Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Author Interview with David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

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Author Interview with David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

David Cruise and Alison Griffiths talk about their latest book, Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston (Simon & Schuster), animal protection, future projects and living and working together.

Q:

How did you come across the story of Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie).

DC & AG:

We were searching for a skeleton on which to hang the history of the horse in North America. We found and discarded a couple of possibilities before coming across Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston) who simply demanded that we write a biography about her.

It was a tremendous surprise to discover that this wonderful story hadn’t been written about since a fictionalized children’s book was published in the 1960s.

Q:

Any exciting research experiences or finds to tell us about?

DC & AG:

There were numerous Eurekas! with this book. We had no idea what to expect when we started researching, at that point Velma was only going to be a couple of chapters. Then we uncovered her papers in Denver and a lot of other material in family hands. She kept everything! Thousands and thousands of letters. Transcripts of phone calls also, including those times when the FBI was tapping her line.

David was allowed to rummage through some mouldering boxes in Velma’s old house then lived in by her niece Judy. In it he found the original Double-Lazy Heart door knocker from Velma’s ranch that had not been unwrapped for 60 years. Also there were several hundred letters to and from the famous children’s author, Marguerite Henry, carefully tucked away which became integral to our portrait of Velma.

One of the best parts about the research was uncovering the many facets of Wild Horse Annie – the wife and secretary, the political activist, the animal lover and also the disfigured woman who spent a lifetime overcoming how she looked.

Q:

Has writing this book changed the way you think about food or what you feed your pets?

DC & AG:

We’ve always been pretty aware of what we were feeding our animals and ourselves. However, we both grew up with pets and now realize what we were feeding them was mustang meat. Pretty awful.

What did strike us however was how brave were those in the early days of the animal protection movement when various unsung heroes made their first steps towards stopping brutality towards wild animals.

Q:

Do you think there are further improvements need to be made to our current laws regarding animal protection in Canada and in the US?

DC & AG:

Absolutely. And innovative partnerships are critical.

We recently had a three month writing/riding holiday in Florida, and we came across what we thought was an amazing idea. The humane society in our area was partnered with various local dog trainers to train up dogs that were taken in as rescues. It was a plus for everyone; the dogs got homes where the people could better handle and understand them and the trainers got work through future training.

Also, there are three prisons in the US where inmates, often with no prior experience, train wild horses. That is another example of the innovative programs we’re speaking about.

Q:

Can you tell us about the book’s involvement with the wild horse movement?

DC & AG:

We conducted numerous interviews with the various players, most of whom were inspired in one way or another by Velma, though she has been dead for more than 30 years. They have been very complimentary and supportive of the book though it is far from a hagiography. Many of them have put the book on their websites.

The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, Velma’s first organization, is selling the book on their website as a fund raiser. We are also donating some of the book’s proceeds to the wild horse movement.

The support of the wild horse movement has been a pleasant surprise to us as sometimes those with a stake in an issue can be quite jealous of their territory.

Wild Horse Annie is now in development for a feature film as well, which really feeds in to the current race to protect what few horses remain on public land. Some very high profile people are involved such as Madeleine Pickens, wife of oilman T. Boone Pickens. She bred the great racehorse Cigar. Also Sheryl Crow and Viggo Mortensen have become supporters of keeping wild horses free on open range.

Q:

You write and research as a team. How does the process work? How do you manage to strike a balance between your working and personal relationship?

DC & AG:

Hah! Next question!

Seriously we’ve been working and living together for 27 years, through thick and thin, two children, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, rats, Guinea pigs – and porcupines and skunks regularly found by our dogs.

We didn’t plan to write together it just happened over the years. In the beginning we started editing each other’s magazine stories to save time and from there one thing led to another.

Each book has been a little different, but typically one of us writes most of the first draft (we do many drafts) then the other does the second, filling in material from their research. By the time we’re finished each of us has probably done the same amount of original material.

In all the years that we’ve been writing together we’ve never found anyone else who works like we do.

This is by no means faster than a writer working alone but we’ve been able to tackle projects that we would have a hard time doing alone.

We aren’t really able to separate work and living together. We’d hate to tell you where and when we’ve come up with some of our story ideas.

Q:

What’s your next project?

DC & AG:

We have a couple of buns in our writers’ oven. We’re looking at a book set in Nashville as well as another biography. And we’d love to write more about the impact of animals on broken lives. There are some fascinating stories.

We also wear another hat (or Alison does) as financial writers with two syndicated columns. Alison also hosted the television show, Maxed Out, for 3 years. The financial writing is immediate and the cheques roll in regularly – which is nice. We will probably be adding a financial book (we wrote one five years ago) to the list of projects.

Finally, we might tackle another novel. We have written one Vancouver: A Novel and loved it.


Watch the trailer for Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs.

For more information about Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs and David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, please visit www.wildhorseanniestory.com and the Simon & Schuster website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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