I’m back after a long hiatus, the result of my website having mysteriously disappeared while I was offline dealing with other matters. The site fell into a technological black hole and seemed lost. (And before you ask, the site and its contents are backed up regularly. The back-ups proved irretrievable. But that’s a story for another day.) Faced with the options of starting over or abandoning the site altogether, I decided to consider the experience a cue from the universe to focus my energies on other projects. Since then, I’ve been writing, teaching, and planning for change. And while I was busy with all that, my website decided to return from its interstellar walkabout. So, with fingers crossed that the site stays around for a while, I’ll do my best to “catch you up” as an English writing colleague likes to say.
I’ve lived in the Ozarks for 27 years, and every season still holds surprises. Fall dawdled its way through December and the early weeks of winter, teasing us with record high temps, bright sunshine, and gentle breezes. Green shoots appeared long after the garden should have gone dormant. People and dogs crowded the trails and parks through long sunny days reminiscent of early spring. Sasha added tracking (the “I’ll teach myself” version) to her hobby list and learned to sniff her way across the meadows in pursuit of the wildlife that left tantalizing scents through the grass and the woods.
Then came winter.
After spending hours in the yard each warm day (he’s not allowed to go beyond the fence), Buddy the Wonder Cat did not appreciate the wicked winds that brought us freezing temps, and sulked because he couldn’t go out and play. He spends his days watching the squirrels scurry in search of acorns or raiding the bird feeders that hang from the lower branches of the oaks in front of my home office. Most of the time, though, he naps while I write.
“Wake me when it’s spring!”
In contrast, Sasha is showing her Shetland Islands roots by wandering outside for long stretches of time, seemingly impervious to the bone-chilling temps. Convincing her to wear a warm coat is a struggle, but she gives in with a grumble of agreement when I tell her “Wear the coat or stay inside.”
That doesn’t last long, though. Despite straps, buckles, and buttons, Sasha–who seems to have Houdini genes–manages to wiggle her way out of the coat and leave it behind as she zooms around the park. Fortunately, she hadn’t been to the groomer recently, which left her with a super-thick double coat to block the wind.
Then came freezing rain and snow, with single-digit temps and wind chills falling below zero. The street became an impromptu skating rink for the neighborhood kids and our sloping drive looked like a bobsled run. Even the covered patio was layered in ice, causing Sasha to lose her footing and fall while trying to reach the snow-covered grass. We hauled out carpet remnants to give her safe passage.
Smartest command I ever taught Sasha: “Foot.” I tap the leg I’m drying, say “Foot” and she patiently leans against me and stands on three legs while I remove the ice and snow packed between her toes. And since she loves to plunge through the snow (including the drifts) there’s usually ice and snow on her belly and chest as well. So she gets her exercise running around the back yard and I get mine drying her off. After that, it’s treats for her and tea for me.
There are more wacky weather swings in the forecast. We’ll take advantage of the warmer days and set up “zoom” games in the yard before the next round of snow and/or freezing rain arrives. In the Ozarks, every day is an adventure!
Writers, readers, and dog lovers of all kinds will appreciate today’s post, brought to us by the award-winning author Juliet Mariller.
According to her website, Juliet was born in Dunedin, New Zealand – the most Scottish city outside Scotland itself – and now lives in Western Australia and writes historical fantasy. A former music teacher and public servant, Juliet now focuses on writing novels that combine historical fiction, folkloric fantasy, romance and family drama. The strong elements of history and folklore in her work reflect her lifelong interest in both fields. Above all, you’ll find a focus on human relationships and the personal journeys of the characters.
The writer’s dog is a multi-talented individual. He or she carries out a support role essential to the creative process. The writer’s dog is companion, confidante, inspiration, distraction, time keeper, and monitor of all matters health-related: nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep. His or her job includes keeping the writer mostly sane, reasonably fit, and for the most part on task.
I speak from personal experience here. For a long while I’ve worn two hats: writer and crazy dog lady. I spent some years as a foster carer for a canine rescue group, specialising in old and frail dogs, and I have seen quite a few little ones come and go from the household. These days I am down to three permanent dogs, two of whom were ‘foster fails’, that is, animals with whom the foster carer falls in love and cannot bear to part. It is perhaps no surprise that I’ve written so many dog characters into my novels, or that I love reading stories with great dog characters in them, including a few by WU’s own Barbara O’Neal.
