Rita Mae Brown is a lot of things: a gay-rights activist, an Emmy nominee (for penning the 1982 variety show I Love Liberty) and the writer of the landmark lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle. But there are two things she relishes more than anything else: She’s a farmer and an avid animal lover. Escaping Hollywood for a Virginia farm complete with foxhounds, horses, dogs, cats and other creatures big and small, Brown took a break from co-authoring murder mysteries with her cat, Sneaky Pie, to share stories of her childhood spent with animals, including Mickey, the cat who accompanied her as a youth, in her latest memoir, Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small.

Brown took a break between chores on her farm to discuss Animal Magnetism, what she’s learned from animals and why it’s important for writers to get beat up in life. What inspired you to return to nonfiction after 12 years and pen another memoir?
Rita Mae Brown: My editor, Judy Sternlight, had come visit the farm and met one of my hounds -- an older fella named Chaser -- and just fell in love with him. She said, “Why don’t you write about the animals in your life?” She’s smarter than I am, so I figured that I better do it. [Laughs]

Who are the three "creatures" you describe in the book that taught you unconditional love?
It was Mickey (Brown’s childhood cat), Suzie Q (a horse) and Chaps (a retriever). With humans, everything is quid pro quo, even your parents really in a way. With animals they just accept you as you are; they aren’t trying to make you into something else; they aren’t trying to get you to subscribe to belief systems that may not correspond to reality; they just live in nature and are happy for you to do so as well. They don’t care if you’re pretty, they don’t care if you’re rich; they don’t care if you’re male or female; they don’t care about anything. If you’re good to them, they’re good to you and sometimes they’re good to you even if you aren’t good to them.

How have animals influenced you personally and professionally?

Personally I think they’ve taught me how the systems that humans build always rely on the subjugation of many for the benefit of the few. It doesn’t matter if they say they’re egalitarian as in communism, it’s still the subjugation of many for the benefit of the few. Animals don’t do that; even when they live in herds. Herds, pack animals like horses and dogs -- and we are -- we are a pack animal. We create hierarchies that are often very damaging. For whatever reason, (animals) are much better able to accept the world as it is instead of constantly trying to pervert it for their own ends. I mean, what is technology but a perversion? I mean, it’s a wonderful perversion; I love central heating (laughs) but we’re beginning to forget how the world really works. That’s the most important thing they taught me. And the other most important thing is to think for myself; don’t accept received wisdom, learn it. I was a classics major but don’t necessarily accept it; question everything. And I don’t mean that in a combative way. Question quietly, think through and then go your own way.

Tags: Books