Neil S. Plakcy’s golden retriever mysteries have been inspired by his own goldens, Samwise, Brody and Griffin. Neil and his partner live in South Florida, where Neil is always writing, and Brody and Griffin are either sleeping or chewing one of their collection of dozens of plastic and rawhide bones. Learn more about Neil and his books at his website.
Holiday Gifts for Fictional Friends
Come the holidays it’s often a struggle to come up with the perfect gift for not only our nearest and dearest, but the maid, our kids’ teachers, the letter carrier, and others. When I was a kid, my mother had contacts in the jewelry business in New York, so all my teachers got gold pins in the shape of a circle, which I’m sure went over better than perfume or scarves.
Pictured above is the first menorah I bought for myself, with the Lion of Judah at its base, all ready for the start of Hanukkah. The blue candle is the shamash or leader; you light that one first, and use it to light the others. The white candle is in place for the first night-- just as Hebrew is read from right to left, that's the way we insert candles (though we always light the newest candle first.)
It takes a lot of thought to go into the perfect gift—and it’s that much harder when your friends are fictional rather than real. But when you write a cozy mystery set at the holidays, like my Dog Have Mercy, there have to be gifts. Not only do they need to be relevant to the giver and the recipient, they also ought to have some larger resonance to the plot.
A lot of work for a few words on the page, right?
The protagonist for my (now) nine-book series is Steve Levitan, a forty-something guy who served a year in prison in California for computer hacking. He returned to his hometown, Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, with his tail between his legs, and he’s been trying to rebuild his life.
His partner in crime (solving) is his golden retriever, Rochester. It’s pretty easy to come up with gifts for the dog—Steve gives Rochester ropes for tugging and bones for chewing, as I give to my two goldens.
Steve also has a live-in love, photographer and college professor Liliana Weinstock. Since both of them are Jewish, their gift-giving takes place at Hanukkah. I admit, I was a spoiled only child. I got small gifts every night for eight nights—a book, a Toblerone bar, a box of my favorite cookies. I got my big gifts on Christmas day—bicycles, chemistry sets and so on.
I decided that Steve and Lili would exchange their gifts on the first night of Hanukkah, as my partner and I do. Steve’s a computer guy, and around that time my partner had given me my first iPad. It seemed like a great gift for Lili to give Steve.
Here’s what Steve gives Lili:
I handed her the square box, which I’d wrapped in paper festooned with menorahs and dreidels. She carefully slit the seam, and I said, “Go on, rip the paper. You know you want to.”
She laughed. “Fine.” She ripped it open. “It’s a lens for my iPhone!”
“Four lenses in one,” I said. “I know you take pictures sometimes with your phone when you don’t have a camera with you. This way you’ll have a 10x magnifier, a 15x, a fish-eye, and a wide-angle, all in one.”
“I love it!” she said. I got down from the chair and we kissed. “Thank you! I can’t wait to try it out.”
“Well, there’s a dog on the stairs who loves to have his picture taken.”
I tried to make the gifts relevant to each character, and of course at the end to tie them back to Rochester, who believes he’s the star of the books. And no one’s going to tell him he’s not!
Dog Have Mercy
A Golden Retriever Mystery, Book 6
In the sixth golden retriever mystery, Dog Have Mercy, Christmas and Hanukkah approach and reformed hacker Steve Levitan tries to help a fellow ex-con now working at the vet’s office in Stewart’s Crossing. His curiosity, and the crime-solving instincts of his golden retriever, Rochester, kick in when liquid potassium ampoules are stolen from the vet and Steve’s new friend is a suspect.
Is this theft connected to a drug-running operation in North Philly? Or to a recent spate of deaths at the local nursing home? And can Steve continue to resist his computer-hacking impulses or will his desire to help others continue to lead him into trouble?