Alice discusses her new mystery A Solitude of Wolverines, combining her passion for wildlife and writing, how she settled on wolverines for the first book in this new series, the research she conducted for the book, and her current wildlife research studies.
Alice discusses her new mystery A Solitude of Wolverines, combining her passion for wildlife and writing, how she settled on wolverines for the first book in this new series, the research she conducted for the book, her current wildlife research studies, and much more.
A Solitude of Wolverines can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Alice’s recommended reads are:
If you enjoy reading mysteries and want to listen to more episodes like this one, try Lisa Gardner, Megan Collins, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, and Wendy Walker.
wolverines, wolverine, book, wildlife, pikas, setting, marmots, rockies, cover, writer, writing, bats, thought, smoke, solitude, species, laugh, animals, love, remote
Alice Henderson, Cindy Burnett
Cindy Burnett 00:09
This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where I interview authors about their latest work. Listen to what inspired the storyline, how their covers and titles were chosen, their personal connection to the story and other fascinating tidbits about the author's themselves. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. I can be found on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage. And if you have any comments about the podcast or feedback for me, I can be reached through my website, www.thoughtsfroma page.com. Today I am interviewing Alice Henderson about her new book, A Solitude of Wolverines. I absolutely loved the book and named it one of my Buzz Reads columns' top five picks for November. Alice is a writer of fiction, comics and video game material. Her love of wild places inspired her new thriller series which begins with A Solitude of Wolverines. In addition to being a writer, Henderson is a wildlife researcher and geographic information systems specialist. She documents wildlife on specialized recording equipment, checks remote cameras, creates maps and undertakes wildlife surveys to determine what species are present on preserves, while ensuring there are no signs of poaching. She surveyed for the presence of grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, jaguars, endangered bats, and more. Thanks so much for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show. Welcome, Alice. I loved A Solitude of Wolverines. And I'm really looking forward to talking with you about it today. How are you?
Alice Henderson 01:39
I'm really good. Thanks, Cindy. I'm excited to be here.
Cindy Burnett 01:42
I'm excited to have you. I picked up this book and finished it in less than 24 hours. It was that good. I was just racing through the pages until I got to the end. Why don't we start out and you tell me a little bit about it?
Alice Henderson 01:55
Okay, well, my book A Solitude of Wolverines. There's my protagonist, Alex Carter. She's a wildlife biologist who lands a gig on a wildlife sanctuary in remote northwestern Montana. The land was originally an old ski resort, but it's now been bought by a land trust. And wolverines had vanished from this area when the ski resort was in full swing. But now that everything's shut down, the Land Trust is wondering if wolverines have come back to the area. So they hire Alex to find out. So she sets out remote cameras to see if she can capture images of these elusive creatures. But the cameras end up capturing far more than what she's expecting, including images of a severely injured man wandering on the preserve. And too late, she realizes she stumbled on in secret that some locals will do anything to keep hidden. And now her life is in danger. And it's going to be the first in a new series about this wildlife biologist.
Cindy Burnett 02:51
Oh, good, because that was one of my questions. Based on the ending, I figured it was. I'm not gonna say any more than that. I don't want to ruin the ending. But I was like, I really hope there's gonna be another one.
Alice Henderson 03:01
There is indeed.
Cindy Burnett 03:03
We vacation in Colorado right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains every summer. And I'm pretty sure that I saw a wolverine one time there; we were pretty high up. Would that be right?
Alice Henderson 03:15
That is possible. They used to range as far south as New Mexico and as far as east as New York state. But now they're only surviving in these tiny fragmented populations in the Rockies and the Cascades. They're actually down to less than 300 now in the contiguous U.S. but there was a wolverine, that did travel down to the Colorado by himself. Well, that's how they do it, the males kind of strike out to try to find females. And this wolverine went from the Tetons all the way down to Colorado, and then all the way up to North Dakota. So it's possible you saw him. (laughs)
Cindy Burnett 03:54
I was so excited to see it. But I didn't know exactly what it was. So I had to go scavenge out our pamphlets that show the different birds and animals of Colorado and then work my way through them to identify what it was. But eventually I got there.
Alice Henderson 04:08
That is so cool. So what were the circumstances when you saw it?
