Friend Friday

 I’m delighted to introduce you to Jane Kelley, whose brand new book came out October 15. I was quite taken with her story, in which we are given an African parrot’s eye view of the world. It was also remarkable to me the way in which she intertwined the story of that very self-centered parrot and a girl whose illness has diminished her sense of self. Despite the title, this is a story of redemption and love, rather than desperation. Do read it!

Jane Kelley


I’m not very good at coming up with names. Just ask my daughter––who came within one chromosome of being called “Absalom.” Whenever I begin a novel, the characters are identified by an initial. In The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, the girl was A and the parrot was Z.

This was okay for the first few drafts, but eventually I had to commit to an actual name. I liked the sound of Zeno. The parrot was a curmudgeon, so it seemed fitting that he had the syllable “no” in his name. When I made that nearly random choice, I had no idea how it would shape the character and eventually express an important theme of the novel.

Those choices happened because I kept myself open to possibilities. Being open is nerve wracking. It’s much faster to drive the plot along an interstate, listening to the reassuring voice of the GPS say, “Turn left, turn right.”  Whenever you don’t follow that plan, the GPS says with great disdain, “Recalculating,” and puts you back on track.

But the best discoveries can happen when you ignore the GPS. Notice that I said “can.” They don’t always. Some unplanned turns lead to dead ends.

After Z became Zeno, I had to figure out who would name a parrot after a Greek philosopher. Probably a professor of Greek Literature. That professor would probably quote the philosopher Zeno. Since parrots imitate what they hear, I thought it would be fun to have my Zeno repeat those quotes. But the philosopher Zeno’s claim to fame was identifying a paradox of infinity. If you always travel half the distance to your goal, you will never arrive. What a depressing idea! This was a dead end. Did I give up? No, I poked around some more and discovered a second philosopher named Zeno. He was one of the original Stoics. He said, “Two ears, one mouth,” which means people should listen more than they speak. (My parrot Zeno thought that advice meant that people should be quiet and listen to him.)
It wasn’t until the penultimate draft that I discovered the quote that sums up one of the most important themes of the book.  Zeno the Stoic defined friend as: “Another I.”  Zeno the parrot thinks this quote means that his friends should be exactly like him. But after many desperate adventures, he understands the actual meaning. A friend is someone you cherish as you would yourself.  Another I.
When you write, you won’t always know what you’re looking for. You won’t even know that you should be looking for what you’re looking for. But if you’re open to possibilities, if you pay attention to everything around you, if you ignore the voice who thinks it knows where you should be going––you’ll be more likely to make the discovery that makes it all worthwhile.
Jane, thank you for this reminder to trust the creative spirit to pluck the just-right story fibers from the loom of life!

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