Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pets in writing

I'm taking a break before finishing my epic posts of epicness about Europe.  (I'm not sure how to go about describing Istanbul, so while I'm looking for a thesaurus, you get to enjoy my other thoughts.)  Upcoming this next month, I'm a stop on a blog tour for the first time because one of the coolest people I've ever known is coming out with her first book.  And this is not your typical I'm-an-awesome-published-author-because-the-Amazon-Kindle-store-says-so first book that I've been subjected to in varying degrees of success.  (I've found some great mysteries and some horrid romances and, in one very uncomfortable reading session, heard about self-cutting talking about the blood gushing from the main character's arms with each slice between classes.)  This is an honest-to-goodness I-slogged-through-editors-and-agents-until-one-realized-that-I'M-AWESOME first book.  The author is someone that I was told that I would love well before I met her and I assumed the person was right, but didn't realize why until I found a Legend of Korra poster on her wall, a TARDIS on her desk and a bookshelf full of things to borrow.

Anyway, more on that later.  What have I been doing with myself lately, you may ask.  For one thing, I've been working very hard at my job and getting additional responsibilities to better fill up the 40 hours per week that I spend in a second-floor office.  For another, I got my first-ever niece and got to have input on her name.  (Note to self:  If your sister tells you that she wants to know about negative associations, still don't tell her that Emily Rose is a fine name also given to a fictional girl who may or may not have been demonically possessed before her tragic death.  Your sister will, after naming her daughter Emilie, ask you never to mention that movie again.  Your sister will forgive you long before that, but you'll feel like a horrible person and lose sleep over it first.)  I bought a round-trip ticket from Provo to Oakland and started making plans for Memorial Day in San Francisco with two friends.

A few months ago, I thought of getting myself a goldfish.  A friend's daughter suggested that I name one Tangerine because those are orange and so are goldfish.  I went further and named my four new goldfish Tangerine, Chino, Clementine and Mandarin.  Since getting them a couple of weeks ago, I have found myself cheered up by having little fishies to take care of after I get home from work.  They respond well to sunlight and (sea)horse around when I look their way.

The original idea to get a fish came from two places:  1)  I had two betta fish in Palmdale, named Elder Brown and Elder Brown.  They had namesakes who worked in the mission office at the time and we thought it was funny.  2)  In the Anastasia books, I loved that she had her goldfish, Frank, to talk to about her problems.

I love the idea of bringing pets into stories.  We have Frank.  We have Reggie, Wilma's pet dog in Gail Carson Levine's The Wish.  We have the Seons in Elantris, though those are more glowing BFFs than pets.  We even have house elves in Harry Potter books--more part of the family than slaves when they are treated right.

Pets can be side notes in fiction.  They can be main characters in memoir.  They can even be main characters in fiction, such as The Incredible Journey.  In one of my favorite books--namely, one that I got when I was 7 and still read on a regular basis--a young girl with a penchant for lying makes up a dog named Figment and overcomes her bad habit through interaction with a symptom of that habit.  In Mark Oshiro's reviews of the Harry Potter books, he writes several reviews as the log of Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl.

In considering how to use a pet, I would advise you to decide the reason for the pet.  Is this a pet that the main character chose to have?  (Did he pick out a kitten when the neighbor's cat had a litter?)  Is this a pet that the parents grudgingly allow?  (My sister begged my parents for a puppy, but I was terrified of dogs for years after a cocker spaniel took a chunk out of my left leg.  After four years of stalling with stuffed animals and books and even a Dalmatian-shaped radio, they got her a sheltie.)  Is this a pet that the parents don't know about?  (Less common, but it happens that sometimes kids take in a stray and keep it under proverbial wraps.)  Is this pet a function of the main character being a thinly-disguised self-insertion?  (I enjoy a series by someone who, like her main character, lives in Utah, is psychic and has a cat obsession.  She also has a massive crush on an actor who looks just like her main character's hot Irish boyfriend.  If she were still a Provoite Buffy fan with a sixth sense and there hadn't been a cat in her series, I would have wondered where it went.)  What do the characters' interactions with the pet(s) say about the roles of the characters in the social structure?

Many pets have psychological functions in the home life.  I mentioned Anastasia.  I admitted to needing my fishies for my own joy.  I have a friend whose son is autistic and they have a service dog.  He's good as a guard dog, as a comfort, as a therapeutic tool for the son.  I also know that he has great empathy because he bothers me for a belly rub or flops down in my lap when my worst depression days coincide with visits to his house.  I considered giving my white swan a pet, but kept thinking of her coming home from summer camp with a new mythological condition and immediately setting her parakeet free.

Just as I would never advise someone to have a character sibling for no apparent reason, I would never advise a writer to give a pet indiscriminately.