Over the coming weeks I’d like to share interviews that Magnus and I conducted with the contributors to Corvidae and Scarecrow. This week we’ll talk with Laura VanArendonk Baugh. I really probably should have combined this with Laura’s interview for Scarecrow but, uh, well I didn’t. So there you go 😉
Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh
What is it about corvids that inspired you to write about them? Corvids are kind of underappreciated. That is, lots of people like them, but they like them for their gothic reputation and associations, like Poe’s poem. Don’t get me wrong, I like gothic associations! but corvids are more than that. (I’m also a big fan of bats and all their vampiric trappings, but bats are also cool for more than just their Transylvanian relatives. Build a bat house!)
Was there one corvid characteristic you wanted to highlight more than others? So here’s the thing – my story features a corvid cognition researcher and a trainer, and yet nothing in it remotely stretches the truth of corvid capability. As far as cognition and behavior goes, the story is pretty boring. So when truth is more impressive than fiction, they must be pretty clever birds.
My day job is in animal behavior, so it was fun to get to write a nerdy behavior story where that stuff was actually plot-relevant. And in fact this story was directly inspired by a friend’s impressive research in counting (in dogs), so I enjoyed that!
Do you think you were successful? I hope so. In the sequel story, in Scarecrow, a character mentions that humans only respect and conserve those bits of nature which fascinate or impress them. As a professional I can tell you that all animals are much more clever than you think – you just don’t generally get a chance to see them in action. If we thought of them as sentient and smart, it would change how we do a lot of things, from industrial farming to environmental conservation.
As you may know, one of Edmonton’s local Twitter personalities is Magnus E. Magpie who haunts Twitter as @YEGMagpie. I invited him to read an advance copy of Corvidae and Scarecrow and offer a short cawmentary on each story from a magpie’s point of view, which he did. When he was finished I asked if there was anything he’d like to ask the contributors. The italicized portions are mine because Magnus didn’t ask straight-forward questions on account of he’s a magpie 🙂 Laura’s answers may sound familiar on account of that Scarecrow contributor interview thing, but it’s too late for me to change that 😉
Mr. Yegpie: I also would sure love to know where they got their ideas from! I caught several familiar references from existing books and mythology and fairy tales; I like seeing people riff off stuff. (What inspired your story/poem?) At a training and behavior conference, a training friend (the always-amazing Ken Ramirez) shared some of his research on what I’ll describe simply as counting in dogs. As we sat at the faculty table for dinner the next night, I told him he’d given me an idea for a story. This story ended up being only partly related to that first idea, but that’s how ideas work, right?
Mr. Yegpie: I think I would like to know what people’s favourite corvid is though; and if it isn’t a magpie, WHYEVER NOT?!? (If they come back with some guff about crows using tools, PLEASE LET ME KNOW AND I WILL SEND THEM A COPY OF MY ROGERS BILL. Pffft, crows.) (What is your favourite corvid?) Okay, after all my guff about people liking corvids only for their gothic associations…. I confess to liking ravens in particular just because of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem. I mean, come on. Vincent Price, enormous black birds, despair, what’s not to love?
But magpies can be very striking, visually. I wish we had magpies locally to admire.
I guessed, but I had to Google to confirm – a Rogers bill is for wireless and internet, so Mr. Yegpie uses a smart phone for all his tweeting! Clever bird. 🙂
Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a dark chocolate addict, and a Pushcart Prize-nominated author with a following for her folklore-based stories and speculative fiction. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com.
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