Warning to Protagonists: Never Work With Animals

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday and Lovers in Crime Mysteries. Her upcoming new series, The Thorny Rose Mysteries, will be released Spring/Summer 2015.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This year, several books, over a variety of genres written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services, which is currently accepting submissions. Visit Acorn Book Services website for more information.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:
E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://acornbookservices.com/
http://mysterylady.net/
Blog: Literary Wealth: http://literarywealth.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl

Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

W.C. Fields is credited with the saying, “Never work with animals or children.” As a performer, his reason was simple. They steal the show. A fur-covered co-star has the power to become the center of attention faster than a speeding bullet simply by setting a paw on the stage.

The same warning can be given to protagonists for books. If you’re a protagonist and you want to be in the limelight, don’t star alongside a dog or cat or any other furry critter. As the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, I learned that lesson completely by accident.

A farm girl, I’ve always had critters in my books. My first short story, which was never published, was about Jinx, the boxer dog I had growing up. Since animals have always been a part of my life, it’s a natural to put them in my books. Usually, they’ve played minor characters.

Gnarly, May 2014

Gnarly, May 2014

In my first mystery series, the Joshua Thornton mysteries, Admiral, an Irish Wolfhound-Great Dane mix, would be on the leash while Joshua questioned suspects. In his big scene, Admiral cornered an attempted assassin. When Joshua married homicide detective Cameron Gates to become the Lovers in Crime, Irving, Cameron’s skunk cat, joined the team.

Then, along came Gnarly.

In It’s Murder, My Son, the first installment of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, I wanted to do a storyline where a dog had witnessed the murder of his owner. In the plotline, the detective, and everyone else, pretty much dismisses Gnarly’s importance in catching the killer. But, Gnarly is not just any dog who happens to be on the scene of a murder. His job was to protect the murder victim. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Gnarly is as determined to reveal the killer as my protagonist.

Mac Faraday is a homicide detective whose wife leaves him for another man and takes everything. On the day his divorce becomes final, Mac inherits $270 million and an estate on Deep Creek Lake from his birth mother, Robin Spencer, a world famous mystery novelist. He also inherits her unruly and highly intelligent German shepherd named Gnarly, who she had acquired after the murder of her next door neighbor.

Gnarly had been dishonorably discharged from the United States Army, who refuses to talk about him. Readers can only guess what Gnarly did to get kicked out. Some have suggested that he refused to obey orders. Others have said he stole the general’s lunch.

Writers who love animals know that each furry character is as unique as a human one. Just like any other character in a book, an animal character has to be developed and speak to the author. Even if they don’t use words, they still communicate between the lines through their actions.

Those are the fur covered characters that have the power to steal the book. The little idiosyncrasies, the mannerisms, they will jump out to readers to remind them of pets that they have known. In the Mac Faraday Mysteries, Gnarly makes his den under the bed. This is based on Ziggy, my Australian Shepherd, who sleeps

Gnarly...up to something.

Gnarly…up to something.

under my bed. When upset or scared, that’s where he dives for comfort. One reader told me that she was drawn into the series when she read about Gnarly sleeping under the bed because her dog does the same thing.

In creating Gnarly, I flat out said I wanted to create the Anti-Lassie; a canine character that would go get help to pull Timmy out of the well, only to have it be discovered that he knocked him down there in the first place.

You gotta love those bad dogs. As with any pet and pet owner relationship, it’s not always easy-going. Gnarly has issues, one being that he is a hopeless kleptomaniac. When he gets bored, he steals things. As his owner, Mac has to defend his canine sidekick the best way he can … usually by paying restitution to the crime victim.

To my surprise, reviewers and readers have fallen in love with Gnarly. “I can’t wait to see what Gnarly does next,” more than one reviewer and reader has said. After proclaiming their love in a review, they will say, “Oh, and I love Mac, too,” almost as an afterthought. The praise has continued with every installment of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, all the way through the most recent,  Open Season for Murder. In one recent five-star review, a reader posted, “I love Gnarly. Everyone needs a dog like that.”

Gnarly must be growing on Mac. I didn’t even realize it until my editor commented that Mac seemed more affectionate toward Gnarly in Open Season for Murder. Sure enough, I noticed that in one scene, Mac is rubbing Gnarly’s tummy after he gets a stomach ache from eating a stolen pork chop.

What is it that draws readers to mysteries with animals in the plotline, either alongside the protagonist or sometimes even taking on the role as a protagonist? We seem to be especially intrigued by animals with anti-hero tendencies.

The answer: Animals bring out the best in man … and woman. Have you ever seen a lion in the jungle telling the antelope, “Go ahead, you can cross the savannah. I’m not going to eat you. I had a big breakfast. Trust me,” only for the antelope to get jumped the minute he turns his back? If a bear intends to eat your face, he’ll tell you that right off, no bones about it.

Open Season for MurderEven fictional bad dogs operate without any hidden agenda and that is refreshing to us, no matter how often we see it. For that reason, we can trust them. I know Gnarly is going to steal that bacon off the kitchen counter as soon as I turn my back. The charming thing is, he’s not pretending he won’t. In real life, and in books and television, animals have a sense of integrity that we can’t find anywhere else. It reminds us of something that is very good still left in our world that maybe, if we stay in touch with it—maybe man can somehow return to it.

So, it seems most appropriate that dogs and cats have found a place in readers’ hearts in mysteries. In the midst of murder and mayhem, it brings a smile to our faces to read a scene where during a rousing debate about a series of murders, Mac can look down to where he is stroking Gnarly’s long ears and see a pair of big brown eyes that tell him Gnarly has his back.

Even with his faults, whether he’s stealing a murder suspect’s purse or the show, Gnarly can be counted on—he’s always on the case … and so is Mac Faraday.

At least, that is what reviewers and readers have been telling me. Surprisingly, I have been told that a Mac Faraday Mystery is not a Mac Faraday Mystery without Gnarly. That’s okay with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way …

Neither would Gnarly.

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3 thoughts on “Warning to Protagonists: Never Work With Animals

  1. Ahhh, Gnarly! Is this the novel I entered to win the giveaway? I agree; many readers simply fall for dogs as protagonists: Nicholas Sparks, The Guardian, for example.

    Like

  2. W.C. Fields hit the nail on the head. I knew this could happen when I put a dog character in my first book. I introduced her as a minor character at first, and when she became a stronger, I had her dognapped for a while. Then took her off stage again for the climactic action. She’ll steal a few hearts, but she won’t get too much leverage over my lead. Gnarly looks so loveable.

    Like

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