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Author Interview: Thomas Smith

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Rebecca Jane Johnson is talking with Thomas Smith, author of The Search for King: A Fable.

FQ: Please tell us a bit about the photographs in your book and the process of how the book came together.

SMITH: I wanted the best photos of the 36 species of birds. I curated the 175 photos that appear in the book after reviewing hundreds and hundreds of photos. They were selected not only for their artistic merit but because they fit with the story. Accuracy was important, and the text and photos were reviewed for accuracy by a post-doctoral fellow at the Cornell Institute of Ornithology. The Foreword gives credit to the many photographers who donated their work into the Public Domain on Pixabay. I have a Standard License to use each photograph and trademark not in the Public Domain. This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attributions—ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I myself am a photographer, even though none of the photos in the book are mine. I have had photos published on covers of the Texas Medical Journal and I have won awards for my photos in several local contests. I also am a graphic artist. I designed the cover and supervised the interior design. I think taking and publishing photos requires an artist’s eye.

FQ: Would you share a bit with our readers about your experiences communing with nature, so to speak, while out searching for that perfect photograph? I imagine that must be part of the joy of birdwatching/photography. Do you have any interest in photographing other wildlife?

SMITH: I am a photographer who loves to be outdoors. I have a large number of photos of nature: mountain peaks, such as Long’s peak 14,000’ above sea level, and sandscapes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria at sea level, and the Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that is 407’ deep. When I went diving there and took photos, we dove down 130’ below sea level (the equivalent of a 13-story building). I have photos of most kinds of North American wildlife: from large mammals, small mammals, and birds, to snakes, lizards, small insects and spiders. I also have underwater photos of cool creatures such as Caribbean reef fish, sharks, sea turtles, Moray eels and Christmas tree worms. I am a Master Scuba Diver, and I enjoy taking photos of underwater wildlife.

FQ: Poetry is your other passion. Would you tell our readers a bit about your background in poetry?

SMITH: I have written poetry since high school for a number of reasons, including encouraging my wife to marry me. I’ve been writing about one new poem per week. I set a goal for myself to have a haiku published, and I now have had haiku (and limericks) published in several literary journals. I have always heard in rhymes; rhymes just appear when I am goofing around. The children in our family urged me to describe birds and it just came out in rhymes. I set as a goal for myself to publish a book of poetry, with The Search for King being the result.

FQ: Now let’s talk about your wonderful book, The Search for King! Looking from the outside in, combining your two loves seems like a natural progression. But was it? Had you toyed with the idea of writing a fable in rhyme, that centered around birds, for a long time?

SMITH: A poem about the first bird just happened one day. Then there was another, then another. I didn’t plan to write a fable. It turned out to be the best way to address some important issues including diversity, acceptance, and personal values. With this fable, the birds are the characters that convey the moral in a less direct way. The birds’ issues are our issues that play out daily in our lives.

To me, The Search for King is a photography book and a poetry book and a fable. The photos catch the eye, luring readers into the poetry, and this in turn walks them into the moral.

FQ: The story flowed so well, and naturally - was it difficult to come up with rhymes, pr did rhyme come naturally to you?

SMITH: The rhymes wrote themselves. I would read a bit about a bird and I would hear the rhymes in my mind. They are like music in my head.

FQ: How did you select which birds to feature in your fable? Did you know which birds would be in the story before you began writing, or did the selections come as the story developed?

SMITH: There were criteria for a bird to be a character in the fable. Each had to have feather colors that fit into the story. Each had to be a bird that someone in North or Central America had seen or read about and that someone in another place might enjoy seeing or reading about. There also had to be four or five interesting facts to say about each bird in the book. For example, the wren is king of birds all over Europe because folklore says he bested the eagle in a race. Then each of the birds in the book had to volunteer. Each bird asked to be included!

FQ: If you had to write another photography book accompanied by a rhyming fable, what topic would you choose?

SMITH: It would be a message that compelled me to write, as this book did. There are myriad life lessons that a 21st century fable could address: cooperation, collaboration, reconciliation, compassion. Nature is an excellent teacher. I could see fish and other underwater creatures as the next characters.

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