Thursday, March 26, 2020

How A Rescue Dog Spawned a Character: Guest Post by Melinda Leigh

Melinda Leigh: 
How A Rescue Dog Spawned a Character

Readers who are familiar with my work know I usually include a dog in my books. Cross Her Heart introduces Ladybug, a chubby pointer mix my heroine is manipulated into adopting in order to help her overcome her fear of dogs. This entire character storyline grew from my adoption of the actual Ladybug.

We had lost our bulldog mix to a heart attack while I was finishing up the Morgan Dane series. Roxy had been treated for heartworm when she first came to live with us. Despite treatment, she likely had suffered permanent heart damage. We were all devastated, but our other dog, a spaniel/dachshund mix we adopted ten years earlier, was devastated at the loss of his companion. This proved to be a challenge. Bandit is um… feisty. Ironically, he does not get along well with other dogs, especially males. But he clearly needed another strong female in his life. So, the search began.

There were several candidates who didn’t make the cut. Bandit hated all of them. That’s hate with a capital H.

Then we found Ladybug at a local rescue. She had just finished her own heartworm treatment, which made me hesitate in setting up a meet. We’d just lost a dog to these terrible parasites. I didn’t know if I wanted to take that risk again. But most of the strays in the South seem to be afflicted, and ultimately, my husband and I decided we would give a home to dogs that needed one, and if she had health problems, we would deal with them.

We are so very glad we made that decision. The first time Ladybug and Bandit were introduced, he growled and snapped at her. She had zero reaction. Zero. She didn’t even seem to register that he’d been a jerk. She was pleasant and happy and completely unbothered by his bad attitude. She was also cool with screaming kids, skateboards, and bouncing basketballs. She wanted to make friends with every dog and person in the park. Her tail was docked, but she wagged her whole butt. Her disposition was so lovely, I knew we’d gotten very lucky. She was perfect!

We had several more meetings, just to make sure Bandit would accept her. Once we got her into our house, he bonded with her almost immediately. We all did. I am happy to report, more than a year later, that the dogs are the best of friends. They do everything together. Bandit has even grown calmer. Some of Ladybug’s chill has clearly rubbed off on the little maniac.

Having Ladybug in my life made me think about how unintimidating she is, despite being a rather large dog. She has a goofy expression and almost never barks. Because writers are weird, it was then that the opposite situation occurred to me, and the idea of a main character with a deep-seated fear of dogs was born. How much would a fear of dogs interfere with a police detective’s job? She would be forced to work with large, aggressive K-9s in a police department. She would run across dogs in both her personal and professional life.

I already had the basis of my character. Bree Taggert was the survivor of the murder-suicide of her parents. But Bree needed a more concrete challenge to overcome, something more than a terrible past, something that would carry over into her present and make her life difficult on a daily basis. So, I gave her a childhood mauling, a terrible mental and physical scar to go along with her fear. To complicate matters further, I gave her a former K-9 cop as a counterpart.

And I gave her Ladybug. You’ll have to read Cross Her Heart to see how this all works out.

Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. After joining Romance Writers of America, she decided writing was more fun than analyzing financial statements. Melinda’s debut novel, She Can Run, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She’s also garnered Golden Leaf and Silver Falchion Awards, along with two nominations for a RITA and three Daphne du Maurier Awards. Her other novels include She Can Tell, She Can Scream, She Can Hide, She Can Kill, Midnight Exposure, Midnight Sacrifice, Midnight Betrayal, Midnight Obsession, Hour of Need, Minutes to Kill, Seconds to Live, Say You’re Sorry, Her Last Goodbye, Bones Don’t Lie, What I’ve Done, Secrets Never Die, and Save Your Breath. She holds a second-degree black belt in Kenpo karate, has taught women’s self-defense, and lives in a messy house with her family and a small herd of rescue pets. For more information, visit