In the early days of March, author and Savannah newbie Taylor Brown was gearing up to launch his book tour for his latest novel Pride of Eden. Unfortunately, after just one local event at E. Shaver Bookseller on March 15, Brown postponed all events in March and April due to concerns over COVID-19. The novel, set on a fictional wildlife sanctuary on the Georgia coast, debuted March 17, just five days after WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Here, Brown talks with Do Savannah about Pride of Eden and the industry of big cat rescues; supporting authors during COVID-19; and being welcomed into Savannah’s literary community.
Do: What brought you to Savannah?
Brown: I did a book event here in 2018 with my third novel "Gods of Howl Mountain," and I had a couple of days to hang out in Savannah. I just really enjoyed it and I'd already been thinking about wanting to be somewhere else. It seems like a very welcoming town for writers. People read and they're supportive of a really wide genre of arts.
Do: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Brown: I am one of those people that knew from a very early age. My mom actually ... about how, when I was a kid I would follow her around the house, telling her these long tales that I made up about why my triceratops toy had rocket launchers or why my G.I. Joes are so much smaller than other human beings. She says that she would sometimes lock herself in the bathroom to get away from me and then I would get down on the floor and I would like keep telling her stories underneath the door. (laughs)
I remember in first grade I had this teacher, Mrs. Pruitt, and I really don't know if this is a proper curriculum, but as I recall all we did was write a story and illustrate it – every single day. I remember it just felt so natural to me. And I think from that point onward, whatever stage of life I was in, I always said, I wanted to be an architect and a writer; or a helicopter pilot and a writer; or a firefighter and a writer. So, it was good that I was also trained to know that having a day job would be very helpful. (laughs)
Do: Who are your literary inspirations? Favorite books?
Brown: That has absolutely evolved over time and I've had different favorites throughout my life at different times. When I was younger, in high school, I was big into Pat Conroy. That was the first writer that I read who wrote about a landscape that was similar to where I was growing up – the marshes, the low country, the title creeks, the coasts, all that. And then as I got into college, I started reading more modernists like Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.
These days I end up reading a lot of nonfiction for research on a novel I'm working on. Most of my books have elements in them that I don't necessarily know about, that I have to learn a lot about to be able to create a realistic world. In "Pride of Eden," there's all this wildlife knowledge I needed.
Do: Tell me a little about Pride of Eden.
Brown: "Pride of Eden" is set on an exotic wildlife sanctuary called Little Eden, which in the book is set on the Satilla River on the Georgia coast, right off of Highway 17. Malaya is an army vet who also worked as an anti-poaching ranger in Africa, protecting elephants and rhinos from poachers on game reserves. She comes back to the States and goes to work at Little Eden, which is run by this eccentric ex-jockey and soldier of fortune, Anse Caulfield who people have a lot of questions about regarding where he came from, where he got the money to start this place and convert this roadside zoo into this exotic wildlife sanctuary. As Malaya is there, she slowly comes to realize that many of the animals, particularly the big cats, lions and tigers have not all come to the sanctuary necessarily by legal means.
Do: So your research was on the topic of big cat rescue?
Brown: Yes, these sanctuaries became so fascinating to me in the early stages of writing book. I learned there are more captive tigers in the United States than are in the wild in the rest of the world. Many states don't have very much in the way of exotic animal laws, and there aren't very much on the federal level either. It's not very difficult for someone to own a lion or a tiger, and obviously a lot of people that own these big cats don't really know how to care for them, don't have the money, the means or the space to really take care of them well, so it's actually a pretty big problem. There's sanctuaries all around taking in all these animals from owners that can't take care of them anymore--even roadside zoos and circuses. I visited one in Jacksonville called The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. There's also one in Georgia called Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. The way Little Eden looks in the book is loosely based on one called Carolina Tiger Rescue, which is in Pittsboro North Carolina.
Do: What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research?
Brown: The book also brings in the threat of poaching that many of these animals face in Africa. I went to South Africa in 2018, drove across the country and visited a number of different game reserves, my favorite of which being a place called Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand. The man who started it is one of my heroes: conservationist and writer Lawrence Anthony, best known for a book called "The Elephant Whisperer." He took in this herd of traumatized elephants that had their matriarch shot in front of them by poachers.
I can't even begin to tell you all the adventures and misadventures they had trying to do this. He was one of the first civilians into Iraq after the 2003 invasion because he went to the Baghdad Zoo to try to help save the animals there that all of a sudden didn't have food and water because many of the zookeepers couldn't go to work because they were in the middle of a warzone.
They have two rhinos there and they're under 24 hour guard. There are two armed guards with them at all times, all day, all night. We were not allowed to take pictures that showed their faces, because their identities so they don’t become targets of people trying to hurt these animals. One of the rhinos was shot from a helicopter, and they came down and cut the horns out and took it out by helicopter--it's wild what they're facing!
Do: Even though the tour is on hold, the book is out there, and available locally, right?
Brown: Yes! Both E. Shaver and The Book Lady have it, and they’re both offering things like curbside pickup and local deliveries. They’re great and have been very supportive. I really hope what I'm seeing in my own microcosm will play out in other kinds of industries. All these readers and writers and bookstores and booksellers have really rallied to figure out how we can connect with each other right now and still get news about books out there to our readers. I know I’m a newcomer to the area and I’m so grateful to be welcomed by the literary community.
About Taylor Brown:
Taylor Brown is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction, and he's been a finalist for the Press 53 Open Awards, Machigonne Fiction Contest, and Doris Betts Fiction Prize. He is the author of In the Season of Blood and Gold (Press 53, 2014), Fallen Land (St. Martin's, 2016), The River of Kings (St. Martin's, 2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (St. Martin's, 2018), and Pride of Eden (St. Martin's, March 17, 2020). He is also the founder and editor of BikeBound, a custom motorcycle blog. His website is taylorbrownfiction.com. You can follow him on Twitter @taybrown and Facebook @Taylor.Brown.Fiction.