Monday, September 14, 2015

Q: "Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?"

-from Susan

Good heavens, are you serious? Do you think I’m a suicidal author who would set fire to her own meager career, who would jeopardize her position on Facebook, call down the wrath of the Twitter troll colonies, cause her agent to faint and her editor to cancel any shred of a book tour if said editor had even a slight willingness to offer a tour in the first place?

Do you think I’m crazy?

Dani O’Rourke has a cat named Fever, who tolerates her but is enamored of Yvette, the Canadian woman who lives downstairs and doesn’t like cats. While there is no fan club dedicated to Fever, I dare to say the few readers I have would notice if Dani let him escape from her apartment, run into the street, and get smooshed. Or if Yvette, tired of cat-sitting an animal who left hair all over her pant legs when he professed his affection by brushing up against her, threw him out the window. Even writing that makes me twitch.

I think the line writers cross is defined on one side by butterflies and on the other by worms, and I’m not even sure in these environmentally conscious days, that I would have someone – unless it was a particularly evil villain – step on a worm trying to cross a wet sidewalk.

Easier to write about a brilliant young artist pushed out a window, or a socialite garroted in her office, or any of the normal havoc that ends human life than to turn to the sweet, innocent face on the couch next to me and say, “Sweetheart, you’re for the chopper in my next book.”

In real life, I have read, children who torture and kill animals are, sadly, giving warning that they are damaged mentally or emotionally, and may well turn out to be equally cruel to humans during their lives. If I were ever to consider having a fictional animal come to harm in a story, it would be to make that very real and frightening point. But I don’t think I could write convincingly about a person like that, so animals are safe between the covers of my books.

Submitted with the approval of Saffron and Pumpkin.


Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Susan. And I'm glad to see it has the Seal of Approval from Saffron and Pumpkin :)

Kristopher said...

Interestingly, I just read an interview with Margaret Maron (over on Jungle Red) where she says that she killed two cats in her novels and never received one letter of complaint. I tend to agree with her that if it is necessary for the story, most readers are going to accept it as part of the story (they may not like it, but hopefully, they don't like much of the killing in crime fiction).

Susan C Shea said...

Kristopher, that is interesting. Maybe the impression that readers will rise like the Furies is a myth. Margaret Maron is definitely the the woman brave enough to test the theory. I've never come up against a plot point where killing an animal is required or even suggested. My imagination doesn't go there, I guess!

Paul, no surprise: Cats rule in my house.

RJ Harlick said...

Like you, Susan, I've always thought it one of the taboo's of writing, the same way a writer isn't supposed to kill a child. Good blog.