Buxton’s debut, Hollow Kingdom (Grand Central, Aug.), explores a posthuman future through the eyes of a cowardly crow named S.T.
What inspired you to write a post-apocalyptic novel narrated by a crow?
I grew up in Indonesia and my first job was at a zoo at 12. It felt epic and important, but I was bored by day two. I would walk around and have these amazing up-close experiences. I hand-fed the rhino, brushed the hippo tongues with a broom, and held a cobra. It set up my lifelong love of animals. Many years later, my husband and I moved to Seattle because we fell in love with the trees. I started having encounters with crows. I approached an injured crow expecting to get dive-bombed by his murder of 40 or 50, but they fell silent. I had this clear feeling they knew I was there to help. Very sadly, the crow didn’t make it, but my interactions afterward with the murder were completely different. I wanted to write about crows and the premise “what if people were no longer here, and a crow was left to tell the story?”
You have two pet crows. How much of S.T. is based off them?
I should clarify: they are two wild crows that come visit me every day and are one of my most important relationships. The very regal male I call Dart. He’s a little aloof, so I feel honored when he gets close to me. He keeps a good eye on T, who I’ve modeled most of S.T.’s behavior on. She’s a very goofy crow. She loves to pop out and frighten me, and I can tell she enjoys it. I’m careful to feed them food that is good for them, but she has a predilection for junk food and will fly by and show off the horrible snacks she’s got. They’re incredibly smart.
Some animals in your book talk but others do not. Why?
All living beings in Hollow Kingdom are communicating, but not all of them are talking. The animals around us are always communicating but not necessarily in our language. It’s wonderful that you can tune in at any time. If you have a dog, you know how effective they are at communicating. Dennis the bloodhound isn’t as loquacious as S.T., but we understand so much about him through his nonverbal communication. I’m exploring the idea that we’re not engaging as much as we could.
Is a future without humans exhilarating or terrifying for you?
It’s both. When I started the research, I was worried I would get depressed. But it was refreshing to not be so anthropocentric and to recognize that we share this space with many fascinating creatures. What’s terrifying is what we’re currently facing: catastrophic biodiversity loss and global warming. We’re a really resourceful, powerful species, and we’ve saved animals from the brink before. It’s exhilarating to explore climate existentialism while we still have an opportunity to make changes. S.T. the crow represents hope and belief that we can use our big beautiful brains and still save the planet.