The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

My book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, was a New York Times bestseller and, 19 years later, is still in print. But it‘s not nearly as well known as the documentary film of the same title. Many people assume that the film was based on the book, or that the book is a novelization of the film, that they tell the same story, which is not the case at all. The film focuses on my final year with the flock, making only fleeting references to events of the five preceding years. The film never mentions Dogen, the bird whose story was central for me. The filmmaker, Judy Irving, doesn’t like doing recreations of events in the past, and Dogen was no longer alive. My book tells the entire six-year story, detailing  how I got involved with the parrots and what I learned from the experience. The material was drawn from a more than 1000-page journal that I kept throughout.

Including research, the writing took seven years. My first ambition as a teenager was to be a novelist, and I used to write short stories to develop my skill. Shortly after graduating from high school, I decided I wanted to be a singer/songwriter and abandoned prose. I’d never written nonfiction before, so it was a bit of a challenge to use what writing skills I had in the service of real events. But I got the hang of it and prefer writing nonfiction now.

I didn’t start the book from a joy for writing or with the intention of educating anybody. I’d been living on or very near the street for a long time. My focus was on seeking, and I avoided full-time work on the grounds that it took too much time and energy away from the search, about which I was and remain serious. For years, I lived rent-free in cubby holes scattered around the neighborhood. My main expense was feeding myself, and to that end, I took odd jobs. I did it for so long that at a certain point I started feeling worthless. One day, I told myself that, even if only once, I should make some money doing something that suited me, just to prove to myself that I could. I was feeding the parrots at the time, so I wrote an article about them, which was accepted by a parrot magazine. I got paid for it, which got me to thinking: why not write a whole book?

There are some things I’d change if I could. I wish I could have used color photos, and the subtitle A Love Story…with Wings was the publisher’s idea, not mine. But I’m satisfied with it. My favorite chapter is “Consciousness Explained.” It addresses effectively something I wanted to say on a  difficult subject. I should add that the chapter title is partly ironic. Even though I no longer feed the birds, the story continues in strange ways. Eventually, I want to publish a story about something I’ve learned in the years since I stopped feeding the flock. It shows clearly that I was destined to have the experience. That was my feeling when I was in the midst of it, and I see now that it was true. A lot of people don’t believe in that sort of thing these days, but it’s real.

I prefer that people use local bookstores. But if it’s impractical or impossible, here’s the link to the Amazon page.