This is Part III of our multi-dialogue conversation among the contributors to I Used to Be an Animal Lover, edited by D.A. Cairns. Part I contains the conversation of Rhys Hughes, Barbara Reins and Mitchell Toews. In Part II, Boris Glikman explains, among other things, why he likes to write fables.  “Regarding why I like writing fables, I actually answered that question in another fable of mine titled “A Fable’s Odyssey” (it doesn’t appear in this anthology). It is a metafictional story about a fable looking for a cast of characters to act it out. Please allow me to quote from that story: “…Fables are the most ancient and effective way of teaching the rights and wrongs of conduct, of revealing the truths, fallacies and pitfalls of existence.” ” And for those who love cats read the interview with Rhys Hughes who says,  “Many years ago I wrote a poem called ‘Silky Salathiel’ about a cat who has adventures around the globe and the character stuck in my mind even though I never used him for anything else, and finally I decided to put him in a short story. I might use him again one day. I like writing stories and poems about cats, maybe I have written too many already. I decided to write my very last story about a talking cat about ten years ago and I made this resolution in the same way that people who give up coffee do. My last talking cat story! Since then, I have written several stories about a cat that can talk.”

To read Part I of the interviews, click here. To read Part II of the interview, click here.

Mitchell Toews interviews Jimmy Webb

MT/ In two or three sentences, when did you first know you were going to be a writer?

JW/ I started writing quite late in my life. I knew I could tell a story from when my eldest was young. At bed times, instead of reading to him, sometimes he’d get me to make up a story for him, and I was quite good at it. But there came a point in my life where I was sitting on my backside in the evenings in front of the TV, watching soaps and stuff that didn’t stimulate me. I thought that there had to be more to life. I’m a creative person, so wanted to explore that more.

I would read a lot and watch movies during my commute or lunch breaks and found myself analysing the stories and characters, which led to coming up with my own endings. This gave me the idea of writing stories. From that, I decided, with literally no writing experience, to write a novel. A big mistake at the time.

MT/ Was there a single incident or idea that inspired your story in IUTBAAL?

JW / The story came from submitting to Furious Fiction competition, a monthly Australian comp that allows only 55 hours to submit, after giving the prompt or theme. That particular theme required a comedy element. I jumped at the chance, because up until then, most of my writing had been quite dark. I’d never written anything comedic.

For inspiration, I thought of when I have the most laughs. It’s when I’m messing around with my pals. So, I came up with the idea of a group of dogs in a bar or club, possibly out on the pull. Not that I do that anymore myself. I’m retired from that life and am happily married.

MT/ Talk about what literary models you have: authors and/or titles. Did they influence your story in this book and if so, how? 

JW/ Clare Mackintosh got me hooked on psychological thrillers. Her first two books, I Let You Go and I See You, really made me think about how I would style my novel. There are many other books that got me interested in character and family set-up. Books like Close to Home by Cara Hunter, Snap by Belinda Bauer, A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena, etc, influenced the domestic noir genre that I lean towards.

Whether they influenced Normal Pooches, the story I wrote for this anthology, gives a conflicted answer. No, this story is the polar opposite of those books and the dark style I usually write. But in the same respect, I deliberately chose to write to the opposite spectrum, purely to try something different. 

MT/  What have you read recently that has informed your writing or has given you something you want to take on soon, storywise?

JW/ Three things stick out in my mind. Well, two were read and one was watched.

Firstly, I watched an interview of a woman who, when she was a child, survived the Rwandan genocide in the 90s. Listening to her accounts stuck with me. I would love to tell her story one day.

Secondly, I recently read Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. This is a book about the rise and fall of the Comanche Indian Tribe, who dominated Native America for centuries. It focusses on the extraordinary tale of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by the Indians as a child, but went on to marry a chief, then gave birth to, and raised who became the last and most famous Comanche war chief in history. Quanah Parker.

Everything about this story astounded and mesmerised me.

Thirdly, I get newsletters from a lady who runs a website and community that gives courses, publishes stories, and much more. In one newsletter, she explains how, much like myself, she used to write a lot of dark stories. But her training and learning of Qigong, Taoism, and general spirituality, has made her reflect a lot about herself, her outlook, and particularly what she writes about. She now chooses to write about love and positive outcomes.

Being a spiritual person myself, and also a Qigong student, this newsletter got me thinking. I got me questioning if I want to put so much darkness into my work. I believe love (and particularly reproduction) has some way to define the meaning of life, if there even is one. So why not show that in my work?

Jimmy Webb interviews Jhon Sánchez

JW / Your main character is loyal, compassionate, but streetwise, and will do anything out of desperation, particularly for the one that he loves. Do you see yourself in this character at all?

