Guest Blog Post – Westveil Publishing

Guest Blog Post – Westveil Publishing

Which characters in Emergence were easier to write, the humans or the dogs? – Or, what’s love got to do with it?

Long before you can hope to write well, you have to be able to SEE well – to observe your subjects, or characters like your subjects, well and truly, in order to be able to describe them convincingly to your readers. I am a dog-trainer, and in the dog-training world the paramount phrase that constantly recurs is: “Read your dog”. You have no hope of being successful in this field if you are not able to understand what your dog is telling you.

Of course, dogs have no words. Which is not to say that their communicative abilities are limited. They speak with their bodies, and for those who have learned it, canine body language is as richly nuanced as any message you receive from a human. And it is vastly easier to read, because given the dog’s absence of ego, you don’t have to triumph over and through attempts at repression, concealment, obfuscation and even deceit, which ego so often superimposes over the messages that humans transmit. For those attuned to canine communication, the amount you can read, simply from watching the action of a dog’s butt, as it quivers with joy, tenses in fear or anticipation, moves nervously as the tail fast-twitches from side-to-side, or goes up in the air telegraphing fun as the dog produces a play-bow, is exquisite. How often I’ve approached humans, wishing our bottoms were similarly communicative, so I’d know if the person I’m approaching is indeed, feeling approachable.

All of that to say, that writing the canine characters in Emergence was easy, fun, and rewarding. I love dogs, and I felt that as I wrote, and I wrote with full confidence that my subliminal love-song would be good for readers, who like me, might be weary of the contentiousness and contempt that seems to permeate our culture these days. So in writing Emergence, the dogs came easily indeed, informed as they were by how I feel about the dogs in my life, who I delight in observing every moment of every day.

And now that I think about it – I wonder (though I kind of cringe at how schmaltzy this sounds) if perhaps the magic ingredient in creating characters that are realistic and likeable, is loving your subject. This doesn’t mean every character you write must be likeable. If you read Emergence, you will encounter some deeply-flawed, repellent humans. But as a writer, to stay committed to the work in progress, I needed at least a few likable characters. Same thing as a reader – no matter how skillful the author I’m reading, I eventually discard a novel in which I dislike everyone.

Of the humans in Emergence, Xavier was the one who was easiest and most fun to write. He is not based on anyone I know, or know of. He simply “appeared” to me, fully-fleshed, with the first words I wrote. It has always felt more like I channeled, rather than created him. I love this boy, and have since he first came to me. I know he’s achieved a fair degree of traction with readers, who comment on him first and frequently. The comment I’ve heard most often is some variant of : ” I don’t know how you got me to love this boy, given some of the things he does. But I do.” I think I know the answer to the implied question. I got readers to love Xavier, because I do.

Which brings us to the character I found most difficult to write: Cass. Cass is modeled very closely on me. If you are introspective, as I am, I believe it is difficult to love yourself as well as you love others. Certainly, that has been the case for me, with a life-long awareness that some of my qualities (say, exuberance and lack of inhibition) are tremendously appealing to some people and quite off-putting to others. Because I embrace subjectivity, I can understand how others might not perceive me as I perceive myself. This doesn’t mean I dislike myself. I don’t – I think I’m a fine human. But I could never embrace myself as whole-heartedly as I do Xavier.

I believe this is subtly evident in Emergence. A number of reviewers have commented on Cass’ chapters and character being more distant than the treatment of Xavier. Further compounding the challenge of writing Cass and Lori, was the fact that many of the characters and events in Emergence are at least loosely based on real-life people and incidents and I thus practiced an on-going analysis of the degree to which my book might be perceived by people I care about, as an invasion of privacy. As a writer, I am encumbered by this concern only when dealing with humans. As far as I can see, dogs have little sense of privacy. Another manifestation of the absence of ego.

My real-life cousin, upon whom Lori in Emergence is loosely-based, is reading the book right now. She knows me well and thus texts me every few chapters, to assure me that she is not only enjoying the book, but even more important from my perspective – that she is also comfortable with how Lori is portrayed. As a newly-published novelist, I am highly attuned to every review of Emergence. But the response of my cousin, and knowing that I’ve done her no harm, is at least as important to me. Where I see love as only an asset when writing dogs, it can complicate the challenge of writing human characters.

Read the full post, and see an exclusive excerpt from Emergence, on the Westveil Publishing blog.

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