Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Behind the Books: When Topics Choose Me

If you look back at this post from November 4, you might ask whether I really "chose" to write about sea lions. Actually, the topic was sort of thrust upon me by the animal itself. And believe me, that’s not the only time an animal encounter was so thrilling that I couldn’t resist writing about the critter in question.

While researching a book in Costa Rica, I was lucky enough to encounter three different kinds of New World monkeys. And, perhaps not surprisingly, my original book project got put on hold. Those monkeys were just too irresistible.

I didn’t bring an alarm clock on my trip, but it wasn’t a problem. Each morning, the loud, low calls of howler monkeys woke me at the crack of dawn. Near the end of the trip, I was able to see these monkeys at very close range.

As I headed off to breakfast each morning, I often saw spindly spider monkeys swinging through the tree tops, looking for their own morning meal. I saw them foraging again in the late afternoon. In the middle of the day, these smart monkeys take a siesta to avoid the hot sun.

But it was a single tiny capuchin monkey that really captured my heart. One afternoon, I spotted the little guy (or girl) climbing up a tree. It had set its sights on a bright red panchira flower, which it plucked with two fingers and then ate petal by petal. I watched that monkey forage in the forest canopy for nearly three hours. It was amazing.

When I came home, I started researching New World monkeys, and discovered the group was a lot more diverse and complicated that I’d ever imagined. There are more than six different species, from the pygmy marmoset, which is small enough to fit inside a teacup, to the woolly spider monkey, which can weight as much as thirty pounds.

I was hooked. I wrote a proposal, sent it out, and soon enough New World Monkeys became a book.

And what happened to the book I was supposed to be working on in Costa Rica? Well, it’s still not published, but it’s getting there. Right now, it’s scheduled for publication in 2013.

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