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  • April 29th, 2009 | 11:44 PM
Of Dogs and Writing - The Heart of it All

We are on the downward path of weaning Cassie off the steroids and as a result we are beginning to see a bit more of her old self returning. The side effects are lessening more and more each day. Today she was not happy to hear me use the blow dryer because she knew it meant I was leaving the house. And when I came back after being gone just a short time, she was interested enough to sniff me all over for any new smells and then give me lots of kisses to say welcome home, I'm glad to see you. She picked up a stuffed monkey a few times and chased her "egg ball" around the room for a while tonight.

And I smiled.

Less than a year ago I didn't even know this dog existed and now, now I can't imagine not having her in my life.

I have talked to other people who have had dogs with similar and worse diseases. Some were told to let the dog go, to put it down before the illness got worse, to save themselves the pain, the money, the struggle of dealing with a young dog who had a disease that would cost them both time and money for the rest of their lives. Not a one of them did. They all stuck with their companion through it all.

I am struggling with Flyboy's story. I broke my own pattern and started with plot instead of character. I feel like I've been dropped off in a foreign country where I don't know the language. I have journaled him, written letters, journaled more, interviewed him, written more letters, ignored him, cossetted him and even yelled at him more than a time or two. And the simple fact remains, I have no idea what's going on with the story at it's most basic level - what does Flyboy want more than anything else in the world and what is he willing to do to get it.

How can I be working on a book for over 20 years and still not know what it's about?

When I was writing Hugging the Rock I wrote at least 10 versions of it all the time telling anyone who asked that it was a story about my daughter and her relationship with her father. Along about version 15 I realized it was about me. And along about version 17 I finally admitted that it was about me and my dad.

I didn't get there all at once. I had the help of a fabulous editor who constantly pushed me to go a little deeper each time, to peel away a little bit more of my self-preservation until I was raw and exposed and filled with nothing but absolute emotion and no place to put it except for there, on the page.

I'm not there yet with Flyboy. I don't have an editor with a vision of the end story that can be my guiding light.  I have to get to a certain point on my own. What I have is a sixteen-year-old boy who is a lot like I was at that age, wondering where he fits into the family dynamics. A square peg in a round hole. I can see the pieces, I just don't know what to do with them. It's like Cassie's bumps, we could see them, but until someone put them under a microscope and looked real close, they were just bumps under the skin.

And I think I figured something out today. I don't think it's Flyboy that has to go under the microscope for a closer inspection - I think it's me. I need to reconnect with the part of me that is a part of him. Until I do that, he's just a name on the page, not a flesh and blood character that will have you rooting for him as you turn the page.

It might sound easy, like giving Cassie the right medicine once we got the correct diagnosis, but I've been there before. I know better. There are going to be side-effects from going deep. It's not going to be pretty, not at first.  It's going to hurt to look at some of those parts of me that I know need to go into the story.

Some people might give up on a story after 20 years and no results. Especially knowing the path ahead of them.

But the thing is, me and Flyboy, we've been together a long time. I can't imagine not having him in my life. He's counting on me to tell his story.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 14 comments — Leave comment )
April 30th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
If it helps, I always have that moment too---when I realize with shock that I'm writing about myself---AGAIN. Could it be, perhaps, that your refusal to give up, even when most everyone (including that bully, time) would say you should, is the part of you that makes Flyboy real?

Also, I'm throwing this out there: all character is addiction. Instead of asking what does he want, can you ask: What is he addicted to? What can't he give up?

I'm glad Cassie's doing better. She's such a beauty.
May 1st, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
I love the concept of characters being about addiction. Thanks Sara. And it works here...he is as addicted to flying as I am to writing.

Thanks for the kind words about Cassie. She brings me much joy. I can't wait to get her ready for therapy work.
April 30th, 2009 11:03 am (UTC)
I'm struggling with motive, too, Susan . . . feeling like I don't know my character well enough. So at least you have company in this. :)

Also, I must've missed your original post about Cassie's disease. What does she have? I hope she continues to improve--such a beautiful dog!

And good luck with Flyboy. :)
May 1st, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Thanks Mary Beth. Cassie has an auto-immune disease called Cutaneous Histiocytosis. Treatment includes a month of steroids to make the bumps go away and long term treatment of Atopica (Cyclosporine) to keep them from coming back. She will likely be on Atopica for the rest of her life. While she is on the Atopica she can't have live vaccines and heartworm medication isn't as easy as it used to be so it becomes a trade-off for other potential health issues.


Thanks for the good luck wishes. I need them. :)
April 30th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Aww, this is a great post, Susan. Your heart jumps write off of the computer screen.

P.S. Cassie is a lucky girl.
May 1st, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
Thanks, Barb! Have you found a new dog to rescue yet?
April 30th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
My first book was all about me--not that I admitted it at first as the original premise changed as I wrote it.
May 1st, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
That's good to hear. I know this will change as it evolves but I am really hammering myself to try and get a partial done and I need to figure out how to get out of my own way.
April 30th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
It's not easy. But I'm so glad you've come to this realization. You can do this. :)
May 1st, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)
Thanks. With a little help from my friends. :)
May 1st, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
I've just about given up on finding a rescue dog. It's amazing how hard it is to find a "good" one in New England due to the spay/neuter program here. Most of the rescue dogs come from the South and you can't even see them. Some of them are eventually sent to foster homes in Connecticut or Maine (I'm in Massachusetts). Anyway, I've lost out on two so far. My husband isn't totally on board with a rescue and wants a puppy, so we are looking at goldens due this weekend. My heart still wants a rescue, though..... I've even looked at senior dogs. They break my heart. But I may have to get a divorce. hahahaha
May 1st, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
Wow, hard to believe there are so few available but that is good, right? What is it about your spay/neuter program that works? There are so many hundreds, thousands, of dogs that need rescuing here in CA that I need a ranch like Gary Paulson where I can just have a ton of them.

You do know about petfinder.com, right?
May 2nd, 2009 09:27 am (UTC)
I'm glad you're hanging in there with Flyboy, and you know how many prayers I'm sending Cassie's way. Such a beautiful girl she is!
May 2nd, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
>>What is it about your spay/neuter program that works? <<

That's a darn good question! I'm not sure. It's just what "everyone" keeps telling me when they tell me that the rescue dogs are coming from out of state. Maybe more aggressive advertising of free or discount clinics? Maybe stricter rules about adoption requirements? I don't know. But honestly, I'd say 80% of the dogs shown on New England rescue sites are located out of state. (And yes, I go on petfinders.com and it breaks my heart! I want them all!)
( 14 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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