Monday, January 27, 2014

"Fox Talk" by L. E. Carmichael, PhD

Fox Talk:
How Some Very Special Animals Helped Scientists Understand Communication
by L. E. Carmichael, PhD

Fox Talk is currently on tour with Mother Daughter Book Promotion Services. The tour stops here today for my review, an interview with the author, and a giveaway. Please make sure you visit the other tour stops as well.

When you talk to a dog, does the dog talk back? Many people think so. But for a long time, scientists didn't know how our furry friends learned to communicate with people. Luckily, Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev had a plan. If he could tame wild red foxes, he could learn how dogs first came from wolves. By studying the way these foxes changed during domestication, the mystery of communication would be solved at last. More than 50 years after the experiment began, Belyaev's foxes have become so tame, you can have one as a pet! Packed with eye-popping photos and first-hand research, Fox Talk reveals the story of these amazing animals ... and everything they've taught us about wolves, dogs, and communication.

Book Trailer


Fox Talk is a nonfiction book describing the links between foxes, wolves, and domesticated dogs. It documents Russian scientist Belyaev's experiments to try and domesticate wild foxes in order to better understand how humans and dogs communicate. The book explains the distinction between trained animals whose DNA is not altered, and domesticated animals whose DNA has changed and are thus able to pass these changes on to their offspring.
We also learn about Svetlana Gogoleva's experiments to try to determine if foxes use different sounds to mean different things. Does domestication affect animal sounds and how do the animals' feelings affect the sounds they make? And, what does the fox say? Check out page 30 to find out. You can also visit the Bioacoustic Group website and scroll down to "Red Fox" to hear actual fox sounds.
The book provides an easy experiment you can try with your own dog. You can even find out how to get a domestic fox of your own as a pet (be warned, after reading this, you may very well want to!). Also included are handy links and a book list to find out more about domestic foxes, as well as a glossary of terms used in the book.
Fox Talk is a colorful book and is brightly illustrated throughout with magnificent photos. The Kindle version contains pop-up boxes with discussion questions. Words found in the glossary are also highlighted in the text and can be clicked on directly to find out their meanings. Embedded videos also make the book literally come alive. Unfortunately the text is a bit too small, and I was struggling to read it on my 7-inch tablet.
Fox Talk is a very well-researched book and contains a wealth of information. It is interesting enough for adults as well as simple enough for children to understand. This book would make a great addition to any home library.