Cindy Burnett 04:11
Well, we stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, which is bounded on all three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park. So it's up at I think, like 9600 or 9000. And so it's just on a mountain, and there are these cabins, but they're very spread out. And this animal was just kind of walking between two cabins, but there's they're very spread out. They're not side by side like a neighborhood. I mean, it's spread across the mountain. But when I looked it up, that was all that I could come up with that it was.
Alice Henderson 04:41
I bet you did see one. That's exciting.
Cindy Burnett 04:43
That's exciting. Well, I just thought it was such an interesting concept for the book. How did you come up with a subject matter?
Alice Henderson 04:50
Well, I do a lot of wildlife research myself, and I go on these epic trips to remote places. And I've always been split down the middle between the arts and sciences. I've been writing since I was six and then doing scientific research and but I never brought the two worlds together for some reason. And I was on this cross country trip for the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, which is this arm of the humane society that has preserves all over the country. And I thought this would be an exciting suspense series. The remote settings lend to suspenseful situations and adventure, and I really feel passionately about bringing attention to the plight of wildlife. And that's how I thought I should create this wildlife biologist character. And each book could be about a different endangered species to really bring the focus on them. So that's how I came up with the series. And then that just left, what species should I choose from the first book, and there were so many that really need help out there. And wolverines are a species that not a lot of people know too much about. And they're amazing. They're the largest member of the weasel family. And even though they only weigh like 35 pounds, they've been known to take down moose and drive off grizzly bears from kills, but they're really doing bad over trapping and government so-called predator control programs where they poison predators. And climate change has all led to their huge decline. Like I said earlier, only 300 left in the contiguous U.S. So I really wanted to bring some attention to wolverines specifically. And that's how I chose them for my first book.
Cindy Burnett 06:32
I liked that you included additional reading about them at the end, where you had seen your wolverine. You said you had two sightings, and then you talked about one of them. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Alice Henderson 06:43
Oh, yeah. So that is such a great part of writing. This book was going up to these places to wolverine habitat because I wanted to be sure I got it all right. So I was doing a pika study. So that's the same habitat, wolverines like these really high altitude talus slope areas. And I was watching these pikas. And suddenly, all these marmots and pikas just came streaming down the rock pile. The marmots were whistling in alarm, and I looked up and there was this wolverine powering down across the rock pile just with a single purpose like they move. And all the marmots and pikas were scurrying into holes and the wolverine walked right by me. And he just looked at me like, Hey, what's up and disappeared into this copse of subalpine firs and then I remembered I had my camera, didn't take a picture. He was gone. So that was one of my wolverine sightings. And the one I described in the afterword in A Solitude of Wolverines was in Glacier National Park in British Columbia. And of all things, I was camping out with my mom, and I had to hike out to a payphone to talk to my editor. And I was on my way to the payphone on this trail, and this wolverine, I heard this rustling in the bushes. And this wolverine came out and just crossed the trail right in front of me and again just gave me that look like, Hey, I know you're there. It just kept going. And then after that for years, my mom teased me. You saw a wolverine hiking to a payphone. (both laugh)
Cindy Burnett 08:23
That is really funny. I love marmots. I just think they are so entertaining, and the noise they make they know when you're coming. So they make the noise. But also other animals are coming like elk, or we saw coyote once when we were up there, and they know before you know, and so they all start chattering between each other. They're just they're really fun to watch. And the pikas. I really love both, and I won't leave when we go up there till I can see at least one of each. So my family's spotting them so that they don't get stuck up there for hours while we're waiting on a pika or a marmot. (laughs)
Alice Henderson 08:57
You do have to wait for a long time. I mean, especially with the pikas. You can sit there for 20 minutes really still and pretty soon you hear their little [bzzt]. It's great.
Cindy Burnett 09:06
Well and they blend in so well. So I mean you have to be still yourself and really focus on the rocks, and then wait because eventually they will move, but you just have to give your eyes a minute also to adjust to the stillness.
Alice Henderson 09:20
So true. You'd make a great pika researcher.
Cindy Burnett 09:24
Well, with this summer when we were up there, we were talking to a pika researcher, and she was indicating because of climate change and the country warming, that they may be one of the first animals to go extinct. I don't know if that's right. But that's what she indicated.
