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  • Writer's pictureT.J. Hendrix

MacUmba is Missing

Updated: May 24, 2021

MacUmba is missing. That's no easy thing, considering he uttered more than 8,000 words as a sometime narrator in "The Pack" (coming in May 2021).

MacUmba is a 300-year-old Guardian Hound. As he proudly explained in earlier versions of "The Pack," “I am MacUmba, of the line of Cullen, Guardians of the Emerald Isle and its humans since the passing of the Tuatha de Dannan. I walk your forest now as shepherd of my charges, entrusted with their care. I will guard them with my life.”

That's his secret identity. In his day job, MacUmba is the mascot for Camp Coho, the summer camp in "The Pack." He's "a little scruffy gray dog" who picks a favorite to sleep with every summer.

But that's just his disguise. When danger threatens any of his campers, he transforms into the size and shape of a great Irish Wolfhound "as big as a small horse."

When I was writing The Pack, I liked MacUmba so much I let him narrate parts of the story. That is, parts of the story were told from inside his head, in a dog's-eye view. Or a dog's-nose view.

"MacUmba’s thoughts were interrupted by the sharp scent of dread. It twisted through crowd like a gray ribbon hanging in the air. 'Ah well, there is always one,' the scruffy hound thought, following the ribbon through a sea of legs to find its origin.

"It was a young girl standing with what appeared to be her father, looking not at camp but at the ground. The scent ribbons of dread swirled around her like the wrappings of a mummy. They were already tight around her eyes, preventing her from seeing anything as it actually was."

"...MacUmba trotted forward and sat by her leg. She began to pet him. He raised one paw to give her more access and was rewarded with a most delightful scratch. The scent ribbons of dread and sadness around her were shredding.

“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 even harder. The scents of fear and sadness shattered into a million tiny drops and drifted away."

I wasn't the only one who loved MacUmba. My critique group did too. (When you write a book, you join a group of other writers. Then you sit in a coffee shop and eat pastries and bagels and drink coffee and tea while one of you reads your latest chapters aloud. Then the pastry-eaters comment on whether it was good or bad or what they liked or didn't like. Then it's their turn to read aloud. It's quite terrifying at first.) "Can you be the dog more often?" one of them asked me. "Yeah," the other agreed. "I really like him." So I started letting MacUmba narrate the book in alternating chapters.

My middle school beta readers loved MacUmba too. (Beta readers are people you know who get to read your book before anyone else and tell you if it's lame, boring or pretty good -- where they got bored, and hopefully the parts they liked.)

My 9-year-old (advanced) beta reader gobbled up her book in silent reading time at school (when school was still at school). Then her mother made plans to send her for a week at a (real) summer camp in the redwoods.

"Will they have a camp dog there?" she asked. She wanted the camp dog to sleep on her bed.

Grown-ups, however, were a little confused about having a dog narrate "The Pack" sometimes. (MacUmba did tend to be a bit long-winded and poetic. But he's a 300-year-old Irish dog, so what do you expect?)

When you write a book, you finish it and give it to editors, who are people trained to help you make your book better. And agents, who you are hoping will sell your book to a publisher, so it can make its way to the bookshelf. (Mine will! Coming in 2021!)

Four editors/agents told me MacUmba was talking too much, and it sounded like he was really trying to make "The Pack" a story about him. (Maybe he was...)

So I finally took their advice, and cut out all the parts where MacUmba was narrating. And yep, he was narrating for 8,000 words.

Technically, MacUmba's not missing. He's still a great Guardian Hound, disguised most of the time as a scruffy little gray dog who's a mascot for Camp Coho. He still has a big part to play in the story, and even has a few lines of dialog. (You have to hear him with your inner ears -- and not everyone can. But a few get the hang of it.)

But he's no longer a narrator -- he doesn't tell parts of the story; he's just IN most of the story.

I'm already working on a sequel for "The Pack," and yes, MacUmba's in it. But what to do with those 8,000 words? Hmmm. I'm wondering. I'm thinking maybe sometime MacUmba is going to get to narrate his own book about some of his adventures.

After all, a 300-year old Irish Wolfhound of the Line of Cullen is sure to have some good stories.

And if you're wondering where I got the name's the name of a Scottish band that plays Caribbean fusion music. With drums and bagpipes. You can listen to my favorite MacUmba (the band) song here.

A while after MacUmba told me his name, I decided to Google it. Turns out it's also a Brazilian slang word for black magic. (Maybe that's where the band got it?) But rest assured, MacUmba doesn't have a dark magic bone in his body. He would, however, rip the bones out of anyone -- or anything -- using black magic to threaten his campers. Good dog.

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