In Tasting Fire, I created a world in which many thousands of years ago, an infection caused by a bacteria that lives only in hot springs, resulted in the merging of human and animal DNA. Over the course of thousands of years, for self protection these shape-shifters have allowed their very existence to become the substance of myth and legend. The story begins as advances in modern genetics are about to reveal them to the world.
I love folk tales. I grew up reading them as a child and continued the tradition well into adulthood. When I decided to try my hand at a paranormal romance novel, I knew that somewhere in the book would be an original folk tale imbedded into the story.
In Tasting Fire, my hero Kai Tenzin is descended from a group of nomads whose DNA was merged with that of an Asian Snow Leopard. His people who call themselves the Pari, live in several countries of central Asia and each village reflects the customs and culture of that country. Kai himself is from Tibet and in Tasting Fire he hires a beautiful American scientist to try to help him find a way to hide the tell-tale DNA from modern science which is growing very close to discovering the shape-shifting race.
Halfway through the story I include an original folk tale written as a creation myth for the Pari of Tibet. Kai Tenzin used to beg his father, Nawang Wangdo, an important secondary character in the book as a child to tell him the story again and again. The story is told within the book when Nawang shares the creation myth with Dr. Rae Hales, the scientist his son has hired to help the Pari people.
HOW THE SNOW LEOPARD LOST HER ROAR
“Many thousands of years ago there was a beautiful female snow leopard. This snow leopard's name was Lixue. Lixue lived high in the mountains of the Himalayas, on a sacred mountain called Machapuchare. She was a good, obedient daughter of the mountain, and respected the laws the ancient gods laid down for her. Lixue hunted far below the sacred forest on rocky ledges where the ibex lived. Her life was solitary, but she did not feel loneliness for that was not the snow leopard's way. One day a monkey whose name was Bandar wandered lost upon the rocks of the great Himalayas. He was far from his home in the jungle. Bandar wandered the ledges looking for bits of food to eat. Lixue was quite intrigued by the newcomer. She had never seen a monkey before, and she stalked him relentlessly. Bandar could feel the eyes of the predator upon him. This monkey however, was very smart and knew only way to survive was to outsmart the ferocious leopard. He brazenly called out to Lixue “what a beautiful female you are great leopard. I long to caress your magnificent fur. I wish only to bathe in your exquisite beauty. However it pains me, lovely one, to tell you that you pale in comparison to my sister. What a shame you will never compete with her beauty.” Lixue was quite startled. Since she had left her mother's den, she lived always by herself. She had frequently looked at her reflection in the river below and thought she was quite lovely. She endlessly admired her gray, delicately spotted fur. Her ears were perfectly arched, and her magnificent tail surely had no equal. What was this insane little creature talking about? How could his sister be more beautiful than she? Lixue jumped down almost on top of the monkey. He swallowed his fear and confronted the magnificent cat. Lixue looked down her nose at the much smaller monkey and demanded an explanation. Bandar stood his ground, although he was no match for the fearsome teeth and claws of the mighty predator before him. “Oh lovely feline, although you are surely beautiful, my sister's beauty is unequaled in all the world.” Lixue was now insanely jealous. “You will take me to meet this sister and I will judge for myself.”
Bandar bowed his head and led the snow leopard down the rocky mountain and through the desert floor. It took over three months for the unlikely pair to make their way back to Bandar's home. Each night Bandar would ask Lixue to snuggle with him to keep him warm. Lixue at first did not wish to touch the lowly monkey, but after the first week she hesitantly acceded to his request. For if the monkey froze to death at night he would not be able to bring Lixue to meet his sister. Each night the two of them would cuddle and Bandar would sing songs of love in Lixue's ear. As they moved closer to Bandar's home, he started to climb trees and would bring sweet fruit down from the high branches and give it to Lixue as gifts. At night Bandar would use his dexterous hands to comb Lixue's magnificent fur, and caress her gently under the chin. Lixue had never before been treated this way. She began to think of Bandar less and less as food, and by the end of journey, hunter and prey had fallen in love.
