Interview: Gene Stone, Co-Author of The Awareness

There are some people that know a little about everything and some who know a lot about a few things – but Gene Stone, co-author of The Awareness, defies the binary and knows a lot about most things. He’s published thirty-six books (many of them best-sellers), attended both Harvard and Stanford, and plunges into tackling societal dilemmas with gusto and artistry. Stone’s latest work, co-authored by Jon Doyle, illustrates a dramatic, dark and exciting quandary. But unlike George Orwell’s revolutionary farm animals, Margret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic vision of genetically-altered creatures, or Pierre Boulle’s apes, Stone and Doyle do much more than use the non-human world as a two-dimensional metaphor:

On a day like any other, all mammals suddenly gain human-level consciousness—and begin a systematic attack on humankind. Among the ranks of these animals are a bear in the Canadian Rockies, an elephant in a circus traveling through Texas, a pig on a hog farm in North Carolina, and a dog living with his beloved owner in New York. As these four contend with the realities of who they were before the awareness, and who they must now become after it, they are each called to battle. The animals must then fight two wars: the one outside between mammals and humans, and the one inside each of their minds. http://theawarenessnovel.com/

I spoke with Gene about The Awareness. Here is our conversation:

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Joshua Katcher: You’ve written many best-sellers. What led to The Awareness, and why did you choose to self-publish?
Gene Stone:
The Awareness is my 36th book, more or less. The others were all published by traditional publishers– many were New York Times bestsellers. But I couldn’t find a single agent willing to represent The Awareness although I tried n twenty-five of them. They all said basically the same thing: there’s no market for a novel about animals. And, one of them added, “Anyway, animals don’t talk.” Even coming out after the success of Forks Over Knives, which has 275,000 copies in print, they just didn’t see how a book that espouses the animal side of the equation could interest anyone. Meanwhile I knew that many authors had self-published with great success so I thought it was worth a try.

JK: While this is a work of fiction, The Awareness does have implications for our current society. What do you hope people consider while reading the book?
GS: The Awareness is a bit of a double-entendre. Ostensibly it’s about the “awareness” that all mammals get one day that gives them the same kind of consciousness as humans. But it’s also a hope that humans get awareness too–awareness of the plight of animals and just how poorly we treat them in this country. The book doesn’t have to be read as an activist’s book–I think it’s an adventure book as well. But if in the course of reading it, just one person changes his or her mind about animals, then it was all worthwhile.

JK: Many books about animals are quite two-dimensional and geared toward children, but The Awareness is quite chilling. In your opinion, what is the scariest thing about the book?
GS: These days books geared for the young adult audience are more than just chilling–they can be gruesome. My 18 year-old niece read it and said it was tame compared to The Hunger Games. (She also said that she had never thought about animals in this context before and added that she wanted to become a vegan–if I would give her some tips). But I suppose the idea that, if given awareness, even our dogs and cats would consider going to war against us is a pretty scary thought–although Cooper, the dog in the book, can’t make up his mind which side to fight for because he loves his human companion so much. And although there are some battle scenes, I’m way too soft-hearted to create any book where you have to read about cruelty to animals. So there really isn’t that much that would scare people off. I hope.

JK: Which character did you enjoy creating the most? What is your favorite thing they say or do?
GS: I wrote this book with my friend Jon Doyle and it was totally a joint effort. However, I would say that Nancy the elephant and Cooper the dog are a little more me, while the bear and the pig are maybe more Jon. I also worked more on Clio the cat, who is based on Minnie, my wildly intelligent and loving tortoiseshell rescue who was my wonderful friend for 18 years. I love the interaction between Cooper and Clio–those are the scenes I most enjoyed writing, I’ve always wondered what dogs and cats would say to each other if they had a chance to talk.
I think Jon’s favorite scene is the one in which 323, the pig, frees herself from the factory farm and ends up in the house of the farm’s owners. She sees the happy photos on the wall, the souvenirs of human lives, from births to marriages, and then imagines what it would have been like to have had the opportunity to raise her own family. Jon didn’t tell me much about what he was doing there, and when I read his first draft, I cried.

