Corvidae Contributor Interview: Michael M. Rader

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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 Michael M. Rader.

Interview with Michael M. Rader

Please share a short excerpt from your story:

“He worked late on Tuesdays, perhaps rushing to meet some unknown deadline on Wednesday. His motivation doesn’t matter, his location matters, the solitude of the university matters. I padded softly through the darkened, echoing brick hallways of the animal sciences building. It was cold. This antiquated edifice is incapable of capturing heat; every wisp of warmth seeps through the crumbling mortar into the crisp October evening. I heard creaks and rumblings and voices and footsteps ricocheting through the building, but I knew we would be isolated in the ornithology wing, which is cast so, so very far away from the civilized lands of the grant-laden Primatologists and Herpetologists. I crept slowly down the hall, so very slowly, the minute hand of the steadily ticking clock in the old man’s office moved faster than my feet. In time, I noticed my heart joined the clock tick in synchronization, the clock and I had fused in purpose; it conspired with me to steal the old man’s time. This was a good omen, a sign my cause was pure and just. Time is reasonable, time is order and I am an orderly, reasonable woman.”

What is it about corvids that inspired you to write about them? I read a lot about animal behavior, and I’m particularly interested in animals that use tools and exhibit higher intelligence like mirror self-recognition. Naturally, most of these animals are great apes, but there are two fascinating outliers: cephalopods and corvidae. Cephalopods have giant brains, so that’s maybe less surprising. However, the phrase “bird brain” exists for a reason. Birds have physically small brains, and anyone who has spent a lot of time with your average bird is not going to be terribly impressed with their intelligence. Except for corvidae. Ravens can use tools, Eurasian Magpies can recognize themselves in mirrors (the only non-mammal capable of doing that), and crows can recognize faces and communicate descriptions. No other family of bird can do that. They’re not just weirdos in the animal kingdom, they’re weirdos in their own class. I guess I just have a soft spot for that.

Was there one corvid characteristic you wanted to highlight more than others? Definitely the concept of the corvidae family’s higher intelligence, and also how some members of their family (blue jays) aren’t quite as impressive. 

Do you think you were successful? I set out to tell a story about intelligence, how it differs from sense, and how just being in the right bird family (or academic setting) doesn’t make you intelligent, practical, sensical or sane. I believe the characters in my story, and the corvidae they study, really highlight that  characteristic.

If you were a corvid, what would you build your nest out of? Memory foam for comfort, pages from Discworld novels for entertainment and strips of political manifestos just to be edgy.

What’s your favourite ‘shiny’ thing?  Love? No, that’s far too sappy. I’ll go with bits of broken glass instead.

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 🙂

Mr. Yegpie: It would be cool to know where all these stories came from, I mean geographically – like I think I could tell who was from Edmonton and who was from Vancouver! (Where do you live, and did that affect your story/poem at all?I’m from Colorado, right on at the foot of the rocky mountains. You’ll be happy to know we have the same sort of Magpies here as in Edmonton, although perhaps less handsome and sophisticated.  I believe my location did affect my story a fair bit since I based my descriptions on local flora and fauna, and the university in my story is very heavily based on my own.

 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?My story was stolen very blatantly from a story called The Tell-Tale Heart by some guy named Edgar Allan Poe. Fortunately he’s dead and can’t do much about it. Well, he could haunt me, but I’d be far more flattered than frightened if he did so.

More personally, I wrote this while struggling through a very difficult project at my university that ended up delaying my graduation by a year, so more than a few of my feelings and frustrations inspired this story. My professor is still very much alive, though, and I wish him no ill will.

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?While I did write about blue jays in my story, it was only to highlight how silly and stupid they are in comparison to the far superior members of their family: crows, ravens and magpies. While this may sound ingratiating, I do think magpies win out over the other corvids since they can recognize themselves in mirrors on top of being able to use tools. That’s gorilla level intelligence there, and we humans will likely be subservient to your kind in a century or so.

 

Michael M. Rader lives in Colorado with his wife and two children where he does dad things, engineers electrical things and writes spooky things.

Cover for CORVIDAE. Design by Eileen Wiedbrauk

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