Monday, February 04, 2008

YeM CKOpee TeM ayYme, Torvarich!


Russian Country Girls,
Fedot Sychov,
oil on canvas, 1926.

Saturday was Groundhog Day.

Most of the official Groundhogs didn't see their shadows and so predicted an early Spring.

Since I spent most of the Cyrillic day -- and the day before -- shovelling snow a baker's dozen deep, I don't believe them.

We always get six more weeks of winter. In fact we're lucky in this latitude that we don't get more.

Whatever. However. Nevertheless.

I noticed, while thawing out between shovelling stints, that groundhogs show up in my WIP. Twice.

Here they are -- in honour of the Day.

Dumbarton (Dummy, for short), btw, is the Black Dog of legend.

Dumbarton settled by the front door and proceeded to cuff one floppy ear with a great paw. I considered the question of an afterlife for fleas. If Dumbarton in spectral form was bedevilled by spectral fleas from spectral squirrels and ghostly groundhogs. It made a kind of sense.


And two:

Lillie has come to do an exorcism. Old private cemetery on an abandoned farm.

The little graveyard was dreadfully neglected.
Grave stones leaned and tilted, including three of prosperous red granite. I counted a dozen of various sizes and shapes, some toppled and barely visible through the brown winter wrack of weeds, wild flowers and rusty graveyard ivy.
But from the regular sunken hollows in the ground there had once been more graves and gravestones than that. Since we have an aversion to leaving the dead nameless, I thought some had been removed to another cemetery some time in the past.
Small mounds of raw earth and pebbles marked miniature souterrains where woodchucks made their burrows. I reminded myself sharply that groundhogs were herbivores.
The bottom half of a broken beer bottle decorated the base stone of the nearest monument. I doubted it represented a libation in honor of the dead.

Because of my country childhood, no doubt, I always seem to include a variety of animals, as incidentals or otherwise, in my stories. And even when I read a novel in a purely urban setting, if no animals appear somewhere, I feel something's missing from the scenes.

Does anyone else have this habit? A totem animal, for example, that re-appears consistently in your work?

43 comments:

December/Stacia said...

Hmmm. You know, I don't think I do? Wolf imagery appears a lot but not the animals themselves.

I do love catching stuff like that on the re-read. I realized I wrote my daughter's headlice into Unholy Ghosts, re-imagined as horrible maggoty things (which is what I always thought they were before actually seeing them.)

(The headlice are GONE, btw. It was a one-time occurrence.)

Bernita said...

~now my head itches at the thought~
December, isn't it great how nothing, no experience, is ever wasted in writing?

ChristineEldin said...

Quote:
I reminded myself sharply that groundhogs were herbivores.


OOoo! Good one!
But wouldn't it be delicious to have just one with a taste for meat?

Love your excerpts!

I like having an animal as an actual character. Since I had a dog (Doorstep) for my first book, I'm going to have a cat (Fitzgerald) for my second. I cannot wait to flesh this one out. She's a blind cat, with limited peripheral vision. Whenever she 'sees' someone raise their arms quickly or perform some similar motion, she thinks it's a bird and attacks. My protag is afraid of her.

:-)

Bernita said...

Chris, you shock me.

I love the name "Doorstop"
(anyone who's ever owned a dog will know why) and he's clearly a wonderful character.I imagine Fitzgerald will be too.

BernardL said...

I enjoyed your first person POV graveyard scene. Dogs make recurring appearances in my earlier stuff, but I can't think of any animal I've written in for quite a while. Interesting you found a couple of groundhog references in yours.

SzélsőFa said...

Well, not animals exactly, but nature is always with me.
If it had to be an animal, it would be a wolf, definitely, or a hawk. Did I tell you I was an Indian?
:-)

Chumplet said...

I have a groundhog in my backyard. In hindsight, I should have checked to see what he had to say on Saturday morning.

I'll make do with Wiarton Willy's prediction.

