We are thrilled to welcome crime novelist Ann Littlewood as our guest to Omnimystery News.
Ann is the author of the Iris Oakley "Zoo" mysteries, the third entry of which is Endangered (Poisoned Pen Press, July 2012 Hardcover, Trade Paperback, and eBook editions).
Today Ann whimsically tells us where baby plots come from: Under a cabbage leaf! But of course! And … she is giving three of our readers a chance to win an autographed copy of her new book; details below.
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A tiny brown seed transforms into a big leafy plant. That's one metaphor for how a novel might evolve: start with an idea and grow it on. Another metaphor: the overflowing junk drawer gets organized. Here's a list of seeds or safety pins that evolved into my third zoo mystery, Endangered, starring animal keeper Iris Oakley.
Photo provided courtesy of
• On a visit to Oregon Zoo, I was drafted into holding baby western pond turtles while each received a microchip in the hind end. These rare animals were released into the wild carrying this key to their early history, so that biologists could track them individually.
• My father-in-law is a contrarian investor with an unshakable faith in precious metals as a depression-proof investment.
• Washington State's "barefoot bandit" keeps popping up in the news.
• I read The Last Tortoise by Craig B. Stanford (recommended!).
• A cousin visited and told me about her adventures as director of an animal shelter.
• I drank too much one night and had an unexpected but intensely passionate affair with a handsome man in a hotel.
Okay, okay, I made that last one up. But you see how it works. Some plots accrete, accumulate, assort rather than spring Venus-like fully grown from a seashell. I imagine other writers hew closely to a real-world incident that actually happened to them, but no roman à clef for me — my life isn't nearly as dramatic as that of my characters. I make stuff up. I do it by pawing through my mental junk drawer and by growing seeds into stories in my head.
Did this semi-random process result in a twisty, compelling plot? Check into Endangered, a tale of smuggled tortoises; an isolated and violent family; a mysterious girl — murdered; and an outraged zoo keeper who sorts it out, at no little peril to herself. Let me know what you think.
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Ann Littlewood was a keeper for the Portland Zoo (now Oregon Zoo) for twelve years, working primarily in the nursery but also with primates, felines, and in all other areas of the park. She later worked as a technical writer and business analyst before turning to a life of crime fiction. You can read more about her and her books on her website, ZooMysteries.com.
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Zoo keeper Iris Oakley is sent to a remote farm in Washington State to rescue exotic animals after a drug bust. Instead of pets, she finds smuggled parrots and tortoises destined for sale to unscrupulous or unsuspecting collectors. The zoo's facilities are full, and she ends up with two macaws shrieking in her basement. The marijuana grow operation and the meth lab are the cops' problem. The smuggling side-line is hers. An outraged Iris is determined to break the criminal pipeline that snatches rare animals from the wild and leaves them neglected in old barns.
Then she discovers a woman who escaped the bust — dead. Iris has stumbled onto a violent crime, something far too dangerous for a widow with a young son. But it's too late to untangle herself. Brothers from the farm, both murder suspects, invade her home, demanding information she doesn't have.
Iris flees with her child, but soon her only option is to go on the offensive. People she counts on are not who they claim to be. A friend is shot during a break-in at the zoo and may not survive.
Hunting for the brothers, Iris sorts through baffling clues and trips over secrets old and new. Why steal an ordinary drinking glass? Why do the brothers think she knows where their father's fortune is hidden? Could the noisy parrots be hiding crucial information in plain sight? She realizes a key piece is missing, but finding it means confronting a determined killer.
For a chance to win a signed copy of Endangered, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Ann Littlewood: Zoo Mysteries" contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code — 5761 — for a chance to win! (One entry per person; contest ends July 18th, 2012.)