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Guest Post: Characters in Fur Coats
By Lauren Carr
Anyone who has read even one of my murder mysteries learns one thing instantly about me—I love animals. That’s love with a capital “L”. I can’t help it. I was raised on a farm surrounded by dogs, cats, cattle, horses, rabbits. When I moved out on my own, it was a given that I would have a cat or dog. I didn’t care which. If it has fur, feathers, paws or claws, I’m all over it.
So, when I started writing books, I naturally had to include furry characters. Now, if you haven’t read one of my mysteries, then don’t assume that I have animal detectives. No, my fur-covered characters are more realistic. They don’t talk or even do detective work. But, they are still characters who interact with the humans enough to be worthy of being listed in my cast of characters at the front of the book.
Let me illustrate.
Yesterday, we took Storm, our female German shepherd, to the vet for a check up. I was concerned that she has been looking more pudgy than she should. Now Storm (aka Sweetheart) is the sweetest, gentlest darling-est canine you would ever want to meet. But she gets very nervous when she goes for a ride in the car and my husband went along to hold her paw. When the vet came into the office, Storm squeezed in behind Jack’s knees. The vet had to get down on her hands and knees to examine her. As she was putting the stethoscope to Storm’s ribs, she turned to me and said, “You’re right. She is overweight.”
Suddenly, Storm’s eyes bulged and she lunged for the vet–barking and snarling. The vet jumped up to her feet and backed away. Jack held her back saying, “It’s okay, Storm. You look good.”
As the vet was backing out of the office, she apologized and said she should have been more sensitive. “Most women react that way when they’re told they’re overweight.”
Storm prefers to think of herself as “voluptuous.”
Now, any dog expert will immediately declare that Storm was not reacting to the vet’s comment as much as she attacked out of fear when the vet got too close. However, the imaginative writer in me, and my husband and vet as well, saw the pure humor in Storm’s timing to become violently offended at the vet’s comment about her full figure.
As a writer, I am constantly watching and studying people in my search for interesting characters. Often, one or two traits in a real-life individual will serve as a jumping off point to make for a wildly memorable character. I can honestly say that this is abundantly true with my fur-covered characters as well.
The famous Gnarly (Or should I say infamous?) is based on Ziggy, an Australian shepherd, that my son acquired as a puppy at a football game. I had had dogs all my life, but never did I have a dog who was as mischievous and smart as this one—until years later when I adopted a German shepherd puppy who I had named Gnarly after my fictional character. Ziggy was so troublesome that I had him analyzed by an animal behavioral expert who said that the pup was so intelligent that he was easily bored. Therefore, he looked for trouble to amuse himself.
Thus, Mac Faraday’s Gnarly was born!
Cat owners, have you ever met a one-person cat? Irving, the black and white Maine Coon who is identical to a skunk in my Lovers and Crime mystery series, is based on Duchess. Unlike Irving, Duchess’s markings were the reverse of a skunk. She was white with a black stripe down her back.
But, like Irving, Duchess was a one-woman cat. She was intensely jealous of my husband when he stole me away from her. One evening, I had spent a whole evening making a romantic dinner—chateaubriand for two for my new husband. We had candlelight, fire in the fireplace, champagne, the works. In our small first apartment, the dining area was in a great room, with the table set up next to the back of the sofa.
We had just started to eat when Duchess jumped up onto the back of the sofa and made her way down the whole length of it to where Jack was sitting. We couldn’t help but notice her because she slithered toward him with such a sense of purpose.
“Look at that,” Jack said as she moved up to his shoulder.
Looking right at Jack, Duchess moved in closer and then shot a giant hairball straight at his plate. Two points as the hairball landed right on top of the chateaubriand!
Jack and I screamed. Duchess flew off the sofa and disappeared for a very long time. No one missed the fact that she had deposited that hairball in Jack’s plate to send a message meant only for him—the homewrecker who had stolen her human.
It was that incident that inspired Irving, Cameron Gate’s one woman cat, who views her husband Joshua Thornton as competition for her affection. Recently, I decided to give Irving a break by giving him another human to attach himself to in Izzy, the Thornton’s adopted daughter.
I can’t resist using animal character because they are characters.
In Three Days to Forever and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, readers met Spencer is Jessica’s sheltie, a blue merle (her fur is bluish in color and she has blue eyes). Admittedly, Spencer is not very bright, but she is as adorable as can be. Murphy calls her Candi and she answers to that. The inspiration for this was my own family. My husband always renames our pets, who will then answer to anything.
Then, we have Newman. He is The Man in the Thorny Rose mysteries! Newman is based on our beagle, Beagle Bailey. A number of readers have told me about their canine couch potatoes. Newman has his chair, which no one is allowed to sit in, a television remote which he slaps with his paw to change channels, and he refuses to go for walks.
In a nutshell, Newman is the dog who doesn’t do anything—just like some people I know.
Some may arch an eyebrow at the notion of pets ranking high enough to be an actual character in a book. Those people, I must assume have never actually had a pet. Anyone who has welcomed an animal into their family knows that pets possess full blown personalities and even quirks just like humans.
Where does all these furry characters end? I really don’t know. Recently, I’ve been interviewing a horse in Texas who would like a role in the Mac Faraday Mysteries …
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