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JK: Why is it important for you to tell this story?
GS: It’s vital that we all apply the Golden Rule not just to other people but to animals as well. Do onto every creature you come in contact with as you would do onto yourself. Humans have a way of thinking that somehow we need only be considerate to each other (not that everyone is, of course). Consideration to animals is, in my mind, the mark of a truly compassionate civilization. The hope is that readers of this book will come away with a greater sense of how animals might be feeling about the way we’ve been treating them–and how wonderful it would be if we changed the way we treat them.

JK: While writing this book, what did you learn about our relationship with animals that you may not have considered before?
GS: Jon and I spent some time researching the treatment of pigs at factory farms and we were horrified. We knew that they were treated abysmally, but actually watching videos and reading reports was sickening. Likewise, learning more about how elephants are treated at circuses was also repellant. It makes you admire organizations like Mercy for Animals that are willing to go undercover and expose the ongoing cruelty.

JK: What do you anticipate as criticisms of The Awareness, and how are you preparing to respond?
GS: I would assume that a lot of people won’t bother to read the book because they’ll assume it’s all pro-animal and anti-human. But that’s not the case at all. We were very careful to show that there’s good and bad everywhere–humans can be good, animals can be bad. One of the most heroic creatures in the book is a human. We are thinking of writing a sequel, in fact, which describes the war in more detail, but makes it clear that the sides begin to shift from human vs. animal to good mammals vs. bad ones. Also, some people might object that the book centers on mammals, and ignores the plight of birds, reptiles, etc. That wasn’t a philosophical distinction, it was just a matter of keeping the subject matter from becoming so broad we wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

JK: Some have compared your work to Planet of the Apes. Did this or anything else provide inspiration for your creative process?
GS: Several people have mentioned Planet of the Apes but actually more people have referenced Animal Farm (which, by the way, George Orwell could barely get published because, editors said, “there is no market for animal stories in the USA.” We’ve also heard a few comparisons to Watership Down. (Given the success of those books, we consider it quite a compliment.) But the biggest inspiration for these books was the work of all the tireless advocates for animal rights who we admire so much, and to whom we dedicate the book.

JK: The Awareness asks what if animals gained human-level consciousness? Some might argue that since they won’t, our treatment of animals is no dilemma. How would you respond to that?
GS: Consciousness isn’t the only reason to be compassionate toward other living creatures. And although it’s probably true, as you say, that animals’ minds aren’t like ours, perhaps their hearts are. Perhaps their souls are. Perhaps they’re more like us in many ways we don’t or can’t recognize. Regardless, the point is that being a kind person means being kind not just to your own kind.

JK: Do you foresee or hope for a future where humankind learns to communicate more effectively with the non-human world?
GS: That’s a great question and I think the answer is definitely yes. It seems that every week a new study comes out that shortens the distance between us and them. Just this week The Los Angeles Times published a piece showing that African elephants who hear human voices can distinguish from them the human’s sex, age, and even their ethnicity. Think how incredible that is for an animal that up until recently people thought of as simply a circus animal or a source of ivory. The more we learn about the non-human world, the more intelligent and human-like it seems. Or perhaps, the more we understand how mammal-like we humans are. One of the best books on the subject, Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, is already two decades old but even back in the early 1990s he was able to gather enough evidence to show how nearly all the traits we think of as just human are actually endemic to the rest of the living world. Compassion is one of those traits–but it seems to be in short supply in the human treatment of animals today.

 

 

BRUNO CARVALHO: Vegan Warrior Royalty

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Bruno Carvalho is 32 year-old welterweight MMA champ who is a Brazillian transplant living in Sweden, training with Team Carvalho at Allstar Training Center. His warrior lineage is no surprise, with a grandfather who was a seventh Dan in Judo and founded the Itapagipano de Judô Club in Brazil in 1966,  a great-uncle who was a Vale Tudo legend, and an five black belt uncles, one of whom gave Bruno his black belt in Jiu-Jitsu in 2003. Bruno went on to win more than fifty trophies in Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Wrestling, among them four BJJ State Championships and a Silver Medal at the European Championships in Jiu-Jitsu in 2007.

