Day Fourteen – Writing Excerpt

We went to the Olmec exhibit at the DeYoung Museum tonight by way of research for the novelization of my short story FIXATION, which appeared in Ravenous Romance’s anthology FANGBANGERS.  Ended up buying a copy of the book about the exhibition and a CD of MesoAmerican music for inspiration.  I thought I’d post a few paragraphs of the short story here for a tantalizing preview of the book to come!

“Quick, agile, and powerful enough to take down the largest prey in the jungle, the jaguar is the largest of the big cats in the Americas, and one of the most efficient and aggressive predators.”

            My fellow docent Beth held forth to the group of first graders crowded in front of Dandy’s enclosure.  Tall and gangly in a droopy Olive Oyl way, Beth wore her frizzy red curls clipped in a poof that bubbled out of the back of her baseball cap. While she droned on in front, I covered the rear to insure none of the kids wandered off where they shouldn’t. 

            Dandy, a melanistic jaguar sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as a black panther, sprawled at the edge of his cage and watched the kids. They were all small enough to count as prospective prey to a jaguar, although toddlers would be even better.  At the Feline Preservation Center (henceforth referred to as FPC), the docents and keepers referr to babies in strollers as ‘meals on wheels.’  Dandy, although raised by hand instead of mother-raised, had all the instincts of his wild brethren and was no doubt sizing up which rug rat to cull from the pack, should the opportunity arise. 

            “Endowed with a spotted coat and well adapted for the jungle, hunting either in the trees or water, making it one of the few felines tolerant of water, the jaguar was, and remains, revered among the indigenous Americans who reside closely with the jaguar.”

            The kids weren’t quite slack-jawed with boredom, but Beth’s auto-spiel, delivered in her nasal drone, was so far over their heads, she might as well be flying above in a jet plane.  Beth is very knowledgeable when it comes to all things exotic feline, but not exactly a people person, especially when said people are under eighteen. 

            Mind you, I’m not a huge fan of school tours.  If I wanted kids, I’d find a guy and spawn a few. I love animals, especially cats large and small, and would rather spend my time doing cat rescue and volunteering FPC than dealing with either children or men. Unfortunately working with the exotic felines wasn’t all picking up leopard shit, chopping up frozen horsemeat, and scouring sinks free of congealed chicken fat. It also meant patrolling the ‘zoo’ portion of the compound during the hours we were open to the public, making sure none of the visitors ran, screamed, tossed things into the cage, tried to pet the animals or otherwise harassed our feline residents.  And it also included docent duties, i.e. answering questions and giving tours to groups ranging from geriatric motorcycle clubs to Scout troops to classroom tours of all ages.            Usually one docent was enough to handle any one tour, but when there were twenty plus hyperactive first graders on the loose we worked in pairs. 

            Speaking of tours, the little natives were getting restless. Beth was focused on Dandy and spouting off dry statistics about the jaguar populations in South and Central America, while the teacher was too busy talking on her iPhone to notice one curly-haired blond, blue-eyed tot in the rear trying to climb the iron safety fence so she could “pet the kitty.” I scooped her up just as she reached the top of the fence and plunked her back down on the sidewalk.  Her face began that inevitable ‘just bit into a lemon’ collapse that all kids get when they’re about to let loose the mother of all tantrums. And me without my earplugs.

            I squatted down in front of Miss Curly Locks just as her mouth opened to begin squalling. “Can I show you something really neat?”  Without waiting for an answer (which would probably be an ear-piercing screech anyway), I reached out and pulled a battered, chipped and scarred blue sphere from what was originally a cement ashtray.            “Do you know what this is? ” I held the ball up in front of her.

            Shirley Temple circa 2010 shook her head so I rolled the ball over in my hand to expose three holes in the other side.

