Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alpacas, Whales, and Falcons

What do alpacas, whales, and falcons have in common? Read on and you’ll find out.

When deciding my next book project a couple of years ago, I thought, “How can I visit Mom in Oregon and get a tax write off?”

Okay, I didn’t exactly approach it that way, but I’m a fiction writer. What do you expect? However, the answer to my fictional question was to propose a three-book series set in Southern Oregon:
God Gave the Song, released last October; Crossroads Bay, releasing the end of this month; and Fine, Feathered Friend, still in process. (Added note: These titles are now in eBook form and can be found on Amazon. Here is my page for easy access.)  

My octogenarian mother lives in Medford, a fairly large town near an intriguing hamlet called Ashland, where I set
God Gave the Song. Creative people live in Ashland. Weavers, glass blowers, jewelry makers—this charming little college town is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and apparently where old hippies retired and birthed baby hippies.

And they have alpacas. Lots of them. They would have to in order to keep all those weavers in business.

God Gave the Song is about two people with abandonment issues who learn to forgive with the help of a melodious alpaca. And yes, alpacas hum. Usually when distressed, but often when contented. At least, that’s what several experts told me, so I’m sticking to that story.

My first up-close experience with an alpaca happened only a few miles from my Colorado home on Stargazer Ranch in Loveland. Okay, Colorado has alpacas, too, but Mom doesn’t live here. 

Before my trip to Oregon I continued my research online. Google became my friend as I virtually visited other ranches. But what I found most helpful were blogs by alpaca enthusiasts. Ranch owners who had funny, poignant, and real stories to tell became fodder for much of the alpaca action in my story. This is including my vignette about the cria who enjoyed a game of “Let’s Bounce Off Mommy.”

Once the story was contracted, I visited Mom. Yay! And God, who just had to show off, orchestrated my visit to coincide with an alpaca show practically in her backyard. How cool is He? We wandered around talking to tons of participants, getting ideas on everything from dyes to diet. Speaking of diet, in the afore mentioned blog article, I bring up the fascinating discussion of . . . um . . . alpaca excrement. I hadn’t learned yet what many in the biz call “beans.” Because it looks like . . . um . . . a pile of beans. Oh yeah, that had to make it in the book.

Then, with the help of my Oregon family, we visited all three locations of this series.

The second book is
Crossroads Bay where a beautiful charter boat captain searches for lost treasure while her real prize is the caterer trying to keep up with her. This book continues Paul’s story, a supporting character in God Gave the Song. Meranda, who gives whale watching tours, causes some consternation in Paul’s life as he is a severe landlubber. Oh, the things we writers do to our characters to make their lives miserable. Heh-heh . . .

Loosely based on a variety of coastal towns, our tour continued as we traveled from Coos Bay to Port Orford where we visited several lighthouses. Cape Blanco won my vote for favorite lighthouse in a setting, largely because of its red brick interior. My characters chisel at that brick to find the treasure. Are they successful? Read the book to find out!

And finally, on to the setting of the third book,
Fine, Feathered Friend. An actress and a falcon handler find love with the help of a tattletale parrot named Cyrano. I took two stabs at researching the setting for this book. It takes place in Shady Cove, about fifty miles from Crater Lake, but the raptor sanctuary I wanted to use was in Eugene. So I moved it. Sometimes I think writers have more power than they deserve.

At the Cascades Raptor Center, I met Brian, a handler with every bit of passion that Tim, my character, possesses. He introduced me to several predatory birds, among them a red-tailed hawk, two vultures who sized me up for a snack, and an eagle re-learning how to fly. His most interesting story was of a dead mouse he’d forgotten in his sweatshirt pocket. Dead mice are used as Scooby Snacks for enticement and kept in a refrigerator on the premises. While looking for spare change at the grocery story, he pulled the mouse out of his sweatshirt pocket. Apparently the clerk was not amused. (Note the picture above and the lifeless fuzzy thing in his right hand—ew.)

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This article was originally posted at the Edit Cafe blog on March 22, 2010:
(Blog With A Giggle article was edited on August 14, 2014)


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Jan Parrish said...

Awesome. I can't wait to read them.