Author Archives: Gary D. Robson
I have a really exciting announcement to make. As I mentioned yesterday, the debacle with the Billings Bookstore Cooperative left me in a dark place. As of March 5, however, I’m moving into a new world … sort of.
I’ve been involved with the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary on and off for sixteen years. It was called the Beartooth Nature Center back when I met then-Executive Director Ruth Brown. I’ve served on their board of directors on two separate occasions, emceed fundraisers for them, given poop talks, and made donations. My wife also volunteered, served on their board, and led tours.
But in less than two weeks, I will be a full-time employee of the Sanctuary. I’ll be combining my love of animals with my love of teaching as their Education Director.
The tea shop isn’t going anywhere! My daughter, Gwen, has been handling the day-to-day management for quite a while, my wife will still be involved, and I’ll still be doing events in the shop.
My writing won’t stop, either. For the vast majority of the time that I’ve been pumping out books, I’ve had a full-time job. And as Education Director, writing will be a big part of my job. You’ll hear a lot more from me both here and through the Sanctuary.
All the details!
For those who want to know everything, here’s the full text of the press release:
Red Lodge — 20 Feb 2018 — The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has hired Red Lodge resident Gary Robson as their new Education Director.
“We’re really looking forward to having Gary on board,” said Mark Eder, the President of the Sanctuary’s board of directors. “With his background and experience, he’s the perfect fit for the position, and he has the right personality for education and outreach.”
The Education Director position at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has been vacant for almost six months, and the Sanctuary has been searching both locally and around the country for candidates. In his new role, Robson will be responsible for creating educational materials and curricula; conducting on-site education through tours and seminars; conducting outreach into schools, museums, and other organizations; setting up field trips; collaborating with other wildlife-focused nonprofits; and working with other staff members on the Sanctuary’s website and social media.
Gary Robson has a varied background. He has written dozens of books, with his children’s nature series, Who Pooped in the Park?, selling over 500,000 copies to date. His background is in technology, where he worked in software engineering and circuit design in the 80’s and 90’s. That turned into extensive work in accessibility technology for deaf people, and teaching computer courses for three colleges, including Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Robson has lived in Carbon County with his wife, Kathy, since 2001. They owned Red Lodge Books & Tea for 15 years, published the Local Rag newspaper, and currently own the Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern, which is managed by their daughter, Gwen. Robson is a regular emcee for events in town, and is the announcer for the Home of Champions Rodeo Parade and the Winter Fest Parade.
“This job is an exciting new challenge for me,” Robson said. “It dovetails with all of my past work in education and nature, and takes me a step farther in my work with local nonprofits.” He has served on the boards of the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce, Beartooth Elks, and the Festival of Nations, and been active on committees for the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the City of Red Lodge. He is currently a member of the Sanctuary board, but is stepping down when he starts the new job.
The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission of providing lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable native wildlife and sharing a message of conservation and education. The Sanctuary was founded in 1987 when a group of concerned citizens took over the Red Lodge Zoological Society and created what was then called the Beartooth Nature Center.
Today, the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a wide variety of animals native to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, ranging from carnivores (mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, fox, lynx) to large hoofed mammals (bison, elk), smaller mammals (porcupine, marmot, raccoon), and birds (eagle, raven, owl, crow). The bears are some of the most popular residents. The Sanctuary has recently locked in funding for a large new wolf enclosure and a new sandhill crane/vulture habitat.
When I signed the deal to sell my bookstore & tea shop to a new cooperative, I was really excited. I’ve spent a lot of time on nonprofit boards, and now I was becoming the General Manager of a co-op. It ended badly.
The dark place
I took the assets and inventory of my 1,800 square foot shop and built a 4,000 square foot shop in a historic building in downtown Billings. I talked about the new co-op on TV, on the radio, in podcasts, at conferences, and in print. I loaned them money for the construction, let them use my personal credit card for inventory purchases, and invested in the business. They, in turn, only raise about a third of the money they’d budgeted. So what did they do? Fire me.
Just last month (January 2018), I finally got a judgment from the Department of Labor ordering them to pay my unpaid salary and accumulated vacation from February & March of 2017. The co-op still owes me $45,000 of the original purchase, plus over $15,000 in unpaid loans and credit card debt. They haven’t even paid for my daughter’s books that they sold at her book signing in 2016.
