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Rant #4: In Which the Author Discusses Zombie Cannibal Ocelots, and the Provenance Thereof

Let's talk about zombie cannibal ocelots.


There are, in case you were wondering (or you didn't read the front page of the site), zombie cannibal ocelots in my short story "Professor Fetherington's Lament". I don't know exactly how many there are. Twelve, I think. Possibly fifteen, though some of them get treated rather roughly during the course of the story. I don't know what their names are, and probably couldn't pronounce them if I did.

They're not the central characters of the story. They're not even the central bad guy. They're just in there because I needed something completely over the top and suitably pulpy for the mandatory fight scene, and because I'd foolishly joked with my wife about - wait for it - zombie cannibal ocelots.

We like ocelots, you see. We really like ocelots. The first present I ever got the woman who is now my wife was a stuffed ocelot (plush, not mounted). We support the efforts of the one remaining ocelot preserve in the United States. Melinda even keeps on threatening to turn the ancestral homestead (hers, not mine) in Missouri into an ocelot ranch when we retire out there, never mind that the climate isn't ocelot-friendly and the neighbors might have something to say about us suddenly inflicting a small herd of enthusiastic carnivores who can jump like bastards on the area. Or, to put it another way, I'm not looking forward to walking a twelve-foot high fence line around the property.

So naturally, after reading Yet Another Anthology with the equivalent of vampire cockroaches in it and raging therefore, I told Melinda that I was going to do something different, something that had never, ever been seen before. I was going to do a story on zombie cannibal ocelots.

She, quite appropriately, laughed. I don't think she thought I was serious, for one, and I don't think she thought I could pull it off, for another. Hell, I didn't think I could pull it off. But a couple of weeks later, I was asked to contribute a story to a pulp-themed anthology. I sat down, started writing the noble tale of a two-fisted archaeologist named Doctor Fetherington (he didn't get tenure until about draft 6) and his arch-enemy, Doctor Destiny.

And when I got to the middle, I needed some critters for a fight scene, and the zombie cannibal ocelots popped up and said, "Hi."

Well, not literally "Hi." More like "Mwraoorrr" with bits falling off of it, if you must know. But they were there, and they were absolutely, 100% appropriate.

Even when they were getting their heads squished in.

The story followed a somewhat torturous road after that. The first anthology got cancelled, the second one I sent it to rejected it (not enough zeppelin or cowbell, I suspect), and it wasn't until the third, Amazing Heroes II, that it found a home.

They get mentioned in the intro, you know. Not poor Professor Fetherington. Not his long-suffering nemesis. Not the jaguar god or the exploding zeppelin or anything else in there.

The zombie cannibal ocelots. That's what people remember in that story. The element, the spark, the unique thing that jumps off the page and into people's memories. They make an impression, possibly with claws.

It wasn't supposed to happen like that. Professor Fetherington was supposed to be in charge, the focus of the action and the hero of the hour. But there are a lot of heroes of a lot of hours out there, and not a lot of - say it with me - zombie cannibal ocelots. Sometimes, the best bits, the real bits, are unplanned and unlooked-for. They just are where you need them to be.

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