A story to save the tigers
Katy Yocom raises awareness about decline of tigers with a touching story about family, love and the fragility of life
Summer 2019 Edition
“I can’t write a novel about tigers. For whatever reason, I just thought that’s ridiculous. Who would write novels about tigers?”
These were Katy (Monk) Yocom’s (j’89) thoughts when she was deciding what to write about for her debut novel.
As a Kansas native, she grew up surrounded by animals, including plenty of cats. At the same time, Yocom’s love of writing grew from her love of reading. Before picking a career path, she thought about becoming a zookeeper, veterinarian or marine biologist. In the end, she came back to her true passion, writing, and pursued journalism at KU.
Later on, Yocom also earned her Master of Fine Arts in Writing through Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Yocom thought her fascination with cats was long gone until a tiger at her local zoo had a litter of cubs. She kept visiting them over the months and witnessed them growing up. They were hilarious, adorable and quirky — she instantly fell in love. This led Yocom to research tigers and she discovered some shocking facts.
“I quickly realized that the story of tigers wasn’t just how amazing and magnificent they are, it was also about how endangered they are,” Yocom said.
In her research, she found that tigers were an endangered species and with only an estimated 3,900 wild tigers today compared with about 100,000 a century ago. Yocom said the reasons for the decline in the tiger population were mostly because of human interactions. Some major issues were encroachment on wild land, poaching tigers for their body parts, and habitat loss.
Yocom knew she had to write a novel and raise awareness for tigers. However, about 50 pages into the book, she didn’t have enough information to continue writing. How could she properly write a novel based in India with tigers when she had never experienced that environment herself?
So, she applied for a grant through the Elizabeth George Foundation and was able to spend three weeks in India at three different national parks, which she said was a lifetime highlight.
“I spent time in the backs of Jeeps and on the back of an elephant riding around looking for tigers in the wild, and that was an incredible experience. I was seeing tigers almost every day,” Yocom said.
That trip was more than enough fuel for her imagination and, after some writing retreats, she was able to complete the manuscript for “Three Ways to Disappear.” During this time, Yocom also worked as a full-time staff member at Spalding’s MFA in Writing program, where she received support in writing her novel.
Upon completion, Yocom entered her unpublished manuscript in a contest, and it won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. In winning that prize, Yocom also received publication for her book through Ashland Creek Press, which hosted the competition. Ashland Creek is an independent press that emphasizes the environment, ecology and wildlife. Although she went with an untraditional route of publication, Yocom said she was glad to be working with Ashland Creek Press because its mission aligns with her book.
Aside from tigers, her book is also about a family who must overcome a tragedy, a forbidden love affair, and what it’s like to live in rural India. Yocom used her experiences in the J-School to bring life to her main character, Sarah, who is a journalist.
In the end, Yocom’s goal was to shine light on tigers and their risk of extinction. She wanted to make people care about tigers while simultaneously tell a good story.
“With creative writing, you can’t only be aiming to make a point or convince someone of something,” Yocom said. “You also have to have a great story. A story that people will want to read and take into their hearts."
“Three Ways to Disappear” is scheduled to be published this summer.
– Angel Tran is a May 2019 graduate from Wichita, Kansas