I've had mostly positive responses to the talking animals in my stories, but some readers haven't enjoyed them. Those readers have readily admitted that they "get" the irony of buying the whole Mer thing but not going along with the idea of talking animals.
My perspective was, if you've got half-fish people who can breathe underwater and shift their tail into legs, why not have chatty animals? And if you're going to have animals speak on land, why not fish in the sea? Birds in the sky? In my mind, it just goes to follow.
So, when it came time for some animal interaction in Catch of a Lifetime, the third Mer story out this month, I wanted to keep it fresh and new. We've already seen the talking fish in In Over Her Head, and talking birds --oops, pardon me, I mean avians --in Wild Blue Under, I had to come up with something else.
Stewart is an anole, one of those little green lizards that can turn brown and lose its tail to make a quick getaway. Growing up I had them as pets, though we called them chameleons, an incredibly wrong name. At the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire they call them baby dragons and sell them to pleading children.
Anoles do live in Florida where Catch of a Lifetime is set, and I've had them as pets, so he was easy to come up with. Now all I needed to do was figure out who Stewart was and what he was going to do in the story.
I love Stewart. I really do. And not because he's all that nice of a person, er, lizard. He's incredibly self-centered. And he's not a big fan of Humans. Especially children. He even plays a nasty role in the black moment of the story and doesn't really show much remorse for it.
But I can't help but love Stewart.
Sometimes when I'm writing, a character will just speak to me. Yes, in my head, but also in my heart. I know that character from the second he/she opens their mouth. Stewart is one of those. All he had to do was role his eyes independently of each other and I knew who he was. His parts were easy to write. The words just flowed from my fingertips as I typed.
The funny thing is, Stewart almost didn't make it into the final story. My editor was not so enamored of Stewart. And in deference to her opinion, the original part she'd read of Stewart shouldn't have been in the story and colored her view of him. Once I got rid of that part and re-worked the necessary parts into the rest, then Stewart got the green light to be in the story.
He would have been highly insulted not to have been. Trust me. That whole time I was reworking his scene he was figuratively on my shoulder, screaming directions in my ear. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate.
But, in the end, he let me meld him in such a way that he got his point across yet still managed to blend in with the rest of the story - which, as he will tell you himself, anoles are wonderfully capable of blending in with their surroundings.
Here's a sampling of Stewart.
Angel clicked her pen to add Michael’s flotation tactic and paper animals to her list when, “Could it really be? Angel Tritone?” almost had her jumping out of the chair.
She turned around. Then back. Who-in-Hades had said that?
“Psst! My dear girl!” Something small and brown waved green front legs at her from atop the wall. A lizard. An anole, to be exact, the brown coloring camouflaging him against the stone. He must have turned his limbs back to green to catch her attention.
“How are you?” The dewlap beneath his chin turned a vibrant orange as the green color slowly slipped over the rest of his body. “I’m Stewart. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about your studies. Is this one of them? I could help, you know. I have been living amongst Humankind for quite a few selinos.” Stewart’s gesticulating hand moved as quickly as his words.
“They’re not all as nice as this gentleman, if I do say so, and that child worries me. Why, before I ended up here, I’d gone through three tails at the hands of children. Three!” A shudder rippled down his body. “Vicious creatures, I tell you. Worse than any house cat. Well, perhaps not cats.”
Angel glanced at Michael, who was happily spouting water from his mouth like a whale, and opened her notebook to shield the talking lizard. Bad enough Michael knew about Mers; the fact that animals could speak was just as top secret. “Hi, Stewart. I can’t really talk right now.” She motioned to Michael.
“Ah yes. Bipeds.” Stewart gave her a thumbs-up with a tinydigit. “But I can be of assistance, you know. I’ve had extensive fieldwork in the strolling habits of Humans and ways to avoid them. Plus, I did my dissertation on escape tactics from the captivity their young find such delight in subjecting anoles to.” He shuddered, a brown line of pigment zigzagging over his back.
“I’ll take up residence in this lovely gardenia bush for the duration of your stay.” Stewart shook his elongated head, then tapped the side of it with another bony digit. “But how silly of me. That won’t be long at all, will it? You’ll be leaving tomorrow because of that tail thing your kind has to deal with. I’m quite glad that doesn’t apply to anolis carolinensis. I’d hate to think of my life being governed by tail issues. Whenever my tail becomes a problem, I simply leave it. How utterly horrifying to have to live your life according to your inability to do so. How do you stand it?”
The tail was nothing compared to Stewart’s loud, godlier-than-thou attitude and the threat of her study being interrupted by an overzealous, self-important lizard.
© Judi Fennell, Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010
I'm so glad Stewart made it into the final version; he has a pretty big part later on in the story, so I don't know how I would have come up with that plot point if not for Stewart, but also because he was such a fun character to get to know.
Now if only he'd stop jabbering in my ear demanding his own story. It's one thing to get a Human to fall in love with a Mer, but with a lizard? Sorry, Stewart, but I don't see that happening. And I'm only writing Human love stories. Lizard ones… well, maybe that'll be the next big genre. LOL
CATCH OF A LIFETIME BY JUDI FENNELL—IN STORES FEBRUARY 2010!
She’s on a mission to save the planet…
Mermaid Angel Tritone has been researching humans from afar, hoping to find a way to convince them to stop polluting.
When she jumps into a boat to escape a shark attack, it’s her chance to pursue her mission, but she has to keep her identity a total secret…
When he finds out what she really is, they’re both in mortal danger…
For Logan Hardington, finding a beautiful woman on his boat is surely not a problem—until he discovers she’s a mermaid, and suddenly his life is on the line…
The third novel in Judi Fennell's mermaid series, a fresh, exciting, and different entry in romance fiction!
About the Author
Judi Fennell is an award-winning author. Her romance novels have been finalists in Gather.com's First Chapters and First Chapters Romance contests, as well as the third American Title contest. She spends family vacations at the Jersey Shore, the setting for some of her paranormal romance series. She lives in suburban Philadelphia, PA. For More information, and a chance to win a romantic ocean getaway, visit www.judifennell.com.
Contest Time: Make sure to leave Judi a comment about her article and leave your email addy also as Sourcebooks is graciously giving away 2 copies of Catch of a Lifetime. 2 winners, US and Canada only.