Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sharron McClellan and Jody Wallace--More Friends with Books Out

I've mentioned releases for both Sharron McClellan and Jody Wallace in an earlier post, but this time I have blurbs and fabulous covers to go with them. One can't pimp one's friends too often. Okay, you know what I mean.

First up is Breathless (Silhouette Romantic Suspense, February 2008), Sharron's latest. That cover is smokin'! And the story? Even better.

Athena Academy’s darkest nemesis is gunning for her, but USMC Combatant Diver Jessica Whittaker is not easily intimidated. Without thinking twice, she volunteers to do anything to help bring down the school’s deadliest enemy.
Her assignment: an expeditionary mission aboard a sunken ship. Salvaging for clues on an abandoned vessel should have been simple. But a hostile force—and an unbelievably handsome diving buddy—have turned up the heat. If Jess ever wants to set foot on dry land again she’ll have to contend with her enemy—and her lover—or risk revealing her deepest secret.

As Sharron's friend and crit partner, I've read this story, and let me tell you, I will NEVER think of a ship's engine room as some dank, mucky place again. Read the book to see what I mean ; )

Jody's A Spell for Susannah (Samhain Publishing) was released as an ebook yesterday and will be available in print later this year. Is that a gorgeous cover or is that a gorgeous cover? Susannah is a retelling if the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" fairy tale.

Princess Susannah's work with fairy magic unlocks a delicious secret:Beneath the castle where she and her sisters live, there's an enchanted palace full of princes who love to dance. In a world where the nobility are fairy-cursed to bear no male children, it's a secret she and her sisters enjoy to the fullest. When the King and Queen hire Jon Tom to find out where their daughters go every night, Susannah finds herself wanting to share all her secrets-and her heart. But if Susannah's secrets go public, the fairies are going to come looking for her. And they won't be happy.

Jody never disappoints when it comes to fun, fabulous reads. I think Susannah will breathe new life into the fantasy romance genre.

I can't tell you how great it is to have such talented friends to brag about. Now go buy their books so I can get my pimpage cut ; )


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

American Title III Winner "Sleeping with Ward Cleaver" Hits the Shelves!

It's here! It's here! Jenny Gardiner's "Sleeping with Ward Cleaver," winner of the American Title III contest, is out! (Or rather, will be out VERY soon!) I can't tell you how happy I am to help my ATIII sister help launch her debut novel. Isn't that the cutest cover? Love it! So fun and bright, just like Jenny. And inside, you'll find some fantastic writing. I've read an excerpt and Oh. My. God. It was as hysterical as it was dead-on truthful. I won't give details, but the scene I read involved *relations* between a less than enthusiastic woman and her husband. Come on, girls, we've ALL been there.

But I'm not, and won't be, the only one who loves it:

SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, Dorchester, 2008. The funny yet poignant story of a woman at a crossroads in life, who years earlier married a man who swept her off her feet, but now finds that her Mr. Right has evolved into Mr. Always Right, and the only sweeping going on in her life involves a broom and a dustpan. As her dreams collide with reality and the one that got away shows up trying to worm his way back into her heart, she must decide if her once charmed marriage is salvageable, and if so, how she's going to go about saving it.
A fun, sassy read! A cross between Erma Bombeck and Candace Bushnell, reading Jenny Gardiner is like sinking your teeth into a big frosted chocolate just want more.
-author Meg Cabot

With a story setup like that, with an endorsement like that, how can you not want to read this?!

So all this week, Jenny is doing a Blog Book Tour. (A lot cheaper and easier on the body than a real one, I'm sure.) Go on over to these sites/blogs to see what she has to say and what others are saying about her and "Ward." I can assure you it's all good.

Jenny's website:
A blog Jenny is part of:
More blogs:

Congratulations, Jenny! I'm so happy for you!

Now, go buy "Sleeping with Ward Cleaver"! That's where I'm headed.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Your Click is Important to Us....


Hi. Sorry I can't come to the blog right now. The black-footed ferret series has reached a short interlude while other aspects of life take hold. In the meantime, please choose one of the following menu items.

*For Sharron McClellan's news and contest for her latest release, Breathless (which has a hot cover), click here.