Alice Henderson 09:40
Absolutely. Pikas are one of the species I'm studying right now. They're vanishing all over the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevadas. And conservation groups have sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protections to them under the Endangered Species Act. But so far, they have not gotten any protections at all.
Cindy Burnett 10:00
When wolverines are the same way, right? Didn't you have that at the end of your book also that that there's been a suit related to them?
Alice Henderson 10:07
Yes, they've been trying to list wolverines for 26 years since 1994. And though it's clear they're disappearing, conservation groups have also sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly. U.S. District Court judges have ruled that U.S. Fish and Wildlife needs to go back and examine the science because it's clear they're disappearing. And they had to decide by August 31st if they were going to list and apparently that decision has been made. I was talking to a lawyer at Earth Justice, but it hasn't been made public yet. So I'm curious to see what they decided to do.
Cindy Burnett 10:44
Well, what kind of research did you do for the book?
Alice Henderson 10:47
Well, I traveled to Montana to where the book is set. And, like Alex Carter my character, I set out remote cameras in the hopes of capturing some photos of them. But they're so elusive, I mean, the chances. Some wolverine researchers go their entire lives and never see one live, they just see them on remote camera footage. So I didn't have high hopes. And unfortunately, in that trip, I didn't see any wolverines. And I didn't get any photos. But I walked transects and look for their poop (both laugh) and was lucky enough to find some poop. And wolverines will just eat anything, including the bones of animals. And they'll eat carcasses that have been laying out for three seasons, so their poop is very distinctive. (laugh) And I just steeped in the atmosphere out there. I wanted to get everything right. What kind of trees are there? What kinds of bird songs do you hear? What does the air smell like? And really to bring that setting to life in the book.
Cindy Burnett 11:51
Where did the idea for the lodge come from? I loved that part of the story, the way you created the lodge. I felt like I was there. It was, you know, partly creepy, but partly just run down. I just was so curious how that came about.
Alice Henderson 12:06
Well, the inspiration for that I actually was on a bat survey and on a wildlife sanctuary, and it had originally been home to this gigantic conference center. It was actually a really cool conference center on solar energy and renewables back in the 80s. But it had closed down and since fallen into disrepair and bats were roosting in it. And you could walk around inside this thing, and it was just eerie, you know, the wind would be whistling through these shattered windows. And there were plants that had grown inside the building, creeping through the walls. And it was just such a unique eerie setting. And I thought this would be neat if, if Alex is home base was something like this. Like if it was enough still in repair, that you could actually sleep in this place and lend a haunting atmosphere to her studies.
Cindy Burnett 12:59
Most definitely. And it did. And as she drove up, and she was looking at it, I just felt like I was there with her. You recreated that very well.
Alice Henderson 13:07
Well, thank you.
Cindy Burnett 13:08
Well, what do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Alice Henderson 13:12
Well, I really hope that, well, I hope they'll be entertained, of course, but I really hope when they finish the book, they're inspired to do something for wolverines. And even if it's just writing a comment to their representative, or a public comment to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A lot of organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity make it really easy to go on their sites and click on the little "take action" links and send off these messages to people that can actually get some legislation going to protect wolverines. And for the more intrepid readers, there are citizen science programs where you can go out into the field and track them in the winter and check remote cameras. And so I really just hope people maybe think about what they can do to help because they need our help.
Cindy Burnett 14:00
It definitely sounds like they do. Well, what was the highlight of writing the book?
Alice Henderson 14:06
Definitely spending time in the area where wolverines live. I love the Rockies. And I loved the high Alpine settings, crossing these amazing snow fields and all of the Alpine wildflowers are coming out and, as you mentioned, before seeing and hearing pikas. It's just a stunning setting. So that was for sure my highlight, all of the research and the setting.
Cindy Burnett 14:32
I agree. I just love the Rocky Mountains. I think they're so pretty and relaxing, and they just go for miles, and it's just such a beautiful place to visit.
Alice Henderson 14:43
Cindy Burnett 14:45
So how about the title? How did you come up with the title?
Alice Henderson 14:48
When I first decided on this series that each book would be about a different endangered species, I wanted the titles for each book to be the name of the species and its group name. You know how there's a herd of deer, a pod of whales, a parliament of owls. So I thought great, I started writing a wolverine book and was like, okay, what's the group name for wolverine? Well they are so solitary that there is no group name for wolverines. And at one point in the book, one of the characters says, Well, you have to come up with your own group name for wolverines. And my protagonist says, okay, since they're so solitary, how about a solitude of wolverines? So that's how the title came to be.
