LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. In this election season, there are many books you could choose to help you make a choice, from Robert Caro's magnum opus to the crush of books on any number of issues. Or you could turn to Sneaky Pie. Now full disclosure, Sneaky Pie is a cat. And she's usually solving mysteries as the main character in Rita Mae Brown's best-selling series.
Rita Mae Brown is the author of over 40 books, many of which feature animals protagonists. But she's also known as a political activist devoted to the civil rights, anti-war, gay liberation and feminist movements. She's written several standalone novels: a groundbreaking lesbian novel, "Ruby Fruit Jungle," and she joins us from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Thank you so much.
RITA MAE BROWN: Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you're known obviously for your series of books starring Sneaky Pie, and there are other novels in which animals appear. You have a series of novels which sort of center around a pack of hunting dogs. Why do you like writing about animals?
BROWN: You know, we share the Earth with them, and they have so many qualities superior to our own. For instance, a hound can smell time. There's no way any of us can do that. If you put your dog out in an acre, that dog would know who was on that acre - again, depending on the temperature - maybe up to three days' time. Not only would they know who was there, they would know the interaction of one creature with another.
If you put four cameras on every corner, we would still never know what that dog knows.
WERTHEIMER: This is the first Sneaky Pie book that is not a mystery. The title is kind of a hint: "Sneaky Pie for President."
BROWN: Right, and this is how she learned that she really needed to learn to run for president and be our best candidate.
WERTHEIMER: So why does she feel that there's a need?
BROWN: Well, she meets other animals and talks to them and discovers that the water supply is being both polluted and drained, the Earth is being played out, and that means all animals will die, not just humans who are doing the bulk of it. And so she realizes that we need the voices of other creatures, not just human beings.
WERTHEIMER: I just want to mention one of the things that I like about the Sneaky Pie novels, and that is that Sneaky Pie lives in a house with a human, who she refers to as the CO.
BROWN: Yes, the Can Opener.
WERTHEIMER: The Can Opener.
WERTHEIMER: And you have a few animals of your own, right?
BROWN: I do. I do a lot of rescue work, and it's the joy of my life. I mean, all of those years in politics, I never got the satisfaction that I got out of actually helping another living creature.
WERTHEIMER: Sneaky Pie and her involvement in politics is obviously slightly tongue in cheek. Your own involvement has been of longstanding and very well known. Tell me about your experiences in the early days of the National Organization For Women, NOW.
BROWN: Well, I call it NOW What. I mean, I was totally out of sync. I was a rural kid. These were all successful women in their 30s, and I came from the South, which was a real strike against me. But I brought up the issue of class differences between women - because remember, the women's movement to this day is a white, middle-class, educated movement for the most part.
And that's fine, but they do not represent all women. And then I brought up gay women. I remember one meeting, I got so bored, I said: All I hear is people moaning and groaning about men. Why don't you say something good about women, like, they're beautiful, and I love them? That did it.
WERTHEIMER: I mean, to put it mildly, you and Betty Friedan did not get on.
BROWN: Well, you know, years later she actually did apologize to me for being so hateful, which I thought took a lot, 'cause Betty's ego was in a gaseous state - it was ever expanding.
BROWN: So, for her to do that was really remarkable.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you wrote a famous, famous book, which is like a lesbian classic. Would you take credit for it in that - in those terms?
BROWN: "Ruby Fruit Jungle?" It's flattering. I mean, I just wrote it because I needed to laugh.
WERTHEIMER: Well, it was a groundbreaker. One of our - one of the things that we do every once in a while, we do a series of books called PG-13, books that tipped us off to the world of adults. And we ask people what they read when they were young that sort of changed their life in some way. And writer Emily Danforth wrote: "Ruby Fruit Jungle" was important because of the countless ways it confused, frustrated and unsettled me. This novel made me conceptualize just how many ways of being were available for a girl who liked girls beyond my family, beyond my town.
What do you think when you hear something like that?
BROWN: I'm very flattered, I am, but you know what? I think that lady would have found it anyway. Maybe I just sped up the process.
WERTHEIMER: Was there some sort of a book that did something like that for you?
BROWN: Yes, but - it's going to sound a little funny to you. I was a classics major, so for me it was the plays of Aristophanes. In the fifth century B.C. in Athens, in the midst of a war, a devastating war that ultimately destroyed Athens as it was known at the time. He had the courage to write these screamingly funny plays against the power structure. And that was the person who inspired me.
WERTHEIMER: So it was not just the plays but also the circumstances under which he wrote them?
BROWN: I don't think you could do it today. I think they'd find a way to belittle you or throw you in jail, whether it's here or whether it's somewhere else.
WERTHEIMER: Rita Mae Brown's latest book is "Sneaky Pie For President." Could you just give us, maybe, like a sentence or two of Sneaky Pie's platform?
BROWN: For one thing, she firmly believes that any man or woman that runs for president should be spayed or neutered.
BROWN: She's - and this is a strong point of her platform because it'll focus the men, and it will calm the women.
WERTHEIMER: I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
BROWN: Oh, thank you.
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