Meet Julia Soplop, author of Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped US History.
FQ: Just by reading your bio, you have spent a lot of time documenting the behavior of animals around the world. What made the horse such an attractive subject for you?
SOPLOP: Something that fascinates me about the horse is that, unlike most domestic animals, the horse exists as the same species in nature. Selective breeding by humans has really only resulted in superficial changes in horses. We can observe how horses behave naturally in their bands in the wild, then turn around and observe how they behave in the stable in their artificial social settings and indoor environments.
At the same time that I became interested in observing and photographing wild horses, my young daughters begged me to enroll them in riding lessons at a local barn. I’m not an equestrian, and the idea scared me! However, they were relentless in their begging and I finally relented. What I didn’t realize was how much I’d enjoy roaming the barn watching domestic horses one morning a week for the past four years while the girls rode out. It is interesting to see how the natural behaviors of horses evolved over thousands of years to stay alive on the Great Plains, such as being frightened by a loud noise or an unfamiliar sight, they still exist and wreak havoc in a domestic environment. A domestic horse that has never encountered threatening wildlife remains on guard at all times for the possibility of a cougar jumping on its back!
FQ: Is there a place you’ve been, or a specific animal / mammal you’ve researched, that you loved? Along the same lines, is there a place / animal that you long to travel and investigate that you haven’t done yet?
SOPLOP: When I was in college, I traveled to Madagascar for a couple of months as a field research assistant to study the behavior of sifaka lemurs. Look for the sifaka, because they are adorable and have the most interesting way of moving, called vertical grabbing and jumping. Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar and are critically endangered due to habitat destruction and climate change. I am honored to have spent time observing them, because devastatingly, they may not be around much longer.
I have a cousin who is a great white shark researcher. In better times, he travels to South Africa to study them. I would love to go with her one day to observe her work, when travel is safe again and when she has the guts to put me in a cage in shark waters.
FQ: As an author and photographer, how do you feel yourself about the illustrator-writer “team”? His equipment certainly worked well; Have you done other projects together?
SOPLOP: I had been a fan of Robert Spanring’s art for several years before we started working together. As soon as the manuscript began to take shape, I realized that his particular style could help bring some of the historical events and scientific concepts he was addressing to life. I was very honored when he agreed to illustrate it, and I think we both came out of the project proud of the final product. His art really elevated the manuscript. I hope we find an excuse to work together in the future!
FQ: When did you become a history lover? Is research something that has always fascinated you?
SOPLOP: I’ve always loved reading about history, whether it’s nonfiction books or historical fiction. But when I started homeschooling my children several years ago, I began to think more deeply about how limited my traditional historical education had been, as it was for most of my generation and still is for many children. today, and how I should do better for my children. I did my job to make sure that when we study a historical event, we read numerous perspectives, not just the traditional line of the match that discards the experiences of many players in history. The curatorship of my children’s history education prompted me to want to help amplify the stories of those who largely fell outside the historical narrative.
FQ: What inspires you to sit down and do this whole study? Are you excited about books, music, travel, something specific that makes you want to start writing a book?
SOPLOP: Equus Rising grew out of a history curriculum that I wrote for my children. When we decided to spend a year studying American history, I wanted to do it in a way that would get our attention. Our mutual interest in horses gave me the opportunity to tell the history of our country using the horse as a common narrative thread to tie together events that we generally study in isolation but are very connected. This approach also allowed for the inclusion of figures often written from traditional stories: women and people of color. Once I started gathering the information, I realized that there really was a story there that hadn’t been told consistently. The curriculum was transformed into the idea of a book.
In general, I am very curious and can find inspiration in almost any direction I look. My experience in photography and documentary writing has shown me that a story is always in the making if you are willing to listen carefully enough.
FQ: What advice could you give someone who wants to start a career like yours: field study / research / writing?
SOPLOP: The path to becoming a nonfiction writer is not as clear cut as many career paths. If you want to be a lawyer, you have to take the LSAT, go to law school, and then pass the bar. Congratulations, you are a lawyer. My career path has been much more tortuous. I have always had an interest in research, especially in the fields of biology and public health, as well as writing and photography. But at the end of college I realized that I didn’t want to be a science practitioner; He wanted to be a writer who could communicate research in a way that helps non-specialists understand the important technical issues that influenced their lives.
Becoming a credible communicator on any topic requires understanding the basics enough to identify the experts in the field and ask them the right questions so that you can write accurately about the significance of your findings. Looking back, I would say that my courses as a student and later as a graduate student in medical journalism were divided quite evenly between content courses, such as biostatistics, epidemiology, neuroscience, animal behavior, and courses on how to communicate evidence effectively to a person. wide audience.
My top tip for nonfiction writers is this: Follow your curiosity by working to gain both content knowledge for your subject area and writing skills. Allow yourself to spin. Take advantage of exciting opportunities when they arise, Madagascar! -Even if you are not sure if they will advance your career. They probably will. And if not, they will be a good starting point for the conversation. Also read extensively. Write constantly. There has been nothing traditional in my career, but every class I’ve taken, every book I’ve read, every professional experience I’ve had, has contributed to my ability to chart my own path, which has been quite satisfying.
FQ: Are you interested in writing fiction one day? And are you currently working on something that you can let the readers know about?
SOPLOP: Actually, I’ve had a draft of a novel on my shelf for six or seven years that I furiously wrote during NANOWRIMO while my kids were in preschool two mornings a week. There’s a reason it’s still on the shelf. You need serious help! Every few years, I pick it up and make some adjustments. Then I get overwhelmed and put it back again. Let’s say I’m a better fiction editor than a writer. Although I think I’ll finish it at some point.
I am currently working on two projects. One is an e-book called Unraveling the Desktop Publishing Process that I plan to publish soon to empower freelance authors. The other is a much larger project that I am still researching and describing. It is a book to help non-scientists become more effective and responsible consumers of science and health news. I started planning this book before the pandemic, but now it seems more timely than ever. I think some people are realizing that they could probably use a little help in this area, even if they are generally knowledgeable and educated. Part of me wishes I had finished the book before the pandemic, so it could be helping people navigate the flood of research ahead. The other part of me has been fascinated by closely following the science unfolding publicly around COVID-19, as well as the intense disinformation campaigns surrounding it. The book is practically writing itself.