Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Maggie Steifvater Visits Conservators' Center

Arthur Tiger was not impressed that Maggie Stiefvater came to meet the wolves and not him.
Last year New York Times Best-selling author Maggie Steifvater blogged about being in Hungary as part of her European book tour.  While there, her European publisher arranged for her to meet a pack of wolves owned by a trainer named Zoltan.  It was a great, funny posting and was one of two thoughts I had when I read that she was going to be making an appearance at our favorite Raleigh independent book store.  The other thought was, "We have wolves at Conservators' Center.  She should come meet our wolves!"

So, I emailed her with the offer of arranging a private tour for her if she had time between her Atlanta, GA stop and Raleigh, NC signings.  In response I got her standard, auto-return form email ("I get thousands of emails each month! I read each one but cannot respond to them all!") and shrugged my shoulders.  Hey, at least I tried.

Then, a few days later, Maggie herself responded.  She had checked out our web site and was definitely interested.  More emails were exchanged.  I lined up people on our end: the two co-founders would be there for a tour as would one of wonderful wolf experts.  There would be no press -- this was just a brief vacation from the road and book signings.  After all, if I was doing a book tour and someone offered me a chance to meet lions and tigers and wolves and binturongs, I'd definitely want to do so away from the public eye.

Loki, the Shivermobile
We were sitting in a Burger World just off of I-40/I-85 when Maggie and her husband, Ed, pulled into the parking lot in her car, Loki.  For those of you who don't know, Loki is a '73 Camaro.  It's exactly the kind of muscle car I grew up seeing as a kid and thinking "Man, that is a cool car."  (This will come as a shock to anyone who knows my general lack of automotive appreciation)  And, sure enough, Loki is one cool car.

Maggie's husband, Ed, was driving.  As we got ready to leave the Burger World parking lot, Ed started up Loki.  The engine gave a wonderful, full-throated '70s humming growl as it came to life. Our '90s diesel VW Jetta (a great car in all other respects, mind you) sounded a bit go-kart-ish.

Ed, Maggie and Mindy Stinner @ CCI
After three solid weeks of gawd-awful heat and humidity, that Tuesday was actually relatively nice.  Sure it was hot and sunny, but at least my t-shirt wasn't drenched in sweat within ten minutes of getting there (as it had the previous several Saturdays during our weekly volunteer shifts).  All in all, it was a great day for a private tour and Maggie and Ed seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.

The way tours generally work at CCI is that while we lure you in with the promise of seeing wolves and lions and tigers, but we start tours by visiting with some of the smaller, lesser known animals.  In this photo, Ed is filming the Serval brothers, four Servals who were born on site and have been raised together.  Next to their enclosure are our two Ring-Tailed Lemurs.  Around the corner from them are several Binturong enclosures (Binturongs: Your Favorite Animal You've Never Heard Of Before®).

Maggie, Mindy, Kim, Amadeus Wolf, Trekkie Wolf
(In Maggie's blog posting about her time at CCI she made a simple yet brilliant graphic that explains how important Bints are to their environment.)

Maggie's best-selling trilogy, The Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, Forever) is a different take on the werewolf legends (mixed with teen angst and kissing) so seeing the wolves was clearly going to be the highlight of the afternoon.  One of our wolf experts, Kim Pyne, had come prepared with a baggie of cheese cubes.  So, with the aid of a stick, Maggie was able to feed several of our wolves bits of cheese, thereby making sure both human and canids had a fine time.

Although time was running short, there's no point in being that close to lions and tigers without seeing them as well.  So we made a quick stop off at Matthai's Pride and then to one of the Center's more interesting enclosures, the Mixed Pride, a pride of three lions (one male, two female) and two tigers (one male, one female) who have lived together since they were cubs and who still get along incredibly well together.

Roland and Trekkie Wolf, Kim Pyne, Mindy Stinner,
Maggie Stiefvater, Ed, and Doug Evans
From there it was over to see Thomas and Ra, two lion brothers that were raised by Doug and Mindy and still live quite peacefully together.

One of the things we try do for tours is to get the lions to "oof", or roar.  In the wild, lions do this to aurally locate one another over long distances. At CCI, the lions do this to sort of say 'hello' to one another.  (It's also a way of keeping peace within the Center.  If two lions get into a tussle with each other, the other lions across the Center can "oof" and it will calm the other lions down.)

How do you get lions to "oof"?  By starting the "oofing" yourself.  Throughout our Saturdays out at CCI the staff and volunteers will stop whatever they're doing whenever they hear someone else trying to get the lions to roar.  From around the compound you'll hear a scattering of fairly sad, human attempts to imitate the lions' sound to get them "oofing."

Want to see and hear it for yourself?  Want to see the back of our Jetta?  (Sadly, the two MEOW stickers are blurred out, but they're there, honest.)  Want to see what a Binturong looks like?  A ring-tailed lemur?  What about the wolves?  Luckily, Maggie's husband, Ed, videoed much of their time visit and Maggie edited the footage and posted it to YouTube.

Completing our roles as Tour Guides, my wonderful wife Bonn and I then led Maggie and Ed through the start of Raleigh-Durham rush hour traffic to get Maggie to Quail Ridge Books in time for her book signing.

Maggie Steifvater at Quail Ridge Books
Here's something you might not know about Maggie.  She does a GREAT author talk.

The first thing she did was to take the mic off of the stand and push the stand and the lectern out of the way so there was nothing between herself and the crowd.  Then she started to tell stories.  Funny stories.  Very funny stories, in fact.  Neither Bonn nor I were expecting anything like the 20-minute stand-up comedy set she did in the middle of the bookstore.  She topped that by taking questions from the audience--good, thoughtful questions from my adopted hometown crowd, I might add.

While Maggie was off at the back of the store doing her AuthorDivaBookSigning Thing, Bonn and I stepped outside and spent another bit of time talking with Maggie's husband, Ed.  He's a smart, funny guy, too, who obviously loves Maggie dearly.  Hey, he's spending weeks on tour with her and acting as her sherpa for all of her book signing appearances.  That kind of love and devotion doesn't happen every day.

So, the moral of the story: If you see an author is coming to your town, drop them a line and see if they're willing to be entertained by something extraordinary during their visit.  Chances are they'd love the respite from the road and would welcome the chance to do something neat and interesting.  (I know I would.)

-- Tom