Former Bridgton native publishes first novel

Author Chris (C.J.) Berry Fact Sheet Chris Berry (author C. J. Berry) Born in Bridgton Graduated from LRHS in 1980 University of Maine at Farmington in 1984 University of Colorado – Boulder 2010 Lives in Lafayette, Colo. Former Lafayette, Colo. Mayor 2003-2007 Debut novel  AVES — The Age of Engagement creates an urgent and dangerous narrative of the life-threatening struggles birds undertake in response to internal and external threats to their way of life. Mr. Berry draws upon his experience as the former mayor of the city of Lafayette, Colo. and lifelong bird watcher, to fashion real-life challenges birds confront over climate instability, pesticide poisoning, and inter-species conflicts in a memorable and thought-provoking tale.

Author Chris (C.J.) Berry
Fact Sheet
Chris Berry (author C. J. Berry)
Born in Bridgton
Graduated from LRHS in 1980
University of Maine at Farmington in 1984
University of Colorado – Boulder 2010
Lives in Lafayette, Colo.
Former Lafayette, Colo. Mayor 2003-2007
Debut novel
AVES — The Age of Engagement creates an urgent and dangerous narrative of the life-threatening struggles birds undertake in response to internal and external threats to their way of life. Mr. Berry draws upon his experience as the former mayor of the city of Lafayette, Colo. and lifelong bird watcher, to fashion real-life challenges birds confront over climate instability, pesticide poisoning, and inter-species conflicts in a memorable and thought-provoking tale.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As a young boy, Chris Berry was mesmerized by the “magic of books.”

Just as his teacher, Dotti Sanborn, was able to lure him to reading, Chris hopes to draw a new generation of youngsters into the magical adventures that await in his debut novel, AVES — The Age of Engagement.

Like Sanborn, who spent numerous years writing about birds in columns (“Bird Seed”) submitted to The Bridgton News starting in the 1970s, Chris based his first professional writing venture on challenges birds face in this ever-changing environment.

A few months ago, Chris stopped by The News office while visiting his hometown and dropped off a copy of AVES for a review (see accompanying story by Mike Corrigan below). He also touched base with local seller Justin Ward of Bridgton Books about carrying the new novel (which is in stock there).

BN. What were the biggest challenges/obstacles you faced?

CB. This is my first venture into book publishing. My hope is this will be the first of many. The biggest obstacle I faced in writing AVES — The Age of Engagement had to do with finding the time. Although I had started the story many years ago, it wasn’t until I found myself in between jobs for six months that I was able to put a concerted effort into the story.

BN. What did you learn?

CB. I learned the same age-old lesson: if you want something bad enough, then don’t let obstacles deter you from your goal. Oh, and don’t be afraid to accept some help along the way.

BN. What were some of the challenges you faced?

CB. With the draft completed, I faced the challenge of deciding how and with whom to publish? With my decision to publish through Amazon’s publishing arm, CreateSpace, I then needed to find and hire a top-notch editor and the best illustrator I could find. Without the remarkable contributions of Aimee Heckel (editor) and Laura G. Young (illustrator), this story would never have, ummmm, got off the ground.

BN. What do you like about this book?

CB. I really like how well the illustrations complement the story. I touch on themes that readers can readily relate to like friendship, compassion, community, sacrifice, betrayal, redemption, and loss. I like the fact that the story speaks directly to many of the challenges faced by birds due to a changing climate, loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning and inter-species conflicts. I also got a kick out of using the Latin names, or nicknames from the Latin names for most of the characters names in the story.

BN. What had you hoped to accomplish?

CB. By writing this story I hoped to be able to, in some small part, encourage a new generation of children to become active lifelong readers. Sometimes, all it takes is one grand adventure — just ask Bilbo Baggins. If the letters I’m receiving from Mrs. Leland’s fourth grade class are any indication, then I’m well on my way. My sister, Dagny, is reading the story to her fourth grade students at Stevens Brook Elementary and I just received the first batch of questions and comments from them — so amazing! The students do not know that Mrs. Leland is my sister. She is simply reading them a book from a “new” author.

After three or four chapters, students sent the following letters to Chris:

Dear C. J. Berry,

I am inspired by your writing. What was your inspiration for the book? How did you come up with the names? Did you base some of the characters off of people you met in real life? If so, who were they? Did you ever get writer’s block? How late have you stayed up at night writing down your ideas? Did you ever get ideas doing every day things? I’m sorry for all the questions, I’m really curious about your work. I love your book, it’s awesome and I can’t wait for the ending.

Your faithful reader,

Jillian

Dear C. J. Berry,

What does C.J. mean? Why is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker the ruler? Why did you pick birds instead of cats? You should really write a series.

Sincerely,

Justice

Dear C. J. Berry,

How did you decide the names and species of birds? How did you come up with the name Tyto Alba? When did you start writing? When did you decide to become an author? I really want to be an author, what are some tips you could give me? I really like the book so far, I’d give it 5 stars!

Your friend,

Abigail

Dear C. J. Berry,

I want to ask you how you came up with this amazing bird book? Are you a bird watcher? You’re amazing storyteller/author. I wonder what book you’re working on next?

See ya later. Your friend,

Lexus

Dear C. J. Berry,

Why did you make so much danger in the book? Do you like danger or something? I was also wondering if you’re ever planning on coming on Skype to meet with us?

