What Else is Coming!

The Jaguar Drum

The Jaguar Drum is a middle-reader novel about how a Mayan boy, Manik Balam – Deer Jaguar – adapts to the change of culture and religion brought by the Spanish conquest of the Mayan world. Manik was trained by the temple priests of Chan Chich to play the Jaguar Drum in temple ceremonies. The Jaguar Drum is used to call Bahlam, the Jaguar God. after three years of training, at 15, Manik is scheduled to perform in a ceremony to try to help the people of his village who are dying of a strange disease, smallpox. Before Manik can perform in his first ceremony the Spanish Conquistadores attack the temple and the village. Manik is captured and made to walk to a village far from his home. Despite a terrible journey and many of his people dying around him of smallpox, Manik makes it to the village. In the village, he and the other Mayans are treated as slaves and made to work for the Spanish. A Spanish soldier recognizes that Manik and some of the other boys from the temple have been trained to play instruments. The soldier gives Manik a guitar and teaches him to play. Manik is a natural on the guitar and quickly learns to play it well. Manik and several other young people that were also trained to play for temple ceremonies are trained to play and sing for the Spanish. As musicians for the Spanish troops, the young people find their lives much improved compared to their fellows. Manik and two of his friends, a flute player named Yaxkin, and a young woman singer named Nicte, get the opportunity to go to Spain and perform before the king. The story Chronicles their voyage, first seeing a Spanish city, a pirate attack on the ship,  and their lives in Spain.

 

A Few Words About ‘Chipmunk Jumped Over Him’

My YA novel, ‘Chipmunk Jumped Over Him’, is the result of a fascination with Native American tales and wisdom concerning the natural world. As a biologist, I have a deep personal interest in the natural world and how it operates. Watching things like a coyote trying to catch blackbirds in a Sierra Nevada meadow gives me great pleasure. Native Americans have lived on this part of the planet for thousands of years. During those millennia they watched and learned from the critters around them. Their worldview was and is framed in the interactions of things within the environment. Native Americans expressed and passed on their knowledge through storytelling. The Navajo (Diné) refer to such tales, at least in part, as Grandfather Stories.

After Reading many of the tales, especially coyote stories, and some of the tales from the Washoe people, especially the saga of the Weasel Brothers (which was the source of the concept for the book’s title), I decided that I would like to tell a story. I wanted to frame a story associated with current situations, but that used Native American tales, concepts, and characters. I hope that I have, with this book, succeeded in providing a  Grandfather Story of my own, but in the style and with the intent of the Native American storytellers whose stories I have read. 

For the benefit of readers who may want to explore the stories that inspired me, I have included a bibliography at the end of the book. The book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions. You can find it, and my mystery novel, at amazon.com/author/fentonkay.

Goodreads Giveaway of “Chipmunk Jumped Over Him” is Done

371 folks signed up to try for 100 Kindle copies of “Chipmunk Jumped Over Him”. Well, 100 of those people now have their copies and, I hope, are reading them and enjoying the read. I truly enjoyed writing Chipmunk and I hope that the winners and others will enjoy reading the story. If you won a copy of Chipmunk, and enjoy the book, tell your friends about it. It is aimed at middle-readers and is intended to provide some guidelines for living a good life and to demonstrate the teaching ways used by Native Americans.

My next middle-reader story is in review mode with my esteemed experts and Beta Readers. I anticipate that it will be available in a very few months. It is a story framed in the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica and the Mayan people. The story features a Mayan boy that was trained to play the Jaguar Drum for ceremonies in a Mayan Temple in what is now Belize. He is captured by the Spanish and goes on to become a talented guitarist in 16th Century Spain. I think it is going to be another great read.

Goodreads Give-Away of Chipmunk Jumped Over Him

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Chipmunk Jumped Over Him to be given away to 100 eager readers. The giveaway will start on Valentine’s Day and run for one month.

It is many years after the climate change catastrophe. The people that survive on the edge of the Great Basin Desert have adopted many Native American traditions; traditions that allow them to continue to live successfully in an arid and harsh land. Among those traditions is the coming of age journey. Boys, at 15 years of age, travel with Coyote, the Trickster, into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Vincent, with Trickster, goes on his sojourn and deals with everyday issues of living in the wild. He is set the task of destroying an ancient monster. Vincent defeats an evil Shaman with help from Trickster, Chipmunk, and other creatures. He outsmarts another trickster, Raven, and returns to where his grandfather awaits him, a confident young man. 

This Native American-inspired YA coming of age story is worth reading and will inspire young readers.

