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  • August 26th, 2009 | 11:42 PM
Of Dogs and Writing - You Don't Do it Alone

Cassie's favorite toy continues to be one of the various egg babies she has all over the house. An egg baby is basically a soft ball with a squeaker inside. It rolls but it doesn't bounce. They come stuffed inside various plush animals and she has to remove the egg babies from the pouch in order to play with them. The blue one is her favorites. She kicks it and then chases it. Brings it to me, drops it, and then steals it back until I say, "My turn" and then she lets me throw it for her. She's developed a variety of sounds to accompany her playtime. Yips and growls that vary in pitch mean that she is just fine chasing it around by herself. A steady bark in medium tone means it has rolled under the buffet. A short bark, like doggy morse code, means it is under one of the bookcases. If I don't get up right away she comes and gets me, giving me the come hither glare until I say, "Show me" and she races off to wherever it is lost and lays down, nose pointed to its hiding spot. Many a time I think she's lying to me. I don't see an egg baby anywhere. I tell her again to show me and she doesn't move. She just lays there, drops her head to the floor and continues to point with her nose. I have to look a little harder but she is always right.

I didn't teach her this, this pointing thing. I just asked her to show me and followed wherever she went. The rest she has put together on her own.

There is a chair in the library that she has created a special game with. It's a big leather chair and she can manuever her way all the way around it (though it is a tight squeeze on the backside.) She kicks an egg baby until it rolls about 10 inches under the chair. Then she crawls close enough to slide a leg under the chair and push the egg baby through to the other side. And of course when it comes out the other side she has to start it all over again. At first I thought it was a coincidence but then I just sat back and watched. For easily 15 minutes she played the game. Grab the egg baby. Run from my office to the library and drop the egg at the last possibly second until it rolled under the chair. Then push it out one side (chew and squeak), drop it again so it rolls under the chair, push it out and repeat.

I might have said this before but she's a smart dog.

This morning I watched her playing the game for a few minutes. The egg went under, the egg came out. Again and again and then. Well, and then it didn't. She circled the chair a couple of times and then collapsed in front of it,  making one of those big dog sighs that make her sound almost human. I waited for a bark. A long one, a short one, anything that would tell me she was asking for something. Nothing.
Eventually she turned to look back at me, then back at the chair, and then that sigh again. It's the kind of a sigh that makes her sound about 100 years old.

I got down on the floor next to her and looked under the chair. The egg baby sat smack dab in the middle of the space. No matter which of the four sides of chair she would try there was no way that her leg was long enough to reach it. She'd done the math and she knew, she just couldn't do it.

I reached under and pushed the egg in her direction and she jumped up and started the game all over again.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know I've been working on Flyboy's story for a long time. And I've had a hard time getting myself back into the fiction mode again. I could list any number of reasons, excuses, whatever, but I won't. But slowly and surely I've been writing again. The words have added up and Sunday I realized I had 60 pages. 60 pages! It was enough to give me a sense of the story and where it was trying to go. It was enough to bring Flyboy and Spencer to life. It was to introduce the Cessna 310 and the Stearman.

It's not a pretty clean and polished draft. There are gaps in logic, holes in the plot, too much detail in some places and not enough detail in others. I felt great that I had racked up the pages and then I felt horrible because I knew there were all these things wrong with it but I had absolutely no idea how to fix them. Luckily my muse (Maude) has a wicked sense of humor and she came along and bopped me with a marshmellow hammer enough times that I finally got it.

I was too close to it. I couldn't reach the pieces that needed fixing because I couldn't see them. I needed help.

It was time to send it to a few first readers.

Some people, there are a few of them, have early drafts that read like they are close to being submitted. Some people, there are few more of these, edit so much as they go that by the time they have 60 pages it is very close to the 60 pages you'll see in print. Then there are people like me, and I know I'm not alone, who write really rough early drafts that get the heart and not the meat or the meat and not the heart or pieces of it all but not enough to be called close to done.

A good critique group, a handful of trusted readers, or even just a single person you can share those early pages with can make all the difference. Alone you might feel stuck and unable to reach where you need to go. With help, anything is possible, even filling plot holes and bridging logic gaps. But you have to be willing to ask for that help.

Give a little bark or a big sigh but let someone know you could use a hand reaching what's just out of your reach.

There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 12 comments — Leave comment )
August 27th, 2009 08:25 am (UTC)
Great story! Dogs are smart and they definitely can teach us a lot. You did a good job being able to get 60 pages in whatever form they are of course (never in any doubt) You are right though in saying that sometimes you can be too close to a situation that you are trying to write about and there is nothing wrong with asking for help! I wish I had have come to that realisation many many years ago and I could have saved myself a lot of anguish. I applaud you for going out on a limb and trying something different in the first place. I will look forward to reading the published version and would be happy if you need any ideas because as you already know I have plenty of them but Don't know how to express them ( I wish) If I could channel all the thoughts I have in my head in the one direction I am sure I would have a best seller. Oh alright I admit I can dream.
-Anne McKenna
September 2nd, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ann. Sorry I'm a bit behind on blog responses. I appreciate the support. I hope one day you feel brave enough to put your own stories down on the page.
August 27th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
Cassie AND you are smart! This book is going somewhere. :)
September 2nd, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I am trying the one step forward, two steps backward method. :)
August 27th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
OMG, Susan - every single time I read one of these I say to myself "Oh, Barbara, stop commenting and leaving the SAME comment every time." But then, I can't help myself. I just LOVE these. Every single one of them is brilliant. I love the way the vignette of Cassie's activities evolves and relates to writing. It's just fascinating!!!
September 2nd, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
Barb, I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to hear your words of praise on these pieces. I think of you as I write them now. Maybe there's an Ebook in for me.
August 29th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
You keep making me miss not having a dog anymore. I'd say stop, but I enjoy your stories about Cassie. Guess I'll live vicariously.
September 2nd, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I feel that way when people talk about their cats. I miss the perfect cat I had but I won't go there again.
August 29th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Smart Cassie! It took me a long time before I realized it was okay to have the help of others... Yay to great critique groups who help us fine tune our manuscripts!
September 2nd, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, but it's hard to find a group sometimes. Harder now that I am published (or maybe I am just pickier now) but either way, I'm having a tough time putting some new support together.
September 1st, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
I love reading stories about other people's dogs. My monster puppy has a similar game to Cassie's chair game--she noses her tennis ball under our low coffee table and then crawls over to kick it with her paw so that it will come out of the other side. I may just have to pick up an egg baby for monster puppy--I bet she would love it.

Thank you for the writing advice.
September 3rd, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by. The egg babies are a real hit around here.
( 12 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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