The Story Behind the Story: Clara and the Kid

It's been months since I put pen to paper to work on anything short. It took, of course, another NYC Midnight Challenge to get me to do so. July 22-24 marked the first round of the 2016 Flash Fiction Challenge.

Last year, I was knocked out of the challenge in December, after writing a not-very-comedic comedy. So what did the NYC Midnight gods assign me for Round 1 of this year's challenge? You got it: comedy.

This time I had to write a comedy that made use of a podium and was set on an airplane. Curses! (Yes, I did utter a few.)

I slept on the prompt and woke up in the morning with a premise. It came from a Letter to the Editor I read when a local shopping center announced they were going "dog-friendly": dogs would now be allowed in some of their shops. A very disgruntled man complained about the policy, citing--among other things--the idea that some people were allergic to dogs. I remembered my own work with a local shelter, helping with cat adoptions even though I'm allergic. Allergies + animal + airplane = story!

I ran the premise by my writer's group, who helped me brainstorm around a couple of obstacles. I spent the rest of Saturday drafting.

I knew, by the end of Draft 1, that my story was cute but it wasn't yet a comedy. I posted an SOS on Twitter. Two writer friends read my story and gave me suggestions for upping the funny. (Thank you, Nancy and Callie!)

I spent Sunday revising. By Draft 4, I'd written a story I could live with. To be honest, I still don't think it's a comedy. But it is cute and it has a few funny moments. I'm happy with that.

And I'm prepared to make sacrifices to ensure I don't ever get assigned comedy again.


Click here to read "Clara and the Kid."

The Same Thing Happens Every Night

Duncan, dreaming

Duncan, dreaming

I've had Duncan a total of four months, as of this week. We're still bonding, still getting to know each other, but after four months, I've noticed a pattern: he has the same dream almost every night. Of course, I have no way of knowing exactly what's going on in his doggie brain, but it sure seems like the same dream on repeat. I almost think it's a memory he's reliving, rather than a dream.

The dream usually happens when Duncan sleeps spread out, rather than curled up. It begins with his paws twitching, as if he were running. Next his ear--the one that sticks up when he lies down--flaps. Then his mouth moves, as if he were grumbling--except he doesn't make a sound. Finally, he barks. One single, high-pitched bark. Dream over. Duncan wakes.

The only time I ever hear Duncan bark is when he dreams. I'd give anything to know what's in the dream that makes him do so--because in his wakeful life, none of the usual stuff does. He doesn't bark when my neighbors slam their doors. He doesn't bark when my neighbors stand in front of my house and talk. He doesn't bark when the plumber or the HVAC technician come into the house to work. He watches it all very intently, but makes nary a peep. What kind of dog does that?

Diving Back In

Almost one month ago to the day, I finished the first draft of my WIP. (That's work-in-progress, for those unfamiliar with the acronym.) That first draft took me 16 months to write. There were times I felt completely overwhelmed by the story, like maybe this particular story was beyond my ability to tell.

Now, after letting the manuscript sit for a month, I've spent this weekend re-reading it, reviewing my notes, and making a plan for Draft 2. The novel wasn't nearly as bad as I remember it being. It's still flawed (there's a reason schools call first drafts "sloppy copies"), but it has better bones than I thought it did.

A work-in-progress: my first draft manuscript, my list of revision notes, and pens and Post-Its to put it all in order.

A work-in-progress: my first draft manuscript, my list of revision notes, and pens and Post-Its to put it all in order.

I'm excited to dive back in. I've missed these characters. I've missed this story. And I've missed revising. Revising, I think, is my favorite part of the writing process. I revise much faster than I draft. It's far easier for me to re-shape or replace something that already exists than it is to come up with something new out of whole cloth. This is the part of the process where I shine, I think. And I'm eager to get going again.

I told myself that I'd finish my Draft 2 plan this weekend and dive into the actual revising on Monday. But my typing fingers are itchy, so I'll probably get started tonight. Tally ho!

Meet the New Boss

After I lost Benji last Halloween, I made a decision to not get another dog for at least a year. I lasted 5 months.

I've been cyberstalking local rescues since November, looking for a place to volunteer. And, knowing that I did want another dog at some point, looking to see who tended to take in poodles and poodle mixes--my "people." It's been my experience that poodles and poodle mixes rarely end up in shelters and rescues. I figured when I was ready for a dog, it would take months to find one.

I was wrong.

Fable's picture from the rescue's Facebook page

Fable's picture from the rescue's Facebook page

I visited a local rescue's monthly open house, more to meet the people than look for a dog. But meet a dog, I did: a little black poodle mix named Fable.

Fable was scared out of his mind, sitting on his foster dad's lap shivering for all he was worth. I sat with Fable on my lap for a little while. It wasn't long before he rested his head on my shoulder and sighed with relief.

I'd been adopted.

I needed more time to warm to the idea. After wrangling with the idea for a few days, I submitted my adoption application on March 24th: Benji's birthday. My application was processed and approved within three days. On March 28th, I brought Fable home.

Bringing Fable (now Duncan) home, March 28, 2016

Bringing Fable (now Duncan) home, March 28, 2016

We don't know much about Fable's past. We estimate he's 7-8 years old. He was found near a hospital on a main road this winter, in -2 temps. If he hadn't been found, he would have frozen to death. He was wearing a coat, had been neutered, and had dental work done. Clearly, someone had cared for him. How he ended up on the street, we don't know. The rescue notified local shelters and posted his picture on lost dog boards and Facebook pages. After two months, no one had claimed him. The rescue gave him the name Fable (because he has a story to tell) and put him up for adoption. His foster mom thought no one would ever want him, because he was so quiet and withdrawn compared to her other dogs. She was prepared to keep him forever. Then I came along.

Duncan, as he has been renamed, has been with me about a month now. When I first got him, he didn't know how to walk on a leash. He wouldn't eat or drink if I was in the room. He flinched every time I touched him.

He's making progress, though. He loves walks (but is still skittish about putting on the harness.) He'll eat or drink in my presence (as long as I'm paying attention to something else.) He still flinches or tenses sometimes when I touch him, but not always. He'll sit near me on the sofa, but won't come up right next to me. He will let me sit next to him, though.

Duncan has yet to claim ownership of the house. I suspect he still doesn't think of it as home. He's still learning to trust me, and I'm still getting to know him. Every week, I see something new.

Duncan after his first grooming. Even the groomer was taken aback by the change.

Duncan after his first grooming. Even the groomer was taken aback by the change.

He's not the cuddlebug that Benji was. He's quieter and more compliant than Benji was, too. (In the month he's been with me, I've only heard him bark once--in his sleep. Benji, by contrast, carried on entire conversations.) Duncan watches everything. I call him the neighborhood traffic cop. If we're walking and a car pulls into a driveway, Duncan stops, plants himself, and does not move until the person is out of the car and safely in the house. If a garage door opens or closes, Duncan stops, plants himself, and does not move until he sees who is coming or going. He spends hours each day watching the street, staring particularly intently at anyone who parallel parks in front of the house. I'll let you know if he starts issuing tickets.

It's going to take some time for us to bond, but I can't tell you how good it feels to be a dog mom once again.