Your friend,

Kayla

BN. Why did you dedicate the book to Dotti Sanborn?

CB. Ever since I could remember, I’ve loved the look and feel of books, to hold something tangible in your hands that had the power to bring you on an adventure, to escape the mundane, and teach you something of the world and something about yourself along the way. Dotti Sanborn — Mrs. Sanborn — knew this and for 50 years as a teacher introduced thousands of children to the magic found in books. I can only hope that this small tribute will harness some of Mrs. Sanborn’s magic in luring a new generation of young readers to the wonders found in reading.

BN. What’s next?

CB. Why the sequel of course! Last year, my daughter, Olivia, and I went on a road trip 400 miles to Kearney, Neb. to see tens of thousands of Sandhilll Cranes migrating along the North Platte River. Let’s just say I was just doing a little fieldwork for the sequel — the noise was deafening!

BN. Do you have a book signing planned here?

CB. I do not have a book signing scheduled, although I am planning one for the summer, or if there is enough interest, maybe in the spring. Justin has agreed to carry the book.

AVES — The Age of Engagement is also available at CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com/3873920) and Amazon at

www.amazon.com/AVES-Age-Engagement-C-J-Berry/dp/1477437495/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363110964&sr=1-1&keywords=AVES+-+The+Age+of+Engagement

Review: 'Aves' a good read

By Mike Corrigan

Special to The News

C.J. Berry’s AVES — The Age of Engagement is a briskly-paced little allegory about the end of the world for wild things, or the threat of the end of the world, at least. It’s also about adaptation.

AVES is finely-plotted, and presents both action and a “message.” As a book, it would benefit from more organically-explicated plot lines of the environmental problems that are often referenced — but, speaking of adaptation! — as a movie, this effect could be managed through tone, color and image, without getting in the way of the action-packed narrative. (A dwindling of the black army through an account of a poisoning at a farmer’s field makes for one key plot element that does lean on ecological disaster.) But most of the tree-hugging in the book is literal, because tree-hugging is how the yellow-bellied sapsuckers and woodpeckers feed, right?

Plot and exegesis both have a sort of vivid charm. In fact, AVES, The Age of Engagement, lacks only a catchy title and an adapted screenplay to make it into a movie. Really. Pixar or Disney could do it.

Consider: you have Principalis, the aging, betrayed ivorybill woodpecker, leader of all the birds, wise and regal; and set against him, Tytos, the black-hearted Owl Who Would Be King. You have plucky counterspy seagull Honks for character development, and an army of storm trooper crows to boo, and for the forces of good to repel, or to die in the attempt. There are raucous bird councils, faithful mourning doves, heroic pelican couples, midair combat scenes, turning rivers and green island hideouts. Plenty of action, too.

There is also a strange-talking mouse, a sort of combination Speedy Gonzalez and the Good Gollum, who comes to the rescue. And, just in time, for the book’s sake (as most of the good bird characters are pretty vanilla and earnest) we are treated to a “school” of lively future bird leaders who show spunk and fire and bravery and can-do attitudes, and who, not so incidentally, add necessary comic relief. Yes, Disney, I’m thinking. That magical Staff of Aves would be hard to handle without winged fingers, also — but animators could come up with something that would work.

The plot hinges on the owl Tytos’s plan to take over the power in the bird world through treachery and demagoguery. His plan succeeds, for awhile. Meanwhile, the Government in Exile has spirited away the egg of the next Chosen One, and Tytos consolidates his power in the council. When the egg hatches, at a time of recognized great crisis in bird history, there is another surprise; it's the first female Chosen One — just one of several satisfying plot twists Berry has provided. How “Red” wings her way back to a position of leadership and rightful power that even she often doubts her own fitness, takes up the rest of the book, along with the obligatory climactic battle, and a sort of half-resolution of the plot elements, a return to ancestral homes, a regathering of forces — and so the setting up of a sequel or two, perhaps?

The writing is solid, though the bird-talk conversations wax sometimes overly cute, while at other times tending to the plain and expository side, I thought. Take the ornithologizing of human expressions, for example: “The time is at wing,” for “The time is at hand,” and so on. At first I found this slightly off-putting, but it began to seem right after awhile; this technique also might work better to brighten dialogue in the movie we’re making here, than it does in print.

The descriptions of Tytos’s realm, the derelict barn area, are well-imagined and well-wrought, and Berry’s years as a bird-watcher allow the various Allied and Axis (well, not really, but there’s that dynamic) bird species their own personalities and identities. Another strength is the few original songs included in the text — literally bird-songs, but rendered in formal English, not chirps and squawks — that pass on bird lore to the chicks and to the readers. These songs are effective, well-made and charming.

Beyond charming are the accompanying illustrations. The drawings made me wish the book was done in an even larger format than 8.5”x5.5”, so that the illustrations could be even larger, too. Executed by Berry’s Colorado friend, artist Laura G. Young, the illustrations are lovely, and lovingly executed.

The book is dedicated to a writer and bird-lover who Bridgton News readers should be familiar with: “To Mrs. Sanborn,” the dedication reads, “the best 5th grade teacher ever!” The late Dotti Sanborn apparently passed her love of writing, and love of birds, on to at least one student!

AVES — The Age of Engagement, 167 pp., copyright 2012, Berry Books

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