Chipmunk Jumped Over Him by Fenton R Kay

Research Finds Unexpected and Interesting Things – Sometimes

In doing the research for “Eye of Newt, Skin of Toad”, I Googled Witch Covens in Las Vegas, Nevada. I expected to find nothing. Much to my surprise, I found more than one. I was raised in Las Vegas and had never even thought about covens there – or anywhere else, for that matter. Not only are there covens in Las Vegas, but there is also a temple just outside town somewhere – found a post of photos for that.

I also searched for info on ayahuasca ceremonies and found that there is a practitioner in Vegas. Hmmm! It seems like the fellow is maybe not entirely on the up-and-up. Hmmm, again.

“Eye of Newt, Skin of Toad” is going to be a fun write – and, of course, it will be a great read! 😏😁🐱

 

Le Cochon Sequels Coming – Jaguar Drum Almost Done

My plan is to feature different members of the team of ecologists from Le Cochon in each sequel. We’ll see how that works – so far, so good with respect to the writing – but the sequels aren’t out yet.

“Bear Market” is out for beta reading. “Bear Market” features Dirk Foster. Bear poaching in the Sierra Nevada’s of Nevada around Lake Tahoe. Bear parts such as claws,  gall bladders, and skins are the targets. An innocent old man gets murdered. If you’ve not read Le Cochon, you won’t know who Dirk Foster is  – hint, hint.😁👍 👀

I’ve started on “Eye of Newt, Skin of Toad”. This murder mystery will feature “The Herbster” – it should be fun. Witch covens, mysterious rites, and magical concoctions. If you haven’t read “Le Cochon Volant” you won’t know who “The Herbster” is either. Hint, hint, hint. 😉👌👀

I’ve finished the first and second drafts of Jaguar Drum. Looking for free Beta readers (at least one). Jaguar Drum is a historical YA-Middle Reader novel – Spanish Conquistadores capture a Mayan boy that was trained on the Mayan Jaguar Drum. The boy learns the guitar and goes to Sevilla, Spain where he plays for the King. 🎸🎵

 

Writers on Writing

I have just finished reading “The Mystery Writers: Interviews and Advice” by Jean Henry Mead [ed.] The book is full of interesting stuff about a bunch of mystery writers – most of whom I have never heard of. Portions of the advice and background they provide is all over the map. But, there are a few kernels that most of them agree on.

The shared kernels are read, read, read and write, write, write, write. They also all seem to share a common feature in their backgrounds. They have been writing since they were kids and much or all of their professional careers have involved or been centered on writing. It seems like a majority of them are/have been journalists. After that, there is very little commonality or coherence in the way they do their writing, how they got published, what they think about e-books (but keep in mind that the book was published in 2012 when ebooks and self-publishing were still relatively new).

They all point out the difficulty in getting published via the traditional route. Some think it is still the best way to fly, others are 180° in the other direction. I have self-published, both ebook and paperback via Amazon. My reason is much the same as the writers in “Mystery Writers”. Basically, I got tired of waiting months (a year in one case) for a response and then getting either a non-response or a negative response. I was running out of publishers to query. I never did try the agent route – most of the ones I looked up sounded like they had no interest in the sort of stuff I was writing.

Read, They Wrote! I was a voracious reader as a kid. In First Grade, I was always in trouble because I was so fascinated with “Dark Pony” that I would read ahead of the kids that were reading out loud to the class. When it came my turn, I never knew where the class was in the story. In middle school, I devoured books. I would visit the library and bring home an armful of books and read them all by the time they were due. “The Three Musketeers” sticks out in my mind from that time. I also started reading natural history books and books describing critters, especially snakes. That reading would serve me well when I “discovered” biology and ecology.

With respect to writing as a career and when I first started writing – I had to think about that. It turns out that I likely started in 5th grade with a story called “Destination Moon” written as a class assignment (I was already a sci-fi buff). My next stop was in high school. I wrote an “epic” poem for my junior English class. I scored an “A” on it and I loved the exercise. I then took Creative Writing as a senior and my creative juices flowed. Creative Writing again as a college freshman. Papers for a history class. Then I got into biology my sophomore year in college and had the opportunity to write and publish a scientific paper. More papers followed, along with a Master’s Thesis and a Ph.D. Dissertation. Post-doc – more papers – university faculty – papers. Real-world – environmental consultant – NEPA documents, technical reports. Published scientific papers that resulted from work as a field technician. Over the years I had penned numerous poems and actually had a couple of them published in the Sunday Supplement of a Las Vegas newspaper.

When I looked back, I realized that my writing path fairly paralleled that of nearly all of the writers in the book. Somewhere along the line, I got an idea for a mystery based on pigging petroleum pipelines. After several years of the story sort of percolating in my brain, I wrote it.

