Okie dokie folks. This will be my last 20 questions post until after NaNoWriMo. Yup. I’m gonna try my hand at putting down a first draft in 30 days! Wish me luck!
Well, onto my spotlighted guest for today. C.M. Barrett is a self proclaimed slave. Yes. A slave to the feline race. *sigh* aren’t most of us? 😉 She has two books available in her Dragons Guide and both look to be amazing reads! So let’s get to the fun part! Getting to know her better!
1.) Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I live in upstate New York, near Woodstock, in the woods. My immediate environment provides me with writing material every day. Since many animals are characters in my fantasy books, I spend time (under no circumstances to be confused with goofing off to avoid writing:)) watching the turkeys and deer and other animals.
The natural world is a great teacher, and when I realized how years of living in Manhattan had dulled my senses, I discovered one of my major writing themes.
2.) How long have you been writing?
Forever. I got steered early on into journalism, beginning with high school papers, on to alternative journals, and nine-to-fiving it with technical writing as a supplement to book design.
I left the nine-to-five world and opened a crystal/metaphysical store in Greenwich Village. This got me into teaching and writing on spiritual/personal growth subjects. When I moved my business onto the Internet, I began developing courses that could be delivered by email and putting out monthly email newsletters.
I’ve continued with that writing and probably always will—I have a book about holistic treatment for cats and dogs, entitled Animals Have Feelings, Too— but the country life stirred up the desire to write fiction.
3.) Do you have a preferred genre that you read? Is it the same as what you write?
I read a huge variety of fiction: classics, mysteries, mainstream, and fantasy. The latter two are my chosen fields. I’ve published two in a fantasy series, Big Dragons Don’t Cry and Dance with Clouds. At this moment, I’m working on a novel set in the 1960s and 1970s.
4.) What is the title of your book and where can it be found?
Amazon Big Dragons Don’t Cry
5.) Describe your novel in 15 words or less.
I needed one more word. “A dragon is destined to save humans who want to kill him. It could be difficult.”
6.) Where did the inspiration for your story come from?
I’ve touched on that above. The setting was inspired by the Florida Everglades, especially in terms of its endangered status. The threatened swamp in Big Dragons Don’t Cry provided a focal point to bring the main characters together.
7.) How long did it take you to complete this novel from concept to published?
More years than I like to say. For a long time, writing it was like taking a summer vacation, kind of an annual event. My second novel took about a year, which may mean I’ve learned something about writing or at least about discipline and focus.
8.) When you sit down to write, how does that process go? Do you outline or just let it evolve?
I’m an evolutionist. I establish the setting and the basic elements of the characters. Then they talk to me and tell me what to do. I’m mostly obedient.
9.) Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?
Plot developments can frustrate me, but I’ve learned to be patient and, again, let the characters tell me what their problems are and how they’re going to solve them.
10.) Are there any aspects that you simply glide through?
It has a lot more to do with how receptive I am on a given day than on any aspect of writing. I find that the more I allow ideas to come when I’m not sitting at the computer, the more smoothly the writing will go the next day.
11.) What sets your book apart from others in the same genre?
Sometimes I find fantasy over-serious, almost grim. I write about serious subjects, but I try to do so with a light touch and as much humor as the subject matter will bear.
12.) What is the location of your story setting and why did you choose that place/time?
In addition to the swamp, the location of the first book is a moderate-to-warm climate with good growing conditions. Part of its importance is that is was uninhabited by humans until the former slaves settled it. This, to me, gives the settlers a pioneering flavor.
To elaborate, this question gives me the opportunity to say why I chose to write fantasy. World building really stretches the imaginative muscles, and I’ve created several now for the series.
13.) Your main characters, tell me about them. What is their back story? How did they find themselves where they are now?
Druid, a dragon, found himself alone (in terms of other dragons) in a swamp after his parents abandoned him with the promise that he would find his destiny in solitude. He’s been resenting this for about 500 years. He knows the humans in the nearby country hate and fear him, and he returns the favor.
Tara is born from a carefully planned mating of a royal cat from a neighboring country and a female alley cat with lots of attitude, which she transmits to Tara in mother’s milk. The kitten is all for her destined role of raising the status of cats, but she does it her own way.
