Monkey Business

Writers love using pets in their novels. Not only is it great for character development, but it adds an extra element of emotion and makes the story more enjoyable. Even some book or movie villains are dog or cat lovers, though they tend to prefer cats, perhaps because cats are not as heroic as dogs, and not as easily manipulated. Like the crazy cat lady in the Harry Potter Books, and Cruella De Vil in the original novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. After all, isn’t the main purpose of fictional pets to show a softer side of the characters?

I don’t know what inspired me to use a pet monkey in Misty Dreams. While romance writers typically write dogs or cats into their stories, I went with a primate. A bit unconventional, perhaps, but once the idea set in, it wouldn’t budge. I’ve always had a fascination with monkeys in general. I just think they’re cute and smart and funny. I don’t have anything against dogs or cats, don’t get me wrong. I just thought it would add a unique touch to the story. To make a tropical island the story’s present-day setting was an afterthought, and completely unrelated to my choice of fictional pet.

Me as a teenager at a Christmas ice skating show

It took some research, of course. I had to make sure such an animal was allowed in a domestic environment in the state of New York, where the story is initially set, and to my relief it was. That is, until it wasn’t. In fact, in 2012 New York State, along with several other states, banned monkeys as pets. Since Molly the Capuchin was featured in my book ten years prior to the ban, I was safe. Hence, Molly the literary pet was born.

For those of you who haven’t read my novel yet, Molly is a Capuchin monkey my male protagonist bought off a homeless man to save it from exploitation and neglect. She is impetuous and mischievous and loves the outdoors, though she’s afraid of birds, especially pigeons. She dies of a mysterious illness before the pet ban and is secretly buried in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. Molly is also a key player in the circumstances that bring the main characters together, reason for which I thought she should be showcased at the conclusion of the story with a commemorative visit to her grave.

I often joke that if I had taken longer to finish my first novel, I may have had to do a complete plot overhaul. Since the first draft, all sorts of circumstances occurred that required me to make adjustments; new laws were introduced, featured businesses closed down and the landscape of certain landmarks changed, details I’ve either had to work my way around or change. But it would have gutted me to have to get rid of Molly.

Maybe I just have a thing for unusual or exotic pets. It’s no wonder one of my favorite movie oldies is Born Free, in which a real-life couple in Kenya raise a lion cub called Elsa to adulthood and release it into the wilderness. Another of my favorite fictional pets is Babe. That adorable talking pig just stole my heart. But then, I love dog stories as well. I can’t rewatch the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale without going through a box of tissues.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about fictional pets? If you write, do you include them in your stories?

(Color images from Pexels)

Author: Josephine Strand

Josephine Strand was born in Italy, grew up in South Africa, and is a long-time resident of the United States. She discovered her love of books when she was introduced to her town’s public library at the age of eight. At nine, she gained her English teacher’s praise with her short story The Library at Midnight. She hasn’t stopped writing since, though Misty Dreams is her first published novel. Her travels between the three continents have strengthened her love for the sea and the outdoors. When not writing or absorbed in the latest gripping page-turner, she loves to cook and enjoys long nature walks.

2 thoughts on “Monkey Business”

  1. I too have written Kelleren (a dog) into my story in order to emphasize what unconditional love looks like. The next book will add another animal later in the story, but will definitely not upstage the fan favorite Kelleren!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the idea of including pets in my novels. The Seven Words series showcased a dog, Boone. The series I am currently writing involves a miniature dragon called Willow. But she would take exception with being called a “pet” as she sees herself as more of a companion to her human friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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