As every author out there knows, some days the muse is with you.
And some days he’s wagging his arse as he laughingly prances away. Or he’s lying in a pile of warm bodies, lifts his head, and shrugs. Not my job to come up with the plot.
My short story in the Forgotten Menagerie anthology, “The Greatest of These”, started that way. In fact, it started—in a completely different form—three times.
It all began in December, when I was in a serious car accident. Although my body came out relatively unscathed, my brain had taken a beating, resulting in a serious concussion and three brain bleeds. While I had many limitations after my accident, the worst was that, due to the brain injury, I couldn’t read. As in, my eyes would not both focus on a point if it was too close to my face. (It was bad enough that I couldn’t make eye contact with people and would constantly be looking over their shoulder so I could focus toward them.)
Eventually, after physical and ocular therapy, I recovered. However, I was terrified to put words on the page again. Terrified I wouldn’t be able to (that I’d lost my creativity) or that it would be no good (since I had trouble focusing and stringing thoughts together). But when I saw the anthology call for non-traditional shifters at Storm Moon Press, I knew I had to write something.
Unfortunately, the story that was most forthright in my mind were some horny frogs. I started the story. Trashed it. Started it. Trashed it. Started it… and I’m still working on it. That is not the story I submitted. The frogs were incredibly uncooperative. They had a good concept that wanted to get played with, but they mostly want to play. They aren’t particularly interested in plot. And then I saw this (SFW) image on tumblr.
A religious otter shifter. It was brilliant.
The struggle needed to be faith-based but not the same-old that I’ve enjoyed reading time and again. I wanted new and fresh. I think I did that, but you, dear readers, will be the final judge.
Then came the research.
Thankfully, I have a Catholic friend and was raised Catholic, so the basics were easy to get down. For the finer points related to Mass, Google was my friend. These are all vital parts of the story, but kind of boring to get just right.
Then came the otters.
I needed to study their movements, their behaviors, and listen to their noises. YouTube provided a bevy of options. (Side note: Did you know watching otters play is extremely recuperative when recovering from a car accident? I’m sure studies have been done. Somewhere. After all, they’ve done studies of shrimp on treadmills.)
I can only hope I did them justice.
What’s interesting about otter shifters, and shifters in general, is the contrast—and sometimes antithesis—of the human persona and the animal.
My main character, Daniel, is a very serious young man who is struggling with some new elements in his life. His reserved nature conflicts with his otter nature. While he likes to have fun, he’s more free with his body as an otter. He doesn’t think twice about wrestling or biting or where his little paws are landing. Thoughts that his human self is constantly aware of.
His otter nature also conflicts with his faith. It’s a bundle of confusion that he has to work through. Thankfully, he has a good friend in Liam. A friend who supports him, even though they may have different views. Daniel is Catholic; Liam is not. Liam is also gay and the man who saved Daniel’s life. Their paths are irreparably entwined, and while Liam doesn’t always understand Daniel’s faith, he respects it.
I tried to handle matters of faith carefully. Not only do I not want to offend my readers, but I don’t want to outright offend any person of faith. I wanted to explore faith and religion and look at how they would weave into a world with shifters, but I also wanted to create something that would make readers pause and consider what I’m saying. Hopefully, whether or not the reader is religious shouldn’t matter, as we’ve all had faith in something or someone.
And, sometimes, it takes a little otter curiosity to explore if our blind faith is warranted.
Forgotten Menagerie is now available from Storm Moon Press in both print and ebook formats! I hope everyone enjoys my story along with the other unorthodox shifter stories by Cari Z, Angelia Sparrow, Avery Vanderlyle, and Kate Lowell. Thanks for having me on The Novel Approach today!