In search of feline iconography in Mexico City

Husband and I spent last week in Mexico City, which was a first time trip for both of us. We were hosted by friends who own an amazing B&B in the Condesa district, and I have to give their business a plug, even though it hardly needs it. The guys Craig and Jorge have established the top rated B&B in Mexico City, and the place is thriving: The Red Tree House.

The Red Tree House

Here I am relaxing in the garden courtyard.

The Red Tree House

The dining area, which is decorated with artwork by local artists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did a lot of museum-hopping, visiting markets, and strolling around the Centro Historico, and of course I could not resist searching out artifacts of feline mysticism, and no doubt boring the hell out of our hosts and the other guests while talking about my obsesssion. Mexico City is built on Tenochtitlan, an ancient Aztec settlement. They were a people who worshipped a jaguar god and had a legendary military of Jaguar Knights! How could I resist?!!

Here are some images I found while out and about.

Jaguar relief

Fragment of a mural at the Templo Mayor museum, preserving artwork from Tenochtitlan

Jaguar taxidermy

Jaguar taxidermy, also at the Templo Mayor museum

Mural, jaguar and serpent

Mural in the lobby of the Museum of Anthropology. The jaguar and the snake were both creatures that featured prominently in early Mesoamerican religious beliefs.

Jaguar mural

Portion of a mural from the Teotihaucan gallery at the Museum of Anthropology

Jaguar statue, Zapotec origin

Jaguar urn

Jaguar urn, Mayan origin

Mayan codex

Mayan codex at the Museum of Anthropology. Of particular interest to me due to my fictional Sim Ru Prophecy of Werecat #4

Olmec head

Ancient Olmec head, some of which are believed to represent an anthropomorphic jaguar god.

Werejaguar god

The Olmec gallery at the Museum of Anthropology was where I knew I would strike it rich. This statue has been identified as a werejaguar god (or priest).

Werejaguar baby

One of many Olmec statues believed to represent a werejaguar baby.

Ciudadela market

This little stall in the Ciudadela market was populated by at least five cats (that I could see). I took a look inside on an intuition they might have something interesting in there. Though I didn’t end up buying anything.

Jaguar pipe

I did pick up this trinket at Ciudadela, which has a pipe that makes a jaguar roar when you blow into it.

An excerpt from The Sim Ru Prophecy: #Werecat4ReleaseWeek

Rounding out this week’s posts, I thought I’d share a short excerpt from Werecat #4 as part of my kick-off for its release. Many thanks to folks on Facebook and Twitter for your support of #Werecat4ReleaseWeek. The book has gotten off to a good start at the Kindle store, and I’ve been busy all week rounding up reviewers and bloggers for future publicity.

Whew! It’s been quite a busy week, and I’m looking forward to my vacation, which starts on Sunday. Husband and I are headed to Mexico City, so I’ll go dark here for a week or so for a much needed break.

I chose to share an early scene from The Sim Ru Prophecy that gives a hint of the intrigue which moves the story forward. Picking up from The Fugitive, the hero Jacks has traveled to Caracas, Venezuela with his boyfriend Farzan, their cat Bella, and their friend Kwame, after acquiring an ancient codex known as The Bastet.

Jacks believes that The Bastet contains secret knowledge about werecat magic, and he knows for a fact that the werecat terrorist group The Glaring is after it. This scene takes place after Jacks, Farzan, Kwame and Bella have checked into a hotel in Caracas, and Jacks’ is up late on their hotel room balcony with the codex after being scolded by Farzan that he should come to bed.

~

Alone on the balcony, Jacks found himself staring unfocused into the night. He felt like such a shit. Why couldn’t he be a good boyfriend and lay down with Farzan for that one night? Farzan put on a tough front, and he truly was tough as nails when he needed to be, but he had to be going out of his mind with worries about his family. Farzan had dropped out of medical school and left his family’s home for the first time in his life to be with Jacks. He had left all of that to live on the run, in constant danger.

Jacks had thought he could figure out the codex, gaining some advantage over the Glaring and giving Farzan some hope that his sacrifice had been worth it. But Jacks had to be reasonable. His problem with the Glaring was much too big to be solved in one night.

The night air was suddenly cold against his skin, and he felt like he was shrinking. What if the problem was too big to be solved, ever?

All Jacks knew about the Glaring was that they had organized to destroy humans in vengeance for exterminating the Amerindian cultures from which the dual spirit werecat had been borne. They operated like a network of terrorist cells, and they had millions of domestic strays with whom they could communicate psychically to keep surveillance on their enemies.

