My daughter and I began watching this Britbox series last week: Living the Dream, about an English family locating to Florida to run an RV park, full of eccentric characters. The show only had a short run of two abbreviated seasons and doesn’t seem to have racked up much awareness but we have enjoyed it immensely, because of the ‘fish out of water’ aspect, and because all the characters, even just the secondary characters appear to have lives of their own, and are quirky and endearing.  I don’t know if it’s because the writing for the series is intelligent, funny, and mostly avoided making vicious caricatures of Americans, the South, and Floridians generally, although given every opportunity to do so.  There really aren’t any big name stars among the cast, either, although most seem to have had long and relatively unspectacular careers playing character roles in various TV series in the US and Britain; solid professionals, every one, who appeared to to have enjoyed themselves enormously filming on location in Florida.

This brought on some thoughts about how certain TV series and movies manage to give us the impression that even minor characters have fully-rounded lives – that they are just not walking on for the sake of supplying lines or plot points to the main characters. Some small quirk or quality hints at that aspect. I don’t know if it can be attributed to the screenwriting, or perhaps the skill of the actor in coming up with little bits of business that establish that individuality even in a small part, but it is there in some movies and shows, and absent in others. The first time I was made aware of this was in one of the extra features to a recent DVD of Breakfast at Tiffany’s; an examination of the crowded party scene in Holly Golightly’s apartment. One of the extras involved explained how long it took to film that scene and dropped the information that all the bit players involved had worked out all kinds of mini-dramas, played out as the camera glided past. Not just the party scene, but this also held out for the staff of the on-screen Tiffany’s; one had the sense that each person there had a life with a lot going on in it … but there was just this quick interaction with the customers, posing a slight interruption of that life.

In a way, this kind of creative character-building is right up my alley, what with the cast of characters in the Luna City series. With forty or more minor characters, who rotate in an out of focus, there is so much scope for making them individual by telling a story focused on an aspect of their life, present and past. It’s a heck of a lot easer with an omnibus epic like Luna City – giving small characters their own lives.

08. November 2022 · Comments Off on Cats, Luna City 11, and Things · Categories: Domestic, Luna City

Now that I am done with the extended job for hire, I can turn my attention and energy back to the usual routine – like my own books, ‘n stuff, which projects have been in abeyance for months. On the good side, I polished off the last of Luna City #11 – which will rejoice in the title of “Luna City 11th Inning Stretch’ – the ebook version will be available for pre-order later this month, the print version shortly afterward. There will be a Luna City #12, which eventually will be collected into a single compendium volume with books 10 and eleven. I’ll probably pull the plug on the individual print books in a year or so, and just have them in print as part of the compendiums.

It feels good to have the extended job for hire done – it paid some substantial bills and allowed me to look at the close of this year and the starting off the next with a clean slate. In the meantime and if my daughter has real estate business to attend to, I walk the dogs in the early morning, and then walk with Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson in his stroller. Up to the top of the neighborhood, across to the other side, saying good morning to the other regular walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, dogs and cats as we meet them. Most of the neighbors know us, and we know them; practically everyone who came to Wee Jamie’s baby shower was a neighbor, and all unite in admiring his charm, his happy and outgoing nature, and his rate of growth.

There are several cats of particular note in the neighborhood; there is a lovely and friendly Siamese about a block up from our house, whom we do not see very often, but she is more approachable than the usual run of Siamese. On one of the major cross streets lives a brindle cat with a white nose and white feet, whom we nicknamed “Socksie” as it looked as if he had ankle socks on his front feet and knee-socks on his hinder legs. Socksie is the king of his block, and always comes running to meet us, if he wasn’t off doing cat-things. His family recently adopted a bitty buddy for him – another brindle kitten with white feet – and we promptly named Socksie’s little brother “Underpantsie”. They are both very happy to see us, in any event. Then there is a black and white cat who hangs out in front of his people’s house on another street, but Chopper is only occasionally friendly, depending on his mood of the moment. Chopper lives down the street from where Tommy, the big orange and white cat used to live. Tommy was king of that particular block, and lived to the very great age of 22; outstanding for an indoor-outdoor cat. When he passed on to the Great Litterbox In the Sky, all the neighbors posted pictures of and elegies to him on Nextdoor – Tommy was that famous.

