Tuesday, December 6, 2011

There’s Dog Hair in My Inkjet, or Truth in Fiction

Sheila Boneham

My first novel will be out next year, and when I tell people who know me they usually ask about animals in my books. Before I get to the questions themselves, let me tell you why they come up.

There’s the dog hair, for one thing. On my clothes, on the couch. A few minutes ago I blew some off the scanner bed of my ink jet. If I were a better housekeeper I might complain, but I believe animal fur adds texture to life and is a natural benefit of living with dogs, cats, horses, hamsters. My animals have always been my companions – pets, if you will – above all else, but many of them have also been my partners, my teammates. I’ve shown dogs and horses in a variety of sports and volunteered with therapy dogs in schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes. I’ve been a rescuer, a serious breeder, a dog-show judge, and award-winning author of seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats. I write with dogs under my desk. If I didn’t have fur on my clothes I’d feel naked. So back to the questions....

The first is usually whether there are animals in my mysteries. Of course there are! In fact, my "Animals in Focus" series is (pardon the expression) peopled with animals. Janet MacPhail, the accidental amateur sleuth of the series, is a professional pet and wildlife photographer and amateur dog-sport enthusiast. When we meet her in the first book, Drop Dead on Recall, she's at an obedience trial with Jay, her Australian Shepherd. Besides Jay, she lives with Leo, an orange tabby. Tom Saunders, the "hunk" who steps into Janet’s life when the obedience trial turns deadly, has a Labrador Retriever named Drake. And there are several Border Collies, a Maltese, a Poodle....you get the idea.


The next thing people often want to know is whether the animals are real. Of course they are. Sort of. At the micro level, the animal protagonists, Jay and Leo, are loosely based on three of my own companions and technical advisors. The real Jay turned 13 in October and continues to inspire me. That's Jay (above) competing in obedience a few years ago. You can read more of his story at http://www.perennialaussies.com/jay.html. Janet's Leo is based on my own two lovely orange tabbies, Malcolm and Leo, who are now rolling in catnip at the Rainbow Bridge. Drake is a composite of my own three Labrador Retrievers – Raja, Annie, and Lily – and the many Labs I’ve worked with in rescue and as an obedience instructor. Other dogs and cats in the stories are similarly based on dogs and cats I’ve known or heard about. Here are Raja and Malcolm,


and Leo with a five-week-old Aussie puppy.


The animals I write about are "real" in a broader sense, too. They act like animals with canine and feline motivations (as far as we can determine, anyway). Since I expect human characters in books to act like people, this seems fair.


Don’t get me wrong – I’ve spend many happy hours with a cat on my lap and a dog curled around my feet as I read about crime-solving critters pointing out clues or commenting on the feeble abilities of their human sidekicks. It’s just that I have spent a lot of time with animals and have seen the problems caused when pet owners regard their pets as deficient people rather than excellent critters. My experience informs my fiction. How can it not? So the animals in this series are as realistic as I can make them.

And here’s the thing.... Real animals are fascinating just as they are. Their motivations are complex and individual. They can be by turns altruistic and self-serving and sad and playful and indifferent and loving. Like any strong character in fiction (and life), they are multidimensional. I could go on and on about this, but I there's a furry chin on my knee so I’ll leave this line of thought for Janet MacPhail to pursue. She's a woman of strong opinions when it comes to animals. For now, it's time for a walk.


Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals  (Alpine, 2009),  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com.

12 comments:

Vicki Doudera said...

Fun post, Sheila. I too, am of the opinion that pet fur adds character to an item, just as salt adds more flavor.

Sheila W. Boneham said...

True, Vicki - and dog hair often ends up in food, too. I think of it as fuzzy protein!

Darrell James said...

Thanks for the great post, Sheila. My Del Shannon series doesn't have pets in it at this point. But I have written a couple of short stories featuring Little Earl and his blind dog, Melon.

amyshojai.com said...

Well said. Fur is a condiment. And adds enormously to any fiction. Yay Sheila!

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm looking forward to diving into your Animals in Focus series, Shelia, and I'm so glad that the animal characters in your books will behave true to form.

I'm petless at the moment after the death of our beloved black Lab mix last summer, but I've owned both dogs and cats and love both. My hubby and I now get our petting fixes from friends' animals and those we meet on the street.

Robin Allen said...

Great first post, Sheila. I've had pets here and there, but don't have any at the moment. I feed the squirrels and whitetail deer who wander around my neighborhood. Does that count?

Sheila W. Boneham said...

Robin, they all count! Darrell, where can I find those Melon stories? Beth, sorry about your loss. I believe they are never really gone - I am accompanied everywhere by a large group of dogs, cats, and horses no one else can see :-) Amy -thanks! I recall a hilarious post on a dog list years ago about some houseproud visiting in-law who ran screaming from the poster's house when she found Aussie fur plastered to a milk carton in the fridge. Sounds like home to me!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Looking forward to your series, Sheila! My furry feline companion and muse, Sophie, is perched by my keyboard.

Darrell James said...

Sheila- One of the stories, "Motherhouse" is in my collection, Body Count:A Killer Collection (Amazon). The other, "Even A Blind Man" will appear in the Lee Child Anthology, Vengeance, coming from Little Brown in the spring.

Darrell James said...

ps: I write with two cats, Cali and Pudge.

Hudson said...

Our vet recently diagnosed my beloved family dog with arthritis. She is the best dog I have ever owned because she is smart and happy; the sort of dog children’s novels are written about. We decided to start purchasing pet products to help her get around, such as vitamins, Best Dog Beds For Labs and Pet Steps Large Dogs.

WriterOne said...

Great post, Sheila! I love having a smile start my day, especially Mondays! Look forward to reading your book.