In her 2019 debut novel, “Hollow Kingdom,” Seattle author Kira Jane Buxton introduced the world to one of the quirkiest — and most memorable — protagonists to hit the printed page in the past decade. S.T. (short for an unprintable, expletive-laden moniker) is a trash-talking, Cheeto-and-whiskey-loving domesticated crow with the biggest little heart in the animal kingdom.
After a zombie apocalypse caused by too much screen time, S.T. sets out with his trusty bloodhound friend Dennis on a quest to solve the fall of humanity. By the end of the book, S.T. has traveled from Seattle to the Alaskan wilderness, where he finds the last human — a tiny infant girl — and vows to protect her and raise her as his own.
This is where we find our crow-tagonist in “Feral Creatures,” the second installment in the series, which came out Aug. 24 through Grand Central Publishing. Buxton continues her genre-melding tale with sizzling wit and a deep knowledge of pop culture, sending S.T. and his human protégé Dee through a series of trials and life-threatening encounters, and bringing them both face to face with the most frightening challenge of all: self-discovery.
In our conversation for The Seattle Times, Buxton, a nature lover with a brood of animals at home — a dog, two cats and a handful of backyard visitors, including a crow named T and a hummingbird who eats from her hand — revealed more about the themes of her new book, her love of all things corvid and when her passion for the natural world first began.
As you get closer to the release of your second book, how are you feeling?
I’m really excited. There has been such a warm welcome to S.T. and this world of “Hollow Kingdom.” As a writer, I took risks with this book, I didn’t play it safe, and I pushed myself to explore more interesting dichotomies in the writing — like S.T. being this crow who desperately wanted to be human, and he’s raising a human who quite possibly wants to be a crow. I had so much fun with that and, as someone who grew up moving around the world and feeling like I lacked a cultural identity, I can relate to it.
When we encounter S.T. at the end of the first book, he has found the last human on the planet … where does “Feral Creatures” take us?
The story continues where the first book left off. It’s been years since people roamed the Earth, but S.T. is hanging on to this beautiful delusion that he can raise this child as though humanity were still in the days of television, fashion and etiquette. Eventually he realizes that maybe this is a different kind of creature than the humans he’s used to and maybe this won’t be as easy as he thinks. It’s really a book about nature versus nurture and the beautiful pains of parenting.
I love the idea of being able to distill a book into one sentence: We survive when we are seen. I wrote about seeing and appreciating creatures as they are and the story sort of ponders who we might be if we didn’t have all these social expectations.
Throughout “Hollow Kingdom,” S.T. grapples with his liminal state. Does he find his place, or at least reconcile with who he is, in the second book?
In “Hollow Kingdom,” so much of S.T.’s character arc is him coming to terms with his natural state. He’s a natural-born crow but he doesn’t identify with that. He wants so badly to be human. It’s an enormous struggle and I think that he comes to a place where he finally accepts his hybridism. In the second novel, he’s still very much a work in progress. We see that even as he’s come to accept who he is, that’s deeply flawed, which I think is what makes him so relatable.
You’re very vocal on social media about your deep love for animals. Do the animals in your life have an influence on your work?
Absolutely. Growing up in the Middle East, my first volunteer job, when I was 12, was in a zoo. I ran around and befriended a lot of keepers and had these wonderful encounters with animals. For the rest of my life, it’s always been about being close to animals. I feel an easy and deep kinship with them. I love to remind people how connected we are to nature, and I think that the kinds of stories that we tell about animals — that their survival depends on it.
How did you come up with the idea to use a crow as your narrator in the first place?
I’ve always been enamored with crows and had wanted to write about them for a long time. At one point I was struggling to write a mystery series and my husband told me I should write about crows. I didn’t think that anyone would be interested, and I didn’t know what angle to take. One day I was in the car, and it hit me: What if the crow was talking and what if it was talking about us and our extinction? I drove straight home and started writing and S.T. just spilled onto the page.
Jumping off that: Which came first, your characters or the plot?
It’s different for every novel, but for “Hollow Kingdom” it was the characters first. They were already there. I think I generally gravitate toward a loose premise, start creating a landscape to play in and then let my imagination run wild.
What is your favorite fun fact about crows?
They perform something called anting, which is where they find a group of ants scurrying around and the crow will start to roll around and flap in them. They aren’t sure why they do it, it’s possibly a form of grooming. Crows also like to sunbathe!
There are a lot of lessons winding through “Feral Creatures.” What do you want readers to be left with when they turn that last page?
Hope. Of course, first and foremost I want readers to enjoy the ride. It’s a novel, it’s supposed to be fun and engaging, but I also hope that my readers are left with a sense of wonder and awe for our plant, and perhaps feel moved to protect it.