Serazina, a human female with some very awkward gifts of reading hearts and minds, has to hide her abilities in a country where mental control and discipline reign supreme. However, if she doesn’t reveal her talents, the country may be taken over by a ruthless opportunist.
Phileas, Guardian of Oasis, is Mr. Mental Control. He scorns animals, fears the dragon, and thinks Serazina is nothing but trouble until he realizes that he and his country need her gifts.
14.) I’d like to know more about your book. Tell me all about it.
Take the above characters and mix them into a stew of mutual fear, loathing, and mistrust. Add the ruthless opportunist, who wants to turn Druid’s swamp into valuable real estate. Add also a nation of humans who have been taught to suppress feelings, intuition, and inspiration. Stir up fear of the dragon and suspicion that the Guardian is a closet dragon lover. Heat at a high temperature. Serves countless readers.
15.) What do you want readers to take from your writings?
The author John Gardner said that the first business of a writer is to entertain. That is my motto and mantra. If I’m not laughing at least part of the time I’m writing, I’m not fulfilling my mission. Fiction may instruct and enlighten, but it also needs to provide an escape from current reality, and what better way to do that than through fantasy?
16.) Are more books to follow or is this a stand alone?
This is the first of a series of at least 4 books.
17.) Where can readers find you?
My website is adragonsguide.com
I have 2 blogs. One is dragonfirethecreativespark.blogspot.com. This blog focuses on creativity. I host other authors for interviewing purposes and also post about creativity.
The 2nd blog is catsrulehumans.blogspot.com. This is written by Tara, the kitten (who grows up during the series) and gives cats advice on how to educate and discipline their humans.
18.) What are 3 random things about yourself that readers might like to know.
1. My mother was born in Ireland, and, as a result, I am a passport-carrying Irish citizen who has been to Ireland 7 times.
2. In junior high school I won an award for a poem about good posture.
3. As part of my own life as a human ruled by cats, I just had a short story called “Cats in Command” published. You can read it at curiosityquills.com/cats-in-command-a-short-story
19.) What do you do in your down time? For fun.
Writing is more fun than anything. I also read with great extravagance, and I have been painting in watercolor for a long time, not for fame or fortune, but for fun. Painting also gives me a different angle on creativity.
I must not omit mentioning that often I simply sit in my chair and let one of my three cats get cozy with me (especially during winter).
20.) How about letting me have a sneak peak at chapter one?
Orion stood on a ridge overlooking the city. As he swayed, exhausted and hungry, the threads of its winding, dirty streets seemed to tighten around his neck in a noose that limited both breath and freedom.
His sister, Sekhmet, nuzzled him with her black nose. “Lost in thought?”
“Wishing you’d waited a year or so to haul me away from the good life.”
“We thought we’d better get on the road before you wore out your equipment, Mr. Tomcat Stud.”
Orion’s other sister, Bast, trotted toward them, her white fur gleaming in starlight. “We’ve come to the right place. The pull is strong.”
“Praise the Many-Taloned One,” Sekhmet said. “My paws are killing me.”
The lights of the city flickered in eye-burning imitation of the starry sky. “It’s not going to be easy,” Orion said. “The smell alone makes me gag. It’s not just the physical stench, but also the foul odor of self-righteousness and fear. And some of the fear is mine. I’ve never failed before.”
Sekhmet raised her ears. “It’s hard to fail when you mount a willing cat. I’m glad you realize you’re facing a far bigger challenge. It gives me hope that you’ve become something more than a swaggering young tom. She of the Rough Tongue is molding you into the cat you were always meant to be.”
“I don’t know about Her rough tongue, but I’ve never doubted yours.”
Bast growled softly. “Enough. Orion, you have to guide us now.”
Panic bristled his fur. “I don’t know; I can’t feel anything.”
Bast scraped her claws against a flat stone. “Then ask to feel. Have you forgotten you were chosen for more than shining fur and golden eyes?”
“And equipment,” Sekhmet said.
He turned his back on them and washed himself briskly to hide his shame. Any cat could find the guidance of the Long-Whiskered One, but Orion’s ability to sink into a trance had separated him from the other males of his generation and guided his reluctant paws to this cold, windy, hilltop. How could he forget the first lesson all kittens learned? When you got lost, She would always nudge you home.