Remember the Groundhog Day fiasco a couple of years ago? WW passed away and the organizers didn't have a suitable substitute at such short notice. They tried to get away with using a stuffed albino groundhog.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bernard.
I tend to mention dogs.
With reference to December's comment/answer, I once saw a private graveyard with ground hog burrows as described.

Powerful totems, Szelsofa.

I remember that, Sandra.
It would be lovely if WW was correct.
I live in town now, yet I have seen skunks, racoons, a porcupine (had to help the neighbour remove it)rabbits and a muskrat.

Demon Hunter said...

I don't have a totem animal, but I do have recurring themes and whatnot. I'll have to pay more attention to that. Good post! :*)

Bernita said...

Thank you, my Demon.
Animals make for nice detail.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I considered adding a dog into Sentinel, but I've already got over 100 named characters. They also travel a lot so animals don't work for that.

Extensive use of animals, including horses and elephants and dogs, are planned for my next two books.

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend to use animals a lot as well. But a lot of my stories take place in rural settings. I don't know about using them in "totemic" ways. Definitely I did this in Cold in the Light. But I'll have to look at some of my other stuff.

raine said...

Groundhogs are highly overrated, but they have a great PR person. Yes, we ALWAYS have six more weeks of winter, shadow or not!
And their skillful tunneling collapsed my garage floor a few years back.

Love the excerpts!
And yes, I usually include an animal of some kind (even if it's a werewolf).
Usually feline.

Jaye Wells said...

If i had a totem animal it would be the mighty platypus.

The Anti-Wife said...

When I think of totem animals, agles, whales, fish, bears and other Northwest species come to mind. We have lots of totem poles here carved by our Native American tribes. In my books, there will always be dogs.

Bernita said...

"100 named characters"
!!!, SS!
I admire your skill!
It's probably a reflection of my beginner status, but I keep my character count low.

I have a preference for rural scenes,Charles, though I lived big city for years.
By "totem" I meant a recurring use of a certain animal.

Thank you, Raine. Groundhogs are one of those breeds which increased in numbers with the spread of settlement.

Nothing conventional for you, Jaye.

Probly always in mine too, AW.

spyscribbler said...

Animals! Wow, no, I don't think I do. You know, something is definitely missing. And my WIP is the perfect setting, and, come to think of it, should have more animals.

Thanks!

Bernita said...

Personal taste, Natasha. I'm a sucker for animals and think of them as a natural part of the background, because they've always been part of mine.

Steve Malley said...

There are usually birds in the background in my work, and horse play a large role in the current work.

Love those excerpts!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Steve.
Birds, yes, birds too. How can one have trees and no birds?

Travis Erwin said...

As a country boy myself I tend to include and mention animals but they are nearly always better behaved than the human characters.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

It's probably a reflection of my beginner status, but I keep my character count low.

Remember it's four books. But I really think I've let it get away from me. Think George RR Martin, how he names everyone from the stablemaster to the upstairs maid who beget a bastard from that minor Lord So-and-So.

Gabriele C. said...

I doubted it represented a libation in honor of the dead.

*grin*

I have more landscape than animals come think of it. But there is the crane as motive in A Land Unconquered, and several named horses in The Charioteer, plus the half tamed one Horatius rides in Caledonia Defiant.

Bernita said...

Travis, I'm not sure about behaviour.
Dumbarton intended to wet down the hero's leg at one point.

People like it in sweeping sagas, SS, and it does depend partly on the POV. Third allows more names.

Armies and battles tend to scare the game, Gabriele!

Ello said...

Wow, I realized I had written nearly 100 pages of my WIP without any hint of an animal other than the horses they are riding. I shall have to go back and look it all over again. See, this is why I love coming here. It is always eye opening!

And I loved the graveyard scene - dying to know what comes next. Pun intended.

writtenwyrdd said...

I shall have to consider this, but I don't think I have a totem animal, unless you count cats. But since I am owned by formerly 3, now down to 2 of the furry little terrorists, I am not sure if they count as anything but people!

Sam said...

Animals weave in and out of my stories - totem or not. Horses, I suppose, appear more than most - and dogs.
A talking cat appeared in one tale, (he wasn't supposed to talk, but that's how characters are, aren't they?)

