I totally goofed up today and did not post my guest blog for James M. Jackson! He got it to me in plenty of time and neglected to post this! I can't not do it, though. You'll LOVE it. Here's a bit about Jim:
JAMES M JACKSON is the author of Bad Policy for Barking Rain Press. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country. Jim has published a book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays.
Please visit http://jamesmjackson.com/Novels/novels.html where he has a continuing updated list of places that carry the book and http://bit.ly/146LaXR where people can read the first 4 chapters and get a 35% off coupon from Barking Rain Press.
Now, here's his post~~~~~
I have been a birder (note, not bird watcher) for over 35 years. Most
birders keep lists: a life list of all the different birds they have seen,
state lists, county lists, backyard lists (where I spotted this red-shouldered
hawk). Many keep total lists as well as lists for each year. I was the same way
for the first half of my birding life, but since then other interests have
captured more of my time and attention.
My partner, Jan, and I love road trips. For me, there is
nothing like seeing a biome first-hand to start to understand its history, its
people, and yes, its birds. Neither one of us had been to the Rio Grande
This January we rectified that gap in our experiences.
While we enjoy road trips on our own, I know I learn more about a
region using professionally guided field trips. In addition to the guide there
were eight of us on the tour. Jan is not a birder. She enjoys seeing the
geography, loves walking outdoors and prefers looking at ducks because they are
big and stay still. Those LBJs (little brown jobbers) that flit from perch to
perch, hiding behind leaves are not very interesting to her.
One of our other members was a new birder. Several had been
in the area several times and had joined the trip in hopes of seeing two or
three specific birds they had previously missed. My rusty skills left me in the
middle of the pack between these two extremes. And frankly, these days I would
just as soon spend an hour watching a robin working over a pile of leaves for a
morsel as see a brand new bird. But truth be told, I would not drive hours to
see a robin, but I would for a new-for-me bird!
One of the things I do when I’m not out looking at birds is write. It’s
one of the reasons I enjoy seeing different parts of the country. I won’t place
a character in a locale if I don’t have some experience there.
If the birding is slow, I start to think about how a story
might fit a particular local. For example, the Rio Grande is not very wide and
the Border Patrol folks travel the river in high-speed boats you can hear ten
minutes before they arrive. So smugglers…
Or I start thinking about how characteristics of the people I’m
traveling with might flesh out a story. Some people are like the long-billed curlew
above right or the common pauraque above left, whose camouflage makes it seem
one with the environment. You need to look closely at the curlew picture to see
how long its bill is. And if you don’t already know where the bird is, you may
never spot it in the field, even though it’s almost two feet tall. If someone
had not pointed out the common pauraque I would have passed it by.
Others stick out like this green kingfisher. They wear
bright colors as if to say, “Look at me! Look at me!” When we do look closely,
we notice the mud on its bill from capturing a tasty morsel from the mud.
Some just want to be left alone, like this yellow-crowned night heron
trying to ignore me while I took its picture. Some, like this scaled quail,
have no clue of the impression they make on others as they go about their
Now being a birder is not without its problems, one of which is being
engrossed in a movie when from the middle of an Amazonian jungle comes the
haunting ululation of a common loon. The call might be perfect for the mood of
the scene, but someone would have to kidnap a common loon to get it to visit a
South American jungle. It’s North American and prefers open water.
Sometimes the sound techs will get a bird in the right
habitat, but wrong season, and I’ll hear a warbler signing its mating song in
the middle of winter.
I use my love of the outdoors and of birds in my writing. None of my
characters, so far, has been an avid birder. Seamus McCree, the protagonist of
my mystery Bad Policy
, does enjoy
birding and often makes references to birds.
For example, Seamus’s girlfriend (a bodyguard) has been away
on business for a long time and Seamus is wondering what their status is but
hasn’t figured out how to resolve the situation. He takes a run in a nearby
park and the comparison between his life and what is natural slaps him in the
On my run, I
purposefully slowed my pace and added a loop to include Burnett Woods, where
the trees sang with spring bird migration in full swing. Coupling was in the
air and in the woods. I was having difficulty putting one foot in front of the
other. If you don’t like the way things are going, I chided myself, do
Seamus also uses his grounding in bird nature to make
comparisons. He and his son are eating. He has no appetite because someone has
just been killed. Not so his son, Paddy.
Paddy, who still had the metabolism of a hummingbird,
eyed my plate and at my nod swapped his empty one for mine.
We learn Seamus feeds birds in this sequence when he is being
interrogated by the police and first finds out why they have taken him in for
“When were you last in your basement?” [the cop asked]
“My basement? I have no clue. Maybe to
get food for my bird feeders? Tuesday? Wednesday?” I wracked my mind trying to
piece together the last week, but my sleep-deprived brain didn’t work. “Look.
I’m tired. I’m hungry. I want to help because whatever you’re investigating, I
didn’t do it. Is Abigail okay? What happened?”
Lewis snapped his fingers at the sergeant
who brought over a 4x6 print, which he laid face down on the table between
Lewis and me.
“Go ahead,” Lewis said. “Take a look.”
I searched their faces for a clue, but they sported
flat cop eyes—daring me to turn over the photo. Instinctively, I picked it up
by its edges. Not that I didn’t trust them…actually, I didn’t trust them. For
whatever reason, I mentally counted to three before flipping the print over. I
gagged. A nude man, his face blown away by a shotgun blast, elbows, knees, and
ankles shattered, burn marks on his chest, sat in my basement on one of my
porch chairs. Orange adjustable straps, just like the ones I owned, held his
body to the chair.
All those scenes from Bad
took place in the Cincinnati area where we lived for many years. Now
that we’ve visited the Rio Grande Valley, I might be able to add a future scene
from that area—as long as the point of view is from a character who hasn’t
spent much time there. If the character actually lived in the area, I’d have to
go back and study it more---hmm, that’s not such a bad idea…