Orion closed his eyes and began to meditate on golden fur and eyes. The rasp of Her tongue shivered through him, massaging away the tension that had tightened his limbs, clearing away the resistance and fear that had hidden his path, and even temporarily blurring the memory of well-fed, sleek females.
The way became clear, but one final moment of doubt kept him in place. “Are humans worth our sacrifice?”
“Not yet, they aren’t,” Bast said, “but we’re weaving a dream.”
Orion loped down the hill, praying that the gathering strands wouldn’t knot into a noose.
* * *
Emerald rubbed against the rough wood of the grain warehouse floor, howling in agony.
“If you keep carrying on like that, every tom in the city is going to knock at the door,” Misha said.
“You talk as if it never happened to you, old lady. You know some magic to scratch the itch, tell me.”
“No magic, child. It’s a queen’s way to want kittens and a tom’s way to know when she wants them. Neither of them looks at the big picture. That’s why this city is filled with half-starved cats too weak to run away from humans.”
Emerald shuddered. Her mother, Hester, had been one of the victims, taken away with Emerald’s littermates. “Could have been me.”
“Could have been. If you hadn’t been such a mischief-maker, climbing to the top sack of grain that terrible night, you wouldn’t be flicking your tail and shuffling your hind legs right now. You want your own kittens to be drowned or tortured? That why you want to bring them into this sorry slum? The world is cruel to a cat and her kittens, except in the Green.”
Fur and whiskers, Misha would pounce on any excuse to trot out that old catnip fantasy handed down from mother to daughter, but the soft hum that filled her voice soothed Emerald.
“Tell me about the Green, might take my mind off this awful itch, pass the time, anyway.”
Misha closed her eyes and slowly rocked back and forth. “Somewhere, maybe not far away, might be over the next hill if we could only climb it, is a world where everything’s green, bright and beautiful as your own eyes.”
Though Emerald tried to imagine that, she saw instead the pale, sickly stalks of grass that grew up through the cracks in the sidewalk and the pointed dark green leaves with yellow flowers that turned to white fur. Green everywhere? Not likely.
“And fat, tasty mice that eat fresh seeds and grains, and more kinds of birds than you could count, and never a hungry moment.”
“Maybe some, but the Green is so big you can get away from them easy. And they got their own business to be going about. They got no time for idle viciousness.”
Emerald sighed, the itch beginning to subside. “Tell me more about what it looks like.”
“Flowers, not in some tiny window box or fenced-off piece of earth, but growing everywhere and smelling nice. The ground is soft on your paws, and a breeze always ruffles your fur and makes it clean. The Green has big, tall trees whose branches touch the sky. It’s quiet there: no cars and trucks and footsteps all the time day and night, just the wind blowing through the leaves to sing you to sleep.”
Emerald felt her tortured body begin to relax as waves of sleep rocked it. No way Green could come out of this hard, concrete world, but it was a comforting dream.
When she woke up, she caught a mouse and drank some water from the basin the humans used. She wished they’d drive their truck in to unload sacks of grain. Misha always saved a few mouse carcasses for their arrival, lining them up by the door. They would say, “Good kitties” and pour some milk into a bowl.
Emerald wanted the cool wetness of milk. The desire flickering inside her awakened the deeper urge, and she started to twitch and feel crazy again. As she dragged across the floor she heard a body thump onto the top layer of bags.
“Girl, you’re giving off a sweet perfume,” a deep voice purred, “and I’ve got what you need.”
“She doesn’t need anything but to be left alone,” Misha growled. “You hightail it out of here.”
“Are you the chaperone, Grandma? Better go hide behind the pile of bags before you see something that might make you remember better times—though you never had anycat as good as Senti.”
“Good? You got some delusions. Try being on the receiving end of all those barbs tearing a poor girl to shreds. Don’t be talking about a tom’s style, because they don’t have any. You listening to me, Emerald? You think you’re hurting now? You haven’t come to the beginning of pain.”
“Misha’s old and dried up,” Senti said, hopping down to the floor. “You listen to me, Emerald; I’m going to take you out of your misery.”
Misha leapt between them. “This girl is too young and too small to be having kittens. She could lose the litter and maybe her own life. You want to be responsible for that?”
