Guest post: “The Lady or the Tiger or the Wolf?” by Carmen K. Welsh Jr.

The Lady or the Tiger or the Wolf?

by Carmen K. Welsh Jr.

 

I was asked by more than one person while writing my book if I’ve owned any dogs. The answer is no. Most of my life, I have actually identified with cats more but decided many years ago that I refused to get into the eternal debate about which pet is Better: a Dog or a Cat. I didn’t want to get caught up in nonsense and senseless hype.

Both cats and dogs are no better or worse than the other. I don’t even like that there’s such a debate. As an animal lover, it makes more sense to learn to enjoy and learn more about as many creatures as possible, even those one may be deathly afraid of, because, it’s nature, and nature’s cool.

Many cultures do not, or once did not, view animals as separate species. Animals were spirit guides, soul companions as well as kin. Depending on the individual, and among many animal-lovers and pet owner anecdotes, a human and a particular creature will bond no matter what, solidifying the idea that the human and animal species have more in common than is understood.

To tell you the truth, since I was a child, I felt drawn to cats (both literally and figuratively as well as artistically). I would draw them constantly. Cartoon cats I would often copy and change to my liking. If one reads my FWG bio, my first character at age 5 or 6, was a cat with bat wings! My avatar is an anthro snow leopard from one of my short stories. Saturday night, with my older brothers, watching original Star Trek episodes had me drawing on leftover cardboard a space opera comic with a galactic ship complete with captain and crew (all cats! What I wouldn’t give to find some of those drawings).

Also, as a child, I was deathly afraid of dogs. I mean, it made sense. Cats hate dogs because dogs chase them, right? But dogs also barked with large teeth when one walked by their wired fences or wooden gates. Yet, when I stayed in Jamaica with relatives, and after a few summers, having even lived there, going to school and all (talk about culture shock) the dogs there seemed… nicer. The strays didn’t try to bite. Dogs would run to a person, mouth wide open, tails wagging. House dogs seemed quiet and not growly. They also looked similar, lanky, medium size and short-furred, but that’s because being on an island did not allow for a varied gene pool. United States’ dogs seemed meaner to me at 8 years old. Do I sound as if I’m making ‘cultural stereotypes’ on dogs?

But I learned from those dogs and how to interact with them. Also, my grandma, being of old ideas, believed cats were evil and didn’t want them around. However, she had no problem with canines. There was a dog known as Old Max in the neighborhood. Though he had an owner, he would amble about our block. Nearly every household he visited would feed him, including my grandmother. He was a stately gentleman and never barked loud and always allowed us children to play with him.

It took more years and experience to realize that dogs weren’t the antithesis to cats. They couldn’t be. It was like comparing from the old adage about apples and oranges. One could love cats and still love dogs! Once I understood that I began to incorporate more dogs into my writings.

Also, plenty of my beloved childhood films during the 1980s had canine actors I cheered for! I loved the Benji film series as well as Disney’s A Dog of Flanders, Ol’ Yeller, The Shaggy Dog and its sequel The Shaggy DA. One of my favorite Disney animations is Lady and the Tramp, which I count as the earliest inspiration for my novel draft. But I equally loved The Aristocats!

If I’m the animal writer I believe myself to be, then I should learn from them, and not just the ones I readily relate to. A writer should step out of the comfort zone. Writing what one knows is fine, yet it’s even better to learn new things so one could write on that as well. I read more on dogs, I met friends’ dogs and I began to study them.

When my thesis needed new life, I began to dig deeper into why I loved dogs (ah, puns). That’s when the story’s voice and tone were found. Not just deciding on Third-person vs. First POV (on my thesis mentor’s advice, I switched all previous drafts to first-person), but experimenting with other literary vehicles to best tell my story. Instead of the ‘aloof’ third-person I used for my cat characters in my fantasy series (there’s those stereotypes again), I would let go and let my dogs tell their own stories in immediate First-person.

Because such a voice felt more historical, I wanted a sense of the familiar as well as what we humans often overlooked or took for granted in canines. Though I still haven’t had a dog for a companion yet, I’m looking forward to many more adventures with both dogs AND cats. See? Cats aren’t the only muses for writers; dogs can be a writer’s best friend too. And yes, I went there. *groan*

Advertisements

Guest post: “It Isn’t Doggy Enough” by Carmen K. Welsh

It Isn’t Doggy Enough

by Carmen K. Welsh

 

As my time in graduate school draws to a close, commencement this June, I remember this is what my first term mentor said.