            “Well, it was a bowling ball. Then it became a toy for baby jaguars. Feel how hard this is.”   The other kids in the back crowded around, anxious to not be left out of the fun. I held the ball out so they could touch it, feel the cracks and gouges in the hard resin with their little pudgy fingers.  “Baby jaguars did this with their claws and teeth. So if a baby jaguar can do this to something as hard as a bowling ball … imagine what a grown up jaguar could do to your skin.”  I looked Miss Curly Locks straight in the eye. “This is why you don’t pet the kitties here, okay?”   She nodded, eyes round.

            “Well, I could … I could beat up the jaguar before it bit me!” This came from a pugnacious little ginger-haired boy who’d been reprimanded more than once for running, yelling at the cats, and wandering off.  I also happen to know he had a rock in his back jeans pocket and had been waiting for the chance to throw it at one of the cats without getting caught.

            “Really?” I turned my attention his way and locked gazes with him. I have a great hypno-stare.

             “Jaguars fixate,” I said. “Do you know what fixate means?” 

            I looked at the kids gathered around me and got mostly silence punctuated by a few shy giggles.  One little boy picked his nose with a single-mindedness that rivaled a jaguar’s.            

            “When a jaguar fixates, it means if it decides it wants something – anything –, it will go through whatever is in its way to get what it wants. If it wants your shoe, you’d better take it off ’cause a jaguar will take your foot off so it can play with the shoelaces. The jaguar is the only cat in the world known to fight to its own death before admitting defeat. Its jaws are strong enough to crush your head in one bite—” I gripped the little brat across his skull with my free hand to emphasize my point. “Trying to beat up a jaguar would be a very bad thing.”

            He gave me a sullen stare. “You’re stupid.”

            I dropped my voice so no one else but the kid could hear me. “I’m sure your parents would miss you when the jaguar ate you up, starting with your head. Crunch! Just like a piece of popcorn. Except with blood sauce instead of butter.”

            Just for added oomph – and because I could –, I sent an image into his head of just that. 

            His eyes went wide and he took two staggering steps backwards before falling on his butt on the grass next to the walkway. He was quiet the rest of the tour.

 

Friday the 13th!

As a non-superstitious person, I enjoy Friday the 13th. And while it’s not actually Friday the 13th, it IS the thirteenth day of my blog blitz!

Actually, like many people trying to balance day jobs and writing careers, I enjoy Fridays no matter what the date, especially after a rather frustrating work week.  Yesterday can be summed by “I’m exercising so much patience, I must be burning a buttload of calories.”

And this morning I’d discovered I’d indeed lost almost a pound!  HAH!  

Today I have yoga at noon and a much better attitude, not to mention incentive for continuing to exercise patience…  :-)

Day 12 – Research

Yikes, I was so busy a: taking care of kittens (okay, playing with them); b: putting Advantage and new collars/tags on our resident felines (got all but one of ’em!); and c: researching and writing on FIXATION last night that I totally forgot to put up a post for this morning!  And I don’t have any cute pictures on hand to toss up and caption so I’ll have to actually have… gasp… CONTENT.

Which brings me to the research portion of my c: category up there.

I’ve never been huge on preemptive research for my projects.  If I need to find out something specific, sure, I’ll grab a book or use Google and figure out what I need on the spot.  I’ve written a lot about what I know (places, subjects, clothes, food, zombies) and didn’t really need a lot of help getting going on stories or novels. I find the more I write, however, the more I’ve been relying on research to lend credibility to even the most fantastical plot elements (zombies, shamans, were-jaguars, flu vaccines gone REALLY wrong, and just how would the military deal with a zombie outbreak?) on one of my current projects, I’ve been using it to help spark ideas to expand a short story into a book.

FIXATION was originally a short story for the Ravenous Romance anthology FANGBANGERS (I’ll let you figure the title out) about a girl with psychic powers who encounters a shape-shifting jaguar shaman trapped at a place loosely based on the Exotic Feline Breeding Facility, where I’ve volunteered for over twelve years to varying degrees. I did a little research for the story on Meso-American cultures, trying to figure out where would be the best place to have my shaman originate, what culture I wanted to use as the historical starting point and inspiration for names/gods/goddesses/type of magic … stuff like that.  I spent about an hour trolling the web and our home library for what I needed.  And then the story pretty much wrote itself.