Another bit of history that has become a novel is my interest in Native American coyote stories the traditional tales that several groups of Native Americans tell/have told. That interest and many years of percolation resulted in a YA coming-of-age story.

Both of those stories – Le Cochon Volant: The Flying Pig and Chipmunk Jumped Over Him – are now available for anyone to read via Amazon.

Tourists in the Jungle – Monkeys

 On the way from the airport in Belize City to Chan Chich, we drove through a small town and saw a sign warning of a ‘baboon crossing’ – “baboons in Belize,” I queried Bruce? “Black howler monkeys,” he responded. The locals referred to them as baboons. Everywhere we walked while we were at Chan Chich, and every morning as part of the dawn chorus, we were treated to the sounds of howler monkeys. The male howlers roared to let other howler troops know where they were and to declare their territory. It’s no wonder that the Mayans thought the howlers were some sort of demons. Their roars could be easily taken as some sort of great, vicious beast just looking for people to eat. One of the other guests said she saw a howler troop regularly along a trail that ran parallel to a small stream. I walked the same trail – no howlers. I tried mightily for a week to spot howlers and get a video of them – to no avail. I guess they just didn’t like me!

On another day, Carol and I were walking along a trail when we heard what sounded like someone or something crying and screeching. We stopped, listened, and looked. Off to the side of the trail, within the trees, we saw a lone, smallish spider monkey. The monkey was slowly moving through the trees and stopping at intervals to cry-out, to screech. We concluded that it was a lost or abandoned child looking for mom or family. We quietly walked on.

BrownSnake-Belize

Not long after seeing the young, distressed spider monkey, we saw the only snake we were to see while in Belize. It was a small brownish critter about six or eight inches long. I have looked in my critters of Belize book and can’t find anything that looks like it. We did see some lizards around our cottage. A skink of some sort that disappeared under the cabin before I could get a good look and what looked like a gecko in the ceiling.

On our last day at the lodge, one of the other guests called out to us. There, up in a giant fig, was a troop of black howlers. They were not making much noise and were moving slowly along eating leaves. The big male would stop every now and again and sort of look around. One of the females was carrying a baby. We all found chairs or chaise lounges and parked ourselves below to watch. I started to take a video of the monkeys – foiled — the batteries were dead, as were my spares. Isn’t that the way it always happens? I had been trying for a week to see and video howlers; now here they were, and my camera was dead.

As we sat and watched, we all heard a commotion from off to one side of the tree with the howlers. A spider monkey was swinging and prancing through the trees, headed straight toward the howler troop. As we watched, the spider monkey commenced harassing the howlers. It would swing from a limb or dash along a big branch and snatch at the coats of the howlers. The howlers would move slowly away, apparently trying to ignore the pest. The spider monkey seemed to take particular joy in bothering the female howler with the baby. The howler mom just moved closer to the big male, but he didn’t appear to do anything. None of the howlers ever seemed to do anything that looked defensive, they just moved along, fed themselves, and tried to avoid the spider monkey. The spider monkey kept up its harassment for maybe 30 minutes as the howler troop moved slowly on and eventually disappeared from view in the canopy. I have never heard of such a scene before – not in any of the many documentaries I’ve watched on primate and other animal behavior.

In Memory of a Long-time Friend

A Remembrance of

Michael Carey Williams

By

Fenton R. Kay

 Michael Carey Williams and I met in 6th grade. We attended Sunrise Acres Elementary School. In Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas didn’t have middle schools in those days, the middle and late 1950’s. I lived in the neighborhood near the school that was called Sunrise Acres. It was a really scruffy and tough neighborhood, and most of the folks that lived there were scuffling to make ends meet. Mike and his parents lived in the opposite direction in a reasonably working-class neighborhood, but it was also within walking distance of the school. My mom was a housewife, and sometimes bank teller, and my stepdad was a shoe salesman with a booze problem. Mike’s mom was the secretary/receptionist for the Boy Scouts in Las Vegas, and his dad was a security guard at the Golden Nugget Casino. Two boys going to the same school with substantially different economic and social backgrounds.

I don’t recall just how Mike and I hooked up. We seemed to share something that bonded us, and in the 6th grade, I’m not sure we were really aware of what it was. To the best of my recollection, Mike never visited my house, but I was a frequent visitor to his. Mike’s folks never really approved of me. I was the scruffy, skinny kid from “across the tracks” although there were no real tracks to be across, just a couple of streets. I was also, at that time, the oldest of five kids, and Mike was an only child. Later I would be the oldest of seven kids. Mike remained an only child.

