Interview with Connie Spittler. Nebraska Author
Connie is an extremely accomplished author, presenter, and friend of nature. Along with her husband Bob, a talented photographer, they have captured stories from the beauty of their environment. I think of how often I have complained about a weed, forgetting the beautiful plant standing tall beside it. Connie and Bob capture the beauty of the earth as it touches their lives. They involve their children who have grown to become professionals in their own fields and remember the training from growing up with parents who taught them to love their world.
The Spittler’s books THE DESERT ETERNAL and THE LEGEND OF BROOK HOLLOW reveal their exciting and picturesque world. I feel privileged that Connie and Bob generously shared them with me.
The other gift to me was an anthology called The Story Teller: A Publication of The Society of Southwestern Authors. Connie's award-winning story, A Universal Language, featured in the publication tells how music and surroundings can communicate with not only other humans, but with a beloved pet.
Husband Bob, a phenomenal photographer, captures near impossible pictures of a quality I have seen in National Geographic magazine. Pictorial artist that he is, he prefers to let Connie be the spokesperson.
Note to Connie: Before I start your interview, I must express judgment about you personally. You are a romantic. You do not hide it, but let it free through all of your poetic prose and memoirs. Reading your books has been a personal pleasure, and I got them free. It is great to do interviews.
Q. Connie, as I read some of the stories from THE DESERT ETERNAL, it was difficult to make out whether Bob took photographs to fit the story, or if you wrote the story about Bob’s photographs. It did not take long for me to realize the two of you are so simpatico, both story and photograph meld as you write and he shoots.
Would you say that is an accurate assessment?
A. There’s a story about which came first the writing or the photos. When Bob and I moved from Omaha to Tucson, AZ, we left our film/AV business behind. In our production company, Bob was videographer/cinematographer and editor. I wrote, produced, and put together the editing drafts. We both did post production (directed announcers, picked music, did sound mixes, supervised cuts, fades, dissolves down to a hundredth of a second at a postproduction house). We worked together on projects through the years, ever since communication classes at Creighton U. After the AZ move, without business demands, we grabbed the opportunity to follow our own creative inclinations. Bob changed from moving to still photographs. I wrote, not for clients, but on subjects I chose. In a new and fascinating location, we happily danced down our own Southwestern paths. A few years later, after a lumpectomy for breast cancer, I lay in bed, groggy on appropriate meds, looking at the cactus and mountains out the bedroom window. A random thought scrolled by. Yes, Bob and I were “doing our own thing,” but actually, we were doing the same thing in individual ways. Once on my feet, I printed copies of my nature essays. Each morning, during the seven-week course of radiation, Bob and I explored his photo archives to see how many things matched. By the end, we found over 100 word/image connections, and created the book, The Desert Eternal. That treasured time together during post surgery, gave us a special, healing experience, a continuation of our like minds. By the last treatment, I carried along our Blurb self-published book to show the wonderful technicians who’d cared for me. They received the first book. Neighbors ordered copies and word of mouth spread. The library purchased several, which led to its selection as one of the Southwest Books of the Year 2008, and it later received a Glyph award from Arizona Publishers. For all these personal memories, I love that book.
Q. Each story is a joy to read, but I must say the story of the quail and your granddaughter in THE DESERT ETERNAL, I found enchanting. I am enthralled with the way each memoir melds your love of nature and family. As an author, I must ask how you honed your writing style. Does the ability to stitch photography, nature, and family together come naturally to you and Bob?
A. As far as nature affecting my writing style, I trace it back to growing up in South Dakota. I remember washing the supper dishes, work I didn’t like. Does any kid like the jobs they’re required to do? However, after a while, I concentrated on the sunset. Hands in soapy water, I gazed out the kitchen window, to watch an ever-changing view of day’s ending on the flat plains. I studied the colors, shapes, weather, different aspects available through one piece of glass, a bird, or nest, storm brewing, snow falling, leaves unfurling on the trees. Now, when I look out the window or take a walk, I concentrate on appreciating the marvels that await.
