David B. Seaburn is the author of six novels. His latest book is Parrot Talk:
Lucas and Grinder are more than a little surprised and confused to hear that their mother, Millie, who they haven’t heard from in over thirty years, has died. Now her best friend wants them to come to Pittsburgh to take care of their mother’s effects, chief among them being Paul.
A road trip ensues with memorable stops at a Racino, a Pittsburgh landmark greasy spoon, and finally a ride on an incline trolley to meet their mother’s friend, Janice. They are taken aback when she introduces them to Paul, an African grey parrot in the depths of grief, who has things to say that will change their lives. And so a transformative adventure begins.
Read on for an exclusive interview with David.
S.R.: What inspired you to write Parrot Talk?
D.B.S.: I had completed my previous book, More More Time, and was working with my publisher on final edits in preparation for publication. Usually that’s when I like to begin a new novel. But I didn’t have any ideas. So my wife and I sat together and batted around various thoughts and notions. Out of that process, I realized that I wanted to write a humorous book and that I thought it would be fun to have an animal as a primary character. From there, I started developing more detailed ideas and settled on an African grey parrot because they are so smart. I wanted to make sure that the parrot—Paul—would be believable. Of course, I also did a lot of research on African greys, too. And, even though the story would be funny, I wanted the theme to matter. So I focused on a complex family situation involving two brothers, an alcoholic father and a mother who left the family.
S.R.: You have quite a varied background. You started as a minister and moved to psychotherapy and marriage and family therapy. And of course you’ve been writing the whole time. How has that influenced the topics you choose to write about?
D.B.S.: My professional work put me in daily contact with people who were often struggling with the most important questions one can face in life—loss, relationships, identity, fear, meaning, suffering, redemption, connection, hope, love. I think this influenced my own concerns in life and shaped what was most important to me, as well. Mostly, these were people who weren’t extraordinary and yet what they faced in life was. I think all of this is reflected in each of my novels. I try to speak to what it means to be a human being trying to make one’s way in the world.
S.R.: One interesting aspect of the story is the fact that a pet parrot, Paul, is being bequeathed to the two brothers. Parrots tend to live a long time, which is why it makes sense to bequeath them. Paul also is grieving, and says a lot to the brothers that changes their lives. What kind of experience do you have with family pets, and parrots in general? Have you found that they have a big impact on families, especially ones who just lost a family member?
D.B.S.: Actually, I don’t have any experience with parrots! I chose the African grey because they are so intelligent; they often have a large vocabulary and they know how to use language intentionally. This was critical to making the character of Paul believable. I do have a lot of experience with pets—dogs and cats mostly. I understand how important they can be as members of one’s own family. I also did therapy with several patients over the years who were grieving the loss of pets. I have not, though, done any therapy with grieving animals! Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that many kinds of animals feel deeply and can grieve openly.
Yes, pets are treated like family members. They are a part of family life and attachment. I was director of a family therapy training program for many years and one of the faculty members reached out to a veterinary program to provide training to veterinarians about family dynamics because they often saw whole families when pets were brought into the office. These were worried families, wondering what was wrong with their pet, hoping things would go well, and often dealing with terminal conditions and loss. Just like they would with any other family member. So, yes, pets are vital members of their families, loving and loved.
S.R.: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
D.B.S.: First of all, I hope that readers laugh. I think being able to laugh, even within the context of difficult problems and challenges, is very important and often healing. But I also hope the story helps readers think about their relationships, how and whether they maintain them, what to do when they lose them and how to find meaning within them.
S.R.: What are you working on next?
D.B.S.: I started writing a new story recently, just as Parrot Talk was about to be released. I hesitate to say very much about this story because it is still in its infancy; actually, it is still in the womb trying to be formed. But, I will say this, in the opening scene the main character says, “I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but I think I died today.” I look forward to where this story takes me!
You can purchase your copy of Parrot Talk here.
David B. Seaburn is the author of six novels. He is a retired marriage and family therapist, psychologist and minister. Seaburn also writes a blog for Psychology Today magazine entitled Going Out Not Knowing. He lives with his wife near Rochester, NY.