In this guest post from author Lauren Carr, you’ll find a shining example of how characters, human or otherwise, can take a story right out of the writer’s hands.
I’ll admit it. When I started out my writing career, I envisioned writing humorous and entertaining pieces to make my readers happy. If I was really lucky, I could write murder mysteries with cutting-edge detectives.
Well, as I am now promoting my twenty-eighth book, Killer Deadline, never did I dream that I would be writing jazzy murder mysteries featuring a loveable boxer dog named Elmo.
Anyone who reads Lauren Carr mysteries knows that somewhere among the cast of characters, they are going to find a furry mammal with four legs. It is a given. Just like it was a given when I started writing that my protagonists would own a pet. Cat? Dog? Didn’t matter. I’ve even featured a tarantula named Monique. There had to be a pet somewhere in the protagonist’s household.
As I have traveled through life, I have observed that people who don’t own or love animals are different from people who don’t. Granted, some people don’t own a pet because their circumstances don’t allow it. For example, if they have a job where they need to be on the road all the time. Generally, people who love animals possess a sense of compassion that non-animal lovers lack. That is the quality that I sought to reveal to my readers.
I didn’t expect the pets to become such a part of the stories. Now, as I reflect on this development, how could I not expect the furry characters to become such an important part of the cast?
According to the American Pet Products Association, in 2018, Americans spent $72 billion on their pets. That’s BILLIONS with a “B!”
Browse YouTube and you will find that animals play a very important part of our lives and our families. I can’t tell you how many times a day I get sucked into Youtube to watch a husky charming a treat from a street vendor, a cat giving a massage to rottweiler, or a hedgehog enjoying a tasty snack.
It’s not just me. These videos chock up millions of views. No! It is not me watching these videos over and over and over again!
Our pets had become sown into the fabric of our lives long before I introduced Admiral, the Great Dane/Irish Wolfhound mix, in A Small Case of Murder. From an oversized couch potato sneaking onto the sofa, my furry characters have grown and transformed until I introduced Newman, the Basset Hound-mix in the Thorny Rose mysteries, a devoted couch potato who is quite possessive of the television remote.
As a life-long pet owner, I don’t believe that it is purely wishful thinking that has motivated humans to project human characteristics onto our four-footed family members. Animals do have individual personalities.
Take two German shepherds.
My Gnarly, who passed away of cancer in 2016, was scary smart. One day, while I was cleaning the kitchen, Gnarly opened the door and trotted out to play. He went around the house and opened the back door and trotted inside. He ran upstairs, got a drink of water and then turned around and opened the front door that I had shut to run back outside ― not unlike a child. He did that the entire afternoon. Eventually, my husband had to replace the doorknobs in our home because Gnarly could open the doors and walk in and out at will. Shortly before he died, he had figured out how to open doors with round doorknobs.
Gnarly’s personality was protective of his family. He had a serious nature like his fictional counterpart by the same name in the Mac Faraday Mysteries.
Not all furry characters are the same. Gnarly’s real-life nephew can open doors. Sterling has done it. But he is content to have doors opened for him.
Single-handedly, Sterling is ruining the reputation that Gnarly had developed in our neighborhood for having a no-tolerance-for-bad-guys policy.
Recently, some workmen came to clean our gutters. Strangers are naturally cautious around homes with two German shepherds. I like it that way. When one of the workers asked if the dogs would attack, I replied that it was best they kept their distance.
Inside the house, Sterling went from window to door to window—keeping a close eye on where the visitors were at all times.
After clearing the dead leaves from the gutters, one worker asked for a broom to clean off the back deck. When I opened the door to hand it to him, Sterling slipped out, ran up to the worker, planted his front paws on the man’s shoulders, and gave him a big kiss. The worker returned the hug. It turned into a hug-fest. “Oh, I know you’re a good dog,” the worker said between hugs and kisses.
My lie was exposed.
Last week, Sterling was sitting in the yard watching the deer and squirrels go by. A blond-haired woman drove by in a red car. The window was down. As she passed, the driver slowed and actually blew a kiss to Sterling! He responded by wagging his tail.
Where did he meet her? How does she know Sterling well enough to blow kisses at him? Word has gotten around. The big bad German shepherd is nothing more than a hundred pounds of love in a fur-sack!
Anyone who has had pets knows that animals are capable and worthy of becoming full-fledge characters in books—each one with their own personalities and issues. I’ve had dozens of pets throughout the years and no two were the same.
In my first Nikki Bryant Cozy Mystery, Killer Deadline, Elmo is a combination of two boxers I had as a child. A social media influencer thanks to Nikki Bryant, Elmo is a loveable loyal dog who assumes everyone should love him.
Elmo is also the first pet I have introduced who is a rescue dog. As Nikki Bryant explains in the beginning of Killer Deadline, Elmo had been adopted as a puppy by an elderly woman. Using YouTube training videos, she taught Elmo tasks to help her—not unlike a service dog only without formal training. Apparently, some of the tasks she taught him was to clean the house.
When Elmo’s elderly owner was murdered, he landed in a shelter because no one in her family could take him. He slipped into a depression and sat sadly in his cage.
When journalist Nikki Bryant decided to investigate the case, she went to the shelter to adopt Elmo, who helped her to identify the killer. When news of Elmo’s assistance in solving the murder hit social media, the boxer from the shelter became a social media influencer.
Nikki Bryant and Elmo have been together ever since—just as it should be.
Could I have written this first installment in the Nikki Bryant Cozy Mysteries without a dog? No. I couldn’t do that any more than I could make it through the day without a hug from Sterling. I’m sure all of those Americans spending $72 billion a year on pet supplies would agree.
ABOUT LAUREN CARR
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!
Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist.
Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.
A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.