*For the Angry Romance Grrl snarky responses to those who dis romance blog/contest, click here.

*For the fab cover and book trailer for Jody Wallace's new Samhain release, A Spell for Susannah, click here or here.

*To read about Cathy's ferret-related adventures thus far, please scroll down to the post titled "Six Degrees of Separation--Ferrets, Part One" or whatever it's titled.

Thank you, and come back soon!



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cute Little Creatures with Big, Nasty Teeth--Ferrets, Part Four

I'd like to begin this continuation of ferretsploitation (a word as awkward to write as it is to read) with a shout out to the folks at Prairie Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, all the folks at the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish and at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as countless others who put in an amazing amount of effort to protect our natural resources. I'd also like to tip my hat to romance writer Nora Roberts, who in light of a particularly unhappy situation in the writing world (go elsewhere for the details, people, I'm exploiting something else here), is offering to match funds donated for the protection of black-footed ferrets or other species. You are one class act, ma'am.

So on to the next installment of ferretsploitation. You may want to read the previous post, at least, to catch up. Just a suggestion : )

The young female ferret must have smelled the prairie dog in the box under her cage even before the tube was made accessible. Not too difficult, as prairie dogs are, shall we say, aromatic. Ferrets, being mustelids, are no slouches in the stinky department either, and surely the prairie dog was aware of the ferret.

Those of us observing from another room via the closed circuit camera watched the ferret stick her twitching nose out of her nest box. In a matter of seconds, she scurried down the tube to where the prairie dog was being held. There was no delay, no hesitation. This captive born female who had never been out of the protected facility, whose mother and possibly grandmother had never seen the natural light of a Wyoming day, shot into the prairie dog's box and immediately began her attack. (Keep in mind, ferrets weigh 2-3 pounds, as do prairie dogs. Imagine having to go out every night to wrestle and kill something your size, equipped with weapons similar to your own as well as a determination NOT to be your dinner. This is what a black-footed ferret had to do in the wild. Just to eat. Add to that the need to avoid BEING dinner for some coyote, badger or bird of prey.)

There was a blurr of bodies as each tried to gain the advantage over the other. Two sets of teeth and claws, two creatures determined to win the battle for survival. A few yips from the prairie dog, and in under three minutes, it was over.

The female ferret held the neck of the prairie dog in her jaws. On the monitor, we could see her sides heaving. After a few moments, she dragged the rodent back up the tunnel to her nest box where her kits waited.

I think we cheered, quietly as to not disturb the ferrets, and I'm sure there were a few tears. Despite their years in captivity, despite their fragile hold on a place in the world, the survival the black-footed ferret population had just been given a vote of confidence.

After a week at Sybille, I returned to the trailer court in Shirley Basin to finish up release site evaluations. In a few short weeks, the first staging boxes would be placed in chosen areas, the first release candidates collared and brought out to the field. It was an exciting time because we all knew we'd been working on something special. Science isn't always pretty, in fact, it's often downright messy, but it is almost always exhilarating and gratifying.

Next time: Marco! Polo! Ferrets in the field.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cute Little Creatures with Big, Nasty Teeth--Ferrets, Part Three

Seeing as the last two posts were about rattlesnakes, I guess it's time to get to the furry critters. Ferrets and prairie dogs are adorable, and it's lucky for them that they are. We humans seem almost pre-programmed to want to take care of the cute and cuddly, with mammals being top on the list of "Save the {insert preferred species here}". Reality: cute they may be, but ferrets and prairie dogs can be stinky and nasty. Oh, they have good reason, but still, stinky and nasty.

Just about anything that gets people talking about helping threatened and endangered species, be they ferrets or whales, northern spotted owls (another species I've worked with) or the New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake (yes, even *I* think rattlesnakes deserve help sometimes) is worth it. But there are an incredible number of other mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, other invertebrates and plants listed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site that most folks have probably never even heard of. Don't just save the cute ones, people : )

But back to the p.dogs and ferrets.

