Happy Adopt-a-versary!

March 28, 2016: Duncan's Gotcha Day

March 28, 2016: Duncan's Gotcha Day

One year ago today (tonight), I brought home the overgrown mass of poodle hair that became Duncan. I'll never know his birthday, so I've decided to celebrate his Gotcha Day--his Adopt-a-versary. This is his first. 

In our first year together, this is what I've learned about him:

the begging face

the begging face

  • He does not bark or growl--except in his sleep. I've had a plumber in the house. I've had city water meter inspectors in the house. Duncan just sat on his chair and watched the parade. Not so much as a peep. When he sleeps, though, it sometimes sounds like he's fighting World War III single-handedly.
  • He only sits in soft places: the back of the sofa, a pillow on the overstuffed chair, my bed. If we're in the kitchen and I tell him to sit, he runs into the living room and sits on the chair. (Where else would a king sit but his throne?)
  • He is terrified of Huskies. He's not a fan of big dogs, in general, but Huskies scare the living daylights out of him. He literally jumps into my arms.
  • Toys are not on his radar. He doesn't notice them or care about them. When I bring a toy to his attention, he's not the least bit interested in it. I have tried every type of toy I could find. Not a whiff of curiosity. I now have a bucket of unused toys for my next dog.
  • He is not a cuddler or a snuggler, but his day is not complete until he's completely bathed my hand in kisses. Twice is his minimum.
  • He is a follower, not a leader.
  • He's not a problem-solver, either. If he's faced with a door that's ajar, he won't push it open with his nose. He'll just stare at it forlornly and wait for it to magically open on its own.
  • He loves walks, but he doesn't always remember how they work.
  • When he first got here, he was terrified of the kitchen. Would not set foot in it. Now he comes in regularly to beg while I'm cooking. (He also didn't know how to beg. He's become a pro at that, too.)
  • He still hasn't figured out there's a powder room on the first floor. On multiple occasions, when I've been in the powder room, he's looked for me--upstairs. To get upstairs, he has to walk right past the powder room. Talk about tunnel vision.
  • He loves--LOVES--watching dog videos on my phone. He watches very intently, and then gives me the "More?" look. 
Duncan wasn't sure what to make of his celebratory "pup-cake."

Duncan wasn't sure what to make of his celebratory "pup-cake."

He's made tremendous progress in this first year, going from an almost completely-shutdown dog to a little man with a funny personality. I can't wait to see how he grows over the next year.

Happy Adopt-a-versary, Little Man! 

The Story Behind the Story: The Wheels on the Bus

Two months ago, I competed in the first round of NYC Midnight's 2017 Short Story Challenge. Today, I found out that my entry placed second in my heat--advancing me to this weekend's Round 2. I was floored.

I had to check the results half a dozen times just to make sure my name was really there.

I had to check the results half a dozen times just to make sure my name was really there.

See, I thought for sure my Short Story Challenge journey began and ended with that story.

For starters, I was assigned Romance as a genre. I do not read Romance. I do not write Romance. I am only vaguely familiar with Romance as a concept. On top of that, I had to write this Romance during the week He Who Must Not Be Named was inaugurated as president. I was not a happy camper. I did not want to write a happy, lovey story. I wanted to write something mad, something sad, something scary--not a story with a happy ever after.

Every word was a struggle. For Round 1 of the challenge, we have eight days to write a 2,500 word story. Usually, my eight days look like this:

Days 1-2 brainstorm and outline

Days 2-6 draft, draft, draft

Days 6-8 revise, revise, revise

This time it was more

Days 1-6 brainstorm   brainstorm   brainstorm

Days 6-8 draft     draft    draft    draft

No time to revise.

My finished story, late on Day 8, was 900 words too short. It was a romance without romance. There's not even any hand-holding. It's basically one long meet-cute.

I posted it thinking, "Oh, well. It's not a Romance, but it's done." I filed away the story, assuming it would never see the light of day.

It seems I was wrong. It IS a Romance, and one the judges liked. Go figure.

Click here to read "The Wheels on the Bus."

The Best Book I Read This Month: Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart

Confession: nothing I read this month knocked my socks off as much as The Quartet did last month. It's not that I read anything bad (although The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver came close); just that I didn't read anything spectacular.

