Sunday, July 13, 2008

Animals Are Real Characters…or is it Characters Are Real Animals?










The other day my three-legged Bengal cat Raja decided my desk was the purr-fect place to spend the afternoon, despite the clutter. While removing the cup of coffee, the previous night’s water, the laptop he thought was in his way, and the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates on the desk of a messy yet creative person, I thought about how much our pets add to our lives and the lives of our characters.

Years ago, I had a dog named Clancy. She was a hundred fifty pound Black Lab/St. Bernard mix with a St. Bernard head and a Black Lab coat.

Clancy was my baby before I had children, and when we did have kids, she was convinced they were her puppies. Every night she would check on each of the children, and sleep outside their bedrooms doors to make sure they stayed where they belonged.

When my youngest was a baby and very ill, my four-year-old would beg to go across the street and play at the neighborhood park. I allowed him to go as long as Clancy was with him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I watched the two of them from my front room. I’d get them across the street, and even though I was there, Clancy would hold my son’s hand in her mouth while they walked across. She’d take him to the play equipment and was never more than a foot away from him. If he went up on the slide, so did Clancy. She really hated going across the chain bridge, but if he did, she followed. If anyone else came to the park, Clancy would take his hand and bring him home--much to my son’s dismay.

Clancy is in every book I’ve ever written, in one form or another. In Romeo, Romeo and If You Can’t Stand The Heat… she is Dave. The only difference between the real Clancy and the fictional Dave is that Dave is a boy.

In Romeo, Romeo Dave is an integral character. He serves as the gatekeeper in his mistress’s life. He’s ultra-protective, loyal, and when someone he doesn’t like stops over, he does a very realistic impression of Cujo. An effective chaperone, Dave herded Nick to the couch the first night he stayed over at Rosalie’s apartment.

Dave isn’t perfect. He has a penchant for carrying around a piece of clothing belonging to someone he likes. Unfortunately, it’s usually their underwear. He has the tendency to forget his size and step on sensitive body parts, which makes him a good form of birth control. He’s under the mistaken impression that your bed is his bed, that front seats of cars were made for him, and that running is something you only do when food is involved.


Through it all, Dave and all animals remind us of our humanity. He serves as a surrogate child, a shoulder to cry on, and a steadfast friend. He has the power to make you laugh out loud, and even shed a tear or two. I for one can’t imagine my life, or my characters’ lives, without pets.

I wonder if all Raja’s pussy footing around my desk might be a symptom of jealousy. It’s probably Raja’s way of demanding his own book. Like most Bengal’s, Raja usually gets what he wants, so don’t be surprised if you see Raja in one of my future books. He truly is a real character.

Tell me about your favorite animal character…real or fictional.

22 comments:

  1. I always find that some of my favorite books have wonderful memorable animals in them - Gordon from "Ain't She Sweet" and Con from the "Born In" Series come to mind from recently re-read books. They play an important part to the story, whether as a protector like Con or as a humorous antagonist like Gordon. I have two cats and a dog, each with their own personality, and I know they will wind up in my books. First, they can't sue lol, and second, their personalities are so wonderful, I HAVE to share them in some way. I always think you can tell the bad guy when he/she doesn't like the animal. Not when he/she fears the animal as that can and will be overcome. It's meanness that shows through when people, whether in our books or in real life, that definitely shows the character of the human animal. (allergies don't count in case my mom is reading this!)

    Happy blogging today Robin!

    Debra from WRW

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  3. I once had a tuxedo cat named Obi Wan, who came to us from the shelter in 1977 -- the year of the first Star Wars movie and also the year I got married.

    Obi was, for a long time, my only child. Although he was named for a mentor, this cat did not live up to his name. He wasn't wise. In fact, Obi was not very bright. We loved him despite this failing because he was a lap cat extraordinaire.

    One day Obi decided he was tired of laying around. So he went fly hunting. (He was an indoor cat so he undoubtedly mistook the stray fly for a bird.)

    He sat on the railing of an open stairway and followed the buzzing fly with avid attention. The fly landed on the wall and Obi leaped.

    Unfortunately, Obi's leap took him from the balustrate to the open stairwell -- a 15 to 20 foot drop.

    Well, Obi got airborne, the fly took off, and then the poor cat looked down and realized his predicament. It all happened in slow motion, like a moment in one of those Sylvester cartoons. He paused in mid air while the reality of his situation dawned on his feeble mind. He turned and gave me the cat-equivalent of the "oh s----" look as gravity took charge.

