The author of Sunset Beach (2009) and Beach Dreams (2008), Trish Perry lives in Northern Virginia with her hilarious teenaged son. She discovered her love of writing while earning a degree in Psychology. She switched career paths in 1997 and never looked back. Her debut novel, The Guy I’m Not Dating, placed second in the 2007 FHL Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest, and her second novel, Too Good to Be True, finaled in the 2008 FHL IRCC, the GRW Maggie Awards, and LCRW’s Barclay Gold Awards.
SO YOU WANT TO JUMP INTO THE ANIMAL-STORY GENRE?
All Creatures Great and . . . Deadly?
Ever thought of writing a plot involving an animal? Consider John Grogan’s Marley and Me, a huge best seller published in every form imaginable as well as spawning several children’s books and a big-screen film. Novelist Sara Gruen knows how to build a best seller around an animal, whether it is an elephant (Water for Elephants) or a horse (Riding Lessons). And David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (dogs again) made Oprah swoon.
A recent news story made me wonder about twisting the animal story a little. Why not make the animal the bad guy? I mean, sure, Stephen King did that with Cujo, but by the time his rabid St. Bernard was the villain, he (Cujo, not Stephen King) was one huge, foaming, mass of teeth and fur. No one other than the most severely misguided, animal-loving reader would begrudge the heroine’s taking a baseball bat to the mad, pony-sized canine.
And, yes, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park dinos would qualify as villainous animals, but again, they were pretty creepy right from the start.
What I’m thinking is something cute and cuddly going postal on our heroes. Like the bunny in Monty Python’s Holy Grail—all round eyed and fuzzy until it becomes “the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!”
That’s what this month’s odd news story is like. It’s Sunday morning in Sydney. Beat Ettlin, a kindly Swiss chef, sleeps in with his wife and nine-year-old daughter. All three of them huddle together in the master bed rather than get up for church services. Perhaps a moral to our story is peeking out there, but I digress.
The bedroom is on the second floor, nine feet above the ground
outside, but it’s no haven from the nasty piece of work we’ll name Joey. Suddenly the window shatters inward as Joey, a cute, cuddly kangaroo, bursts in and lands on top of the Ettlins, who duck farther under their blankets and endure a pummeling at Joey’s hands (or, rather, his feet) until Joey gets bored and seeks other victims.
Joey takes off for the bedroom in which Ettlin’s son, Leighton, sleeps. Dad hears his boy scream, “There’s a roo in my room!” and his Superman-like adrenaline kicks in. He runs into Leighton’s room, wrestles six-foot-five Joey, maneuvers him into a headlock, drags him to the front door, and promptly chucks him as if Joey were a drunk at the local pub. Except, in this case, Beat the Bouncer is left in shredded underpants, scratched all over his legs and . . . nether regions.
Beat’s wife rightly tags him a hero, and their story ends with a tidy report to the police, wildlife authorities, and the local news.
But in the novel world? I’m thinking Joey is more than your garden-variety, nine-foot-jumping, window-crashing, church-skipping-family-thrashing marsupial. Maybe he’s unusually brilliant for a kangaroo. Maybe his choosing the Ettlin home was no accident. Maybe he’ll be back (and this time it’s personal). Perhaps he’s not a roo at all, but a cyborg sent from another nation—another planet, perhaps—to eliminate all the Swiss chefs in the world. Maybe this was a mob hit planned by the least organized crime syndicate in Australia.
You see? Your possibilities are endless.
And you thought Marley and Me had a jump on the market.