The book, however, has been proving more problematic because my writing muscles over the last few months have not been exercised as much as they’d been the previous three years.  For a number of reasons to be found in my blog archives, I pretty much took a break from writing with the exception of re-reading my first Ashley Parker (formerly Ashley Drake) novel with an eye towards revising for its paperback re-release with Titan Books.  So my brain has been very reluctant to get back with the program as far as coming up with fresh ideas.  I could make a bad joke about not needing fresh ideas for a zombie novel, but I’ll just let that one sit and rot.  HAH!

ANYway, a friend of mine (thank you, Maureen!) loaned me a bunch of books on South and Central American culture, shamans, spirit animals.  I’m halfway through JAGUAR (about Alan Rabinowitz, the man who established the world’s first jaguar preserve in Belize) and it’s fascinating, heart-breaking, and the most random bits have sparked ideas and filled in huge gaping plot holes.  The actual writing is still coming very slowly compared to my previous speed (I am a word count whore, okay?  I admit it!), but it’s coming and I’m putting the time in.

All in all my attitude towards research has changed and I’m no longer looking at it as taking away from my writing but rather a part of the process as a whole.  Of course, I have to watch that I don’t use it as an excuse to not put the time in on the actual writing and acquisition of precious word count.   I’m great at rationalizing and I do love to read.  As with many other things in life it’s all about balance.  And word count. And kittens. 

Day Eleven – Tsavo and Fairy Lights

I’ve been trying to set a mood at home conducive to writing.  Back when I lived in Glendale and had a house with a fireplace, I’d shut the curtains, put a firelog on and light candles.  Then I’d find the appropriate music and the creative portion of my brain would automatically click on.

As much as I love my house in by the beach in San Francisco, it does lack a fireplace.  It also has fewer places to place candles where they’re not a fire hazard due to our ‘bunctious felines. 

So instead of lighting multiple tealights and candles, I followed the decorating example of my bf Maureen (that’s ‘best friend’, not ‘boyfriend’ btw) and got creative with decorative string lights and fairy lights.  I’ve got several crackle glass mosaic jars throughout the house and each now has a coil of white fairy lights inside.  The effect is gorgeous and, while not totally cat-proof, a better choice than candles.  As you can see from this picture, Tsavo knows a good photo op when he finds one.  

 

Day Eight – Happy Car!

I am pleased to report Zhadi needed neither a priest or (nor?) an expensive electrical repair job.  Turns out the wonky readouts, sluggishness and sputtering were caused by (wait for it) … loose battery cables!  Mind you, she also needed a new fan, rear brakes (the shoes were cracked and threadbare), and freon, but the cost for all of this at the wonderful Lightfoot’s Garage (if you live anywhere near Lomita/Torrance in Southern California, go to this place) was about half the price it would have been at the dealership. Plus Josh (the mechanic who worked on Zhadi) gave me two free quarts of oil and a lot of advice as to the best way to keep her happy and running.  

So now I once again have air-conditioning, a non-Satanic readout on the dashboard and, best of all, working brakes!  Considering the hills in San Francisco, this last is a REALLY good thing.  

Day Seven – Why Car, Oh Why (Part II)

Thanks to my lovely boss and equally lovely co-workers, I ended up leaving at 1:30 on Thursday and driving down the 101, a much prettier drive with more places to stop along the way than the afore-mentioned evil I-5.  Zhadi (my car) started the drive like a champ… until I made my first pit-stop.  Then she decided to sputter and die as I was driving back to the freeway.  She started up again right away and we headed back out on the 101.  About twenty minutes later the speedometer and RPM meter dropped to zero and the emergency brake light came on. 

 Excuse me, car, the emergency brake is NOT on.  So… wtf?  