When they arrived at Bandar's home, he guided the leopard to a small hill. He told his beloved to sit and look up. There in the distance was her home. He pointed out all of the mountains of the mighty Himalayas. He said he always thought of them as family. His father, Shishapangma, was the majestic crest above the grassland and plains. His mother, Chomolungma, was the goddess and mother of all the snows. His sister, Ama Dablam, was the jewel in the crown of the Himalayas. Lixue looked up at the snow covered majesty that was Bandar's sister and agreed wholeheartedly with her love. His sister was without a doubt more lovely than she.
The monkey and the snow leopard married and eventually had a daughter. Her name was Xue Bao. Xue Bao had all of her mother's beauty and hunting skills, but she had her father slyness and intelligence. After Xue Bao grew up, she decided to move back to the mountains her mother had come from. Xue Bao lived for several years in the rocky cliffs hunting the ibex and other small prey. One particularly bad winter wiped out a good portion of the Ibex herds that Xue Bao depended on for food. Starving, she decided to climb higher to search for food. She climbed all day, and all night, eventually coming to a beautiful forest. The forest was covered in fragrant pine and birds flitted joyfully at the top of the world. The air was thin, but sweet. Xue Bao came to the edge of a magnificent temple in the middle of a forest. She saw steps and pillars of marble give way to graceful gardens filled with fruit trees of every kind imaginable.
A squirrel suddenly darted from one tree to the steps of the temple. Xue Bao suddenly remembered her mother's warning. “The gods have forbidden us to hunt in their sacred forest. Do not disobey the gods or the consequences will be beyond imagining.” Xue Bao's stomach rumbled. She was starving! She thought cunningly how can I hunt this squirrel, yet not disobey the gods? Being a clever leopard she gathered a large group of nuts and placed them on the end of her beautiful tail. She slowly walked out of the sacred forest dragging the nuts behind her. The squirrel quite fascinated followed Xue Bao down the mountain. Once Xue Bao had cleared the sacred land she devoured the little squirrel.
Immediately the gods descended on Xue Bao. The exotic leopard shook with fear as the gods told her she would now taste the fire of their wrath. They punished her severely. Taken away was the snow leopard’s mighty roar. The beautiful leopard would be silenced for all eternity. The gods then decreed as the final and most agonizing punishment, that she and her daughters would turn into human beings to mate and then spend the rest of their life as leopards. Only her sons and grandsons would be able to choose their form at will, and so it has been for countless generations. The daughters of the Pari lived their short lives in the mountains of Bandar's family and left their infants to be raised by the sons and grandsons of Xue Bao the clever, but disobedient leopard.”
Tasting Fire ended up reflecting the cultures that live in the habitat range of the Asian Snow Leopard. The story has a deeply spiritual tone and deals with issues ranging from personal development to the evolution of human society. I will warn readers that Tasting Fire is not a light read. If you want a book where the hero and heroine fall into bed together within the first two minutes of meeting each other, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a rich, textured story and if you wish to lose yourself in an intelligent, romantic, erotic, adventure, this is your book!
My thanks to Donna's Blog Home for inviting me to share a little bit of Tasting Fire with you today.
Shape-shifters have always walked the earth. Shrouded in myth and folklore, hiding in the shadows, watching and waiting. Advances in modern science are now about to reveal them to the world. Kai Tenzin is the self appointed leader of the Pari people. He and his kind evolved from the most reclusive predators on earth, the Asian Snow Leopard. They live and hunt in the most fearsome and rugged terrain known to man, the Himalayas. As a young man, Kai left his small village where the mountain touches the heavens, determined to do anything to protect his people. When he is forced to enlist the aid of the beautiful American scientist Dr. Rae Hales, the last thing he expects to find is a woman who will ensnare his heart and endanger them all. Their action-packed adventure will take them around the world to discover the truth behind the legends and reveal the future of humanity.
My name is Shelly Holt and I live in the middle of the harsh and unforgiving Mojave desert. I write my stories looking out of a window that shows sweeping desert views. Outside is a barren and severe landscape, yet inside my head lives a world filled with exotic shape-shifters come to life, pulled from the pages of myth and legend, ready to entice and seduce any reader brave enough to take them on.