Saturday, December 20, 2014

Meet the Herd: Elvis the Bull #farming #animals

WARNING: This post contains references to animal breeding and uses anatomically correct language and some slang. Gentle readers may find the topic disturbing.

Elvis in his natural state: eating
If you stop by this blog now and again, you may have come across the first member of our herd to be profiled, Mr. Donkey. Our bull Elvis is next. He joined us in 2009 and is a full-blood Black Angus. Why did we name him Elvis? We were looking for a Romeo, a bull who could woo our cows like they've never been wooed, and make very pretty babies. Elvis was a good choice, because he curls his lip in true Presley fashion when he's in an amorous mood.

Our first bull (Bully) came from my parent's farm, and when it was time to replace him, we were a little nervous. Picking a bull isn't as easy as it might sound.

It turns out that you need a bull strong enough to dominate his herd and fight off other bovine contenders for the attention of his females. He has to have good stamina and a healthy libido to ensure all the ladies get bred at the right time. It's important that he have a small head and relatively narrow shoulders, so his calves have no problems coming down the birth canal. His calves have to put on weight quickly, so they bring a good price at the sale barn. It's also important that our bull be easy to manage and not try to dominate us.

While you can judge some of these traits by appearance and personality, one of the most important factors to a bull's success - his fertility or rate of impregnation - can only be judged through his testicles.


So how do you measure a bull's rate of impregnation? Just like with a human male, you can take a sample of his semen and evaluate sperm quality and quantity. Are we likely to do this with Elvis? Heck no.

Another way to determine fertility is to measure the size of your bull's balls.

I laughed the first time I heard that. I thought the guy who told us was joking, but he was quite serious.

It turns out that size does matter where a bull's plums are concerned. Scrotum circumference influences the number of sperm a bull produces, the size of his son's scrotum, and his daughter's fertility. (If you're fascinated by this topic, see this article at the University of Missouri Extension website.)



Back to Elvis. How do his cobblers measure up? We'll never know for sure, because I'm not about to chase Elvis around the pasture with a tape measure. From eyeballing his backside, they look pretty good to me.




The best proof is his offspring. We haven't had to pull any of Elvis' calves from the birth canal, which means the babies are a good shape. His bulls weigh in nicely on sale day, so we have no complaints on growth rate. And our cows end up bred every year, which means that Elvis' libido and his sperm are doing their job.

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about bulls and cow breeding, and Elvis would be mortified to know I've been talking about his gonads. So to end this post on a lighter note, I'll share a few little known facts about Elvis:

Favorite book: The Butterfly and The Bull by Stuart Haddon. Elvis is chuffed that a Black Angus bull can play such an important role in a paranormal thriller. He thinks he might have a shot at a starring role in Haddon's next book, but we're trying to keep his ego in check.

Favorite song: He digs the Elvis Presley version of Milkcow Blues Boogie (music and lyrics by Sleepy John Estes) because it's sung by his namesake.

Favorite food: Cubes from the Big Blue Bucket. No question.

Little known fact: Elvis weighs almost as much as a Mini Cooper, but he's a gentle fellow and loves a rub between the ears.

Check back for more posts on other members of the herd, including Mr. Donkey, Sid Vicious, 107, and Gimpy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Tour - Maxine Leverman

I was lucky enough to be asked by Charles Dougherty (@clrdougherty) to introduce the main character from my current novel. Charles is probably best known for the Bluewater Thriller series, but my favorite book of his is a mystery called DECEPTION IN SAVANNAH. It has a great cast of characters and is loaded with a twisty plot that will have you laughing and dying to know who done it.

Be sure to meet the main characters from the Bluewater Thriller series on Charles' blog (click here), and at the end of this post, I'll introduce you to two new authors, so keep reading!

One of the things I love about writing a series is that I never know where the characters will take me. People often assume that my characters are an amalgamation of people I've known with a smidge of my personality thrown in, but this is rarely true. So far, my characters have arisen from the imaginary world I've created, Forney County, to fill a necessary role in the story. We need an insecure sheriff, and hey presto, Bill Hoffner is born and matures through the books. Characters rarely arrive fully loaded with an intact history; instead, I have the pleasure of learning about them as the stories, and then the series, unfolds.

Today I'm introducing a character who made herself known in the second Cass Elliot crime novel, AVENGERS OF BLOOD. Maxine Leverman appeared about halfway through the book, and once I finished writing, she wouldn't leave my head. So I decided to try and write her out of it. Will it work? She's turning out to be a persistent gal and I suspect she'll end up having a series of her own, but only time will tell.

