All of my Animal Houses

Last week, when my son accepted a new position in his company, my husband and I sent him a text congratulations and he responded with:  “Love you both, and the nine dogs.”  To which I responded with, “The 9 dogs say ruff ruff.”

Anyone who reads this blog, or anyone who has met me for 5 minutes, knows I’m an animal lover.  So it will probably come as no surprise to you that there’s an animal in every single chapter of my book.  My book, that’s not about animals.


Dogs.  Horses.  Sometimes, even, a cat?

What’s surprising is that the presence of all of these animals came as a surprise to me.  

In chapter one, there’s a new yellow puppy we’ve gotten from the pound, the dog I’ve begged and begged for, who dies on the porch while I’m at a new school in the 3rd grade, and whom I find when I come home for lunch.  There are the horses, the 2 Tennessee Walkers and the white Quarter Horse, boarded at a house we rent in 6th grade.  There’s Candy the cat who delivers her kittens on my bed, and Nikky, my uncle’s Norwegian Elkhound, who hung himself on our carport in a thunderstorm … an event that marked my before-Nikky life and after.  And the list, the lists, go on, all of the animals in and around the periphery of my story, telling a parallel story of their own.  The golden who desperately needs to be let out, and runs the dark fence-line, while I’m talking to my brother on the phone.  The dog who lies upside down in the gravel, afraid.  The dog my mother and I return to the Humane Society.  The horses who tolerate my existence in their barn and then throw me into the electric fence.  The rescues.  The dog who becomes our family dog, but is really just … my dog.

All of these animals mirror, unbeknownst to writer-me, what’s going on under the surface of every scene.  Every.  Single.  Chapter.

I recently went back and started re-reading all of the books I read repeatedly as a child.  I read BLACK BEAUTY until the start of PART II, and I had to stop.  Had to put it, unfinished, back on the shelf by my bed.  The chapter I ended with had these lines:  “We shall never see her again,” he said — “never.”  He took the reins, mounted the box, and with Joe drove slowly home; but it was not our home now.  I’m 48 years old, and I can no longer read about the bad things that are going to happen to Black Beauty.  Not if I want to sleep at night.

We shall never see her again.  Never.


What are you writing about, that you didn’t know you were writing about?


14 thoughts on “All of my Animal Houses

  1. Josey

    i wish i could answer your question, but my writing would have to go much deeper than where i’ve been lately to see such things.

    i love that you have found this about your work…and that it was a surprise. (something so not surprising, of course your memories–memoirs?–are shepherded by the animals you have loved through your life.)

    1. Teri

      They are shepherding me? I hadn’t considered that, but I certainly see it now. There’s a scene where I’m home alone (with our golden retriever) and I have a long and awful phone call with my brother and his wife — the dog is pacing and finally goes to the door, desperately wanting to escape, like she sees something outside that I can’t see, something she is tracking in the dark and needs to chase down.

      Of course when I first wrote that scene (and in every rewrite) I just thought the dog happened to be there and was being a dog. Now, not so much.

  2. LauraMaylene

    That is the best question ever, and one of the major reasons I write: to discover the things I’m writing about that I never expected that I’d ever write about.

    I love that your work is full of all those animals. What a beautiful and sad and wonderful thing.

    1. Teri Post author

      It is like magic, isn’t it Laura? How we go along thinking we know what path/story we’re on and then suddenly we’ve dipped down a narrow alley and come out on a completely different street.

  3. Paul Lamb

    I’ve only recently come to realize that with my Fathers and Sons stories I’m actually writing about the non-existent relationship I had with my father, creating in fiction what I guess I wish I’d had in reality. I’m not sure that realization feeds the stories, but it does feed my soul in a way.

    I’m glad to learn you’re an animal lover, though I think I had plenty of hints just from your blog.

    1. Teri Post author

      What’s that saying … I write so I can live my life twice? I absolutely believe that your father-relationship (or lack thereof) is feeding your stories.

  4. MSB

    I know you hate this word but I’m going to use it anyway. AMAZING! Look at that, I even used caps. I never use caps.

    You must be tickled pink to have discovered this. I suspect this memoir is about to take on a whole new dimension.

    1. Teri Post author

      Hahaha MSB! What’s strange about this discovery is that of course I knew the animals were there, at least on some level, but I what I didn’t realize was how their actions in the scenes (at least the way I wrote about it, viewed it at the time?) told a parallel story, or opened another window on what’s happening with the humans in the room. Very strange.

  5. Downith

    (Wo)man’s best friend for a reason. I love how this was there, underlying your memoir and it’s now coming to the surface.

    P.S. – Do you think your son’s comment is foreshadowing?!

  6. Catherine

    That was a lovely post Teri. I’m still smiling.
    For some reason I’m writing stories connected with Hong Kong. I don’t know why as I’ve never been there. Usually I write about West Africa and Europe, but an unexpected door has been opened. Weird, hey?

    1. Teri Post author

      That’s exciting, Cat! I remember reading a book by Bo Caldwell, mostly set in Hong Kong, and finding out much later that she’d never been there. I was shocked — her detail of streets and neighborhoods and routes was downright uncanny.

  7. Averil Dean

    Wow. Wow wow wow. I can’t wait to read your memoir, so I can think about this while I do.

    I write about sex because it’s a literal personal connection, and I write it dark and screwed up and unhealthy because that’s the way I see myself and my relationships. I’ve been closer to my fictional characters than I’ve been to a single real person in my life. We write to learn who we are, and sometimes the self-knowledge is powerfully negative.

    1. Teri Post author

      I don’t write (much) fiction, but I can see how a novelist feels so close to their characters. You have to get so far inside their heads, hearts, souls, to be able to write as honestly as possible about them.

      Of course this applies to nonfiction, too — getting closer to characters I already think I know can be incredibly jarring. Though also, I believe, healthy. Just as healthy as you seeking the dark and negative and seemingly unhealthy. Love that.

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