The Gray Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty releases on February 25, 2013
The Gray Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty releases on February 25, 2013
I thought this was a charming photo and story:
Last summer, during a Fourth of July celebration, I discovered four baby blackbirds in a nest. The nest had been driven on a flatbed trailer some 150 miles, and it was only after the planting of the tree, a densely branched fir that a friend ordered from a tree farm, that anyone realized a family had been uprooted as well. This occurred in the Madison Valley that is the setting for this book, and I was well into the writing of it when I first heard the nestlings squawk.
With twilight casting a spell over the Gravelly Range, I took a shovel to the river to dig worms. Until that night I had never bought into the concept of novelists as people who lead interesting lives, as writing is largely a business of going into a room and shutting the door and telling lies that would put a politician to shame, engrossing enough to the one doing the lying but hardly the stuff of envy. But as I returned from the river to drop worms down the greedy mouths, I suspected that the writing of the Gray Ghost Murders might prove an exception. That was made abundantly clear when I contacted the nearest wild bird rescue person, who told me to call her Captain Marvel. When I asked Captain Marvel if she would take over the rearing of the nestlings — after all, that’s what these people do, I naively thought — she said, “Honey, that’s how we all start.”
So began the most demanding artistic endeavor of my career, for nestlings must be fed every fifteen minutes and heretofore I had aligned myself with that school of writing championed by Oscar Wilde, whose idea of a morning’s work was to insert a coma, and in the afternoon to take it out. With the birds summoning my attention — and the squawking of a Brewer’s blackbird is not to be ignored — I found that in order to avoid feeling a total failure I had to insert more than punctuation during the intervals of silence. And so, sitting under a sun umbrella near the chicken wire enclosure I had built to house the little darlings, the “Gray Ghost Murders” was coaxed to life, and, in the process, I discovered that if you actually put words down as they came into your head, so that you might weigh and weed them later, rather than endlessly editing in your mind before committing so much as a period to the screen, then writing need not be a tortured blood letting of a drop at a time, but could move and sing through your veins, or at least emerge onto the page in complete sentences.
In three weeks the birds had feathered over to become the terror of the neighborhood, soaring to parts unknown every evening, but usually perched on the top branch of a giant spruce in the morning, four little sentinels sitting side by side. For another month they continued to need supplemental feeding and I would have to place a hand over my head to avoid being mobbed the moment I walked out the door. But what started as an act of mercy became a privilege as the summer grew short, for not only had these birds taught me a lesson about my craft, but they gave me a gift rarely awarded humans beings, a personal glimpse of the indomitable wildness of spirit that is heard not only in the voices of wolves and elk from the mountain folds, but in the songs of our backyards.
By fall the siblings had become part of a larger flock wheeling in the sky, peeling off to visit me once or twice a day, the runt I called Blackie still hopping onto my laptop to take mealworms from my fingers. On October 12th, I saw them together for the last time and two days later Blackie came alone. He spoke in a querulous voice I had never before heard from a blackbird and then he, too, was gone. In the span of several days the raucous singing of the flocks was stilled, as thousands of blackbirds darkened the sky, and were seen no more. I finished the novel later that week.
And so it has been with an eye to the sky that I have worked this summer, hoping for their return. Blackbirds are colony nesters and do not invade town to forage until they have raised their broods, but as the fireworks of the Fourth burst forth and died my hopes began to fade, and when I sat down to breakfast on July 7th I was resigned to the likelihood of never seeing them again. Compared to most songbirds a blackbird’s voice is unmusical, but to me it is as lovely as the whistling of a thrush, and with the first grating “aawk” I was running to the door. Blackie was perched on top of the cage, showing me his bold white eye. I wanted to tell him that the book was finished and he and his brothers and sisters deserved credit, but he no longer had much use for a blackbird who couldn’t fly, and after letting me admire his iridescent plumage, he flew to the top of the spruce where I had so often seen him herald the dawn. I had but a fleeting glimpse, his fearsome countenance silhouetted against the sky, and then he was gone, this time, perhaps, forever.
Keith’s tour schedule for The Gray Ghost Murders (follow links below for details):
Wednesday, February 27 @ 7:00pm: The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana
Monday, March 4 @ 7:00pm: Book signing at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona
Kathleen Meyer, a longtime outdoorswoman and author, is my guest blogger today on a subject dear to her heart. Did I say “dear to her heart?” Read on.
Least Publicized Job of Wilderness Rangers
by Kathleen Meyer
Leave it to brazen, delightful writer Nevada Barr, bless her blue-sky heart, to tug beach-poop-patrol into the sunlight as part her newest novel The Rope. Faithful Barr fans will already know that this volume, predating Anna Pigeon’s long career as a park ranger, is the story of her startling summer just off the bus from NYC, signing on as a seasonal employee at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. And that Anna’s boss and housemate is one Jenny Gorman, better known as the Fecal Queen after one ghastly event in a heroic stint of cleaning human turds from the beaches of Lake Powell, where the bevies of camping/partying boaters and jet skiers ply the sand much as cats do a litter box. Of course, within the arc of the narrative, the crap brigade is but a small embellishment on the wild ride that lures Anna toward badge-and-gun-carrying rangerhood.
