Sunday, March 01, 2009

Guest Author: Marilyn Victor

Being involved in the incestuous world of writing, I (Lois) met Marilyn Victor years before she was published, then re-met her after she and her literary partner, Michael Allen Mallory, wrote a wonderful novel called Death Roll with which I promptly fell in love. A busy duo, Marilyn also happens to be the president of the local chapter of Sisters In Crime, a zoo volunteer, a mother, grandmother, and fosterer of finches. :) Michael tends to keep company with his wife, his two beloved cats and, on occasion, wolves. Please welcome M & M, authors, friends, and fervent animal advocates:

I will admit to having never missed watching an Academy Award show since the days when Bob Hope was the host. While I try to see all of the nominated movies it isn’t the big pictures I enjoy the most. It’s the little ones. This year it was the French animated short film, Oktopodi that got my vote for the best of the best. It has all the elements of a good romantic suspense: boy finds girl, boy loses girl, boy rescues girl from evil villain who wants to turn her into sushi, girl rescues boy from evil hungry seagull. The two love birds in this flick are octopi. Or is that octupuses? Whichever, in Oktopodi, our hero escapes from an aquarium, crawls across the floor, slippers his way outside and grabs hold of the back of a fleeing truck for the ride of his life, all to rescue his love. Far-fetched? Not entirely.

Not long ago the caretakers at a public aquarium puzzled over who was stealing soft shell crabs from their tank. Suspecting a staff member, they hired a security guard to watch for the thief. As it turned out he didn’t have to look far; the thief lived close by. Like in the next tank! In the evening hours the eight-legged marauder slipped the top of its tank open like a skilled safe cracker and climbed out. Then it slithered across the floor to the nearby crab tank and helped himself to dinner. Afterward, he’d return home to sleep it off. The perfect crime.

We’ve all seen the video of the crow stealing money from a vending machine, haven’t we? Animals are amazing and these are the type of stories I never tire of hearing. Writing a zoo mystery series has turned me into an obsessive collector of facts and factoids. Did you know a frog uses its eyes to swallow? That Elephants are the only animal that can’t jump? And kangaroos can’t walk backwards?

But the saddest bit of information I’ve recently come across is that fewer and fewer Americans ever get to see a wild animal in its natural habitat. Nature is becoming a lost experience for many kids. They all watch Animal Planet and can Google up a photo of a garter snake but most have never actually seen the real deal slithering through the grass beneath their feet. When I volunteered at the Minnesota Zoo and had the opportunity to show off my favorite corn snake or bearded dragon to zoo visitors, there would always be a couple of children in my rapt audience asking, “Is it real?” While I wanted to reply with something snarky, I’ve come to realize that this is simply a sad sign of the times.

When DEATH ROLL was published, its protagonist, Snake Jones, was the first crime-solving zookeeper in the world of mystery books. Last year Betty Webb and Ann Littlewood added two more zoo mystery series to the menagerie. While zoos aren’t a substitute for national parks and nature preserves, I hope it shows that people still continue to be enthralled by our animal cousins as we learn more about them, and how their lives are far more emotionally and intellectually richer than we had originally thought. Apart from that, animals add beauty and companionship to our lives. What a lonely place this planet would be without them.

So please help me feed my obsession. I’d like to give away an autographed copy of DEATH ROLL to the commenter who can add the most interesting animal fact or story to my collection.


Kylie said...

Marilyn, welcome to the convertible! What a unique premise for a sleuth's occupation! I'll be sure to pick up a copy. The title alone is great!

magolla said...

I wanted to come up with something, but NOPE, GOT NOTHIN'.
I do know that frogs do drown--especially in swimming pool skimmers. And I've saved toads from the same fate. Well, he sort of saved himself by sitting on the Kreepy Krawly hose--I wondered if he enjoyed the vibrations?

Helen Brenna said...

Hey, Marilyn. Welcome!

Since I've been a frequent visitor at the MN zoo and have been to the Zoolab with my kids more times than I can count, I'm going to guess you and I have crossed paths somewhere along the way.

Fun idea for a book and great title!

Animal facts are fun. I had to look one up, though, as I seem to be brain dead this morning.