Who was Jacks to stop an organization like that? Besides being a single werecougar up against an untold number of werejaguars and allied weretigers and werelions from Asia and Africa, Jacks had only come into his werecat nature less than four months ago. Did he really believe he could bargain with Tepe? The Glaring’s leader had to be incredibly powerful and persuasive. It wasn’t in a werecat’s nature to follow anyone. Getting so many of them behind him was an amazing feat. And Jacks’ only leverage with Tepe was money and appealing to his human side. Tepe probably didn’t need any of the former, and he had pretty much shown that he had sworn off the latter.

A lithe, furry body wove through Jacks’ legs, and then Bella jumped up on his lap. Jacks absent-mindedly raked his hand down the cat’s back. It hurt like shards of glass against his heart to think about, but he wondered if he should try talking to Farzan again about going home. The Glaring didn’t have to be Farzan’s problem. If Farzan got hurt while accompanying Jacks on his mission, Jacks wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do when you loved someone—protect them at all costs, even if it meant letting them go?

Bella nudged against the codex. Jacks caught her firmly but gently by the scruff of her neck. The book was fragile, and she could damage it, however innocently.

Bella looked up at him and held his gaze. Something was stirring in her head. Another mystery of Jacks’ werecat transformation was that they could read each other’s minds and even connect their minds to visualize and hear what the other one was doing. A bizarre thought occurred to him. He opened up the codex and laid it flat on his lap so that they could both look at it.

A burst of light ate up his vision, and then things looked like he was peering through binoculars with fisheye lenses. The first page of the codex appeared as two planes sliding over each other, like a double-exposed photo, only fluid. Jacks waited out the unpleasant sensation of adjusting to his vision melding with Bella’s. He had always done it with his eyes shut. Otherwise, it felt like someone had hooked his eyeballs on a fishing line. But to test out his instinct, his vision had to be focused on the same thing Bella was looking at.

Jacks strained to right their two planes of vision on top of each other. They slid back and forth, and then they locked into position. The codex was as sharp as an ophthalmologist’s chart through 20/10 lenses. Every detail and imperfection of the abstract symbols stood out crisply in his sight. Jacks could even make out the minute brush stroke of the ancient stylus that had drawn them.

He looked to the first line of glyphs, and nudging Bella mentally, he brought her plane of vision squarely on top of his. The first character was a bearded man with a tall, elaborate headdress, and the ones below it were a series of dot-and-line characters interspersed with glyphs. As Jacks looked down the column, like reading a totem, the words of a story formed inside his head.

“In the year 166, the month of our lord Cit Chac the jaguar god, the day of Ki, was born Po Nge Be, son of U Kix Chan, king of kings, ruler of the seven tribes. The boy was blessed with health and strength and beauty above all others, and the people loved him. For the prince’s name day when he was to wear the sacred pagne of manhood, his subjects brought tribute to please the gods: twenty and three bushels of maize for the corn goddess, three-twenty urns of water for the god of rain, three herds of sheep for the god of gods Hunab, and a weaned jaguar cub for Cit Chac. Of these, Po Nge Be proclaimed: the cat shall not be sacrificed for he was to take him as his companion, and he named him Pu Neb.

“The people were afraid. As Cit Chac had blessed their warriors with fearlessness and might to overpower their enemies, so would He take vengeance on the kingdom and bring upon it bloody war.

“But Po Nge Be was wise. He understood that Cit Chac plays tricks on men and that the cub Pu Neb was sent to him to test his honor and his loyalty. So did Po Nge Be take Pu Neb to our lord’s temple where on the night of the jaguar’s tail, when the eye of the god of death looks down upon the world beseeching those who desire to travel between the worlds, Po Nge Be mounted Cit Chac’s altar and took the knife to the jaguar’s throat and took it to his own.

“This pleased Cit Chac, and he permitted Po Nge Be to stand before his throne. When our lord returned him to our earthly realm, he was no longer Po Nge Be, and Pu Neb was no longer Pu Neb. For they were both man and cat and king of men and king of jaguars. This is how the werejaguar kings became supreme. May they protect us until the end of days. This is how the werejaguar king is born on the night when Cit Chac blesses human sacrifice with the magic of the spirit world.”

Jacks veered away from the book and shook off the ethereal tethers that connected his mind with Bella’s. He looked around the balcony and the city below. It felt like the writing in the codex had swallowed him into another world, and he half-expected to have been transported to an ancient time and place. To re-emerge to ordinary surroundings was disappointing at first, but as Jacks settled in with what had happened, his blood rushed through his veins, and he had to hold down a cry of victory. Bella chewed at one of her paws in a routine chore of grooming. Jacks scooped her into his arms and kissed her on the forehead.

