We’ve had a few days of really nice, seventy-degree weather. None of the usual drenching Washington, DC humidity that’s common this time of the year.
The weather’s also perfect for me to do dog watching. Everyone’s out in the comfortable sunshine, walking their dogs. Sometimes the dogs stop, wanting me to pet them. I’ve even petted a pig that a woman brought to the farmer’s market.
And it’s influenced me to put animals in the Dice Ford, Superhero series. Moreover, it makes the story fun for me to write. I’m thinking of adding some to my GALCOM Universe stories. Dogs and cats on spaceships?
Sure! Star Trek The Next Generation did it with Data and his cat Spot, and then again with Archer and his beagle Porthos on Enterprise (in case you wanted a fix of the very cute).
But as I read, I don’t always trust writers to do right by animals. At the first ThrillerFest, James Rollins told his writer audience: Don’t put animals in your books.
You see, the veterinarian turned author put a dog in the book. He didn’t harm the dog at all, but it made readers put down the book.
If I see an animal in a thriller, I’m very likely to put the book down, too.
Thrillers are notorious for using animals as a plot device to show how evil a serial killer can be. With one book I read, I stopped reading immediately. It was very obvious when the cat made its appearance that the author didn’t like cats. It just came through in the writing.
I’ve also run into some thrillers where it was pretty obvious the writer was fictionally killing off the family pet they had been forced into getting.
No, just no.
Speculative fiction has its own problems. It often seems like horses are treated as cars. The character gets on one, turns the key (so to speak), and goes. So much missed opportunity for characterization!
Books I like with good animal characterization:
Anything by Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
The Green Rider series
Anything by Tamora Pierce
Anything by James Rollins (he later reversed his comments on animals)
I use animals in stories now and then–being careful not to make them just a prop; and Jake, a mythic mule, is a main character in Detour Trail.
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It seems like in some of the cozies, the animal’s more of a prop. Like a cute kitten so it can go on the cover.
I read the original story wherein Rollins introduced Tucker Wayne and his service dog, Kane. Part of their backstory was that Kane’s fellow service dog was killed in action.
Unfortunately for me, Rollins dramatized that scene, possibly via flashback. it’s been a long time since I read the story, so I don’t remember the context. I do, however, remember the final sentences as Abel was killed. Vividly.
It was around that time that I stopped reading Rollins. There were a lot of reasons for that, and I’m not blaming this story/series completely, but it certainly didn’t help matters.
That said, I’m fine with, say, service animals or search and rescue animals being part of the story. I just haven’t found many authors who use them like that.
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I used to say it was automatic–an animal dies, I stop reading. That’s only if it comes across as a plot device. Tamara Pierce actually has killed animals in her story, and I was okay with it. Because they were important characters, and the other characters mourned their loss, along with the loss of the human characters. The writer’s love for animals came through in the words. Nora Roberts has also killed an occasional dog or cat. But every story has an animal, with its own personality.
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