Or, Puppy People Proudly Promote Pix of their Pals
If we’re being honest, this post is mostly a shameless ploy to share pictures of our own incredibly cute domesticated descendants of wolves, inspired by the fact that Lilith just brought home a new puppy…Zym, our adorable little dragon prince. But, being the hyperfocused, overly analytical people that we are, we couldn’t only post our pix — we also got started thinking about the role that dogs play in our stories.
Both our novels prominently star beloved dogs as supporting actors. When we started thinking about it, we were surprised to realize that this puts us in a minority for the speculative fiction genre. Why? What makes us care about writing dogs into our stories?
We tend to write about lonely people: a single dad estranged from his only child, a trans preteen, a homeless ace teenager. Dogs make their humans more human, and they relieve the loneliness in a scene. Loyal and loving and expressive, dogs are beloved companions and can both exemplify and bring out some of the best traits of humanity.
Because of dogs’ combination of loyalty and vulnerability, the way a character treats a dog says a lot about that character very quickly. Loving, caring for, and protecting a dog (or cat or other pet) shows a selflessness that immediately makes a character sympathetic. On the flip side, cruelty towards a vulnerable animal betrays the love and loyalty the animal represents. Non-domesticated animals can serve a similar narrative purpose with less emotional punch, though we do have a particular soft spot for elephants. All too often, dogs in fiction are only there to suffer or die to draw on the audience’s sympathy for them, which is a trope we both find incredibly unappealing (shout out for https://www.doesthedogdie.com, which is great for avoiding media using that trope). Given that our pups are all rescues and have experienced the darker sides of humanity to various degrees, we’re both quite sensitive to using a dog’s pain as a literary shortcut.
Besides what they do for our human characters, our fictional dogs are fun, and they add some detail and surprise to the worlds we’ve built. The opening sentence of the Wandering Exiles Stories reveals in passing that the narrator’s dog Azi is two-tailed and partly green — immediately plunging us into another world, one that’s just a little bit weird. And in Broken Tongues, Dalu’s dog Kalbatu’s free-range behavior on the streets of his working class neighborhood immediately conveys something about the kind of rough-and-tumble place this is.
Back in the “real” world (real?! What’s that?), our own dogs are great at distracting us from the sometimes horrible outside world, by showing through their love what a better world we could have if people would just learn some important lessons from them. They are a bit like a good book that way. Given how hard of a week it’s been for trans people and those who care about them here in Iowa, many of us could use some fluffy cuteness and unconditional love. Take care of yourselves!