Sunday, June 26, 2016

Animal Characters

     Seems my blog gets posted later and later every month.  I have a really good excuse this time.  My at least ten-year-old computer (still running Vista) had its last and fatal crash. Of course, my husband was out of town at a conference. I waited three days for him to return as I knew he'd want to be in on the selection of a new machine. The computers at the local library allowed me to keep up with e-mail  and Facebook where I exist as Carla Lynn Shurr Hostetter if you want to friend me.  In the end, it took nine days to find a new computer, have the data transferred, install at home, and learn to cope with Windows 10.  So, a long delay in doing my blogs--I also contribute to working on Sister of a Sinner, the new Sinners book, Xochi's story. Enough excuses! On with the topic.
     I often have animal characters in my stories. They contribute warmth and humor to a tale, but should also have some relevance to the plot. I'm not fond of making them prescient or giving them other occult powers. I leave that to the fantasy writers even though I do think animals often are more aware than people, scenting oncoming storms, knowing when other people mean harm. Just be sure when you decide on an animal character that they fit the plot and help move it along. For instance in A Place Apart (unpublished), a sailor with PTSD finds a Portuguese water dog that loves to sail with him and aids in his recovery. A large standard bred poodle might do the same as they were once water dogs, but certainly not a teacup-sized one.  Stacy in Son of a Sinner owns a Bichon Frise, a powder puff of a dog but very clever if not prone to being housebroken. She teaches the dog to do tricks,and the hero wonders if she is manipulating him in the same way. Every breed of a dog has special characteristics, and these can easily be checked at the American Kennel Club website or sites devoted to that breed. Make sure you know what you are talking about.  In the upcoming Ashy Affair, a Jack Russell mix plays a part. I learned these dogs are mischievous and also territorial. Owning two can lead to chaos. In other words, research your animals just as you would any character in your book.
     I once had a disagreement with my editor over a cat character.  In Mardi Gras Madness, the heroine finds a kitten that crawls out from a hole in the base of church. She promises to give it a home if she gets a job. She does. Now, editors don't read your book through and then go back and edit it.  They just start right in and might use your synopsis for a guide, but all the details never make it into a synopsis. My editor said basically, cute scene but it doesn't move the book along, omit. I had to tell her that cat and this scene would matter very much by the end of the tale, but that would not be apparent until the end. She let me keep Snake, the coal black cat, after all.
     Horses can be great characters, too.  They have very distinct personalities like people.  In Courir de Mardi Gras, the shy hero seeks a white horse he can use to sweep the heroine off her feet literally during the Mardi Gras ride. The only white steed available pulls the local vegetable wagon and has the name of Puffy for his tendency to puff up his belly when being saddled.  He is not a glamorous animal, but certainly adds some fun to the story of a man trying very hard to be a hero. Do be careful of using horses and any other animal if you aren't familiar with them. Readers will take you to task right away if you mess up the details.
     Parrots are great characters because as you might have heard, they can testify at a trail because they can repeat what is said. They might also be very inappropriate like the African Gray Parrot I used in Ashy Affair.  His name is Mr. Gray, better known as the bordello bird.  He comes on to women he likes by saying, "Give it to me, baby".  Poor Leah, the director of the animal shelter, cannot find a home for the suggestive bird and fears she will end up with him as a retirement gift as parrots have very long life spans.  He adds humor and plays into the plot as his bordello residence was burned down.  Again, research your birds before adding them into the plot.  Canaries may sing, but they don't speak.  Crows, however, can.
     Animals are also used for cute meetings in romances.  I know I am going to short change a well-known author here, either Jennifer Crusie or Jayne Ann Krentz, who used a roving Basset hound to bring her characters together. And yes, I've forgotten the title, but did enjoy the book.  Or they might add a little twist. When a fireman saves a tiny tuxedo kitten from a burning house and offers it to the owner, the heroine says, "That's not my cat.  You keep it."  The hero of Ashy Affair has five dogs, and now, he's stuck with cat.
     I think I could go on forever on this topic, but really have to get back to work on Sister of a Sinner.  Do you have any favorite animal characters or have used them in your own books?  Let me know.  Now, back to the manuscript.