Did you know cats can make over 100 vocals sounds, while dogs can only make 10?

amy*skf said...

Hey Marilyn, I love it that your protagonist is a zookeeper crime solver, and the name is fabulous.

I have no facts, well, maybe some will surface...but I did want to add when I was a little kid not a day went by (in the summer) that I didn't see a garter snake or a couple of salamanders and a frog or toad.

Our basement had a drain in the laundry room floor and ocasionally a frog would come up the pipe--I was always sent to bring it back to it's natural habitat.

I would bring my dump truck (I liked dolls too, but I was kind of a tom boy) outside and load it with any live thing I could find, the frogs were a little difficult, what with all the leaping about.

Well, didn't you take me down memory lane...

Betina Krahn said...

Marilyn, welcome to the convertible! And I personally LOVE the idea of a zookeeper crimesolver! I proposed a hero some time ago whose foster parents were panda keepers imported from China and who had grown up around animals and had a "special affinity" for them. It didn't fly, but I still haven't given up on the notion. I'm delighted to hear you've made your story a reality for readers!

My only factoids have to do with the fact that most animals (Mammals,birds, and reptiles!) "dream" sort of like we do. And that Girraffes require less sleep than any other mammal. . . only 1.9 hours.

Come back and join us again, Marilyn!

lois greiman said...

Hey M&M, thanks for riding with us. The only freaky facts I know are about horses so I'm going to torment you with a few. The first horse was the size of a fox and lived 58 million years ago in North America. As far as I know they're the only animal that has a stay mechanism in their joints to keep them upright so they can sleep standing up. And...oh yeah, they produce about 50 pounds of manure a day...that one is for sure true. :)

Tami said...

I bought this book for my mom, after she read it she checks with me every month to see if the second book has come out! Please do tell when the next book will be in print.

Marilyn Victor & Michael Allan Mallory said...

Thanks for the warm welcome and all the wonderful comments about our book. Great stories and facts. The stuff coming up in the basement reminded me of when my mother found a garter snake down our basement. She was carrying a load of laundry which went flying as she screamed and ran back up the stairs. She wouldn't let me go anywhere near it, but my dad rescued it and let it go in the backyard. You can imagine my mom's horror when I then brought home a salamader from the marsh.

Amanjo said...

Another sad sign of the times: the last time I was at Como Zoo, I was looking at their sloth and a very young girl asked her father if it was real because it wasn't moving. He replied that of course it wasn't real; it was just a stuffed animal. UM, THEY DON'T SHOW STUFFED ANIMALS AT THE ZOO!!!!!

(P.S. Hello to Marilyn, my lovely mother-in-law! Don't enter me in the contest. I've already got her great book!)

Michele Hauf said...

Hey guys! The book sounds awesome. What a great way to do research, hands-on work like that. Fun stuff. I

From recent personal experience I can say that something so small as a piece of string can have opposite effect on cats. My older tabby was rapping on death's door a few months ago, thanks to something so small as a piece of ingested string. On the other hand, my 9 month old kitty consumes large quantities of pink string daily (I have a funky string door screen). The hubby finally convinced me to put the string screen away because he just couldn't laugh anymore at all the pink string that showed up in the litter box. Ah, the resiliency of youth, is all I can say.

Michael said...

Hi Everyone! Marilyn's working hard at her day job right now and can't come on line. I'm also working the salt mines but can sneak off for a few minutes to say thanks for your comments and factoids.

Amy mentioned the name of our protagonist: Snake Jones. You might find it interesting to know that there is a real Snake Jones. I borrowed her name from a girl who went to my high school. That's her legal name. Snake C. Jones is a researcher in the microbiology department at the University of Louisville. I didn't know that until the book came out. I sent her a copy. She likes it and doesn't mind that we stole her name.

There is a sequel. KILLER INSTINCT is the next Snake Jones novel. We just got a tentative offer from our publisher a few weeks ago. Waiting to sign the contracts. KILLER INSTINCT is set in Ely, MN and involves the gray wolf. Oh, and murder.

catslady said...

