Because my Alpine Grove romantic comedy novels feature animals, particularly dogs, the editor of the Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN) newsletter, Sandy Murphy, asked me to write about the topic recently. Because her questions were great, I suggested we do a Q&A. So here are my answers to her questions.
Are the dogs in your novels based on your own dogs?
A number of the dogs in my first novel Chez Stinky are loosely based on the four dogs I owned from 1996 – 2012. For example, Tessa the golden retriever is based on my dog Tika who was tested for “hyperkinesis” otherwise known as doggie ADHD. Over time, Tika turned out to be a wonderful dog, but the early years were rough. Tessa’s leash arrangement in the story is also based on a real thing. (I thought of using a backpack to slow down Tika long, long before dog trainers recommended it on TV.)
Swoosie, the Samoyed in my second book, Fuzzy Logic is based on the Samoyed I have now named Fiona. However, Fiona is nowhere near as naughty or as talented as Swoosie.
Dogs can be so expressive – how do you show that?
Many, many readers have commented on the fact that in my novels, the animals are characters. Although I don’t make them literally talk or “think” (which I confess I completely loathe in both fiction and movies), I do indicate by their actions what their motivations are and indicate their responses to the human activities going on around them. Dogs are very different from one another, so just as with people, different dogs respond in different ways.
Do you go with specific breeds to attract a group of readers or not mention breed?
I definitely mention breeds, although a number of dogs in my books are mixes. Certain breeds have certain characteristics and mixes often also have traits from breeds that make up the mutt. For example, Samoyeds are known as “the smiling dog” because they almost always look happy. In Fuzzy Logic, women are constantly running up to Swoosie and wanting to pet her. Any Samoyed owner will tell you this happens in all the time in real life too.
My third book, The Art of Wag has a dachshund who burrows, which is one of the things that breed was originally bred to do. And my upcoming book, Snow Furries has a Bernese Mountain dog who loves the snow, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has met a Bernese.
Are the dogs shown as members of the family? Or are they background?
In my novels, the dogs are members of the family. In fact, many decisions are limited by the fact that a character has to tend to the dog. Many plot points revolve around the pets; the animals are always important to the characters and the dogs are there for all the highs and the lows in their lives.
When the characters run into problems, are the dogs part of the solution?
In my first book, the main character Kat knows nothing about animals, and after spending time with the dogs discovers she loves them, which dramatically changes the course of her life. In my third novel, The Art of Wag, the dog finds something, which no one else knew existed. In my fourth Alpine Grove novel, Snow Furries, Frank, the Bernese is quite helpful too.
Can you ever harm the dog as part of the story or even put him in jeopardy? Will readers stand for it?
In my books, dogs do go to the vet because if there’s a problem, the humans in the story are going to do something about it. And in The Art of Wag, the main character is a veterinary assistant, so animals coming into the clinic may have a problem. But because I write romantic comedy, the answer is no way as far as any dog (or cat) dying. In fact, one of my beta readers told me she freaked out about a vet trip that happens in Fuzzy Logic. I reassured her that in my made up world, dogs never die. It’s something I wish were true in real life too 😉