After scoping out potential release sites, we (being the biology grunts working for the state of Wyoming) coordinated with the program manager and grunts working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get the ferrets ready. The idea was to take captive bred ferrets, fit them with radio collars, set them in holding cages out on the prairie to acclimate them to the big, wide world, and open their cages so they could come and go until they went off on their own. We'd track their movements over time to (a) see if they were staying in the area or not, and (b) to keep tabs on mortality. Harsh reality: It was expected that only about 10% of the ferrets released would be alive by the next year. And that would be considered a good survival rate.

First thing we had to do was learn how to take care of caged ferrets. (You can go on over to the black-footed ferret site and read about all the great work being done with captive breeding and such.) I spent about a week at the Sybille Wildlife Research and Conservation Center in Wheatland, WY with a caring and incredibly dedicated staff whose names have completely escaped me after 17 years! Sorry, folks! But they were all amazing and I appreciate their work to no end. We learned just how hard it was to take 18 surviving members of the species and breed them without creating more of a genetic bottleneck than was to be expected from such a small population, dealing with infant mortality, and the constant threat of diseases like distemper getting into the facility and wiping out the captive population.

Each day, we donned protective gear and stepped into a disinfecting solution to keep from tracking outside nasties into the facility. The staff of caretakers showed us how to prepare food, which consisted of chunks of prairie dog meat and other goodies to keep the ferrets healthy. We were taught the proper technique for securing the ferrets in the nest box within their cages so we could reach in to clean it without getting attacked by the little carnivores. And yes, they had no problem attacking the hands that fed them, which was fine. Despite their captive status, these were wild animals, kept wild and wary and properly aggressive for their own good. You'll soon see how effective that was.

Oh, a note about ferret food: Prairie dog is not found in your local grocery store or even specialty meat market. The p. dogs had been trapped and kept at the facility then humanely harvested to feed the ferrets. That is a ferret's natural prey so that's what they were fed. Prairie dogs are nasty, stinky rodents that tried to bit through the bars of the trap. Which I could understand, considering they were trapped and marked for death. (There were, in the not too distant past, some people who thought they'd make good pets and were selling and buying them. My reaction: WTF???)

While I was training at Sybille, there was a grad student studying the captive ferrets and their hunting instincts. To thrive in the wild, a ferret would have to find its own dinner. Could these captive born and bred ferrets, who'd never seen the outside world or had their mothers teach them to hunt, be successful? It was a huge question. Can you understand how huge? There would be no ground up prairie dog served on a nightly basis, no humans to make sure they were getting their fill once the ferrets decided to leave the release boxes (more on how that worked later). Would the "easy" life of a captive animal be the ferrets' downfall?

To find this out, Astrid, the grad student, secured a long PVC tube (simulating a prairie dog town tunnel) to the bottom of a 2nd or 3rd generation captive-born mother ferret's cage and attached it to a Plexiglas box containing a live prairie dog. Astrid set up a camera that could record in the low light of the room and removed the slats blocking the opening to the tunnel.

It didn't take long for the ferret to make her move.

(to be continued...)


Thursday, January 10, 2008

"I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes..." (Ferrets--Part Two)

So where was I? Wyoming, summer of '91? Check. Trundling across the prairie in search of prairie dog poo indicating potential black-footed ferret release sites? Check. Running into monster rattlesnake bent on swallowing me whole? OK, probably not. Screaming in terror? Check. (If you've just tuned in, scroll down to read the previous entry so you can catch up. Don't worry, I'll wait.) (Got it? Okay, here we go...Oh, and I've switched tense from present--in the previous post--to past. It's just more natural for me when writing. Okay, continue...)

I'm not sure the Wyoming prairie had seen anything like my terrified self back peddling through sage while dragging a metal wheel with a 2 meter long pole attached to it. Wheel and pole got hung up in the shrubbery as I high-tailed it to the dirt track near the edge of the plateau. Why didn't I drop the wheel? Perhaps it was my sense of duty to be responsible for my equipment, but I'm guessing it was more along the lines of all muscles except those required for flight freezing with rigor-like paralysis.

I stopped at the track, panting and shaking as I searched for signs of Glen's truck. There! A cloud of dust trailing a white pick-up. Thank the gods of fools and biologists! As Glen made his way toward me, I started dismantling my wheel. He stopped and got out, a quizzical look on his face.