With Bella as a conduit, he could read the Bastet.

How such a thing was possible was well beyond his comprehension, but how and why didn’t matter. Jacks could decode the secrets of werecat magic. He felt as tall as a skyscraper. He would figure out why the Glaring was so desperate to steal the book. He would stay a step ahead of them.

Jacks tucked the book under one arm and carried Bella with the other, and he rushed to wake up Farzan and Kwame and tell them the news.

~

Pique your interest? You can pick up the e-book at the Kindle Store, or buy the paperback at Amazon or BN.com.

Visual inspiration for The Sim Ru Prophecy #Werecat4ReleaseWeek

Yep. You might have felt it. #Werecat4ReleaseWeek

via GIPHY

I’ve been posting special features about The Sim Ru Prophecy all week to celebrate the release of the fourth and final installment of the Werecat series. You can buy the paperback at Amazon or BN.com, or pick up the e-book at Kindle Exclusive.

I also recently updated my Werecat board on Pinterest to include some inspirations for the story. The Sim Ru Prophecy is the longest book in the series (hey, it worked for J.K. Rowling), and it delves deeper into werecat mythology, introduces a bunch of new characters, and has the hero Jacks, along with his trusty boyfriend Farzan, and his trusty cat Bella, on the run through many exotic locales.

Jacks' Journey in Werecat #4

I made this map of Jacks’ journey in Werecat #4 using Google maps. It’s a lot easier to look at if you open it in a new tab. My technological genius. 🙂

The story begins with Jacks in Caracas, Venezuela, and his adventure proceeds to Puerto Ayacucho, then outside of Palanquero, Colombia, onward on a series of flights to the fictional Boca do Ango in the western Brazilian Amazon, then off to Apia, Samoa, and finally cruising across the Pacific Ocean, through the Panama Canal, to the Western Caribbean Sea and landing in Yucatan, Mexico.

Werecat #4 also brings together the full story on werecat mythology, which includes six centers of the werecat diaspora, which I’ve represented visually here:

Ashanti witchdoctor

Ashanti witchdoctors knew the practice of ‘obeye,’ harnessing the soul of animals such as the leopard and the lion.

Jade sculpture of an Olmec Werejaguar god, retrieved from latinmericanstudies.org

 

White lion

Lion shifters were born from the Zulu white lion god.

Suea Saming Were Tigress

Figurine of a Suea Saming weretigress, an artifact of an ancient Southeast Asian belief.

Waghia, Lord of the Tigers

A young man dressed as Waghia, lord of the tigers, a vestige of ancient folk beliefs in the Indian subcontinent.

Ani Sahoni Clan

Shapeshifting in North America originated from the practices of the Cherokee Ani-Sahoni Wildcat Clan

I also found some images of guys that, erm, inspired me. What does a werecat look like in human form? Well, the book is a work of fiction.

Francois Arnaud, an inspiration point for the hero Jacks

 

Actor Suraj Sharma, who would fit quite well as Farzan (and also seems to like big cats)

Jacks travels through South America with his loyal friend Kwame, an Ashanti werelion.

Werecat #4 introduces the character of Agent Sowanaki

Che Guevara figures into the story…

And just a cute guy who could be hanging out on Maarten’s yacht.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out the whole collage of images on my Pinterest Werecat board:

 

#Werecat4ReleaseWeek: Werecat #1 Tops the Charts!

The Rearing, the first installment of my Werecat series, went permafree this past weekend so that readers can dig into the story in advance of the release of the final book, which went on sale just yesterday.

If you’ve ever wondered whether that strategy makes a difference, I’m here to tell you: It does! That first title jettisoned up the best seller charts at the Kindle store and has held the #1 spot in free books/gay fiction for the past three days. I was so excited, I took a screen shot.

That’s not making me any money directly, but the nice thing is that the other titles in the series have also seen a nice boost in sales rankings, and The Rearing also picked up some new reviews. As a small press author, really, more than anything, it’s rewarding to see that more readers are discovering the series. I don’t know that I’m headed for fame and fortune, but it’s great to know that people are taking the time to download, and hopefully read, something that I wrote.

Here’s where you can download The Rearing for free at the Kindle store. Got a gripe against Amazon? No problem. You can also get the book for free at BN.com, Kobo, and iTunes. If you want to leave a rating/review, well, that’s awfully nice of you since it helps a ton to spread the word.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t heard, the last chapter in the saga is also available for purchase. It’s called The Sim Ru Prophecy, and you can get the e-book for just $3.99 at Kindle Exclusive. The paperback at $16.95 is available at Amazon and BN.com.