My thesis is a historical novel with anthropomorphic dogs in late Prohibition-era New York. For those who follow me on Twitter and through my ‘In Pretty Print‘ blog, I’ve been ranting/raving throughout its process. It had been a pet project of mine since sixth grade (!). I wrote the story on and off, using it as fodder to make my writing chops stronger in other areas before it went in a drawer or computer folder to be forgotten.

I became so disgusted with it that I prayed if I could get into a writing program that would give me the time to make it into something, I would actually complete it. If not, I would put it away forever. After all, I had other story ideas vying for attention, and I didn’t want to waste my writing on a piece that was going nowhere.

In November 2012, I found a promising MFA that actually responded to my queries. The program was in my state and I could get to its campus by train. The MFA was a hybrid-residency. This meant that for part of the year I’m on campus, meeting with schoolmates, faculty, and staff. For the rest of the term, I would work and submit online under the tutelage of a mentor chosen for me.

The deadline for submission to the program would be the last week in January 2013. By December 2012, I contacted both alma maters for transcripts, typed up a personal statement, and worked on a chapter from the dreaded manuscript to fit the school’s submission guidelines.

And then I prayed again.

I was told that I would receive a response by mid-April. This meant I’d start in summer term.

However, my mother has prescient dreams and when she said I would get into this program, I believed her. When March started, I received a call that I had been accepted!

June 2013 came. A mentor had been chosen for me, which made sense since I wouldn’t be familiar with anyone. Though I’ve been in other writing workshops thanks to my former community college, I felt intimidated by the fact that my chosen mentor was an internationally published horror novelist and I’ve never been a fan of horror though I respect the genre and its devotees.

I was also the only ‘furry’ in my workshop group. Thankfully, it was a small group of six and my mentor, as far as I knew, was not familiar with my genre, yet immediately tackled my chapters with academic gusto and literary fervor.

“It isn’t doggy enough,” he finally said, his German-accent colored after years of living in the U.S.

“I don’t feel the dogginess,” he told me.

I was stumped. What could I do? This had been a story near and dear to me, but after years of publishing other items, I knew that I’d reach critical mass with this piece. It was a dead-end.

“You’ll have to show more canine characteristics. I feel they are humans in fur coats.”

After I picked myself off the floor, my mentor offered several books for my recommended reading. Thankfully, all the titles were anthro and new to me!

The Bear Comes Home is a novel by Rafi Zabor, a jazz musician. The protagonist is an anthropomorphic bear who, with his ‘human handler’, goes from night club to night club playing his alto sax.

Next was the novel Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis. This story runs more along the lines of The Island of Dr. Moreau with bio-engineered dogs using advanced prostheses to stand and move about upright.

The novel Felidae by Akif Pirincci is considered a crime/detective novel featuring a cat and his human who move into a suburb in Germany. The cat protagonist sets out to solve the mystery when the local cats begin to turn up mutilated and dead.

Paul Auster’s novel Timbuktu is told through the eyes of a dog living with his homeless owner. The dog doesn’t ‘talk’ but is a mild observer. After his owner dies, the dog strikes out alone to find his human’s fabled ‘Timbuktu’.

Last was the screenplay Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, a Russian playwright and satirist. During the Bolshevik-era, a scientist brings home a stray dog. After experimenting, the dog becomes a human man and mayhem ensues.

I tackled the story with a renewed vigor. My mentor also pointed out that I would have to bring about the ideas of race I struggled with to portray what made sense for dogs.

He told me that as NYC has always been culturally diverse, where were the different dogs located in the city? What breeds lived where? With his help, I dug deeper into the story than I’d ever done.

I was so pleased that I requested him for a second term. The program obliged — as a student can be allowed the same mentor twice — and the second semester became even more eye-opening. One particular chapter I swore nearly choked up my mentor. Though I received constructive criticism from classmates whose own works I admired, that day when my mentor explained how profound he felt towards the workshopped chapter and later his beaming feedback to an online assignment, I knew I was on the right track.