To shoppers and shareholders, this means that the co-op hasn’t actually paid for most of the inventory, furniture, fixtures, databases, software, intellectual property (e.g., tea blends), and even the floor they’re walking on. It all came out of my pocket.
And the financial statements they handed out at last year’s annual meeting did not show almost $50,000 of their debt to me.
This was all done by three board members that I trusted. One of them (a college professor, no less) even made horrible accusations about me to the Department of Labor, which she had to withdraw when it was proven that she was lying.
The bright spots
In the meantime, I poured my energy into something positive. The debacle with the co-op hadn’t just left me without a job, it left my daughter, who’d been managing the tea side of the business, out of work as well. So we built a new tea shop.
As the family built the Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern, I enjoyed spending my days back home in Red Lodge, Montana, free of the toxic environment at the co-op in Billings. Setting up the new shop let us restructure everything and go in a different direction. And it gave Gwen a chance to take the lead in managing the day-to-day operations of the business.
The community welcomed us back with open arms, and the new tea shop has been drawing a new crowd. Giving me something else to focus on has been a sanity-saver, and Gwen has really had an opportunity to blossom professionally.
The dark spot is brightening up. I felt thoroughly vindicated getting the Department of Labor judgment (especially since it included penalties), and the co-op’s lawyer is finally talking with us about mediation.
Now, it’s time for me to move on and start putting the whole co-op experience behind me, and take on a whole new challenge. Tune in tomorrow for details…
My wife and I have a Christmas tradition. Every year for Christmas Eve we go down to the local radio station (FM99.3 the Mountain) and record Night Before Christmas. We started out doing Clement C. Moore’s original A Visit from St. Nicholas, and then switched things up with the Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas and Cowboy Night Before Christmas.
This year, we decided to try something different. We love the town where we live, and Kathy & I are both heavily involved in Red Lodge. She works on the Christmas Stroll every year and I’m the announcer for the big 4th of July parade. We’ve served on volunteer boards all over town, from the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants & Lodging Association to the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary and the Festival of Nations.
So I wrote a Red Lodge version of the Clement Moore’s original this year, and Kathy did a little video as I read it on the air. We hope you enjoy it!
A Red Lodge Night Before Christmas
©2017 Gary Robson
‘Twas the night before Christmas in Red Lodge, Montana
The whole town was anxiously waiting for Santa;
There were cookies laid out with some milk in a cup,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would show up;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of snowboards and skis filled their heads;
My wife in her jammies all festive and red,
Had turned off the Xbox and joined me in bed.
And then a commotion arose in the street;
“A coyote!” I cried as I leaped to my feet.
Away to the window I ran with my gun,
And my wife grabbed hers too, since she won’t be outdone.
The noise had awakened the huge turkey flock,
Asleep in the tree at the end of the block,
But the thing that had caused me that night to arouse,
Was a beat up old sleigh pulled by eight Angus cows,
With a chubby old driver in Carhartts and jeans,
Grabbing his Stetson and urging his team.
Sauntering slowly his cattle they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Stevie-Ray, Burger and Daisy and T-Bone!
On, Clarabelle, Bessie, on Brindle and Joan!
Drag this sleigh right away to the roof of the house,
Or we’ll have you for dinner with taters and grouse!”
They grunted and puffed and they snorted and moo’ed.
They dragged that old sleigh so they wouldn’t be food.
And up to the rooftop they pulled old St. Nick,
But nobody’s saying those cattle were quick.
And then moments later, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each big ol’ hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed in a duster all sooty and black,
Three layers of shirts kept him warm front and back;
He carried a bag stuffed with candy and toys,
And he looked like he’d had a few drinks with the boys.
His cheeks were all red from a long day of fun,
And his rodeo belt buckle shone like the sun.
Good roping and riding had won him that prize,
And it twinkled darned near as bright as his eyes.
That man had a smile that would set you at ease,
On that cold winter night it was like a warm breeze.
He laughed long and deep and I’ll never forget
How I saw in that moment that he was no threat.
He smiled and he said that those toys weighed a ton,
He laid down his sack and I laid down my gun.