Cindy Burnett 15:33
I loved that when I got to that part, because I'm always so curious how a title is created and tied into the book. And I love it when the tie is so direct. And so when I got to that part, and it was just very clear, and just made it the perfect title for the book, and I love the way you incorporated that into the story.
Alice Henderson 15:51
Cindy Burnett 15:53
What about the cover? I was telling you earlier that that's the whole reason I picked up the book was because I thought the cover was stunning, reminded me of the Rockies. And so that's why I picked it up in the first place. Did you have a say in your cover?
Alice Henderson 16:05
Isn't that cover amazing?
Cindy Burnett 16:07
Alice Henderson 16:08
I did have a say in the cover. I wanted Alex to be in rugged outdoor gear, and I wanted her to be in an action kind of pose. And I love the stormy, almost watercolor skies and in the mountains. I just completely lucked out with my cover designer, and they really listened to my feedback. And I'm so pleased with how it turned out. Because a lot of the times, you know, authors have no say about the cover. So I was really honored to be able to give my feedback about it.
Cindy Burnett 16:40
That is nice that they let you participate in that conversation. Because you're right, not everyone has that opportunity. But I think it's just the perfect cover. And it's beautiful. And it completely depicts the story. And it's different than a lot of other covers.
Alice Henderson 16:54
I thought so too. I love like, you know, when you see a Nevada Barr cover or William Kent Krueger, and they get these incredible landscapes with colors. And that's what I wanted. So I was really pleased that that's what I got.
Cindy Burnett 17:09
The covers remind me a little bit of some of C.J. Box's covers too which are mainly in Wyoming. But still that outdoorsy setting and always kind of draw you in.
Alice Henderson 17:18
Cindy Burnett 17:20
So what is the best thing about being a writer?
Alice Henderson 17:24
For me, the best thing about being a writer is the freedom on so many levels. I mean, I have the freedom to create for my imagination to think of any kind of adventure and any kind of character to experience that adventure. But the most important aspect of freedom of being a writer for me is to be able to go out to these remote places. And I can work at night and write at night. And then during the day I can be out looking for caribou or recording wolves, and I don't have to be dependent upon a city location to do it. So that's the most important thing to me is it allows me to continue this wildlife work that I'm so passionate about.
Cindy Burnett 18:04
Well, it's great that you can incorporate the two now that you've started this series.
Alice Henderson 18:08
It is a way to bring all the talents in my wheelhouse to this passion I have to help wildlife.
Cindy Burnett 18:16
Do you have any idea what the next book will be about?
Alice Henderson 18:19
I do indeed. In fact, it's off to my editor already. It finds Alex Carter in the Canadian Arctic studying polar bears.
Cindy Burnett 18:27
Ooh, that'll be great. I love polar bears. So that'll be so interesting.
Alice Henderson 18:32
Yeah, me too.
Cindy Burnett 18:34
Can you tell anything more about it? Or do you need to wait, since it's with your editor?
Alice Henderson 18:38
I think I have to wait because it's with my editor. But I'm really excited about it. And I loved writing it. And the research was fascinating. And once again, I'm just so glad to be able to bring more attention to the plight of polar bears, which, of course are far more well known than wolverines. But they're really in a precarious situation now.
Cindy Burnett 18:58
I think there's been several stories this summer about polar bears stranded on various icebergs and things like that. So definitely, with the warming up of the planet, I would think that their habitats are definitely endangered.
Alice Henderson 19:11
They are, and it's worse than researchers realize now, which may have been one of the stories you saw the New York Times just reported that they think they could all disappear by 2080 at this point.
Cindy Burnett 19:21
Alice Henderson 19:22
And I thought earlier that they might be able to survive into the next century, but it's not looking that way now.
Cindy Burnett 19:28
Oh, that's terrible. Well, hopefully stories like yours and the New York Times writing about it, and other things will get people galvanized to start protecting some of these species.
Alice Henderson 19:39
I hope you're right.
Cindy Burnett 19:41
We've talked a little bit about it, but what do you like to do when you're not writing or reading?
