Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who Do You Love?

Jude Augustus Holly, left, and his great-uncle, Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Many years ago, when the Earth was young, Reaves and I wrote our first collaborative novel, Hellstar. Since it is out-of-print and hard to find, I'll give you a short recap: A huge generation-ship, pretty much a city in space, is on its way from our solar system to a nearby star. Given the sub-light speeds, it is going to take a while. I seem to recall that it was eighty-odd years one-way, but that's from memory, so it could be off.

Along the way, the ship runs into a naked singularity, i.e. a black hole that has evaporated, sort of, and everything goes to hell. Gravity fails, time runs sideways, major disasters happen all over and everybody is in Deep Shit.

The book was pitched at 150K words, and after we sold it, the first ones out of our editor's mouth were, "A hundred and thirty thousand words, max." Thus we had some pacing problems to fix, we each did a draft, and pretty much, we were happy how it turned out.

We sent the manuscript in.

Now, at the climax of the tale, reality has broken down, there is a good possibility that the ship is going to be crippled in a major way, if not destroyed completely. Holes are opening and closing in walls, water is floating hither and yon, time is wonky, people are going mad and being killed, it's all very dramatic and harum-scarum.

Our editor -- let's call her "Beth," because, well, that's her name -- Beth sent us a note and what she said up front was:

"What happened to the dog?"

Thousands of terrified people are floating around, going bugfuck, dying, the ship is in dire peril, but none of that mattered.

We had a pregnant dog -- the correct term is "bitch" -- who had her litter in the greensward park, one of whom's pups wound up with the son of one of our viewpoint characters. A brief appearance, how can you not smile at a boy with a puppy?

Our response, if I recall it correctly, was "Who gives a fuck what happened to the dog?"

To which she, as an editor of greater experience than we, retorted, "More readers than you can imagine." And she was adamant about it.

So we went back and put in a line or two showing that the dog made it through okay.

Later, I was to discover from other writers and editors that putting a dog in peril demands resolution. A lot of folks like dogs more than they like people -- a thing I have come to understand myself. ("The more I learn about people, the better I like my dog ...")

I met a well-known Northwest mystery writer once at an autographing, and we chatted about this and that, since we sat next to each other. He had a couple of series going, and in one, the main character owned a dog. After a time, he got tired of fooling with the critter, so he wanted to get rid of it.

No way in hell, his editor told him. If you kill off the dog, your readers will hunt us down and cut out our livers. The dog stays until he dies of old age.

All of which is to say that if you are going to put a dog in your story, you need to know this.
There's another writer my wife and I like, and he killed a dog in one of his novels. I wouldn't let my wife read it when I was done with the book. If I had known he was going to do it, I wouldn't have read it. And that's why I still haven't seen Will Smith's version of I Am Legend all the way to the end. Wipe out humanity, turn them all into monsters? No problem, I can deal with that.

Don't, however, kill that German Shepherd Dog. I liked him better than I did Will ...

13 comments:

VC said...

I completely identify with this post. I can shoot my nieghbor but not his dog.

Wade said...

I killed a dog in one of my stories, not a pet or anything, just an unnamed dog. It was in the story for all of two pages. When my writing group critiqued the story one member couldn't believe I killed a an innocent dog.

That was years ago. To this day, she introduces me to new group members as "This is Wade. He kills dogs in his stories."

taintmonger said...

Living in an LA neighborhood with a quartet of yappy and/or bellowing canines has tainted my love of dogs, as it's usual for me to spend some of my first waking moments thinking about how I will kill whichever one is barking incessantly.

But more to the point, I have to say: That dog in I Am Legend was one of the best dogs in film, and made the late-appearing kid and supporting actress look even less necessary than they were.

Steve Perry said...

Dogs being dogs, that's what they do, bark. But their owners are responsible for them, and during the normal quiet hours ten p.m. to eight a.m., they ought not to be waking anybody up with manic barking.

Still, bad owners are the problem ...

James said...

I was a K-9 officer in the 80's. My dog "Duke" saved my life on several occasions. I sobbed when that dog died in "I am Legend". Fortunately, my wife understands. I'm not sure the other moviegoers did.

