Monday, October 17, 2016

THE BANE OF ANIMALS

by Chris Goff


I'm not sure I have any animals other than the human-kind in my thrillers. There may be a stray cat in DARK WATERS. It takes place in Israel, often in Tel Aviv, and there are hundreds of thousands of stray cats living there. The cats are everywhere. There are special programs to capture, spay and release the felines. Gayle read an article on the cats of Tel Aviv and sent me the article. If I don’t have a cat in that book, I should.

RED SKY, the second book in my thriller series coming out in June, begins in Ukraine and ends in Poland. I know I have a barking dog in that book. Looking for info on the Rogue Women Writers' upcoming novels, subscribe to the blog by clicking here.

This subject hits home in a personal way. In addition to my thrillers, I write an environmentally-based Birdwatcher’s Mystery series. As such, there are birds in those books – wild birds – and the subject matter ranges from the theft of endangered species from our national parks, the effect of the coffee industry on the migratory songbird and prescribed burns and the effect on habitat. By and large the books are set outdoors, have a milieu characters from amateur birdwatchers to park service employees to ornithologists to business people, and are more traditional than cozy. That said, I have ended up on more animal/pet-oriented panels than I care to mention.

Please know, in my mysteries there are no birds typing clues on the keyboard, no birds pecking Morse code on the windows.

One time,I was assigned to moderate a panel of pet detective-mystery writers. We had Patricia McGuiver who writes the Delilah Doolittle Pet Detective series; Laurien Berenson who writes the Melanie Travis mystery series; Jessica Speart who write a hard-bitten US Fish and Wildlife agent; Lauren Haney who writes an Archaeological mystery series and myself. I asked each of them to send me something on their pet detectives and got back answers only from Pat and Laurien. Jessica told me she didn’t have any pets in her latest book, only a crocodile. And Lauren Haney told me, “I think there may be a camel on page 50.”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the pigeonholing (forgive the pun) that is done in regards to my work. When DARK WATERS debuted, despite having turned in a bio, book info and a request for a panel to promote an international thriller, I was assigned a panel entitled “Small Towns, Big Crimes.” When I requested a different panel so I could promote my newest title to an audience who might be more interested in thrillers, I was told “once a traditional mystery author, always a traditional mystery author.” The individual who told me this explained that "the business" didn’t work that way; that it didn’t matter if I wanted to switch genres, I would never be able to break free of the label. To this person’s credit, we did discuss the potential for making it happen and I was assigned to another panel with an audience more suited for my newly adopted genre.

All this is to say, perhaps it’s a psychological thing on my part that I haven't populated my thrillers with any animals for fear of being labeled as writing “animal books.”

Winston ready for Halloween
However, I will admit, I am an animal person. I have always loved dogs—big dogs, little dogs, AKC registered dogs, and mutts. I once owned horses. I’ve even owned cats. My current faithful companion is my daughter’s trusty miniature poodle – a little “party-colored” fellow (mostly black with some strategically placed white) who can be quite a character and who curls up near my chair while I type.

And—don’t tell anyone—I actually am a birder. I have been known to sign up for conventions (not unlike mystery conventions) where all everyone does for three days is go birding. We get up at 4:00 a.m. so we’re in the field at dawn. Sometimes we’re out until dusk. We have banquets and give awards to important birders, throw silent and live auctions to raise money for organizations like the Nature Conservancy or Young Birders or the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, and spend thousands of dollars on good binoculars and spotting scopes so we can actually see the birds when we’re out in the field.

Top: Wood Storks; Bottom: Anhinga and Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron
Taken on Jekyll Island researching Book #5 in the Birdwatcher's Mystery series

I must also admit, I am an amateur birdwatcher at best. I have identified over 261 bird species in the field, but there are 993 bird species in North America (which may change in 2017 if the American Birding Association members vote to add Hawaiian birds), and approximately 10,.500 bird species world wide. I’ve even participated in a birding competition ( à la the Big Year only on a much smaller scale). Picture playing golf in a scramble and your ball is never the one that is used for play. I’m fairly good at spotting the birds, but not so great at being able to identify them on the fly. I often depend on my expert birder friends to tell me what I’m actually seeingbut it’s fun!

There are more of us in the mystery community than you might think. I know of at least five others who secretly—or not so secretly—go birding while at mystery conventions around the world. I’ve gone with them. 

Ask and I will name names!


4 comments:

  1. Oh Chris, what an interesting discussion -- I know next to nothing about birds whereas you are obviously a great expert! (I think many of us get the impression that most bird watchers are British -- as they are featured in several great English TV shows). Now I must order DARK WATERS - which I've been meaning to do. Can't wait to read it. Thanks for your post!

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  2. Fascinating about the bird watching. I love birds, but don't know much about them. I do agree with the concerns about putting animals in thrillers. Good post.

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  3. I love this post, Chris. It's so true that most of us who write thrillers seldom put pets or even exotic animals in our novels, but almost everyone I talk with admits to having pets and loving animals. Go figure! Your birdwatching is impressive. 4 a.m.? Wow!

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  4. Karna, Sonja and Gayle, next time we're all at a conference somewhere with some good birdwatching, I'll take you! Jamaica Bay in NYC is a world HOTSPOT for birding. Of course, talk is cheap. We're all so busy it's doubtful we can find time, but we can dream.

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