To tell a story set in the Sonoran Desert, which occurs in only one region of the world, we must include the iconic species of plants and animals who are its defining features. Their presence maintains the balance of life and contributes to the great beauty of this desert landscape. The saguaro cactus is its signature plant life, who some believe evolved from a tree in the tropical rainforest that dried to a savannah and then to a desert over thousands of years.
Saguaro in Tucson Arizona after a rainstorm. Its long shallow roots absorb water efficiently after a heavy monsoon rain.
Threshold tells the stories of many desert plants, trees, insects, invertebrates, and mammals. One strategy for conserving water is to be active at dusk and dawn. These animals are said to be crepuscular (as contrasted with nocturnal). The jaguar is thus, and also nocturnal. Panthera onca is the third largest of the cat family with a bite more powerful than the tiger or lion.
I named the jaguar character in Threshold. Duma. With the risk of personifying a wild animal by human standards, I tried to stay strictly to the known biology, behavior, and observed lifeways of jaguars in the Sonoran Desert. In my story Duma obtains his name from first graders in Phoenix. You’ll have to read the book to learn how that came about. Below you see another feature of this remarkable character: he is an albino, a White Cat, causing local observers to refer to him as the “ghost cat” as he moves about the fields and pastures of farms and ranches, terrifying livestock and infuriating their caretakers.
Duma is my writer’s device to represent wild nature and the impact of a changing climate and human activity on his lifeways. His story also allowed me to describe the labyrinth of environmental and conservation laws on both sides of the border and how Duma becomes, literally, emmeshed in them. He crosses the U.S. -Mexico border while roaming his natural range which stretches from Sonora in Mexico north to Phoenix in Arizona. Duma is caught up in the social and political turmoil.
It is important to me to consider the lives of other species who share our habitats in what is a human centric world.
Threshold was published in 2016. Seven years later the characters and the action are recognizable as the Southwest has continued to heat up.
Drought and worries about growing food, sustaining adequate water supply, a dying Colorado River from overuse, and threat of losing hydropower all are present day challenges.
Threshold is written with youth in mind. Three teenage characters in different circumstances, and their families, navigate climate change differently, but all are thrown into finding sustaining ways to live and work.
Teachers, Middle School to High School young adults, parents, youth leaders, book clubs, and environmental conservation organizations will find Threshold interesting and useful. Stop by my table on March 2, Sunday in the Young Adult tables in the Indie Author Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books.
For teachers, see the page titled Threshold the Novel on this blog to download a standards articulation for Threshold.
Church groups and book clubs will find this a thought provoking novel to discuss.
A friend recently asked me how I created the characters for Threshold, my first novel. As all new writers do, I took classes, read books about character development, and read great character writers. Yet, nothing prepared me for what happened as I began to write the story.
In Threshold, Dr. Carla Connor took over. She did not follow the path I had planned for her. She emerged as a person who changes considerably over the course of the story, finding new parts of herself not even in her own plan for her life. She impacted other characters so that I had to reshape them as well. Yet Carla was perfect for my intent.
Nobody tells you about this phenomena. Just Google “How to Develop Character” and see what comes up. There is nothing about the character coming alive and driving the narrative.
Louise Erdrich, whose characters pop from the page, explained this phenomenon recently with the release of her National Book Award novel, The Round House. Listen to this interview. If you do not want to listen to all of it, advance to 4 minutes where she explains how a 13-yr old boy took over her story, how she lived his experience, and even how she misses him now that the book is “out there”
So go be kidnapped by characters; let them show you the way to the end. Just a warning: the process also comes with mile-high drafts, buckets of sweat and tears, emotional ups and downs, and slings and arrows.
Readers know that I’ve been blogging about an uncanny web of contacts and events that keep me ever tied to Tucson. Last week I wrote about how I became friends with a fellow ex-Tucsonan through our mutual membership in the West Florida Literary Federation. We both settled in Pensacola never knowing each other while in Tucson. Victoria became an important part of the writers who helped me while I completed Thresholdwhichwill be released in November by Fireship Press in Tucson.
ANOTHER UNCANNY TUCSON CONNECTION
While assisting the West Florida Literary Federation to bring two major New York City poets to Pensacola, I learned that one of them – Barbara Henning – lived in Tucson (while I was there) and was on the faculty at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. This link to the Poetry Center features a series of upcoming readings by poets with the focus on climate change which is the subject of my novel. I plan to attend Joy Harjo’s reading and then stay on in Tucson to promote the release of Threshold which means I will miss Barbara Henning’s performances and workshops in Pensacola during the Foo Foo Festival — our local celebration of arts and culture.
What is it that draws people to Tucson? To Pensacola? Check back soon to read “A Tale of Two Cities” and my migratory route between them over a 20 year period.