"Are you done with this area already?"

"No," I said, "but I'm finished."

I told Glen about my encounters. When I was finished, he gazed toward the rocky outcropping and said in complete and unbelievable seriousness, "Let's go look."

I blinked up at him (Glen was over 6', and quite well-built) as if he'd suggested we douse ourselves with honey and find an anthill to dance on. "Wha?" was all that came out of my mouth.

"Come on," he said, and started walking to the rocks.

Now, Glen had no love for snakes either. In fact, he carried a 22 pistol with bird shot cartridges just in case he ran into one that was a problem. Why he was compelled to "go look" is still a mystery to me after 17 years. But I went, because it was either follow the big guy with the gun or stay alone with the truck. Plus, I was starting to calm down a little, allowing my more logical side to have a stronger vote.

So I followed Glen, staying close, but not too close. Why? Because it's usually not the first person disturbing a snoozing rattlesnake who gets bit, it's the second. But I didn't want to be first either. That logical side was starting to sound a bit flaky at that point.

I walked with my hands clenched together up near my chest. I'm not sure what I was protecting, as snakes usually don't leap up like that (if you know otherwise, please, don't tell me. I felt somewhat secure with my hands in such a defensive posture.). We paralleled the rocky outcropping but found no snakes. Relieved, I was about to go back to the truck when Glen suggested we check the other side.

"Wha?" I said.

"It'll be fine." He found a low spot and passed through. Now I REALLY didn't have much choice but to follow him.

About halfway along the outcropping, Glen stopped and pointed. "There's a little one."

Sure enough, about ten feet ahead of us was a 3' rattler. Standing just behind Glen, my insides quivered and my hands tightened.

"You've never heard one rattle before, right?" he asked. I shook my head, eyes locked on the brown and black patterned snake. Glen crouched down and picked up a small rock. "Here, let's have him rattle for you."

He chucked the rock at the snake, but the snake gave hardly a twitch before curling up in its defensive posture. At least its posture made sense. "That wasn't very good," Glen said. "Let's try again."

He bent down for another rock, and as he did so, glanced back past me. And yelped like a girl. He drew his pistol and shot as I turned. A 5' long rattlesnake was twitching its death throes less than six feet from us. Glen turned to shoot the other snake, the one he'd clunked with the rock, but it had slithered off.

My hands plastered themselves to my mouth and my entire body trembled. Glen's eyes were wide behind his tinted glasses, and his hands shook as he holstered the pistol.

"You okay?" he asked. I could only nod, not wanting or unable to move my hands away from my mouth.

Glen walked over to the now still snake. He took out his pocket knife and opened the blade. Stepping on the head, he decapitated it and let some blood drain. "We'll leave the head," he explained, "because a scratch from the fangs could be dangerous."

I wasn't about to argue.

Glen carried the snake, bloody end up, as we made our way back to the truck. Neither of us were in the mood to finish our sites. We'd come back the next day, after our hearts had a chance to settle down. All was quiet across the prairie until Glen let out another yelp and dropped the snake. I jumped about a dozen feet straight up, looking around for the rattler that surely had bitten Glen. But none were in sight. Only the headless carcass.

"What happened?" I asked him.

"Stupid snake doesn't know it's dead," he said as he bend down to retrieve the snake body. When he looked at me, his cheeks were bright red with embarrassment. "The tail curled up and touched my hand."

I'd like to say we got a good laugh out of that, and we did, eventually. But not that day.

I still haven't heard a rattlesnake rattle in person. And you know what? I'm in no big rush.

More on prairie dogs and maybe even ferrets to come!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation—Ferret Style, Part One

The recent kafuffle with Cassie Edwards’ alleged plagiarism sparked my interest NOT because of the…kafuffle itself, but because of an extremely thin thread that sort of leads to me. (Yes, yes, it’s all about me. Just keep reading.)

It’s alleged that in her book Shadow Bear, Ms. Edwards allegedly used information about black-footed ferrets found in an article by the Defenders of Wildlife. Because I worked with black-footed ferrets, I was interested in seeing what the article said. Hey, I’m still a biologist at heart, what can I tell you.