My other nature memory centers on my escape to our big mulberry tree as a girl. I’d nestle in its comfy trunk crotch, and read, stopping to eavesdrop on birds that flew in to eat ripe berries. I’d reach out to do the same. It was the best reading room I’ve ever had, as I let nature envelope me. Later, married, with kids, our family stopped to appreciate nature, the sunsets, starry nights, and nature’s revolving patterns. When the kids moved away (still in town), we’d get or make calls. “Rainbow to the east,” or “lightning exploding in the west.” It came naturally to both Bob and me, and we encouraged it in our family. As a girl and as an adult, I wrote stories and poems, often related to nature in some way.
Q. The LEGEND OF BROOK HOLLOW tells the story of an idyllic area that the public discovered and used as a park. Later a developer encompassed the land into a private park-like setting for people living in his created neighborhood. Did the residents of the development seem to feel more protected, or did they express much nostalgia for the openness of the park?
A. Most folks like the fact that it’s a somewhat secret place. A couple of elderly residents were unhappy I was writing the book. They feared too many others would find out about it. True, unless you know someone who lives here, you probably haven’t heard about Brook Hollow, and the sign at the entrance clearly states, “Private Property. I found it curious that some residents don’t care for the natural part at all, the trees, wild animals, and ponds. I can’t figure out why they moved to a place so attractive to wildlife. Maybe they moved here for convenience to employment, shopping, the Interstate, etc., but others, like me, are always on the lookout for creatures that live close or pass through, wild turkeys, mink, snapping turtles, beaver, badger, a deer or two, and an illusive fox. Of course, raccoon, opossum, squirrels, rabbits and birds, birds, birds.
Since the book just came out, not much feedback yet, although one neighbor couple came to the door to report that now they feel they’re living in Shangri La. “I get to be Ronald Coleman,” the husband said. An email from the family of a woman who’d had a stroke and just returned from the special care said, “She is so enjoying the photographs and the stories that we read to her.” I used literary quotes throughout as photo captions, and a neighbor called me yesterday to find out how I found words of the famous that matched the pictures so precisely. I confessed that I Googled literary quotes, then added the subject matter” which made it less about my extensive liberal arts background, and more about my computer that could blink out wisdom from Chinese philosophers, African, or Indian proverbs. Wary of copyrights, I selected only authors from olden times. Hurrah for technology.
Q. As I looked at the photographs of Brook Hollows wildlife, plants, and ponds, I felt I was sneaking a peek into a kind of sanctuary. You have walked Brook Hollow communing with all of its wonders. How does that make you feel?
A. We moved back to Nebraska about a year and a half ago. We lived on an acre of lush desert in Tucson, AZ. It spoiled us. In that development, rules forbade residents from changing the natural desert on their property. No additions to the landscape without permission and then, only from the list of Sonoran desert plants. This meant residents lived surrounded by a setting developed by nature through the years. We did have walled back yards, because coyotes, javelina, tarantulas, all kinds of lizards and snakes roamed the neighborhood. Does it sound terrible? It was great. The creatures did not hurt us, and we did not hurt them. By walking out the door, we entered this other world. I feel the same way about Brook Hollow. We chose our home because of the habitat with animals and water. Last night, three huge wild turkeys roosted high in the leafless elm tree outside our deck. Such experiences ground us and lead me gently to philosophical thoughts and then, essays. As I said in the book, we can’t decide if we’re walking through The Wind in the Willows or in the tiniest, tiniest of ways, emulating Henry David Thoreau.
Q. Your award-winning memoir A Universal Language published in The Story Teller: A Publication of the Society of Southwestern Authors reminded me of my Shelty, Duchess who died a few years ago. She was my companion for over ten years, and we developed a kind of communication between us. Have you had other such reactions from pet lovers? Do you think you may someday be able to publish that in a collection of memoirs by you?
A. I’ve heard from lots of pet lovers. The story about my sick cat ended up in Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers. Once, someone read that story, wrote a small pamphlet about their special pet, and sent me a copy. I appreciated that beautiful gesture.
I read my cat story at an AZ Humane Society fundraiser. A little girl thanked me, and then left. In five minutes, she sneaked back. “I love our cat. Would you read your story to me again?” Moreover, I did. Her wide-eyed attentions all the way through made me wonder if anyone in her family ever read aloud to her. Before I could talk to her afterward, she’d disappeared.
