Just a few weeks ago, the land north of where I live was on fire. When my wife and I were house shopping, three of those prime locations were located within the burn zone. They were large enough homes for our family of 7 and they had enough land to raise a few llamas. I say “were” and “had” because those homes are no longer there.
So the fires in Colorado reminded me of llamas. And llamas reminded me of a question that comes up every so often during those occasions when people ask me questions about what I’ve written.
In 2002 (or so), a writer friend (the-great-and-not-quite-as-unknown-as-me Eric A. Jackson) and I were discussing what makes good fiction. At the time, he had recently loaned me a copy of Bentley Little’s The Collection, a great book of short stories. One of those stories included a dead llama. Naturally, the discussion on what made good fiction turned to the elements of a story. In this case, what made Little’s story so good was, in fact, that dead llama.
“A good story,” I surmised, “must include a llama.”
“Your summation is correct,” replied the-great-and-not-quite-as-unknown-as-me Eric A. Jackson.
As it turned out, this wasn’t exactly an errant thought. Beginning in 2003, I promised myself I would write a story that included a llama and see what happened. That story, The Bridge, was accepted by All Hallows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society. Thinking it odd that the errant thought might be correct, I wrote another story, Conner’s Menagerie, which also included a llama. Sure enough, Conner’s Menagerie was published in the anthology Bare Bone 9.
The connection was obvious.
Llamas make good copy.
“This cannot be true,” I told myself.
In 2005, I wrote a rather surreal story in present tense that became the title of my first collection. In Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road, the protagonist is confronted by a talking, spitting llama. Here is a snippet…
The road turns again, and he can hear the roar of the motorcars that aren’t there speeding by and honking at him. He knows he must make the bridge at least, if only to see the other side for what it is, what it promises to be.
He stops and looks across. A llama stares back, its legs bent in unnatural positions. Blood drips from the side of the beast and turns the beige coat into a maroon mess of fur. He thinks it was hit recently, but he doesn’t know why he has these thoughts.
“All you had to do was cross the road,” the llama says.
“I didn’t know llamas were hit by motorcars that often.” He speaks for the first time to a dead animal, not fearing why he’s doing it but fearing more what response he’ll get.
“Did you expect a dog or a rabbit? Maybe a possum or a deer? Tell me—what do you expect to find on this side of the road?”
“And what do you see from that side?”
“All I see are dead animals hit by motorcars I haven’t seen.”
The llama grunts, then plops its body onto the shoulder of the road. “If you haven’t seen the motorcars, why don’t you cross?”
Sure enough, the story was later published in Bare Bone 10. (I have yet to make the connection between the Bare Bone anthology series and llamas.)
I’m guess I’m not wrong in my assertion that llamas make good copy. Guess what book is currently #1831 on the Amazon.com bestsellers list?