The last cats on our walking route are actually a mob of pets and semi-ferals, who live around a cluster of houses on the far side of the neighborhood. They really aren’t too popular with the near neighbors, because many are outdoors cats and don’t seem to have serious owners. We got Miso from that mob, and her sister, Snowy for another neighbor – two white kittens who likely wouldn’t have lasted very long as outdoors cats, what with owls, hawks, coyotes, stray dogs and speeding cars. But we stop and dribble out a little kibble for them – all the ones who come running when they see Wee Jamie’s stroller, some of whom will ask for a friendly skritch, as well.

It’s one of those things, a series which I have had a lot of enjoyment out of writing – the Luna City series, for which my daughter and I had the brainstorm for creating a few years ago. A cast of scores of characters in every walk of life, a nice romp through the vagaries of eccentric personalities and comedy of small-town south Texas, the present day and a lot of real-life overlap… and before readers get all in a twist – no, the series is not coming to an end. No, not really. It’s been written in real time, starting in 2006, sometimes going slightly ahead of real time – and now coming up to a couple of real-time deadlines. Several real-time and no-kidding deadlines, in that two of the people who were our real-life inspiration for characters in Luna City have passed away for good and all. That’s not important, really – but there is one dramatic thread above all which dictates a conclusion of sorts; that Richard will marry Katie Heisel, in spite of all the dramatic quirks and turns of plots that we can throw in front of them. He is, over theatrical and usually screaming protest, finally acknowledging his development and his responsibilities as a mature human adult of our species. That kind of development is a certain death to a series which played on romantic tension in part or whole – witness how Moonlighting ran out of gas as did Northern Exposure, that series which inspired Luna City to start with. A large part of Luna City’s plot is that Richard began as an immature, spoiled and unthinking, juvenile a-hole … and that over the course of the series he has belatedly and with emphatic nudges from the denizens of Luna City, working past all that. He has been given a second chance to become a responsible, adult human being … he does meet the challenge. He has acquired, sequentially, a potted plant, a pet … and eventually a love of his life. He will be set on the pathway to being an adult… and that character arc will come to an end. A nice and complete story.

Other characters have also been working through a milder story arc: Jess and Joe working past their old lost loves, and becoming a family, Araceli coming into her own as the boss manager that was already within her … a collection of minor arcs reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Life does go on, you know. People grow, develop, have adventures of a sort, and for most of us – we settle down and have a contented life.

We are also coming up to the real-life circumstance of the beginning of the Covid epidemic … and really, I don’t want to deal with that, fiction-wise. It’s just too depressing, in a series which is primarily expected to be gentle and comic escapism. Luna City is an refuge from horrid reality, for me as well as readers and fans Writing about the impact of Covid would have put a screaming halt to everything in a small-town public life; the future of the Café as a small business, as well as business at the Cattlemen Hotel and at Mills Farm; the schools closed – no community frolics and festivals, no Homecoming game or Friday night football, no 4th of July or Founder’s Day celebrations. It would have spoiled the fun of readers and myself, in writing about it all in accordance with what actually transpired in 2020 through early 2022. So there will be a nice round finish to the grand arc at 12 volumes, concluding in early 2020 … or sometime in the next six months or so.

But this does not mean the end of Luna City – oh, no – most definitely not. There is a cast of scores, all with their own stories and concerns, and I intend to write them all, within the confines of that charming little town in Karnes County. One of the temptations for me is a series of historic escapades and mysteries involving the chief of police in the 1920s and 1930s – Alister McGill, and his sidekick, the elderly retired Texas Ranger, John Drury, assisted by the gang of teen and tween children; Douglas and Letty McAllister, and their friends, Stephen Wyler and Artie Vaughn – a kind of American version of Emil and the Detectives. There are dozens of potential stories, in the lives of all the varied cast of characters – the many cousins of the Gonzales and Gonzalez characters.