Alice Henderson 19:46
Well, I love to sketch and draw especially out in nature. I just took this great class through the Cornell Bird Academy on nature journaling, and it really helped me turn off you know, that internal critic This is a terrible drawing. This is awful drawing. So now I could just draw for the pure joy of it or to capture the gestures of these birds and other wildlife. So I love that. And I can do that out in the field. Of course, I hike a lot. My wildlife studies take me out to some pretty remote locations. And right now I'm working on a pika study, as I mentioned. And I'm also doing a study on how bats are being affected by all this smoke out here right now.
Cindy Burnett 20:27
Where are you studying the bats that are exposed to the smoke?
Alice Henderson 20:31
Here in Tahoe, I've been not going too far afield during COVID. So I've set up my recorders here at Lake Tahoe. And I'm just seeing, I want to compare the data I've taken in previous years where there wasn't as much smoke. So then I can determine if different species are being able to tolerate the smoke a little better. If there's any difference in who's now using this habitat when it's so smoky.
Cindy Burnett 20:57
You're so familiar with all of that and do it all regularly. But that's just one thing I hadn't really thought about. I mean, I thought about deer and some of the animals that you know, you kind of see more regularly. But I hadn't really thought about some of the other animals that are probably being heavily impacted by all the smoke and the fires.
Alice Henderson 21:14
We think about the animals that are having to fly up in the air column birds and bats, and how much more are they affected by really being exposed to the smoke.
Cindy Burnett 21:25
We go to a lot of National Parks, and we went to Carlsbad years ago, and there's a ton of bats there. And every night they fly out of the cave, and that was one of the coolest things to see that happen.
Alice Henderson 21:36
Isn't it amazing? They spiral out and from a distance it almost looks like a column of smoke. In fact, I think the first person who realized that bats where there thought it was smoke, like before the National Park was there, the first Euro person.
Cindy Burnett 21:52
And they just go and go and go, you know, you think okay, I've seen them. And then you know, five minutes, 10 minutes later, they're still all coming out. It's amazing they all fit in there.
Alice Henderson 22:01
It is incredible. I've been there too, to watch them at sunset are spiraling out. It's just amazing.
Cindy Burnett 22:09
Well, before we wrap up, I would love to hear what you have read lately that you really liked.
Alice Henderson 22:15
So I love reading thrillers that incorporate history or science. So some of the reads I've read lately. I just read Whitefire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child which I loved and Demon Crown by James Rollins. And then I also love historical mysteries. So I just finished one of the Molly Murphy mysteries by Rhys Bowen, that's set in turn of the last century New York, and the PB Ryan mysteries where her protagonist is in 1860s Boston. And then I've been delving into a lot of Golden Age detective fiction. My writer friend, Angela Sanders, who writes mysteries as well, turned me on to this writer, Helen McCloy, who was writing from the 30s through the 70s. And she's just fantastic. So her books are very hard to find, but I've really been enjoying them. And then I just discovered Joe Hart, who wrote this great book about a Liam Dempsey. He's an investigator. And then most recently, if I need a laugh, which so many of us do right now, I've been reading Phoebe Robinson's book, Everything's Trash, But It's Okay, which is a collection of essays on all kinds of things of feminism, being single, life, money. She's just hilarious.
Cindy Burnett 23:32
I'm gonna have to look that one up, because certainly that type of read right now is really resonating with me. You know needing a break from everything we're currently living and something that's just a little lighter. Have you read Christine Carbo?
Alice Henderson 23:46
I haven't read her yet. But I did have the pleasure of meeting her at Left Coast Crime recently. So I definitely want to check out her work.
Cindy Burnett 23:55
I really like that type of book. And so I have read all of them and really enjoyed them. And they are different, different focus, but still just kind of that outdoors. I wish there were more of those type of books because I really like them. And it just seems like there still aren't tons. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This was so interesting and informative, and I just absolutely love talking with you about A Solitude of Wolverines.
Alice Henderson 24:19
Thank you so much, Cindy, for having me. This has been an absolute joy.
Cindy Burnett 24:24
Well, thank you, Alice. And I can't wait for everybody else to get to read your book.
Alice Henderson 24:28
Cindy Burnett 24:30
Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you like this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram at @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would really appreciate it. Alice's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to K.P. Regan for the sound editing, and I hope to see you next time.
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