An Interview

Here’s an interview I did for Book View Cafe.

Among other things, Kat asked something no one ever asks — for details about what I was actually supposed to be working on in grad school when I started writing fiction.

There’s a link to the paper that came out of my master’s thesis. It is not, I warn you, an example of scintillating prose. It is, however, a decent example of non-scintillating academic prose.

If anyone actually clicks through all the way and wonders, the other author was my graduate advisor. All the writing is mine. All the guidance through the statistics was his. How well I remember the moment when he asked, “So, have you checked the residuals? How does that look?”

I also remember my answer clearly. I said, “Not yet, Jeff, but I’ll get on that soon.” Translation — Um, what are residuals again? I had to go look that up and then figure out how to calculate residual variation and then interpret the results.

I don’t miss those days at all, I must say. I still write (casual, rough, just good enough for bureaucratic purposes) analyses of tutoring outcomes for my job. That’s fine, but yeah, it was very plain at the time that I was never, ever going to like doing research. Fiction, as tough as it can be at times, is much better. Much.

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7 thoughts on “An Interview”

  1. It was interesting, more so than usual for such introductions because of tge answers you gave, and I commented on it with how much I like your books. But now I feel self-conscious as I know I’m terrible at writing book-reviews, and hope I didn’t do wrong to comment.

  2. As I said over there, it was a good interview. The last question was particularly clever, and you rose to the occasion — “I have no idea why no one ever seems to ask me to contrast the social behavior of African painted dogs with wolves.”

  3. Yes, good interview. I, too, chuckled about the last answer.

    I’d also thought the Jenna martial arts scenes were quite well researched, and this explains why!

  4. Thanks, everybody!

    So, the neat thing about African painted dogs is that the most typical and best way they handle pack formation is like this: a group of brother littermates leaves one pack and joins up with a group of sister littermates from another pack. Boom! Instant bigger pack with high overall relatedness. The advantage is that they’re surrounded by hordes of bigger predators, so it’s helpful for packs to be big, and they rather often tackle prey bigger relative to their own size than would really be ideal for a smaller pack.

    This probably also ties in with their very low aggression compared to wolves. African painted dogs almost make wolves look nonsocial, they’re so much more so. It’s at least as big a jump in social and affiliative behavior as between wolves and coyotes, and that’s a big jump too. African painted dogs have unique behaviors that serve to encourage group cohesion. For example, if a puppy runs up to an adult to beg for food, the adult will drive it back. Puppies have to run up as a group in order to successfully beg for food from adults. So from the very earliest age, there’s reinforcement for “be part of a group, don’t come out on your own, you should depend on your littermates to support you, good stuff happens to dogs in a group.” There’s nothing like that in wolves. The patchy color has been hypothesized to help break up individual outlines for the dogs themselves, not to disguise them from prey — they don’t care about being noticed by prey, they’re not ambush hunters — but to help themselves perceive other dogs as part of the group. African painted dogs show a lot less hierarchical aggression than wolves — though the breeding female does still suppress reproduction in subordinate females, that’s much less through direct aggression.

    Anyway, a very interesting and distinctive species.

  5. That is very interesting about the painted dogs. The idea of teaching young pups to act in a group to beg for food!
    A very strong reinforcement of the need to be part of a pack, and the benefits of doing things together, from such a young age it becomes as good as instinctive. I do wonder what happens if one painted dog ends up alone; will it be able to survive on its own until it catches up to the pack? Would it try to attach itself to other animals or groups, e.g. a herder’s dogs or even less related species?

  6. African painted dogs are very, very timid with people. But they love puppies. I don’t think one would “tame itself” or accept human help, but if an unrelated pack found a puppy, I bet they would adopt it.

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