Category Archives: Black Tiger

You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’

Picture of relaxed tigerWrite what you know. It’s one of the cliches of writing and (like most of the so-called rules) it’s not true. Translate that to ‘write what you can research’ and you might be closer to the mark.

I’m in the midst of writing new tiger story, the sequel to Black Tiger. It’s a stand-alone book, starring the two main characters but the setting is quite different, and based on the tiger trade in the US.

Of course, I’ve done, am still doing, the research and I’ll check with people who know more than I do if I got it right. Thank goodness for the internet, and Google Earth. That said, you can’t beat experience. You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’.

The story starts in New York and I have been there, for just a few days. Sorry, I don’t heart NY. I’m not a big city person, and neither is Sally, my heroine. We both loved Central Park, though. It so happens, too, that the scene where Sally ends up in Harlem because she failed to realise she’d caught an express train also happened to me. Although I didn’t find a tiger in Harlem. Unlikely you say? Sure – but it has happened. Here’s the story of the Harlem tiger.

Now we get to the reason I’m writing this blog post, because I wrote a scene describing my abused tiger finally being released in a tiger sanctuary. Writing this, even thinking about it now, brought a tear to my eye. Why? Well, the world has turned many times since I was a child. I used to love to go to the zoo and see the animals. Our local zoo was small and these days has an enviable reputation in conservation of animals such as orang utans. But back then, like every other zoo in the world, animals were kept in concrete pens. I thought nothing of it at the time; few people did. But then opinion began to change about how animals should be kept, and the zoo changed its housing policy, first for the non-dangerous residents such as the deer and kangaroos. Then it was the big cat’s turn. Bear in mind these animals were never ill-treated. Many were born at the zoo. I’ll remember forever watching on TV as these cats (they were lions) first went into their new enclosure. And those memories are in this piece, as is footage from Carolina Tiger Rescue of a tiger being released into his new home. The writing is very raw, will probably change a little, but you get the idea. I hope. The tiger’s name is Ulysses.

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Barbara Kranstein waved a hand. The forklift roared into life, edging the long prongs into the truck’s interior, then lifting. The operator backed the vehicle and the cage emerged with Ulysses standing, his tail waving. Sally felt his agitation and moved to where he could see her. Max, Bill and the forklift operator shifted the wheeled cage around and through the space between the double gates into the enclosure. It looked good, with a concrete den in a bank, a pool and wide areas of grass, as well as trees.

“We put food in the den for him,” Kranstein said, her gaze fixed on the cage.

When men were back behind the outer fence, Max pulled a cable that raised the second gate, then the cage.

Ulysses just stood for a few long moments. Sally sent him thoughts – safe, good, food, safe – and set her camera into video mode. Ash should see this, too. His head lowered, Ulysses took a step forward. Then another, patting the unfamiliar surface. A stride. And now he was beyond the gate and on the grass. The big cat threw himself down and rolled, this way, then that, wriggling his spine, chuffing his pleasure. Sally’s eyes brimmed, but she kept filming. Eyes closed, the tiger threw his head back and sucked some grass into his mouth. Another roll, back onto his stomach. Now he rose and padded over to the pool, large enough for a tiger to wallow. Once again, he patted, testing with one paw. When he walked into the water and collapsed with an almost human sigh, Sally couldn’t see properly any more.

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Local colour – how much is too much?

I’m a great believer in adding little details to a story that set it firmly in its place. To me, the names of streets or what people are using or playing increases the feel of ‘real’. But I guess we authors are faced with a few dangers and a few cringe factors.

Dangers first. If you’re going to use a real small town for your setting it may be safer to use an assumed name, especially if you’re going to diss the place. Same with the local hamburger joint, even if, in reality, it’s one of those big ones seen all around the world. I probably don’t need to add that you’re open for libel (or is it slander?) if you run down a real person in your novel. This article gives a good discussion of the dilemma.