I love anything having to do with animals - your book sounds fantastic. I rescue ferals and at the moment have 6 inside cats and 5 outside cats. Things I learned the hard way - I never knew an outside cat could have more than one liter in the same season, apparently they are only pregnant for 2 months and therefore I had one cat have 4 and another have 4 twice. Previous to that they were having only one which I was always able to find a home for.

I also found out that a teeny tiny almost newborn can make vocals that are extremely loud and eerie. I thought I had a hurt, very large animal in my back yard one night. It turned out to be a tiny kitten that the mother had left for me (they both had been covered in motor oil). I raised him with a doll's baby bottle (now 13) and he is my largest cat. Usually he is the bravest (and the bully of the bunch) except the one time he disappeared for two days. I was beyond myself calling and searching the neighborhood. I thought he had gotten out the garage when my husband was coming and going. I was in my garage for the upteenth time and saw spilled liquid. Again thought my husband spilled something. Well after following the trail my cat was in the furthest corner of the garage hiding under stuff. I thought he was dead. He wouldn't even move (and this was a cat that always came when I called him) and I litterally had to drag him out - he was pertrified. He will not even go near the cellar door now. Ok I'll quit now - I could go on forever lol.

catslady said...

I forgot to say what I thought was obvious - that he had peed himself - and that was what I thought was spilled liquid lol. I have always wondered since if I hadn't seen that just how long, if ever, he would have left that spot.

Keri Ford said...

Cool stories! Being raised on a farm, you'd think I know a cool fact or two, but after reading all these, my mind is stumped! horse used to come to me when I whistled and called his name. Just like a dog would do. Even when he was off in the pasture and couldn't see me.

Debra Dixon said...

Marilyn and Michael--

Welcome to the convertible! I'm an animal lover from way back. My family had land on the White River and we went every weekend. I spent a great deal of my childhood in the woods or on the water.

Had the kind of family that cared for or lived with bats, snakes, quail, racoon, squirrel, dogs, cats, coati (south american racoon) and one really ill-advised fostering of a baby bobcat.

So, naturally I think a mystery series with a zookeeper is great. My mom's about to have some surgery so this sounds like a great series to give her to read during recovery.

As for animal facts or stories? Sadly, mine are all quite boring except to me. BTW, reintroducing the quail to the wild was much harder than any of the other animals!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Welcome, M&M!

Maybe you can help me settle a diagreement I had recently with my dear teddy bear of a son-in-law. Dear daughter and I have been signing every protest letter that comes along about endangered species, and lately it's been all about Alaskan polar bears, whales, and wolves.

The issue of aerial hunting is a particular bone of contention. DD and I argue that the wolf is not responsible for the decline of the moose and elk population, that they really don't get that many of the big critters but mostly thrive on small rodents. DSIL says that while the movie "Cry Wolf" is interesting, we can't use the findings to back up our argument against the *harvesting* of wolves. I say YES, WE CAN. (Don't they mostly eat rodents?)

I also say he can't use the word *harvest* in reference to killing wolves because we don't eat wolves. He says the DNR calls it harvesting, but so far he's only pointed to in-print examples referring to deer, elk, moose, etc.

It sounds silly, maybe, but SIL and I actually enjoy a good debate. Language is such a powerful tool, and this twist on the word *harvest* seems Orwellian to me.

Oh, and I think I heard somewhere that white men can't jump, either.

mec said...

I'll have to tell my nephew about the octopus and the crabs. Whenever I take him ti the aquarium, he always heads to see the octopus first.

We stayed for the talk that an aquarium employee gave at the top of the huge tank. When he asked if there were an questions, my nephew wanted to know why the octopus wasn't in the huge tank with all the other fish. The response was, if the octopus was in the huge tank, eentually he would be the only occupant!

Michael said...

Kathleen asked about wolf management.

Controlling the wolf population has been a heated issue in this country since the days of the Pilgrims. In fact, Minnesota is the only state in the continental USA that never exterminated its wolf population. From a low of 700 animals back in the 1970s we now have a healthy population of over 3,600 gray wolves in our northern forests.

