Lynda Rutledge shares the joy of writing “West with Giraffes”

Lynda Rutledge, bestselling author of “West with Giraffes”, took the time to tour the village during our interview.

“I knew few real friends and two were giraffes…” sets the tone of the historic, adventurous and powerful bestselling novel west with giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. She was thrilled when Coronado chose west with giraffes for their citywide community reading and asked him to give a presentation, which was well attended at the Coronado Public Library on April 7. She was thrilled with this first in-person event since the book was released in February 2021 and she was disappointed that she couldn’t host a launch party due to the pandemic. She noted that six other places also selected this phenomenal book, and she gave many Zoom presentations.

Readers around the world greatly benefited from the happy accident in 1999, when Rutledge found old yellowed scrapbooks chronicling the giraffes’ trip to the San Diego Zoo, while researching another project. She was in love with the story and couldn’t live without it. She recalled: “I thought the story was ridiculously unbelievable, and I looked for the zookeeper’s diary, but couldn’t find any.”

Fast forward 12 years to 2012, when SD Zoo hired her to write a century-old book about visionary zoo director Charles Schroeder. She came to San Diego every few months until she finished the two-volume coffee table book titled Mr Zoo. During the intense writing process, she needed some fun and decided to start researching the story of the giraffe. It took him a year to complete the outline on a whiteboard for the 12-day cross-country journey the giraffes made after arriving in New York from Africa. She laughs, saying, “My whiteboard shows the madness of the writer’s mind.”

This whiteboard depicts “the madness of a writer’s mind” while researching and writing “West with Giraffes”. Photo courtesy of Lynda Rutledge

She set up the story with prompt action, then moved to rising action, then to an emotional climax and then to a technical climax, as the characters’ stories unfold as the caravan traveled across the United States. United, moving from New York west to California. Although the basic story, which opens with a hurricane, is true, it had to fill in many gaps, but kept it close to whatever news it could find.

Because she wanted to include information about the sixth extinction, she named narrator Woodrow Wilson Nickel, in 2025, looking back on her life, since the giraffes’ journey began in 1938. She is often asked how she came to names, and in the case of the narrator, she knew that many families of that time named their children after presidents, but she added Nickel, thinking his name would be Woody Nickel and she could sneak into the line “Don’t take wood from the nickels. Cleverly, she went one step further when she gave him 105 years, a century and a nickel, and he proudly proclaims, ‘I’m older than dirt.’

Original photo of the giraffe caravan from “The New York Sun” 1938

Rutledge had to grasp what it was like to live during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, with the physical issues and racial situations, to create realistic characters. As a travel writer, she loved the idea of ​​a road trip. “It was fun to find out everyone’s secret on the trip,” she recalls.

His working title was “Driving the Hurricane Giraffes”, which his editor wasn’t crazy about and asked him to redesign it or they’d choose one. Knowing she had to find the perfect title, she studied her library at home and when her eyes landed on west with the night, she knew what the title would be, and the publisher finally agreed. Her original manuscript was 110,000 words and she was told to cut 10,000. Not wanting to lose any of the adventures, she tapped into her copy-editing skills, methodically cutting it down without crucial sacrifices. She notes that “a first draft only sums up the story, but the second draft is more fun, because you start painting with words.”

I learned more about the exuberant storyteller behind this enriching book when we spent a delightful afternoon chatting around the village in my golf cart. Outgoing, Rutledge shares that writing brings her joy as she immerses herself in each of her stories, then misses them when she’s done. Starting to write fiction late in life gave him the edge of life experiences and maturity, along with a better worldview and voice. She knew people loved giraffes, but she found the depth of their affection incredible. When I asked the standard question about her writing process, she replied, “I can’t tell you that I sit down and write that many words a day. If it looks like work, then I can’t do it. If it looks like gambling, I can’t live without it.

When she writes, she thinks, “If I’m entertained, I hope the readers will be too. After much research, she says she is starting to hear the character’s dialogue. Once they can talk, she knows they’re ready. This book resonated with me, and as I read it, I regaled my husband with the state the giraffes passed through, and I lamented the end of the journey. Since she’s spent so much time writing for the SD Zoo, I’ve been asking about her favorite animals. “The serenity of giraffes makes me happy, and I also have a special affinity for elephants and Galapagos tortoises.” She shared that her favorite place in the world is the next place she will go, after the long pandemic hiatus.

As a child, she fondly remembers reading The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the orange and blue child biographies that many people remember from their childhood. She went to finn blueberry and Kill a mockingbird in the following years. Growing up as a tomboy, she decided to become the Yankees’ first female shortstop, then tried her hand at art. She has an MA in Creative Writing and an MA in American Literature, and has won numerous awards. Taking a creative writing course near the end of college showed her that writing is a craft that requires imagination. She discovered that she could be an artist with words. For more than 25 years, she has worked in a variety of writing fields, including as a freelance journalist, non-fiction writer, ghostwriter, editor, book contributor, restaurant and movie critic, and her favorite, in as a travel writer, where she was paid to see the world.

Coronado holds a special place in her heart because when she lived in San Diego for 18 months, and on subsequent visits to work at the zoo, she often walked across the bridge to enjoy our city and its beaches. The popularity of this book makes him feel like he’s confirmed that his initial hunch that this story was a clear winner was correct. west with giraffes has already been translated into 12 languages. She hints that there was nibbles on the film rights (and my book club and I would be the first to see the film).

Coronado audiences on April 7 thought west with giraffes was a great mix of story and narrative and wanted the scoop on his next book, which Rutledge says is in the proposal stage. The secrets she shared about her next novel, due out in 2024, include that it will be semi-autobiographical, set in 1964, in a small Texas railroad town, and is about hope for great potential. Readers can expect a baseball game, a pastor feud, a sit-in, and a friendship that defies the norms of the time. The library, which had a huge impact on his life growing up, will also play a role. She pointed out that it will be a more intimate story, similar to her first book. Faith Bass Darling Garage Salewhich was released in 2012 and turned into a French film.

“There is nothing more joyful than creating a world that I can live in for a while and then share it with others,” she concludes, categorizing her books as serious subjects written in a playful way, which , will hopefully inspire readers to celebrate life. I wonder if a whiteboard will appear in his house in Texas for the research and development of his new book?

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2022 Community Reading Events

Scott R. Banks