Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jane Cohen on Big Cats, Little Cats, Chow Mein Girls and Librarians

Jane, thanks for chatting with me.

You just got finished camping at the National Zoo, taking part in a Snore and Roar. What’s this all about?
Members of FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo), or our group of volunteers, pay for the privilege to set up tents and camp outside one of the exhibits for the night with special behind-the-scene tours. Ours included the latest Sumatran tiger cub litter. Being two feet (behind a do-not-cross on pain of losing fingers line) away from the cubs is an incredible rush of love; being two feet away from their mother when she leapt up at the highly-experienced keeper and roared was an entirely different type of rush. Normally you get to bed around midnight and wake up at seven for a continental breakfast. Since we had a downpour that left me a bit soggy, I cheated and headed home to a dry bed and warm cats.

While we’re on the topic of your zoo involvement, I understand you have a special place in your heart for Cheetahs. Why do you so love these fastest of animals?
I've always loved all cats, but to me cheetahs are the most beautiful - next to my cats, of course. They are unique in many ways, such as being the only adult cats whose claws do not retract, and highly endangered due to human encroachment and killing of their primary prey species, the gazelle. At the turn of the last century, they covered Africa, the Middle East and into India, but now, other than a small population in Iran, only exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Putting them in relatively small reserves with other predators, such as lions and hyenas, is not the best management, as only ten percent of cubs survive their first year in these environments. There's an incredible woman, Laurie Marker, who has been working for years in Namibia (which besides being the birthplace of a famous baby has the largest cheetah population left in the world) and Kenya to increase acceptance by the local herd farmers, including adding Anatolian sheep dogs to protect the herds, and create an area where the multiple owners agree to allow them to range. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (www.cheetah.org) is a wonderful organization that works where the cheetahs are and has had great success if anyone is looking for an animal organization to support.

I always enjoy your DorothyL posts. You always sign off as “Jane, nomless in Northern Va.” Why are you nomless? Were all the good ones taken?
Actually, some of my favorites taken were taken when I first subscribed, but it was more a matter of indecision on my part. I enjoy so many authors and characters I wasn't sure which one to pick.

After your name are the letters CIV DTIC O. I must confess I don’t know what those stand for, but they sound impressive. Can you translate?
It's a rather boring example of government acronyms gone wild. I'm a CIVilian who works for the Defense Technical Information Center in the Operations directorate.

Ah! You are not only a librarian, but a librarian for the U.S. Government. So what does your job entail? Any top secret stuff? Do you see any Congressional types in your library?
I do have a secret clearance because some of the publications we manage are at the that level, but I don't work in an actual library at the moment. Instead, I work on standards development, data elements and taxonomies. It's interesting to me and a few colleagues, but of limited interest elsewhere. When I was working as a reference librarian, I dealt with quite a few generals (which anyone in the military will tell you are more important than Congresspeople) and would help answer Congressional enquires, but that's as close as I got to them.

You obviously love mysteries. What good ones have you read lately?
I've read a couple of good manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press, which I hope eventually get published, but I don't want to jinx anyone by naming them. Right now I'm starting Beverle Graves Myers, Painted Veil, and think it will be as good as her first one, Interrupted Aria, which I raved about on DorothyL. Another rave from me, even thought it's different than my typical mystery read, is Chris Grabenstein's, Tilt-a-Whirl. (Readers can see Chris Grabenstein interviewed in a previous blog).

You’ve also mentioned liking “antique travel narratives.” What’s a good example of a travel narrative? You mean like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley?
Actually, I prefer fifty to a hundred years earlier, books like Amelia Edwards' (who provide the first name for Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody Emerson), One Thousand Miles Up the Nile or works by Gertrude Bell or Mary Kingsley. Loving travel, but also loving modern ways of getting places, I find any non-missionary travel narrative to the Middle East or Africa before World War I fascinating, especially when written by those incredibly gutsy women.

You have two cute little cats. What are their names? Do they lie all over you while you read mysteries?

My current cats are Sweetpea and Calypso, both rescues, of course. Sweetpea prefers to curl up by the side, but Calypso enjoys being a lap cat. One picture I sent was of my main cat for over fifteen years, Eros, who was pure-bred Balinese, but couldn't be sold because he was the runt of the litter. That didn't continue when he topped out at close to fourteen pounds.

That's a big kitty!

You were an anti-war protestor as a college kid in the Vietnam era. Have you done any recent war protesting?

