Werewolf Wednesday: Introducing Lucy Lowell and Xochitl Magaña

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What will hook the reader? Who knows? I just know what hooks me. And I’m a sucker for a good chase scene. I’m also a sucker for beginning in medias res — right in the middle of the action. No explanation needed. I’ll figure it out as I go along.

Jim Butcher does this brilliantly in his Harry Dresden novels – remember the flying monkeys at the beginning of Blood Rites? Genius.

When it came to introducing our protagonists in The Werewolf Whisperer: Book 1, Bonita and I absolutely had to go with a chase. It’s what Lucy and Xochitl’s lives have been all about — running toward or away from something. But we also wanted to establish a certain kind of tone — funny, nearly absurd, but with underlying danger and a palpable “something is very wrong here” feel:

Arms and legs pumping, lungs burning, Lucy Lowell sprinted up the Beverly Hills street due north toward Sunset Boulevard.

I hate when they don’t listen to me!

Xochitl Magaña, her long blond hair whipping her cheeks, ran hard on the parallel sidewalk and cursed loudly in Spanish. The awkward weight of her Remington 12 gauge forced Xochitl to lag just a few feet behind Lucy. A great runner, Xochitl was obviously furious she hadn’t caught up to Jimmy Stanton and Fat Dan Walters yet, but the shotgun was a necessity in case young Jimmy decided to bite his neighbor’s face off.

This opening image is a snapshot of what passes for Lucy and Xochi’s normal life, but it is already far from normal:

A group of lady speed-walkers raced by. Their leader, a fit, white-haired Beverly Hills matron sporting a leathery tan, waved to Lucy and Xochitl with great enthusiasm.

“Hi, girls!” the rail-thin lady shouted and smiled a big, perfect smile.
”Hello, Mrs. Siperstein!” Lucy returned the wave.
”My Maedel has been so good! No more counter surfing!” Mrs. Siperstein gave them a double thumbs up. “You just have to get The Werewolf Whisperer. The girls saved my life,” she instructed her gaggle of followers.

“Thanks for the endorsement!” Lucy shouted back to the passing throng. “Have a Werebeast-free day!”

“Really? Have a Werebeast-free day?” Xochitl asked, shaking her head slowly.

The beauty of the Beverly Hills setting is in direct contrast to the chaos teeming behind each pristine door. Lucy and Xochi try to help people whose loved ones have turned furry but have retained at least a bit of their original personality. Our girls’ help is appreciated by some. Not so much by others:

“My wife and I just don’t know how to thank you for today.” Mr. Stanton started walking toward the door. “We learned a lot. And we appreciate how busy you must be.” Lucy’s eyes flicked to Xochitl who gave a tiny shrug. 
”Everybody said ‘Get The Werewolf Whisperer.’ We couldn’t stand the thought of putting him down.” Frank Stanton stopped; his words hung in the air.

Apparently unable to stand the silence, Maggie Stanton cleared her throat. “Jimmy’s part of the family. Almost like he was still our son,” she said with a quiet but firm voice.

Lucy saw Frank look at his wife with unadulterated hatred. Xochitl tugged on the front of her vest, doing nothing to hide the disgusted look on her face.

“Now that we know where everybody stands,” Lucy said and returned to sit on the leather couch. “Let me give you the honest truth. We’ve seen this before in Ferals like Jimmy.”

She thought about her next words carefully and decided that giving the worst-case scenario was the only way to convince the father to give up his son.

“Mr. Stanton, keeping Jimmy would be like living with a tiger. It would be a lot of work, and it could go fine for a while. But one day, you will not be able to control his behavior. And that’s gonna be a really bad day.” Lucy stopped herself from saying more.

“Why don’t you send him to our camp?” Xochitl tried to sound cheerful about the prospect. “That’s only a couple of hours from here. It’s up in the mountains. You could visit—”

“Let me be clear,” Frank Stanton said and took a protective step forward. “My son, our son, will stay with us. We will take care of him. Here.” He looked to Maggie for support. “There’s a doctor in West Hollywood who specializes in declawing and defanging Hounds. You can’t tell me Jimmy will be dangerous to us without his claws and teeth.”

“You stupid son of a bitch!” Lucy jumped up from the couch, and stormed over to stand toe to toe with Frank Stanton. “Why don’t you amputate his fucking arms and legs while you’re at it!”

