"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, May 7, 2009

If I like to eat pickles, should I write about it?

I really meant to post this earlier, but something detained me –exhaustion. Yesterday, I spent the day taking care of animals, in one way or another.

Many people know I have horses. Two, to be exact: my 12-year old mare, Frostie and her 5-year old son, Snoopy. When people find out I wrote a book, their first question is often, "Does it have horses in it?"

No, as a matter of fact, there are no animals at all in Freezer Burn, at least not the four-legged kind. It was a conscious decision; I wanted to portray Peri as not being a natural nurturer. She's been married three times, is 50 years old, and has no children. I needed an explanation for that, and it seemed an easy progression to see her as someone who can't keep a goldfish alive.

She's a sympathetic gal, and has a good relationship with her BFF's kids, but has just never had the desire to have her own child and watch them grow. This is an important point in the book, because there's a subplot involving Peri thinking she might be pregnant. She has to confront her non-maternal instincts as she wonders what kind of upheaval a child would bring to her life.

Upheaval – with animals and kids, it sometimes comes down to that, doesn’t it? Unlike Peri, I'm the kind of gal who needs animals around. I like the feel of a cat settling into my lap to be rubbed, or the dog poking his nose into my hand to be stroked. When I am cleaning up their messes, or vacuuming the fur off the couch, I tell myself, "When this one goes, I'm not getting another one." But I lie. I can't live without a four-legged critter around.

As I was trying to get out of the house yesterday, our cat, Katie, came out of her litterbox dragging her tushie on the linoleum. It could only mean she had some, um, debris stuck in her fur, debris that I had to clean up before I could get out of the house. This cost me an extra 15 minutes. Upheaval.

I was trying to get out of the house in order to meet the horse transport company that would take Snoopy to a lameness specialist. Snoopy broke a bone in his leg last year and is still limping. His diagnosis and treatment has become such a big deal, he has his own blog to talk about it (http://thatsmysnoopy.blogspot.com), but the Reader's Digest version is that we traveled from Chino Hills to San Marcos for more tests.

This is the route we took:

And this is how much it cost me:

Taking Snoopy to San Marcos was not exactly in my schedule, either. I had to rearrange Tuesday's writing to meet Wednesday's deadlines early, and then cancel Wednesday's lessons, just to have not one, but two specialists tell me that, theoretically he's healed but realistically he's lame. Since horses can live for over 20 years, it will be a long time before I say, "When this one goes…" Again, upheaval.

The upheaval of pets in my life is what kept animals out of Freezer Burn. I know of many books where animals figure prominently into the storyline, and I love reading them. But I was more than a little anxious about writing a cohesive murder mystery. I actually made an Excel spreadsheet to keep the clues and suspects and subplots straight. Threading an animal into the mix didn't make sense.

We're always told to "write what we know" and I know (and love) animals, but I preferred not to add them to this book. I may add them to another story, but only if they fit into the plot.

Is there anything (a hobby, a skill, a passion) that you know intimately, but choose to keep out of your stories? Why?


Nick said...

Wow! Busy busy busy! At the end of the day, you know the animals are all worth it. They are to me too! I don't put animals in my stories either... At least not the kind you get attached too. Nothing ruins a good movie like when the dog dies in the end.


N A Sharpe said...

Pets really can cause a lot of upheaval in our lives...but I can't imagine life without them either.

Do I include them in my books? Well... in The Destineers the main characers are 16, 16, 15, and 9. Yeah, a little brother, and he really needed something, so... he found a dragon egg! Did I mention it was fantasy? Anyway, Firewing the Dragon caught on very quickly and immediately became a favorite character not only of ours but of the fans that follow the MySpace page and the website! Pretty cool.

NA Sharpe

joe doaks-Author said...

I've done both.

I must fly fish or die. So, I think that qualifies as a passion. However, it’s never made it into either novel, or any of my short stories.

On the other hand, I flew helicopters for twenty years, one of those years in Viet Nam. Both made it into Book Two. I’d like to think those scenes are particularly convincing, since I wrote them, “as close to the bone” as I could. It was fun and easy. Not much research required. Well, actually, I did a year’s worth of personal research on-site, as it were. (Grin)

My rambling answer is, if you can incorporate things you know, and things you like, I found it was fun and easy to do. Which, by the way, made for a quick write as a bonus.

By the way, the pilot of the helicopter I wrote about was the villain in the story. Interesting, huh?

Best Regards, Galen

Elle Parker said...

Ah, you gotta love the pets!

I searched my mind to answer your question, and I don't think I can really say that there IS anything of my personal life or interests that I wouldn't be willing to include in a book. I like feeling very comfortable with what I write, and therefore I do draw from my own experience a great deal.

Having said that, I think I safely assure you, you'll never find Dino Martini knitting in one of my books!

Elle Parker

Mary Cunningham said...

A dog plays a minor character in my last Cynthia's Attic series book and I also had one in the first book.

Pets are so much a part of my life that I can't imagine leaving them out of the lives of my characters.

Good luck, Snoopy!


Charlotte Phillips said...

Hmm. My first reaction to your question was that I keep all my talents and interests separate from my characters. But then I started thinking - I read, Eva Baum reads; I don't know how to work the gadgets in the kitchen, Eva Baum doesn't cook much; I have a cat, Eva Baum used to have a cat. So, I guess most of my life makes it into my writing - one way or another.

Do you know how to make that work in reverse? Eva Baum probably doesn't weigh 100lbs soaking wet.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Valerie Sherwood may have known what she was talking about when she said, "Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words."

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Jina Bacarr said...

I enjoy your posts and a look into what's happening in your life!

Keep up the good work.

Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama said...

Aaack, pets!

I know a heck of a lot about volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from sewage treatment plants. But I don't think too many people would be remotely interesting. And I can't see working it into a book.

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