Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Three to Get Ready: Guest Post by Bill Schutt

Zoologist and author of Hell’s Gate and Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding CreaturesBill Schutt’s new nonfiction, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, debuted to widespread acclaim in 2017. His 2nd novel, The Himalayan Codex, was released yesterday and has already garnered a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

Bill Schutt:
Three to get Ready

Mystery Fanfare readers might find it somewhat odd (but in some ways, I hope, interesting) that in the past year I’ve had three books published: a non-fiction book on cannibalism and a pair of WWII-era thrillers (Books 1 and 2 in the R.J. MacCready series). I should also mention that when I’m not writing or hanging out with my family and friends, I’ve got a full-time gig as a Professor of Biology at Long Island University—Post. So, how did that come about? Perhaps a better question might be: Why haven’t my wife and son murdered me in my sleep? The answers to these and other book-related questions will follow, if you’d care to tag along with me for a few paragraphs.

First bit more personal information (and I promise it will fit into the story). I’m a Cornell-trained zoologist who spent much of the past 25 years studying bats—especially vampire bats (their anatomy, behavior and evolution, mostly). The bulk of that research took place in Trinidad and Brazil as well as my home base at The American Museum of Natural History in NYC (where I’m a research associate in residence). It was in Brazil that I first visited the central plateau region that became the primary setting for my first novel, Hell’s Gate. I remember looking up at the spectacular cliffs and telling a friend and colleague Betsy Dumont, “Jeez, if it were 70 years ago and someone really wanted to hide something from the rest of the world, this would be the place to do it.” Years later, after teaming with my coauthor, J.R. Finch, (and with the guidance of my agent Gillian MacKenzie) we not only came up came up with “something to hide” (a declassified Nazi super weapon), but also an offbeat hero (zoologist and Army Captain R.J. MacCready) to investigate the nefarious Axis plot. Finally, Finch and I added the residents of the plateau cliffs to the mix—the last hundred individuals of a species of prehistoric vampire bat (Desmodus draculae). I knew that these fantastic creatures inhabited the region until fairly recent times and that sealed the deal. Of course we made our vampires a tiny bit larger—with raccoon-sized bodies, 10-foot wingspans and some rather unique predatory behavior. Hell’s Gate came out in June 2016 and we were simply thrilled at the response—many readers commenting on the real-life science in our novel (much of it explained further in an extensive afterward section).

Okay, one book down and two to go.

I had been looking for a follow-up to my first popular science book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, published in 2008. (Readers may be detecting a pattern here.) I’d seemingly found a niche between the sensationalist books that were out there on vampirism and the few scholarly works on the subject. I’d decided to demystify the topic, eliminating the jargon and injecting some humor—where appropriate. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (February 2017) turned out to be my next logical step and before you can say, “Don’t eat that!” I was working with Donner Party researchers, wading through mud holes teeming with cannibalistic spade-foot toad larvae, and being served placenta à la osso boco in Plano Texas. Note: Amy Gash, my editor at Algonquin has a strong stomach and a great sense of humor.

Happily, the incredibly talented J.R. Finch and I had signed a two-book deal with William Morrow, working with the amazing thriller editor, Lyssa Keusch. In The Himalayan Codex (June 2017) we decided to take “Mac” (who’s been described as “the Indiana Jones of Zoology”) and his invaluable Brazilian assistant Yanni, to a colder climate—the remote mountain valleys of Tibet. The critters in our novel are bigger this time and the bad guys just as evil. But instead of the young German rocketeer storyline we ran in parallel to Mac’s trek in Hell’s Gate, we decided to alternate our 1946 tale with one in which the Roman historian and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, journeys into the same snow-bound and mysterious region nearly two thousand years earlier. Our readers already know that we’ve populated our novels with interesting real life historical figures (Hitler’s favorite test pilot, Hanna Reitsch, for example in Hell’s Gate) and we plan to do so in the third R.J. MacCready novel, an adventure that takes Mac and Yanni on a Cold War adventure with some seriously nasty surprises. The plan is for us to follow our heroes through the 1950s and beyond, blending the geopolitical events of the day with a touch of cryptozoology. Finch and I hope our readers will continue to come along for the ride.

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