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Enjoy Magazine

By the Letter

01/07/2014 03:32PM ● By Claudia Mosby

By Claudia Mosby

Writers’ Profiles: Seve Callan and Lo Hinh Saelee

Steve Callan

As a former patrol lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Game, Steve Callan had seen it all: exploited animals both native and exotic, and crafty criminals both crazy and comedic. He details his adventures in a new memoir, Badges, Bears and Eagles, published by Coffeetown Press in March.

“People think a game warden’s job is just checking licenses and writing tickets,” says Callan. “Wardens do many things, including enforcing all the sport and commercial fishing regulations for the California coast out to the 50-mile limit.”

From his early days working the Sonoran and Mojave deserts  to a stint supervising wardens in the greater Los Angeles area to his final post in Shasta County where he eventually retired, Callan amassed a collection of stories about some of the more interesting and harrowing investigations during his almost 30-year career.

Game wardens are among the law enforcement officers who are most likely to be killed on the job, says Callan, adding, “You mainly work alone, are often working at night and dealing with people who are usually carrying guns.”   

More than one or two gun-toting perpetrators, fang-bearing beasts and greedy poachers are featured in the book, which is divided into 23 chapters of individual short stories spanning Callan’s career.

From a dead bald eagle with a threatening note left at the front gate of the local Fish and Game office to a middle-of-the-night stakeout apprehension of two would-be fish hatchery thieves by a bootless Callan and his gunless partner, Badges, Bears and Eagles deftly interweaves the poignant with the political, the humorous with the hair-raising.

The heart of the book involves Callan’s involvement in a three-year undercover investigation that ultimately cracked the criminal ring responsible for the illegal killing of California black bears for their gallbladders.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book was because I wanted people to know these things are going on,” he says. “It’s not just bears; all of our icon species are being killed for parts.”

Although he had always loved to write, Callan admits it took him a few years to after retirement to begin. “I had the stories and always intended to share them but I also wanted to set the record straight. People were always asking what we did.”

Carried by several local outlets as well as online, the book has also been featured in several local and national publications, including Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind and this is all new to me,” Callan says. “The publishers are ecstatic that the book is doing so well for somebody nobody ever heard of.”

Callan will be the featured speaker next month at the Writers Forum meeting in Redding.
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Lo Hinh Saelee

Writing a children’s book was not in Lo Hinh Saelee’s plans. A pharmacy technician more familiar with a prescription pad than a writing pad, he turned to poetry as a release after his young niece was abused while in the care of another.  

“She was 2, so she didn’t know how to tell us what had happened,” says Saelee. “I just felt so bad for her. Instead of being angry all the time about it, I wanted to make something positive out of the experience.”

That something positive started out as a haiku, a form of Japanese verse consisting of three lines of five, seven and five syllables, respectively. Introduced in elementary school to the form, Saelee turns to it when things are bothering him. “I like being able to fit how you feel in short poetry form,” he says. “It’s fun and challenging.” 

Writing in the evenings after work, he completed the book manuscript in about two months. “The beginning of the story was more about her being abused,” he says. “But once I put it in perspective that I wanted to write the book, I made the theme more about love and family. I didn’t want to write about abuse.”

Izzi and Monkey, illustrated and written for ages 9 and up, revolves around a young protagonist, an orphan living in foster care, whose closest companion is her stuffed toy monkey. The narrative is written entirely as a series of short haikus with end rhymes to make it more lyrical. Although the orphan storyline is fictional, Saelee modeled Izzi after his niece.

Released in April as an iBook, a hard copy edition is planned for release this autumn with readings and book signings. Saelee has partnered with the Inter-Tribal Council of California to donate some of the book’s proceeds to its programs for youth and plans to donate books to local schools.

“I didn’t think I would be able to do this whole book,” says Saelee, who has four additional books in the Izzi and Monkey series waiting in the wings. “Everybody goes through their own situation, and as a community we can all be here for each other. For my niece, it’s a message that we all understand what happened to her and will never forget.”

Now 3, Saelee’s niece does not yet read but recognizes herself and her monkey in the book’s illustrations. “She doesn’t understand what the story is about,” he says, “but she looks at the pictures and likes it. I’ll be able to explain it to her when she gets older.”