blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Researching Dogs

While writing historical stories, I have researched a lot of topics, including dogs. Except for a brief mention of bloodhounds, my Civil War trilogy has no dogs. For a dog lover like me that's a tough topic to omit, but I'm also not the sort of writer who will place something into a story simply because I like it. I also aspire to be realistic in my animal portrayal. For instance, I'm a bird lover too, and it annoys me to no end to see parrots shown as nothing more than a talking machine that conveniently says the right thing to help solve a plot.

After finishing my trilogy, I turned to writing a Civil War ghost story Whispers from the Grave. For the first time, I wrote in present day with the past influencing the modern characters. A dog also fit into my plot. I have Belgian sheepdogs, and a Belgian ideally suited what I had in mind. That made writing the story much easier because I didn't need to research the breed. I called my literary Belgian "Saber" to fit the Civil War themed plot.

For some odd reason, the Belgian in my story took on the same characteristics as my own dog Magic. By the time I began writing the sequel, Magic had died of cancer, and I had my own Saber, named after the Belgian in the book. In Whispers Through Time, Saber's mannerisms shifted a little to be more like his counterpart in real life.

One of the characters in the past also had a dog that looked a lot like the modern dog in the story. I couldn't call him a Belgian because the breed didn't exist during the Civil War, but black shepherd looking dogs have been around for a long time. As a matter of fact, I saw the spitting image of a dog Belgian fanciers would call "old-style" in a Civil War photo.

In my most recent release, The Dreaming, I switched to the 17th century. In Virginia, the tribal tidewater Natives, commonly referred to as the Powhatan, had hunting dogs that appeared like a cross between a hound and a wolf. As a group of people, they didn't bury animals, nor keep dogs as pets. But in at least one instance, a dog was found buried with an elderly woman. It was placed in a sleeping position on top of the woman's feet. The dog's skeleton showed no sign of trauma, so it's doubtful it was buried as part of a ritual. Instead, the gesture most likely speaks volumes as to how that particular dog was regarded by that individual woman.

 The 17th-century English had mastiffs, greyhounds, and generic looking spaniels. The dreaming in my book is a cunning woman's (healers of the time period) shamanic journey, and the cunning folk had familiar spirits. Common familiar spirits of the time were hares, cats, toads, and of course, dogs. I discovered my cunning woman's familiar spirit after I had read about John Smith giving the paramount chief Powhatan a white greyhound as a gift.

Ironically, I have read on some greyhound sites that the breed didn't arrive in North America until a much later date. While John Smith wasn't always truthful in his writings, I doubt the subject of a greyhound making the journey to Virginia would be noteworthy enough to embellish.

My next work? Well, since it's a sequel to The Dreaming, the greyhound will definitely reappear. I'm also working on a crow spirit, and I've already discovered they are magnificent birds.

Kim Murphy

1 comment:

  1. interesting post!

    Reading your post has highlighted something I never realised about my own books. I have a dog in the two I have completed. They star briefly, but are there. I had not given it any thought at all. And as I am typing this, I realise they are both Border collies! Well, you learn something new every day! LOL