Next up for #Werecat4ReleaseWeek: some images that inspired the story. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Inside the ‘Character’s Studio’

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For #Werecat4 Release Week, I have a special feature today I’m calling Inside the Character’s Studio.

I love interviewing characters from my books. It’s fun, and it actually gives me more insight into the fictional people I cooked up in my brain. A little while back, I interviewed Cleito from Poseidon and Cleito at History Imagined, and I previously wrote a George Wayne interview with Jackson Dowd, the main character from Werecat, when his first book came out.

This time, I decided to do the interview from the perspective of the iconic James Lipton of The Actor’s Studio in order to challenge Jacks (and myself) with Lipton’s penetrating questions. So, I bring you James Lipton sitting down with my very own Jacks to give you a peek at the star of Werecat and the story itself.

James Lipton by David Shankbone, retrieved from Wikipedia Commons

The Sim Ru Prophecy (Werecat, #4)

The just released, final installment of the Werecat series.

Lipton: Jackson Dowd made his literary début in 2013 with the release of an e-novelette entitled The Rearing. That slim volume became a launching pad for the sensation known as Werecat, which has delighted paranormal fans and garnered critical acclaim from Kirkus and media outlets throughout the sci fi/fantasy and gay fiction world. In 2016, Werecat was a Readers’ Choice finalist in The Romance Reviews’ awards.

Following The Rearing, Jackson appeared in The Glaring, The Fugitive, and just this week, the long-awaited fourth and final book: The Sim Ru Prophecy. He is some parts anti-hero, some parts Everyman, and of course most notably, some parts man and beast. While shifter and mutant characters have a longtime tradition of providing allegory to the challenges of real life social outsiders such as LGBTs, Jackson, or Jacks as he likes to be called, is both fantastical creature and an ‘out’ gay man. It is my pleasure to bring into The Character’s Studio, for the first time, the hero of Werecat, Jackson Dowd.

[Wild studio applause]

Dowd: [grins, waves] Thanks.

Lipton: Thank you for taking that existential leap of faith to join us today. How does it feel to get that kind of reception?

Dowd: [bows head, peeks out, bows head again] Good. It’s pretty surreal.

Lipton: You grew up in a small, paper mill town in Pennsylvania. What was that like for you?

Dowd: Yeah, well, my dad worked at that paper mill. And my grandfather did as well. If you’ve ever driven through central Pennsylvania, you can smell the factories from miles away. It’s pretty much a fading industry, and where I grew up, it was one of those blue collar, Middle America kind of towns where you knew if you didn’t get out, it was going to be pretty hard. I mean, most people relied on the factory for work, and it was shrinking every year. Y’know, jobs going overseas.

I can’t say I had great memories of growing up. I wasn’t into football, or cars, or girls, so most of the time I felt like a social oddity. I had a few friends, and I was pretty good at school. When I got a scholarship to a college in New York State, it kinda felt like winning the lottery. I had my bags packed before I even graduated high school, and I was already thinking: I’m getting out and I’m never looking back.

Lipton: Which of your childhood experiences has stayed with you the most?

Dowd: [razzes] I guess I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but I do have one. My mom kept a lot of old photos, and when I was younger, in elementary school y’know, I used to love going through them. It was kind of a lonely age for me. I’m an only child. My parents both worked. So after school, I had the house to myself, and I found this big box of photographs in my parents’ bedroom closet. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go in there. Would have caught hell if they found out, but it became kind of this obsession for me.

Anyway, she had photos of a lot of people I knew, like my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and old photos when she was a kid, when my dad was a kid. They were high school sweethearts so that was kind of interesting seeing how different they looked when they were in school. But the photo I loved the best was this really fragile antique photo of this woman I had never met. It was one of those old black and whites, where this woman was posed all formal sitting down and dressed up in this blouse with a big, frilly collar and a ribbon around her neck. Y’know, the kind of photo where you can picture the photographer with one of those big, old cameras with a curtain that you pretty much step into to take a shot. LIke a family heirloom, y’know. It was really fascinating to me because just about every photo my mom had was from family weddings or baby photos, y’know, stuff like that, but this woman looked nothing like us. She had fine, straight hair, high cheekbones, a darker complexion. The only thing that was written on the back in fancy handwriting was the name: Barbara. She looked like a Native American, and I don’t know, at the time I invented this story in my head that she had been a maid or something to my great grandparents. Which is really, totally ridiculous because both my mom’s and my dad’s families were dirt poor as far back as I ever knew.