I admit to getting burned-out during those years after seeing a bit too much violence at one protest. Now I prefer to concentrate my activism on animal rights and trying to keep the planet going with enough resources for future generations. I truly do not understand people who believe if you have enough money to pay for them, it's perfectly all right to waste non-renewable natural resources.

One of your first jobs was as a Chow Mein Girl in a Chinese Restaurant. This sounds rather glamorous. Did it just mean you spooned Chow Mein onto plates, or was there more to it?

The Nankin was the large Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis at the time (ethnic cuisine has expanded tremendously there since that era), and I packed orders to go. Friday nights after the service ended at the Reform synagogue I attended was an especially busy time.

You mentioned in a recent post that you think fox hunting is animal abuse. What’s up with fox hunting, anyway? Do you think the British are trying to compensate for something?
No, I think it's a problem of people not wanting to accept that animals other than humans have senses and feelings. If you do, then you have to begin judging and changing all your behavior. I do believe society as a whole has begun to realize that watching other creatures get hurt is not a form of enjoyment, but with cock-fighting, bull-fighting, and sport (as opposed to food) hunting still around, we have quite a ways to go. I also believe that writers who claim the foxes actually enjoy being harrassed and run to exhaustion, even if they aren't eventually killed, should be ignored by all readers. Being a librarian I would never suggest banning any books, but being a consumer I have choices in my purchases; I will never buy anything written by someone who supports these activities.

Are you going to Bouchercon?
I wish I could, but this year I've already done a tour of Mayan sites in Central America, visited my sister in San Antonio and my brother and my best friend from first grade throughout high school in southern California, so I need to save my time for future vacations. I did attend Bouchercon when it was held here in the Washington, D.C. area (actually northern VA, where, as you know, I live), and it was a wonderful experience. I hope to go to future ones as well.

Who’s a mystery writer you’ve met and liked, or one you’d like to meet?
S.J. Rozen, a fellow Oberlin-grad and professional architect, is an interesting and fascinating person. She hasn't published anything in a while, but I hope she decides to continue writing mysteries, as she is one of the best around. I've also enjoyed meeting Donna Andrews, and being at a brunch table with Joan Hess during the American Library Association annual meeting was fun. I'd love to talk Egyptology with Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) and meet Lev Raphael and Jeff Cohen. I've exchanged the occasional e-mail with both after DorothyL posts and would love a real conversation with either. Of course, Julia, I'd also like to meet you.

Why, thanks! That is mutual.

You love traveling. What’s the most beautiful place you’ve found on earth?

As with noms, there are too many to choose one. One that left me speechless, which is pretty rare condition, is Crater Lake here in the United States. The game reserves I've visited in Kenya, Dubrovik and the coast near it, ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile (and Abu Simbel when lighted at night after the tourists are gone), some of the traditional temples and cemetaries of Japan, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and L'Orangerie in Paris are all places of joy for me. One place few people visit, mainly because it only has good weather without killer mosquitoes and deer flies about two weeks a year, is the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota, especially if you're there at night when the Northern Lights are putting on a show.

Wow. You’ve lived in Japan and Germany as well as the U.S. What lessons did you learn as an expatriate (if only a temporary one)?
The most important thing is that the U.S. is not the center of the earth. If you buy a map in Japan, North and South American are far to the right of center, in Europe, far to the left. I've neven been to South American or Australia to buy one there, but it would be interesting to see the perspective from way south of the Equator. Most important, of course, is that human beings are human beings. We have different cultures and values, often heavily influenced by the languages we speak, but the basic attributes don't really change.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Jane!
Thank you for asking me.


Sandra Ruttan said...

My niece loves cheetahs as well - her favourite animal.

And some of the places you've traveled are right up my alley! I'm envious!

Julia Buckley said...

Does your niece know about Jane's cheetah website?

Sandra, your kid picture is so cute! Do you still have that dimple?

Anonymous said...

Great interview and adorable cats! Currently kittyless, I'm jealous.

Julia Buckley said...

Now Lonnie, you need to go out and get a kitten. :)

Anonymous said...

Make sure you get at least two cats, especially if you want to be able to keep writing. No human can keep up with a single kitten.
Have your niece check out the cheetah pages at the National Zoo, as well: (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AfricanSavanna/). We've got lots of good info. and great photos there.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Jane - I will forward that link to her.

Julia, I don't think so. But I can still look pretty evil. Just view the photo close-up...

Julia Buckley said...

Gee--you do look pretty evil. :)