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Interview with Sara Gruen - Author of Water for Elephants

Page Three


Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen - © Terence W. Bailey

ECM: Tell us about some of those organizations that you support with your royalties.

SARA GRUEN: Well, there are various. The one in Texas where I got my two dogs is called SARA, and they take any type of animal. Because my first two books were horse specific I used to support largely horse charities. But I have branched out. So, there’s SARA. There’s also the United Pegasus Foundation, which helps find homes for off track thoroughbreds and also the foals which are the result of hormone replacement therapy, which of course is made from pregnant mare’s urine. They help find homes for those babies so they don’t end up going to slaughter. Live and Let Live Farm in New Hampshire–they take pretty much all creatures who need help, but they also have mostly horses at this point. There’s the Nokota Horse Conservancy – there is a very, very rare breed of horse that actually traces its lineage from the horses used for Sitting Bull. They are breeding those. They have the last purebred and foundation mares of that breed and are trying to build it up again, and are in desperate need of help. So, there’s quite a number of them and they are listed on my Web site.

ECM: How has your family reacted to your success as a writer? Are your children old enough to read your books?

SARA GRUEN: (laughing) No! When they’re 44 they can read them...My kids are 5, 8 and 12, so the 5-year-old doesn’t understand anything that’s going on. It’s just what Mommy does. The 8-year-old, every time I go to a book signing he thinks that I’m writing a new book. But the 12-year-old, he gets it mostly, and he’s really pleased. He is really happy and proud and he writes his own stories now.

ECM: Where in Canada are you originally from?

SARA GRUEN: From Ottawa. I was born in Vancouver and then I grew up partly in London, Ontario, but then I went to University in Ottawa and I stayed there for 10 years afterward.

ECM: Do you ever see yourself moving back to Canada?

SARA GRUEN: Yeah, it could happen.

ECM: What do you think is the biggest difference between living in America and living in Canada?

SARA GRUEN: Oh boy. (pause) Health care.

ECM: On your Web site you say your dream is “to spend your life facedown in the ocean, coming up just long enough to eat a piece of fish, write a chapter, and go back in the water. How did you fall in love with the ocean?

SARA GRUEN: Well, I was born in Vancouver, so I’ve always been near the ocean, but I think it was when I started scuba diving that I really fell in love with the ocean. My husband and I scuba dive and snorkel. I just love it. It’s just what I enjoy most. So my dream, of course, is to live by the sea, somewhere where it is actually warm enough to go in the sea.

ECM: Any beach trips this summer or too busy promoting the book?

SARA GRUEN: Too busy promoting the book. I’m actually going to Vancouver for a cousin’s wedding, but the water is too cold there for me.

ECM: Any chance this love of the ocean will show up in a future novel?

SARA GRUEN: The book I abandoned to begin writing Water for Elephants was actually set in Hawaii and had dolphins and scuba diving in it. I tried to pick it up after Water for Elephants and ended up on a completely different track altogether. I may still write it. I haven’t decided if it died on the vine or just hasn’t gelled yet, so I’ll still throw the idea around once in a while and see what happens.

ECM: What are you working on now?

SARA GRUEN: Well, at the moment I’m working on the tour, but as soon as I get home I’m going to start on something about Bonobo apes, which are also known as pygmy chimpanzees. Or they used to be. They are now considered one of the four great apes in their own right and DNA-wise, they’re even more closely related to us than regular chimpanzees. It should be fun! They are really adept at learning American sign language, so for part of my research I’m really hoping I'll finally get to meet Koko–the gorilla who knows American sign language and who I have been following for 22 years. And maybe get up to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa and maybe see their signing Bonobos as well.

ECM: What are some of your favorite books?

SARA GRUEN: I read a great, wide swath of authors. I don’t pick any particular person, but Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken is wonderful, Life of Pi–of course, The Kite Runner. I just reread The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. So, I jump around a lot.

ECM: Movie recommendations?

SARA GRUEN: We have three kids, so the last movie I saw was Chicken Little. (laughing) So, I’m not really in a position to say.

ECM: What kind of music do you listen to?

SARA GRUEN: Again, it’s all over the map. I listen to everything from Fleetwood Mac to Gordon Lightfoot to Radiohead. It’s all over the place. It really depends on what kind of mood what I’m writing needs to be.

ECM: Any words to live by?

SARA GRUEN: (laughing) I don’t know...just go for it.

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