Give a character a scene with a pet or a kid and that character’s instantly more relatable. That is, as long as the pet doesn’t steal the show. Fortunately Essie, the heroine of A New Dawn, isn’t the type to complain about being upstaged by a critter, or else she’d have left the building already.
Nearly every reader who’s had something to say about my book so far has commented on Smithy, the lame-legged, smelly, stubborn boar who eats from Essie’s compost heap and guards her house in return. I got a death threat from one of my editors for a scene I won’t spoil for you, because the boar’s fate was up in the air. The lovely Lily declared herself on “Team Smithy” from the outset, and the overly optimistic spouse said I could live off the merchandising rights for Smithy alone.
At one point, it got so bad I had to flat-out ask if they were commenting on Smithy because the rest of the book was that bad! Although they reassured me that, no, the book is great, Smithy’s just their favorite, they all wanted to know, was he inspired by The Lion King or some other Disney boar?
Answer? Nope. I’ve honestly never seen The Lion King. Smithy came out of nowhere but my need to give Essie someone to talk to in an early scene where she had to be alone on stage. If animals worked for Cinderella, they could work for my Disney princess too.
When I started thinking about it, I knew it couldn’t be a cat–too mystical, a dog–too much of a commitment, a bird–Essie’s apparently not a big fan, and I couldn’t see her with cage or tank critters. I happened to be pondering it at the same time as I was tossing half a pomegranate out into the yard for our squirrels (Rocky, Boris, Natasha, Bullwinkle, Lucifer, and Alexi, plus Grover the tiny!mouse). They’re sort of an organic disposal, and I adore them.
It struck me that giving Essie a wild pet worked well. And from there, the boar I thought only a mother could love was born. Little did I know that my stinky, pushy, stubborn prop would turn out to be everyone’s favorite character.
I’m on Team Smithy!