So that is where that goes. Comment as you wish.

Richard is taking his parents around Town Square on the 4th of July, introducing them to all of his friends and associates. With luck, Luna City 11 will be available in another couple of months. Cross my heart …)

“Everything happens in the park, or around the edges of Town Square,” he explained, as the ever-popular miniature train ride trundled slowly past – a train of recycled oil-drums set on their side on wheels to make the carriages, and an engine also cobbled out of oil drums and powered by a motor which once had powered a ride-along mower. Clem Bodie of the Bodie Feed Mill had constructed the miniature train some fifteen years ago, for fun and to exercise his welding talents – and also to dispose of a number of items of metal scrap and put them to good civic use. All the streets which fed into Town Square had been blocked to vehicle traffic, for the convenience of the little train, the parade at noon, and for the drifting of pedestrians back and forth, like the gentle washing of a wind-blown tide at a mountain lake shore.

“The heart of the community,” Dottie Astor Hall remarked, with unexpected sagacity. “I do like this little town, Richard … oh, look at the little dogs! How charming, and how clever! Do you know their owner?”

“I do, as a matter of fact,” Richard confessed, as they crossed the street in front of the Café, where the Hanging Oak (less the one decaying branch from which Charley Mills had nearly been lynched in 1926) brooded over the sidewalk. “Anita Blake-Silva, with Oscar and Felix – the dachshunds,” he added, as the dogs greeted him with a chorus of barking. “Good morning, Judge – I see that you have entered the dogs in the patriotic costume contest.”

“I have, if they can keep from ruining their wigs before judging time,” Judge Anita Blake-Silva replied, and Richard performed introductions.

“My parents, Alfred and Dorothy Astor-Hall – this is Anita Blake-Silva, one of the county magistrates, and Oscar and Felix.”

“How very pleasant to make your acquaintance!” Dottie exclaimed, as the one of the dachshunds laid his nose on her right shoe and looked up adoringly. “And the costumes are so very clever – did you make them yourself?”

“I did,” Anita Blake-Silva confessed. “With the help of a niece who is a costume designer, and she is very fond of the boys…”

“Who obviously don’t mind cross-dressing,” Richard commented; as one dachshund was dressed in a blue coat with buff facings over a buff weskit and lace cravat, a tricorn hat (over a white curled wig) and a small sword-belt, and the other gazing up at his mother so worshipfully was gotten up in an elaborate dress with panniers, a mobcap, and a white wig.

“Well, you see,” confessed Judge Anita-Blake Silva, “They are representing General and Mrs. Washington. Total hams, both of them, and they don’t really mind at all, as long as everyone pays attention to them.”

“Good thing,” Alfred commented, as soon as they had moved on, past the Judge and her excitable duo. “If I were a dog, dressed up in a ridiculous costume, I’d want to bite the next person who held down a hand.”

“Well, come along, Father,” Richard urged him, “You and Mum wanted to meet everyone … now, this is Pryor’s Meats BBQ; their food truck, which they run for special events. They open the BBQ on weekends – honestly, the place has all the ambiance of an industrial warehouse, but no one really cares, and the meat processing during the week. They do the most amazing sausages and supply the Café as well as Mills Farm … to include the Crystal Room. I have always preferred to purchase locally sourced goods, and the Pryors can’t get much more local than this. Mrs. Pryor … she who looks most amazingly like the late Princess Di … is also the granddaughter and heir of Doc Wyler … whom, I should have noted before this, owns the largest ranch in Karnes County – and also just about anything else of value that isn’t already nailed down and owned by the Bodies of the Feed Mill, Don Jaimie of the original Spanish holding, and Mills Farm itself. If you have a hankering … sorry, I have been immersed in the local vernacular … if you have an urge to sample original Texas BBQ, you should taste it from here, before they run out.”

