An Author's Best Friend
If you've been following the adventures of #EditorCat on the PHS Twitter feed, you are going to love this! Get ready to go awww as our authors introduce us to their furry writing companions and four-legged secondary characters.
Anna J. Stewart—Fur-ever Friends
One of the benefits of writing full-time is being able to spend time with my furry companions. Alas, between the time I agreed to write this and the time I put fingers to keyboard, I lost my stalwart and constant editing companion, Snickers. I only had her for about eight years, having acquired her from cousins who moved out of state, but what a full and eventful eight years they were. She was an absolute love and a shadow pet to the nth degree. I called her my suction-cup kitty because all I had to do was turn around and there she was; on my keyboard, lying across my notebooks, sleeping in her bed next to my desk, because let’s face it, she ruled the house. I miss her every day.
Incorporating pets into my books is always something I love to do, probably because I’ve had so few of them myself. I tend to lean toward cats as I’ve never owned a dog, but I had a goldfish named Cleo. In my sweet Harlequin Heartwarming romance The Bad Boy Of Butterfly Harbor, I knew the hero would encounter a dog who was abused and badly mistreated. I named the golden retriever—modeled after the dog my mom had when I was first born—Cash, after Cassius Clay. The name just clicked from the offset. Other animals in Butterfly Harbor have included Winnie, a white cat originally named Winchester when she was thought to be a boy, a sleek grey feline named Ophelia, and a new puppy called Tabitha. I haven’t included animals in my romantic suspense books, mainly because I always worry about animals in stories dealing with danger and excitement. I can’t be the only one, right?
In my Christmas Town stories, sweet holiday romances, there haven’t been a lot, but one stands out, a
black cat called Crowley. Now might be the time to state that I have an unhealthy obsession with the TV show Supernatural and always include a reference in my books in some way to the show—such as the aforementioned Winchester.
My favorite feline creation, however, has to be Sherlock, a little blue-eyed, black kitten who takes center stage in Nemesis on the Prowl. A gift from my hero Malcolm to my heroine Sheila (it’s a second-chance light romantic suspense), the little guy was inspired, of course, by the Benedict Cumberbatch character of the same name. In fact, little Sherlock has an affinity for the British detective, so much so that he’ll sit in front of the TV and watch as long as he’s on screen (don’t we all?). Good things definitely come in small—and furry—packages. I even had this little illustration made of him.
Which brings me full circle. In the next few weeks I hope to be heading out to the shelter to find a new fur-ever friend—or maybe two. In the meantime, I’ll keep adding new animals and pets to my stories. Hmmm. Maybe Butterfly Harbor is in need of a parrot. Yeah, that could be fun!
Virginia Heath—Meet Trevor
I’ve always loved dogs but could never have one because I worked full-time as a teacher, and I didn’t think it would be fair to leave the poor thing all alone all day. So getting Trevor two years ago was a bit of a milestone. My gift to myself to making a success of my writing career and a definitive line in the sand which meant I never had to set foot in another classroom again.
I adore the little fella. Writing is quite a solitary profession and Trevor is company when the house is quiet. He’s always happy to see me, constantly makes me laugh with his doggy shenanigans, and is helping to make me fit. Together we walk miles each week, both sniffing the fresh air and enjoying the outdoors. In fact, when we’re out, I never take my phone. It’s just me, my beloved mutt, and the great outdoors. Something that never ceases to cheer me up and something which has proved to be the perfect way to plot where the latest book is going.
The thing I love most about Trevor is his character. Anyone who says animals don’t have feelings or personalities is completely wrong. They do, and Trevor is most definitely his own dog. He’ll ignore you if he wants to sleep or if he’s sulking because I’ve gone out without him. If I dare to go away for a few days I can expect the doggy cold-shoulder for the same number of days afterwards. He’s a diva like that. Similarly, if Trevor wants attention, he will utilise all manner of cunning, canine methods to get it.