Senti paused to consider. “Responsibility and tomcat are two words that hardly ever shake paws. Don’t try to talk decency to me when my hormones are jumping. Don’t try to stand in the way, either.”
* * *
“I don’t like the looks of this neighborhood,” Bast said, flicking gobs of mud off her white paws.
Sekhmet curled her lip. “Did you expect to find the Chosen’s mother in a nice, clean parlor, lapping daintily at a plate of gourmet food? The Prophecy said that though her heritage is royal, her circumstances would be lowly. In a place like this, you find cats with backbone.”
“And dirty paws.” Bast flicked again.
Orion sniffed. The scent grew stronger with every paw step—not just the delicious aroma of a female in heat, but, oddly, the fragrance of white-throated flowers and fat mice and earth bursting with life. He quickened his pace when he saw the warehouse.
“Go up those metal steps; they lead to an open window,” he said.
“We’ll let you introduce yourself first,” Sekhmet said.
Orion stood on the window ledge and watched an elderly cat hiss at a white tom.
“You’ll have to come past me, Senti. You want it bad enough to kill for it?”
Orion took advantage of the tom’s hesitation to vault through the window. He saw the thin alley cat crouched in the corner. The contrast between her scrawniness and the padded hips of the females whose shining fur he’d recently been rubbing depressed him. Royalty rarely masqueraded as a bag of bones.
He changed his mind when she looked up. “You here to join in the fun?” she spat. The green fire in her eyes flashed through Orion, awakening something deeper than lust. It aroused the all-pervasive glow that filled him when the Mother wrapped Her shining warmth around him. He longed for this skinny queen, as he had never desired a female. His tongue burned with the urge to lick her dusty fur until it gleamed. He wanted to see her sides swell with his kittens, watch them tumble into life, and help them grow.
These alien thoughts told him that, whether or not he killed his rival in a mating battle, his careless youth would die, and that would only be the beginning of the changes. His mission would demand far more from him than he’d ever given to anything. He was tempted to back out of the warehouse and run back to freedom, but Bast and Sekhmet were behind him, hissing for him to get on with it.
Long-tailed One, guide me, he prayed.
This is the easy part. Wait until you really need to ask Me for guidance. Now you’re on your own.
Orion narrowed his eyes and surveyed the scene, considering the obstacles. He leapt on top of the piled bags and growled at the tom. “Get away from her.”
Senti hissed. “Don’t know who you are, but this isn’t your turf. Go find your own mate.”
Orion hopped down lightly to the floor. “The elder appealed to your sense of common decency. That didn’t work.”
“Damn right, because you know as well as I do that a tomcat has no morality. You’re not going to jump her bones if you get the chance?”
That, of course, was exactly what Orion planned to do, and he wanted to get rid of the other tom with a minimum of violence. He tried to give him an easy out. “I would prefer not to cause you harm, and I must warn you that I’ve never been defeated in a mating battle.”
“There’s a first time for everything, big-talking foreigner.” The white cat began to puff up, hissing slowly.
Orion bared his teeth, and his inflated tail twitched back and forth. Senti was readying himself for a pounce when Orion leapt at his throat.
Senti, more agile than Orion would have suspected, twisted out of range and countercharged. Orion slashed at the other cat and leapt again. This time, using a zigzag pattern he’d perfected, he changed directions in mid-air and landed beyond Senti. Before the other cat could whirl around, Orion, in a parody of the mating position, gripped the nape of his neck, and pressed him against the floor.
The young female gasped. “Don’t kill him.”
Bast and Sekhmet appeared at the top of the bags. “It would be better if the Chosen’s journey doesn’t begin in a pool of blood,” Bast said.
“It certainly won’t be as messy,” Sehkmet said. “Beat it,” she told Senti. “You’ve gotten off easy.”
Orion released the white cat, who looked at him with dignity. “Nice leap. I’ll have to practice it.” He darted up to the open window and left.
Sekhmet turned her attention to the young queen. “Are you sure she’s the one? She’s awfully skinny.”
The cat arched her back and hissed. “So would you be if you lived on the thin pickings here. Who are you, to be coming in here with this attitude?”
