Are dogs a writer's best friend? S.C. authors argue yes in new book
What I wouldn't do for a quiet day to read and write, lost in whatever world I prefer to this one. Which is why I have long-favored writing pals of the feline sort. Fearsome hunters outdoors, furry heating pads indoors.
Want to read 'Literary Dogs'?
“Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers” (Hub City Press $19.95), edited by John Lane and Betsy Wakefield Teter, was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. A portion of its proceeds will go to the Charleston Animal Society.
Go to http://hub city.org/press for more.
Then, we adopted Brandy, a calico my husband brought home after she clawed his nose bloody at the shelter.
From Day One, she followed us around, meowing her demands. She walked underfoot risking bodily injury over risk of being ignored.
If anyone sat down, she'd be on them. Not beside them or near them or within tactful reach of a petting hand. She would climb, 12-pound body on four pogo sticks, onto most any lap around. Surely we had nothing better to do then tend to her narcissism. Right?
Brandy was like a dog.
Sadly, she has long gone to her heaven of never-ending food and attention. Now, my kids want a dog. I do not.
But like any journalist, I seek to understand the other side of the cat vs. dog debate.
For help, I turn to a new collection, “Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers,” full of tender and droll canine tails, and challenge local literary folks who contributed to the book: Convince me.
Charleston native and author of “Nowhere Else on Earth,” “Dreams of Sleep,” “Rich in Love” and “The Fireman's Fair.”
I love to write with my dog nearby because writing is lonely. At least when my dog's with me, I feel like there's another presence in the room, another brain at work, even if its frequency is different from mine. A dog is the only way a writer can be un-lonesome but still get work done. Ten other reasons for writing with a dog:
1. The dog never says, “When is your next book coming out?”
2. The dog understands why someone might stare off into space for several hours. He won't think you're crazy.
3. The dog believes you're doing something important.
4. The dog doesn't mind frequent breaks for snacks.
5. When you read a passage to the dog, he'll say “I love that!” with his eyes.
6. Unlike a cat, he won't say “I don't get it.”
7. The dog will keep your feet warm while you write.
8. He can bark at intruders and interruptions.
9. He won't want to go to the movies the night before your deadline.
10. By example, he reminds you that readers will trust you and follow you down a mysterious path into another world.
Beth Webb Hart
Best-selling author of “Sunrise on The Battery, “Grace at Low Tide” and others, plus “Moon Over Edisto,” due out in February.
While I grew up with both felines and canines and possess a genuine affection for them both, there is no doubt which pet I would choose (and have chosen) for a companion when I write — a dog.
It's not that cats don't make warm comrades. They do. But bringing a cat into my writing nook would be like bringing a sought-after sculptor at the height of his career or a brain surgeon due in the operating room in an hour — someone busy with their own lives, their own projects, their own pursuits, someone more than willing to do their own thing and meet up with you 'round the supper bowl once the sun sets.
A dog, on the other hand, is like a foolish devotee or an utterly dependent child who has not yet realized that I am not the center of the universe, who has not yet realized that I can't be trusted with all things at all times or that I will undoubtedly let them down on an occasion.
When I begin a novel, I need the soul in the room who thinks I hung the moon. I need the fanatic, the fan, the foolhardy cheerleader who is sure we will win the game even though the odds are not in our favor. I've already got my self-doubt, that little man on my shoulder who bellows, “you stink!” and I'm well aware (even as I type this) that if I hit the ball of the narrative even just a hair off, I'll end up in the bunker and will have to begin again. Add to this the negative reviews, even if they are outweighed by the positive ones, and the stack of rejection letters in the filing cabinet just inches from my desk and you can understand why I need a mate who thinks I can do no wrong. Who lifts his head on cue as I lift mine, sniffs at the air, then resumes snoozing as I go back to clicking the keys. If I don't have the companion who assumes every decision I make is right on the mark, will I ever muster the courage to begin?
Mary Alice Monroe
Best-selling author of “The Butterfly's Daughter,” “The Beach House,” “Sweetgrass” and other novels.
I'm wondering if I can write a novel any longer without my dogs. They've become part of my writing routine.
I've had dogs all my life — big ones, little ones, hairy ones, curly ones.
I currently share my life with two King Charles Cavaliers, Buster Brown and Magnolia. They are slaves to their devotion and have a compulsive need to be physically close to me. I am the Alpha of their pack. My office is our lair. They contribute to my work by their constant presence, reassuring me that they will be there for me while I lose myself in my story world.
Cats, of course, are more independent. Mango and Kiwi stroll into the office on occasion to leap on my desk and sit smack dab in front of my computer screen, demanding my attention, reminding me that they are here. Once a cat commences purring, that deep vibrating sound is like hypnosis to soothe the frazzled soul.
People think writers live a glamorous life. This is not true.
Writing is a lonely existence. If I'm under deadline, which seems to always be the case, I must eschew parties and visits. So it's just me and my pets during the day. They force me with wagging tails, barks or piteous mewing to leave my desk, to walk outdoors and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
And there's that unconditional love thing. Pets don't care if I'm dressed or in my pajamas, if I'm fat or thin, or even if I've met my deadline. As long as I'm present — and I feed them — they're content. As am I.
So goes my routine, day after day. Once in our lair they settle into their animal dreams as I create fantasies of my own, a symphony of snoring at my feet.
