What Is It With Authors and Their Pets?

Many authors have pets. I thought I’d speculate why that’s so.

File:Cat August 2010-4.jpg by Alvesgaspar
by Alvesgaspar
dog
by Habj

 

 

 

 

 

I did a little online research and came up with the following table of authors, their pet type and breed, and the pet name or names, if known. For the data in the table, I’m grateful to the bloggers here, here, and here.

Author Pet Type-Breed Pet Name(s)
Michel de Montaigne Cat
Samuel Johnson Cat Hodge
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Dog – Cocker Spaniel Flush
Edgar Allan Poe Cat Catterina
Charles Dickens Bird – Raven

Raven
By Quinn Dombrowski
Grip
Jules Verne Dog Follet
Mark Twain Cat Bambino
Edith Wharton Dogs Mouton, Sprite, Mitou, Miza, Nicette, Mimi
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette Cat
Gertrude Stein Dog – Poodle Basket
Hermann Hesse Cat
Virginia Woolf Dog Pinka
William Carlos Williams Cats
Raymond Chandler Cat Taki
T. S. Eliot Cat
Edith Södergran Cats Totti (favorite)
Dorothy Parker Dog Misty
Aldous Huxley Cat
William Faulkner Dogs
Jean Cocteau Cat
E.B. White Dog – Dachshund Minnie
Ernest Hemingway Cats (23) Snowball, Uncle Willie
Jorge Luis Borges Cat
John Steinbeck Dog – Poodle Charley
Jean Paul Sartre Cat
Wystan Hugh Auden Cat Rudimace
Tennessee Williams Cat Sabbath
William S. Burroughs Cats Fletch, Spooner, Ginger, Calico Jane, Rooski, Wimpy, Ed
Tove Jansson Cat
Julio Cortázar Cat Theodor W. Adorno
Doris May Lessing Cats El Magnifico
Charles Bukowski Cat
Ray Bradbury Cat
Patricia Highsmith Cats and snails

Grapevinesnail_01
By Jürgen Schoner
Jack Kerouac Cat Tyke
Kurt Vonnegut Dog Pumpkin
Truman Capote Cat
Edward Gorey Cats
Mary Flannery O’Connor Peacocks (~40)

Peacock_Plumage
By Jatin Sindhu
Manley Pointer, Joy/Hulga, Mary Grace
George Plimpton Cat Mr. Puss
Peter Matthiessen Cat
Maurice Sendak Dog Herman
Philip K. Dick Cat Magnificat
Jacques Derrida Cat
E.L. Doctorow Dog Becky
Joyce Carol Oates Cat
Stephen King Cats and Dogs Clovis (one of the cats)
Neil Gaiman Cats Coconut, Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess

Obviously, the most common pets on the list are cats and dogs. However it’s notable that Charles Dickens had a raven; Patricia Highsmith kept snails; and Mary Flannery O’Connor make peacocks her pets.

Before conducting my research, I assumed authors would have clever or literary names for their pets. After all, they know how to choose words carefully. That’s why, in my table, I included pet names where known. However, for the most part, authors name their pets the same things most people do. Maurice Sendak named his dog for Herman Melville, but that’s the exception.

There are websites now for today’s authors to post entries about themselves and their pets—notably here, here, and here.

Why do authors keep pets? Likely for the same reason other people keep pets—companionship. Pets can serve other functions, of course. Dogs can protect a home or assist the blind. Cats can rid a home of mice.

Still, I think certain aspects of pet companionship appeal to authors in particular.

  • Writers spend considerable time away from others, and prefer silence or soft instrumental music while writing. Human voices (even singing) can be a distraction. Pets will lie or sit quietly for long periods.
  • A pet will provide a relaxing break from writing. Often the pet determines these intervals. But it’s thought animals may sense human emotions, and sometimes the pet might detect that the writer needs a break.
  • A writer can use a pet as an unbiased and uncritical sounding board. A pet will listen patiently while being read to, and provide no feedback. The writer has the benefit of an audience, with no need to feel self-conscious about the poor quality of a first draft.
  • A pet can serve as inspiration for a writer who is writing a story about a similar animal. The writer can observe a pet’s movements, habits, and general personality, and incorporate these in the story.

