Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pet Plot Thoughts

Most of the April-May SQUIDs went out this week -- 68, I think, for the two-month period, of which 63 were "nos" -- and I believe I had three ms. about boys who wanted dogs. The main character is ALWAYS a BOY, and it is ALWAYS a DOG. When I was eight, I desperately wanted a cat. Why are there no books about girls who want cats? Or girls who want dogs, for that matter? Or boys who want cats? Does anyone keep potbellied pigs anymore? What about rabbits? Iguanas? Snakes? Guinea pigs?

In terms of child development, I understand the desire for a pet is generally read as the child's desire to take care of something (have power over it, if you like) as s/he is being taken care of -- the same instinct that leads kids to play with dolls or ask for little brothers or sisters. Not to mention, of course, entertainment or cuddle value. I did get a cat when I was eight -- a kitten we adopted from a nearby farm, and which I named Miranda -- but it scratched me every time I got close, and eventually I became scared of it, to the point that we had to return it to the farm. The two emotions I remember most clearly about the whole thing were my shock and fear when I woke to the cat sitting on my bed one morning, and my profound relief as we left her again at the farm. . . . If I were making this story into a text for publication instead of a random anecdote, the point I would probably try to make out of it is not that I wasn't ready for a cat (which may have been my parents' interpretation -- and which might also be true), but that I wasn't ready for that cat, or she wasn't ready for me. I had wanted any cat, and all cats are not created equal. What matters, as in most things, is finding the one that works with you.

Anyway. I guess indoor pets do not offer as many possibilities for plots as dogs do, as dogs can ramble all over the neighborhood with the main character and generally cause more trouble. But if the story is about the desire for a pet, why is it always dogs and boys? Or are there recent books I'm not aware of about cats or other non-canine pets? Your thoughts?


  1. My WIP's main character is a boy and his pet is a cat that he rescued when it was a kitten. He does take off on a quest and has to leave the cat behind.

    I like pairing boys with cats, maybe because I love cats, but also, I am always a little surprised when I meet guys who have cats for pets.

  2. RE: April/May SQUIDS

    I'm so sorry to waste your time with such an idiotic question, but what if we had outdated postage on our SASE? Should I send another?

    You are so generous with advice to new writers and so timely with responses to submissions. I feel like a jerk for not thinking ahead to postage rate changes.

  3. Oh. Hrm. Well, I'm afraid I didn't pay any attention to postage and just dropped all the return envelopes back in the box . . . So if you don't get an answer back, resend your query over e-mail, and I should be able to get you a quick reply.

  4. When I was growing up, there were lots and lots of books about girls who wanted horses. Today, there don't seem to be nearly as many horse books out there.

  5. Some of my favorite books are by Cynthia Rylant. I never noticed before that her Mr. Putter and Tabby series features a man and his cat and a woman and her dog. Hmm.

  6. I caught a young ribbon snake when I was a boy and kept it in a plastic terrarium, feeding it bits of roast beef and bugs. My aunt was going off to college and wanted an unusual pet, so I gave her the snake. Now I feel guilty for making that beautiful creature endure dormitory life in its cramped, artificial world and being fed bits of pizza and donuts. Dogs are better, and cats too: at least they appreciate the human touch.

  7. I'm with you, Cheryl. "A boy and his dog" is getting boring. I would love more children's books (with a male or female protagonist) about unusual pets. :o)

  8. There's always Bunnicula.

  9. "What about rabbits? Iguanas? Snakes? Guinea pigs?"

    How about a hairless cat named "Blech?" Still got one of those. ;-)

    And I loved Bunnicula, too!

    -- duskydawn

  10. "It's Like This, Cat" by Emily Neville-- I still remember finding that in my library's Newbery section. It just proves that one can write excellent books about boys, cats and the relationships between them.

  11. Actually, I always wanted a sister. All I had was your Dad as an overbearing brother. An overbearing sister would certainly have been a change.

    Uncle John

  12. Hi, I listened to you speak last year at a Meet The Editor's event in Pa. I admired your knowledge and enjoy reading your blog.

    I am currently in the middle of writing a middle-grade novel and was wondering if you may be able to answer a question?
    Typically, how many chapters is perfect for this genre? I realize
    you have to write as many chapters as it takes to tell the story. But do editors have guidelines or preferences to how many chapters a middle-grade novel should consisit of?

    Any advice you can give would help.

    Thanks, Maribeth:)

  13. Laini Taylor has just put together a little summer writing challenge over on her blog based on Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery. Emily and her cat(s) are a tight group!

  14. THE STORY OF MRS. LOVEWRIGHT AND PURRLESS HER CAT is a wonderful book about getting the wrong cat. (Lore Segal, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky) And better yet: it's back in print!

  15. If you are one of the SQUIDS that gets a chance to revise, how long after you send in the revision can you expect to get an answer? When would it be appropriate to make a status call?


  16. As a young girl I so wanted a horse. I had one particular horse book with all the basic breeds, and I had them all in order so I'd be sure to never omit anyone and hurt his or her feelings. Every night before I went to sleep, I rode the next horse on the list into my dreams.
    Truth is, I had the most wonderful best friendin the world, a dog. but I still can't imagine why there aren't many, many stories about little girls wanting horses. It's a huge industry!
    Cheryl, it was lovely meeting you at the NJ SCBWI conference, if only as a passing fellow Park-Slopian.

  17. Hamster Cheeks is about a pet Hamster who gets into trouble and will be followed by Pizza Pie Parrots about pet parrots that only eat pizza and additional pet stories, i.e. Iquanas Wanna Dance and My Guinea Pigs are Really Hogs. My favorite pet book is I Wish I had a Worm about a little boy who wanted a worm for a pet.

  18. In 1985 Scholastic Tab / Northwinds Press in Canada published a book about a boy who wanted a guinea pig. It had a fine review in Quill & Quire and was recommended as a book to help children who are grieving. It sold very well in Canada. The book is out of print, but I thought you might want to know about it. I'd love to redo it in colour.

    Title: Gynn illustrated and written by Mary Jane Muir.
    ISBN 0-590-71546-1 (bound)
    ISBN 0-590-7513-5 (pbk)

    Mary Jane Muir / Vancouver, Canada
    I love your blog and I thank you for the inspiration and advice you so generously give.