Most wolves prefer to dine on large ungulates (hoofed animals) like deer, elk and moose. But they’ll settle for small critters if that’s what’s available. As to thinned herds elk and moose, the wolf is only one part of the equation. When it comes to hunting, wolves are only successful about one out of every twelve attempts. Most of the time their prey gets away.

I appreciate “managing” wildlife populations so that there’s a reasonable balance. However, every eco-system needs its predator species. When the gray wolf was reintroduced back into Yellowstone in the 1990s the diversity of wildlife actually improved. The wolves hunted the elk which ate every sprig of grass or straw in site in winter. The wolves mainly took out the sick or old animals leaving the healthy. The elk are now wary of open areas where the wolves may hunt. The vegetation in these areas, often by rivers, now flourish. Trout came back because of the shade. And birds and other mammals returned because of the increased vegetation. And the elk are in Yellowstone. All this from reintroducing a few wolves.

catslady said...

My nephew is a docent and teaches at the zoo. He's one of these people that knows a little bit of everything and can retain it too lol. So I asked him for one good fact and he gave me half a dozen so here goes: one sand tiger shark in the womb will eat all the others before they are born; sea horses are the only fish that have a prehensile tail; the pipa frog lays eggs, swins under them and they stick on its' back and skin grows over them and then they hatch (yikes); A giraffe has 7 bones in it's back just like a human and an owl has 14 (thus it moves it's head and not its unmoveable eyes); the kiwi bird lays the largest egg in proportion to its body size; and lastly, the polar bear has black skin but hollow and clear hair which makes it look white.

Hope you enjoyed some of these - I did lol.

Marilyn Victor said...

I love everyone for sharing all these stories. They're great.

As for the wolves, I think its funny that Alaska talks about their thriving elk population when they want to drill for oil in ANWR, but when they want to "harvest" wolves, then there's a problem. I know that in Minnesota a big part of the declining moose population is the warming temperatures. They weren't designed to take the heat.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Thanks for the thoughts about wolves, M&M. I've read that warmer temps is probably the problem the moose and elk are having in AK, too. The effect on trees is a big part of it. And I like the term *managing." Harvesting wolves, my foot. Really interesting about the way the return of the wolves to Yellowstone brought greater health to the whole ecosystem. I guess Somebody up there knows what He's doing, huh?

Fascinating topic. Have you been to Minnesota's Wildcat Sanctuary? I've been a supporter for a while--ever since some of us from MFW had lunch with the woman who runs it. Another worrisome issue--people keeping wild animals as pets. There ought to be a law.

Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory said...

I know that the Feds are trying to pass a law against private citizens keeping chimps after the recent incident out east where a pet chimp attacked someone. It's too bad they didn't include more wild animals in the bill, but at least it's a start.

Many years ago I volunteered briefly at the wildcat sanctary. I think they've changed locations and management since then. There are so many great organizations across the country that care for wild animals who are no longer wanted as pets.

lois greiman said...

I, for one, am a little in love with Catslady's nephew. :)

M. said...

I never even knew there was such a category as 'zoo mystery', and now it seems there are three series! But kudos on being the pioneer of that subgenre.

One story that makes me laugh (which will shortly sound very heartless) is a true one from our local zoo, in Toronto. It's located on the outskirts of the city, on the edge of a large wild forest reserve. One day, a raccoon decided to investigate the Siberian tiger enclosure. Bad luck for him, the tiger was delighted to let all his neglected hunting instincts roar back to life and catch his own breakfast. I imagine the racoon's last thoughts were along the lines of: "You have got to be kidding me! I know for a fact that half a dozen of my cousins are sleeping off their last catered meal a couple of enclosures away, the lazy bums, while here I am, forced to scrounge for myself, and this is the reward I get????" *g*

victor said...

The 3-foot long Coconut crabs (giant cousins of hermit crabs) of the Christmas Islands are lunged air breathing crustaceans that can climb up 20 foot palm trees and live to 20+ years. They're completely land-dwelling and can drown. They use their strong claws to actually crack open coconuts and eat them. Like other crustaceans, they are considered a aphrodisiac.

catslady said...

lol yeah my nephew is a good guy. does a lot of work for the environment too. Just wondering if a winner was picked for this yet????