The article is from the summer of 2005, out of South Dakota. I didn’t recognize the names mentioned in the article, but I was involved in the initial release in Shirley Basin, WY, back in 1991. In ’91, our first assignment was assessing potential release sites for the ferrets. Somewhere they could find food and shelter, and eventually each other for wild breeding (versus the captive breeding program—but that’ll be addressed in a different post, if I remember). Ferrets hunt prairie dogs, so we looked for areas of high prairie dog populations. Not an easy task since, as the article mentions, prairie dogs were virtually wiped out by ranchers. How did we determine acceptable population densities? We counted prairie dog poop. And avoided snakes. Mostly.

Summer 1991: The Wyoming Prairie

First thing in the morning, our research group--biology grunts, mostly fresh out of or still in college--meets in one of the travel trailers we occupy in a trailer court in Shirley Basin, WY. I’m one of two women in the group of six. Kim and I share one good-sized trailer, the guys share another plus a smaller trailer. (Sorry, I can’t recall where everyone slept.) Pat, our leader, assigns us our search areas for the day. There’s a lot of land to cover. A lot. Glen and I are given areas near each other so we share one of the trucks and head out to our sites. Glen drops me off with my equipment on top of a plateau, saying he’ll be back about lunch time to see how it’s going. We have no radios, but I can see his site down below mine.

I get to work putting my transect wheel together. The wheel has a handle, a distance counter and a two meter long metal bar secured cross-wise. My job is to walk up and down my site, making transects of however many meters so long by two meters wide. As I walk, I use another counter to count prairie dog scat (which looks like large hamster turds) that fell within the two meter width of the transect. I did quite a bit of walking that summer and got into great shape : )

So, I’m trundling up and down the prairie, counting poop and keeping an eye out for snakes. Yes, we were in rattlesnake country, and I hated that part of it. Like all good little mammals, snakes bring out an immediate “GAH! Get away! Get away! Get away!” reaction in me. I call it a survival technique, my husband calls it a phobia. Potatoes, potahtoes. Either way, I’m on alert because I have to go past much sage and other small shrubbery as well as approach and, theoretically, cross a rocky outcropping further along to do my job. Where do snakes like to hang out? Under shrubbery and on rocky outcroppings, depending on the temperature.

And yes, as I’m about half way through my site, I see serpentine movement out of the corner of my eye. In the area I have yet to cover. In the direction I will soon be heading. I stop and turn my head. The 3' snake is perhaps ten feet away and slightly in front of me.

“Move along, snake,” I say to it. “I need to go over there and I know you’re as afraid of me as I am of you.” Though I doubted the “more afraid of me” thing. I just said it to make myself feel better and to let the snake know I had seen him.

The snake doesn’t move for a moment then slithers toward the area I’d already covered. I repress a shudder but I’m relieved. Yay! And apparently I speak snake. That could come in handy.

Still cautious, because where there’s one snake, there are usually more, I continue walking and counting. As I approach the rocky outcropping, I slow down and take careful inventory of what’s around me. No telltale rattle, thank goodness. In fact, I’ve never heard a rattlesnake rattle in real life. I take a step, look, take another, look, glance up, and my heart stops. Right in front of me, sunning itself on the rocks is a five foot long rattler. It looks at me and wags its forked tongue. I don’t know if it rattled because I screamed.

to be continued....


New Year, New Hope

The holidays are behind us and all is back to normal. The kids have returned to school, DH is back at work, I'm doing my thing.

But I feel like a change is upon us. Upon me. Maybe. Perhaps it's the start of the new year, or the glistening cover of new snow (we've been getting a lot of it over the past week or so) making everything look fresh and bright. I just feel like I'm on the edge of....something. Okay, the edge of sanity comes to mind first, but I've been there so long it's my norm. As a writer, I hope it's THE edge, as in this is the year I get The Call. Yes, I've been on that edge on and off over the years, but this feels a little different. I don't know. Maybe it's just wishful thinking (so what else is new?). The only thing I can do about it is write write write. Get better. Get my work out there.

So while the snow blows in and I wait for a decent amount to accumulate before shoveling, I'll have another cup of coffee and get to work.

Coming soon: ferrets!