Before I could begin writing Unspoken, I had to research several areas. First, gorillas. Second, sign language–or the special sign language “Glee” develops for “Sema,” because a gorilla’s hand is different from a human’s. Third, I had to dig into the scriptures to learn about animals and how they fit into God’s plan . . . and I was delighted by what I learned. I also had to learn a bit about zoos, and proper primate habitats, and how humans interact with gorillas.
I rented “Gorillas in the Mist” even though Fossey studied mountain gorillas. I was partial to mountain gorillas (they’re lovely, and they’re endangered), but there are no mountain gorillas in captivity. So Sema would need to be a lowland gorilla, like Koko.
Of course, I also had to learn about how much a gorilla could actually learn of language, so I used Koko for a model. I bought several videos featuring Koko, and based all of Sema’s activities upon things that Koko has either done or can do. (I read a review or two that accused me of making Sema “too human.” I hate to disagree, but her behavior was realistic.)
I tried several times to find a zoo with a gorilla group that would let me visit “behind the scenes.” I called several zoos and begged, but was never granted permission . . . “for liability reasons,” I was told. Sigh. I would have LOVED to have firsthand experience, but had to work with books and my imagination.
I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with a character. People always ask me if I have a favorite book, and my answer is no. But Sema is definitely one of my favorite characters. I just LOVE that little (ha!) gorilla girl!
Tomorrow: the writing