I gave him a Helio straight from the fridge,
He winked and he said, “Well, I’ll just have a smidge.”
He drank down his beer and he dropped to one knee,
Putting our presents all under the tree.
He rose to his feet and his knees he unbent,
And giving a wink, up the chimney he went.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his cows gave a yell,
And away they all flew with a bovine “Noel.”
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Merry Christmas to Red Lodge; to all a good night!”
A few years ago, I got to wondering how many different states were covered by my Who Pooped? series, and it led to a blog post that is now obsolete, as the series has grown since then. This post updates and replaces that one.
In the beginning, each book in the series was for a specific national park, and most of those national parks were tucked securely in a single state (Yellowstone does span three states, however). As the series progressed, the books covered more ecosystems than specific parks, and sometimes those covered multiple states. That got me thinking: what states does this series cover?
So far, the series covers 19 states in 20 books — some books cover multiple states and some states have multiple books. The number of national parks, national conservation areas, national monuments, national recreation areas, and national forests is significantly larger than that. I haven’t compiled that list lately. A project for another day!
- Who Pooped on the Colorado Plateau?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Grand Canyon National Park
- Who Pooped in the Cascades?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Death Valley National Park
- Who Pooped in the Park? Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park
- Who Pooped in the Redwoods?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
Overall, yesterday wasn’t a great day. My tea shop‘s main computer died during a Windows 10 update, our wi-fi went utterly wonky, my phone stopped making or accepting calls, I spent a bunch of time on legal documents trying to collect back wages from February & March, and the kitchen sink backed up. Plumbing is the worst.
Today, on the other hand, had a stupendous start! I was catching up on some emails, and pulled out my latest royalty statement from the lovely folks over at Farcountry Press. As I am wont to do, I started tallying up the sales numbers for each edition of Who Pooped in the Park. The total sales for the series to date? A whopping 500,853 copies!
Over half a million. I’m gobsmacked. The mere fact that I got to use the word “gobsmacked” today makes this a great day! I’m feeling so magnanimous that AT&T and Microsoft are hereby both forgiven for yesterday’s fiascos.
When I was focused on writing specialized technical books about closed captioning, selling a few thousand copies was enough to make me happy. Ten thousand was a lofty goal. And then—just for kicks—I wrote my first book for kids. The Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park came bursting out of the gate, earning out the advance in just a few months. That edition is by far my best-selling book, being the only single title of mine to have sold over 100,000 copies.
The other Who Pooped books have followed with mixed success. A few still haven’t sold out their first printings. A few (I’m looking at you, Grand Canyon edition) have had really stellar sales. My non-poop books have also had mixed success, but I’m working on that!
When I talk to other authors of children’s books, they want to know my secret. Is it shameless self-promotion? Is it mad skills at writing and/or illustrating? Is it having the best agent in the whole wide world? While all of those things would help, here’s what I think made Who Pooped work:
- Being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. There’s just no substitute for this.
- Having a title that makes people pick up the book, and content that makes them read it.
- The right publisher. Farcountry doesn’t have many contacts in schools and libraries, but their deep connections in national parks and gift shops were, in my opinion, critical to the success of these books.
- The right editor. I’ve had a lot of different editors over the course of my writing career, and I think having Kathy Springmeyer’s advice as I worked on my first children’s book was invaluable. The single best piece of advice she ever gave me was to have my kids read the manuscript out loud to me and look for places where they stumble over words or the dialog doesn’t sound natural.
- Persistence and fearlessness. I was lucky. I only got turned down by one publisher on Who Pooped in the Park? before Farcountry picked it up (your loss, Globe Pequot Press!).
- Asking for help. Nature writer Gary Ferguson gave me a lot of good advice in the beginning, and scat & track expert Jim Halfpenny proofed my original manuscript for me. Using the publisher’s industry contacts has put me in touch with a deep pool of experts. Using those contacts made my books better.
- And, of course, shameless self-promotion. After you’re successful, the media calls you. When you’re getting started, you have to call them.
Agents can make a big difference, from what I hear. I can’t tell you firsthand, as I’ve never managed to land an agent myself. Here’s where I need to be more persistent. I’ve been turned down by a couple of dozen agents, but I have friends that have sent out hundreds of query letters before getting to yes. I’ll get there…