Tim Rowland publishes book composed of animal-related columns

February 02, 2013
  • Opie the bouvier des Flanders, left, and Hannah the bulldog comfort author and Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland in the dawns early light of his farmette. Rowlands most recent book, Creature Feature, is a compilation of comical columns featuring Opie, Hannah and dozens of other farm critters.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Name: Tim Rowland

Age: 52

City, dell or holler in which you reside: The mountains of Morgan County, W.Va., not far from — no lie — Sticky Kyne Road.

Day job: Herald-Mail columnist

Book title: "Tim Rowland's Creature Features"

Genre: Humor

Brief sentence synopsis of book: This is a collection of animal-related columns that have appeared in The Herald-Mail over the past four years.

Publisher: High Peaks Publishing

Price: $14.95

In your bio, you say you have never met an animal you didn't like. Did you have pets or farm animals when you were a kid? Any noteworthy reminiscences?

I grew up on what was a pretty fair facsimile of "Green Acres." Dad was real keen on farm livin', but, like Oliver Douglas, he never really put it into practice. This about killed me, since I wanted critters so badly. I obtained a goat and a couple of pigs as a 4-H project, but always wanted to be a "real" farmer. Obviously, I had no idea how much work was involved.

Tell me about your formative years. Where did you grow up? What did you watch on TV? Listen to on radio? Who influenced your sense of humor?

This will explain everything. I grew up on Billy Graham Crusades and Monty Python. Safe to say, Dad and I had Very Different Ideas about what constituted quality programming and when he turned in for the night I would change the channel so fast that the resulting frictional heat could have melted tungsten. Reading was generally less controversial, and I gulped down humorous prose at what had to be a really unhealthy rate ... everything from Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse to Tony Kornheiser and Art Hoppe.

Knowledgeable experts (such as, perhaps, your resident Horse Expert and Book Editor) often advise writers to write about what they know. Does that apply here?

It goes beyond that. Sometimes it felt as if the animals themselves were writing the essays, and could have done quite well without me serving as middle man. Will Rogers said he wasn't a comedian, he just watched members of Congress and wrote down what they did. The only difference between them and animals is two extra legs and a tail.

You write a column for The Herald-Mail, and some of those found their way into your new book. Did you revise these chapters after they were published as columns in the newspaper? New material never seen before?

There are new fore- and afterwords, but otherwise these are published columns. Actually, the word we columnists prefer is "classic" material. Scary thing from my standpoint is that I didn't remember writing about half of them.

 In the book, you tell stories about horses (miniature and full size), dogs (two kinds), a pig, cats, chickens, a bull, goats, geese, Belted Galloway cattle and more. You had all these on your farm? How did you manage to hold down a day job at the same time?

In a sense they were my day job, because they produced such a broad array of material. At the high point (or low point, depending on your perspective), animal husbandry was taking up three hours a day. We are quite interested in restoring heritage livestock to the food supply, so our farm became sort of a dress rehearsal among a number of animals so we could discover which we were best suited for. (The Belted Galloway beef cattle won.)

What is your process of writing like? Do you write columns all in one go or do you rework them to shamelessly stoke, I mean, sensitively evoke the humor in an incident?

I do a lot of writing on my bicycle, what Winnie-the-Pooh would have referred to as a good, thinkin' spot. So when I sit down in front of a keyboard, it's more like I'm taking dictation. Other than that, it's all in one shot without revision, which probably shows. It's like Huck Finn said about the preacher: "He didn't charge nothin' for his sermons and they was worth it."

You tell a good story. Not everyone can. How did you develop your particular style of personal confession and compelling narrative?

I've never minded sharing my shortcomings, primarily because I have been blessed with so many of them. And when you think about it, all humor has some element of failure at the root of it. Everything from French farce to political satire is about a failure of things to go as intended. The second half of the equation is observation. Storytelling isn't as much about telling as it is about watching. Pay attention and you'll see a thousand relatively hilarious things a day.

The book's writing mechanics are pretty solid. I saw virtually no grammatical errors or misspellings. That's not common in a lot of books by local authors. Did you work with an editor or just get lucky?

I had a great head start because these pieces came pre-edited, so to speak, by Herald-Mail editors. Plus, my wife Beth had just sold her publishing company and was starting up a business that specializes in producing self-published books that don't look self published. She gave me a pretty good discount, I thought.

Who reads your books? You must have some readers, because you refer to them in the plural, at least in the chapter about Chuckles.

It's complex. I get stopped on the street all the time by people who say they don't care about the political stuff I write, but they love the animal columns. They are about equal to the people who love the political columns, but hate all that stupid animal junk.

Is there a theme were you exploring with "Creature Features"? What do you hope readers come away with?

There is no term — no term — I hate more in the literary world than "personal journey." But this had that feel to it, at least in that Beth and I were exploring which animals we related to the most and watching how they interacted with each other. You wouldn't think a donkey and a 400-pound hog would have anything to talk about, for example, but the donkeys Becky and Nelson would hang out all afternoon with Magellan. So maybe you would say this is a "personal animal journey."

Did you learn anything about yourself while writing the book?

No. Well, I forget if it was "Family Circus" or what, but I remember the kid being asked what he learned in school and he says "the teacher's boiling point." I guess I learned a lot about my own boiling point.

This is your seventh book, at least. (You must be rolling in dough from selling inventory.) What's your next book project?

Yes, I have already had to interrupt this interview twice to tell the dump trucks where to off-load the cash. I'm not looking at the next book in terms of subject matter at the moment, but in terms of the book-publishing model. We're on the brink of a whole new era in publishing, and it's going to be real interesting how it all plays out. For example, I have a ton of notes from my travels around the world, and I'm considering a volume of them available only as an e-book.

Where can readers buy a copy of "Creature Features"? And do you have copies available for e-readers?

Books are available at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, Dogs R Us and River City Farm and Pet in Williamsport and Animal Health Clinic in Funkstown. It's also available from and in both book and e-book formats, including Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo and Sony Reader, as well as from

— Chris Copley, Lifestyle assistant editor

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