The Humanity Behind the Beast: Part 2 (Common Mistakes and Misconceptions)

Newcomers, please read PART 1 before continuing on.

Welcome to the second in my three part series of learning the bare basics of working with talking animals into your stories. Today we’ll cover some of the common issues that occur.

There are many serious misconceptions going around about stories with talking animals. Ranging from “These stories are only read by or interesting to preschoolers” to the equally annoying “They’re so EASY to do.”

Many children’s writers who’ve been at this craft for a year or more, realize, or soon will realize, that writing a good story, and making a GREAT story, takes time and effort. It can be just as hard to write a folktale about a leopard finding his missing tail, as it is to write a book about a (Human) boy searching for his missing dog during a blizzard in 1933.

A general misconception some people have about writing children’s books, especially picture books, easy readers, and chapter books is thinking they’re easy to write because their shorter than novels. Writers like me, and in my writer’s group, who together probably have a good 20 years combined experience, all know this isn’t true.

Yes, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books are shorter than novels for middle grade or Young Adult readers, but they have a unique set of requirements and challenges that make them a REAL challenge, especially for writers like me, who for better or worse, are just not concise writers by nature.

Doesn’t mean we don’t think about our words, or try hard to only be as long or short as we need to be, and we definitely do NOT get lazy and don’t put in the effort we know we should.

We’re just not naturally economical writers, which is something that takes us longer to learn, but we are WORKING HARD to learn it. These misconceptions further are intensify when talking animals are involved. Or worse, some writers make the mistake of using them as a gimmick and not really writing them from the heart, which like with any genre of writing, is just setting yourself up for disaster, and many long hard months or years of revision, if the writer sees or is shown via outside intervention where they went wrong.

I can honestly say that while many of my early attempts at writing the stories I loved reading and seeing in the movies or on television, had some of the issues mentioned above, what sets me and others of my ilk apart from the true posers and wannabes is that I always respected and valued these kinds of stories. I wouldn’t try to write them if I didn’t love reading them myself, and was willing to learn how to improve.

Just like mystery writers and romance writers read in the genre and learn from it, I too have read and watched many stories of this type, and know what’s done to death, what’s more or less popular, and what I like, no matter the trends that pop up now and again.

Sometimes this is hard, because the only true danger in reading in the genre your trying to write in is consciously and subconsciously falling into the trap of trying borrow too much from the writers and books you love. (Note: I’m not talking about outright plagiarizing which will get you in trouble, both with the law, and your conscience, if you still listen to it)

I mean overusing certain techniques of crafting your prose, characters and dialogue, that work in your favorite books, but don’t always help yours.

For example, one of my favorite writers is Tor Seidler, and his animal tales have been a great inspiration to me as a writer, and as a reader, give me much entertainment. That said, it gets me into trouble sometimes when I try to use a literary technique or way of structuring my sentences to be like his, only to learn later, either on my own, or through my writer’s group that it doesn’t work in my story, even though in his it makes sense.

So much of learning your craft as a writer is know what tips and techniques can help your writing in general, and what works for a particular kind of story or book. Often this comes from knowing when to trust your instincts, which I’ll discuss in-depth in the near future, and from picking the right person or group of people, to be your first readers, once you’ve done some revision on your own. Again, something I’ll talk about in-depth at a later date.

At the risk of making certain readers annoyed with me, take the vampire trend that’s finally starting to die down a bit. First off, let me just say I’m not, nor have ever been anti-vampire, this is merely to prove an important point. The most popular books about or featuring vampires are Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, for adults, but I’m sure many teens braver than I was read them, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga,(Still haven’t finished the first one, but read enough to know it’s NOT badly written as some folks make it out to be) and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series, again published in the adult market, but there are certainly a good number of folks well under 21 or 18 that have flocked to the new book in the series year after year.

I just recently jumped on board the bandwagon myself, after years of hemming and hawing. Partly from just not being sure I was ready to dive in as a reader, and as a writer, yes a bit jealous that the stories I spend many a sleepless night to make the best they can be weren’t getting out-shined by the general paranormal explosion. Then again, it took 9+ years to sell the Dark Hunter Series, so why should I pack it in after 7 years with my stuff. Soon to be 8.

Of course, there’s Charlene Harris with her Sookie Stackhouse series, now with a hit HBO series, but it mostly goes without saying how well those do, still I didn’t know about her or Stephanie Meyer or that matter until way back in 2007, before the Twilight movies came out, before the last book in the saga came out, and back when True Blood was still a pipe dream, what a difference a few years makes, right?

