I often mumble incoherently.
“Mom says you’re talking to yourself again,” my daughter yells through the door of my small study.
I’m an indie writer. I’m self-employed. The mumbling—it’s a staff meeting.
Sometimes I have to raise my voice to make a point. But she can hear me in the kitchen, which is directly below me on the first floor. It’s a lively meeting. Lots to discuss.
I also do all my own stunts. But never intentionally. I lack exercise because I spend that time writing. It’s what writers do—we spend all this time with ourselves when we should be out exercising and considering our overall health picture.
But how can I leave the study when my new baby is so underdeveloped, so sickly? Revision is the only remedy.
James Michener said: “I’m not a good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
I know what he means. Each rewrite infuses my story with more juice. In the genre of comic fiction one can never have enough juice.
Moon Dogg is a story about reincarnation. As a writer, I ask myself: “Do you believe in reincarnation?” “No”, I answer, “but I did in my previous life.” I start joking around and the staff meeting drags on forever.
But a good story has to have juice, and it comes in two flavors: concept and execution. Concept: Is your story creative enough? In Moon Dogg, a man is murdered, and comes back to life in the body of someone else, yet with nagging memories of his previous life. Concept-wise the story has plenty of juice.
Execution: Anything juicy is fair game, and no punches are pulled. Does an ill-functioning sewage pipe have human waste regularly frolicking in the hallway? Put that in! Can two-headed alien babies become the star of the movie? Sure, put that in! Does the protagonist get hard-ons for his own sister? Yes. Put that in—even if it’s offensive! Flying to the moon on a Thunderbird? You bet! Put that in!
Push the limit and squeeze every scene for the last drop of juice!
Does Moon Dogg have the juice? It’s a whopping 370-page look at the life, the death, the life (again), and death (again) of one character—but with three different personas (Doggman, Abraham, Coyote).
It didn’t start out as such. The story was too back heavy, meaning a lot of really good stuff was in the back half of the story, and I wanted to push it up. By fracturing the narrative into three sections of Doggman’s life, I was able to do that.
The setting also gives the story plenty of juice. What better place to delve into the mysteries of the after-life than in the Sonora Desert, in the land of the people who embrace such beliefs?
Moon Dogg is really a legend within a legend of the Tohono O’dham Indian Nation. For a comprehensive understanding, readers must unravel the many legends, because they tie into one another. The overall legend is that of Coyote who is banished to the moon for stealing the chief’s pinole. The protagonist of the book is Coyote incarnate (though he doesn’t know that), and Coyote continues everlasting, reincarnating into another if it dies. The only way to get rid of troublesome Coyote is to banish it.
The second legend is that of Elder Brother, who lives in a cave on Mt. Baboquivari (what the protagonist the Dogg calls, Bob Mountain). In my story, the protagonist and the antagonist visit Elder Brother in the year 1969. One offers a gift, one doesn’t—and there are repercussions. The third legend is that of the Thunderbirds, which convey Coyote to the moon. The fourth legend is that of the saguaro, which are the souls of the dead, and which also bring the rains. They dance, too.
There is no shortage of symbolism in Moon Dogg. The mystical fertility deity, Kokopelli, takes the form of a saguaro and gives the story’s antagonist his just desserts. Dogg’s wife, Teresa, assumes the form of the nursing mesquite desert plant.
Appreciation goes to the Tohono O’odham tribe and to the kind nature of their members, who often endured my inane questions with gentle laughter, as I roamed their land developing the places, characters and stories that would become Moon Dogg.
The project started with a phone call from my brother, Thomas Greco, at the turn of the millennium, recalling a dream he’d had about a man who is murdered and then comes back to life in the body of someone else. My brother wondered if it might make an interesting screenplay. Over the years the story has swollen with legends and sub-stories and taken quite a few turns, but the central idea of what Tom pitched to me over the phone so long ago remains.
Following (in alphabetical order) are the chief books I found to be of value in my research: Donald Bahr’s edition of O’odham Creation & Related Events, John Bezy’s, A Guide to the Geology of Saguaro National Park, Bernard Fontana’s Of Earth & Little Rain, Francis Manuel and Deborah Neff’s Desert Indian Woman, Arnold Mindell’s Earth-Based Psychology: Path Awareness, Judi Moreillon’s Sing Down the Rain, Gary Paul Nabhan’s Gathering the Desert and The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O’odham Country.
I think the execution, or action, of this story has the juice. But a big part of Moon Dogg, I feel, is heart.
If you want to be a writer, you have to have it.
I know writers who have openly admitted to me that putting their real, honest feelings into a story is something they avoid.
I’m not kidding—they’re afraid to do it!
There’s a key scene at the end of the book when Coyote is heading off on its celestial journey, never to see Earth again. To commemorate this rather momentous sendoff, the saguaro cactus dance on the floor of the Sonora Desert:
“And below, the saguaro infuse Coyote with a searing energy for its new life.
‘Teresa!” it shouts into the wind, “The saguaro are dancing! God is an artist, like you!”
Despite never returning to Earth, Coyote gives tributes to whom it loves, and we see that—though it can be a real pest—Coyote has heart. Moon Dogg is a story with empathy and compassion. Yes, Doggman dies horribly—and twice. But his killers explain their own twisted rationale and seek atonement. Everywhere we look in Moon Dogg we find heart (another term used in the story is aliment).
If would-be writers want to become better, but hide their true selves, if they don’t know that anything creatively good must be self-revealing, then they’re not ready to write and will most likely fail.
If you can’t or won’t reveal your heart, then dare I say… I’m afraid you may lack the courage to be a writer.