    Luckily Obi survived his own stupidity. He landed feet first, sat down, and immediately began grooming himself as if to say that his dignity had not suffered in any way.

    I miss Obi and his fly catching. It is incredible how the pets in our lives become like family members. Everyone in our family still talks about Obi -- and especially his gravity defying moment.

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  4. Trixie, my black and white cat was a Kitty Welfare Rescue kitten. She was a fly catcher too. And loved to chase silverfish. Great mouser. Only one day she brought the mouse into the house to eat later. Set it in her food dish. Except it wasn't dead. :)
    Dusty, my yellow lab, was the opposite, lover of all animals and people, brought me a baby bird to take care of that had fallen from its nest.Oh, though one day she brought me a dead rat. Figured if the cat got praise for catching a mouse in the house (not the one from her dish, but another), Dusty would bring me a bigger mouse from the woods. :)

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  5. Robin,

    You make me wish I had a dog. I'm not much of a cat person; I'm miserably allergic, though I'm allergic to dogs too, but because they're so infinitely loving, I'll overlook that (provided they don't shed too much). OTOH, I brought 2 kids to my 2nd marriage, and DH brought 2 cats. As a result, I'm on enough allergy meds that I might just be immortal at this point. But they're characters, all of them.

    We had a shepherd/timberwolf mix when I was a kid, named Minka. He was to us what Clancy was to you. His t-wolf instincts kicked in when he knew it was time to go, and he made the rounds of the house one last time, then walked away to die alone. The police found him down by the SI ferry, enjoying one last view of NY harbor. I still miss him.

    Now that we're house-hunting, I've made DH promise, we WILL get a dog, preferably from a shelter. Something small but not small enough to trip over, not to sheddy, but affectionate and in need of love. I can't wait to see our 2 boys fight over who gets to walk him/her. (I'm sure that'll last one week before it gets old.) And our dog will undoubtedly give me enough material to write about for a good long time.

    Great post! Thanks!

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  6. My sixteen-year-old mixed breed yellow puff ball named Consuela is the "person" I love best in the world (according to my kids), which is absolutely true since she's the only one who doesn't talk back to me. I work at home for the day job, so she is my office mate. Come on, Lala, I will say, let's go to work or let's go to lunch or let's go for a walk. She's my buddy.

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  7. I love to see animals become integral characters in books because so often they are integral in our lives. My cats are full-fledged members of the family--all the way to going for "playdates" over at their Grampa Bill's house (he has a fenced in pool area where they can hunt for lizards and frogs).

    My latest wip features a washed-up Vegas magician and his pet rabbit--and the rabbit's turning out to be a real scene-stealer!

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  8. Thanks for sharing about Clancy. I can't imagine a life without animals. Considering, thanks to my daughters, I currently tend 4 dogs, 4 cats, and a rabbit, that's probably a good thing. LOL

    Our Brandy is a Saint Bernard with epilepsy. After she nearly died, we had to take her to---are you ready for this?--a canine neurologist. The doc looked at Brandy's records, then at the dog, and in the softest Tennessee accent said (to the dog, mind you, not us), "According to this, darlin', you should be dead." Brandy promptly sat on his foot. When it's time for her meds, she pesters until she gets it. Yeah, she's a card--and a huge, gentle hug.

    When I'm writing, I usually have thee dogs and two cats around my desk. (The other two cats are too good to join the crowd, and Hunter can no longer manage the stairs.) They have places they like to be so, once I sit down, leaving my computer requires a bit of obstacle course training.

    I could write reams about the animals I've been blessed to know, so I'll spare you the endless litany, but they do add so much to our lives and, as a result, to our stories.

    {{{Hugs}}}

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  9. Thank you for this touching blog. This almost made me cry. I actually have avoided giving my book characters any pets because I have this fear that they are too busy to take care of them properly. I think, "Now, Carol can't be out all hours of the day and night if she has a kitty at home." Interesting aside: years ago I took a course in hypnotism and part of the course was to undergo hypnosis. When I was instructed to visualize a completely trusted friend to be my "guide" through memory, without even thinking about it I conjured up my childhood pet, one of the best friends I ever had.

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  10. Wow everybody, thanks for the great response.

    Christina~ I know what you mean about our characters being too busy to take care of pets. I worried about that too, so I made sure Rosalie had some help. She has two of the funniest neighbors, Henry and Wayne - The Fairy Godfathers (that's what they told her to call them) who help take care of Dave when she's not available. They also help take care of her, but that's another story.

