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What if Ratha, driven by her growing idealism, did everything she thought was right and then had it backfire on her? How would she react, recover, and cope with the resulting disaster? Muttering a bit about being put through the wringer (once again!), the big kitty agreed that I had found the backbone on which to build Courage.
Between bouts of scribbling, I began researching recent big cat paleontology. Courage was to be based, even more strongly than Creature, on up-to-date knowledge of fossil big cats. Alan Turner and Mauricio Anton's wonderful "The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives" became my bible. There were indeed many changes in paleontological research since the mid 1980s. The leopard-like paleofelid Nimravus, on which the Named were originally based, had been thrown out of the Felidae on the basis of differences in inner ear morphology. Nimravus became the titular head of its own family, the Nimravidae. Horrors! Ratha was, according to the scientists, no longer a true cat. Yarrr!
I also realized that during their trail through the wilderness of print, the Named themselves had begun to morph into a more cheetah-like form. This was definitely due to Tomorrow's Sphinx, my stand-alone novel about cheetahs, ancient Egypt and King Tut. Sphinx's cover art influenced the jackets of Thistle-chaser and Challenge. On Challenge, Ratha looked like a blend of puma and cheetah.
I hadn't planned this, but what the hell, I love cheetahs. I think this affection crept into the saga, as the Named, particularly Thakur, the slender, swift herding teacher, already had many cheetah characteristics and behavior. The Named lifestyle of herding three-horned deer demanded a cat who was fast as well as strong.
I learned about Miracinonyx, the American fossil cheetah-like cat who may have been the ancestor of today's mountain lions. But I had already established that the Named world is the Early Miocene of 20-25 million years ago. Miracinynonyx came 10 million years too late, in the Pliocene.
Then, in the pages of "Big Cats" I found Dinaelurus crassus, a sister species to Nimravus. There wasn't much known about this nimravid, but certain characteristics of the skull (enlarged nasal passages and shortened face as compared to the leopard-like Nimravus) fueled speculation that this animal may have been "a cheetah-like cursorial predator". A "cheetah" before there were cheetahs.