Kate Flora: I have finally struggled my way into the end zone on a first draft of the eighth Joe Burgess procedural, Such a Good Man. It has truly been a struggle. The book is six months overdue to my publisher, something I never do. And unlike when I finish most books, I can’t tell whether it works or not.
So what does all that have to do with a dog? Well, regular readers of the series will remember than in A Child Shall Lead Them, one of the bad guys had a dog named Fideau. When the bad guy went to jail, Fideau needed a new home, and somehow he ended up with Burgess. Probably because Burgess’s kids needed a dog. Instead, it appeared that in Fideau’s opinion, it was Joe Burgess who needed a dog. At the beginning of the seventh book, A World of Deceit, Burgess is on vacation, resting in a hammock and guarded by his dog, when a young girl appears, declares that her father is in trouble, and smashes that restful vacation to smithereens.
Over the course of the book, Burgess discovers that his new dog is very good at finding people. He also concludes that his dog can understand much of what he says and is sometimes able to speak. Evidently there is some serious bonding going on between man and dog.
Fast forward to Book Eight. I am deeply into the book before I realize that I’ve forgotten to include Fideau. There are rules in the mystery writing community about this. Along with the never kill a cat or abuse a dog, there’s the rule that if you put an animal in a series, you can’t suddenly forget about it. The animal, like other recurring characters, has become not only a part of the writer’s repetoire, it has become another character readers have come to expect. At this point, I can no more leave Fideau out than I can leave out Terry Kyle or Stan Perry or Chris or Captain Cote or Burgess’s kids.
I suppose that Fideau is my aspirational dog. I don’t have a dog. We’ve always traveled too much to get one. But at this point, I have six granddogs, all of them rescues. I’ve spent a good deal of time in the world of dogs and dog training researching my nonfiction books Finding Amy, Death Dealer, and A Good Man with a Dog. As a result of this, I’ve come to see dogs, their personalities, their abilities, their training, and the way they can enhance life differently than I did before. Now I get to vicariously enjoy having a dog through Burgess’s experience.
So, back to book eight. It was already late in the book, and Fideau had barely made an appearance. Now it was time to find a way to include him. That way was to help Burgess locate a missing girl who might be being threatened by a killer because of something she’d witnessed. Once again, Fideau didn’t let Burgess–or me–down, but was a perfect assistant first to help find the girl and then to comfort her while Burgess dealt with the killer.
No, Fideau, you were not forgotten. But there’s a lesson here, and its one I learned long ago in my first Joe Burgess book, Playing God. In my early drafts, I opened the book with a rookie cop on patrol on an icy February night finding a body in a parked car. I realized, through feedback from my beta readers, that by opening the book with Remy Aucoin instead of Burgess, I gave readers the impression that the book was going to be about Remi. I had to fix it so the book opened with Burgess.
There are so many things to consider, juggle, and keep track of when plotting and writing a book. If you are more of a pantser, like me, who has sketched out the book in her head but discovers much of the story while writing, it is vitally important to keep notes as you write and as you edit, so your timeline and your cast of characters and what you’ve revealed about them, makes sense. And so you don’t forget the dog.
Oh dear, I better check the dragon closet and see if any of them feel languished. Looking forward to reading #8.
Ahh haa! Thank you Kate! 3 years ago, I was furiously pantsing an attempt at a cozy; my first and frustratingly, my last. When the pandemic hit, onto the shelf it went; tangled, messy, and abandoned. No great loss I thought. It wasn’t working. It was adrift and rudderless. Yet, a loose thread, a tendril as it were, kept tickling my brain. This blog post, your revelation, thwacked me upside my head. I had opened with the victim, not with the main character! Thank you! THANK YOU! Gotta go. An untangling awaits! Was it an accident, or a cleverly disguised murder?
Ah, the disappearing dog. I am having the same issue, except it’s a child I keep sending to his grandmother so his mom can move about freely and detect. Hard to do with a 3 year old, LOL. I just brought him back and now it’s trouble ahead.
Hey, Kate, I so get what you’re saying. I have dogs in two of my books. And you know you’re just going along with the story and all of a sudden it’s WAIT! Where’s the dog? What’s he doing now? Who’s looking after him? LOL Glad you found a way to reinstate Fideau. What a great name, too. 🙂 I’ll share.
My mum named her cat, who now resides with us, Minnou. One of my favorite book titles is NO MORE DEAD DOGS!
HAHAHA, Kate. Great post about juggling all the threads. Crafting a mystery is, I think, much harder than crafting literary fiction. At the end, the satisfied reader has to say, “Of course! I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t!” That’s the art and the effort. I read parts aloud to my husband as I create complicated moments and he always asks, “Well, what about that thing a while back? Where’d it go?” And DOGS. So pleased you now stuck with one. My first agent (who did nothing for me as she was writing and marketing her own mysteries and we clients had no idea: story for another time …) said that I “could not kill the dog.” I have put Pock through some rough stuff, though, and that seems to be OK. If the narrator or sleuth gets roughed up and survives to be in the next book, the dog (who is now a bonified character) can get some of that same character in trouble treatment. Loved your post. Thanks!
I have a dog popping into book 2 of Olivia Lively. This is advice I will remember! Thank you.