writing and reading about dogs

The rewriting for my next novel, Lost Dogs, is going very well.  As  I mentioned previously, I started drafting the book late in 2011, put it aside for awhile to publish and promote Dragontamer’s Daughters, and have recently come back to it.  I punched up the opening chapter (which was a little lackluster), tightened up the plot, and have a better handle on the characters: they feel more real to me now, with their own things to say, and less like puppets that I recite lines for.


I just finished the 8th chapter, but as I’ve also mentioned, the chapters tend to be very short: by my count, I have 27 pages (11,179 words) done, or about 10%.  That concerns me greatly because my goal is to have Lost Dogs published by the end of September for the Baltimore Book Festival.  I’ll need to have it drafted, edited, proofread, and printed (complete with cover artwork) in 7 months.  And I currently have 10% done.  YORP!  Time to kick it into high gear.



Over the last few weeks (as I discussed) I’ve been reading some classics of “doggy fiction”: Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.  If you want a mini-review of Plague Dogs, it is terribly sad, terribly engrossing (particularly towards the end, as the dogs Rowf and Snitter are hunted by British paratroopers), and annoyingly inconsistent in tone.  The animal characters are likeable, though Snitter (victim of experimental brain surgery) is given to hallucinations and Rowf (perhaps appropriately) often sounds like Eeyore.  The “tod,” a wild fox, is often nigh-incomprehensible, as he “speaks” with a Geordie accent: I found him easier to understand if I read his dialogue out loud.  The human characters–almost all of them, anyway–are wretched, which is, of course, the point.


One can’t help but compare Plague Dogs to Adams’ debut novel, Watership Down, which is vastly superior, mostly because the rabbit protagonists of the latter persevere through great difficulties by courage and wit (and some luck), while the dogs of the former suffer and suffer despite their efforts, and only (SPOILER) survive by deus ex machina in a contrived, almost Disney-esque ending.  I’m glad I read Plague Dogs, but there were often parts where the canine characters came across as mere humans in animal costumes (given to philosophizing as if they were in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), an opinion I never had of the very-convincing rabbits in Down.



Before that, I read Call of the Wild, the most famous of London’s “dog stories.”  Call is the story of a big mixed-breed dog, Buck, who is abducted from his comfortable home in California and forced to serve as a sled dog in the Klondike during the gold rush.  Though Call spans years and miles in its tale, it’s fairly short, mostly because London is firmly in the camp of those writers who “tell” rather than “show.”  That is, he tends to just flat out announce, say, that “Spitz and Buck hated each other because each wanted to be the lead dog” rather than spend a lot of time depicting scenes that show that conflict brewing.  To each his own, but I prefer to let readers come to that belief by themselves rather than drag them to it by their noses.


Call is exceptionally brutal, with the dogs suffering beatings,  exposure, starvation, exhaustion, fights with other dogs, and–for most of them–swift and cruel death.  The story is told from Buck’s perspective, but as you might expect, we are “told” rather than “shown” what Buck feels, as London does not anthropromorphize his protagonist by giving him dialogue.  There are a number of other named dogs in the novel, but they are not well-defined and once they meet their ends, they’re quickly forgotten by the reader.  As far as numbers go, there are more likeable humans in Call than are in Plague Dogs,  but that’s damning with faint praise: about half the human characters are decent, the other half are monsters.



Neither The Plague Dogs or The Call of the Wild is much influencing me as I write Lost Dogs.  What is?  Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, a non-fiction book I’m re-reading.  Adams’ and London’s novels have dogs as central characters, but they’re mostly about what happens to said dogs rather than what it’s like to be them.  Most interesting to me are the chapters on dogs’ senses.  Sure, we all know that dogs have a great sense of smell and that it’s their primary source of information–but what is like to experience the world like that?  Author Alexandra Horowitz does an excellent job theorizing just that, and I already owe her a debt of gratitude.  She is inspiring how I present my dogs–Buddy and Sally and Brandy and the others–to the readers.  Hopefully, they will seem like “real dogs” and people will immerse themselves in their story.


Speaking of that story, I need to get back to writing it.  More about Lost Dogs as it progresses….





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