National Bird Day

Is apparently today. Go celebrate our feathered friends! *checks to be sure planned dinner does not involve chicken*

Libraries_Billions_birds2_400x400I need to get into DC soon to see these two exhibits: Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America and The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. They both look fascinating and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them. Birds and I (as author) have a weird relationship; they keep sneaking into my books when I’m not looking. I like birds, enjoy feeding and watching them, and appreciate them in all their dinosaur-descended weirdness, but I’m not a bird expert or enthusiast. I don’t really know where they’re coming from, and can’t even explain them all by the sort of hidden-knowledge serendipity that creates writing coincidences. But there they are.

Below are some examples of sneaky book-infesting birds. Warning: some minor spoilers for all the currently-published books, especially for Time Goes By.

  • Names not chosen purposefully: George Merrill’s surname was chosen as a nod to la mer, the sea (as opposed to the lake of Olivia’s name), but checking its etymology later I found it can also be derived from French merle (Latin merula, Dutch merel) meaning blackbird. Sam Brant was inadvertently named for a goose. Phoebe Black, working for Eagle Costuming, was named on purpose (as were her colleagues Robin and Ava), but Lena Vogel was a coincidence (her real surname, Raaf (raven), was intentionally birdy, because I’d figured out what was happening by then).
  • Real people can have bird surnames too: Adriaen Pauw is a actual historical figure as well as a character in Time and Fevers, and his name means “peacock” in Dutch.
  • Nonhuman entities can also be bird-named by accident: the Russians’ time machine is called Perevozchik, which means the Ferryman (probably the original stimulus for George’s odd dreams in Time Goes By). But, checking the dictionary after choosing this entirely logical sobriquet, I found that it also means “sandpiper.”
  • Then I started putting birds in on purpose. There’s a minor subplot in Time Goes By involving passenger pigeons, and an entire scene set in an aviary just because. Well, partly because my man of mystery and many peace-related names, whom George meets in this book as Friedman, really does have to have a pet dove.
  • But I had chosen to include the real-life WWII artist-rescuer Varian Fry in the book before I finished reading his autobiographical account of that period and found that his landlord for part of his stay near Marseille was a man named Dr. Thumin, who was an avian enthusiast and maintained a creepy museum of stuffed birds. So of course I had to set a scene there as well.

Now you know what to look out for, so have fun finding birds in my books!

Today is also Twelfth Night, by the way, so it’s a doubly-significant date in the Waters of Time universe. Cheers!


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