Steve Perry said...

I've owned two German Shepherd Dogs, Cady and Scout. When it came time to help them leave -- and believe me, we fought that fight to the end -- it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I cried like a baby both times.

People who love dogs understand that. People who don't? Sad for them that they don't.

jasonakamax said...

Some other examples of artists being chastised for killing the dog: Lynn Johnson for the death of Farley in the "For Better Or Worse" comic strip, and Bob Salvatore for the death of Chewbacca (a character who was analogous of the family dog in more ways than one) from the Star Wars book series.

Interesting, now that I think about it, that both died heroically to save the youngest child of their "families." I think Lucasbook owes Lynn some royalties.

William Adams said...

``I aspire to be the person my dog believes me to be.'' --- anonymous?

There's also the wonderful oration of the trial of the shooting of Old Drum:

"Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in the world many turn against him and become his worst enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. Gentleman of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies and when the last scene of all come, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his grave side will the noble dog be found. his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death."

Scott said...

My ex-GF and I had a trio of Siberian Huskies, Disney comes out with a husky movie, of course we go see it, right?

So we go see 8 Below, and we're crying - big leaks - so hard that the young boy in the row behind us puts his hand on my shoulder to comfort me and tells me that it's okay, it's just a movie.


That quote William Adams posted got me a little, too.

Scott said...

Couple of dogs get killed early in Joel Simon's Songs of Bad Men and Good, in the scene where the protagonist's dog and his pregnant GF take out half a SWAT team.

B. Smith said...

My wife refuses to watch I Am Legend. One of our friends said something about being so sad about what happened to the dog and that was too much for her.

I had one of these moments when I was reading Greg Rucka's last book Walking Dead. I was torn up when I thought the grizzled old Doberman Miata had breathed his last.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, I worried about Miata, too. Fortunately, the dog pulled through.

I have used Flexy-Leads for my dogs for years, these are sturdy, spring-operated things that roll up automatically and can be locked into short mode when you need them.

One afternoon, I was out with Cady and Scout and had let them stretch out about fifteen or eighteen feet. A guy coming from the other way must have thought they were off-lead, even though I reined them in as he got closer. He said, "Not everybody likes dogs, you know."

To which I said, "How sad for them."

Which was ever so much classier than what I wanted to say, which was, "I'm not letting my dogs run loose, you blind-ass fuckwit, besides which, who gives a rat's ass what you think anyhow?"

It's kind of a test for me when I'm around new people and dogs. If the people don't like dogs, that's a strike against them.

If the dogs don't like them, that's two strikes.

James said...

OK, one more dying dog story and then I'll stop. I swear. One of my former K-9 handlers had a retired dog named Ero. Magnificent dog in his day. Once climbed a tree and dragged a suspect out of it. But he was old now, couldn't use his rear legs, lost control of his bowels and bladder....it was time. And Craig just couldn't bear to do what had to be done. So he called his ol' Sgt to take Ero for his last ride. I borrowed the spare K-9 car and went to get Ero. Craig had washed and combed him out. He looked good. When he saw the car pull into the yard, he dragged himself to the left rear door, excitement shining in his eyes. He looked at Craig and me as if to say "let me in. LET ME IN!". I opened the rear door and we had to lift him into the car. I've never seen a dog look happier. I drove him to the SPCA and, on the way, he barked like crazy at every car that got too close. Once, a Harley pulled up beside us at a stop light and Ero went nuts. So I rolled the rear window down just enough to let him stick his head out and growl at the guy. Probably scared the crap out of him. I got to the SPCA and Ward, the K-9 supervisor before me, was waiting there for moral support. The Vet came out to the car and gave Ero the shot as I held him in my arms. He went limp immediately. The Vet took him from me and I found myself hugging Ward for all I was worth. And I found out two things 1) I really didn't want people to see me hugging Ward and 2) when both men need a shave, hugging is just ugly. GSDs are happiest when they're working for those they love. Ero went out doing what he loved to do.