by Julie, having a great time at Left Coast Crime
I am delighted to welcome Julie Carrick Dalton to the blog today. Her first book, Waiting for the Night Song, was released last year. The Last Beekeeper was released on March 7. Thank you for being here, Julie.
The inspiration for my second book The Last Beekeeper came to me after I stumbled on a pile of dead bodies in my yard. They were bees, not people, but I was devastated. I was furious. I was scared.
As a beekeeper, I took pride in the health of my bees, and last I had checked, they were thriving. I crouched on the ground, staring a pile of 40,000 otherwise perfect bees. I knew enough to understand this wasn’t Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees fly off and mysteriously never return. It couldn’t have been a virus or parasite because it happened in a single day.
That only left one explanation: Poison.
But who would poison my bees? And why?’
I looked around my suburban neighborhood, scrutinizing the immaculate landscaping my neighbors took pride in. Did one of them murder my bees? Did my docile, non-confrontational bees scare them? Couldn’t they have approached me about it instead of destroying the hive?
Whoever it was, I refused to let them win. I restocked with new bees and took extra care to make sure the hive was safe and protected. I often sat on the ground near the hive watching bees buzz away from the hive while others returned with the pouches on their hind legs bulging with bright yellow pollen. Watching bees put me into a near meditative state. The hum calmed me, the vibrations soothed, and the harmony of the hive inspired awe.
Then, the following August, it happened again. A mass murder. The hive was dead.
I raged, cursed, cried. I looked at everyone in my neighborhood with suspicion. Was it you?
I consulted with other beekeeper friends and tried to unravel the mystery. I soon came to the conclusion that no single person intentionally harmed my hive. But collectively we all were guilty.
In the US, we permit homeowners, landscapers, and farmers to apply chemicals proven to harm bees. Other countries banned these toxins years ago. But we Americans love our green lawns, corn, and soybeans too much, so we heap on the herbicides and pesticides and pretend not to see what we’re doing to our pollinators.
Our refusal to face the truth comes with a price. Every year we lose billions of bees. Those bees are responsible for pollinating one third of the food humans consume.
After I realized the poison likely came from a lawn product someone in my neighborhood inadvertently applied, my anger changed. I was no longer hunting down an individual who had killed my bees. I was looking in the mirror. Although I never use chemicals on my lawn or garden, I consumed food grown by big agriculture, and that made me complicit.
I wondered what was happening to the native pollinators? How were the wasps, mosquitoes, yellow jackets, bumblebees, and butterflies tolerating these toxins?
What if they disappeared too? What if all the pollinators died?
That what if question was the inspiration for my second novel, The Last Beekeeper, in which I imagine a near-future world without bees. The Last Beekeeper is about the tenuous relationship between a beekeeper and his daughter as the world’s pollinator population dies off, launching the world into agricultural and economic crisis. It’s about found family, speaking truth to power, and unquenchable hope in the face of adversity.
The story follows Sasha, the daughter of the Last Beekeeper, as she tries to unravel the mystery about her father’s involvement in the death of the last known honey bee colonies. What did he know? Why had he chosen to go to prison rather than turn over his research? And what exactly was Sasha’s role in the loss of the final hives? Her childhood memories are fuzzy, but she senses there’s something important her father isn’t telling her.
Writing this story helped me process my own grief over losing my bees, and it pushed me to confront my culpability. I’m trying to do better. I haven’t given up on the bees, and, like Sasha, I refuse to give up on hope.
In August this past year, I moved from my suburban neighborhood to an apartment downtown Boston. In April, I will be installing a beehive on my building’s roof and planting a wide variety of bee-friendly plants.
Wish me luck! Our future depends on it.
Have you ever investigated a mystery and discovered you were the guilty party? Have you ever read or written a character who had to confront their own culpability? How did this information change you or the character?
About the The Last Beekeeper:
It’s been more than a decade since the world has come undone, and Sasha Severn has returned to her childhood home with one goal in mind―find the mythic research her father, the infamous Last Beekeeper, hid before he was incarcerated. There, Sasha is confronted with a group of squatters who have claimed the quiet, idyllic farm as their own. While she initially feels threatened, the group soon becomes her newfound family, offering what she hasn’t felt since her father was imprisoned: security and hope. Maybe it’s time to forget the family secrets buried on the farm and focus on her future.
But just as she settles into her new life, Sasha witnesses the impossible. She sees a honey bee, presumed extinct. People who claim to see bees are ridiculed and silenced for reasons Sasha doesn’t understand, but she can’t shake the feeling that this impossible bee is connected to her father’s missing research. Fighting to uncover the truth could shatter Sasha’s fragile security and threaten the lives of her newfound family―or it could save them all.
About Julie Carrick Dalton
Julie Carrick Dalton is the author of The Last Beekeeper and Waiting for the Night Song, a CNN, USA Today, Newsweek, and Parade Most Anticipated novel. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of fiction in the age of climate crisis at universities, museums, libraries, and conferences.