By Wendy Tyson
I’ve included at least one dog in every novel I’ve written. In fact, I’d argue that every crime novel could benefit from a dog. Every book for that matter—even the ones about cats. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. But there’s something special about dogs.
Think about it. Dogs in novels play so many roles. A dog can be a partner, silently allowing the protagonist (or villain) to share thoughts, plans, and emotions. For that matter, a dog can be the villain (Cujo!). Dogs provide comedic relief, and may be the heart in an otherwise relentlessly suspenseful thriller. A dog can foil an intruder, rescue the guy in distress, be rescued, and a character’s relationship with a dog can track his or her development over the course of the story (remember the movie Turner & Hooch?).
Okay, okay, you may be saying that a child/cat/llama/chinchilla can play these roles, too. But this column is a homage to dogs.
Books don’t just profit from fictional canines. If you ask me, every writer needs a dog. Or two. Or three. They make fabulous writing companions.
I’d just had twins when I first decided I could write a novel back in 2004, bringing my household ratio of kids to adults to 3:2. Outnumbered, I had to write during the dark corners of my day—early in the morning before anyone else was awake, and late, late at night once everyone else had gone to bed. The only being in my house generous enough to stay by my side during those lonely hours was Molly, our young Labrador.
Molly’s favorite spot was next to my chair in the office I share with my husband. Every once in a while she’d let out a loud huff to let me know she’d rather be curled comfortably at the foot of our bed, but her loyalty never wavered. When I was finished for the evening, bleary-eyed and exhausted, she’d plod upstairs next to me, a silent conspirator in the dead of night. When my alarm went off at 4:45 the next morning, I’d hear Molly behind me in the hallway, her soft footsteps a reminder I was not alone.
Those of you who write before dawn know that feeling of isolation that comes with early rising. I was left with my thoughts and self-doubt, and some mornings Molly was the only thing standing between me and giving up.
My kids are older now, and I can write in the light of day, but I still have my canine companions. Until recently our dog to adult ratio favored the dogs 3:2. To Molly we added Driggs, a giant Teddy bear of a Labrador, and Hali, a Boxer-mix rescue. Hali lacks the equanimity of her Labrador companions, and is more intimately involved with my writing. When I read aloud, she jumps up beside me, her expressive face following my intonations. She loves everything I write (except for the bit about cats, above)—a nice boost to the ego.
Partners-in-Crime: Driggs and Hali
As a pack, the dogs provide relief from the monotony of sitting at a computer all day. They request bio breaks—a good excuse to head outdoors—and every once in a while they decide it’s time for affection. Nothing reminds you there’s a world outside your imagination like sloppy, wet dog kisses. Of course, every dog parent appreciates loud play fighting during important calls, and my dogs are fond of pulling the mail through the mail slot, an obnoxious game of tug-o-war played daily with the bemused mail carrier.
But at the end of the day, my dogs are the steady friends every writer requires. They don’t care about reviews or rejections, writer’s block or new contracts. Writing benders are fine with them, and they seem to actually like Deadline Mommy. Other than the occasional pat or cuddle, they demand little in terms of attention.
But their lives are far too short.
We lost our Molly recently. She was almost sixteen, and until that fateful, awful day, she lay beside me while I wrote, a stalwart companion until the end.
I can picture her now as I write this, my beautiful girl dozing in the sunlight that streams from the family room windows. I still see her in the antics of her canine siblings—in their mannerisms, in the (bad) habits they learned from their older sister. And Molly will live on in my books, because every dog I’ve written into my novels is a tribute to her and to all of the dogs who’ve been such a special part of my life.
WENDY TYSON has written six published crime novels. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia.
To learn more about Wendy Tyson’s latest book, click on the cover below: