About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

India moves zoo & circus elephants to forest camps

There's been a flurry of news about the Indian government's recent ruling that zoo and circus elephants will be moved to forest camps. Click here for the article.

Here's an interesting op-ed piece that addresses the concerns I had about how well thought out this was and why temple elephants were excluded, given that they live under worse conditions that zoo elephants (chained more hours, less contact with other elephants). Click here.

The circumstances for elephants in Indian zoos vary, but I believe it is safe to say that elephants in US zoos are far better off. Elephant management is receiving a lot of attention lately, with efforts toward providing them with more exercise and stimulation.

Oh, and the elephant researcher cited is Varma Surendra, not Verma. He was my roommate at the zoo keeper conference in Seattle recently, a charming fellow very committed to elephant well-being, both in captivity and in the wild.

Did Not Survive, the second in my zoo mystery series, explores issues around elephant management. Expect it in August 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Macaws from Safari West. Picture by my sister, Nancy Parker.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Zebra picture

I've spent the day volunteering at the Portland Audubon Society annual Wild Arts Festival. Had a great time with old friends. We shopped and helped the many wonderful artists and chatted with customers. Now I'm too tired to write anything sensible, so here is a picture instead. This zebra lives at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.

Oh, one other thing...a big one! My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, just officially accepted the next Iris Oakley zoo mystery. Did Not Survive is due out in August 2010. Christmas came early!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why murder?

At a dinner party tonight, somehow the subject of my zoo mystery series came up. (Somehow it always does, no matter how I try not to be, um, obsessive? pushy?). One of the guests looked at me with narrowed eyes and asked, "Why are you so fascinated with murder?" It took me aback. I think of myself as a writer of mysteries, not as a person obsessed with murder. So I said, cleverly, "I am not!"

So much for my keen wit and erudition. But the question did lead to a discussion about why it is I write a genre of fiction that requires an untimely death to kick off the story. Here's a metaphor. Mysteries are the cut-up chicken of fiction. (Hang in with me here.) A cook starts with a cut-up chicken and a big set of possibilities. Rules apply: the chicken has to be cooked--it cannot be served raw. It must not be charred to leather. It should be tasty. Within these rules, the cook can debone it or not; roast it, pot-roast it, fry it, stir-fry it, or stew it. The cook can go for curry, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian using any of a huge selection of sauces and spices to turn out a delicious entree. You see where I'm going with this.

Mysteries have their rules. Somebody dies and there is a puzzle to solve. The puzzle can be about who died, how they died, why they died, and who did it, or any selection of these. There should be suspects and motives, false starts and dangerous situations, surprising secrets, a clever protagonist and a determined antagonist. Most mysteries have these elements.

But the results are highly varied, from police procedurals to village mysteries to mystery/thriller hybrids. And--here's the great part--the setting and characters can be anybody, anywhere. Italian, French, Indian, Swedish, in towns, cities, wilderness, on ships or islands or Indian reservations. The protagonists can be racehorse jockeys, Australian flappers, private detectives, sheriffs, big-city cops, princesses, and on and on.

This combination of structure and freedom felt comfortable to me. I liked knowing what the rules were and having the choice to follow them or to try something different. I knew it would be fun build crime stories that included animals, issues between people and animals, and zoos.

So it's not about murder. It's about how people fall into crime and how their secrets are found out. It's about bravery and cowardice, investigation and hiding.

It's really about Congo peacocks--whole, raw, and alive.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Here's a photo from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, a Ruppell's Griffon Vulture.