Friday, May 26, 2017

Writing Cats and Dogs

When I was a kid, we’d occasionally go to visit my mother’s childhood friend, who had an adorable dachshund, I loved playing with. I began pestering my parents to get me a dog, and my seventh birthday present was Pierre, a black miniature poodle puppy. (My mother, who had grown up with a Chow, was determined not to get stuck vacuuming dog hair every day.)

Me and my puppy
Although like every kid, I tried to duck out of some chores, I did walk Pierre almost every day, he sat on my lap on car trips, and he was small enough that I could carry him around. Pierre set me on my path as a dog lover, though I didn’t realize that I could write about dogs until my partner and I adopted a golden retriever puppy we named Samwise, who became my constant companion, just as his namesake did in The Lord of Rings for Frodo.

But dogs weren’t the only animals to show up in my fiction. I am allergic to cats – but that has never stopped me from writing about them. The first significant cat in my life belonged to my friend Vicki’s mother. Rajah was a regal black Persian who owned that house, and I was intrigued by his personality, so different from Pierre’s eagerness to be petted and loved. Vicki and I would sit on her living room floor, calling for Rajah to come to us—and we were usually ignored.

A six-toed Hemingway cat
That wasn’t the case with my friend Pam’s cats, though. When we both moved to Miami, she got interested in Hemingway cats – the six-toed ones that lived around Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, or were descended from those.  She adopted a six-toed Abyssinian she named Hemmie, and Hemmie and I became good friends. I used her, and her characteristics, for a couple of short stories I wrote for collections of romantic stories sold at grocery store checkouts.

The cat in those stories is named Pilar and she’s as quirky and inquisitive as Pam’s Hemmie. I admit I used both those cats as the basis for Sheba, the tiger-striped cat in my story “Riding the Tiger,” included in the Happy Homicides 5 anthology. I needed a smart cat, one savvy enough to go out seeking the crime-solving duo of Rochester and Steve. Of course it’s Rochester who first notices Sheba, and takes off after her down the street.

So far, cats and dogs are the only animals who’ve populated my fiction. But a neighbor of mine has a couple of brightly-colored parrots who often stand out on the wall at the edge of his house, and my own goldens, Brody and Griffin, are very interested in those birds. So who knows how my criminal menagerie will expand?

Today (May 26) is the last day that the Happy Homicides 5 collection will be discounted to 99 cents. 


1 comment:

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Neil, I can't imagine as a mom raising a kid without a dog or cat. They teach such empathy, they are faithful companions, and they love without question.