This ranges from stealing something of mine and haring around the house with it clamped between his jaws, to physically climbing on my lap to stop me from working. My son has a name for this attention-seeking behaviour, Pickle-Mode. When Pickle-Mode has been activated, we all have to dance to Trevor’s bouncy tune. Ridiculously, none of us seem to mind, probably because Trevor now completely rules the roost. He even posts on my Facebook page and has his own section of my website. I swear, that dog has more fans than I do!
It was his distinct personality that gave me inspiration to create specific animal supporting characters in my Wild Warriners series. Jamie Warriner has a bad tempered, independent horse called Satan. He made a significant appearance in the first book, A Warriner to Protect Her and an even bigger one in the second. There are two love stories in A Warriner to Rescue Her—Jamie’s and Satan’s. Jamie falls for a pretty, freckle-faced vicar’s daughter and Satan falls hoof over heels for her dappled pony Orange Blossom. Readers have adored that little side romance. There is even a love scene! Obviously written from the embarrassed/mortified Jamie’s point of view when his horse unexpectedly has his wicked way with the heroine’s right in front of them. I never thought I’d get that past my editor—but I did because she thought it was hilarious; as animals so often are.
Life with Trevor has also been interesting. Despite having two new hips—hip dysplasia is the scourge of the Labrador—his libido was impressive. For a while, until we got the all-clear from the vet to have his baby-making dingleberries snipped, my canine Casanova attempted the upright samba with a variety of local dogs, from a ludicrously small chihuahua to a Great Dane. He once set off at speed across the country park, chasing a pretty dog called Bella, forcing me to run like the clappers for almost a mile before I could pull him back. He sulked each time I thwarted one of his amorous encounters. Understandable I suppose.
Then there’s his consistent inability to come back when called—unless of course he wants to—his determined obsession with relieving himself in the same grumpy neighbour’s front garden. And the least said about his shambolic performance at dog training when he dug a two-foot hole in the middle of the arena while howling at the moon, the better. On almost a daily basis, my hound shows me up. Another thing my readers enjoy.
Therefore, and as a significant result of reader pressure on Facebook, it was only a matter of time before Trevor made it into a book himself. Which entailed a great deal of research into the Labrador breed. They existed during the Regency era, but not in the UK and a yellow one had yet to be bred. Hence, my current hero has a black St John’s Water Dog all the way from the fishing ports of Newfoundland. A dog filled with character, who loves to sniff, steal things and generally do his own thing. A dog who runs rings around his owner and who is totally spoiled. And that mutt’s name is, of course, Trefor. The closest old name I could find to the original.
I would continue waxing about my beloved Trevor ad infinitum because he is the best dog in the world, but alas, Pickle-Mode has just been activated and my dog is currently holding the freshly delivered post hostage as he hares around the living room…
Elisabeth Hobbes—Save The Cat
When a hero is in danger of coming across as unlikeable, received wisdom suggests giving him a ‘save the cat’ moment. It doesn’t literally have to be a cat, of course, but he should do something that reveals a soft, squishy, lovable interior under the shell of hardness or coldness, or whatever face he’s presenting to the world (I suspect Mr Darcy might have got further much quicker with Lizzie if she’d spotted him dangling his cravat over the arm of a chaise-longue for a kitten to bat).
The only hero of mine who really needed to STC was Roger Danby, who many readers had already encountered in a previous book as the villain. He had a cat moment early on but he didn’t save it—he couldn’t as he was tied to a bed at the time. The cat was in the story purely because I thought an inn would have a cat to keep the mice down, but he doesn’t drive the plot, isn’t rescued and existed because I wanted him to. Later in the story Lucy uses him to have a dig about Roger’s attitude.
‘Gyb sidled into the room and jumped on to the table. He dropped a dead rat in front of Roger. Lucy swiped him away with an angry snarl.
‘Your cat is far too forward,’ Roger remarked.
‘He isn’t mine.’ Lucy watched the cat saunter off, rat in mouth. ‘He showed up one day unasked and unwanted and decided to stay. I might as well make use of him. If he doesn’t like it, I’m sure he’ll leave.’
