“Aren’t you a good boy?” she said, scratching both sides of his neck and bending down. Quickly but gently, MacUmba licked her face and wagged his tail even harder. The scents of fear and sadness swirling around her shattered into a million tiny drops and drifted away. Olivia laughed.
MacUmba knew she would be safe for many hours now. The scent ribbons of dread would not reappear as long as his kiss remained on her skin. It would protect her from things seen and unseen. She was marked with his own scent: sealed as a child under his protection – the protection of a great Guardian Hound. He would be sure to kiss her regularly.
~ The Pack, by T.J. Hendrix Coming Summer 2021!
I should have known better than to dismiss a 400-year-old Guardian Hound. Especially a shape-shifting Irish Wolfhound from the Line of Cullen of the Emerald Isle. (That's Ireland, of course.)
Technically I never really dismissed him. I just cut some of his lines. I've been spending the last few months working with editors on "The Pack," my first book. It's a middle grade fantasy for readers 9 to 14. I'd rather label it "contemporary fantasy" because it's set in the present in some very real places, but it's also full of plenty of magic. And monsters. So it got the label "middle grade fantasy." I'll take it.
MacUmba is a major character and, in a few chapters, the story is told from his point of view. Or point of nose, because like most dogs, smell is his strongest sense.
Did you know dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors -- "smell cells" -- in their noses, compared to about six million in humans? Yup. And that the part of a dog's brain that's devoted to analyzing smells is (proportionally) 40 times bigger than in humans? Yup.
Scientists have also found that dogs have a flap in their nose that splits the scents off the air they inhale. The air carrying scents is routed to a special "smell center" in the dog's nose, and then down to the lungs for breathing. The plain air goes straight to their lungs for breathing. Yup. When humans inhale, the scent air and the plain air is all mixed up. Scientists are working on figuring out exactly how dogs do that so they can build "robot noses" that can detect scents as well as dogs do. (Click here for a really interesting article about all this from the PBS show "NOVA.")
I find this kind of stuff fascinating. But back to MacUmba: whenever he's narrating, you'll find a lot of information about what he's smelling. That makes him an expert judge of how the other characters in the book are feeling. Because it's true: dogs really can smell what you're feeling. (For a great article on that, check out this piece in "Psychology Today.") MacUmba is actually a great narrator, and I really am thinking that someday I may write another book and let him tell us about his earlier years, maybe when he was only 100 or 200 years old.
So thanks to some really terrific editors and critique partners I've been working with, "The Pack" is now much less confusing for adults. If the chapter is told from MacUmba's point of view (it's like you're sitting in MacUmba's brain and seeing and smelling what he is and also hearing his thoughts), the entire chapter is told from his point of view now. No switching points-of-view mid-chapter now. (Bad writer, Bad!) A lot of chapters are told from Harmony's point of view. (She's the main character: the heroine. Or the protagonist if you like big words like I do.) One or two are told from Olivia's point of view. And one is even from Renny's point of view. We didn't get into Tosh and Zac's brains to see through their eyes and hear their thoughts this time; maybe in the next book. (Who are all these people? They're soon-to-be-seventh graders. You'll have to read the book to find out. Sign up for the emailing list in the box at the bottom of the page to find out when the book comes out and when other exciting things happen.)
Technically, though, whenever MacUmba or Harmony or Olivia or Renny are narrating the story -- they're not really narrating. (Bad writer! Bad!) The story is being told from their Point of View. Actually, there's a mysterious, unseen narrator in the background of all the chapters. I recently found out that's me.
"WHO IS YOUR NARRATOR?" my most passionate editor demanded. "I'm on the first page and I can't tell and I don't like it."
At first I couldn't answer the question.
So now, after some thinking, the narrator, I'm pretty sure, is me. I wrote an entire book not knowing this, and then had to go back and figure out what kind of narrator "The Pack" has. It turns out, I wrote it in Third Person Limited Narration. (What the heck is that? Check out this SAT Prep article.) I'm the narrator, but I'm not IN the story. You're never supposed to know that I'm there.
I decided that I didn't want to be an Omniscient Narrator. (An all-knowing narrator -- one who knows what's going on in everyone's head and heart at all times, and can spill the thoughts of any or every character across any page at any moment.) Nope, that seems like too much to keep track of.
So instead, in "The Pack," you get to read through a limited set of eyes. And noses. And MacUmba now has many of his lines restored, consolidated into MacUmba chapters, told in a way that's much less confusing for adults. Many thanks to all my very patient editors and critique partners.
Now that all THAT is sorted out, the most exciting thing is that "The Pack" is almost ready for formatting! That's the part when my MSWord file gets pried out of my anxious grip and goes to a layout editor who turns it into book-sized pages with the right margins so none of the words get cut off. And even more exciting, "The Pack" has a tentative back cover now!
But more about that next blog. I just wanted all the MacUmba fans to know he's still a big deal in the story. He never really left. He's been following me around for months, nudging me.