Bast nodded. “Well spoken. Sekhmet, you’ve got to admit she has a proud bearing and plenty of spirit. You said this place would breed cats with backbone.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to see a cat whose backbone is practically sticking out of her skin. She needs to have more flesh if she’s going to have healthy kittens.”
The young female spat at them, her eyes fiery green. “Since when does a tom bring a selection committee with him?”
As the adrenaline of battle mode drained from Orion, fierce desire reappeared. Why didn’t all these hissing females go off and hunt for mice? His plan had been sex first, explanations afterwards.
The old female bared worn teeth. “Answer Emerald’s question. Who are you?”
“Emerald, is it?” Sekhmet said. “Lovely name and quite fitting, but if you want healthy kittens, like any queen, you’re in the wrong place. The Chosen could have a better start than this place.”
Her glance took in the grain and mouse droppings spilled on the floor, the black mold on one wall from a leak, the dust, the grime, and the dim red flash of rats’ eyes.
Misha snarled. “Don’t you dare slink in here like you own the world and trash the place where I’ve been living for years. Got a roof, doesn’t it? Plenty of mice, too. Do you have anything better where you come from? Don’t have to tell me you’re foreigners, although you’re the first fancy-assed cats who ever tried to bullshit me with stories about the Chosen. What’s your scam? Are you passing yourselves off as the messengers of the Prophecy?”
Orion and his sisters looked at each other. Familiarity with the Prophecy virtually guaranteed that these alley cats, despite their unlikely appearance, had royal blood.
“No pretense involved,” he said. “That’s who we are.”
Misha yawned. “Right, and I’m the High Priestess of the Alley.”
Sekhmet looked ready to talon the old cat, but Bast shoved her. “Forgive us, Elder. We’ve had a long journey, and rest will restore our manners. Since you’ve mentioned the prophecy, I’d be honored to hear what you know of it.”
Misha raised her head with dignity. “I’ll tell you the story, as long as you don’t say I’m an ignorant alley cat for getting it all wrong.”
Bast flicked her tail at Sekhmet. “We’ll listen to your words with respect.”
“All right. My ancestors, who chose to travel with the first humans who came here, taught that when cats are as low down on their haunches as they can be, a kitten will be born of the royal line—and that’s me and Emerald, whether you believe it or not—who’ll teach them to be proud of themselves. Depending on how things go, she’ll either teach the humans to respect us or have them wiped out.”
“We lean towards the first solution,” Sekhmet said, “but we’re flexible.”
She padded toward Misha and touched noses with her. “I regret that we started off on the wrong paw. Let’s begin again. We, too, are of the ancient royal line. Bast, my sister, and I, Sekhmet, are the Seekers. With Orion, our brother, we’ve been traveling for weeks, looking for the one who will give birth to the Chosen. Orion’s role in the Prophecy should be obvious.”
“I’m not just the stud,” he growled.
Misha looked back and forth between him and Emerald. “Am I hearing this right? Are you saying that Emerald is part of the plan?
Sekhmet nodded. “According to Not-Just-the-Stud, she’s the one we’ve been seeking.”
* * *
They all stared at Emerald. She lifted her dragging butt and hissed at them. “Is this your idea of a joke? Is this like the human saying, ‘Nice kitty,’ and then starting a torture trip? Because if you’re telling me that an alley cat who’s never been more than two blocks from this warehouse is part of some damn Prophecy, you’re seriously messed up.”
Orion turned the full strength of his gaze on her, and she was ready to take back everything she’d said. The sight of him took her over the top, transforming raw desire into a hunger she’d never known. She wanted to rub her cheek against his gleaming, striped fur. She longed for his teeth to bite into the nape of her neck and to feel his lean, muscular weight pinning her down.
If he were part of the story she’d stay tuned in a little longer.
“You never told her?” Bast asked Misha.
“We have to get along with our neighbors,” she said. “A cat who sets herself above the rest doesn’t get along too well. A mother will tell her kittens when they’re grown, so that they’ll be prepared if the Prophecy unfolds within their lifetimes. I was close to telling Emerald. I should have. She never would have let Senti near her.”
“But you were ready to fight to save her,” Orion said. “That shows breeding.”
She hissed at him. “That’s what anycat would do to save the life of one too young for kittens. I’ll fight you, too, royal or not.”
“No need,” Sekhmet said. “We all want to see Emerald in better health before she has kittens.”