My favorite read, though, was Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart. Lady Cop is historical fiction, the second in a series about Constance Kopp, the first female deputy sheriff in New Jersey. I adored the first book in the series--Girl Waits With Gun. It touched on serious issues, but with a light touch and a sense of humor. There was something almost "Keystone Cops" about it.

I had high hopes for the sequel. In some ways, Lady Cop was as good as Girl. The characters of Constance and the sheriff, for example, were satisfying. They grew with the story. The mystery was well-plotted with appropriate twists and turns. The supporting cast--the minor characters--added color to the story and depth to the story's world.

The characters of Constance's sisters were not as satisfying. Norma and Fleurette were fun in the first book, but by the end of this one, they grated and annoyed. Each sister is unique and colorful. However, they stayed in their lanes, rigidly. They reminded me very much of George and Bess in the old Nancy Drew books. The tomboy and the girly-girl, the same in every book, the same strengths, the same flaws, no growth as people or characters. Constance's sisters felt just like that. While their lives in this book had broadened since Book 1, it didn't seem like they'd changed as a result of those wider experiences. And while Lady Cop had the same light touch as Girl, it lacked the "Keystone Cops" humor of its prequel. I missed that.

That said, I do enjoy this series, and I will read the next one.  This book might be the "sophomore slump," but it was still an enjoyable read.


Note: Clicking on the book cover will take you to the book's Amazon page.

Feeling Writerly

Something's changed in the last month or so. I feel excited about writing again. For a long time--years--I haven't felt like a writer. Part of it is the imposter syndrome that most, if not all, writers experience. But part of it was that I felt like the writing I was doing wasn't going anywhere. When I chose "change" as my word of the year, this feeling was one of the things I wanted to change.

So, in the last month, I've focused on "going somewhere" with my writing. I'm working on pitches for two articles for a children's history magazine. I'm polishing a short story to submit to an anthology. All three are due at the end of this month, and I expect every one of them to be rejected. That's how rusty I am. For me, this exercise isn't about acceptance. It's about putting myself--or rather, my work--out there.

After I send these submissions into the wild, it will be time to find another deadline or two to pursue. And time to work on Draft 4 of my novel-in-progress.

It's still a struggle to balance work, writing, and life. More often than not, the scales still tip toward work. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can call myself a writer without feeling like a fraud.

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Quartet by Joseph Ellis

I've decided to try something new this year, part of my effort to be more involved in the writing community. Each month I'm going to write about the best book I read that month. The books won't be the latest releases or the hot new things. I'm way behind the curve on all that stuff. Most of the time, I'm so far behind I don't even know where the curve is.  These are just the books that grabbed my attention and held my interest.

January's book is nonfiction, a work of history called The Quartet by Joseph Ellis. In this book, Ellis tells the story of the functioning and failure of the Articles of Confederation (the nation's first governing document) and how four Founding Fathers brought about a second American Revolution by working--and conspiring--to replace the Articles with the U.S. Constitution. (Bonus points if you can name the four Founders. Their portraits are on the book's cover.)

I've developed a fascination with Revolutionary America in recent years--not the battles or military strategy but the politics and personalities. Ellis is one of my favorite historians on the subject. (His Founding Brothers is another recommended read.) What struck me in The Quartet was not just the personalities of the four Founders but the challenges they faced and the paralysis of the new nation's government. I could not help but see parallels in our current political situation and climate:

  • a distrust of national government

  • regional and sectional tensions

  • the disconnect between the nation's political leadership and the majority of the population

  • manipulation of class tensions to achieve political ends

  • political leaders who believe compromise is equivalent to failure or capitulation

These four Founders were strong enough and single-minded enough to stand up to, withstand, and even take advantage of these challenges to create the government that the country needed not just to survive but to become a true nation (as opposed to the loose collection of states that it had been). That is why we have the political system we have today. What we don't seem to have are men like these four Founders, who had the prescience to see what was best for the nation long-term as a whole and act on it almost single-mindedly, in opposition of the myopic view of their contemporaries, who were focused on their own states and self-interests.

Which isn't to say these men were perfect. They were deeply flawed human beings in many ways: Hamilton's arrogance and Madison's inflexibility, especially. Just that they put their nation as their first priority and that they had a broader vision than their contemporaries, or ours.


Note: Clicking on the book cover will take you to the book's Amazon page.