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Bruno had an eight-fight unbeaten run from 2009 to 2011 which culminated in capturing the Middleweight Championship of World Freefight Challenge, the biggest and most professional Mixed Martial Arts organization in Southern Europe – but Bruno’s last fight in October of 2013 ended with Carvalo knocked out. For the last several months, Bruno has been training hard, preparing for his next fight against Norwegian Moshen Bahari on March 22, 2014. Part of Carvalho’s edge is that he has been vegan for over two years, and credits his veganism for the seemingly limitless endurance that he displays while training seven-day weeks.

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Bruno took a break from training to have a quick chat with me:

Joshua Katcher:  Bruno, when was your last fight and how did it go? When is your next, and what are you doing to prepare?
Bruno Carvalho: My last fight was in October of last year [2013], it didn’t go so well. I’ve been dealing with lots of injures and personal stuff. I’m fighting Moshen Bahari on March 22, 2014 in Denmark, and I’m preparing very well, all the shit has passed, and now it’s full focus!

JK: You grew up surrounded by martial arts. Your family is a sort of ‘martial arts royals’. What was that like, and did you ever consider doing anything else?
BC: That was and is the best thing I can think of and wouldn’t ask God for something else! Never considered doing another thing, that’s how my family lives and that’s what I love to do!

JK: Outside of fighting and training, what are you up to?373796_10150394156766336_322591490_n
BC: I read a looooot about everything, love to read on nutrition, health… All vegan related book and athletes, also successful people’s biographies. From them we can always learn!

JK: You moved from Brazil to Sweden. Was that a bit of culture shock? Did it have anything to do with your veganism? How long have you been vegan and why have you chosen to be vegan?
BC: It was a big shock in all areas! I came here to teach and train, I wasn’t vegan at the time (unfortunately).  I started as a vegetarian and feeling the progress in my life and training, the vegan tradition came along and now it’s been 2 years.

JK: MMA is a hyper-masculine world. Caring about animals and being vegan isn’t necessarily seen as “masculine” by the mainstream. How do your family, friends, teammates and competitors respond to your veganism? Have you experienced any misunderstanding, bullying or ridicule because of it?
BC: Well, there’s always lots of jokes and questions, but the results and my performance show them the reality! I really don’t care when they joke, I just love to prove them wrong.

 

JK: You captured the Middleweight Championship of World Freefight Challenge. What does your training regimen look like as far as food and exercise in order to be a champion?
BC: I love to train very hard, and as much as I possibly can every single day. That’s one reason I became vegan, because it gives me the advantage to recover faster and train harder! I train every day of the week, even on Sundays I do a complementary sesh! Diet wise, I eat lots of fruits, salads, veggies, shakes…. You love to eat too!

JK: I do love to eat too, but I don’t work out as much as you do! What issues do you care about the most, and how do you address them?
BC: I care the most about health and performance… But of course I’m an animal lover and having watched many vegan videos and movies, I just can’t be contributing to violence against animals. We must respect all kinds of life!

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JK: Do you know any other vegan athletes? Do you guys ever talk and trade advice?
BC: Yes! My good friend Akira Corassanii in NY is a vegan fighter, and I always talk to other vegan and vegetarian athletes and check their FB pages for news.

JK: What is your signature move?
BC: I have good throws because of my judo background, and on the floor I always get omoplatas and triangles!

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JK: You’ve traveled a lot for work. What are you favorite places you’ve been, and where is the best vegan food int he world?
BC: I loved Thailand, and Middle Eastern countries are very attractive too! Best vegan food? Hmmm, always at home!

UMASAN SPRING 2014

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Berlin’s UMASAN draws inspiration from punk, yoga and dandies. For their men’s sprig 2014 collection that is soon to hit the racks, the duo used algae, beechwood and eucalyptus-based textiles and sophisticated Japanese cuts inspired by co-founder Anja Umann’s time working at Yohji Yamamoto. Identical Twin sisters Anja and Sandra Umann are both vegan and run a vegan label that is as rock and roll as it is unconventional. Shop now.

