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Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Four-legged Characters Who Appear in My Mysteries by Susan Van Kirk

 

Over the last two weeks I visited my children, their spouses, and ten grandchildren in Arizona, arriving there from Illinois. When I flew back home last week, my body said, “Oh, thank you for the 60% humidity and Midwestern-recognizable pollen.” April in Arizona does not do wonders for my allergies and asthma with the dust in the air and the unfamiliar pollen on gorgeous shrubs that are currently blooming like crazy. But because of the pandemic and vaccinations, this was the first opportunity I’d had in fifteen months to see my family, so I took it, and through the wonders of multiple allergy medications, survived.

Spirit

I have a confession to make, and I know this sounds crazy, but allergies have put me at a disadvantage when it comes to mystery writing. You see, studies have shown that readers love to buy books with dogs or cats on the covers, and they can’t wait to read mysteries where pets are a big part of the story. Often I smile or laugh at Heather Weidner’s popular Instagram photos of dogs and cats in humorous situations or with hysterically funny messages. People simply love their pets.

Bo

 I have absolutely no experience with pets because I’m so allergic to them that I can’t be near them. They seriously affect my breathing. For me, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat or dog. I react badly to more than their hair, so all my life I’ve had to stay away, even having to change my airplane seat on occasion if someone’s beloved pet is sitting or stored under the seat next to me. I don’t hate peoples’ pets; in fact, I love to watch them from a distance and take in their over-the-top cuteness.

 So when I go to Arizona, I’m thankful my family makes alternate accommodations for their three dogs. Each has a dog, and I’m happy the grandkids have both the joy and the responsibilities this brings. But when I visit, their cute dogs must go somewhere else for a few days. I’d like to think my younger son’s golden doodle, Bo, loves my visits because the doggie spa pampers him, featuring the luxury of being waited on paw and foot. Molly and Spirit, the dogs of my other two children, have had various arrangements with neighbors or other relatives. It’s all worked out.



Molly

So even without knowing much about raising pets, I’ve been able to include them in my mysteries. My Endurance series has featured Stella, the English cocker spaniel, who in real life lives across the street from me. I often watch her from my front window and smile at her antics in her yard. Her purpose in Death Takes No Bribes is to provide a neighbor an excuse to walk past Grace Kimball’s house and stop to talk. My detective, TJ Sweeney received a kitten named Eliot Ness from Grace. However, TJ is rarely home, so Eliot often stays at Grace’s house with Grace’s sister-in-law, Lettie. In fact, Eliot saves several lives in my second Endurance mystery, Marry in Haste. He is the hero. My current WIP features Skye, the charcoal cat with green eyes owned by a woman who is Wiccan (a follower of modern-day witchcraft.) It also mentions Angus as a minor character, a dog owned by one of the townspeople when she was a child.

 It is possible to write what you haven’t experienced, but it takes research, expert contacts, and patience. I’m eager to ask questions of pet-lovers so I can write truthfully about the animals featured in my books. Quite a few dog and cat lovers have come to my aid in describing their pets’ special talents, and this helps me write truthfully about them. I even do it without sneezing.

16 comments:

Annette said...

I'm so sorry you can't enjoy a pet, Susan. If you ever need a few cat tales, feel free to send inquires my way!

Jim Jackson said...

One thing you're missing without pets is cleaning up their hair. Several years after our last animal passed away, we would still find a stray hair attached to the bottom of a couch or rubbed onto a table leg -- no matter how many times we had cleaned.

Kait said...

Adorable pictures. Is Bo a golfer? What's his handicap? :)

I am so sorry you can’t have pets. They bring such joy to life. I am an avid reader of your books and have never noticed that your pet portraits are drawn from a distance. It’s clear that you admire critters, no matter how you come by the knowledge!

Susan said...

Thanks so much, Annette. I will keep you in mind.

Jim, my nose is itching just thinking about cleaning up pet hair. I think that might be something I don't miss.

Thanks, Kait. Bo is not a golfer, but my younger son is. Their golden doodle is a puppy, so they are still experiencing the equivalent of the first two years of a toddler's life. I think they enjoyed a few days of peace while I was there, but Bo is definitely a cutie. Yes, I do admire these grandpups from a distance.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Interesting perspective! So glad you included animals in your books.

I recently cast a German Shepherd Dog in my book--a trained guard dog. I take mental notes on my daily walks, when my GSD neighbor Charlie charges the electric fence line, fur raised down his spine, barking furiously and snapping his big white teeth.

Jazz, my female standard poodle, tells him a thing or two and he stops barking and backs off.

Susan said...

Ah, Margaret, dialogue between dogs. Brilliant idea. I’ll try that.

E. B. Davis said...

I've never had pets, either. My parents traveled so they didn't want pets, and my husband's family thinks animals belong outside. So we didn't have pets because I had no experience and didn't want to leave a dog or cat outside. I think the addition of pets adds several factors to novels. It increases the cozy, humorous, and protective factors. I love Connie's dog Emmie, and the pug she has in her novels is urbane, snide, and condescending to humans. Gotta love it.

Susan said...

So true, Elaine!!

Kaye George said...

It's good that your kids don't have the allergies you do. For their sake, and for yours, as a writer. We had to get rid of a beloved Golden retriever when our son became violently allergic to her and it broke our hearts. I'm thankful that now, as an adult, he can have a wonderful chocolate lab. I wish medical science would come up with an answer for this!

Susan said...

Me too, Kaye—an answer. Sorry to hear about your golden retriever. I hear so many wonderful stories about pets that I’m glad I can include them in my “virtual” world.

Molly MacRae said...

You do your research well, Susan. The pets in your stories are real, just like the rest of your other characters. Great writing!

Shari Randall said...

I must say, these are some of the cutest dogs I've ever seen.
Allergies in my family, too, unfortunately, but I have lots of friends and family with pets when I need a good story. Pets can be awesome for characterization - and for characters. Some pets deserve their own books!

Susan said...

Thank you, Molly and Shari. I try.

KM Rockwood said...

I always enjoy meeting animals in mysteries. They are so much a part of life.

Susan said...

Thanks, Kathleen.

Heather Weidner said...

Thanks, Susan for the great shout out! I hope you had a fabulous trip!