So one night, it was a Saturday night I remember because that was “family time” and the only night when my dad was in a decent mood to do things with us, my mom brought out the box of photos to the kitchen table so we could all go through them. And she starts telling all these stories about them, and I’m pretending like I’ve never seen them, though I never heard her stories about this and that, and I’m like going nuts inside waiting for her to get to that woman’s photo and finally have an answer to who the hell she is.

And I remember really clearly: she gets to the photo, picks it up really gently, looks it over for a couple of seconds, and then she sets it aside, face down. And now I’m really dying because, y’know, after all this time, sitting through all her stories, she’s not going to say a peep about the strangest photo in her entire collection?

So I get the balls to ask her: “Who’s that?” And, y’know, it’s one of those moments where you feel like you saw something you shouldn’t have, almost as bad as walking in on your parents having sex. But I saw my mom looking so embarrassed, so torn up that I had asked that question about Barbara. And she glances at my dad, and he’s looking like he doesn’t know what to say either, and I’m wondering: did this Barbara do something horrible? Like murder somebody? But then why would you keep a picture of her?

So finally, my dad says, in his serious ‘parent’ voice: “That’s Nana’s mother.” We always called my mom’s mom Nana, and I guess she had died about a year before we pulled out those old photos. And I swear my first thought was my dad must be putting me on since for one thing, why was it so hard to say that? And meanwhile, I’d never seen anyone in our family who looked like that. But I couldn’t say anything at the time. I was just sort of gobsmacked, y’know, and I let it pass. Though I’ll always remember that moment because it was one of those things where you can never look at your parents in the same way again, and it stirred up these raw emotions. Like I was embarrassed along with my parents, but at the same time, I felt really happy, and maybe this was more in my head than anything else since I never even met Barbara, my great grandmother. But I felt like I finally had a connection to someone in my family for the first time, that who I was made sense.

Lipton: Your family never spoke of your Native ancestry?

Dowd: Nope. Well, a few years later, I guess when I was in middle school, Barbara came up somehow when I was visiting my cousins and my aunt, my mom’s sister, and my aunt said something about Barbara having been Cherokee. But that was another one of those confidential, hush hush conversations, and my cousins, they were two older boys, they joked about it in a mean way, saying that I must have been the one who got the Cherokee blood because I was queer and weak. I was always picked last when we played street hockey or kickball in the neighborhood. That kind of kid.

But my parents always said they were German and Irish.

Lipton: What does being a werecat mean to you?

Dowd: [shifts around in seat, shrugs] I guess it means everything and nothing at the same time. I mean, I’m the same person I always was I guess you’d say on the inside. Before and after my feline soul was reared, and I got the shifter ability, I’ve always thought the same way, had the same kinds of interests, so it’s not like I became this totally different person.

Though this is going to sound like a contradiction, and it’s hard to explain that at the same time, an entirely new life started for me that night I became a werecat. It was terrifying at first. I mean, I had come to terms with being a freak because I was gay, and here the universe handed me another, even huger dose of freakdom. But, y’know, that was just another journey you get through. Meeting other werecats, getting used to my feline half, eventually it became not such a big deal. And it is kind of everything since it’s who I am, the way I see the world, the way I relate to the world and other people, I guess my outlook expanded pretty majorly compared to before, understanding now what it’s like to live as human and what it’s like to live as a hybrid. It forced me to grow up fast, to figure out how to take care of myself, so I became a lot more confident, less afraid. A lot of werecats say that it’s a gift, and I’d agree with that. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Lipton: What sound, or noise do you love?

Dowd: [laughs] I guess my favorite sound is laughter.

Lipton: What sound, or noise do you hate?

Dowd: I’m not so crazy about silence. Y’know, when you’re with someone and one or the other of you can’t say what’s on your mind, maybe because you’re angry or scared to say it, and this cold, silence just grows between you. I usually walk away or try to make the other person come out with it.

Lipton: What is your favorite word?

Dowd: [silent, smiles] Yes.

Lipton: What is your least favorite word?

Dowd: [laughs] No.

Lipton: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say to you at the pearly gates?

Dowd: [smiles] “You did a good job, Jacks. Now here’s the way to the clothing-optional beach, and by the way, the guys are hot, and you’ll never age.”

Lipton: Thanks for coming Jackson Dowd.

You can buy the latest installment of the Werecat series: The Sim Ru Propecy in paperback at Amazon and BN.com, or get the e-book at KDP Exclusive.

Also, the first book in the series: The Rearing, just went permafree at retailers like Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and BN.com.