As I turned the final page, I began to wonder if Nevada’s readers might be inclined to question whether the description of beach-cleaning is one of her meticulously-researched details or one invented for gripping fiction? So, I’m here to tell you it’s the former. Backcountry human waste management is a serious problem in high-use areas and regions with fragile eco-systems, as in the environs of Lake Powell. And the life of the character Jenny Gorman? Well, I heavily related, having myself for nigh-on twenty-three years worn the sobriquet Shit Lady.
But back to the beaches . . . with gloves, tongs, and brimming five-gallon buckets. Although we like to joke as much as possible with the grand old English word scitian—finding it in your campsite is no laughing matter. Reports of poop-removal-by-salad-tongs reach me via many wilderness rangers. And if that’s the icky-est part of the larger story, the saddest is that when we humans don’t take care of business, so to speak, the upshot is rules and regulations. This week, in talking to Steve Horman, Chief of Facility Management at Glen Canyon NRA, I learned that in 1996, their whole approach to human waste changed, with a lovely new plan. It, thank goodness, relieved rangers of the hands-on chore by placing the responsibility directly in the laps of poopers, where it belongs. Click here: http://www.nps.gov/glca/parknews/advisories.htm and scroll down to “Lake Powell Pure – Now and Forever.” All of this offers us a lot to think about and strive for with our remaining unregulated hinterlands: get it together on our own steam, or lose the wild quality and dish out taxes for more enforcement?
Be in the know. Teach others. Thank you, Nevada Barr!
Kathleen Meyer is the author of the international bestselling outdoor guide How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art which sold more than 2.5 million copies in eight languages. Her feisty third edition, released in 2011, is packed with new information for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe.
More about Kathleen:
KATHLEEN MEYER is a longtime outdoorswoman and the
founding editor of Headwaters, published by Friends of the River.
Her travel essays have been included in the Travelers’ Tales
anthologies A Woman’s Passion for Travel: More True Stories from
a Woman’s World and Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures:
Funny Women Write from the Road. Her adventure memoir
Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife was released by
Villard in 2001. Whitewater rafter and canoeist, sea-kayaker and
sailor, she is also a draft horse teamster, having traversed three
Rocky Mountain states by horse-drawn wagon. Ever the
nontraditional spirit, Meyer resides in an old, rather unrestored,
dairy barn in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and is available for
I feel compelled to write something. I know I’ve touched on this subject again and again. Of late, I’ve ignored the few complaints I get as the person who receives email through NevadaBarr.com, but I find myself particularly incensed this morning.
My worthless opinion which, I’m sure, is at least as obnoxious as anyone elses:
I feel sure that you are aware of the pitfalls in suggesting or perhaps even requiring that an author include or not include certain words and/or subjects in their prose. If your love of books is paramount, one hopes that you unite with readers throughout the United States in supporting our constitutional right to freedom of speech and abhor the possibility of this becoming a country that bans or burns books due to content.
Profanity and explicit sexual content exist throughout literature and art in every language and has been wielded by authors and artists over the centuries to put forth their ideas, stories, poetry, and now blogs and vlogs. One reader’s insistence that a story could be told better without the use of this word or that word, this visual or that visual, is ludicrously erroneous. Curbing artistic expression cripples the artist and benefits no one. If authors were forced to conform to the constraints of public opinion, literature would become flat to those of us who enjoy a well told tale.
People who “suggest” that a story could be told better without the profanity, or who imply that the use of certain words or visuals are tools of the lazy author make my head explode. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Write your own damn book.
A question has come up several times recently. With the increasing number of eBooks, how does one get the author’s autograph? One might argue that it’s not the same — which it may not be — however, Nevada told me today that at one of her signings someone came up and slapped her Kindle (or was it a Nook?) down on the table and had her autograph the cover of it. Apparently it was a white cover s0 it was possible. Mine is red canvas, so I guess I’m out of luck. But for those of you who have gone the route of the eBook, don’t be shy about getting the author’s autograph … on something… if you make it to a signing.
Thorupunious (just saying ….)
Great news! The Rope hit three New York Times lists. What with eBooks I guess you don’t track just one list now for bestsellers, but several.
#9 for printed hardcover
#24 for eBook
#13 for the combined list
Thank you everyone! She couldn’t do it without you.
Nevada made is safely home to NOLA from Houston after a long drive (some kind of mix up with the flight schedule). Tomorrow they hit the road again for 3 stops in Mississippi. See her schedule for when and where: http://www.nevadabarr.com/schedule.htm
Martin County Library System’s annual author/book festival, BookMania in Stuart, Florida was one stop on Nevada’s promotional tour for the release of her 17th Anna Pigeon mystery, The Rope,
Nevada’s husband managed to catch a photo of her with Jim Lehrer: