My young-adult sci-fi novel Lost Dogs has been out for almost two months now, has been selling relatively well, and has received great reviews. Ostensibly, it’s about two dogs who live through the end of the human world, but there’s more to it than just that…and it could have turned out very differently. Come with me, and I’ll point out some things you may have missed, as well as some things that never saw the light of day. Let’s start with the title….
…which originally was The Dogs of Doom, taken from a line in Led Zeppelin’s song “No Quarter.” But early on in the writing of the story, I decided that “Dogs of Doom” was waaaay too pretentious.
Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands, so one chapter is called “Evening–Fall of Day,” which was the title of the painting that inspired the logo for “Swan Song,” Zep’s record label.
…but you might not recognize that the novel’s opening image of an airplane breaking up and falling from the sky was
stolen from in homage to another of my favorite TV shows, Lost.
The beginning of the book has a primer on the “canine vocabulary” used throughout. In an earlier draft, the vocabulary was much more extensive, with many other English words “translated,” as in these examples:
- Airplane = “Rumbler”
- Car or cars = “Goes”
- Chair = “Sit”
- Fence = “Stop”
- Fire = “Hot”
- Metal or rock = “Hard”
- Trees = “Talls”
- Wall = “Flat”
- Window = “Look”
…and so on. But the pre-beta readers who reviewed my work-in-progress found the plethora of “canine words” confusing and distracting, so I scaled back.
While we’re on the subject, the “canine” word for “cat” was originally “Other,” but I found that bland. I considered using “Mrow,” before realizing it’s already ubiquitous. I settled on “Scratcher,” with “Slits” sometimes used as a derogatory term.
Though the dog characters–almost all of them, anyway–are not based on real-life dogs I’ve known, the cat Emerson is: he belonged to my sister-in-law Liz, and he really was a very disagreeable fellow. Fortunately, he enjoyed a long and very happy life in a loving home…unlike his fictional counterpart.
Speaking of the dogs, many of them started out with different names. I originally called the Golden Setter that lives two doors down from Buddy and Sally “Brandy,” then briefly changed it to “Katie,” then used “Nell” for a long time before settling on “Lil.”
Jake was “Willie” in my early drafts; Shane was “Syd;”Zeke was “Charlie.” Rex was “Max,” until I read about a dog story with a prominent character with that name.
Sam the Rat Terrier is a reference to Samneric from Lord of the Flies, another influence (like Watership Down) on the book. A few of the dogs also changed breeds, especially Greta, who started off as a brindle Pit Bull, then changed to an English Bulldog, then went back to being a Pit.
The dogs do a lot of “talking,” but they don’t lie. Though they might not tell everything they know, the canine characters in Lost Dogs—even Rex, who is extremely intelligent—are not intellectually capable of lying. And except for Rex, they are unable to use or understand sarcasm. To further reflect their limited mental abilities (as compared with humans) and their reliance on mostly non-verbal communication, their “speech” tends to be in short sentences or questions.
Several events portrayed in the story are taken from real life. The scene where the dog Tucker is hit, pinned under a truck’s tire, and ground along the snowy street happened in front of my eyes: I was the one who got the driver to stop and let poor Duke (the real dog’s name) get up and run home (Duke survived and recovered).
The story of the little boy who falls into the water and is rescued by a Newfoundland named Londo was a childhood memory of my dear friend Bill Hughes. The harrowing account of soldiers dying in his lap while he attempts to comfort them was related to me by my late father-in-law, Fred Blahut, about his experiences as a medic in Vietnam.
As for the humans in Lost Dogs, their race/ethnicity and physical appearance are (for the most part) deliberately ambiguous. As sight is not their primary sense, the dogs in my novel don’t pay much attention to what the people around them look like.
While I was drafting the story, I realized that I had, without meaning to, alluded to several persons and events from The Bible; it’s only fitting, I think, for a book about the end of the world. I continued making those references throughout the rest of the novel, though several of them have a twist; if you recognize one (or more), why not mention them in the comments below?
It’s also for you readers to decide if the “Lights” are supernatural in origin, or if they’re extraterrestrial. I must give credit to Carl Sagan and the original Cosmos TV series and companion book for 1) pointing out that aliens need not look like any life form found on Earth; 2) for the depiction of interactions between beings from other spatial dimensions. Both helped tremendously when I was developing the “Lights.”
Lastly, Lost Dogs was going to be much darker than it turned out. There was more violence; more animals dying; Rob was revealed to be NOT a nice person at all; and Buddy was to make a decision that would have made the story a tragedy. But then I asked myself who would actually want to read such a downer, and I dialed back the darkness. No one will ever mistake Lost Dogs for Marmaduke, but at least you won’t want to open a vein after you read it.
If you haven’t read Lost Dogs, I’ve tried not to spoil anything for you (and, by the way, you can get the Kindle version for $0.99 from now until December 31). If you have read it, you might want to go through it again to spot the things I mentioned. And feel free to comment below.
Kenton Kilgore is the author of LOST DOGS, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. Kenton also wrote DRAGONTAMER’S DAUGHTERS, a two-part young adult fantasy novel based on Navajo culture and belief.