(Richard, having welcomed his parents to town in time to celebrate the 4th of July, is escorting them around Town Square, introducing them to his vast assortment of local friends. Which includes most of the characters who have featured in the previous volumes.)

The door to the Stein’s Wild West Emporium chimed a musical herald to Alfred’s return, significantly with a wrapped package under his arm, and the three of them moved on, in the direction of the Café, with all the outside tables filled with customers.

Richard said, in the manner of a tour guide, as he waved in the general direction of Araceli and her ever-present coffee carafe. “Now, here is another member of the keen reenactor fraternity…”

“I never would have guessed,” Alf Astor-Hall murmured, for Clovis Walcott was arrayed in all the splendor of 1830s martial glory; a high-collared blue jacket adorned with gold frogs, much braid, and epaulettes, over buff-colored trousers and knee-high cavalry boots. This tasteful ensemble was accessorized with a brace of (replica, or perhaps, knowing Clovis Walcott’s pocketbook and quest for authenticity, they were authentic antique) pistols tucked into a brilliant red silk sash, and a saber belt – with scabbarded saber – buckled over the sash which clanked resoundingly with every stride, which Richard knew well from previous encounters with Clovis in his 19th century persona.

“Colonel Walcott,” Richard replied, as they approached the range of tables and chairs set under an awning under a wide awning over the front of Luna Café and Coffee; an area comfortable only when the temperatures were mild, which in July meant for an hour or so around sunrise before a rising sun baked everything in Texas to a toasty brown. “Who is really a colonel – reserve and mostly retired from active service. He designs and builds things of extraordinary complexity; a refreshing change from his previous career of blowing them up. In is misspent youth, he played in a garage band, and he owns the ugliest MacMansion anywhere in the vicinity. His youngest son – God knows how the kid came to this – is currently working as sous-chef in the Café. I can only suppose that I taught the boy correctly, and that the good colonel doesn’t bear an abiding grudge over that development, proof positive of his generosity and good public spirit. Colonel Walcott is another of Luna City’s leading citizens, all of this, despite the temper of his missus, the fire cat Mrs. Sook Walcott, the tiger mother from hell … good morning, Colonel.”

“Good morning, Richard!” Colonel Walcott looked up from his fruit salad and croissant breakfast. “Ready for the Glorious Fourth – our celebration of the independence which is the rightful inheritance of every man and woman in this blessed land?”

“Yeah, verily and forsooth,” Richard replied, “May I present Colonel Clovis Walcott of the … something-or-othereth. A gentleman of the first water, My parents, Albert and Dorothy Astor Hall.”

Clovis Walcott chuckled. “The tongue and vocabulary of the old century does have that hold on you, doesn’t it?” He stood up and bowed in an exaggeratedly courtly manner over Dottie’s hand, raising it to his lips and kissing it in a way that made Richard’s mother almost simper. “This most handsome lady – hardly to be of a vintage to be your mother, Chef Richard? And the most gallant gentleman – I am most honored in making his acquaintance at long last!”

“How d’ye do,” Albert replied, with a stiff and most formal nod, in the best olde stiff-upper-lip manner. “Albert Astor-Hall, at your service, my good sir.”

“Charmed!” Clovis Walcott responded. “Charmed to make your acquaintance! Are you planning to take up residence in our Texas? I assure you, there are many opportunities for an entrepreneurious gentlemen such as yourself. I can introduce you to my good friend, Colonel Bowie, if you are so inclined as to take up a grant in our fair country.”

“I regret that I am already committed to a substantial property in another land, my good sir,” Albert replied, while Richard goggled at how readily his father fell into this kind of make-believe. He had never suspected his father of entertaining such theatrical leanings, let alone a facility for improvisation.

“Our loss, indeed, good sir,” Colonel Walcott rendered another formal bow, and went clanking off across the street to join his fellows at the reenactor camp, who had been gesturing him from across the pavement for him to get a move on and lend his theatricality to the festivities.