    Robin :)

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  11. GREAT post, Robin!

    So far I haven't put any pets in my books but I'm sure it won't be long before one shows up. I love most all animals but I truly am a dog person.

    My girls keep me going every day and are endlessly loving and entertaining. Small, but not too small, one is a Yorkie Unholy Terrier (who hardly sheds) and the other is a Pug Wa-Wa (who sheds enough for several dogs). They are both rescues, which I highly recommend! Shelter dogs really are THE BEST (if you can stand the heart-break of selecting only one)!

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  12. Okay, Loucinda, you got me. What is a Pug Wa-Wa? I knew a sweet Pug once, Mitzue Rose. I even know a Puggle - part Pug part Beagle. A very cute puppy. But in all my dog-loving years, I've never heard of a Pug Wa-Wa.

    Tell me all about her. Please, the curiosity is killing me.

    Robin :)

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  13. LOL! I saw my first Puggle a couple of weeks ago and he looked almost identical to my Autumn except one size bigger. Autumn is a Pug Chihuahua mix and the people at Pug Rescue told me Pug Wa-Wa. She basically has a Chihuahua head (except a slightly shorter snout) and a Pug body. She is the fawn color you see on Pugs with white on the tummy. She's about 17 lbs. and snores like a buzz-saw but has the sweetest disposition ever! We had a Chihuahua when I was growing up that was the most hateful little dog I've ever encountered. :-P She had "small dog syndrome" in spades!

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  14. Great post, Robin!
    Guess we're all thinking about our dogs during the dog days of summer! My next post will be a guest blog by my dog, Chewbacca!

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  15. My first published romance, CATASTROPHE, had 23 cats adopted by a high school civics teacher. Having once bred and shown Egyptian Maus and Himalayans, I cannot imagine my life without a cat and a dog in it.

    My pets have a way of insisting on parts in my stories--and now Yosemite Sam graces my website. I suppose the next thing he'll want is a story starring him, too! Love the Bengal, we have one named Harry Spotter.

    Happy blogging!

    Sharon Buchbinder from MRW

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  16. LOL Loucinda! I never thought Chihuahua! My aunt had a killer Chihuahua named Peanut - he bit me repeatedly, and had his own seat at the dinning room table. No kidding. You should have seen my father's face when he found out his sister expected him to sit next to a dog.

    It wasn't pretty!

    Thanks Debra, Amy, and Sharon for visiting for the first time. I hope you'll come back. And to everyone else who stops by regularly, I so appreciate it.

    Hugs to all~

    Robin :)

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  17. In the novel I'm working on, the heroine has a cat. Don't quite know how to integrate her yet.

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  18. In the Lady Flees Her Lord, my upcoming book, my heroine, Lucinda has a cat that she rescued, and my hero, Hugo, has a dog. A lurcher. Neither creature are stars in the book, but they add depth to the character's lives, I think.

    Because I write historicals, horses are a given, but I do enjoy adding a pet when it suits the story.

    We have always had pets in our house, from hamsters, mice, a budgy, dogs, cats, a pet baby robin, until he could fly, currently we have a Maltese dog called Teaser (Mal-Teaser) that we rescued from the pound.

    My dog spends his day wherever I am, under the computer, on the couch, out in the garden, but when my husband comes home I no longer exist for him. I guess its the alpha male thing. lol.

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  19. Awww *dies from cuteness overload*.

    My animals are my babies too. I love writing animals into my stories and reading stories were well-conceptualized animals are a part of the tale. (lol)

    Nice post!

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  20. Amy and Walt,
    Great to have you drop by from GIAM3! Hope to see you often.

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  21. Fun post, Robin!

    I have the most stubborn cat named Bootsy (all black with white paws; but definitley named after the 70s disco/funk singer, Bootsy Collins). He's all mine and hates me, will favor anyone over me, and finds every way to entice me to pet him only to subsequently attack.

    But I love him and wouldn't trade him for anything! :)

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  22. Oh, I love this post! Your Clancy sounds like she was a sweetie. We've always had animals, and I still miss the ones that have gone.

    I currently have two sweet little Pekes who snore and sneeze and who I think have some kind of mild OCD (my boy, Fizgig, has always been an obsessive paw licker...they are some very clean paws, though). They're getting a little strange in their old age, and Fizzy's on plenty of meds, but I can't imagine life without them. The cat probably can, but I think he'd get bored with no one his own size to smack around.

    Favorite literary animals? Crookshanks from Harry Potter. He
    reminds me of my Bruno: big and with attitude!

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