Showing posts with label pets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pets. Show all posts

17 July 2017

Cats and Gats

by Steve Liskow   

Last Friday, my wife Barbara and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.
For 31 of those years, we've had from one to three cats, and knowing that Ernie and Jewel will probably be our last pets is disconcerting, especially since both are developing health issues at a much younger age than we expected. Jewel has been on steroids (forfeiting her football scholarship) for nearly two years to fight her asthma (yes, cats get asthma!) and she's beginning to exhibit some of the side effects that the drug can cause.

Ernie has developed stage two kidney disease. So far, he loves his diet food--he has always eaten like a teen-aged boy--and is responding well to the blood pressure meds he takes because of the kidney problem. But both cats are only nine years old, and they've been together almost from Ernie's birth.

Barb and I met at a theater audition not long after I'd adopted a cat from someone who couldn't keep her. Many of out theater friends pointed out that cats fend for themselves more easily than dogs--which we both grew up with--if their servants have a schedule that involves late rehearsals or travel.

Cats are better teachers, too. They can demonstrate everything an actor needs to know about concentration, and they help me with my writing now because they give me a sense of proportion. Dogs may pretend they like a chapter because they want you to feed them. Cats don't care. If you don't feed them, they'll go out and kill something...or tear up the couch and stare at you so you understand it was your own damn fault.

A character in Jodi Picoult's House Rules claims that all cats have Asperger's syndrome, and it may be true. If you have a cat, you know it's always about them. Cats are narcissists at heart, and that fits well with some of the great villains in literature: Moriarty, Goldfinger, Hannibal Lector, or Edmund in King Lear. When cats stalk their prey, they model a focus that can be truly frightening, but the also convey a calculation that works with either villains or sleuths.

Cats can help you depict character quickly in other ways, too. What does it show you if a person doesn't like animals--or, better yet, if animals don't like him? Fran Rizer's Callie Parrish has a Great Dane. Robert Crais gave Elvis Cole a feral cat. He's just called "Cat," which says it all, doesn't it? Linda Barnes's PI Carlotta Carlyle has a cat, too. Megan Traine, the female protagonist of my Chris "Woody" Guthrie novels, has two cats. She named the tuxedo with double paws Clydesdale (usually "Clyde"), and calls his calico sister Bonnie.

Remember the Disney film That Darn Cat (I know I'm dating myself here)? Dean Jones's character was allergic to cats, and it helped deepen his character. Clint Eastwood played a New Orleans detective with two children in 1984's Tightrope, and a crucial scene shows the family dog stuffed into a clothes drier. What does that tell us about the bad guy? Don't worry, he gets what's coming to him.

Many publishers and contests stipulate that an animal can't be killed or tortured in the story, and that just shows ho much most of us value pets. Watch the memes and petitions on Facebook if someone mistreats an animal. Some of my neighbors complain when a rabbit or raccoon gets into their garden, but sometimes I think I'd rather have a raccoon, rabbit, skunk, fox or coyote living across the street instead. We wouldn't talk politics and they take care of their space.

10 April 2017

Do Pets Enhance Your Stories?



by Jan Grape

I live in a small town, that in reality could just be called a community. Except we have a City Hall, a City Council, a volunteer fire department  and a Police Department. We now have four sit-down restaurants, a marina, a Subway sandwich shop and a Sports Bar and Grill, where you can order great hamburgers or Wings and there is a sit-down dining area if that's your thing. We have an auto-motive shop,a gas station, a Hill Country Community Playhouse for live theater productions and a Dollar General Store. Just a mile from my house is Lake Marble Falls, which was formed by damming off the Lower Colorado River. And part of the chain of seven Highland Lakes in the Texas Hill Country. So we have a mixed community, high-end houses with a lake views or lakefront properties and a small section of single-wide or double wide trailers.

 Most of the area where I'm located is what I would call a middle class neighborhood. We also have a fairly large number of vacant lots which are wooded and because of that and the proximity to the lake we have a large population of deer. It's not unusual to walk out of my house in the afternoon or evening and find six or eight deer grazing on the lawn or even bedded down for the night in my yard. I enjoy seeing the deer. Especially this time of year when the does have produced babies and I get to see little fawns as they learn to use their little legs to hurry across the street and get out of the way of cars or trucks. The speed limit is 35 MPH but you know how that goes. Everyone seems to be in a hurry and sometimes they hit a deer.

My love of nature and watching the animals and the fact that my feline companion, Nora just turned twenty years old on March 30th, got me to thinking about animals in our stories and books. How many people have pets in their books? Not a specific Cat or Dog series just your main character's personal pet. I think it adds an extra dimension to the characterization. I love both cats and dogs but have have more cats myself for the past twenty-two years. Had a wonderful little dog up until a couple of years before I got Nick and Nora. Nick was with me for 17.5 years and Nora still is with me They were eight weeks old when they came to live with me and my husband.I laughingly tell people she's been with me longer than any of my kids, because the kids went off to college or got married.

For a number of years I wrote short stories for many of the Cat Crime books, And there were different fictionalized cats in each story. Some of their names were, Willie, Snowflake, Sam Spade and Domino. Snowflake was a black kitten with a white star-shaped design on the top of her head that looked like a snowflake had landed there. Domino was a white kitten with two black dots on her face above her eyes that looked like the dots on a domino. Willie and Spade were just cats that sorta helped the story along, Don't remember if I described them too much.

Then I wrote a story about White House Pet Detectives and discovered that Abe Lincoln had a cat named Tabby and they had goats and several other animals. I wrote a story with Tabby. I also visited the White House Pet Museum in Virginia. I was in the area for a mystery con and it seemed like I should definitely make a visit so I went.

Nick and Nora appeared in a story in an anthology titled Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives, edited by Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie. Nick and Nora were still little tykes who could type...well, Nora was able to read and write and type but she had not learn how to make capital letters. They both told the story and since they were black cats and lived in Texas where Midnight Louis lived they claimed a kinship to "Uncle Louie."  But they also claimed to have experienced a bit of detective training from Uncle Louie and used that knowledge to solve a case. Don't know if that was cat telepathy or Paws Express mail service.

In my first Zoe Barrow, police woman book, she had a couple of cats, named Melody and Lyric. Those were the cat names of two cats that at one time belonged to my daughter. They did nothing to help with the mystery, just gave Zoe a couple of pets to mention as animals to round her character out a bit. Characters can talk to the pets about the case, using them as a sounding board. Or they are useful to show how the writer can slow the action just before building up an scene of tension or unwinding after a scene of tension.

Cats and dogs both can be very accurate in their reactions to people. More so than the character themselves at times.  Animals often sense the good or bad or fear in people. They also can feel the true feelings of liking or love for them. That can be very useful to the character in certain situations.
I have a feeling that birds or fish or horses or alligators or snakes help to show a character's demeanor or even to help readers like or dislike a character.

Do any of you use pets at all and what do you think about it for your writing?