Charleston area art teacher and author of novels including “Beyond Molasses Creek,” “The Inheritance of Beauty” and “Saving Cicadas.”
My Chihuahua, Kahlua, is 14 years old now. That's 14 years of our lives together.
Lulu was there when I was still single, when it was just me, her, and the cat, making our way in the world. The cat is no longer with us, but Lulu has been by my side through my marriage to my husband, the births of my two children, through 10 years of working at home, four houses, six novels, and three years of teaching. It seems my life has been a fantastic whirlwind, a mad dash to some finish, and through it all, my God and my dog remain.
I got Lulu as a puppy — she could fit in my hand — but her eyes are cloudy now, and she can barely hear. She sleeps so soundly that I check to make sure she's breathing.
Yes, she howls and keeps me up some important nights, but maybe it's because her hips hurt or she loves me and needs me by her side. Yes, she makes messes in the house, and I find myself starting some days on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floors. And yes, she acts as if she's large and ferocious, making me apologize on her behalf at least once a week.
But then again, when I see her little face, I know who I am. I remember where I used to be and how far God has brought us, Lulu and me, and I am grateful. I can look into those cloudy eyes and feel a deep lingering gratitude that there are some constants in life that sustain us like the love of a mighty God and that of a tiny, faithful dog named Lu.
Author of “Dixie Fish,” “Whispers in Dust and Bone,” “Meeting the Dead” and others.
I haven't always bought into the idea that dogs are man's best friend, literary or otherwise. I spent the majority of my life as a distance runner and a non-dog owner. So most of my experiences with dogs involved other people's animals — especially those not behind a fence and not on a leash. I've been barked at, growled at, chased, and even bitten on three occasions (twice badly enough to leave scars). Feeling like the jogger du jour on the menu of every dog whose owner disdained to obey the leash law led me to develop a certain ill will toward those furred, fanged denizens of other folks' yards. The last thing I wanted was a dog of my own.
Then came that fateful day when my lovely wife, Emily, and I were hoodwinked by her mother (and her mother's nefarious allies, our children) into adopting a black-and-brown-and-white border collie puppy. Strangely enough, it was one of the best things that ever happened for our family as a whole — and for me as a writer. Because I fed him, took care of him, and played fetch with him, our puppy grew up to become my dog. I named him Seamus Heaney, after my second favorite poet; and from the moment I get home until I crawl into bed, he is my constant companion.
This includes my writing time. What were once long, lonely hours in my study with only the blank page for company are now spent with Seamus at my side. As a result, that time has become not only pleasanter, but more productive.
I'm not saying my dog is my muse. That job is reserved for Emily. But Seamus has become my literary best friend, and my life and my writing are better because of it.
Daufuskie Island resident and author of “Reefer Moon,” “Little Glory” and “The Right Side of the River.”
Wolf packs followed the ancients, yellow-eyed ghosts flitting the edges of campfire lights, cleaning up the kills, rifling through the refuse. About 35,000 years ago, some hungry wolf dared to take a bone from a brave hunter's hand.
He was sitting on a reindeer skin, his front to the fire. She slinked in his shadow so she would not have to look at the flames.
He held his hand behind his back so she would not have to look him in the eye. A tenuous long-necked sniff, a lick, a quick snatch and the deal was done, sealed forever in heart and blood. And her pups — or more likely her pups' pups — learned to sleep at the hunter's feet.
It was the first domestication of any wild animal and it changed the world. How did Ice Age hunters kill bigger-and-meaner-than-elephants woolly mammoths and mastodons with bows, atlatls and stone tipped spears? Their dogs tracked and brought them to bay while the men crept in for the kill. Dogs slept with the children and kept the saber-tooths from snatching them. Dogs guarded the meat cache from their brother wolves. Dogs pulled sleds that brought Siberian hunters across the Bering Strait into a New World. And when they died, dogs were buried alongside their people.
Dogs and humans evolved together, and together we assured each other's survival. There would be no dogs without humans, and there would be no humans without dogs.
Though we have selectively bred them to our purposes, ratting, chasing, herding, pointing, retrieving, from the Chihuahua to the mastiff, it all started with that ancient act of trust, the hungry wolf and the brave hunter. And that connection continues to this day.
Children's author of “How I Became a Pirate,” “Pirates Don't Change Diapers” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas in South Carolina,” among others.
A few weeks ago, I returned from an overnight trip to Raleigh, N.C. I got into the house before Thom made it home from work.
As I unlocked the door, I was greeted by three masses of fur that couldn't stop wiggling and welcoming me home long enough to allow me to go to the bathroom. That's the way it is with dogs. It doesn't matter if I've been gone for weeks or for half an hour, when they see me, it's Christmas, New Year's and every other holiday rolled up together. I think that one of the things that makes writers love dogs so much is the fact that we work alone a great deal of the time. They are amazing companions.
If I'm in my chair, writing, I always have at least one dog under my arm or across my legs; sometimes two or three. Try balancing a laptop that way. They listen to my gripes and watch me with curiosity if I read something I just wrote out loud. They seem to think I'm good at this stuff. You should see them when I practice my school presentations out loud. In their eyes, I am definitely the most talented speaker you ever heard.
Why do we love dogs so much ... because they love us even more.