Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Real Red Wolves

    The term red wolf must have been floating around in my subconscious when I conceived of Clifford Crane, the supernatural werewolf protagonist depicted in my Red Wolf Saga. Crane (you can check out the “My Books” tab), whom I imagine to be a cross between an Irish setter and an eight foot grizzly, bears little resemblance to the coyote-colored canid that once roamed the eastern North American continent in large numbers a few hundred years ago.
    But, yes, there are real red wolves! And it wasn’t until I was almost ready to publish The Draculata Nest that I discovered they are living practically in my own back yard.
    Like its grey wolf cousin, which already haunted the dreams of European settlers, the red wolves were regarded as everything from a threat to domestic livestock to agents of Satan. The “new Americans” went about systematically destroying the wolves’ natural habitat and hunting it to near extinction. Today, Canis rufus can be found living in the wild only on the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina, the result of an intense recovery project managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
    When I realized real wolves hunted in forests only a few hours’ drive from my Charlotte home, I couldn’t help myself. First chance I got, I made a road trip on the pretense of “research for the next book,” imagining I might somehow get a glimpse of this legendary creature by hiking around the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.
    Good luck with that, John. Mosquitoes the size of quarters kept me inside my vehicle and off the trails, and although I saw plenty of wildlife as I drove over the many dirt roads that crisscross the refuge, including several black bear sightings, it would have been highly unlikely to run across the elusive predator I later found was notoriously skittish of human contact.
    The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. I ended up using the refuge as the setting for much of both The Dragon of Doughton Park and Red Wolf Rising. But my subsequent research on red wolves has been done primarily on the internet and, most recently, by way this book:

    T. Delene Beeland’s The Secret World of Red Wolves, chronicles the story of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s successful efforts to rescue Canis rufus from the brink of extinction after it became one of the first species to be put on the Endangered Species list back in the 1970’s. It is one of the finest examples of scientific journalism I’ve read. I highly recommend it, both for the heart-warming/wrenching story behind the recovery project and for the extensive bibliography that comprises a full quarter of the book.
    If you read it, I promise you’ll be inspired by the perseverance of the individuals who dedicated much of their lives and careers to try and save this creature. If you’re like me, you’ll probably fall in love with Canis rufus. And, if you’re like me, your heart will come away a little more broken.
    Sadly, the red wolf recovery project has become somewhat a victim of its own success, and the creature that was miraculously saved from the brink of extinction over the last few decades will likely disappear by way of the same threats that originally endangered it, shrinking natural habitat and hybridization with the smaller, more prolific coyote, which has an adaptability akin to the cockroach.
    But, the most immediate threat to red wolves is North Carolina politics. Nowhere in the nation is the current polarization of political opinion in our republic more evident than in my beloved Tarheel state, where blacks, whites, Hispanics, Arabs, Jews, and Asians live together in harmony, but conservative, Bible-thumping Republicans fight latte-sipping liberal Democrats to the death in vitriolic, economy-depleting election campaigns.
    In my books, I blame the political polarization and legislative gridlock on vampires. Sometimes I wish my little fantasy conspiracy theory were true. It would be so much simpler to deal with. Unfortunately, the political divide here is more complicated, and Canis rufus is just another innocent victim of it.
    Since its inception, a critical factor in the success of the red wolf recovery program has been the ability of key individuals who perform the day-to-day field work to form good faith, working relationships with local landowners. The folks who own and manage red wolf habitat land on the Albemarle Peninsula are savvy enough to recognize the benefits of the ecological niche this larger predator provides, but they are extremely resistant to government or any outside dictates on how to manage what is theirs.
    A recent lawsuit brought by well-meaning-but-ultimately-misguided red wolf supporters to change hunting regulations in the area has created a wedge between local landowners and managers of the recovery program. Conservative political lobbyists have pounded on that wedge to the point where it is nigh immovable. The good-faith, handshake deals program workers have made with the locals have become null and void in almost every case.
    When I had a chance to attend a presentation by author Beeland recently at our local community college, I asked her if she thought the program managers/landowners relationships could be repaired. The emotion in her voice was evident as her scientific objectivity crumbled. There was a note of despair in her tone when she answered the prognosis was “not good.”
    The federally managed recovery program on the Albemarle Peninsula will soon be turned over to the state of North Carolina, whose plans to “manage” the program include little more than studying the animal as it rapidly becomes extinct.

    Alas, most of us will never see a true red wolf. Even the ones on display in zoos and preserves are likely not true Canis rufus, but more likely a mostly wolf/coyote hybrid. So, in the meantime, join me in a brief lament. Click on the YouTube link below, raise your snouts, and join some red wolves in a farewell howl…

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Old Man and the Bike

I’m the kind of person who can overdo anything and everything, good or bad. I have a long list of addictions to prove it. The acceptance of this about myself has made the last quarter century of my life an almost daily struggle for balance. I’m constantly striving for just the right mix of work, play, intellectual stimulation and down time, that will keep me from tipping the scales too far in any direction.
Take writing, for instance. It has proven a mixed blessing. Over the last five years, creating the first three books in the Red Wolf Saga has been an eye-opening, soul enriching, life changing experience for me. It has also become an obsession. Whereas I once filled as much of my free time as I could with writing, my free time has become writing time, and my free time has, well…disappeared.

