Continuing our February series on freelance writing, I would like to introduce T. Dennie Williams, an accomplished writer and author of, ‘Nature Controls All: The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures.’
Hi Dennie, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview today. I’d like to begin by asking how did you become a writer?
My father, a well-known American Antiques dealer and savvy letter writer, used to read several newspapers daily when I was a young lad. Sometimes I would look over his shoulder as he read the sports section. My Aunt Kayo, as I called her, even though I was never sure how we were related, used to read me Uncle Wiggliy nature tales, as well as those fascinating Peter Rabbit and Reddy The Fox stories. Her beautiful voice telling the tales riveted me! Inspired, I eventually tried to write my own long tale as a youngster, but never had the concentration to finish it off. It may still be sitting up in the attic under a pile of old papers.
Once accepted in Vermont’s Middlebury College, I continued my interest by majoring in American Literature, taught by fascinating professors including one who taught writing skills.
After graduating and being drafted in the US Army, I eventually became an officer in the Intelligence Corps. First I had to learn to follow mischievous and street roaming fake spies, as well as interview actors and actresses. The latter posed as troublesome security sources to embarrass the querying army students, as the whole class watched and laughed in another room, viewing through a huge one-way mirror on a raised stage. The class started early in the morning. I prayed I would not be the first to interview!
I later had many adventures searching for and cross-examining North Korean spies. The most fun of experiences was rushing to the Han River where a miniature North Korean submarine had been grounded and the spies inside had fled. After that duty tour, I was assigned to investigate alleged security violators in Washington, D.C.
Although tempted to continue in similar mystery-solving government work, I broke away and became a news reporter for The Hartford Courant. Eventually, my military intelligence experience lured me into detailed news inquiries of corrupt government and corporate officials.
Did you investigate any high-profile figures resulting in eventual actions taken against them?
At one point, while I was assigned to cover state courts, I received confidential tips from those in the know. They disclosed that a Hartford Probate Judge James Kinsella was teaming up with a close confidant lawyer-politician, Alexander A. Goldfarb, both Democrats, to allow Goldfarb to gain control of probate cases.
Kinsella appointed Goldfarb to administrate or supervise estates of the deceased or mentally incapable people with plenty of money, or with valuable art possessions. It just so happened that another Courant reporter, Mark Stillman, was working quietly on another controversial and fascinating probate case, so editors asked us to team up. Stillman’s investigative focus, becoming mine as well, was the conservatorship of the well-known West Hartford millionaire Ethel Donahue. She needed court supervision for her personal and financial affairs, an estate worth $36 million.
Although Donaghue’s own lawyer was already appointed conservator, Kinsella named Goldfarb to take control of those lucrative tasks, resulting in lucrative legal fees for him. That case was just one of many questionable estates, handled by Goldfarb and Kinsella, eventually leading to legislative recommendations for Connecticut’s first judicial impeachment ever. A State House of Representatives’ investigative committee approved further House hearings, but Kinsella resigned before House hearings could get underway. Goldfarb was eventually cleared of misconduct by a judge who knew him, but did not disqualify himself. Mark and I wrote countless stories on other questionable handling of estates handled by Kinsella and Goldfarb.
How did you transition from almost four decades as a newsman to becoming a freelance writer?
Over time in the 1990s, The Courant gradually began to reduce its emphasis on investigative reporting, but my enthusiasm for it never waned. I continued to regularly press editors to allow me to investigate highly questionable situations involving politicians, businessmen and others. But editors began to refuse to allow me time for those intensive tasks, and assigned me instead to regular news. Eventually, a supervising editor transferred me to cover a state court in a town outside of Hartford, where the best all editions news coverage existed. Angered, I then sued the paper for age discrimination and after months of legal hassles, our opposing lawyers worked out a deal to transfer me to another state desk, but with better opportunities for me to choose investigative work. That assignment lasted a couple of years before Courant editors offered me a lucrative retirement deal with one year’s continued salary.