Jimmy yipped and scrabbled under the coffee table, sending the Limoges china clattering to the floor.

“I think that will be all Ms. Lowell.” Maggie Stanton’s silken voice rose in admonishment. “Ms. Magaña?”

“We take cash,” Xochitl replied, her tone unflappable. She took Lucy’s arm and pulled her partner toward the foyer. “We’re done helping you.”

Lucy walked straight to the front door, knowing she would punch Frank Stanton in the face if she as much as turned around to glance at Jimmy.

Outside the bright February sun delivered a sky so blue it seemed to mock Lucy’s dark mood. She drank in the lush, sweet exotic-flower scent that permeated Beverly Hills. Xochitl slammed the Mission-style front door, making the hinges rattle.

“Cash in hand, chica.” Xochitl waved a stack of bills in Lucy’s face. “Can’t save ’em all.”

An enormous crash sounded from inside the house. Lucy and Xochitl made no move to turn around but continued to El Gallo, their bright orange ’66 Olds Toronado.

“They’re screwed!” Xochitl said as she opened the trunk to place her shotgun next to the rest of their arsenal.

And so ends the beginning.

Like what you see? The Werewolf Whisperer  is available at Amazon http://amzn.to/12OTMIr

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Werewolf Wednesday: World Building

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One of the big thrills of writing a fantasy novel is creating a world that doesn’t exist. One of the challenges is letting the reader in on the new world without bogging down the story with oodles of unnecessary details.

It’s a balancing act.

In The Werewolf Whisperer, we had to get our reader up to speed quickly. We constructed a back-and-forth of past and present day chapters (more about our structure later) to help layer the world building, but we didn’t want to be oblique about the rules our world.

In the real world — if we’re all perfectly honest —if you need to find out something quickly, you look on Wikipedia. So, we thought, would people in our urban fantasy version of California. When it came to defining the trigger of the Werebeast epidemic, the Kyon Virus, we also turned to Wikipedia:

Kyon Virus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Kyon Virus (also known as KV, Wereflu, or The Affliction) is a sudden-onset viral infectious disease that attacks the entire body, transforming the muscular and skeletal structures of the host. Typically, the first signs of KV begin with extreme muscle and joint pain and a temporary loss of equilibrium, followed by the development of canine-like features. Symptoms include excessive body hair, unnaturally vibrant colored eyes, lupine snout, sharp fang-like teeth, over-developed musculature, clawed hands and feet and preternatural strength. There may be a loss of inhibitions in the Afflicted, and in some cases, KV may cause extreme aggressive behavior.

The Kyon Virus manifests in hosts in a variety of ways, leading to the three-tiered classification of the Were: Hound, Feral and Werebeast. For further classification information see Lucy Lowell. See TheWerewolf Whisperer. See Xochitl (Socheel) Magaña (Mah-gah-nyah).

No known cure for the Kyon Virus exists, nor can the symptoms be treated. It is estimated at the initial outbreak (see K-Day) one in twenty Californians contracted the disease.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind. Information fluctuates, changes, evolves. What is known one day can blow apart the next. At the beginning of book one, The Werewolf Whisperer, this is what the world knows about the cause of the “werewolf apocalypse.” Is it true? That remains to be seen . . .

If you are intrigued, Bonita and I have a little surprise for you. We are celebrating the 2nd anniversary of book 1, so this week (until 10/21), The Werewolf Whisperer is free on Amazon. Just click the link, download and enjoy. And if you want to help us out a little leave a review.

https://www.amazon.com/Werewolf-Whisperer-Book-ebook/dp/B00OAKIPX0

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#NaNoWriMo

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Have your heard about National Novel Writing Month? Have you tried it?

NaNoWriMo challenges you to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November — pacing at around 1,666 words per day.

I’ve attempted two rounds:

Last November, I didn’t sign up on the http://nanowrimo.org website, but I kept track of my word count and tweeted out my progress. Why was I too chicken to sign up? I think I told myself that filling out even one form would take away from my writing time. And I just wanted to try finishing a story in a month — no commitment, no guilt.

I completed my story by the end of November (and edited it throughout December). I had a great time exploring this side episode in the epic fantasy universe my friend Carol and I have been working on for years (more on that later). At a little over 20,000 words, my little holiday themed tale wasn’t a word count winner, but I was very happy with the result. Still am.

