Monday, March 22, 2010

Guest Blogger Kathleen E. Kovach on Alpacas, Whales, and Falcons

What do alpacas, whales, and falcons have in common? Read on and you’ll find out.

When deciding my next book project a couple of years ago, I thought, “How can I visit Mom in Oregon and get a tax write off?”

Okay, I didn’t exactly approach it that way, but I’m a fiction writer. What do you expect? However, the answer to my fictional question was to propose a three-book series set in Southern Oregon: God Gave the Song, released last October; Crossroads Bay, releasing the end of this month; and Fine, Feathered Friend, still in process.

My octogenarian mother lives in Medford, a fairly large town near an intriguing hamlet called Ashland, where I set God Gave the Song. Creative people live in Ashland. Weavers, glass blowers, jewelry makers—this charming little college town is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and apparently where old hippies retired and birthed baby hippies.

And they have alpacas. Lots of them. They would have to in order to keep all those weavers in business.

God Gave the Song is about two people with abandonment issues who learn to forgive with the help of a melodious alpaca. And yes, alpacas hum. Usually when distressed, but often when contented. At least, that’s what several experts told me, so I’m sticking to that story.

My first up-close experience with an alpaca happened only a few miles from my Colorado home on Stargazer Ranch in Loveland. Okay, Colorado has alpacas, too, but Mom doesn’t live here. You can read about that visit on my blog.

Before my trip to Oregon I continued my research online. Google became my friend as I virtually visited other ranches. But what I found most helpful were blogs by alpaca enthusiasts. Ranch owners who had funny, poignant, and real stories to tell became fodder for much of the alpaca action in my story. This is including my vignette about the cria who enjoyed a game of “Let’s Bounce Off Mommy.”

Once the story was contracted, I visited Mom. Yay! And God, who just had to show off, orchestrated my visit to coincide with an alpaca show practically in her backyard. How cool is He? We wandered around talking to tons of participants, getting ideas on everything from dyes to diet. Speaking of diet, in the afore mentioned blog article, I bring up the fascinating habit of . . . um . . . alpaca excrement. I hadn’t learned yet what many in the biz call “beans.” Because it looks like . . . um . . . a pile of beans. Oh yeah, that had to make it in the book.

Then, with the help of my Oregon family, we visited all three locations of this series.

The second book is Crossroads Bay where a beautiful charter boat captain searches for lost treasure while her real prize is the caterer trying to keep up with her. This book continues Paul’s story, a supporting character in God Gave the Song. Meranda, who gives whale watching tours, causes some consternation in Paul’s life as he is a severe landlubber. Oh, the things we writers do to our characters to make their lives miserable. Heh-heh . . .

Loosely based on a variety of coastal towns, our tour continued as we traveled from Coos Bay to Port Orford where we visited several lighthouses. Cape Blanco won my vote for favorite lighthouse in a setting, largely because of its red brick interior. My characters chisel at that brick to find the treasure. Are they successful? Read the book to find out!

And finally, on to the setting of the third book, Fine, Feathered Friend. An actress and a falcon handler find love with the help of a tattletale parrot named Cyrano. I took two stabs at researching the setting for this book. It takes place in Shady Cove, about fifty miles from Crater Lake, but the raptor sanctuary I wanted to use was in Eugene. So I moved it. Sometimes I think writers have more power than they deserve.

At the Cascades Raptor Center, I met Brian, a handler with every bit of passion that Tim, my character, possesses. He introduced me to several predatory birds, among them a red-tailed hawk, two vultures who sized me up for a snack, and an eagle re-learning how to fly. His most interesting story was of a dead mouse he’d forgotten in his sweatshirt pocket. He pulled it out at the grocery store. Apparently the clerk was not amused. (Note the lifeless fuzzy thing in his right hand—ew.)

Watch my blog,, for updates or find me on Facebook.

Thank you JoAnne for inviting me to guest blog, and thank you readers for your support. I love you all.


Erica Vetsch said...

I love to read about how writers do their research and the wonderful places that research takes them.

Thank you!

Debra Ullrick said...

Only you, Kathy. You're too funny. After reading this post, I have to read the Oregon series.

Don't you wish all research was that much fun? Visting family and being able to claim it on your income tax. hehe

Super fun interview.


Megan DiMaria said...

What a fun post about your writing life. I didn't expect any less from you, Kathy.


Kathy Kovach... said...

Thanks Erica, Deb, and Megan! I wish I'd had more time to mention that my sister and brother-in-law were also instrumental in my research. All of us, including hubby on my first trip out, piled into our rented car and I was given a narrated tour of their beloved Oregon. Sis is a great tour guide and bro-in-law knows a lot about the local flora and fauna. I also found out that Sis loves to interview people. She would ask the questions I never though of. It was great! She's ready to help me research my next book, no matter where it might take us. lol

Debra E Marvin said...

Funny and informative. The setting sounds amazing and then you finished the deal with the lighthouse photo.

I'm glad to have found out about these books, Kathy!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Great post, Kathy! No one writes alpacas better than you. *grin*

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Paula said...

Love this post, Kathy--and love your stories. You have a gift for weaving in humor and depth. Of course I'm a bit bias 'cause I love you to death!

sanjeet said...

You're too funny. After reading this post, I have to read the Oregon series.
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