, BTW. And she’s the one who named him Snowflake).
Is there an ongoing theme (or themes) in your books? Is there a common thread or message in the stories you tell?
I usually write books to explore questions that interest and trouble me. So if there’s a common theme among my books, it’s that every book began with a question I couldn’t stop asking myself. With The Last Panther, that question was “What is a species worth?” How far would you go to keep a species, like the Florida panther, from extinction? How far should we go as a society to do this? And how do we value other parts of creation? Each of the main characters is brought to a point in the story where he or she must decide what they value most. And each comes up with a different answer (sometimes this answer surprises them). Writing this book helped me to understand the deep, often unstated values that underly many of our current conflicts.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write the story you’re most afraid to tell. The difficulty here is that sometimes, you don’t even know what you’re afraid to talk about until you discover that something’s holding you back. I think it’s important to give yourself permission to speak and write about the things you care most deeply about, even if you sound ridiculous doing it. This is a hard thing to do, because we’re afraid to be criticized for what we care about, or because we’re afraid to explore what’s difficult, or because we’re afraid to put ourselves at risk this way. But as the poet, Lee Upton, put it, “Our risk is our cure.” This is how you find the stories that mean the most to you. And if you can do that, you’ll probably find stories that mean something to others, too.
Join us in congratulating Todd on his new book, and for the release party!