2012 Tapers Off

Ann LittlewoodAfter high school in Sacramento, California, and college in Portland, Oregon, Ann Littlewood worked as a zoo keeper at the Portland Zoo (now called the Oregon Zoo) for twelve years. She was assigned mostly to the nursery, where she raised cats, including lions, a tiger, sand cats, servals, and cougars; primates including mandrills and an orangutan; and native mammals such as black-tailed deer, raccoons, black bear, and harbor seals. She also raised parrots, grouse, wood ducks, penguins, and a multitude of owls in a rehabilitation program.

She has been scratched, bitten, pecked, stepped on, and taloned. In one memorable episode, she waded into a stock tank with a baby hippo to give it an enema. She can spell diarrhea on her good days and knows that “enrichment” in the zoo world has nothing to do with money and everything to do with mental stimulation.

Littlewood wrote for the Oregon Zoo newsletter and she has published articles in Primates; International Zoo Yearbook; and Animal Keepers’ Forum, the journal of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

Ann now spends many hours at fictional Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington, enmeshed in adventures with any animal she feels like while channeling Iris Oakley, her mystery-solving protagonist. She has published Night KillDid Not Survive and Endangered with Poisoned Pen Press. She lives in Portland with her husband and a small but very hairy Corgi-mix.

The year unwinds toward the solstice, our days run gray and short, and we all scurry about preparing for the holidays. Here in Portland, we received an early gift that is also gray and short. This is a bouncing baby elephant, Rose-Tu’s second calf at the Oregon Zoo. Lily is a big girl, even for an elephant baby, as well as lively and adventurous. Here’s a video. One of the great benefits of writing zoo mysteries is that watching cute videos of baby animals counts as work.

Endangered, my third zoo mystery, came out this last July. It continues the adventures of Iris Oakley, dedicated zoo keeper and single mom, as she becomes embroiled in a dysfunctional drug-running family that dabbles in smuggled wildlife as well as the occasional murder. Iris’ passion for justice is ignited when she encounters a slain girl as well as illegal and neglected parrots and tortoises. On her search for the truth, she encounters a frightening family despot, not one but two romantic interests, and a buried fortune. A zoo keeper friend is shot and nearly killed by her quarry. At the end, she is trapped in the hands of a criminal who has no compunctions about killing her or anyone else to get what he wants.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and took Endangered on my first book tour of Southern California. In the August heat and smog. Driving those Endangeredinfamous freeways. Alone. I survived and even had fun—three wonderful bookstores and a great visit at the Los Angeles Zoo where I met a passel of keepers and docents. I hope you are visiting your local bookstore to pick up holiday gifts and keep these labors-of-love afloat.

With each book, my confidence in weaving in conservation information grows. I had multiple goals for this tour: sell books (of course), encourage people to pay attention to the natural world, and let them know about a couple of major conservation issues—the decline in tortoise species and the big money in wildlife poaching. I half-expected some grumbling along the lines of “we just want entertainment, knock it off with the messaging,” but I didn’t hear that. People seemed to enjoy my slide show. They laughed at my jokes and they asked great questions. Very gratifying. (If you were looking for gift ideas… Never mind. There’s such a thing as too much promotion…)

But “an entertaining read” certainly is essential. December is a good time to pause and think about where Iris is going next. I’m thinking Kenya and a murder that seems to be something else, but that’s a problem for next year.

These days may be cold and dim, but it’s been a good year, with kind reviewers and warm-hearted fans. I’m looking forward to next year. I especially want to see how Lily’s brother, three-year-old Samudra, responds to being dethroned as the golden child by his mom and aunties. I anticipate he’ll adjust and have a good time romping with his sister.

Here’s wishing you a year with challenges and successes, drama and triumphs!