This journey began with a community college English professor telling me to consider creative writing, to the creative writing professor who said ‘Continue to write about these talking dogs’, and finally, to my professor/mentor, a published novelist, becoming excited by what I wrote. This is why I’m a writer.

My thesis will be several chapters of a brand-spanking new manuscript. I will have written the best pages I could. After graduation, I plan to continue the novel, with all the lessons that brought me to this moment. This is why I continue to write furry.

Guest post: “Aesop Continues To Inspire” by Carmen K. Welsh, Jr.

Aesop Continues To Inspire

by Carmen K. Welsh, Jr.

 

Why are we driven to use non-humans in our stories? Why do we create characters based on inanimate objects? Why do we feel the need to personify, or, anthropomorphize ideals and abstractions? Why was I driven to animal cartoons? Why did public TV nature shows become an influence? Why did the struggle between life and death fascinate me as a six-year-old? Why would popular shows such as “Wild America” foster in me the need to tell stories?

My answers came during the formative junior high years, when, isolated from the rest of my classmates for having interests they did not share, and thus, bullied, I found refuge in a collection of Aesop tales in the school library. Yet, the significance of the fables never rang more true than when I spent hours reading the volume each time in my junior high’s library. I was so enthused by these fables on complex human ideas; I immediately created a booklet of my own, penning and illustrating notebook paper before binding the little pages with a stapler.

Now, I was already familiar with the great philosopher of animal fables showcasing human folly. For voracious readers, we will see the same stories pop up, over and over, ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, ‘Dog in the Manger’, ‘Spider to the Fly’, and the ‘Crow who needed to quench his thirst’ as well as ‘The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs’. There was also ‘The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ and ‘The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf’, or what many know as ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. We understand these tales because they tackle moral issues: greed, lust, desire, humility, and arrogance.

Last, but certainly not least, Aesop’s influences continue to surprise me. For several years, I’ve been listening to different East Asian and some South Asian music. Years ago, it was Japanese pop tunes. Nowadays, it’s Korean-pop. While watching a Korean news program, they ended the segment with two music videos. I fell in love with the song called Oops! By G.NA and featuring Ilhoon of BTOB.

Since the news showed the video in the middle and most of the end, my curiosity was piqued and I jumped to YouTube.com to watch it in its entirety.

It is a wonderful song, G.NA is a fun vocalist to listen to, and Ilhoon, the rapper, is fast and furious. While watching the video, I learned from other YouTube commentators that it is the story about a young handsome man who has a silver tiger cat. When he leaves her for the day, the cat crawls under his bed sheets and emerges as a woman (G.NA)!

After luxuriating in her human form, she eventually puts on new clothes and goes clubbing. Her owner is there, and their eyes meet. She sidles up to him, and they touch noses, before she flits home, leaving him dazed and confused.

Once back in the house, she gets back into the nightclothes she first emerged as a human before the owner comes home.

Can’t tell who is more surprised, but, she grins at him like a minx, and he is more than thrilled to find the mysterious girl from the club in his house. The next morning, he’s in bed and his hand is seen stroking the cat.

Wow, this reminds me of an Aesop fable! I thought.

When I shared the video and my comment, one of my Facebook friends sent back that “C, you are special”. But who could blame me? I flipped through my modern edition of Aesop, and found the story I compared to the K-Pop video. It was “Venus and the Cat”!

Another YouTube commentator ‘liked’ my comment and told me she/he enjoyed Aesop fables too. Is it any wonder many of us enjoy anthropomorphic stories? In the act, we create new tales that are updates of ancient myths and weave new lessons for new generations.

In conclusion, I cannot choose a single Aesop favorite, or 10 favorites. I will, however, choose a particular tale that probably has more adaptations and incarnations than many of the other fables, and that is “City Mouse, Country Mouse”, or, originally known as “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”. Why this fable? Well, Aesop’s use of animals as symbols appears to have made huge impressions on its readers, or the stories would not have lasted for thousands of years.

A country cousin leaves his rural home to visit his slicker city kin. Mayhem ensues, with the country mouse rushing back to a world that, though no less dangerous, is familiar and makes sense. This appears to run rampant in the amount of ‘fish out of water’ themes prevalent in many films and books. Please do yourself a favor, and read “City Mouse, Country Mouse” in any adaptation. As with this and many other Aesopic tales, you will appreciate its message more with each reading and/or retelling.