I was invited to participate in Darkover this past Thanksgiving weekend in Timonium, Maryland. Wow! What a wonderful con. I was part of several panels including substituting at the last moment on the “Animal Sidekicks” panel for a couple of writers who had planes/rides to catch.
I love adding animal sidekicks in my stories. Per the advice of Dr. John Flynn, who taught “Writing Science Fiction” as part of my Masters in Professional Writing Degree Program & served as my advisor for 2 Independent Studies on writing science fiction & fantasy prose, I try my hardest to avoid cats, dogs, and horses. Now, it’s not because I don’t love cats, dogs, and horses — but rather because they’re the most common animals used.
So what critters have I used as sidekicks or important characters in my stories? In “Assassins,” I use a singing opossum – it’s genetically altered, hence the singing and glow-in-the-dark eyes. In “Birdling,” a robin is an important character. I must admit to using a one-eyed dog and three-legged cat in “Appleheads,” but they’re really a goblin and bogle, so I’m not sure if that counts. In “Toad,” I use a toad. (That was hard to guess, I know!) In “Henkie’s Fiddle,” a calf-shaped buggane is a sidekick. In “Weathermaker,” a Chinese dragon has a starring role. In a novel I’m pecking away at, I use rats and pigeons as sidekicks. I’m also currently at work on several stories where owls are either a sidekick or necessary character. Then, there’s this tale where telepathic beetles bond with the protagonist…
The advice I gave on the Darkover panel (with a nod to Dr. Flynn) is still good — “Think outside the box.” Cats, dogs, and horses make fabulous sidekicks and characters, but so do spiders (EB White’s “Charlotte’s Web”), cockroaches (Suzanne Collins’ “The Underland Chronicles”), beavers (CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”), polar bears (Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass”), snakes (JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter”), and even trees (JRR Tolkien’s Treebeard in “Lord of the Rings”).
I think readers like to read about cats, dogs, and horses — but they probably would like a pinch of emu, lizard, and lion, too.
Till next I blog: Happy reading! Happy writing! And thanks so much to the folks at Darkover for inviting me.