However, I just could not stay away from investigative reporting so I set up several Internet and other news sites to allow me to freelance about corrupt activities within the military and other governmental agencies, both state and federal. The highlight of this work was an investigation I undertook with a former Courant reporter, John Briggs, who became a full-time English and writing professor at Western Connecticut State University. It was John’s inspired idea, based on his extracurricular prior news investigations, which revealed that President George W. Bush, allowed his End Time Christian faith to influence his Middle Eastern policies to favor Israel. Indeed, we wrote three stories for Truthout, demonstrating this influence in Bush’s governmental and military policies, as well as his recommended monetary assistance for Christian groups. Some of these tendencies were reflected in The White House website by simply moving to Bush’s public statements and writings and searching, “God!”
What inspired you to write a nature book about interaction and intercommunication among wild creatures and humans?
I was picking blueberries one beautiful, sunny day in a patch 10 or 12 miles from home, when a butterfly suddenly landed on my out stretched hand. I began showing it first to my wife then to several other pickers before I saw two young children, a boy and a girl, just outside the patch laughing and rolling down a grassy hill. Loudly, I asked them if they would like to see my pet butterfly and warned the boy to stop running toward me, as his curiosity overwhelmed him. He rushed on next to me and scared the butterfly 30 or 40 feet into the air.
“See what I told you!? You scared my pet butterfly away,” I exclaimed. But a second later, the boy exclaimed, “No, it’s on your ear!” I told the boy he must be mistaken. Then, suddenly, my wife appeared from out of the patch and said, I thought with sarcasm, “Yes, it’s on your ear.”
So I walked carefully over to the blueberry selling shack and asked the sales lady if she could see my butterfly. She confirmed its presence and quickly warned me that her two friendly dogs were approaching. Sure enough, one of them scared the butterfly up into the sky and away forever.
Two days later, I was shocked when I remembered that about ten years earlier I had experienced another wild butterfly episode in Barnard, Vermont. There on a porch near a pond on a beautiful day, a local character took me by surprise and started telling me a wild tale. As he did, two white butterflies began flying just over his head with their flights matching the excitement of his tale. Those butterflies did so until he finished. Then, as the old story teller turned to go, they quickly disappeared into the sky and flew wildly over nearby Silver Lake.
That memory compelled me to go on YouTube and search “humans wild creatures communicate.” It was immediately amazing to view scores of videos showing all sorts of interaction and intercommunication among people and wild critters!
So what did you do next?
I always wanted to write a book, but never had the time or inclination. However, these amazing wild creatures and their largely unknown abilities to communicate and interact with people absolutely compelled me to drop freelance investigative news writing to write the book. It took me well over a year’s time to find others I knew or just discovered who had wonderful and fascinating adventures with wild creatures. Their short stories became book chapters. To start off, however, I had to explain my own past fascination with wild birds and animals and how I was inspired to love them by my family. And, I simply had to write an accompanying chapter about how I proved to myself and others that these amazing critters on land and in the ocean could interplay with people all over the world.
Do you believe such interplay is crucial for human beings to understand and act upon?
Yes! As I say in The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures: As kind as people are to animals, birds, fish and other living creatures, they have to think more about those creatures’ innate desires for freedom and independence. Above all, humans need empathy toward wild animals, birds and all other untamed critters. If more of them expressed it, nature could flourish in wider areas worldwide and man-made pollution disasters might decrease in kind. Can you imagine poisoning, torturing or intentionally running over a rabbit, squirrel or roadside crow? I can’t! Then how do corporations operated by people endlessly pollute the air, water and earth where wildlife lives?
Check out the book at Amazon.com, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace and other book sites. If you want detailed summaries free, go to the web and find www.birdscrittersbutterflies.webs.com/ or Nature Controls All Living Spirits - Blogger at http://denniedoesnature.blogspot.com/
Are you still a freelancer?
I am only writing occasionally as an editorialist on OpEdNews.com as Dennie Williams, rather than as Thomas D. Williams, my lifelong news identity. But mostly my book marketing days are over, so I believe this year I will go back to more freelancing.
Dennie, thank you again for taking the time to do this interview. It was a pleasure speaking with you about your life as a freelance writer and author.
Thomas D. Williams, a freelance writer, worked at The Hartford Courant for almost 40 years before retiring in November 2005 to become an investigative freelancer on Internet news sites. He has written a unique nature book, The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures. It’s summaries, photos and videos are posted at: http://www.birdscrittersbutterflies.webs.com/
To contact Wendy McCance about a writing assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: [email protected]
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