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The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

The Dog in the Book

My dog. She's the best.I am not a dog person. I don’t go all googly-eyed over every mutt that crosses my path and you’re never going to convince me that all dogs are awesome. I mean, some of those fuckers will tear your face off as soon as look at you and I’m kinda attached to my face. Others will poop on your floor and pee in your shoes. You’ve also got your farters, who pollute the whole house with their astounding buttfunk. When my little Boston died a while back, at the ripe old age of 14, I thought I was done with dogs.

But then this little bitch came along and melted my cold black heart.

I mean just . . .

LOOK. AT. HER.

Just being around her makes people feel better.  Strangers smile at her when we walk by (and no, it’s not me, motherfuckers scowl at me when I don’t have the dog, like I’m going to eat their ugly babies or pee on them, which I have only done a single time and that baby had it coming) and she gives off this welcoming vibe that makes everyone feel all comfortable and relaxed.

That’s what a dog does.

That’s why every book needs a dog.

Maybe not an actual dog, you know, because not every book can be written by Dean Koontz, but a spiritual dog as it were, or a subtle sense of dogginess suffused into the core of your words. Something that helps readers feel comfortable while losing themselves in your work, especially when you’re spraying kiloliters of blood instead of ink and mindscaping a haunted house with guts for floors and ceilings made out of screaming sphincters (just that once, don’t ask). The idea is to give your reader a safe place to take a breath, something warm and furry you can hand them to pet just before or after the shit really hits the fan.

Want some examples? I gotcha covered, yo.

Kasabian, Sandman Slim series, Richard Kadrey 

This guy betrayed Sandman Slim, our hero, and sent him to hell. Unfortunately for Kasabian, Sandman Slim came back from hill and cut his head off. Kasabian now lives on as a decapitated head in/on a variety of bodies. Despite their adversarial start, Kasabian and Slim are good buddies now and when Kasabian is in a scene there’s a very real sense that nothing TOO terrible is going to happen.

Mama, The Burke Series, Andrew Vachss

The Burke series is rough, like a bench grinder applied to the underside of your pink parts. The books are populated with a cast of characters who are some mixture of horrifying and honorable and every scene bubbles with violence ready to boil over. But when Mama enters the picture, you know that things have calmed down for the next few pages. People get time to regroup, Mama offers some sage advice, and you might even be able to get some ordnance while you’re eating your delicious soup. Mama, as her name implies, comforts.

Burke also has an actual dog, Pansy, who helps to show that character’s softer side. When Burke needs to be alone, to grieve or plot, he goes home to Pansy.

Samwise Gamgee, You Know Where, You Know Who

This is probably the most obvious example of this character type I can think of, but it still works because Tolkein created the literary equivalent of buttered toast and hot cocoa in Samwise Gamgee. Giant spiders attack – but it’s not going to be too bad, because Sam is there. Our hero is about to stop giving a single fuck about what’s happening, and then – Sam!

Also, this character is my secret namesake and that’s that.

The point is, you can’t get the maximum emotional impact out of your story if you don’t give your readers something they can relate to, something that makes them feel that everything is going to be all right. Because once you give them that anchor to help them weather the storm, that safe and cozy fire to warm their footsies by, then you can bring in the hammer and smash their world to glittering bits.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Curious about where I sneaked a dog into Half-Made Girls? Read it and find out!

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.