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Real pets and written pets

My friends, the Sirens of Suspense, asked me to ring in on the subject of animals in fiction on their blog recently, and I thought I’d bring the subject here and expand on it.

While I know animal sleuths are popular with lots of mystery readers, I draw the line at pets that solve crimes — too cute for me. But as both a reader and a writer, I like the presence of animals in novels.

I’ve included animal companions in the books of my Tracy Eaton mystery series. In the latest, Revenge for Old Times’ Sake, Tracy has both a cat, Harri Houdini, and a dog, Buddy. If I enjoy sharing my life with my pets, why shouldn’t my characters? I’ve actually modeled Harri and Buddy after my own departed cat and dog, Morgan and Jake. While the fictional versions reflect my passed-on pets in appearance, the personalities and traits we see on the page aren’t entirely the same. I think of my own pets as actors in my books, playing the parts of Tracy’s pets.

Some people might find the idea of my dead pets being actors in my books as strange. Is it possible to have actors on the printed page? But I’m totally nuts about my pets, even after they’re gone, and this is my way of keeping them with me. Then again, since I believe this, maybe I’m just plain totally nuts.

Morgan was actually a tiny cat — only six pounds — but she had the biggest personality I’ve ever encountered. I plan to gradually introduce more of her traits into Harri, as the series goes on. Such as the fact that she seemed to sing to herself when she was alone, and when she seemed to feel particularly content. I’ve never met another cat that sang.

Buddy is also a more assertive dog than Jake was. Jake had a beta personality. His companion-for-life, Amanda, who passed on shortly after he did, was a wolf-hybrid and a total alpha who ran that relationship.

Jake dreamed more than any dog I’ve ever known, and let’s face it, all dogs are great dreamers. Jake would have dozens of dreams a day, and they’d go on for such a long time. He talked up a storm while asleep, and his paws ran the whole time. We used to joke that when he dreamed, he went to Jake-land, a parallel universe where he was king, and where everyone else was subservient to him. Basically, I’ve brought a greatly toned-down version of Jake-land to Buddy’s life in my Tracy Eaton mysteries.

My late wolf-dog, Amanda, lent her appearance to the darker wolf-hybrid, Bob (named for singer, Bob Seeger — the real people I’ve named characters for would make another good blog.), who played a role in my Zoey Morgan story, “Sentence Imposed.” Here’s how I introduced Bob in that story: “Several weeks earlier, I'd found him tied to a post outside the drugstore along with a sign that read, ‘Mean wolf-hybrid free to good home.’ Truth in advertising. Beneath a magnificent coat of rust and silver and snow, lived a surly brute.  If we'd bonded at all, I probably blinked and missed it.” The coat of rust and silver and snow was Amanda’s, as were a number of the wolf-traits I came to know and love through her, and which I brought into the story. But her sunny, exuberant nature would never have worked with the plot, so her appearance had to grace a darker animal who would be slow to trust humans.

Now I’ll need to decide how I’ll introduce animals into my magical series, the first book of which is High Crimes on the Magical Plane. I suspect pets as sleuths might actually work in that realm, so I might have to backtrack on that. Hmmm…a dog with the power to actually create something like Jake-land…I’m not sure my characters are ready for that. I’m not sure I am!

As a reader, I also enjoy pets in mysteries. Since I like sharing the lives of characters I’ve come care about on an on-going basis as a series develops, it’s only natural that I would enjoy meeting up with those characters’ animal companions in new books as well. My favorite mystery-animal is the Mrs. Fierce character in the now out-of-print series by Arizona author, Sinclair Browning, partly because I can’t help but wonder about the wedding we can presume she’s had. I guess I’m not the only author who’s a bit eccentric when it comes to our real and imagined pets.

How about you? Do you like to see pets in novels? How do you make use of animals in your books?