‘So I’m not the first stray you’ve taken pity on,’ Roger observed in mock seriousness.
‘Not the first battered tom who would have his end away with any female that takes his fancy?’ Lucy retorted.
‘Is that what you think of me?’ Roger asked, grinning, his eyes bright.
‘Aren’t you?’ Lucy held his gaze with a challenge.
Roger laughed and carried on eating.
According to sources at the time the most common name was Gyb. They went for very dull names in my opinion. Gyb was based on one of my cats, named Captain Jamie Ankles, which is much better. He weighs in at around six kilograms and has a purr that sounds like a petrol-powered lawnmower starting up. I’ve woken up to him sitting on my chest more than once. The other cat is called Doctor Sausage and he hasn’t made it into a book yet, but if I ever want a cat that can bring down a bird half his size, he’s my man. Seriously, I caught him trying to get a pigeon through the cat flap once.
Both of them delight in trying to sit on my arm as I type—Doc is currently hanging over my shoulder—and I’m amazed my editor hasn’t found a few fkbfkhjaklenbfs that have slipped past the spellcheck.
Teri Wilson—Absolute Bliss
I’m a huge animal lover, so from the very start, pets have played an important role in the books I write. In fact, when I first started writing, my goal was to pen a classic animal story for children, like Black Beauty or White Fang.
My early attempts at writing were mostly short stories, and the very first contest I entered was a short fiction contest sponsored by the American Kennel Club. The top three winners were awarded nice cash prizes and their stories were published in the AKC’s monthly magazine. The only rule was that each entry had to include at least one dog. I wrote a Valentine’s Day story about a chocolate-colored English Cocker Spaniel. About two months after I sent in my entry, the editor of the magazine called to tell me I won third place. She went on to say she was very eager to speak with me because she wanted to ask me an important question, which was: 'You do realize you’re not writing animal stories, right? You’re writing romance.'
She pointed out that everyone in my story fell in love, including the dogs. And that was the moment when everything kind of clicked for me and I found my genre. I started writing my first romance novel the very next day. It was terrible and will never see the light of day, but it taught me how to start a book and finish it, which is an important lesson.
Romance and romantic comedy are near and dear to my heart, but I still include animal characters in all of my books. I’m a firm believer that pets are just like any other supporting character in that they must serve a purpose and be integral to the plot. In order for a story to be really great, they shouldn’t just be cute window dressing.
My own dogs have inspired several characters in my books, most notably my Cavalier King Charles
Spaniel, Bliss. It’s no big secret that I’m obsessed with Bliss. I love her to bits. She was the inspiration for my book Unleashing Mr. Darcy, and she plays a major character in the story. Unleashing Mr. Darcy is a contemporary rom-com retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice set in the dog show world. Mr. Darcy is a dog show judge and Elizabeth is a dog nanny. Bliss is her dog. The book was my passion project, and when I started it, I thought no one on earth would want to publish it, much less read it. I thought it was too much of a niche book to get any interest at all.
Unleashing Mr. Darcy was published by HQN in late 2013 and didn’t make much of a splash. But in 2016 it was adapted into a television movie by the Hallmark Channel and ended up being quite popular with viewers. So popular that they made a sequel—Marrying Mr. Darcy—which just premiered two days ago. Having my work made into film has been a dream come true, but the best part of the experience has been knowing that the whole thing came about just because I wanted to write a cute story starring my dog, Bliss. When the preview for Marrying Mr. Darcy came out, it even included the wording, “starring Bliss the dog.” I melted on the spot.
Pictured above is my dog Bliss on the left, alongside the dog who plays her in the Darcy films (Teaka) on the right. I finally got to meet Teaka on the set of Marrying Mr. Darcy, and I know this sounds silly, but I cried like a baby.
