Trauth's Salamander Research Takes 'Novel' Twist
JONESBORO – From 1999 to 2003, Dr. Stan Trauth observed a salamander lay eggs at a particular rock, 334 feet from the entrance to an old mineshaft near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Never before had he documented the same salamander laying eggs in the same spot for five consecutive years.
Later consulted by Disney Productions for a film about a newt, a type of salamander, Trauth's imagination kicked into high. Perhaps as creative as he is relentless with scientific inquiry, Trauth began to think about the story of the female amphibian, which he called "Four Spot."
Sadly, plans for the newt movie were shelved, but the Arkansas State University professor had only begun to consider the possibilities.
A salamander is ordinarily not the first animal that comes to mind as the main character of a book. We have been entertained by mice, bears, rabbits, ducks and lots of canines . . . but salamanders?
These creatures have not been very popular outside a herpetologist's lab until Trauth started imagining possibilities for his book, Salamandria. After weaving the first draft, with Four Spot as the inspiration for the spunky lead character Sally, he went back to the computer with advice from his professional reviewer to make the story more entertaining and less like a textbook. He can be excused for writing like science literature, given he is lead author of The Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas, considered by most experts to be the ultimate authority on the subject, and author or co-author of scores of scholarly articles.
Convinced the story still had potential, the zoology professor asked his wife Joy to help re-write and expand on the detail. Joy has been caring for the couple's grandchildren in Morrilton much of her time, so they worked together by Skype when they were not able to work across the kitchen table from one another. They exchanged ideas and polished the story of Sally's adventures along with Amos, Fleck, Desi, and the rest of the troop.
"Joy masterfully crafted and greatly expanded on my version of Salamandria," Trauth said as he recalled the transformation of his story through the creative process. "In any of our future writing endeavors, it will be a friendly competition to create just the right visual images through our words."
While Joy was polishing his scientific prose into a novel aimed at youth age 10 and up, Stan focused on preparing the artwork that begins each chapter. He also drew the cover art, and she digitally colored it.
"Stan is the creative one and the authority on the organisms," Joy emphasized. He imagined the story line and she made it more appealing. "It's almost as though Stan told me a story in one language and I wrote it in another."
Peer reviewers say the Trauths' 294-page nature/fantasy book, which includes a glossary, "educates while it entertains." Published by Mockingbird Lane Press, the book is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
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