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Hit Back. An Interview with Adam Gnade

Adam Gnade’s bestselling new book, The Do-It-Yorself Guide to Fighting the Big MotherFucking’ Sad (Pioneers Press, $7) is a self-described “anti-depression guide/guide to a freer, more lawless life.” Gnade’s (pronounced guh nah dee) real-world advice is like getting a heartfelt letter from a trusted and knowledgeable friend. Practical, not clinical, Gnade’s raw and honest take on everything from pursuing your goals to ditching toxic people offers valuable perspective to help you keep your sanity, your joy and your productivity.

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I asked Adam some questions about his work, and here’s our conversation:

Joshua Katcher: We just celebrated the New Year. What advice do you have as we enter into what many see as a fresh start? Is the idea of a clean slate and new beginnings all it’s cracked up to be?

Adam Gnade: No clean slates in 2014. We should acknowledge our failures and mistakes and make good on them. Whitewashing the past is a dangerous thing. Let’s own-up this year and try to make something great out of the tools we’ve been given and the places we’re from and the people we’ve been.

JK: What experiences have you had this past year that changed your perspective?

AG: This past year has been such a speed-race, what with Pioneers Press and life on the farm and stupid disasters and tour and the books coming out, I haven’t had a chance to sit still and figure my stuff out yet. January 1st rolled around and I was like, “Wait, it’s over? What just happened?” I haven’t had an introspective minute all year. Hoping that’ll change soon. I’m sure I learned something but at this point I don’t know what it is.

JK: Why is inspiring others important to you? When did you start writing for other people.

AG: We wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for our heroes and the thought of inspiring even one person to make something good or live differently or not shoot their brains out is pretty cool.

JK: What is wisdom?

AG: Wisdom is something I think I have and then I talk to pretty much anyone else in the world and I realize I’m kind of a moron about most things. I believe in my potential but not in what I am right now or what I can do. I’m working on it. Every day. At some point I hope to do something important that lasts. I’m not there yet. Not even close.

JK:  In our mainstream culture, it’s not considered masculine to be compassionate or in touch with our emotions. As a vegan dude who writes about feelings, what’s your take on this and how do challenge the stereotypes?

…a lot of guys don’t realize they can be tough and compassionate or emotionally open at the same time.

AG: That’s one of the big topics of Caveworld, my newest book that came out last month: How you grow up to be a strong, squared-away, capable person while still retaining some sense of agenda-free kindness and hope and goodheartedness. That goes for anyone but if we’re talking traditional masculinity, a lot of guys don’t realize they can be tough and compassionate or emotionally open at the same time. I’m still figuring it out but a big part of it is having parents who give a damn about you, which is totally out of your control and, beyond that, good heroes.

JK: Who are your heroes right now?http://pioneerspress.com/catimages/100_0844_copy0_lg.jpg

AG: I like Flannery O’Conner, Joanna Newsom’s my favorite singer … who else … Dr. King makes me feel a heavy rawness that’s almost holy or something … Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, a lot of characters in cowboy novels who don’t give up despite the odds, Woody Guthrie, a lot of the old farmers around here who are capable and help the people around them just because it’s in their nature, Tolstoy is a big one, my uncle Glenn, Hank Williams, Willa Cather … I need to read Joan Didion’s White Album once a year or I start getting lazy with my sentences and observation. I always come back to Faulkner when I want something that’s dense and heavy and rewarding, which is kind of all the time now that I think of it.

Frederick Douglass is another big one. In my version of America, which is an America that we fight for because we don’t like the one we have and because we love the land and the people but hate the oppression and dark history, people like Frederick Douglass would be on all our money.

JK: We live in a world that can seem like it’s falling apart – there’s cruelty, banality, and suffering everywhere. How can we stay sane, effective and happy when we know what we know and feel powerless to stop it?

AG: It’s easy to get overwhelmed. The secret is focusing in on something you don’t like then working on a plan to fix it. When you have a good plan and you’re working toward something you believe in, it’s a lot easier to keep your head above the water. At the same time you’ve got to take a break every now and again and disconnect from everything and level out. Good-hearted people with passion and big, fantastic dreams burn out faster than capable assholes with logical, rational “business plans.”

