Paradiso Ubud (adjacent to Earth Cafe Ubud) is delighted to host author Tom Lang for a series of writing and storytelling workshops throughout February and March.
Tom’s books have been featured on National Public Radio and in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. Since 1991 he has also worked as a river guide and lecturer outside of Haines, Alaska in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, site of the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. Tom’s talks on nature are known for their humor and distinctive insight into the natural world. We asked Tom a few questions about his book and work ahead of his workshops at Paradiso.
When did you start writing children’s novels and what initially led you to do so?
Even though kids love the books and they are used in many schools in America, I wouldn’t call them children’s books and probably most readers are adults interested in the animals I write about. Fables bring out the children in all of us. People of all ages loved when I taught about nature from the animal’s (moose, eagle, bear) point of view and that inspired me to start the fable series.
What is the main premise for your books and how do you select the subjects & themes you write about?
When I write one of my little books I have more of a goal than a premise. I want them to be funny, educational and to have a moral or theme that resonates with the reader. Most of the books are based on the iconic creatures of Alaska (wolf, salmon, and yes, mosquito) so my subjects are obvious choices. One of the things we’ll talk about in the afternoon story telling sessions is the triad of conflict-resolution-theme. I define theme as what the story is about. Great themes are almost always revealed not selected. If you start with a theme you trap your character’s growth arc. Storytelling is life: we don’t understand what our conflicts are about until we find resolution and understand the deeper meaning in what created those conflicts. A great story takes on a life of its own and goes where it needs to go. I love looking back at a finished story and understanding the theme that I didn’t consciously see while writing.
Do you have a favourite amongst the books you have written?
Whatever book of mine I’m talking about or reading to an audience is my favourite. I love finding the driver, or plotlines, to push my stories forward. Whether it’s a moose detective, a mosquito with a fear of blood or a cat suing her human for alienation of affection, there is something in each book that brought me great joy.
You’ve been a lecturer and guide at the Bald Eagle Preserve in Alaska for over 25 years – why the fascination with these animals?
There’s a magic that draws people to visit Alaska. Where I’ve guided for 25 years is one of the most beautiful places in the world with an abundance of life. The Chilkat Valley is home to the largest gathering of American Bald Eagles in the world. One of the largest whale migrations occurs south of the valley. One year over 500,000 salmon ran up the Chilkat River to spawn. The numbers and visuals are astounding. What are all these amazing creatures feeling, thinking, understanding? And how are they coping with a changing world? That’s what fascinates me.
Have you written any novels for adults or do you plan to?
I love the short story/novella as an art form, and sometimes I rewrite my little books 30 times to fine tune each sentence. However, for the last two years I’ve been playing with a detective/mystery story based in Bali and that book will be ready next year.
Tell us a little bit about Great Guides, the consulting company you co-founded?
I’ve trained river guides, kayak guides, mountain guides and naturalists for over 25 years, mostly in the States. My specialty is the soft skills: communication, teamwork, leadership, building trust, conflict resolution. The main companies I’ve worked with in Alaska are consistently rated the highest and, without any promotion on my part, in 1991 I began to receive offers to consult with ecotourism companies in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia. Then corporations asked me to speak to their teams. The more work I did out of my wilderness field the more I realized how powerful guide mentality is in any workplace. And that’s what Great Guides consulting company says: The skill set that makes a great river guide is the skill set that makes a great anything, from a tech company to a personal relationship.
The last workshop of the month-long series at Paradiso will be based on my book for yoga teachers: The Great Guiding Principles for Yoga Teachers. In 2003 I went through a 2-month intensive yoga teacher training in Santa Monica, California with very well respected teachers who had been teaching for many years. I told them I would love to fine tune their presentation skills and that lead to working with yoga teachers for the last 14 years.
What’s your favourite novel and why?
I would say favorite novels, plural, and favorite writers. Alice in Wonderland is a huge inspiration to me. I’ve read it 30 times and I get something new from it every time. Underneath the wildness is a powerful political and philosophical treatise. Alice is the story of a young girl stuck in being a victim who learns to take control of her life when she overcomes her resistance to her mentors. There are so many life lessons tucked away in this classic story.
Everything by Mark Twain awes me. A master storyteller who weaves political and social satire seamlessly into his humor.
I discovered Paul Beatty this year and I’ve been reading everything he wrote. Each paragraph is a piece of art. In many ways he’s like a modern Mark Twain.
For full details on Paul’s workshops check out the Paradiso program here