I’ve loved zoos since I was a girl, so after I became a writer it was only a matter of time before I wrote a story set in a zoo. When I got the idea for A Daughter’s Legacy, I admit part of my motivation was the chance to do the research. The zoo in my city offers an educational program called Keeper for a Day. Since Kelli Jackson, the heroine in A Daughter’s Legacy, goes to work as a zookeeper with no prior experience, the program was tailor-made for my purposes.
I was assigned to work with the keeper in charge of a delightful collection of small animals including a personable pair of crested porcupines, a dainty desert fox, cottontail rabbits, rock cavys, a skunk (de-scented, they assured me), a gray wolf, burrowing owls, a dozen South American penguins, and five meerkats that looked like they were straight off of the Discovery Channel’s hit reality show. Many of these animals made cameo appearances in A Daughter’s Legacy, and I had such a good time writing them into the story.
I also enjoyed putting Kelli to work performing the same chores I did. I chopped fresh fruit and vegetables, and mixed up delicious-looking salads exactly like I would feed my family. Well, except for the king mealworms wriggling on top. Kelli’s reaction in A Daughter’s Legacy is the same as mine. And, of course, part of the job includes cleaning up after the animals. It’s a dirty, smelly, unpleasant task, but I learned to breathe through my mouth and ignore the odors. As Kelli learns in A Daughter’s Legacy, you get used to them after a while.
The best part of the job of a zookeeper, and one I didn’t expect, is the affinity that develops between a keeper and her charges. How awesome to watch the penguins vying for their special keeper’s attention, or to see a cheetah recognize his keeper and rush to the fence when she walks by. The porcupines were perhaps my biggest surprise of the day — they’re alarmingly huge and amazingly charming. I cast them in a special role in my story.
When you read A Daughter’s Legacy, I think you’ll agree that my day of research made the story richer and more realistic. I hope you enjoy this fictitious trip to the zoo as much as I enjoyed writing it!
- Virginia Smith