Our present cat, Marbles, arrived from a faraway street, picked up by my granddaughter’s friend. A fantastic animal, she curls up on my desk when I’m working. One of her quirks is to push all my stray pencils to the floor. I hope that’s not an editorial comment on my writing, or maybe she’s telling me to pick up the darn pencil and write. Will there ever be a book of my memoir pieces? I’d love to do it, but I need more stories. Wait, the message from my cat comes through. Get to work.
(I like to ask the people I interview to add anything they feel relevant about their writing. I cannot think of everything, so I let them help. It is their interview.)
One of my best writing experiences involved the acceptance of a piece about lint. Some of my essays began as holiday letters. After our move, most Christmas notes from Arizona friends described people I didn’t know, folks who’d visited, fellow trip takers, relatives and names that held no meaning to me. As a change of pace, I wrote philosophical letters to celebrate the season. Some folks copied them and sent them to other people. One lawyer sent them to 46 other attorneys in his office. Someone in California sent one to a British editor-friend working in Spain, who asked me to submit an essay for her anthology in progress with Editorial Kairos, entitled The Art of Living, A Practical Guide to Being Alive. One day, an email arrived about the book, “I thought the authors I’ve chosen might be interested in hearing the names of the other writers in the book” She sent the list and I almost fell out of my desk chair. The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jean S. Bolen, Sir Richard Branson, and there it was, my name included. Kairos distributed the book internationally with English and Spanish versions. Before this, an essay highpoint was publication in a nature book called What Wildness is This. From U of Texas Press that included Barbara Kingsolver and Terry Tempest Williams. The Spanish book, however, was global and humbling. Afterward, I wondered briefly if I should quit writing. I’d never be able to match the names of that company of famous people. Nevertheless, of course, I keep at it. Our words do not depend on the proximity of neighboring authors, no matter how well known. Still, it was a thrill and I love thinking about it, especially on days when I get a rejection letter.
My works appear in over a dozen anthologies and I count it a blessing when I hear from readers. A letter from California said, “Someone gave me your book. Alone in my backyard, I read your nature essays aloud to the plants. The words bring me close to the earth and calm me. Thanks.” I visualized the plants listening to my words and smiled. Yea, a new audience.
At a bookstore, a sparse group gathered as I read my story in Chicken Soup for the Grandparents’ Soul. I packed up afterwards, a glum and disappointed author. Then, an old woman approached. “Would you autograph this copy for our neighbor boy to give to his grandparents? His mother deserted him and his dad’s in jail. His grandparents are adopting him and the book’s a surprise for his Nana and Popi. I confess I blinked away a tear as I signed that book. As authors, we send our words into the unknown, and it’s gratifying to know about the homes they find.
When I wrote the interview questions to explore Connie’s world, I had no idea how expanded her world had become. I’m gratified she willingly shared her life, loves, and career with us. Connie your career as an essayist and speaker will continue. Your fingers are, like many authors, the kind that will itch with anticipation when you are near a keyboard. You and Bob are gifts that keep giving back to the earth by calling our attention to it.
Dear readers you may wish to know that Connie has also done writing workshops for women at the University of Arizona Writing Works Center. Therefore, we add educator to her resume. Connie also reveals to me another area of her career that may have slipped past this interview
“I forgot to mention the "Wise Women Video Series,” four videotapes, later DVD's, from interviews with women over 50 who'd contributed in unusual ways to their community, neighborhood, family. They selected the series to be in Harvard University's Library on the History of Women in America. I was surprised when Medical Schools and Nursing Schools ordered the tapes. The schools used them as examples of positive aging and showed them to students after they finished studies on heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Actually several of the women in the tapes had medical problems, but rose above them with messages of hope and continued service.”
I for one am encouraged by Connie’s story. If she had not offered up the last bit of information, I would have missed the gratification of being a woman over 50 who hopes that I have and will contribute to my community and family. It nice to see the efforts of anybody appreciated publicly. I cannot think of anything more I can add to this interview. So dear readers go to a library, bookstore, or Internet and look for Connie and Bob Spittler’s book titles THE DESERT ETERNAL, The LEGEND OF BROOK HOLLOW, and the anthologies that contain her work. You will not be disappointed.