Warning to Protagonists: Never Work With Animals Guest Post By Lauren Carr
Warning to Protagonists: Never Work With Animals
By Lauren Carr
If you don’t believe me, ask that girl dancing with Pudsey, who just won the Britain’s Got Talent. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiL1M9ca69I&feature=relmfu)
You know. The one that’s on two legs. I mean, the non-furry one on two legs. … Sometimes she’ll carry him on her shoulders. Still don’t know who I’m talking about? … You always see her on the stage with him when he’s dancing. … Trust me. Pudsey does have a co-star.
See what I mean?
The same warning can be given to protagonists for books. If you’re a protagonist and you want to be in the limelight, don’t star alongside a dog or cat or any other furry critter. As the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, I learned that lesson completely by accident.
A farm girl, I’ve always had critters in my books. My first short story, which was never published, was about Jinx, the boxer dog I had growing up. Since animals have always been a part of my life, it’s a natural to put them in my books. Usually, they’ve played minor characters. In my first mystery series, the Joshua Thornton mysteries, Admiral, an Irish Wolfhound-Great Dane mix, would be on the leash while Joshua questioned suspects. In his big scene, Admiral cornered an attempted assassin.
Then, along came Gnarly.
In It’s Murder, My Son, the first installment of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, I wanted to do a storyline where a dog has witnessed the murder of his owner. In the plotline, the detective, and everyone else, pretty much dismisses Gnarly’s importance in catching the killer. But, Gnarly is not just any dog who happens to be on the scene of a murder. His job was to protect the murder victim. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Gnarly is as determined to reveal the killer as my protagonist.
Mac Faraday is a homicide detective whose wife leaves him for another man and takes everything. On the day his divorce becomes final, Mac inherits $270 million and an estate on Deep Creek Lake from his birth mother, Robin Spencer, a world famous mystery novelist. He also inherits her unruly and highly intelligent German Shepherd named Gnarly, who she had acquired after her murdered next door neighbor was murdered.
Gnarly had been dishonorably discharged from the United States Army, who refuses to talk about him. Readers can only guess what Gnarly did to get kicked out. Some have suggested that he refused to obey orders. Others have said he stole the general’s lunch.
Writers who love animals know that each furry character is as unique as a human one. Just like any other character in a book, an animal character has to be developed and speak to the author. Even if they don’t use words to speak to readers, they still do so between the lines through their actions.
Those are the fur covered characters that have the power to steal the book. The little idiosyncrasies, the mannerisms, they will jump out to readers to remind them of pets that they have known. In the Mac Faraday Mysteries, Gnarly makes his den under the bed. This is based on Ziggy, my Australian Shepherd, who sleeps under my bed. When upset or scared, that’s where he dives for comfort. One reader told me that she was drawn into the series when she read about Gnarly sleeping under the bed because her dog does the same thing. She had no idea other dogs did the same thing.
In creating Gnarly, I flat out said I wanted to create the Anti-Lassie; a canine character that would go get help to pull Timmy out of the well, only to have it be discovered that he knocked him down there in the first place.
You gotta love those bad dogs. As with any pet and pet owner relationship, it’s not always easy-going. Gnarly has issues, one being that he is a hopeless kleptomaniac. When he gets bored, he steals things. As his owner, Mac has to defend his canine sidekick the best way he can … usually by paying restitution to the crime victim.
To my surprise, reviewers and readers have fallen in love with Gnarly. “I can’t wait to see what Gnarly does next,” more than one reviewer and reader has said. After proclaiming their love in a review, they will say, “Oh, and I love Mac, too,” almost as an afterthought. The praise continued with Old Loves Die Hard, and Shades of Murder, my latest, where Mac and Gnarly cement their partnership.
As much as I want to claim the Mac Faraday Mysteries as unique in appealing to animal lovers, I can’t. Fans have had affection for furry characters in mysteries for decades. I was a big fan of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who … mysteries. There are over two dozen books in this series. We can’t not mention Rita Mae Brown and her Sneaky Pie mysteries, and Tucker in the Mrs. Murphy mysteries.
Since 2003, Cynthia Baxter has been writing The Reigning Cats & Dogs Mystery Series, which features veterinarian Jessica Popper. The books also include the antics of Jessie's menagerie: her rambunctious Westie, Max; his shy sidekick, Lou the Dalmatian; aging pussycat Catherine the Great; newcomer Tinkerbell, a tiger kitten with the personality of a diva; mouthy Prometheus, a Blue and Gold Macaw with attitude; and last but not least, the silent yet seemingly wise chameleon Leilani. The newest book in the series is Crossing the Lion.
In Cindy McDonald’s newest book, Hot Coco, the second installment in her Unbridle series, scheduled for release this month, she introduces as a side character, Charlatan, a bad boy Thoroughbred race horse. An equine Houdini, Charlatan is able to break out of his stall at will, which drives her protagonist Mike West to distraction.
What is it that draws readers to mysteries with animals in the plotline, either alongside the protagonist or sometimes even taking on the role as a protagonist? We seem to be especially intrigued by animals with anti-hero tendencies.
The answer: Animals bring out the best in man … and woman. If you don’t believe, take a look at the video of Pudsey’s winning performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Try as he might, Simon just can’t hold back that smile.
Have you ever seen a lion in the jungle telling the antelope, “Go ahead, you can cross the savannah. I’m not going to eat you. I had a big breakfast. Trust me,” only for the antelope to get jumped the minute he turns his back? If a bear intends to eat your face, he’ll tell you that right off, no bones about it.
Even fictional bad dogs operate without any hidden agenda that is refreshing to us, no matter how often we see it. For that reason, we can trust them. We know they want to steal that steak off the counter and they’re not pretending they don’t. In real life, and in books and television, they offer us a sense of integrity that we can’t find anywhere else. It reminds us of something that is very good still left in our world that maybe, if we stay in touch with it—maybe man can somehow return to it.
So, it seems most appropriate that dogs and cats have found a place in readers’ hearts in mysteries. In the midst of murder and mayhem, it brings a smile to our faces to read a scene where the family of the victim looks up to a pair of big brown eyes and feel the touch of a fur covered paw on their knee. They know Gnarly cares and he’s on the case … and so is Mac Faraday.
At least, that is what reviewers and readers have been telling me. Surprisingly, I have been told that a Mac Faraday Mystery is not a Mac Faraday Mystery without Gnarly. That’s okay with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way …
Neither would Gnarly.
Lauren Carr: Author/Publishing Management
Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A Reunion to Die For was released in hardback in June 2007. Both of these books are in re-release.
Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The first two books in her series, It’s Murder, My Son and Old Loves Die Hard have been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. The next book in this series, Shades of Murder, will be released May 2012. This will be Lauren’s fifth mystery.
Lauren’s sixth book, Dead on Ice, will be released in Fall 2012. Dead on Ice will introduce a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.
The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.
She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:
Website: http://acornbookservices.com/ & http://mysterylady.net/
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lauren Carr has generously offered to giveaway a print copy of Shades of Murder for US addresses and an e-copy to international followers. You need to be at least 13 years old to enter. Please fill out the form below. Click here if you're having trouble viewing it.