Who is Maxine Leverman?

Maxine was born in 1985, the same year as Cass, which makes them both 26 in 2011, the year the first two Cass Elliot novels and Maxine's first book begin. She and Cass have known each other since childhood and in Maxine's words:

Cass Elliot is my best friend. Has been since, well, maybe not since before dirt, but certainly since we were eating dirt. Usually at her house. Mud pies tasted better there, probably thanks to something toxic in the soil.

Maxine married young and divorced her hedge fund managing husband after realizing he was a cross-dresser. She's making him pay for his love of lingerie, literally, and has no need of a job. On a weekend out partying after her divorce, she was drugged, raped, and marked with a scar that runs from her collar bone to beneath her breast. She and Cass lost touch during "the hedge fund years", but Maxine finally came to Cass in AVENGERS OF BLOOD, seeking help in finding the man who attacked her. She discovered that Cass has a similar scar on her chest; it seems they've been raped by the same man, although years apart.

After Cass is shot in AVENGERS OF BLOOD, Maxine decides to become a private investigator to work with Cass in finding and stopping their rapist.


When and where is the story set?

Maxine's first novel moves between the very fictional Arcadia located in Forney County in East Texas, and the very real Dallas, Texas. Maxine was born and raised in Arcadia but finds that even though she needs to come home to be closer to Cass, she can't leave her big city life behind. Thankfully, she has enough dirt on the cross-dressing ex-husband to fund comfortable homes in both locations.

The book is set in 2011, the year of Texas' worst drought in nearly a century. If you've read the Cass Elliot crime novels, you'll recognize many of the characters who turn up in Maxine's story. In a place as small as Arcadia, we're bound to bump into the same people now and again. But you'll also meet a host of new characters relevant to Maxine's life and this mystery.


What defines Maxine?

Maxine is ferociously headstrong and independent. Her father adored her but valued her older brother because he was the male child and therefore the heir to their family's oilfield business. She found herself competing for their father's recognition until his death when she was twelve. During their childhood and into their adult lives, their mother was absorbed in competing with her husband by building a successful custom furniture business.

This lack of attention and love drove Maxine into the bosom of the dysfunctional Elliot family. She spent much of her childhood in Cass's home, simply accepted as another of the many children racing through the house.

Maxine is defined by her gender, or more specifically by her father's belief that while girls are special, boys are worthy. Marriage to the hedge fund manager introduced her to power and money on a massive scale, and while she's more than financially secure thanks to his love of silk panties and the trust fund her father left her, she needs to build her own life, to find a path that allows her to be taken seriously. She's decided that the road to credibility lies in becoming a private investigator and working at the Lost and Found Detective Agency with her aunts, Kay and Babby, and her cousin Cindy.


What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Maxine is mouthy, impetuous, and overtly sexy. She's fully capable of messing up her own life, although circumstances outside her control have contrived to kick her occasionally. She surreptitiously takes a case on her first day at Lost and Found and decides to work it herself, assuming that finding a missing husband is a no-brainer. After all, she's had a husband, hasn't she? How hard can it be to find one that's gone astray?

From that decision, things go from bad to worse. When the aunts find out, Kay makes up her mind to fire Maxine for working without a PI license, and Babby only manages to save her by promising that Maxine will work under her supervision. Chastised, Maxine accepts the help of her aunts and cousin and finds the husband, but also discovers that his life is a tangled web of lies. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she discovers and the harder it is for Maxine to let go of a case she's already solved. When people start dying, she doesn't believe the police have arrested the right murderer and pushes her aunts, her cousin, and Cass to help her find the truth.


What drives Maxine?

When she started working at Lost and Found, Maxine's sole goal was to use their resources to find her rapist. But as she's worked the case of the missing husband, she's found that she enjoys investigations and that her passion for seeing things to completion (or her hardheadedness, depending who you ask) is a benefit that can drive her to succeed. More importantly, she's discovered that the truth, and finding it, matters greatly to her.


Is there a working title for this novel?

Nope, no title yet.


When can we expect the book to be published?

Follow me on Twitter (@gaelynnwoods) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/gaelynn.woods) for news about this release and upcoming Cass Elliot novels.

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And now I'd like to introduce you to two fabulous authors that I've read and enjoyed, Dana Griffin and Sinclair Macleod. Check their blogs in the next week or so for introductions to one of their characters.

