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Frequently Asked Questions: Less than Dead


Why did you decide to write a story involving cadaver dogs?

I came across a magazine article about cadaver dogs and it impressed me how similar they are to the blowflies that Nick Polchak studies. They both have a remarkable ability to detect the scent of death, but because of their greater intelligence dogs have the ability to be trained for that specific purpose. It occurred to me that Nick would be fascinated by cadaver dogs too--but he wouldn't feel comfortable around them because they're not bugs. I thought that tension would be the basis of a really fun story.


Where did you get the idea for Alena Savard's character?

I couldn't help wondering, "What if someone loved dogs as much as Nick loves bugs? What if it was a beautiful woman--and what would happen if the Dog Woman met the Bug Man?" That's where Alena's character came from.


Why did you have people think of Alena as a witch?

I collect interesting quotations, and years ago I picked up one from Arthur C. Clarke that I included in the book: Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A dog's senses are so acute that it sometimes seems to border on the supernatural. It occurred to me that, in a backwoods area, people might come to believe that Alena had supernatural powers herself. Besides, I wanted Alena to be an outsider the same way Nick is--it gave them something else in common.


Where did you learn about cadaver dogs?

Mostly through reading and research, but to I always like to do on-site research whenever possible. I visited the Canine Enforcement Training Center (CETC) in Front Royal, Virginia, where U.S. Customs & Border Protection trains dogs for various specialized areas of detection. ATF trains their bomb-sniffing dogs nearby.


What surprised you most in your research at the CETC?

There were two facts that I found especially intriguing: First, that all dogs have a similar capacity to smell--not just bloodhounds like in the movies. Dogs are selected for training not because of their breed, but because of their temperament and work ethic. Some breeds tend to excel in those areas, and that's why those breeds are commonly employed. Second, I was surprised to learn that the dogs aren't rewarded with food--they're rewarded with love and praise and the chance to play with their trainers. Maybe we should learn a lesson about the way we raise our kids!


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