ON CREATING THE ALEX CARTER THRILLER SERIES - A Guest Post by Alice Henderson
A note from Pamela Beason - Today we're happy to welcome Alice Henderson, another environmental mystery author, to our site. I highly recommend her first book, A Solitude of Wolverines, and I can't wait to read her second. Now, here's Alice:
The year I started to take action for wildlife was the same year I started writing. I was six, and two things happened that year that changed the course of my life. The first was that my father gave me his old Underwood manual typewriter, and I started to write stories about detectives, ghosts, monsters, and sci-fi adventures.
And that same year, I also learned that extinction wasn't just something that happened to the dinosaurs millions of years ago. It was happening now, to the wildlife we shared the planet with, and humans were the cause. I was devastated.
I'd been fascinated with wildlife for as long as I could remember. My father had a penchant for finding garter snakes and box turtles in our backyard. He'd point to a rock and say, "There should be a salamander under there," and sure enough, there would be. My mother, an artist, encouraged me to keep a nature journal, which I dove into with gusto.
After I learned about extinction, I did everything my six-year-old self could think of to help wildlife. I mucked out cages at the local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. I made little art and craft pieces and sold them, donating the money to wildlife non-profits.
As I went on to college and grad school, I continued to pursue both writing and science. I studied creative writing, biogeography, field zoology, and screenwriting. I got trained in geographic information systems and bioacoustics, and brought those skills to my fight for wildlife.
But it wasn't until one afternoon in Montana that the idea for my thriller series came into being. I was setting out bioacoustic recorders on a large tract of protected land in Montana. These devices are capable of recording both audible sounds, like birds, wolves, and amphibians, but also the ultrasonic echolocation calls of bats. I then examine these recordings to determine what species are using a particular piece of land. As I was setting up the microphones in this isolated, gorgeous mountain setting, I thought, "I'm a writer. And I'm passionate about wildlife causes. Why haven't I combined the two?" It hit me then that I wanted to create a character who was a wildlife biologist, who would travel to different areas to study various endangered species. The isolated settings would provide wonderfully suspenseful locations, and each book could focus on a different species in peril.
And so Alex Carter came into being. I went back to camp that night and started hashing out the first book. I chose wolverines for the focus because so few people know about them, and there are only three hundred left in the lower 48. They have no federal protection and a number of factors including climate change and habitat fragmentation have led to their decline. They once roamed as far south as New Mexico and as far east as the Great Lakes, but now only inhabit isolated pockets in a handful of northwestern states.
I wanted the title of each book to feature the animal and its group name, like a "teapot of towhees" or a "murder of crows." But when I looked into wolverines, I discovered that they are so solitary, they have no group name. So I created one myself: a solitude of wolverines.
I chose polar bears for the second book in the series because their situation, like that of the wolverine, is dire, again due mostly to climate change.
It's interesting that the second book in the series, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, should came out right now, while world leaders gather in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and decide the world's fate and what steps we're willing to take to avert this disastrous path we're on.
After all, every year for the last thirty-three years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its annual report, warning us that we need to take steps to avert climate disasters. And yet nothing or very little happens as a result, and each year the IPCC's warnings become more and more grave. And now we've waited too long. Sea level rise, drought, disastrous fires ,and hurricanes have taken their toll on our country and the world. I think of Jimmy Carter placing solar panels on the roof of the White House in 1979, and how those panels were removed by the Reagan administration. If we'd started climate change legislation in 1979, the polar bears, wolverines, pikas, and most definitely we would be faring a lot better.
But we can't afford now to be moved to inaction by hopelessness or apathy. In the desire to drive things forward, in the back of each Alex Carter book, I include a section where readers can learn more about the species, and even undertake volunteer opportunities to help them.
What I hope readers take away from A Solitude of Wolverines and A Blizzard of Polar Bears is not only what I hope will be a suspenseful, entertaining read, but that they will fall in love with these species as I have and be inspired to act.
And to act does not have to be a huge life changing, insurmountable deed. If we all do our part, we can turn this around. Write to your representatives. Eat less meat. Engage in citizen science. If you're feeling blue or hopeless, help count monarch butterflies. Plant milkweed. Log onto scistarter.org or zooniverse.org and pick out a project to help with, be it a simple beach cleanup or monitoring rhinoceros in Africa from your home computer.
Let's all take action and demand the change we need to save not only these unique, dynamic species, but ourselves.