The Creature in the Basement and Other Secrets

Everyone loves a mystery.  Whether it is locating something hidden or unveiling the true villain, when we read something, book or blog, we want to be entertained.

I’ve always found animals to be very entertaining. I love to watch them and I love to interact with them. Animals, any sort of animal, can be a great literary to

Recently I was reminded how important pets can be as literary characters when reading A Town called Solace by Mary Lawson (on the 2021 Booker Prize long list). The star of the novel, as far as I’m concerned, is Moses, the cat. Moses belongs to Mrs. Orchard (Elizabeth), one of the three narrators of the story.  He serves as a connecting force between his owner, the little girl (Clara) who lives next door, and Liam, a middle aged bachelor  who comes to live in Elizabeth’s house.  Moses is very shy and hides from strangers. Perhaps one could say the same about Elizabeth, Clara, and Liam.  If I reveal more I’ll spoil the plot.

            An animal does not need to narrate the story, as in “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, they just need to interact with the other characters.  In the famous Shirley Jackson short story “The Renegade”, the family dog Lady is guilty of killing the neighbor’s chickens. How Mrs. Walpole, new to the village, interprets her dog’s actions and the appropriate punishment is at odds with the reactions of both the townspeople and Mrs. Walpole’s two children.  In this story, the dog is the source of conflict instead of resolution. The tale is chilling, and if you haven’t read any Jackson lately, it may be time to rediscover her prose.

Creatures are all around us, from the squirrels gathering nuts for winter in the park to our own pets who have kept us company during our intermittent pandemic lock-downs. Throughout history, animals have provided companionship to humans living in isolated places. Rescue dogs, cats, along with rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs could become stars in the next story you write.

Looking for a different sort of writing prompt? Start with a creature and put it some place unexpected. What is it doing there?

 Or, if you’re more of a reader than a writer, it’s interesting to take notice of the different functions a pet can perform in a story: marking time by when they are walked and fed, alerting danger by their reactions, or providing a respite to conflict with their  affection.

For writers, pets become part of our routine.  My Labradoodle Chloe, keeps me on a schedule and is a guarantee I get lots of exercise. She likes a long walk in the early morning and another long walk after her dinner. She has her idiosyncrasies, her obsession with “the ball”. She nudges me when she wants attention. She’s fun to write about and a comfort to hug.

                If you don’t have a pet, what kind of pet is right for you? A good way to find out, if you did not grow up with pets is to volunteer at an Animal Rescue Shelter. Shelters are always looking for people who will walk dogs and spend time interacting with the animals waiting to be adopted. Observing an animal in the care  of different people can be helpful in gauging their social ability to connect with various humans.  So what are you waiting for—start writing.

Or if you’d like to read my latest published short story, “You Meet the Strangest People Hitchhiking” courtesy of Pigeon Review, here it is.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Thank you.

Published by Nadja Maril

Nadja Maril is a communications professional who has over 10 years experience as a magazine editor. A writer and journalist, Maril is the author of several books including: "American Lighting 1840-1940", "Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide", "Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat", and "Runaway, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat". Her short stories and essays have been published in several small online journals including Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, Scarlet Leaf Review and Defunkt Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Former Editor-in-Chief of What's Up ? Publishing, former Editor of Chesapeake Taste Magazine a regional lifestyle magazine based in Annapolis, and former Lighting Editor of Victorian Homes Magazine, Maril has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles on a variety of subjects..

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