Animals are an amazing source of inspiration when it comes to my writing. They have traits and mannerisms that often show up in people, too, whether by deliberate act, association, or some random quirk.
I work with horses, have been around a variety of livestock my whole life, as well as cats, dogs, birds, fish, and rodents. I’ve seen a wide array of wildlife thanks to living in a woods and childhood travel across the States and
. My fascination with fish and aquariums and my love of nature made my father believe for years I would be a marine biologist, except for the fact I have an aversion to water. I was always netting fish and critters out of our creek, butterflies and lightning bugs out of the yard, watching wild birds, squirrels, and chipmunks at the feeders, seeing deer and the occasional fox or coyote in the woods, or surprising snakes and frogs and turtles along the creek. As a kid, I once even stepped between one of our cats and a huge black snake “to protect the snake” despite the fact that it was honked off and reared up fighting the cat (no one was hurt and the snake eventually slithered off). In middle and high school, my sister and I rescued a whole nest of baby wild rabbits the cats brought up one by one, kicking and screaming. Another time we had a whole bathtub full of bunnies we’d bred for 4-H because it was too cold outside for them. Our animals learned quickly to drop what they’d caught and run. I’ve been used as a “safe tree” by chipmunks escaping the cats. I’ve been caught in a bison stampede in Canada Wyoming when the herd decided to leave the river and run up the steep embankment past a bunch of parked cars in Yellowstone. I’ve bottle-fed whitetail deer fawns, goats, and lambs.
On the job, I’ve been kicked in the face by a mare in heat who didn’t want to be caught to be ridden, trampled by a tank of a spoiled, bully gelding owned by a boarder who decided he didn’t want me to lead him, stepped on, bitten (again, that gelding; he ambushed me in the pasture and bit me three times in the back), and bucked off (only three times in about twenty years, and only because I wasn’t fully in the saddle yet). I’m rehabilitating and training an abused Tennessee Walker mare named Spirit currently, who was beaten by her last “trainer” and has no self-confidence. It is hard for her to trust anyone. I bailed off her this spring when she had a flashback moment as I was mounting and took off bucking. Nothing bruised but my own self-confidence and my pride.
I try to portray animals as realistically as possible in my writing. If the animal isn’t something found in the real world, I try my best guess, based on real animals. For example: the drakes in Brink. I based them off big dogs mixed with reptiles, both in appearance and behavior.
My cat and the horses are an endless source of inspiration. Cassiopeia (aka Cassie) is a very short, very round former barn cat. She’s a mostly white black-and-white who spooks easily and does crazy things to amuse herself (and, by extension, anyone who watches). She is also a talker. She is always chatting to me in a variety of chirps, purrs, meows, grunts, and growls. I make her “sing” for milk. And she’s a huge sucker for a belly rub. She’s a full-length comedy feature crammed into a rather small package.