About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about zoos, the natural world, and writing. Welcome to the erratic thoughts of a zoo mystery author! See ZooMysteries.com for more photos and information about my books. Click here for cool sites about elephants and conservation organizations.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fame and Glory!

Hey, how cool is this? I'm featured in today's Oregonian, in the Arts & Entertainment section! And it's online, too! Me! Little old mystery author me!

OK, OK, I'm calming down. But how cool is that? I mean, really...

All right. All right. I'm going to lie down with a cold cloth on my forehead. Deep releasing breath...





Yippee!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Annie's Got Her Gun

Dear Reader,
The things I do for you! I spent last Saturday at a class titled Handgun Knowledge for Fiction Writers, sponsored by Oregon Writers' Colony. The general idea was that I would learn how to write authentic, exciting Scenes With Guns and not make a fool of myself the way people do on TV and in films. Pity the poor actors, stuck with stupid lines from scriptwriters who don't do their homework. So I spent an afternoon in the country with five other writers who didn't know any more than I did about shooting people. I mean, shooting guns.

Gary Crane told us and showed us a whole lot about handguns and ammunition. I learned that a cartridge is a bullet plus a shell case, that it can be "rim fire" or "center fire", and that gunpowder comes in different varieties. I learned that sticking my finger into the barrel of a gun pointed at me won't save my life and that when a handgun does blow up, the energy usually goes sideways and not into the shooter's face. I learned that a revolver is called that because--who knew?--the barrel revolves. I learned that a person getting shot doesn't fall over backwards dramatically--he or she falls down, period. Or not, depending.

We were sitting outside on a lovely day with a lovely view of meadow and woods, and I missed the part about different kinds of cartridges because a western tanager was messing around in a sumac tree behind the instructor. I don't see western tanagers very often and this was a bright male, altogether beautiful.

After the class, we shot off a bunch of handguns. I fired 13 rounds and I'm pleased to say that they all hit the target. By which I mean a large piece of paper not very far away. I was among the first to shoot, and a writer who hadn't had her turn yet asked me how it felt. "Serious," was the word I came up with. "Was it thrilling?" Well, a little. But I'm pretty sure that shooting off a machine gun would not be, for me, what the instructor promised: "the most exciting thing you'll ever do." Not that we had that option.



The class brought up all sorts of thoughts about guns and how they fit into people's lives, about protecting oneself, about personal freedoms and how one person's liberty can mean another person's death. I don't think I'll ever put in the time to really know guns. But I learned some terminology, I know what the recoil feels like, I imagined a few Scenes With Guns.

And I got to see a western tanager.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Did Not Survive treks to India

I am so thrilled! Here I am working on the launch party, readings and events for Did Not Survive, which isn't officially out until the end of the month, and I found this.

It's for sale in India for Rs 866! I have no idea how much that is in dollars (it's discounted from Rs 1,125, a la Amazon.com). But still! India! Rupees!

Well, it makes sense. Did Not Survive features Asian elephants, and who knows them better than Indians? (uh, Thais? Cambodians? but never mind...)

You just never know where this author biz will take you. Metaphorically.

I found this tidbit because I get anxious at this stage of a new book and was searching for reviews. (I know, I'm not supposed to. You try this someday and see if you can resist.) Some have already come in. Here's one and another.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In defense of camel aesthetics

I've always thought camels are under appreciated. There's that statement meant to be a slur: "a camel is a horse put together by a committee". True, but that's a compliment, not a slur, on two levels. First, committees tend to make better decisions than individuals, as various studies have shown. (You'll have to look up the references yourself.) Second, a camel is far better designed than a horse to survive and remain useful in an arid climate.

Zoo visitors tend to look at camels and describe them as ugly. I don't think so. In fact, I have a herd of plastic, wood, and straw "camels of Christmas" that come out every year. I admire a big ceramic camel in the Asian Art section of the Portland Art Museum and make a point of visiting it.

I've noticed that camels are often depicted with head thrown back and mouth open. At a recent visit to Oakland Zoo I had a "duh!" moment watching this. A big male camel sniffed the rear end of a female and threw his head back, mouth open. Classic "flehmen"!

Males of many species behave similarly. They are tasting the females urine with a special organ in the roof of their mouth to determine whether she's coming into estrus. Lions do it, elephants do it, horses do it. Read about it Wikipedia. Other strong or unusual scents may trigger the response as well and not just in males. There's even a rumor that humans have a rudimentary vomeronasal organ, even though we don't curl our lips.

In camels, flehmen makes for a dramatic pose that apparently artists and their patrons appreciate. Perhaps the antique ceramic figure I admire was created by a person with a lot more experience with camels than I've ever had.


Picture by Nancy Parker