The engine didn’t sputter, though, so I kept driving.  About every ten minutes the readout on the dashboard did its little drop, then swung back up so I could see how fast I was actually driving.  I tried to ignore it.  Stopped for gas and coffee again… got back on the freeway on a very bumpy stretch… and the readout started dropping every other minute, along with the fuel gauge.  “You have a full tank!  Oops, no you don’t, you’re on empty!  Oops… full!   No, Empty!!!   WHEEEEEE!!!!”

So I’m thinking it’s either an electrical problem or demonic possession. 

I stopped in Santa Maria for gas and a break from the psychotic dashboard readout. I was tired, stressed and  fighting a nasty ass headache.  I put the gas pump in, ran to the bathroom, got back in the car and drove off … with the gas pump in the tank.  The loud KATHUNK clued me in.  The gas station owner was very sweet.  He told me they made the pumps and hoses breakaway because this happened a lot.  Then he gave me a free cup of coffee and a virtual pat on the head.  

Zhadi behaved like a champ the rest of the drive until I pulled up to my sister’s house.  Then the oil light flashed on.  Too tired to deal with it, I parked and called it a night. 

This morning I went out to check the oil and discovered I’d locked my keys in the car. An hour and one tow truck driver later, I retrieved the keys, added three quarts of oil and drove Zhadi to the garage in Torrance (the town where I was born, btw).  She is there now, being tended to by the wonderful honest mechanics at Lightfoot’s Garage.   They suspect the wacky readout was caused by loose battery cables… but I’m standing by with a young priest, an old priest and a dose of ‘The Power of Chrysler Compels You” just in case…

Day Six – Why, Car? WHY???!!!!

I am driving to Los Angeles after work today.  This means driving through rush hour traffic through San Jose and then driving on the evil I-5 through the central valley (one of the most godawful boring stretches of road ANYwhere) at night.  I’m going to L.A. for two reasons:

1. To emcee the first Twilight Tour of 2011 for EFBC/FCC (affectionately known as “The Cathouse”)

2. To take Zhadi, my beloved Saturn, to a trusted mechanic to have him tell me why the air-conditioner isn’t working after having two lines replaced a few months ago.  And to have him give her a general  going over.  Zhadi has over 200,000 miles on her and needs regular checkups to keep her in good shape.   I’m a very good car mom.  Zhadi was my first new car ever (under 4 miles when I drove her off the lot) and I have been diligent about taking her for all the recommended services and for checkups whenever anything feels/sounds even a bit off.  I love this car.  So you’d think she’d behave herself, y’know?

This morning, however, driving to West Portal in heavy traffic, the fan blower on the defroster started fading out along with the radio lights and the engine started stuttering, nearly dying.  I put her in ‘park’ and revved the engine, managing to keep her from dying on 19th Avenue, one of the heaviest traveled streets in San Francisco during commute time.  Gotta be the alternator, right?

Wrong.

Dave took her to a local mechanic with great reviews on YELP since our normal SF repair place of choice was closed and he checked the alternator … which is fine.  The mechanic said that with a car as old as Zhadi, little glitches are to be expected, he could spend hours trying to figure out what caused this particular glitch, costing me a lot of money, and at the end of the day still not know why it did what it did. It didn’t happen again after the incident on 19th.  This has happened once before, a few months back (something I just found out about today).  So two glitches a few months apart.  The mechanic told Dave he felt I could make the drive without worry.  

Just please oh please, Car Gods and beloved Zhadi, do NOT strand me on the I-5, especially outside the Harris Ranch cattle farm and source of most of the methane in the Central Valley…  Actually, please don’t strand me anywhere.  I’ve been a good mom, dammit!  

Day Five – You Never Know What’s Under Your Feet…

 Like Brigadoon from the mists, the wreck of the King Phillip, a 19th century sailing vessel, appears out of the sands of Ocean Beach now and again, lending even more romance to our foggy beach…   These pictures were taken two weekends ago with my iPhone.  I did a lot of wave dodging, running in when the waves receded to snap the photos and then back up to avoid getting totally soaked.