I don’t ever write about animals – at least, I haven’t up until Just Like Lightning. I’m a hopeless animal nut, but I know most other people aren’t, and I also know that, when it comes to reading, the more exciting, action-packed, romantic, etc, the more enjoyable the book is to read. Which, by default, eliminates most animal-related fiction. The decision to give a character a pet of any kind always worries me – I have countless worries when it comes to what I’m writing, how I’m writing it, if it’s likeable, if it’s readable – and when it comes to pets, I worry that it might take away from the human interactions in the story. Or that readers might find it to be filler, background fluff, that doesn’t progress the plot.
So far, though, it’s been really, really fun to write the horses in Just Like Lightning. Horses and dogs (and even cats, I have to admit) are their own unique little characters. They make me laugh, smile, fume and cry at times. I’m afraid that if I include too many animal personalities in a story, I’ll get bogged down in their stories, and not those of the humans.
It’s just that there are so many wonderful details...
Like Riddick sitting in front of my wheelbarrow every morning, moving from stall to stall with me while I shovel. He sits down and his head does a slow swivel back and forth, scanning the paddock, turning to look at me over his shoulder every so often as if to ask when I intend to finish so he can go back inside for his mid-morning nap. Occasionally, a turkey vulture wheels overhead on an updraft and he gives chase, barking furiously, but then he comes trotting back. And sits. And watches; my silent sentry at all times. And then he follows me when I dump the wheelbarrow. Lies down under the stand of pines and watches me ride.
Like Markus picking up his brushes one at a time with his teeth and flinging them across the stall while I try to groom him.
Like Cosmo knowing I was too short to reach all the way up to his mammoth head, so he lowered it down level with my chest so I could halter him.
Like Skip standing over Cosmo’s grave, smelling the freshly-turned earth, trying to figure out where his best friend had gone.
Like Markus standing at the gate, depressed, head down at his knees, when Skip didn’t come home from Auburn.
Like Skip hooked to a half dozen IVs and monitors, drugged nearly to unconsciousness, unable to eat solid food, standing prone in ICU, but hearing our voices and mustering up the strength to whinny and turn to the door.
And when I don’t feel like smiling at all, that ridiculously fat cat Sophie rolls over, grabs my boot in her claws, digs her teeth into the rubber sole and makes a sound like that of some whining hell spawn – her favorite game of Bite the Shoe – and I laugh even though I don’t feel like it.
I don’t write about animals…but not because they don’t deserve it. Because they do. They really do.