Welcome to the Zenn-a-Palooza!
You may know that Strange Chemistry are one of my favourite publishers; their YA list is very hard to beat. Next month they are publishing Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon, much to my excitement. I am very honoured to be part of the Blog Tour for this gorgeous book, and Christian has been kind enough to tell us a little about his impressive menagerie and how the animals have inspired his writing. Over to Christian...
Hi and thanks for letting me drop in and chat. Sarah asked that I write a little about the animals in my life these days. But… why on earth would she pick that as a topic for And Then I Read A Book? Because the young heroine of my novel Zenn Scarlett is a novice exoveterinarian, specializing in the care and treatment of alien creatures. And a big part of the inspiration for this particular subject is my involvement with several animal rescue and welfare groups here in my part of Iowa. In addition to fostering abused and neglected equines here on my farm, I’ve also had the immense privilege of getting to know a variety of more exotic animals. In the course of working with these critters, I’ve interacted with veterinarians who have a wide range of specialized expertise in exotics. It was these relationships, human and beastly, that combined with my life-long science fiction geekery to produce the Zenn Scarlett books.
So, the various pastures and barns on our farm have hosted as many as 18 horses, donkeys and/or burros at any given time. We’ve had everything from miniature horses about the size of a German shepherd (and seriously cute), to high-strung Arabians, hilariously vocal donkeys (who, by the way, are notoriously good at escaping their corrals….) to colossal Belgian draft horses over six-feet high at the shoulder, hooves the size of tree stumps and mighty physiques that quite literally shake the ground when they run by you. The primary way we acquire these animals is through law enforcement operations where, for whatever reason, the animals aren’t being adequately cared for and are confiscated. Often, the equines come to us in very poor condition. We make sure they get any meds they need, then provide nourishment and shelter as they recover. Once they’re fully healthy, we then work to get them adopted out to “forever homes” with owners who have the skill and patience to handle an animal that may need many months to recover its trust in humans again.
We’ve also hosted dozens of other creatures here at the farm, from whitetail fawns, to possums and raccoons to the many barn cats we have (most rescued from various locations) plus our dogs and a couple mischievous ferrets. Another rescue group we’re involved with is a local organization that takes in felines with special medical needs and also deals with large, exotic animals. So, in this capacity, I’ve been up close and personal with black bears, cougars, emus, coyotes and reptiles like Lucifer, an 18-foot Burmese python and Lex Luther, a 10-foot American alligator.
Naturally, interacting with critters like this results in some dicey moments. Like when two full-grown mountains lions were being transported to our farm after they’d been confiscated by authorities. The lions were in large heavy duty dog carriers, in the back of a pick-up truck. Jenni, our intrepid vet, was riding in the front of the truck. Half way home, Jenni gets a call from the policeman in the vehicle driving behind them: the male lion has somehow worked loose the cage door on his carrier; his head is out. The convoy screeches to a halt. Jenni, who weighs maybe 110 pounds tops, is out of the truck, syringe of sedative in hand. The lion now has his shoulders pushing through the opening in the carrier. She gets close enough and injects him in the neck. Did she get a full dose in? Will it take effect before he’s all the way and probably pretty pissed off?? Yes. He goes down very quickly. They push him back in, haul him home. Eventually, both lions ended up at a big cat sanctuary in Minnesota. This was early in this group’s existence, and our first experience with lions; our learning curve was still curving at this point. We’d never allow this sort of crisis to occur now and we were lucky it all ended well. Live and learn…
To tie back into the book: Zenn displays a similar sort of fearlessness when confronted with situations where saving an animal’s life means risking her own. In one scene, it’s not a lion she must save, but a baby Kiran sunkiller. With a sixty-foot wingspread, the young sunkiller is an air-borne alien animal that will grow to be large enough to carry an entire sky-fortress on its broad back. To rescue it, Zenn will be forced to attempt a complex medical procedure under conditions that are nearly impossible and potentially deadly… but she’ll make the attempt, because the animal is her patient and her responsibility.
And if there’s one overriding element that the groups I work with try to impart to the public, it would be just that: be responsible. Take responsibility for the animals that depend on you.
These days, the groups I volunteer with make it a big part of their missions to spread the word about proper animal care and what sort of animals simply shouldn’t be kept as pets. At schools and libraries, we bring in the big snakes like Lucifer as well as large iguanas, caimans and other reptiles and explain that while these creatures may be cute and/or fun to have when young, they grow up to be big and often difficult to care for, not to mention potentially dangerous. The same goes for educating people about hoarding pets like cats and dogs, or having more horses on your property than they’re able to feed, water and house humanely. It’s an on-going educational process, of course, and we’ll never really reach an end point. But for anyone who cares about animals and their welfare, it’s the most rewarding sort of volunteer work one can be involved in.
So, that’s the critter report from the Schoon ranch. Thanks for your time and thanks again to Sarah for inviting me into your digital reading room!
I'd like to say a big thank you to Christian for sharing that with me, and everybody else. He looks after some of my favourite animals - donkeys and ferrets - as well as my most feared - snakes! If you would like to know more about his life and work there is a little bio below, and a link to his website. Zenn Scarlett comes out in the UK on May 2nd, there are some links for pre-ordering below too. I'll be back with Zenn on publication day with my review.
About Christian: Born in the American Midwest, Christian started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California. He then became a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses. He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, as he learned about - and received an education from - these remarkable animals.
Pre-Order Zenn Scarlett on Amazon:
Find Christian at: