A Character Sketch: Dr. James DeGrande, Or, Why You Should Read Non-fiction

Dr. James DeGrande, my swashbuckling, somewhat evil veterinarian who stars in Superversive Press’s A Doctor To Dragons, has two “ancestors” in a sense. One is Steven Brust’s amoral badass assassin, Vlad Taltos, hero of the Jhereg cycle. Part of the fun I have with DeGrande is writing a similar, no-fucks-given hero, who sometimes ends up doing the right thing.

But the other source is a nearly 100 year-old memoir of the British country vet James Herriot, whose first book about the ins and outs of his practice All Creatures Great and Small, was a world bestseller, spawned a BBC television series along with numerous sequels, and was one of my parents’ favorite choices for nightly reading. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read them.

Part of Herriot’s appeal was that he had an easy gift of describing some pretty arcane veterinary practices so that the layman could follow the drama and the humor that he found in his life, much of which consisted in him being up to the elbow in various farm animals’ intimate orifices at 3 am. And frankly, I liked it for the same reason I liked science-fiction. Because here was a man who really — to me at least — lived in a completely alien world, traveling in a culture I wasn’t familiar with and treating a variety of exotic creatures. Herriot could make cows and pigs sound just as fascinating as any Denebian slime devil.

And so, slowly, over years, the idea of what a veterinarian forced to treat mythical animals would have to deal with percolated around my mind. I will admit that it helped that I married a veterinarian, who could help me with some of the specifics when I write. But that by itself would not have been enough without the love of the stories I grew up with. Thank you, Mr. Herriot.

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