Sunday, July 30, 2017

...As the Crow Flies Information for Readers and Writers

This week ThrillWriting welcomes back our friend Sue Coletta.

Sue this blog article is for the birds! ;)

Crows are amazing birds. While writing BLESSED MAYHEM, I researched them extensively, and became so intrigued I longed to befriend a crow of my own. Let’s backtrack a bit so you can see why I became so enthralled, and then we’ll move on to the bizarre events unfolding in my yard.

First, a demonstration…

“No other animal—not even a chimp—has ever spontaneously solved a problem like this, a fact that puts crows in a class with us as toolmakers,” Non-Fiction Author Candace Savage

Not only do crows problem-solve, they teach other crows. In this next video you’ll see a crow using a vending machine. 

  • If you’re short on time, fast forward to 1:19, where he figures out how to use the machine. 
  • When the vending machine malfunctions, he gets mad and steals the quarter (2:21). 
  • So funny! Also cool is the part where one crow demonstrates how the machine works so his buddies can receive a treat too (3:31).
Mostly likely these crows are family, because oftentimes when crows find a good food source they’re unlikely to share. Much like a dog, it’s been documented that a crow is not opposed to playing dead next to a tasty morsel so crows flying overhead won’t stop. 

Probably the most amazing aspect of crows are their ability to consider, reconsider, learn, feel sorrow, love, fear, hatred—I could go on and on—also their memory is unparalleled to any other bird. Although ravens are intelligent, with the wherewithal to use what they’ve learned. For the purpose of today’s post, I’m concentrating on crows—who can also count!

There’s been numerous experiments to validate crows innate abilities. One of the most fascinating for me was when researchers at Washington State University donned latex masks and captured seven crows. Once released, the crows “scolded” them with distinct screeching calls. They also dive-bombed their heads. Every time the researchers wore the masks around campus, more and more crows would join the angry mob. Yet, without the masks the researchers were free to roam the campus.

To prove the crows weren’t just opposed to latex, they asked several other people to wear masks. Sure enough, only the person in the caveman mask got scolded. What does that tell us? While we’re minding our own business crows are taking mental snapshots of our faces and passing on the information to other crows. It’s this tidbit that drove me to include crows in BLESSED MAYHEM, because, well, they’re so cool. Crows also added a unique creepiness. Once a crow memorizes your facial features as a “dangerous face,” you’re marked for life. Generation after generation, entire crow communities will teach their young that you’re not to be trusted. Crows know how to hold a grudge too.

What can we learn from this? Never piss off a crow.

If you happen to stumble across a dead crow (God forbid), do NOT dispose of it. They may mistakenly accuse you of killing that crow, then you’re screwed.

Here’s a preview of the caveman mask experiment -

I’ve mentioned a small fraction of crows incredible abilities. You can learn more about them in BLESSED MAYHEM. Mr. Mayhem, the antagonist and Shawnee Daniels’ nemesis, has three pet crows. I hope you fall in love with their relationship as much as I did.

Poe, Allan, and Edgar became so real I had to befriend my own crows. So, in my yard I set out three piles of circus peanuts. Then waited. Circus peanuts are one of their favorite treats, so it didn’t take long for Poe to notice (affectionately named after Mr. Mayhem’s Poe, although later I learned she’s Poe-lene). Little by little Poe got more and more comfortable in my yard. I’d watch her staring at me as she perched in trees, with a direct view of my sunroom, which doubles as my office. I’d talk to her, let her know I’d never cause her harm. Apparently she believed me, because the next thing I know she brought Edgar, her mate. They’d munch on peanuts and take turns flying to the nest where their crowlettes awaited their meal. Fledglings or chicks are the proper terms, but crowlettes sounds so much cuter.

Soon after, a blonde squirrel with a red, bushy tail invaded their peanut haven, stealing nuts to bring back to her new litter. At first, Poe was not happy about this at all. Shawnee, the squirrel (get it? She’s a thief), would chase Poe, trying to scare her away from the tasty morsels. Poe let it slide a few times before she’d had enough. The next time Shawnee tried to get her to flee, Poe stood her ground. After all, she had babies to feed too!

Within days, the most amazing thing happened.

The two mothers came to an understanding: you stay at your pile; I’ll stay at mine. Meanwhile, a tiny baby chipmunk, with only a dotted line on his back rather than full stripes and an itty-bitty tail, skulked to the unoccupied third pile, which just so happened to be close to his burrow. The minute he stuck a peanut in his mouth, he sprang into the air in “Hip, hip, hooray” fashion. For the entire trek to his burrow he kept leaping a good 6” to 8” into the air. I’ve never seen someone so excited over peanuts. Adorable!!! I named him Hippy. Believe it or not, Shawnee and Poe both welcomed him to the yard. Maybe they want to mother him as much as I do.

Later, Poe and Edgar brought their beautiful chicks. I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed watching them grow. Shawnee also brought her babies. I think she’s a single Mom. Crows mate for life, but squirrels must be content with, “Wham, bang, thank you, ma’am.”

A strange phenomenon is now unfolding in my yard.

Over months and months I’ve never seen another crow or squirrel near the peanuts. You’d think they’d attract crows and squirrels for miles. Crazy, right? It’s like Poe and Shawnee put the word out, and no one dares to cross the border no matter how delicious the wafting aroma of roasted peanuts smell. Hippy eventually brought a friend—named Chippy, Charles if he’s ignoring me. But no other chipmunks come around, either.

I love my new buddies. I could watch them for hours. Alas, books don’t read or write themselves, so instead some days I shutdown my computer a little early to spend time with my feathered and furry lovebugs.

Anyway, back to my new release. I’m so excited about BLESSED MAYHEM!!! To date, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever written.

A chance encounter …a deadly predicament …a lethal decision.

The infamous Mr. Mayhem is not your average serial killer. Reminiscent of the beloved Hannibal Lecter, minus his thirst for flesh—because eating humans is just plain rude—Mr. Mayhem storms on the scene with style, grace, elegance, and a zest for life unlike any other. Impeccable manners also help. He may commit murder, but there’s no reason to be impolite about it.

Accompanied by his loyal crow companions, Poe, Allan, and Edgar, his crimes strike fear in the hearts and minds of folks across Massachusetts’ North Shore. When Shawnee Daniels—cat burglar extraordinaire and forensic hacker for the police—meets Mayhem in the dark, she piques his curiosity. Sadly for her, she leaves behind an item best left undiscovered. Or is it serendipity by design?

Color him curious, but he yearns to examine the psychology behind her life choices, tough girl routine, witty banter, and unique double-life. In a different time and place they may even become friends. But unfortunately, their predicament defines the risk.

The stakes are too high to stop now.

For reasons authorities cannot fathom, these seemingly unrelated murders will go down in history as the most impressive killing regime of all time. His coup de grace, if you will. Even if it means permanently erasing Ms. Daniels from the equation. All the pieces are there if the authorities look hard enough. The question is, will they? The only new wrinkle is Shawnee Daniels, and she may be his toughest opponent yet …if she’s clever enough to play the game.

Pre-order now and save $2.00!

And make sure to check out Sue's Murder Blog, winner of the top 5 Crime Blogs Award!

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