In 2004, Taibib, one of the tigers at the Louisville Zoo, had a litter of three cubs named Jai, Mohan and Leela. Katy Yocom — a local writer and associate director of Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing — was immediately drawn to the newborns, visiting the zoo at least once a week, sometimes more, to watch them grow.
It was during one of her many visits she started concocting the story of her first novel, “Three Ways to Disappear,” which was released nationally July 16 and brings her to Carmichael’s Bookstore on Thursday, Aug. 1, for a reading and signing.
As she began hashing out the outline for the story, which is about two families — one human, one tiger — that follow parallel journeys to connect, love and raise the next generation, she decided a trip to India would be necessary. The story also is set in both Kentucky and India, so she felt she best study up on the country where tigers roam.
During her research, which was funded by a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Yocom visited several tiger reserves and also small Indian villages. She recalls one special visit to Ranthambore, where the book ultimately takes place. Her mother accompanied her on the trip.
“Our main goal was just to see tigers in the wild — and we did, on jeep safaris — but our guide at Ranthambore showed us so much more,” Yocom tells Insider. “The highlight, outside the park, was getting to visit nearby villages and speak with people who lived there. The villagers often went into the park, illegally, for resources like firewood or fodder for their livestock. They were directly competing with the tiger for resources, but they didn’t have much choice.”
“They’re just so glorious,” she explains. “They’re the most beautiful animals on earth. They’re apex predators. They can hypnotize you with those penetrating eyes. The power contained in their bodies — it’s breathtaking.”
So far, Yocom has been garnering positive reviews for “Three Ways to Disappear” — and surprisingly, word has spread all the way to India. In fact, she’s gotten more press abroad than in the United States.
“The funny thing is,” she says, “that news of my book made its way to India, and an Indian wire service reporter wrote a piece about it that ended up all over India — the Times of India, the front page of both the Jaipur Times and the Rajasthan Patrika — and even in Australia.”
Yocom’s book features a fictionalized version of Machli, which is famous tigress known for years as the Queen of Ranthambore. In fact, when Machli died in 2016, she was given a full Hindu funeral. So many people were thrilled she showcased the legendary tiger.
“The response to my book in India has made me realize she’s a giant celebrity there,” Yocom says. “The news angle is 100 percent Machli. The headline on the Jaipur Times article was ‘U.S. Author Remembers the Queen of Ranthambore,’ and then a pull quote from the interview, in huge type: ‘Every sighting of Machli was electrifying.’ People in India love her immensely.”
Yocom now is embarking on a book tour that’ll take her everywhere from Florida to Seattle, but it’s something she’s looking forward to because it gives her a chance to connect directly with readers.
“Writing a book is such a long, solitary process. Getting to talk to people who read it and respond to it — that’s magical,” she says. “It’s not the only reason to write, but it’s a huge payoff. I’ve already met some really wonderful people I wouldn’t otherwise have met.”
Come hear Yocom talk about tigers and family dynamics when she stops by Carmichael’s, 2720 Frankfort Ave., at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 1.
Before she prepares for her reading of “Three Ways to Disappear,” we asked her some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
The Police, “Synchronicity” tour, 1983. I went with high school friends. Kemper Arena (in Kansas City, about an hour from the small town where I grew up) was packed, and the energy of the place blew me away.
I still remember the red, yellow and blue lights, Sting’s throaty tenor, the driving guitar/synthesizer/ drums/vocals, the frantic edge to the energy. The songs were about so much: obsession, intellect, loneliness, dystopian society and, of course, that classic rock ’n’ roll theme, messed-up love. Everything about the Police felt like the future to me.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
The program at the heart of my writing life: Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing. I was a student in the first incoming class back in 2001, and I started working for the program as soon as I graduated from it, which means I’ve been there through every new development, like the launch of our study-abroad program back in 2007, and now the addition of a sister program, an MA in Writing with creative and professional tracks.
I’ve lived and breathed Spalding for the past 18 years, and I can legitimately claim to know every single one of our 700+ alumni.
What job would you be terrible at?
I waited tables at a ski lodge in Winter Park, Colo., when I was 19. Meals were served family style, which means all I really had to do was deliver platters of food and remember everyone’s orders for drinks and salad dressings. I stunk at it.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
El Mundo. It’s a longtime love affair. Beyond the food, I love the funky vibe, the stairs, the crowds, the drinks. Something about that place makes me perfectly happy to stand there getting jostled at the bar, nursing a margarita while waiting an hour for a table.
My husband and I have gone there over the years for everything from milestone celebrations to ordinary Tuesday night dinners. Back in the day, the margaritas were stronger — or maybe just bigger — and about 15 years ago I made the mistake of ordering a second Real margarita. My friends still tell stories about that night.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Take a boat out onto the open ocean and see the stars at night. Watch the Werner Herzog 3-D documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” which explores the stunningly expressive and sophisticated paintings made by people who lived 30,000 years ago. Work a service industry job so you can see entitlement from the other side and learn how to respect the people whose service you depend upon.
As I’m answering this question, I realize all my responses have to do with contemplating the larger perspective — of the planet and universe, human existence on earth, contemporary society — and considering your place in it: the fact that you might not be the center of everything. The fact that, actually, it’s OK — a relief, even — that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
Carmichael’s Bookstore. Either location.
What keeps you here?
The villagey feel of my Highlands neighborhood. My writing community at Spalding and elsewhere in the city. The incredible local food at the farmers markets and restaurants. I don’t think I could live somewhere I couldn’t get a good tomato.