Dana Griffin (dana-griffin.com) writes high intensity airline thrillers. Yes, thrillers about airplanes. His first two books are THE COVER-UP and COERCED, and Dana knows what he's talking about. He's been a pilot for 25 years, the last 15 of those with major airlines. All this experience gives his books a reality that makes for a wild, conspiracy-filled ride. You can find him on Twitter at @DanaGriffin97.

Sinclair Macleod (sinclairmacleod.blogspot.com) lives in Glasgow and writes THE RELUCTANT DETECTIVE mystery series starring Craig Campbell, a Glaswegian insurance investigator pressed into finding out who murdered a young boy. Sinclair has a way with characters, giving you a sense that these are real people who live and breathe. He draws you into the seedy underside of life, but manages to leave you with a bit of hope for humanity no matter how depraved we may seem. You can find him on Twitter at @sinclairmacleod.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Herd: Mr. Donkey #farming #animals

I'm starting this series thanks to a kick in the pants from my wonderful friend Jackie in England, who asked for photos of the creatures inhabiting our farm. Rather than just post photos, I thought I'd share a little about their history and personalities, so we'll start with Mr. Donkey, who is truly one of a kind.



He's a lovely brown, with a darker mane and tail, and a splash of white at his bottom. He also wears white cotton socks on all four legs and has a few white splotches on his neck. As he's aged, Mr. Donkey's muzzle is fading to gray, giving him a grizzled look.


Why do we call him Mr. Donkey? His personality demands a certain respect. He's our only donkey, but he is a key member of the herd. You see, Mr. Donkey's main job is protection. He's the muscle, which might seem odd given that he's about 1/10th the weight of a cow. But when a calf is born, Mr. Donkey assumes baby-sitter role and minds the newborn while the momma (or mommas, depending on how fast the calves are coming) grazes. He's a brave fellow despite his diminished size and has put himself between a coyote and the herd, and a pack of dogs and the herd. Neither challenged him.


He's also a bit of a punching bag. As the calves grow, he's the nearest creature to their size, so when they get tired of head butting each other, they try to butt Mr. Donkey. He tolerates it pretty well, but when the calves see his tail flick, they learn to back off or get a tap from his hoof.


While we think he rivals Methuselah in age, we're not really sure how old he is. His early years are a bit murky, but we know he did a stint as a rodeo donkey and was rescued by the Heard family (fitting, eh?), who live near my grandparent's old place. While at the Heard estate, a mule took a chunk out of his neck. We have no idea how his spinal cord managed to avoid being severed, but it did. Mr. Heard smeared a healing ointment in Mr. Donkey's wound and barring a strange dip mid-neck, he's fully recovered.


He came to live with my parents about fifteen years ago when they expanded their cattle herd, and he moved to our ranch in 2007. He's an eating machine, stopping only to roll around on the ground for a nice dust bath. Given that we've had such a lovely spring and summer, he looks a little like a barrel on legs but he'll trim down to his normal svelte size in the winter.

He's notoriously camera shy (I was lucky he tolerated my taking these photos) and even a bit moody when it comes to being petted, although if you catch him just right he loves having his ears tickled. When he makes his mind up to be immovable, he's immovable. We've tried moving him from one pasture to another by tugging on his halter (when he wears one), but have found that shaking a bucket of feed works better.

He's very patient with creatures that are smaller than he is, like kids. Mr. Donkey has not been ridden since he's lived with us, and when people ask if he's rideable, we answer that if you can catch him, you're welcome to try.

Some fast facts about Mr. Donkey:

Favorite book: The Geronimo Breach by Russell Blake (A burro plays a key role in saving the hero. I think there's a bit of donkey-envy going on.)

Favorite song: "Donkey" by Jerrod Niemann. Even though he objects to the riding part, Mr. Donkey digs the chorus: "Gonna ride that donkey donkey down to the honky tonky, it's gonna get funky funky, aw aw." The song is either stupid or brilliant, depending on the listener, but Mr. Donkey loves it. He's also partial to Johnny Horton's "Electrified Donkey", mostly because Mr. Donkey's too smart to touch an electrified fence.

Favorite food: Anything, really, but he'll come trotting for an apple core.

Little known fact: He was the inspiration for the strip club name 'The Ronkey Donkey' in The Devil of Light.
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Stay tuned for more posts on other members of the herd, including Elvis, Sid Vicious, 107, and Gimpy.