My point, finally, is there’s one thing all these series, and their respective authors have in common, other than they’re women, (To think there was a time men outnumbered women in this business, not meant as a jab, really, just a casual observation) is that they all took the conventions of what people had done with vampires, and the paranormal story in general, and either turned on its ear, flipped it upside down, or just threw out the traditional rules and trappings and made it all their own. Or using little known or tapped history and lore to weave a new way of looking at the immortal bloodsuckers, or in the case of Twilight, vampires who forego the blood thing.

The same is true with talking animals. The best books and/or series come about when the writer does something to make their book or story stand out, to shake up the conventions of how these stories normally go.

One of the best known conventions are stories that pit animals against people, either as an entire race, or a certain group person or group of people, being the bad guys with little or no depth or perspective to them. Now certainly there are many examples where this works well. One of the catalysts of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was Wilbur escaping the fate of most farm livestock, being killed and eaten, by omnivorous humans. That’s why the famous first line of that book has so much weight.

Even kids who before reading that book have never been to a farm, or know a whole lot about where food comes from, can put the pieces together, nothing good usually comes from your father carrying an axe in his hand, at least not for the ones who’s getting the axe, no pun intended.

When I started writing my own stories, I knew I wanted to flip or outright overturn certain conventions to do something new or different. In the middle grade novel I’m querying now, my animal protagonist befriends a human, which naturally doesn’t go over well with his fellow creatures who only see humans as a nuisance, and in many cases, the bane of their existence.

But my protagonist can see through befriending this human, that an entire species should not be condemned as evil for the actions of those who probably do deserve the frustration and anger these creatures have for them. It’s in many ways about seeing people or animals on an individual basis, since there are many creatures in this book who can be just as scary or dangerous as the humans they fear and despise. That’s the main external conflict

The great inner conflict is doing right by your friends, even when it’s not easy, friends learning to be honest and forgiving, and that it’s NEVER too late to make things right, as long everyone’s committed to meeting each other halfway. Tomorrow, I’ll wrap this up by sharing some personal examples of where I went wrong, and how I got my writing back on track, and the books that helped me to learn and better appreciate the stories work hard to write, and write well.

Also, I’ll do my weekly book reviews, and one of the books touches perfectly on the points I’ve made thus far.

Until then,
This Rat has left the cheese shop.

The Humanity Behind the Beast: Part 1 (How it all began…)

Many have often asked me why I’m so passionate about reading and writing stories about or with talking animals. For a long time I had a straight answer. Now I’ve figured out two key reasons why I love them and why I write them-

1. They connect me to my Inner Child

2. It’s not as easy as it might look, but that just means the end result, when done right, is that much more special!

Before I could read, this love first started with my favorite television shows and movies, many about real everyday people, but many always that element of whimsy, wonder, and enchantment, and often this came in the form of talking animals or magic that made people’s lives that little bit more fun, and help make the hard times in life bearable. These were my earliest memories of playing with my imagination. I didn’t have many friends growing up, and my grandma worked a lot, so I learned to make my own fun, for the most part.

As I got older, I didn’t “Grow out” of some of the things I liked as a little kid, my chatty animal friends were one of those things, since my life at home was complicated and heartbreaking at times, it was something I needed to hold on to, but obviously I kept it more or less a secret from the few friends I had. They wouldn’t have understood.

I came to reading late. When I say that, I don’t mean I was a poor reader, in fact I learned fairly quick from what I remember and what my grandma tells me. But I hadn’t found books I wanted to read, as opposed to what I was forced to read in school, and didn’t get many chances to go to the library or be read to, my grandma was too busy, and most of my immediate family are focused only on their inner circle, not uncaring, but not a close-knit bunch. It wasn’t really until my teen years, especially during my short stint in high school (Story too long to tell here), that I found the books I loved, and have been hooked ever since.

After being inspired by many great books that entertained, and comforted me during the hard times of life, I knew I wanted to write too, and after years of not truly knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d finally found something I clicked with.

When I started writing, I tried to write about real people doing normal things, or unusual situations grounded firmly in reality, but it never felt right. There wasn’t heart or passion in what I was writing, even though I did my best to assure that came through.

When I started writing about these animals, which’ve always been in my imagination, and in my heart, things started to click. It was like finally finding the right pair of shoes when you’ve gone through 100 different pairs that were either too small, too snug, or were just not your style.

