Many people already know Melanie Typaldos from her blog Capybara Madness, where I found a wonderful photo of her pet Caplin. She generously gave me permission to use the photo as the header image for this blog (yay!), and then she told me she had written the book that Caplin was reading! Her middle grade novel Celeste and the Giant Hamster, which I reviewed last week, is the first in a series.
So, I have a dog.
He’s cute and everything, but Melanie, on the other hand, has a much more interesting menagerie!
Melanie, what other animals do you have?
I can’t imagine a life without animals. I had a little Pekingese dog named Dolly when I was growing up, and two cats, Pussywillow when I was young and Frodo when I was older, along with a couple of parakeets and some fish. In junior high, my brother Stephen got interested in snakes and after that reptiles became a big part of all of our lives. In fact, I currently have two rainbow boas and two tortoises. The older tortoise I have had for over thirty years!
I also have two rabbits, three rats, a guinea pig, three chickens, and three horses (one for over 25 years) in addition to my pet capybara Garibaldi Rous. Does that sound like a lot? To me, it seems normal. Luckily we live in the country where there is room for my animals.
Garibaldi is my second capybara. He came to me shortly after Caplin Rous died because Gari’s previous owners could no longer care for him. Caplin’s death was sudden and unexpected and it hit me very hard. When I heard that Gari was looking for a home, it seemed like we were two lost souls who needed each other.
Have your other pets also inspired you to write?
My daughter’s cat, Flopsy, is a major character in the second book in the series, Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. Flopsy is a very unique cat and I hope that comes across in the book. All animals have their own personalities, just as people do, and I try to capture that when I write about them. Garibaldi also has a cameo appearance.
Can you tell us about your journey to self-publishing?
I did not start out with the intention of self-publishing. I wrote Celeste and the Giant Hamster and then shopped around for a literary agent. I was thrilled when an agent agreed to shop my book around. But an editor at Random House read it and said that its vocabulary was too advanced for young children and that older children would not be willing to read about cats that talk. I don’t believe in dumbing down vocabulary for children. I think they learn from what they read, both the content and the vocabulary, as long as it is used in a way that they can guess at the meaning. As for whether older children will read about talking cats, I like to think that even adults will enjoy my books. Maybe I think we’re all children at heart.
As all this was going on, I got an opportunity to film a segment for an Animal Planet show called Most Outrageous Pets. I decided I wanted to get my book out in time for that show so I just went ahead and self-published.
I’d like to stress that if you go the self-publishing route, don’t do it blindly. Make sure that you are in a critique writing group that seriously reviews submissions. I was very fortunate to be in the Austin writing group Novels In Progress (NIP). I learned almost everything I know from that group because they are ruthlessly honest, and not just about my work but about the work of all the members. You really need to see the mistakes other people make to understand the mistakes you are making yourself in your writing.
Tell us about the foundation you started to benefit capybara health.
I started the ROUS Foundation for Capybara Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine after Caplin Rous died. Caplin’s Facebook friends and his blog (Capybara Madness) followers nearly overwhelmed me with their empathy and support. When I suggested that people purchase one of the items from my store if they wanted to help pay for Caplin’s veterinary expenses, I never expected to generate so much money. It more than covered his vet bills so I took the remaining money and started the ROUS Foundation.
There is so little known about capybara veterinary care that every bit we learn could save lives. Each year I donate $1 from the sale of each item from my online store to the RF along with half of any monies earned through Gari’s appearances in person or on TV. This year (2013), I donated $1780 to the RF. The money has been used to do routine testing of capybara liver function, since Caplin Rous died of liver failure, along with helping to pay veterinary bills and performing necropsies.
You are about to publish an updated version of Celeste’s first adventure as well as her second adventure, Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. Are you working on a third?
I started working on the third book in the series, Celeste and the Big Move, but I’ve been sidetracked by having a major stroke. I am currently working on a book about it, Left Side Blind, The Truthy Story of My Quirky Stroke. Obviously, this is not going to be a children’s book. I am hoping it will be a light-hearted but insightful look into what it’s like to suffer an event like I had. Once I’m through with that, I will complete Celeste and the Big Move.
You are a software engineer. How did you become a writer?
I think I have always been a writer. I remember writing short stories when I was very young. And then i wrote a novel for each of my kids when they were in junior high. But I didn’t take it seriously until about ten years ago when I joined Novels in Progress. Then I learned how much I needed to learn! Having a group of people read my submission and give it a really serious critique motivated me to write more and to write better as well as to take my writing more seriously.
Oddly, I have also always been an engineer. I just have that kind of logical mind that looks at a problem and sees it as a series of steps to be solved. I know engineers have a terrible reputation as writers and documenters, I’ve seen first hand that the reputation is based in fact. But in some ways writing a a novel and solving an engineering problem are similar. The novel has a beginning and an end and in between are a bunch of subproblems that have to be solved.
Melanie, a huge thank you for your stories and insight! We wish you the best in your continuing recovery, and we wish we could visit you and all your animals!
I want everyone to know that Melanie recently went to Brazil and saw a lot of wild capybaras and wonderful birds. She also saw a gorgeous, hungry jaguar who wanted to eat a capybara!
That’s quite a photo! (And the capybara escaped.)
For a Melanie’s educational article for kids about a day in the life of a pet capybara, visit USKidsMag.com.