“Oooh, I do like him!” Dorothy sighed and fanned herself theatrically with her hand. “Such a gent!”

“He is, that,” Richard agreed glumly, and encouraged his parental units to move on. Miss Letty, Doc Wyler and Harry Vaughn sat at another table. Richard sighed, upon seeing that trio, for the two gentlemen were looking daggers at each other, while Miss Letty sat, prim and elegant in her shirtwaist dress, wide-brimmed summer hat, matching gloves and a handbag which matched the colors of the modestly flowered summer hat. (Which also matched her dress. Miss Letty had always been detail-oriented.) “Mum – these are some of the people I’ve told you about before: Doctor Stephen Wyler and Miss Letty McAllister; they jointly own the Café and hired me to run the kitchen when I first came here. The two of them are what passes for nobility around here – and what they don’t know about Luna City could be put into a thimble.”

“Know where all the bodies are buried, then?” Alfred grunted.

“Likely, they assisted in putting them there,” Richard acknowledged. “The scowling gentleman with the impressive mustache is Harry Vaughn, another old resident. It was he who insisted that I accompany him in a reckless venture on the river in flood, to rescue some luckless tourists, a couple of years ago.”

“Ah,” said Alfred. “The occasion when your school enthusiasm for rowing finally served a useful purpose.”

“Not quite how I thought of it, Father. All the county river rescue boats had already been called out. I was prevailed upon as a trainee member of the volunteer fire department, and my presumed familiarity with small boats. Harry Vaughn threatening to brutally belt me about the head and shoulders with an oar had nothing to do with it … good morning, Doc, Miss Letty … Mr. Vaughn.”

“Good morning, Chef,” Doc returned, looking over his glasses at them. “I heard that your folks came to town.”

“Indeed. The bush telegraph is as active as always.” Richard answered, and Doc Wyler and Harry Vaughn both grinned; Harry Vaughn a bit evilly, as befitted a former federal marshal, and Richard sighed. “My parents, Albert and Dorothy Astor Hall – Stephen Wyler, but most everyone calls him ‘Doc’, Miss Letty McAllister, and Mr. Henry Vaughn. Father and Mum are here, doing a tour of the wine country, such as it is, and meanwhile have come to observe the rituals of celebration.”

“Charmed, I’m sure!” Dottie trilled, as gentleman half-rose from where they were sitting, while Miss Letty only nodded regally.

“There will be merriment and dancing tonight, before the fireworks display,” Harry Vaughn rumbled, with a significant look at Dottie. “May I claim a dance with your charming mother?”

“Only if you don’t plan on seducing her, afterwards,” Richard replied, rather nettled, while Dottie giggled, and Harry Vaughn settled back in his seat, looking rather smug. Miss Letty frowned – levity regarding sex outside of the marriage contract was a matter of which she sternly disapproved. Meanwhile, Harry Vaughn grinned, under his magnificently drooping soup-strainer mustache, and Richard hurried his parents on. When they were out of earshot of the Café, Dottie remarked, artlessly.

“Oh, was that dear Moira’s gentleman friend? I had no idea!”

“My sister Moira has a finely developed sense of duty,” Albert replied. “I am certain that Mr. Vaughn held information necessary to completion of her mission,”

“No, Father – it was purely a naughty weekend,” Richard answered, and Dottie upheld him.

“Dear Moira is entitled to whatever romantic romps she can indulge – the places that she travels to, the intrigues she encounters – a nice relaxing weekend with a handsome gentleman who isn’t trying to plant a knife in her back! Well, that’s her chosen career, and I do not judge – do I, Albert?”

“No, you do not,” Albert replied, the very image of the austere Englishman. “Much is required of an intelligence operative in their line of duty.”

Richard thought he had better not follow that any further. It was perhaps the closest that his father had ever come to admitting that Aunt Moira was a kind of distaff 007, with an official license to kill, seduce, or subvert, as the specific mission required.