Good-hearted people with passion and big, fantastic dreams burn out faster than capable assholes with logical, rational “business plans.”

JK: We can sometimes feel obligated to be miserable because being happy is a denial of what’s really going on in the world. Is it dishonest to not be in perpetual mourning for the issues we care about?

http://pioneerspress.com/catimages/100_1484_lg.jpgAG: Anyone with a decent heart and half a brain is going to be horrified about the world because people do worse things every day than any slasher film writer could ever dream up. That’s not just now; historically, humans have been monsters to each other and to the earth and all the creatures on it but you can’t hold onto grief forever or it’ll ruin any chance you have at living a good life. At some point you’ve got to pull yourself up and get things done and live your life as best you can.

I’m the most fatalistic, lazy, self-sabotaging person in the world so I have to tell myself this all the time: Get back behind the plow and push until the job is done. Also, anger’s a lot healthier and more productive than grief. You need to know when to take the mourning veil off and go whup some bad-guy ass.

JK: In your book, you have a lot to say about internet culture. What is the most important thing to remember as we share our lives through social media?

When I was writing The Big Mothetfuckin’ Sad, a lot of people around me were in bad shape and I saw how the internet was just adding to the soul-crushing weight of horseshit. The most important thing to remember is to turn it off. Especially when you’re around friends. Sitting at a dinner table with your friends and being all hunched over your phone is incredibly unbecoming. Don’t be that person. Your phone is a tool and tools are important but so is being quiet and listening and seeing the world around you and engaging in it.

On my way to tour in November I walked into my flight gate at Kansas City International and every single person was looking at a phone. Smart-phone addiction is way too sci-fi-future for a world that doesn’t have a globally-accepted alternative energy source or a cure for cancer.

JK: What book are you reading, music are you listening to, food are you obsessing over and outfits are you wearing?

AG: Right now I’m reading Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy because I want to be able to write a book that vast and enveloping and inclusive of all-things American. (That’s what I shot for with Caveworld but I think I’m going to keep shooting.) I’m also reading a beautiful hardback edition of Gogol’s Dead Souls I picked up on tour in London a few weeks ago.

As far as music I get stuck listening to one song over and over again and lately it’s been Crocodiles’ “I Wanna Kill.” Also I just bought a self-titled record from this band called St. Even that was released today. It’s killing me. Love at first sight. So good. Everyone should go right now and check that shit out. St. Even. Go look for the song “Now Until Forever.” My jam right now.

Food-wise, give me some deep-fried tofu with corn-meal fish-fry batter, a pile of fresh spinach and an avocado sliced-up on the side, and a couple PBRs and we’re golden. Farm punk feast.

As far as clothes, I live on a farm and “farm punk” looks suspiciously like a Bleach-era Nirvana photoshoot. Lotta flannel and boots and coats and fingerless gloves on my friends. Farm punk also looks suspiciously like the cast of Winter’s Bone.

JK: If you could change one thing about the world with a magic switch, what would it be?

Instead of magic switches let’s just do what we’re doing and fight like we have been but with way more heart and honesty and courage and energy than the fuckers ever dreamed we had. Let’s be the good guys and do the right thing and fight the good fight and surprise everyone with how well we do it. Like Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel sang, “we know who our enemies are,” now let’s hold the bastards to the fire and make them pay. We’ve all been hit enough … 2014 will be the year we hit back.

We Animals

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Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, whose riveting work is featured in the new documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, has released a groundbreaking coffee-table book entitled We Animals. “If ever there was a document that might cause human beings to reconsider our entire relationship to the animal world this hauntingly beautiful book is it,” says Wade Davis, Explorer in Residence, at the National Geographic Society.

This 208-page, hard-cover book includes over 100 photographs shot over the last decade. It shares some of the most harrowing and uplifting stories I’ve come across since I started shooting the We Animals project. The book includes a heart-warming chapter entitled Mercy, about incredible activists around the globe taking action for animals, as well as a section called Notes from the Field, which is a small collection of journal entries, offering an inside look at what it’s been like to do investigative work. -WeAnimals.org

Join We Animals on Facebook.Buy the book for $40.

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