Cringe factors is a whole different issue. Here I’m talking about things which are not important to the plot, add local colour, but may be obscure to a large portion of your intended audience. Let’s get to the nub of why I’m writing this post; my latest book Black Tiger which will be released later this year, includes a love story between an Indian man and an Australian woman. One thing that Indians and Australians will very likely have in common is at least a basic understanding of the game of cricket. To make this abundantly clear for my American readers, the second most important job in Australia (after the prime minister) is captain of the Australian cricket team. India is cricket-mad. Village kids will find anything to use as a wicket and improvise a bat if they don’t have one, all trying hard to be Sachin Tendulkar. Cricket players have rock star status over there. Don’t believe me? Watch this. So I feel if I don’t talk about the cricket in my book, it’s not natural. A few people saw an early draft of this book in which my two characters have only just met. Here’s an excerpt

“Tell me, do you like cricket?” he asked.

“Oh, well, in Australia you can’t avoid it. Bit like here, I suppose.”

He nodded.

“Yes, I do like cricket,” she went on. “But not the slap and giggle twenty-twenty stuff. I like test cricket where it’s like a game of chess. You know? Tactics and strategy.”

“So true.” He flashed her an approving glance. “Where you need patience and guile, not just explosive flamboyance, although it’s good to have that, too. But guile is why your Shane Warne was such an exceptional bowler.”

No, it’s not important to the plot – although the reference to ‘ patience and guile, not just explosive flamboyance’ could just as well fit a tiger and the words were chosen deliberately.

American readers commented that they knew nothing about cricket but it didn’t really matter, while Australians have suggested it’s all too hard for those outside the knowledge. But then, plenty of American books have references to baseball, which has a tiny following in Australia, and grid-iron, which is not played here.

So what do you think? Can you share examples – or comment on my tiny excerpt?

If you’re a writer, nothing is ever wasted

If you’re a writer, nothing you’ve ever done, nothing you’ve ever learnt, or experienced will ever go to waste. I was thinking this profound thought the other day, when considering my latest work-in-progress. It’s a paranormal romance, set in India, Hong Kong and Melbourne and it touches on Indian and Australian history, as well as tiger poaching.

Wow. That’s quite a canvas, isn’t it? But you know the old saying – ‘write what you know’. To which I would add ‘and research the bits you don’t’. So what did I know? Well, I’ve lived in Melbourne, I’ve visited Hong Kong and I studied Indian history for three years as part of my BA(Hons) in history. I wanted to weave in a little of the history of the Afghan cameleers in Australia, so I used the internet for what I wanted to know. To learn more about tigers I watched documentaries by the master, David Attenborough, and went to the net to learn what I needed about tiger poaching.

The Indian part of the story had several layers. This wasn’t a history lesson, it was a novel about an Australian doctor confronted by a very different culture. I had to have enough of an idea of how that would work. My interest in India helped, because I had some basic understanding of how caste works and its impact on workers. But movies like ‘Ghandi’ and ‘A Passage to India’ added some color, as did traveler accounts I encountered on the net. I also had to learn enough about how a broken hip affects the patient and how it’s treated to make that thread convincing. One man who had experienced a broken hip had actually chronicled his recovery. Very useful.

This particular book (working title ‘Shadow of the Tiger’) is contemporary. Most of my other work is science fiction romance. Write what you know? How does that work?

Let’s take ‘Morgan’s Choice’. You’ll find a society which quite possibly derives from the Indian caste system. I wonder where I got that from? The main character, Morgan, is human but she has a supercomputer in her brain. This isn’t new; the concept is in other books. I’d suggest the difference with Morgan is I emphasise her humanity more than her data skills. Be that as it may, I worked for many years in the computer industry, first as a programmer and later as an analyst and team leader. So I felt I had a good chance of making Morgan’s activities in the cyber world convincing.

In my other two books, the ‘Iron Admiral’ series, I introduced an alien species called the ptorix. They’re not just a nightmare I dreamed up one night. I’ve had an abiding interest in nature and animals, as well as astronomy and cosmology, for many, many years and my alien species was well thought out, with characteristics you would expect in a technologically advanced society.

That history background has been useful many times over. Who said a BA isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on? The plot in ‘The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy’ is loosely based on a real, historical incident when Hitler’s secret police, dressed as Poles, staged an attack on a German radio station near the Polish border to give the Fuhrer an excuse to start what became World War 2.

See what I mean? Nothing is ever wasted.

Oh – one more thing; Sally Carter, MC of ‘Shadow of the Tiger’, is a very keen amateur photographer. Gosh, what a coincidence. 🙂