Hi! Liz here, and today I’m welcoming the lovely Carolyn Mulford to the blog. Carolyn is another writer I’ve known from the beginning of my time in the mystery community, and I’m delighted to see this fabulous series getting such great attention. (You can read the first chapter of each of the books on her website.)Today she’s talking about one of my favorite topics: Dogs in books. Carolyn, take it away!
I’m a planner. When I wrote Show Me the Murder (Five Star, 2013), I spent a lot of time developing three contrasting major characters: Phoenix, a wounded former CIA operative who returns to her Missouri hometown; Annalynn, a civic leader whose husband just died in a sleazy motel; and Connie, a struggling singer/music teacher.
I didn’t plan a fourth character, a Belgian Malinois called Achilles. He arrived on my screen as a plot point, the only witness to a crime. Phoenix finds him shot, starved, and tied to a tree. She identifies with him, saying, “Some of us don’t die so easily.” By the end of the book, she is his human for the series.
Achilles poses some challenges to me as a writer. One is revealing his personality when he can’t talk and comes with no bio except being a DEA K-9 dropout. No big deal. He can’t tell, but he can show. For example, when Phoenix leaves him alone, he howls until she comes back. When she takes him into the backyard, he protects the hummingbirds from cats skulking at the feeders. When he meets Connie, he offers a paw for her to shake.
In each book, he—like the other characters—reveals more of himself. In Show Me the Deadly Deer (Five Star, 2013), he refuses to get out of the car when rambunctious four-year-old twins want to play with him. Later, when the children face a tragedy, he allows them to maul him with affection. In Show Me the Gold (Five Star, 2014), he barks a reproof when Phoenix raises her voice to Annalynn.
A persistent challenge is giving Achilles bits of action so readers knew what he’s doing. Is he sticking by Phoenix’s side, sniffing around, standing by the car to tell her he wants to go home?
Having Achilles as a major character also offers some unanticipated advantages. He exposes the softer side of the tough, cynical Phoenix. His nose and intelligence contribute to every investigation. In Show Me the Deadly Deer, he indicates that the murder didn’t take place where Phoenix found the body. In Show Me the Gold, he warns her of a booby trap. She soon learns to use him to disarm innocents, terrify bad guys, and back her up.
He also delights readers. At every book signing, someone says, “I love your dog.”
So do I.
Carolyn Mulford worked as the editor of national and international magazines and a freelancer before writing the award-winning Show Me mystery series. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery released a paperback edition of the first, Show Me the Murder, in June. Five Star will issue the fourth, Show Me the Ashes, in hardcover in December.
Carolyn, I can definitely relate to the dog-taking-over-as-a-character syndrome! Readers, what about you? Fave dogs or cats that make a series even better?
I love how this non-speaking character can bring out the other characters, and has his own part. Thanks for visiting us today, Carolyn!
Thanks for the invitation.
Thanks for a new to me author. I just went to the library website and put Show Me the Murder on my list.
You made my day.
In Martin Walker’s Inspector Bruno books, his truffle-hunting basset hounds Gigi and now Balzac have a role that compliments the main character. I have standard poodles in my books that fulfill the same role, though instead of truffles, they hunt chipmunks and find turtles.
Dogs go their own way in books and in life.
These look like wonderful reads! Welcome, Carolyn!
I love that Achilles is a rounded character, with quirks of his own, like “singing” along when Phoenix plays the piano for other singers.
Great article, Carolyn. As for me, I love both cats and dogs. I probably favor cats a tiny bit more because they have such marvelous independent personalities. My WIP is the beginning of a series, and I’m using a feral stray as one of the characters. I loved reading how you built the personality of Achilles. Very clever and all about show not tell. Good luck with everything you do.
Have fun figuring out a backstory for that feral stray.
I was lucky enough to find Carolyn’s books because of Malice. I was delighted to find out we attended the same college! Achilles is a great character. He contributes but is also real! Thanks for joining us today!
Oddly enough, I never considered a bulldog, our college mascot. I don’t think they have Achilles’ talents.
I can’t imagine a bulldog in Achilles’ role either!
Pets add an extra dimension to mysteries and Achilles is no exception. Nicely done, Carolyn!
I think WordPress ate my first comment, at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll try again. Pets add an instant connection factor in stories, in my opinion. Achilles sounds very three-dimensional and dog-tastic.
Yes, both the other main characters and the readers connect to Achilles right away.
While I’m not a pet person myself, I do love some of the pets in various mysteries. Diesel in Dean “Miranda” James’s books immediately springs to mind in addition to the great pets in the Wicked Cozy books, of course.
Liz’s pets eat much better than Achilles does.
Haha, this is true 🙂
Reblogged this on Brand Fearless ~ Kim Fleck and commented:
Going to the dog sounds perfect to me =)
Carolyn and Liz,
I like animals in books, and I love when they become a character important to the playing out of the story.
Since I met and came to know and love Buffalo, my counseling-assistance cat, and my assistance dog, Kendall—not pets—I think of animals in a new way. I no longer see any as a pet or in any way less than an individual.
Animals’ proactive behavior and problem-solving ability is only now making great advances in being understood—so different from my studies in behavioral psychology (animal behavior) many years ago as an undergraduate researcher.
I welcome all into the fiction portion of my life, as they are part of the life we live. Achilles is a very appealing character to me.
I’ve seen several new studies proving canine intelligence recently, and Jim the Wonder Dog proved the possibilities before I was born.
All the series I follow have pets, and since I do and have always had pets, for me, it helps connect me to the story and characters. My “girls” are a big part of my life and they are my “fur children” and the authors that write the series I read all have pets as well. Following a series is not unlike a personal relationship, it is important to have common interests and similar lifestyles and I definitly connect more with authors and characters with pets.
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