Bast interrupted her. “Speaking of health, I’m getting a little hungry, so let’s wrap up this story. Misha, I don’t know how many details of the Prophecy came to this place with your ancestors, but it arrived in stages. First Ra the Dreamer received the vision that cats would restore all creatures to their connection with the Golden-Eyed One. Bast, my namesake, envisioned the crisis and chaos that would precede this reunion. Heket predicted that our line would produce the father of the Chosen. Heket’s descendant, our own mother, Hathor, dreamt that Orion would be that one. Though we don’t often like to tell him so, his attributes are the finest of any male of his generation.”
Don’t have to tell me about attributes, Emerald thought in that small fragment of her mind that wasn’t screaming with wanting him. She would have let Senti have her, not because he was the sharpest talon on the paw, but because he was there and she was desperate.
But this one would make strong, healthy kittens. His fur would be soft and silky to the touch. Emerald shivered.
“And the Green, what about the Green?” Misha demanded. “Did you hear that, Emerald? Thought I was out of my head, didn’t you?”
They all were psycho, and Emerald wished they’d leave the warehouse to continue their ranting so she could get it on with this hunk of cat. She yowled faintly to remind him why he was here.
Though his eyes burned with longing, he shook his head. “My sisters and your grandmother are right. The Chosen must have a healthy, well-fed mother. We need to get to the Green first.”
“And there’s a lot of Green in the world,” Sekhmet said. “We need to find the right piece of it. She closed her golden eyes. After a long silence, she said. “We continue west, at least a day’s journey by paw. We seek a place beyond great fields of wheat and other plants, a forest with streams and ferns and small, delicious creatures who quiver at the thought of our talons.”
The white cat sniffed at a bag of grain. “Sekhmet, smell this.”
She padded over and nosed it. “Yes, the smell matches my vision: Green and wheat, well-fed country mice. Where did this bag come from, Elder?”
“A truck,” Misha said. “Every day the trucks come, and humans unload the bags.”
“Have they come yet today?” Bast asked.
The black and white cats looked at each other and started to purr. “Who says there are no free rides?” Sekhmet said. “We’ve hitchhiked hundreds of human miles in their vehicles. Once the truck that comes here is unloaded, we’ll hop in when they’re not looking and go out to these fields.”
Go penetrated the thick haze that spiderwebbed Emerald’s brain. This wasn’t some sick, heat-induced dream. If she agreed, she’d be heading off into the unknown with a trio of crazy cats who thought they were hot shit and she was some deluxe breeding machine.
She looked around the warehouse. The black bitch was right; it was a dump. She would never have a better chance to leave, and who was she kidding? She’d follow Orion’s striped haunches anywhere. But what about Misha? Who would catch mice for her; who would groom her?
And who, to get down to the unsheathed claws of the matter, would love Emerald? Not this pack of strangers.
“Misha comes with me,” she said.
Sekhmet sniffed. “She’s old; she’ll slow us down. And the Prophecy says nothing about her.”
“Then screw the Prophecy.” Emerald moved next to Misha and leaned against her trembling body. “You honor her as a cat of great faith and royalty. She gives you the clue about where to go next. You want to dump her? Forget it.”
Orion raised a paw. “Misha comes with us. Remember? We’re flexible.”
A few hours later, they all jounced about in an empty truck, an experience that made Emerald forget about even the faintest pulse of desire.
“If we all crouch together in the corner, we’ll be jolted less,” Bast said. So Emerald found herself between the white cat and Sekhmet, both of whom, she was forced to admit, smelled very clean and made her nose sting with her own stench.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It is unpleasant, but you can’t help it,” Bast said. “Wait until you’re running through fields of grass and sleeping on soft pine needles and eating good food.”
“Really?” she murmured and closed her eyes.
Emerald didn’t fall asleep, though, and she heard the two talk about her.
“Anything in the Prophecy about a crude little guttersnipe?” Sekhmet, of course.
“Like you said, we had no reason to expect a princess, and this female is tough, strong, and, despite her circumstances, proud. She’s also loyal and compassionate. She’ll make a magnificent mother,” Bast said.
“You’re right, but I hope we can knock some manners into her.”
No chance, Emerald thought before she fell asleep.