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