About halfway through the panel, an audience member asked a pretty standard question: What causes you to immediately reject a book? One editor said she refuses to read any story that involves child abuse, another mentioned that she was tired of the spurned-woman-starts-over trope. Each one of them had specific pet peeves. Finally, the last editor said that she can't bear to read a story in which a pet dies. "Don't kill the dog!" she warned. Other editors on the panel agreed, and heads in the audience nodded approvingly.
Except mine, which was hung in shame. Because in my book, I did exactly what that editor had warned against--I killed the dog. My main character, Kate, is a modern day shrew who has affection for only two beings in her life, her elderly grandpa and her dog, Buddy. I believed that in order for Kate to grow and change, she had to come to terms with some kind of loss in her life. I wrote what I believed was a moving scene in which Kate grieves for her lost pet, a moment that emerges as a turning point for her. Despite the fact that more than one of my beta readers questioned whether the dog had to die, as did my agent. But I held firm, because I believed that the dog's death served the story.
|The late, great Baci--the "ill-behaved fox terrier" in my author bio (which I don't have the heart to edit).|
Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had to put down my own beloved canine, the charmer you see pictured above. And suddenly I was seeing my story in a whole new way. I was unprepared for the grief I felt at her loss; it cut deep and hard, and I began to wonder whether I had done those feelings justice in my story. Had I reduced such a painful experience to a mere plot contrivance? Was the death of Kate's dog gratuitous? And on a more pragmatic note, might such a contrivance be a deal-breaker with an editor down the line?
I still don't have answers to these questions. The loss of our Baci is still too new for me to be able to go back to my manuscript and look at those scenes again. But when I am ready, I know I'll be reading it with a different set of eyes.
And now I'd like to ask you: how do you feel about the death of pets in the books you read? Are there animals in your own stories, and if so, what role to they play in your plots?
Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, will be released October 1. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean in central New Jersey, with her husband, two of her three sons, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.