There must be other reasons as well, and I urge you to comment and offer some.

As for me, I do not have a pet. Some years ago, I kept several fish in a nice aquarium, but I gave that up. I’m allergic to animal hair, but some dogs and cats are hairless, so that’s not a real barrier. Who knows, someday a pet might offer its own special companionship to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Yes, You Do Have Time to Write

You say you’d like to be a writer, but you’re too busy; you just can’t find the time. I think I can help you find some time, but maybe that is not your real problem.

First, let’s look at your schedule. No, don’t spend a month or even a week writing down what you do; this is a mental exercise, so we’ll do it from memory. I see each of your days has 24 hours, and each hour has 60 minutes. That’s good, and those numbers aren’t any smaller than for all the greatest authors in history. In fact, those are the same numbers for everyone. So far, so good.

Find Time for WritingSure, you say, but those great authors don’t do anything but write. Writing is their day job. That may be true for many of the great authors, but few of them started great. Most had day jobs until their books sold well.

Leaving the greatest authors aside, few regular authors make all their money from writing. Most have day jobs, families, and all the normal demands of life. Still, they find time to write. How do they do that?

If we mentally compare their schedules to yours, we see they squeeze writing into any available niche. They set aside specific periods when they can—at night when the kids fall asleep, or in the morning before everyone else wakes up. They write during their commute on the train or subway. They use a voice recorder when driving alone in their car, (though never in dense traffic). They write at work during their lunch period. Some of them—gasp!—write in the bathroom!

Even when they’re not writing, they think about writing in idle moments, when they’re preparing a meal, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, etc. That way, when they do sit down to write, they’ve already mentally planned the next scene. That’s making the most of their available time.

Again, putting their schedule side-by-side with yours, we see they have fewer time-wasting activities than you do. They spend less time watching TV, less time bantering on social media, and less time playing computer games. When they are tempted to do any of these, they ask themselves if their time would be better spent writing, and they drop the time-waster and write. They feel a little guilty when they’re not writing.

I suggest you make it a priority to find writing time in any or all of these ways. Try writing to see if you like it. If you do, time will become less of a problem. Although budding or beginning writers complain about not having time, I’ve never heard a real writer—a person with passion for and love of writing—say they can’t find time to write. They lament not having enough time, but they always find some.

That’s what I meant when I said your problem might not be time at all. You may just not have fallen in love with writing yet. When and if you do, you’ll make time for it. You won’t really have much choice.

Other writers have posted great blogs on this topic, including Janice Hardy, Melissa Tydell, Dr. Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Linda Lafferty, and—if you steel yourself for some tough truths—John Scalzi.

You’d like to be a writer, but can’t find time. As I’ve explained, the problem is the word ‘like.’ Once you love writing, finding time won’t be your problem. When you follow the suggestions in this blog post, you’ll see some new writing time has been provided to you by—

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Shunning the Shaggy Dog Story

Someday you might get a comment back from your critique group or an editor declaring your submitted manuscript to be a “shaggy dog story.” What is that, and is it good or bad?

Wikipedia defines a shaggy dog story as a very long tale, with drawn-out explanations of irrelevant events, culminating in a pointless ending. If you’ve written what others consider a shaggy dog story, that’s not a good thing.

Shaggy Dog Story
No Shaggy Dog Stories

The shaggy dog works slightly better, if at all, in joke form. There’s a rhythm to long, story-type jokes, and listeners are willing to settle in and follow along. After the long build-up, when the punchline is a non-humorous anticlimax, that twist on the typical joke format is supposed to be the funny. It usually doesn’t work.

As an example, when I was a boy I enjoyed telling the Bavarian Cream Pie joke. There are variations of this joke on-line, here, here, and here. In my version, a man seeks the best Bavarian Cream Pie (BCP) in the world. He travels very far, meeting people who tell him where to get the best BCP. Finally, he’s told he must climb the tallest mountain in Bavaria, which he scales. He finds a small restaurant on top, goes in and orders Bavarian Cream Pie. The waiter says they’re all out. The man says, “That’s okay, make it an apple pie.”

