Adventures in Animal Communication (And also, how characters are created.)

Most of the time, when I communicate telepathically with a client’s animal, I use a method called “remote communication.” In other words, I’m not in the same place (or even the same zip code, usually) with the animal. I ask my human client to provide a clear photo of their animal companion so I can look into their eyes while we’re communicating.

It’s not necessary—I’ve done some incredible communication sessions with only the animal’s name and a description—but having a photo of the animal helps me to focus more quickly.  (Sort of like, I can make perfect biscuits from scratch, but Bisquick is just as good and much faster—an unnecessary but time-saving shortcut.)

I’ve always based the animal characters in my books on animals I’ve known and loved. And I fully intended to do the same thing for this new novella. Usually, I write the book first, then start looking for a photo that the cover artist can use to create a good likeness of the animal character.

But the novella had a much shorter deadline than my novel-length books. (Also, my first stab at novella writing ended up being the beginning of the 5th book in the series, because I realized that there was no way to resolve the conflict that I’d set up in less than 100,000 words.) With the clock ticking even louder than before, I had to find the dog-character’s photo before I wrote the novella.

I was looking for an image that resembled my dog Pearl, but I stopped searching when I found a photo that snagged my attention and wouldn’t let go. I knew immediately that this dog was supposed to star in the novella. I connected in with her the same way I do with animals I’m communicating with remotely, and I fell in love with her gentle spirit. I also fell in love with the fictional character she inspired me to write. This dog “spoke” to me the way I’ve only ever experienced through direct communication with a client’s animal, or an animal I know.

Sometimes, when I communicate remotely with an animal, I get a sense of knowing that fills in all the blanks the second we make eye contact via a photo image. It happened again when the character of Damn Dog / Rose bloomed, fully formed, in my mind when I saw her photo. It felt like meeting an old friend, one I’d nearly forgotten and never thought I’d see again.

Most of the time, the animal characters in my books are made of whole cloth from my own animal companions. All I have to do is ask WWGD? (What would Georgia do?) But with the character of Rose, I didn’t have a particular animal to tap into. So, I tapped into higher-level archetypes, patterns I’ve seen hundreds of times as an animal communicator: innocent, stray, loyal, abandoned, loving, betrayed, trusting, afraid.

Luckily, no matter how fully formed a character may be in my mind before I begin writing, the actual character takes over within the first few chapters. They go from a thought / brainstorm / construct to becoming themselves entirely without any further input from me. I’ve often thought that characters already exist on some imaginary dimension that hasn’t yet been realized in physical form, and once I’ve “found” them, I’m able to connect with them in a way that is similar to channeling telepathic information. At that point, the character can tell me what they’d do in every situation the plot puts them in.

The photo of the dog that turned out to be the character of Damn Dog / Rose snagged my attention and made me think, “Awww, what a sweet and precious soul!” But I also saw a tenderness, a vulnerability, that reminded me of many strays I’ve taken in who wanted to trust even after they’d been betrayed so many times by humans. Then the character that Damn Dog / Rose wanted to become began to assert herself. She took over, just as all good characters do!

She’s not a cardboard cutout of a sweet dog or a stray or of anything else. She is, simply, herself. She is the character that already existed before I ever thought of writing about her. She has created herself by whispering in my ear, and I know you’ll love her as much as I do.

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