Nothing about my life or career would be the same without Bliss. Pets are important to people. In most cases, they’re beloved members of the family. We’re more vulnerable around our pets and they bring out qualities in us that other people usually can’t, and I think that’s the key reason they can play such an important part in romance novels.
Zara Stonely- My Best Friends
Meet Harry and Saffie, my two workmates. A writer’s life can be lonely – sometimes you just need a friendly face, a heartbeat, somebody to bounce ideas off of, a shoulder to cry on, even just a warm body next to yours. There are people out there who will judge you for talking to the walls, but talking to a pet? Hell yeah, totally acceptable.
Now Saffie, my cat, demands little apart from food, a body to lie next to on the bed, and the occasional cuddle (too much and you know it—she has boundaries) and a lap to sit on now and then. Harry is different. He’s only 12 months old, and boy had I forgotten how demanding puppies can be. He sent my work routine out of the window when he bounced into my life last summer—but that was partly the point.
I spend too much time with my hands on the keyboard and bum on a seat. Harry insists on long walks, or he won’t settle at my feet (ah yes, the fantasy!) and let me write. He gets me out in all weathers, he inflicts regular breaks and insists we play, he clambers up on my knee—this is a too-big-for-a-lap cockapoo—at regular intervals for cuddles and kisses. So yes, my work hours have been slashed, but—and this is the important bit—not really my productivity. We all need breaks, we all need love, we all need exercise, or the well runs dry and stress can creep in. Harry is just what the doctor ordered. I wouldn’t be without him. He burns up some of my excess calories, and he clears my head. And he’s the inspiration for the very funny dog of the same name in The Wedding Date.
Hands up, I admit it. I am totally in love with all—well most—things four-legged and furry, which is partly why an animal of some kind finds its way into every book I’ve written.
Okay, just as every scene in a book must be there for a reason, so must the secondary characters—including the animals.
They can’t speak, but that is what makes them special. They act spontaneously, they do things your other characters can’t, they react with a total honesty that can tell us so much about the character they’re with. A horse will shy away from a blow, a cat may spit or cower, a dog might play or leap into somebody’s arms, an injured animal will trust. All these actions immediately convey a message. They’re a simple device that is so much more effective than adding backstory.
The cute factor always helps. Get your readers to say ‘aww’ and you’ve already got them onside. But it takes more than that.
So, first thing, they can be used to show what a character is really like.
You’ve got a character who is bad at heart, but is really laying on the charm. Your heroine has fallen for him, your reader has fallen for him. You want to shout 'NO!' Then he kicks the cat (or dog, if you’re not a cat lover). Now what do we all think?
Or, your hero is guarded, defensive. He’s been hurt in the past, he can’t show his feelings, can’t open up
to the heroine. Then he picks up that stray puppy in the street, or rescues an animal from somebody who is beating it, or we just catch him tenderly stroking the head of a depressed giant tortoise (see, it doesn’t matter what kind of animal). That one gesture, even if he didn’t think anybody was watching, and we’re putty in his hands.
Or, a pet can be used as a device to move the story on.
The heroine’s ex has been invited to the same wedding as her and her new man. They broke up on good terms, but boy that first meeting is awkward. They’re all standing there, not sure what to say. Then the bride’s dog races past with the bouquet in his mouth, the wedding party giving chase, and it’s funny. The ice is broken. After the ex and new man have joined in the chase, rugby-tackled the pooch, and emerged triumphant, they’re as close to mates as they ever will be. Bound over by a common cause.
These are just a few simple examples. All my novels have animals in them, because to my mind they can’t help but add that certain extra ingredient which helps us understand the characters, the story. They add depth. Just ask yourself what their purpose is, how they can move the story forward, or add to the character arcs. Then have fun!
Zara's latest book, the second in her The Little Village on the Green series, Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage, is available now. For more information about her and her writing check out her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Do you have a furry, finned, or feathered best friend? Something more exotic? Does your best friend 'help' you at work or at home? We'd love to hear from you in the comments or on social media using the hash tags #MyBestFriend or #TheWriteThing. And the more pics the better!