Local Author Profile: Walt Maguire

[img_assist|nid=4680|title=Monkey See by Walt Maguire|desc=|link=url|url=http://www.encpress.com/MS.html|align=right|width=150|height=235]What if apes were living side-by-side the human species, wearing Urban Outfitters, taking public transportation and even talking? What would they talk about? That’s the question author Walt Maguire seeks to answer in his new novel Monkey See (ENC Press, Summer 2009). Laced with wit and satire, Monkey See follows Ed, a Bonobo ape, as he struggles to find his place in society. Complete with a love story, ethical uncertainty and lessons in ape etiquette, Monkey See is sure to leave you seeing the world from a different perspective.

Tell me about your new novel, Monkey See.

It’s set in a time when not only have scientists cracked the code for giving animals intelligence, but it’s becoming a little too commonplace. Ed, a young ape, is trying to find his way through the new social order, stuck halfway between American pop life and what the other apes want – finding a job; getting an apartment; going to parties; planning the overthrow of humans, or not. I’ve described it as Planet of the Apes from the ape’s point of view, but it’s more a coming of age story…with bananas and robot tanks.

What research did you do when writing your book?

Quite a lot – I was already interested in Jane Goodall’s work, and I knew about the Gorilla Foundation’s work with sign language, though like most people I’d never really studied their research. Apes have been studied, trained, and written about since at least the days of the Greeks.

What inspired you to include advice on “throwing inter-species dinner parties, parenting do’s and don’ts, conducting your own fiendish experiments, taunting caged monsters?” It must have been great fun to write such advice.

Fun? It’s very serious stuff. Okay, maybe not. I originally just planned to do a short etiquette book, but I soon found myself filling in a plot. Also, I discovered I don’t know anything about etiquette. But there were a lot of “rules” spread out through the movies, things that had never really been catalogued in one place. I had fun fitting them together coherently.

What was the most challenging part of writing your book?

I was so wrapped up in the story it took me a while to realize that a story about talking animals could be misinterpreted as a metaphor. I wanted to be careful that I wasn’t unintentionally making an anti-immigration argument, for instance.  I’m talking about actual talking animals. The point I was trying to make is that monster stories are moving from being a metaphor for discussing social issues to being an actual, possible situation. Something I hadn’t planned for the book is a running commentary on parenthood – the scientist who’s “enhancing” these creatures is, when you get down to it, a bad parent. He brings them into the world and then abandons them emotionally, not to say twists them to his own ambitions.

What is your favorite scene in Monkey See?

There’s a scene where Ed is worried about Gigi and tries to get help from a militant chimpanzee named Chekchek. The chimp hates Ed for being so easygoing, but he thinks Ed has secret information Chekchek needs for his revolt. The more they talk the more Ed drives him crazy. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to writing a Three Stooges routine.

“They remembered what we had made them think unimportant. We wanted them to type, we wanted them to speak, and we did not care about trees to their way of thinking. Cogitomni watched the great muscled back disappear into a pine and thought We cannot explain ourselves to them either.” This is a central idea to your book. Do you have any underlying social commentary in this passage?

One of the things I ran across in my research was a comment on the nature of language, which said, basically, that even if animals learned English, their frame of reference would be completely different. It reminded me of all the remarks over the years about “people not like us” – it ties back to the old idea that prejudice is largely based on assuming the other guy is somehow sub-human and unworthy of fair play.  The human race is very creative at making excuses.

What do you hope readers think about after reading your book?

Lunch, first. Buying more copies of  Monkey See as presents, second.  And caring a little more about what happens to those who depend on them, which I would count as third unless you plan to invite someone to lunch or buy them a copy of the book, in which case “caring” immediately leapfrogs to first on the list, and well done.

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