"Write the books only you can write."
That's one among many gems of advice authors are given as their fingers hover over the keyboard. Last summer, the result for me was The Captive Hearts, a Regency trilogy that touched on wartime violence, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress, and the ability of childhood trauma to affect us in adulthood. Not exactly fluffy fare, but because of my experience as a child welfare attorney, those were among the books I felt uniquely able to write.
Much to my relief, they were well received by the readers. (Thank you forever, readers!). Nonetheless, those are hardly themes I want to clutch close to my heart for 300,000 words at a time.
Turns out, there are other stories I am uniquely able to write. In my long ago youth, I spent a lot of time on a wonderful farm, and one summer I was expected to take a few shifts minding a flock of sheep. I can probably count on my thumbs the number of romance authors who've had experience as a shepherd. (Waves to Jane Ashford!)
When I sat down to write Tremaine's True Love, the first of the True Gentlemen trilogy, I heard the sheep calling me. "BAAAA!"
Sheep are often called "the dumbest domestic animals." They lack a predator's fangs and claws, they're soft and wooly, quiet, social, and harmless.
Right--Until the ram thinks you're a hazard to his ewes, in which case you WILL end up on your backside. Don't try to sneak up on a sheep either. They're alert, and have an excellent sense of self-preservation. Sheep stick together in times of trouble, they endure extremes of heat and cold easily, they subsist on little sustenance, and are infernally nimble.
Do NOT underestimate the lowly sheep, or the amazing properties of the wool she produces.
Tremaine St. Michael is one of the wealthiest wool merchants in Regency England. He's squeezing in a visit to the Earl of Bellefonte, hoping to wangle a quick, lucrative deal involving the earl's prize herd of merino sheep. The earl's sister, Lady Nita, catches Tremaine's eye.
Like a placid, fluffy sheep, Nita is often underestimated by those around her. She's nimble of wit, calm of eye, resourceful--also surprisingly cuddly--and everything Tremaine admires. And yet, when he tries to corral her, he ends up on his figurative backside.
I had fun with all kinds of metaphors in this book--the shepherd, the lamb, the big handsome wolf, the ram. In the next book, Daniel's True Desire, a batch of toads somehow gets loose on the hero's watch, and in the third book, Will's True Wish, we meet Will Dorning, the Regency dog whisperer.
These stories pass the "only I could write them" test, mostly because in each one, animals carry metaphoric weight, nobody gets to take themselves too seriously, and even the beasts (two legged and four legged) live happily ever after.
Do you have a favorite animal story? To one commenter, I'll send a copy of James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small," AND a signed copy of Tremaine's True Love.