Last weekend, while rearranging some debris in my apartment (what I call cleaning), I noticed the rusting chain and flattened tires on my bicycle. I suddenly realized it had been nearly six months since I’d taken it for a spin. How could I let such a thing happen, and why?
I love the outdoors. The most precious moments in my life have been spent there. The beautiful spring weather called to me. I closed my laptop, pumped the tires, lubed the chain, and headed out across town.
The first thing I noticed when I hunkered over the handle bars was that…I couldn’t. The fifteen pounds I’d managed to add to my belly since September pressed up into my chest cavity, rendering my diaphragm useless. It took some precarious, oxygen-depleted minutes of experimentation before finding a position from which to pedal and breathe at the same time. As the dizziness receded and my vision swam back into focus, I became aware of another obstacle.
This time of year in Charlotte, pedestrians can be observed performing a strange ritual. Every twenty yards or so, they will shuffle to one side or the other while flailing their arms in the air over their heads. I call it “the web worm dance.”
These inch-long caterpillars descend from the trees on silken threads to dangle in the breeze four to seven feet from the ground. I’m not sure where they go. I’ve never seen them reach the earth, only attach themselves to clothing and hair. When walking, with experience and vigilance, you can weave your way along the sidewalk without picking up too many passengers. On a bicycle, they are impossible to avoid.
I careened through curtains of web and caterpillar, and nearly crashed several times while trying to brush them away from my face and mouth. When I stopped for a break at the Starbucks that graces the trail head of the Four Mile Creek greenway, I removed a total of twenty-three wriggling critters from my shirt and shorts. Inside, when I handed over payment for my white chocolate mocha, I noticed a little black one waving a greeting to the barista from my forearm.

“There’s another one on your shirt,” she said.
“Up on your collar. No, the other side. Oh, now it’s on your neck.”
I felt in then. While my beverage was being prepared, I stepped outside and removed the two, plus another that appeared out of nowhere. I tried to ignore the ones I imagined nesting in my scalp.
But it was all worth it. I enjoyed cycling through the greenway, people-watching and nature-communing, and congratulating myself on making the correct decision for the way to spend my day. I was not the one-dimensional writer I’d feared I’d become, chained to my dimly-lit writing cubby throughout the winter. I was a multi-faceted individual. I’d achieved the balance I sought.

But I forgot how out-of-shape I was. I got tired.
I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. I’ve done it with walking, running, hiking, backpacking, cycling…you name it. I continue in one direction to the point of exhaustion. Then, I’m faced with the challenge of being only half-way finished. I have to turn around and cover the same distance to get home. Will I ever learn? Maybe not.
Resignedly, I lowered my shoulders – well, as low as my belly would allow – and headed home. Several hours later, I stopped at a convenience store near my apartment and stalked inside on leaden legs to stock up on soda, chocolate, and caramel, which I consumed along with half a pizza I had left over in the fridge.
Later, as I lay in bed, peering over the top of my swollen belly at something on Netflix, I realized I’d probably undone all the good from my afternoon of exercise. Sigh.

Balance? For me, it’s that place I fly by somewhere in the middle of going from one extreme to the other.

Friday, April 3, 2015

YA Binge

A few weeks ago I found myself facing a dilemma. I’d just released Red Wolf Rising, and I was looking around for something to work on. Projects for revised editions of my first two Red Wolf novels loom on the horizon, but I’d been in editing mode for so long I felt I needed a break. Yet, I couldn’t seem to summon the Muse (usually conjured with coffee) to write anything new.
What to do?
Okay, it really wasn’t that hard a decision. I did what I always do when I have a number of choices I don’t want to take. I read! So, for the past several weeks I’ve indulged myself with a YA binge.
At my age, it’s a little embarrassing I read so many Young Adult novels. But, I do. In fact, if you examined the plethora of titles currently stored on my Kindle, you’d conclude that YA Paranormal is my preferred genre.
Although I like to tell myself my tastes in literature are more eclectic, I must admit I’m drawn to these stories where the protagonists are predominantly teenage girls. They make the best characters. They are crazy by definition, and when you add in supernatural powers and a clever writer, the entertainment possibilities are limitless.
Here are a few I devoured recently that I’d like to recommend.

Author Richelle Mead comprises by far the largest collection on my Kindle. I currently have twenty-one titles grouped under her name. The Ruby Circle, published last month, is the last book she’ll write featuring the Sydney Sage character. Sydney was one of my favorite characters in Mead’s wildly popular Vampire Academy series and a perfect protagonist to spinoff for Bloodlines.
Sadly, we’re not likely to see any more tales of the Moroi from Mead in the future. The good news, however, is that this prolific writer already has an interesting title soon to be released based on Chinese mythology. And, hopefully, she won’t keep us waiting too much longer for the third installment of her Age of X series, an adult sci-fi/dystopian tale that has the potential to be her best yet.

My on-line friend Maghon Thomas, the most prolific blogger I know, posts almost daily on the Happy Tails and Tales blog site. It was there I stumbled upon these Entangled Teen offerings by Chris Cannon, featuring young Bryn McKenna, who suddenly discovers on her sixteenth birthday that she is a shape-shifting dragon. Not only that, she is a hybrid, born of renegade parents whose marriage defied the secret, rigid, dystopian dragon society from whence they sprung. Some want to use her; some want to kill her; some want to bend her to their will. Almost no one wants to accept her for who she is.
I purchased the first in the series, Going Down in Flames. After reading it, I didn’t hesitate downloading the sequel, Bridges Burned. Unfortunately, the third book hasn’t been written yet. (sigh)

And now, although I can hear the Muse once again knocking on the door of my brain (I hope that’s what the noise is), there is one more title I just downloaded. My favorite Aussie author, Kristy Berridge, took, like, a hundred years, or something, to get the third installment of her Hunted series written and published, and my Kindle is quivering in anticipation to open up The Aligned and see what new entanglements Elena Manory is involved in.

As for working on my next novel, Rivers of Red…

I hear you knocking, Muse. But… just hang on a second, will ya?