That said, as I stated at the outset, it’s not as easy as people think to do this right, just like with anything involved with the craft of writing, I had to learn what I was doing wrong, how to make it right, and sometimes fix what I did right, the WRONG way. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate further tomorrow.

Until then, may the fantastical fauna be with you,

Sorry for the Wait

Afternoon All,

I had a terrible time sleeping last night, and got up way late, and I realized the topic I was going to do needs to been broken in to parts so I keep my blog entries short, and not overwhelm you with too much info at once, a major failing in my first attempt at blogging. So the first in my three parter will be posted later today. In the meantime, I’ve made some other updates to the blog.

I’ve added a “Future Headlines” page so you can get a sneak peak of the topics I’m covering in the coming weeks or months, as well as special features and editorials I’ll post at a later date.

It’s my way of strengthening my commitment to this blog, and generating some excitement for you, and generating some feedback in what you’d like to see next.

I’m also planning a fun contest starting after Christmas, the 26th to be exact. I’ll share more details about it next week, and you’ll want to stick around, I’ve got great prizes for the winners.

Be back soon,


The Rat has entered the cheese shop – And he has a lot to say between bites!



I’m not the best with self-introductions, since in real life, I’m painfully shy. But it’s easy over the net since it’s not face-to-face, I can take my time, and best of all, no one has a problem understanding my words, since I talk fast and am a bit soft spoken.

Anyway…Who I Am and What I Do

My name’s Taurean Watkins, I reside in the U.S., specifically the Midwest, and my goal is to be a novelist. Eventually a poet as well, even though like short stories, writing in short forms is not my innate strength. I’m learning!

First and foremost, I’m a guy, and I say that to avoid confusion. Since I don’t usually post my picture on sites (I’ll post a couple here later) people have been known to think I’m a woman. Often I think because of the way I write my posts, or my emotional tirades, either way, I just wanted to make that clear here at the start.

I’ve spent the last seven years writing and trying to get published, though sometimes I feel like seven years went by and I’m farther behind the curb than I’d like to be.

I’ve written a few novels, none of which published, only 1 (At the time of this post) was decent enough to market, and only made it past the query stage once, but always rejected, mostly via form letter.

Second time’s the Charm

The first time I tried blogging I didn’t succeed, mainly because I lacked a focus, and didn’t budget my time like I (Try!) to do now. Not to mention my (Bleak) outlook on life at the time didn’t help.

A New Year, A New Start

2011 is weeks away. This time, with a clear focus and a better outlook on life, I can produce the kind of blog I can be proud of.

As you can probably guess from the name of this blog, it celebrates some of my favorite books of all time, the ones where animals talk, of course!

Of course, I also love, and will be talking about books with “Real” people and animals acting as they normally would, but the former statement will be the main focus of this blog. So all you die-hard realists, you may want to run, not walk, while you still can. LOL!

My (Hopefully not Hokey) Mission

Just as there are many reasons we read a book, love it, or hate it, there can be many reasons one starts a blog. For me, I started this blog for a lot of reasons, but for now, only three are important for you to know now-

1. This blog is meant to be FUN! Both for me, and I hope for you as well.

2. This blog is for writers, and readers, to share their favorite childhood books, movies, and knickknacks they still love now, even if your inner circle doesn’t know about it.

3. For writers who respect, understand, and (hopefully) love the books you do.

Needless to say, but just in case, anyone looking for “Nail-biting criticism” writing advice, you won’t find much of it here. There are many folks in the blogesphere already who can do it better than me, some of the best I’ll talk about in my blog at a later date, but I can’t say none, since I designed this blog to be a hybrid between a how-to craft resource, and a fun place to hang out. Not too fancy free, but not too business-y either.

What can you expect? Here’s a taste-

Book Reviews – both new releases and books already out.

Personal Musings – My own writing journey, how far I’ve come, where I need/want to go, what I need to learn but it’s driving me crazy, etc.

What I learned the HARD way (So hopefully you won’t have it as hard!)

Writing tips and tricks


Eventually I plan to have podcasts, a newsletter, and both text and audio interviews with published and soon-to-be published writers, and if I can swing it, insiders in the publishing industry.

I’ll also review books on craft that I either own or borrowed, and who they’ll best work for, and suggest who might find it doing more harm than good, at their current level.

Last, but far from least, The Commitment
I plan to update either once a day, or every other day, unless an offline emergency or internet trouble prevents me from doing so.

I hope this is as great a journey for you as this is for me.