LOS ANGELES, April 19, 2013 — Stacey Patterson is the author of the children’s book, Fidget’s Freedom, and its more recent sequel, Fidget’s Folly. She received her BA in biology from UC Santa Cruz. Stacey took some time to speak with me about her two books.
KW: How did you come to own a peregrine falcon?
SP: I bought her from a breeder because I had the permits first. I have had permits to practice falconry since the mid-80s. And it’s a two year process where you have to be an apprentice under another falconer. You have to take tests. It’s a fairly arduous process to become a falconer, but you have to go through that process in order to acquire a bird.
KW: How long do they usually live?
SP: When they’re in the wild, most of them die their first year. It’s a very difficult thing when you are a young bird learning how to hunt and fly and to kill and maintain yourself. Most of them don’t make it through their first year. They either starve to death or they’re prey to other birds. If they are in captivity, they can also live anywhere from 10 upwards to 20 years with good care.
KW: What made the peregrine falcons special to you?
SP: There’s just something when you look at them and you look at their big brown eyes. They’re captivating. All birds of prey are captivating, but there’s just something about the peregrine that caught my attention.
I first went first saw one when I was up at the UC Santa Cruz in the 80s. Then I came back to Los Angeles and I was working with a local wildlife rehabilitation and education organization. I got to work with the peregrine in the mid-90s and at that point I was just drawn to them, captivated with them. I have had one in my life in some variation, either through that organization or my own, since.
KW: How did you get into writing children’s books about peregrine falcons?
SP: One day I thought it would be kind of neat to write a children’s story. It was one of those serendipitous things, I went online and all of a sudden this thing came up, “How would you like to write a children’s story picture book format?” I read about it and I started taking some online classes. One of the exercises was, “Write the first four sentences of a story.”
I kind of just wrote something down on a piece of paper and I realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s two young peregrines in the hack box,” which is part of the whole breeding project, which is the backstory of my books. I hadn’t thought about it until I started writing it down.
I was driving to work the next morning. I was on the 405 freeway and I kind of thought to myself, “I wonder what her name is,” the heroine of the story. It just kind of came to me. Her name is Fidget. I went home and I just wrote out a basic story and got connected with other writers. I went through many, many revisions.
I got connected to the Raptor Education Foundation in Denver. I worked with them and they were the ones who were able to engage Vadim Gorbatov to illustrate it. And it just kind of went from there.
KW: What made you write a sequel?
SP: The first one has done okay. I wrote them both at the same time. When I wrote the first one, the initial publisher wanted a trilogy. So, all three stories are written, but the second one, we decided to go ahead and get it illustrated, even without knowing how the success of the first book would be because he’s in Russia.
I never really considered how difficult it was to do an international project like this when we decided to do this. I wanted to take advantage of his time and his skill and his interest to do it. So we really got the whole story down and got it illustrated and then shopped it around. Then around this time last year, Mountain Press in Montana picked it up.
KW: So it sounds like there is going to be a third one?
SP: Well, I don’t know. [laughs] It’s almost like having kids. Now that I have two, do I want to do this again? I don’t know. If the second book takes off, then I would consider doing a third book. It’s not illustrated and at this point in time, it’s there, but I haven’t made any active movements towards getting it illustrated.
KW: What kind of responses have you been getting from your first two books?
SP: I get really good responses. Kids tend to fall in love with the character. She embodies my worst characteristics. She’s impulsive, impetuous, she gets herself into trouble. Kids are drawn to that. They’re also drawn to the wonderful illustrations that Vadim did. He’s able to somehow take a story and create a character and make a peregrine look 100% like a peregrine, but also like a kid. And I still don’t know how he can do it, but he was able to merge them beautifully.
I get a lot of adults who say they love it because they learn something about the biology and behavior of peregrines, the whole peregrine recovery movement, and in really a short period of time. It is an 800 word story and so they’re able to pick up a lot. The adults that tend to gravitate towards it are teachers and grandmothers because they’re the ones looking at the educational aspect. It’s a way to teach and for kids to learn, but in a fun, entertaining way.
KW: What do you do with the South Bay Wildlife Rehab?
SP: I do educational work with them. We have booths at many local events around the South Bay. We have one April 27 in Manhattan Beach. Typically, it’s setting up booths so people can come in and see a bunch of different birds of prey in person and learn about them and see them up close and see how wonderful they are. I do sell the books at those events as well.
KW: Is there anything else you want people to know about you, the books or peregrine falcons?
SP: I just think if anyone would like to learn more about one of the most successful conservation efforts in history, they should read the books. It really gives them an idea of what these birds have to go through in the wild, the pressures they have, certainly with the peregrines. They were almost endangered because of DDT exposure.
The only reason that the peregrines were saved from near extinction was because people falconers had worked with them for thousands of years and over all those years they were able to learn how to work intimately with these birds and come up with ideas for breeding projects and releasing them into the wild. If it wasn’t for the dedication of these people and their perseverance and their fortitude, trying to do something that was never done before and bring a bird back to the point where it was taken off the federal endangered species list in 1999.
It’s an incredible feat and it’s a feat that people were able to do because they worked together, they cared enough and they strove for a goal. That is part of what I want to impart with the books, if you pick something and you care enough about it and you work with like-minded cooperative individuals, you can accomplish something too.
So they can learn about Fidget, they can learn a little bit about the people behind the story. They can also learn about taking on something that is rather grandiose, but you can make a difference.
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