Interview With the Author
Hi Lindsey, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Fox Talk: How Some Very Special Animals Helped Scientists Understand Communication.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Sure, start me out with a tough one! J Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and most of what I write is nonfiction, so I’m not sure I can draw direct connections between other authors and what I do. Since I became a writer, though, I’m very aware of what’s going on below the surface of what I’m reading – part of my brain is enjoying the story, while part is watching HOW a writer is doing whatever he or she is doing – and I’m positive this awareness of great technique makes me a better writer.
What age group do you recommend your book for?
Officially, the reading level is about grade 4, but that’s partly because all of the scientists have Russian names! Eight- to ten-year-olds are the core audience, but we used a very visual design so that younger kids could also enjoy the book, and I’ve heard that older readers like the content, as well.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I was in my first year of graduate school, in 2000, when I read an article about domestic foxes written by one of the scientists on the project. My first thought was “I want one!” Then, I became totally fascinated by the science in the experiment and what it all meant. I am thrilled that I’ve had a chance to share this amazing story with kids!
Which comes first? The writing or the research?
They go in a circle! Usually I get an assignment from a publisher, or I stumble on something I think is amazing. I do some research, and when the story starts to take shape in my mind, I start writing. The writing process shows me exactly where I need to do more research, so I go back and fill in gaps, looking for specific details. Then more writing … I often have to force myself to start writing, because I get sucked into the joy of tracking down awesome information.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Chapter 3 talks about “object-choice” experiments, which scientists use to measure how well animals understand the meaning of human body language, for example pointing. I discovered that these experiments are so new, researchers are still arguing over how to DO the test, never mind what it means! I had to read an 3-inch-deep stack of papers spanning 10 years just so I could feel confident explaining the one study I discuss in the book.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I want readers to be amazed and delighted by the story, and I hope the overall cool factor will do one of two things – make people want to own their very own fox, or make people want to become scientists. The world needs more scientists.
I'm a scientist myself, though not practising! How long did it take you to write this book?
You know, I’m not really sure! I think I spent about 3 months on the research. The writing itself happened quite quickly – about 3 or 4 weeks, plus a week to make the changes my editor suggested. And a couple of months doing photo research and design. The whole process, from the first step to the book’s release, took about a year.
What is your writing routine?
I usually work from about 9am to 1pm, take 45 minutes for lunch, and am back at my desk from 2pm to 6pm. I’m smartest in the mornings, so I start with writing (the hardest part) and will often do research and social media (blogging, etc.) in the afternoons. I have a part-time job as well, so I usually end up working 6 days a week, one way or the other.
How did you get your book published?
This book was a lucky accident – my best friend recommended me to her friend, who was starting a new publishing company (Ashby-BP). Mary Dunford and I hit it off right away, and she loved the idea of the book, so that was all it took. I can tell you from past experience it’s normally a lot harder than that.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Read. Read the type of work you want to write, and study how other authors tell stories, be they true or fictional. Read books or magazines from publishers you want to work for, so you know exactly what they’re looking for in a manuscript. Read everything you can about the publishing industry, so you know what you’re in for.
Find a support group of writers who know exactly what you’re going through. Write, write, write!
In this business, talent is much less important than hard work and persistence. Being a writer is both a dream and a nightmare – there are days I think that milking venomous snakes would be easier and more lucrative! But I stick with it because I love it. Write because you can’t imagine NOT writing, and you’ll be just fine.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Read, of course! I also love to bake and do crafts and take naps and watch anything Joss Whedon ever touched – Browncoats forever!
What does your family think of your writing?
I’m very lucky, because my family and friends are hugely supportive and incredibly proud – my dad says he’s run out of buttons to burst! I also have an amazing husband who solves my technology problems, carries heavy boxes to book signings, and brings me food when I’m on deadline.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
My dad was transferred a lot with his job, so I attended nine schools before the ninth grade. My longest-lasting friendships were with books. And our dogs – we had some great dogs while I was growing up, which is probably why I ended up studying wolves and foxes in graduate school.
I know how you feel. My family moved around a lot , too. Did you enjoy school?
Yes and no. I loved learning (still do!), but I was shy and anxious, and because I was always the new kid, I was an easy target for bullies. It wasn’t until high school that I found a really great group of friends and started coming out of my shell. Many of those friendships are still with me today.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I can’t actually remember learning how to read – I feel like I always knew how. My parents were book lovers and I got it from them. We lived in a lot of small towns that didn’t have bookstores (this was before the internet!) and Mom was always taking me and my brother to the library to pick up a fresh stack. I read my favourites over and over again.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I’ve read it a dozen times and I sob like a baby every time.
Who were your favorite authors as a child?
I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. MontgomeryRilla of Ingleside is still one of my all-time-favorite books. I was crazy for folk and fairy tales, which is probably why I love fantasy novels so much. The Hobbit was my first fantasy story. Even now, I like it much better than The Lord Lord of the Rings!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first story for fun when I was 10. That was all it took!
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
When I write fiction, absolutely – remembering what it was like to be a kid helps me figure out what kinds of stories today’s kids will respond to. I think my childhood helps guide my nonfiction, too. When I’m doing research, I always look for strange and wonderful facts that make me say “Oh WOW!” – the kind of stuff I would have been all over when I was a kid.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
My first books came out in 2012, so I’m still a new-enough author that I don’t get much fan mail. The few readers I’ve heard from though have done one of two things:
1.    Asked me to write a book about their favorite animal
2. Told me my books make them interested in becoming vets or biologists someday.
I absolutely LOVE hearing #2!
Fantastic! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have two new teen books out this month, Living with Obesity and Living with Scoliosis. In August, Ashby-BP will release Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild. It’s about the place where wildlife conservation and forensic science meet, and the main thread of the book is an elk-kidnapping case I worked on as graduate student. I’m very excited about that one!
Sounds interesting! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Lindsey. Best of luck with your new projects.
Thanks so much for having me!

About the Author
Lindsey Carmichael never outgrew that stage of childhood when nothing's more fun than amazing your friends (and correcting your teachers!) with your stockpile of weird and wonderful facts. Her sense of wonder came in handy during her career as a scientist, and in 2006, she received the Governor General's Medal for her PhD thesis, Ecological Genetics of Northern Wolves and Arctic Foxes.
Lindsey finds talking about science more fun than doing it, however, and now writes for kids, teens, and occasionally adults (a sense of wonder is essential for this, too). Lindsey publishes under the name L. E. Carmichael, and her work has appeared in Dig, Highlights for Children, Kiki, and Canadian Tales of the Fantastic. Her published science books cover everything from animal migration to hybrid cars. When not digging up obscure or wacky details for her next nonfiction project, Lindsey's probably working on her young adult fantasy novel.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card (or PayPal cash) plus a Skype visit to a school or library of the winner's choice ($250 value).