Somewhere along the years, 7th grade, I think, Mike and I took to walking to his house for lunch. Both of his parents worked, so there was no one home in the middle of the day. We would go into his mom’s kitchen and get a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and heat it up for lunch. The big thing that we did was to try out different seasoning in the soup – you know, salt/pepper, cinnamon, oregano, etc. It was in those days that I developed kind of a feeling for what would taste good with what else. I’m not sure if Mike ever told his folks that we were doing that. Instead, I think he just said he had a can of soup for lunch.

I can thank Mike’s mother for my liking liver. One time she invited me to supper. She had prepared what looked like hamburger, and I thought it was wonderful. After supper, she informed me that it was liver. Well, I had really liked it, so how could I say that liver tasted bad. Couldn’t – didn’t.

In high school, we hung out together with a group of kids that today would be called nerds. For instance, we carried slide rules on our belts when we were taking math and chemistry. The group consisted, to the best of my memory, of Jon Cobain, Phil Lum, Mike, me, Mary Keller, and a couple of other women whose names escape me. Seems like there was one other male-type person as well. We were all in the college prep curriculum, and all of us took Advanced Chemistry. That class was taught at a college freshman chemistry level but in the high school. Sort of like today’s AP and dual credit classes. The class we took was the first of its kind in a Las Vegas school. Mike was excellent in it. I was terrible, but I loved the lab.

Mary and the other girls decided that the males were getting too big intellectually for their britches, so they devised a plan to take us down a peg. One day they all came to school speaking a strange, new language. They were throwing out words like “slithy toves” and “brillig”. Us male-types were all mystified. The women loved it – they had baffled us, know-it-alls. After about a week, one of the guys finally figured it out. I think it was Phil Lum. The girls were using words from Alice in Wonderland’s ‘Song of the Jabberwock’. I had Mike’s middle name hammered into my skull by the women in our group. They all insisted on calling each of us by our full name. I don’t recall what Jon or Phil’s were, but Mike’s middle name ‘Carey’ stuck like glue. Mine is ‘Ray’.

Mike played basketball and was on the Rancho Rams Basketball Team. Jon worked after school delivering water softener canisters. I’m not sure what Phil or Mary did. Mike and I both applied for the Coast Guard Academy and tested for it. Mike got accepted, I did not. As high school moved forward, our paths began to diverge. Mike’s b-ball took up vast amounts of his time, and we only saw one another during the school days. I moved toward literary sorts of things but thought I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer. I was in R.O.T.C.; Mike was a jock.

After we graduated, Mike went off to the Coast Guard Academy and I went to a small college in southern Utah. Mike lasted about one semester at the academy and came home. The discipline required there was just not his cup of tea. I came back after my first year of college and got a job at the Nevada Test Site. Mike started college at what was then the Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada – Tumbleweed Tech. I moved to the San Francisco Bay area and worked in electronics for about a year. When I came back to Vegas to go to school, Mike was well along on his career path. He was going to be a teacher. I discovered biology.

Mike met a young woman, and they got married. I was an usher at his wedding. Not long after they got married, Mike and his spouse moved to Alaska. They were going to live off the land in the North Woods. I lost touch with Mike for many years, but I would hear every now and again that he was teaching somewhere in Alaska.

Many years later, Mike and I reconnected via the internet, Facebook and email. He was living in Kansas and had recently retired from being the Principal at a Kansas high school somewhere outside Kansas City. I was working as an environmental consultant for a New Mexico company, teaching online for a university, and thinking about retiring. The 50th Reunion of the Class of 1960 was coming up, and we were both talking about going to it. It would have been, what, 30+ years since we had seen one another. I went, but Mike opted to stay home. We fell out of communication again for several years.

I self-published a mystery novel, ‘Le Cochon Volant: The Flying Pig’ and sent a notice of it to a long list of friends and relatives. Mike’s email was on that list, even though I didn’t know if it was still good. Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Mike, in Tennessee now, saying he had bought the book, loved it, and had put a review on Amazon. It was a marvelous review. He then agreed that he would like to Beta-read the sequel, ‘Bear Market’, when it was ready. I sent him a draft of a Young Adult novel that I was going to publish, ‘Chipmunk Jumper Over Him’, and asked if he was interested in Beta-ing it. I got no response, but Mike was like that, so I didn’t worry, just assumed that the Young Adult story was not in his league. When I had the mystery novel’s sequel ready to go, I sent him a query about Beta reading it. No response. Then one day, I got an email response to my query from his daughter. Mike had died the previous week. The end of a long and stuttered friendship. Rest in peace, Michael Carey Williams.