JS/ All my characters have reflections of myself. We think of ourselves as monolithic, unchangeable, set in stone. But we have the ability to be and behave in different ranges of personalities. We can be compassionate, and at the same time, we can be greedy and selfish to the extreme. When we express an apology, sometimes we say things like “I’m sorry that was not me.” But that person is really the person I am. What happens is that our actions don’t conform to the hierarchy of values we set for our lives. The problem is that we acted without coherence. We didn’t listen to what reason and reasonable values, and what we understand civilized behavior is telling us. Understanding that fear, among others, can lead us to hatred is also a way to create more tolerant interactions. So writing fiction is an exercise of tolerance. It’s a way to accept that I could become any of my characters, who may also have a different hierarchy of values. Unlike the narrator in Tigui, I wouldn’t raise an albino tiger in my backyard (I have a tiny balcony in NYC). I don’t even have a cat. But I grow “oregano brujo” just because my mother used to grow it in her garden. Regarding that plant, I ask myself what I could do if it were about to die or, even worse, if it was the only one left of its species or if it was the one my mother left for me in a pot. Tigui explores those feelings, set in a time when we can play with animals’ genetics.

JW / There is a dystopian feel to this story. Bio-engineered miniature elephants; the risk of animals dying out in the wild from respiratory disease, poison, or food contamination; artificially grown meat; the unethical conflicts of having to grow meat from animal’s limbs, to then painfully cut them off; plus a seemingly endless list of government restrictions that result in fines. Do you see our world heading anything like this way in the future?

JS / I’m afraid to say ‘yes’. We’re deploying our natural resources, causing the extinction of entire species. Conservationists are in the fight to at least keeping unaltered the natural environment or restore those ecosystems that have been damaged by human invasion. But on the other hand, technology and, more specifically, biotechnology has the hope of solving the problems. We are two paths that we live through all the time. When I was a newcomer to New York attending LGCC, I read an article about newly developed featherless turkeys. Amazed by it, I showed the article to my sociology professor, who said, “This technology is disgusting.” When I asked her why, she said, “Because those animals do not have another reason to be.” I have thought about it throughout the years. That’s what we have with biotechnology: we create ‘things,’ creatures exclusive to our service, or at least we think of those like that. So, some of those creatures are made for my consumption and others for my entertainment, which can be merely my sense of pride. How fair is killing an animal to eat it or having an animal because of the satisfaction that causes me to be its owner? My sociology professor’s answer could apply as well to domestication. I recently read that we are developing the technology to ‘create’ an elephant with some mammoth traits. You will find it under the mammoth revive or resurrect if you Google it. I like technology and am always amazed by it, but my question is, Is technology making us careless? The story has tiny elephants that anyone can herd in their bathtubs. Is this fair? There is no difference between the tiny elephants and Pablo Escobar’s hippos in Colombia that are now causing much environmental damage. This is also concerning my character, who owns Tigui for the sole purpose of satisfying his own pride. Now, when I write a story like this, I don’t pretend to inspire fear or predicate an apocalyptic ending. I started imagining things and extrapolating the character’s actions in a set of circumstances. After I write it, it’s when I ask myself what the story leaves me with. For me, the story leaves with the question if we can live along with nature but be inspired by respect and no domination.

JW / There are some quirky ideas and themes in this story. Is it a style you usually write? Where did you draw the inspiration for these ideas?

Since I was small, and perhaps as a family trait, I played saying jokes that are really small stories. All my siblings do the same. Yesterday, my brother sent me pictures of marquetry that show Vesuvius in eruption. I replied by text, ‘Be careful. Just run out. It destroyed Pompey once.” And with that, we went back and forth, imagining he was a catastrophe survivor. Sometimes, I create an event, a new technology, or a situation, and I describe it to my friends. What interest me there is seeing their reaction. I have thought of writing drabbles based on those ones, but I usually keep thinking about them, and they become long stories. My stories now are usually between 4k and 8k words.

Regarding world-building, I change two or three elements in our daily lives. So, the stories are not meant to be based on the future. My character lives in a house with a kitchen, a backyard, and a wine cellar transformed into a chicken cage. All those elements are pretty standard. He drives a car and goes to a pet store. All of this made me think of myself and doing what the character is doing. But more than simply imagining, it also makes me responsible for the character’s actions. I don’t think the story has a cathartic effect; still, on the contrary, we leave with the weight of thinking about what we’re doing with animals in this case, and somehow we laugh at our foolishness.

Mitchell Toews lives and writes lakeside in Manitoba. A frequent contributor to journals and anthologies, Mitch is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee whose debut collection of short stories, “Pinching Zwieback,” will be launched in October 2023 by Winnipeg’s At Bay Press. Find him online at and

Jimmy Webb is a short story and poetry writer from England, who might one day finish his first novel. He is also a freelance content writer. He has work published in a range of literary journals and anthologies, as well as being placed and listed in various competitions. He can be found at

Jhon Sánchez: A Colombian-born, Mr. Sánchez arrived in NYC seeking political asylum, where he is now a lawyer. His most recent literary publications are “Tigui” in the anthology “I Used to be an Animal Lover” and Handy on Baseline Feed Podcast. Next year, New Lit Salon Press will publish his collection of short stories, “Enjoy A Pleasurable Death and Other Stories that Will Kill You.” Please visit @WriterJhon, Instagram jhon_author, Twitter @jhon_author.