Often writers are asked where their ideas come from. Mine come from all over. Usually bits and pieces of things get put together and develop into a character or plot over time. Today I’m going to explore where one of my characters came from: Kink the pet rat in “A Recipe for Disaster.”
As a kid, I thought rats were both cool and a bit scary. They were dangerous in the wild, animals that carried plague, that might hurt or possibly even kill a cat who was hunting them. I remember vividly both the description of a rat fight that almost killed the cat main character in “The Abandoned” and the scene in “Lady and the Tramp” where the evil rat climbs into the baby’s room and Tramp saves the day, killing it. Then the infamous Cluny the Scourge was the villain of “Redwall” and my brother and I quickly got into all things Redwall.
When I heard some people kept rats as pets, I could hardly believe it. Then some friends of ours turned out to have a rat. It was a rather large creature, and we were warned it bit people. My brother and I eyed it carefully as its own let it climb around and weren’t sure what the allure was. There my attitude stayed until in high school Japanese class.
One year in high school (I think it was my sophomore year) one of the other students in the class wanted to do a rat breeding genetic’s project for biology. The catch was, the biology teacher wouldn’t allow him to keep the rats in the biology classroom and his parents weren’t interested in allowing them at home. Instead of picking a new and easier project, this resourceful student somehow talked the Japanese teacher (who was far too nice to be teaching high school in general) into allowing him to keep all the rats in that classroom instead.
Now, what happened regularly in Japanese class was the class talked the teacher out of class. Into anime movies, into long rambling discussions, into making our own cheese home video movies, into potluck gatherings, “study time” that involved doing homework for other classes and socializing a lot with each other. The rats added a new activity–playing with rats all class long. Which happened often.
I learned a lot about rats. That they were often fun and pleasant to hold, play with, and let run around. About how they needed to be handled almost every day or they went wild and started biting. About rat sex, babies, and their development. I even learned about mice and animal fostering, when a kid in the class accidentally killed a mother mouse and saved the babies and brought them to class and added them to one of the nests of the baby rats (mostly that rats are awesome as pets while mice are terrible). I ended up very pro-pet-rat through the whole thing.
Even better, one of my friends in college got himself a rat–he named her Agnes. We used to practice for church music together and often I ended up playing with Agnes. Agnes was older, more handled than the young breeding rats, and had much more freedom over a longer period of time. This allowed me to see the full extent of how mischievous rats are–always into everything. Without 30 kids taking turns holding her, Agnes wasn’t much into holding. She liked to climb inside pant legs and shirt sleeves, she liked to hide in the couch, she liked to steal objects. Agnes is who I thought of when I started considering an animal familiar for Cal in “A Recipe for Disaster.” It’s been years, but I still remember her quite well.
I’m not sure I want to ever own a rat myself, but I am sure that I find rats both wild and domesticated fascinating as well as the wide range of attitudes about them, and that I want to write about them and all the different reactions people have to them. I doubt “A Recipe for Disaster” will be my last exploration on the topic either.