I’ll pause here to let you finish laughing. Oh, you’re done already? As you can see, the shaggy dog story emulates a story in many respects (character, setting, style, theme), but there is a silly or stupid resolution of the plot. The story says nothing about the human condition, unless the message is that human existence is pointless. Even existentialist literature doesn’t go that far.

You would think it would be easy to avoid writing a shaggy dog story. Here are some ways you might well fall into the trap:

  • As you’re writing, you think of new and interesting events to include, events unrelated to your plot.
  • Somewhere along the way, you forget something about your main character—an internal conflict she or he must overcome, or even what the character’s goal is.
  • You can’t think of a suitable ending that effectively wraps up the story, so your tale just peters out.

Those pitfalls suggest methods to keep from veering toward shagginess:

  • Kill your darlings. Cut out events and even entire scenes that do not advance your plot.
  • As you write, maintain the idea that your story must have a point. There are conflicts, both external and internal, your protagonist must resolve.
  • There are two ways to avoid the pointless ending problem. First, you could write (or at least outline) the ending first, and then back up and write the story that aims toward that ending. Alternatively, if you don’t want to know the ending before you write the rest, check to see if the ending you finally write does, in fact, resolve the conflicts. If it doesn’t, rewrite it.

Remember, no shaggy dog stories. Shaggy dogs themselves, however, are fine. I certify that no dog, shaggy or otherwise, was harmed, nor was its character impugned, in the writing of this post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Building Your Author Website

You’ve heard authors need websites, but you don’t know how to create one. Read on, and learn.

First, it’s not true that you need a website. You do need an online presence that shows you to be an author. That can consist of accounts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. However, I’d guess most authors have their own website.

Building author websiteA website does at least the following things for you:

  • Tells readers who you are and what you’ve written
  • Tells readers where they can get your books
  • Tells potential publishers and editors that you’re a serious professional
  • Provides interesting, even exciting, content linking what you’re selling to what readers want

I’ll presume you know, or can easily find out, the mechanics of setting up a generic website. There are a variety of hosting services out there and they have video tutorials and instructional blog posts on how to do that. I’m focusing on making an author website, as distinguished from other types of sites.

First, think about grabbing interest. Think like a newspaper cartoonist. One such cartoonist wrote that people view a political cartoon for about three to five seconds. That’s it. Readers buy the newspaper for the articles, so they’re prepared to read a few of them, if the headlines attract. But the cartoonist must seize attention in just a few seconds.

The same goes for your website. Your potential readers are surfing the web for free, so they only linger on a site if it grabs them right away. You only get a moment to show them enough about you for them to stay awhile and explore your site.

That means you don’t want long blocks of text. Also, break up your text with appealing, welcoming images. The images and text you choose on your home page may be giving the first impression visitors have of you. At a glance, they should get a good idea of the type of books you write, and some notion of the type of person you are.

Set up your site to appeal to your potential readers. Use words and images selected to attract them. Your site then becomes a suddenly impactful ‘story’ of you and your books.

Unless you have a good reason not to, you should include a picture of yourself. Although it shouldn’t matter, readers like to see what their authors look like. (Yes, I know, I don’t have my own pic on my website, except for a couple of blog entries here and here.)

Assuming the visitors to your site now have their curiosity piqued, your website should also tell them where they can buy your books and where you may be appearing so they can meet you.

A blog can draw visitors to your site, especially once you have a number of blog posts under your belt. Internet searches for your blog post topics can guide surfers to your site.

If you decide to blog, know this—it will eat into your fiction writing time. Before you start blogging, I recommend you write down twenty topics or so. Not the whole post, just the topic. Commit to posting on a regular periodicity and stick to it. It can be daily, weekly, every other week, etc., but you should adhere to the schedule. As new ideas for future blog post topics occur to you, add them to the bottom of your topic list.

For other ideas about building your author website, check out the websites of your favorite authors, and others. Also look at other blog posts on the topic, such as this one, by Thomas Umstattd.

Once you launch your website, be sure to tell the world that you learned how to do it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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