Sunday, July 7, 2013

Got pets?

I am not an animal person. Never have been.

I'm not sure why I was different from pretty much everyone I knew in this respect, even my own family. I grew up with dogs, and we had a cat, a bunny, and an iguana. My dad has two dogs. My sister has two dogs. My mom once had three dogs all at the same time (but had to find them new homes when she moved). My best girl friend has cats and a dog. Most of my friends have cats or dogs and sometimes more exotic pets. But I've never had a pet of my own. And I'd like to keep it that way.

I didn't even want to ride the ponies. Look at my face!
Similarly, I didn't care for entertainment that featured animals. Talking animals usually put me off pretty solidly. I didn't get why people were into My Little Pony or Pound Puppies, and my toys were usually dolls and mythical creatures (human-looking ones, like mermaids and fairies--not so much the unicorns or dragons). And I didn't relate to reading material that involved talking animals, characters with animal companions, or animal-centric plots. (There were exceptions, though. I loved Where the Red Fern Grows and Watership Down.)

However, I live in this world and I understand that people do the animal thing pretty consistently. I love the book series His Dark Materials by Pullman, and I think one of the big reasons so many people found it intrinsically appealing was the inclusion of dæmons in the book. (People in this book series have their souls represented as a physical, tangible animal companion called a dæmon. It can shapeshift into different creatures until it "settles down" into one form sometime during a child's transition into an adult.) The thought of a constant animal companion that was a person's best friend and literally part of their very selves was a powerful element to a lot of people. I didn't really care about that aspect of the book, though I did think it was inventive. I wouldn't have any desire to have an animal companion hovering around me all the time, even in a fantasy world.

Coming from this, I guess it's not surprising that most of my characters weren't really pet people either. When I set out to write a middle-grade novel, I wanted to make sure my protagonist was relatable and multifaceted, and so one of the challenges I undertook (besides writing from a male perspective) was developing the character as an animal lover and trying to make it seem authentic.

I think I was partly able to do this because I tapped into what is, for me, a purely theoretical love of animals. I don't love being around them. I generally don't want to touch them, though I'm not afraid of them. But I care about them and sometimes find them visually appealing (my family thinks it's weird that I'm the person who posts the most cute animals and silly dog videos on Facebook). I donate to animal charities. I am a vegetarian for anti-cruelty reasons. (Sometimes I joke that I don't like animals, even on my plate.) So I took those "in theory" aspects of loving animals and tried to apply them to my character so he'd demonstrate an active love of animals.

So Bay has two pets. He has a dog at his dad's house and a bunny at his mom's. He has a weird sentimental attachment to animals that have been killed on the road--to the point where one of his projects is giving them a proper burial after photographing their "murder scenes," and giving them names in his journal. He's a secret vegetarian because he thinks his parents won't let him stop eating meat if he tells them he wants to. He keeps a tiger stuffed animal in his backpack and he imagines that it is observing him and recording his life. But I haven't yet shown any active scenes of Bay taking care of his pets or engaging in something more than theoretical appreciation of them.

So if I ever pick that project back up again (and I hope to, one day), I think that's one of the things I'll have to work on.

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