In July, I tried using Camp NaNoWriMo to jump-start a YA science fiction novel I have been thinking about for a while. This time, I did sign up. The http://campnanowrimo.org site is user friendly, and I like the word count tracking. I liked the idea of “cabins,” but in reality couldn’t keep up with the chats. I stalled halfway through the month, and only completed 21,917 words of the novel — barely getting the characters out of Act I. Something wasn’t right in the story, and I couldn’t move forward until I figured out what. I’m still trying to figure it out.

There’s a big difference between the first and second experience. Last November, I didn’t meet the 50,000-word goal, but I finished something significant (for me). In July, I ended up abandoning my story. No word goal met (I had set 50,000 for myself) and nothing completed.

November felt good.

July felt pretty awful.

And to be perfectly honest, both times I was also writing other things. I have two different series that I am working on with two different writing partners. That work always comes first.

NaNoWriMo is just for me. A side job, maybe. But I’ve learned that I’m a better writing partner when I’m working on something else on my own — makes me less argumentative.

And here’s what I learned from my two NaNoWriMo experiences: I am an outliner. I am a very detailed outliner. The difference between the November story and the July story was how prepared I was going in. The July attempt stalled because I only had a detailed outline to the end of Act I, then I thought I could wing it . . . I couldn’t.

So here we are in October, and I’ve started peeking at the National Novel Writing Month website again. To my delight, I noticed a section on NaNoWriMo prep — http://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep and a free webinar run by Grant Faulkner, the executive director of NaNoWriMo, and featuring freelance editor Michael Rowley and author Darynda Jones.

Great stuff! Really worth watching. Check it out on youtube: http://bit.ly/2dUnp37

I really appreciated Grant and Michael sharing so much great information, but I found Darynda particularly inspiring. She’s described her very detailed outlining method and even offered to email a sample to any viewer who expressed interest. So generous! I contacted her right away, and she sent three outline samples back in a matter of minutes. Shout out to Darynda Jones, my NaNoWriMo prep hero! http://www.daryndajones.com

Needless to say, I’ve signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo again. But this time I am going to be as prepared as I can be. It’s only halfway through October, and I feel I have time to get my next NaNoWriMo project ready — as long as I pick my project and soon.

I am torn between returning to the science fiction story, working on a short novel in the epic fantasy world, or telling the background story of a pivotal character in The Werewolf Whisperer series. Maybe I should roll some dice.

The point is — I’m going all in. My mission: complete a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 on November 30. I appreciate the support NaNoWriMo is offering, and I will be tweeting out my word counts.

Wish me luck.

Werewolf Wednesday: The Beginning

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The Vitruvian Wolf

Two years ago, my writing partner and good friend Bonita and I released our first book, The Werewolf Whisperer.

The story evolved from a web series idea, which we conceived of as a cross between Supernatural and Shaun of the Dead in goofy 5-7 minute episodes. Once we decided to write a series of novels instead, we unearthed many more layers to our story.

The Werewolf Whisperer still has a baseline of humor, gallows humor really. But now, two novels and two novellas deep into the Werewolf Whisperer world, everything has gotten far more serious for Lucy and Xochitl. Over the next few Wednesdays, I want to share a few excerpts from the books and maybe some thoughts about how it’s all coming together:

Prologue

Without warning, the creature turned sharply away from Lucy and bore down on Hanna at a dead run.

“Do it!” Hanna’s voice had a hard edge.

Lucy’s finger squeezed the trigger. A single shot rang out. The creature dropped. It was over.

That’s it. That’s the prologue. Originally in the web series, this scene was quite a bit longer in the first, second, third, fourth and probably fifth draft of the novel. Still only about a page and a half, our set up scene smacked right into a reader preference trend: the loathing of  prologues.

A lot of our research seemed to confirm that readers either skip prologues or resent them.

The prologue had to go.

But it couldn’t go entirely, so we went straight to the heart of the scene. And in a bold move – it really seemed bold at the time – we cut everything else.

The prologue comes  back in the series, again and again – a nightmarish clip of memory set on repeat. Its brevity has made it more visceral for us, a tool to use to connect past sins with present dilemmas.

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https://www.amazon.com/Werewolf-Whisperer-Book-ebook/dp/B00OAKIPX0

Check out our website at:

http://www.werewolfwhisperer.com

Brown Dog Dreams

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The little brown dog curls up tighter than a ball of yarn, her heavy lids attracted to each other with magnetic force.

She falls into a deep comatose sleep.

Groans rumble from her throat after a moment or two and echo through the den at intervals metered in puppy dreams.

Deep guttural groans rumble through her, speaking of hard labor in the gulags, distant perils on ancient whalers off the eastern coast, and hot sticky asphalt shimmering cruelly and burning soles.

Heartbreaking, incongruous sounds that cry for help.

Irresistible.

“Are you all right, my puppy?”

Arms curl around the skinny body, kisses cover furry brow.

Her response: a long contented yawn, chewing of the air and a puzzled smile as if to say, “You woke me up and I was fast asleep.”

 

Never Forget

My husband wrote a memory, a moment we shared in New York on top of the World Trade Center before the world changed:

Even having grown up in NY, I have a handful of unusual personal connections to the World Trade Center. The very first time I stepped foot in the city (I grew up on Long Island), I toddled — as you do as a toddler — along with my family to the observation deck; I also spent an entire surreal day there in the smoke and mayhem of the 1993 bombing. But my fondest memory is my last, and what would be my unwitting farewell to the iconic landmark. In late summer 2000, at the dawn of the Twin Towers’ final year and during our first year together, I wanted Camilla to see the view from the top. After dinner in the Village, we made the trip up to The Greatest Bar on Earth for a nightcap. On the south side of the North Tower, the ironically named lounge — because you hardly felt like you were on Earth when there — offered a stunning view of the South Tower, the rest of Lower Manhattan, and New York Harbor with its teeny, tiny Statue of Liberty, somehow just as majestic in miniature. The real showstopper though was the north-facing view from the adjoining Windows on the World. The restaurant had a policy however that you couldn’t enjoy its visual splendors without dining there — and cocktails next door didn’t qualify. But one could hardly make the vertical pilgrimage with one’s future wife and not show her the goods. So I boldly snuck — as you do as a New Yorker — with said future wife in tow (“Act like you own the place and follow me…”) through a partition toward the banquet rooms. The restaurant had catering spaces on the north side with the same views. We strode down the hall past a kindly man who was buffing the floors and into a cavernous and thoroughly empty ballroom. While I’d technically seen this view before, emotionally I hadn’t. Through the floor to lofty ceiling windows was the most magical image of my city I’d ever beheld. After collecting our jaws from their recent trip to the carpet, we danced. Without the accompaniment of music, we danced. Without knowledge of the future but with love in the present, we danced. We danced.

-P.J. Ochlan, 2016

 

 

The Seething Brain

 

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I’m Camilla, and I called my blog The Seething Brain because of this Shakespeare quote:

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream V, 1

I don’t think Theseus meant that in a flattering way. But to me, it explains a lot:

I’ve always loved stories, whatever the delivery system: books, TV, movies, games, visual art, dance, food — yes, food. I see story in everything. But mostly, those stories stayed in my seething brain.

I’ve had a lot of different jobs, seen a lot of things, and spent a lot of time not writing. I’d write the occasional short story, often unfinished, rarely edited, and I’d tuck it away in a drawer or lose it on some floppy disc or CD.

It wasn’t until I made room in my life for writing — that meant dropping two of my three jobs, and saying goodbye, for good, to auditioning. Turns out that I can’t pursue both acting and writing full time — some people can; I can’t. And I don’t want to.

My seething brain went to work and spun story idea after story idea, which I inflicted on my poor husband and my poor friends on endless dog walks. I wrote down some of the ideas. I read every book on writing I could find.

Some shift, some combination of all the pushing and trying, led to a short film script: a story about life, death, moments of happiness and my dogs.

And a crazy thing happened, the short film shoot led to an idea. The idea led to a never-realized web series and a writing partnership. The partnership led to a book, and a then series. And another series. And another series.

I hope to add something useful to the discussion of the writing process in my blog, even if it’s just bits from my own experience. But one thing I know for sure, I went from someone who was too paralyzed by life to finish a short story to someone who writes a lot…and I mean a lot. Whatever comes of it now, I did that. And if I did it, so can you.

Seethe on brains. Seethe on.