Carla said...

I love the idea of an afterlife for fleas.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ello.
What follows is an exorcism Three shades only drifted towards me, like silver whispers in the quiet gold of the afternoon - followed by Johnnie's arrival, followed by a bit of hawt.

Written, you do use animals in your writing. Remember the pomeranian(?) in the beginning for EE?
Priceless.


That's exactly how characters are, Sam!

I owe the expansion of Dumbarton's concept to you, Carla.
Early on, you made one of those enlarging comments that helped me move him out of traditional Black Dog territory.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I always want to have cats in my stories. Dogs too.

I grew up with woodchucks everywhere (farm) and despite their destructive tendencies, and their ability to excavate a hole just the right circumference to trap and break your foot, I've always thought them so sweet-looking.

Sid Leavitt said...

Animals, shmanimals. I'm still trying to figure out that headline. Am I the only one?

I know it's not Russian. I'm guessing Bulgarian. Converting it into Cyrillic, the best I can do is: The sooner, the ____, comrade. Is that missing word 'better,' 'worse,' 'deadlier,' what?

Bernita said...

I never minded them,WriteNow, though I'm not sure I'd call the little rodents "sweet-looking."

Sam, pardon my clumsy attempts to compensate for my non-cyrillic keyboard. It is Russian by the way - according to my handbook from Moscow U.
The missing word is "better!"
Spring, that is.

Vesper said...

Animals? Come to think of it, no. Maybe I should.
Whenever there is an animal in a (bad) movie, I know something bad will happen to it...

I like your idea of "spectral fleas" haunting a spectral dog. Very nice fragments, Bernita.

Robyn said...

Please tell me this doesn't mean there are cockroaches in heaven.

I am a dog fan- and very happy that my daughter is currently reading Hound of the Baskervilles. I think dogs can have more of an edge than wolves because they are supposed to be our best friends. Think Cujo.

Billy said...

I love the mention of the broken beer bottle at the end! A small detail that really stuck out in my mind. (And I don't believe the groundhog either. It has been bitterly cold here in the deep south.)

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I'm shuddering at the thought of all the fleas I've killed coming back to haunt me.

African animals turn up in my books. The villain was killed by an elephant in one of my stories.

By the way, we have brilliant sunshine here in New Zealand. Sorry.

Lana Gramlich said...

I don't write, of course, but I do enjoy painting birds from time to time.

writtenwyrdd said...

Now that you say that, B, duh. I can think of several examples. Anyway, I liked the Pom too.

Bernita said...

Thank you,Vesper.
I hatehatehate animals hurt/killed off in either fiction or movies.

Hee, Robyn. Of course, I've always loved the wolves in the Jungle Book.

Glad you liked the beer bottle, Billy.
Even with recycling and a return deposit, yahoos still heave them around.

"The villain was killed by an elephant in one of my stories."
Oooh, Suzanne, that sounds very satisfying!

"I don't write, of course,"
No, "of course," Lana. I think you should and hope you will.

Written, I also remember a fantasy beginning on your blog w/animal ( or bird) imagery. A rich, lush piece. I thought the imagery alone helped establish the world.

Sid Leavitt said...

Thank you, Bernita, for explaining the headline. Now that I understand it, I can go to sleep. Always a pleasure to read your most excellent weblog, and I bid you:

Spokoynoy nochi.

Bernita said...

~Sid, his name is Sid~
My apologies, Sid, for mangling your name.I hate it when I do that.
Thank you.
The only Eastern language words I know are naughty.

Sid Leavitt said...

Yeah, I know 'em all, too -- and then some. You know, I once taught Russian to eighth-grade American students, and none of them could remember simple words like 'chair' or 'table,' but all of them knew all the scatological terms -- and they didn't get them from me.

As for my name, no problem. Remember way back when I introduced myself to you and told you how much I liked your weblog and its attention to interesting details? Remember that, Bernice?

Bernita said...

Sid, you're a Dear Man.