Ninja Writing, Hotness, & Australian Shepherds ~ Guest Blog by Devin O'Branagan

Earlier this year, one of my fans said to me, “You’re a writing ninja who silently slips in without flash or fury, leaving hotness and Australian Shepherds in your wake!”

This clever comment was in response to the fact that I’m a prolific writer, that several of my books are in the Red Hot novel series, and because I’m famous for the Aussies in my novels.

The first animal character I created in my fiction was an Australian Shepherd named Talisman. She had a minor role in my comic chick lit novel, RED HOT PROPERTY. I modeled her after my late Aussie, Kolbe, who had just passed away. It was a way of dealing with my grief, and the character added color to the story. At the time, I had no idea just how popular Talisman would become with readers.  When the book came out, I got more fan mail for her than me. For a time, Talisman even had a famous blog where she interviewed the pets of celebrities. She was also the impetus for two huge raffles I held to benefit Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless, abused, and abandoned animals. A lot of money was raised for animal rescue, and the prize I offered was that the pets of the raffle winners would became characters in later novels.

Little did I know how my simple tribute to Kolbe would transform my writing career.

I went on to create another Australian Shepherd character named Hallelujah in my YA urban fantasy, GLORY. She was based on my other late Aussie, Jazz. I developed Hallelujah more than I did Talisman in her first novel, and I began to learn what was possible with animal characters. GLORY is a deadly serious story about a seventeen-year-old girl whose blood contains the only known cure for a pandemic plague. Her late father’s dog, Hallelujah, adds a touch of humor in the midst of the unfolding terror. For instance, although she hates vampires, Hallie will brave a room full of them to retrieve a raspberry-filled super-thick triple-glazed donut.  (Even fearless demon-fighting dogs have clear priorities in life.) She also proved to be an interesting sidekick for Glory because the two of them aren’t fond of each other at first. The odd pairing worked as a unique means of character development for my protagonist.

I’ve been asked if it’s easy to write animal characters. For me, it’s not only easy but extremely fun. The exception was when I’ve had to write about dog breeds with which I’m unfamiliar. For instance, the winner of my first Best Friends raffle was a Basset Hound and I knew nothing about the breed. I read several books on Bassets, joined online Basset Hound forums, and interviewed Basset Hound owners in order to develop the character of Ross in my paranormal chick lit novel, RED HOT LIBERTY. I thought I had done a brilliant job, until a Basset Hound owner pointed out everything I had done wrong. The experience convinced me of the need to stick with the breed I know. (Although I do have one more hurdle to jump first. The winner of the second raffle I held is a Labradoodle and I am committed to writing that character into the forthcoming RED HOT VAMPYRE. I think in this case I will run my Labradoodle scenes past a Labradoodle owner to save future embarrassment.)

I don’t only write about dogs, but have included cats in my novels. I’m successful with them because I’ve had many beloved cats in my life and understand their nature (as well as anyone can understand a cat). I have one short story titled MIDNIGHT that was written entirely from a cat’s perspective. It may be found in the free fiction section of my website at: http://www.devinwrites.com/devinsfreefiction/midnight.html . I wrote MIDNIGHT as a gift to my fans and sent it to them in a Halloween eNewsletter. Reader response was wonderful.

All of my experimentation with the inclusion of animals in my writing led to my creation of a brand new genre of fiction which I dubbed “Canine Chick Lit.” I plan a series of novellas told from the perspectives of various dogs in my novels: Talisman from the RED HOT series, Hallelujah from the LEGEND OF GLORY series, and Wigglebutt, an Australian Shepherd character who was just introduced in my new paranormal thriller, THRESHOLD. All of these characters are female, each has a distinct sense of humor, and they have unique perspectives on life—perfect chick lit material. The debut novella in this series, SHOW DOG SINGS THE BLUES, was released in June. In the first week of release it hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases, and took an exciting ride on Amazon’s Bestsellers List for Books About Dogs. It was just nominated by the Dog Writers Association of America as best humor book of 2011. I have the next three novellas in the series already in motion and am genuinely excited about the project. To learn more and to read excerpts, go to www.CanineChickLit.com

I also own the domain FelineChickLit.com and plan to eventually write a series of novellas for cat lovers. There are three great cat characters from the RED HOT novels: a spooky cat named Marina Night who belongs to a loopy Cuban psychic, and two magical cats who belong to a beautiful, young witch. The evil Jezebel from my MIDNIGHT story would also be an excellent character around which I could build a novella. Ah, so many books to write and so little time!

Many authors have found success with the inclusion of animals in their fiction. Dean Koontz is well-known for incorporating his favorite breed, Golden Retrievers, into his novels. Janet Evanovich included a goofy dog in her Stephanie Plum series and uses it for comic effect. And, of course, we all know about MARLEY & ME and THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, to name just two out of many wildly successful dog-themed novels.

However, my advice to writers would be not to include animals in their work as a marketing ploy, but only if there is true passion. Otherwise I believe it would be too hard to pull off successfully. Characters make or break a story, and if your animal characters are forced or unbelievable, your readers will know.

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Bestselling author Devin O’Branagan writes paranormal thrillers, young adult urban fantasy, paranormal chick lit, comic chick lit, canine chick lit, and a humor column for TAILS Magazine. Devin is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America, and she uses her writing projects to support animal rescue. Visit her website at www.DevinWrites.com to read book excerpts, find links to purchase her novels, check out her latest book giveaways, and join her popular writers’ forum.

2 Comments:

  1. Hi Devin, what a great post! I LOVE that an animal character received fan mail. I am also going to have to read Glory so I can have that “aha” moment when Hallie surrenders to the call of the ‘raspberry-filled super-thick triple-glazed donut.’ Mmmmmmm. She sounds *strangely* like some family dogs I know and love. 😉

    Thanks for the tips on writing about breeds you are familiar with. In a draft I’m working on, the main character has a pet pig named after a man causing friction in her life…a love interest…naturally. However, I don’t know anything about pet pigs! After reading this, I can see I will need to talk to those who do, or change my character. Thank you!

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