I write full time from a home office. My dogs have my working day well under control, with suitable breaks for walks, snacks, and administration of their various medications, of which there are many. If I sit at my desk for longer than an hour and a half at a stretch, they have several techniques for drawing my attention. One, come and sit by my feet, gazing up piteously until I respond. Two, run to the front door barking wildly. Sometimes this means a real person is at the door, sometimes it’s only someone walking up the road (person with dog or dogs gets an extra loud bark), and sometimes it is solely an attention-grabbing ploy. It always works. Fergal may be very small but he has a mighty voice. Three involves tipping over the kitchen bin and scattering the contents on the floor. Four is to sit alone in a distant part of the house and wail as if the end of the world is coming.
The correct response to all of these is to get my eyes off the screen, stand up and take a break. Such breaks must include cuddles. They should involve moving out of the office to an area where at least one dog can get on my knee, and the dispensing of snacks for all.
Dogs love naps. They especially enjoy taking naps with their writers. I take a break from work in order to do this most days, and stay up later to compensate. The dogs give me the sign when it’s time, more or less herding me into the appropriate area and settling around me.
Dogs don’t like deadlines. When a deadline is looming, writers don’t stick to the sensible program the dog expects of them. They sit at the desk far longer than they should, they forget the established protocols and they miss the very clear signs that it’s time to take a break. At such times the writer can be tense and cranky. They may even shout and throw random objects. Basically, they are not a lot of fun to be around. Dogs will make their displeasure clear. We should try to take notice. A quick walk reduces tension. Dogs know this.
However long a writer has dogs, there’s always something new to be learned from them. Today I learned that the most unlikely canine can be an emotional support animal.
It’s easy to feel amused at stories of travellers taking their emotional support peacocks or guinea pigs on a plane to alleviate their anxiety. Travel is not a huge source of stress for me, but I don’t love the publicity that goes with being an author, and I particularly dislike having my photo taken. I have a set of studio photos that were taken with my dogs, and I use those as my official author shots. However, a new publisher needed a standard author ‘head shot’ – just me without a dog. The photographer did the shoot at my house, with Fergal, Reggie and Pip running around at foot level. When I explained how hard I find it to relax in photos, and how having the dogs in the pictures had made my previous shoot easier, he suggested I sit and hold Fergal on my knee while he did the head and shoulders shots. So all those pictures that don’t show a dog actually do have a dog in them, sort of. And they have a much more relaxed-looking writer. (Actually we did sneak in one or two with Fergal visible – he had been such a good boy.) Did I mention that Fergal is a wispy little one-eyed dog with Addison’s disease and glaucoma? His name means ‘valorous’ and in his own way he truly lives up to it.
Last but not least, the writer’s dog takes his human through highs and lows of emotion. I’ve written before about the traumatic loss of a beloved dog to an unprovoked attack. We lost another dear old man about two weeks ago, this time from a mystery illness which, compounded by his severe heart murmur, meant it was time to let him go. Zen came from a situation of neglect, and proved to be the gentlest, sweetest dog I’ve ever known, spreading peace and calm wherever he went. He especially loved babies and small children. It was sad to say goodbye. I write this with tears in my eyes, but such a shining example of goodness can only be remembered, in the end, with joy.
A writer learns many things from a dog. A dog allows us to set free emotions we might not express in front of another human. A dog can show us qualities we may not find in another human. Dogs teach us wisdom that feeds into our creative work, not only when we write about animals, but when we write about life. They teach us sorrow, they teach us hope, they teach us utter joy and blissful contentment. They teach us unconditional love and deep forgiveness. In the end, they teach us pain and they teach us acceptance. I say thank you to each and every one of them, the easy and the challenging. But especially to you, Zen. You sure lived up to the name I gave you.
While enjoying her website, I learned this new-to-me author has written twenty novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. She’s currently working on a new fantasy trilogy for adult readers, Warrior Bards, of which the first book, The Harp of Kings, will be published in September 2019. Her short novel Beautiful, based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, comes out as an Audible Original on May 30.
When not writing, Juliet is kept busy by her small tribe of elderly rescue dogs. You can learn more about Juliet and her work on her website at http://www.julietmarillier.com/.
Eight years ago, a two-pound kitten named Buddy adopted us. He was on his own for the first 12 weeks of his life, and the memory of his feral days resurface whenever we go to the vet clinic. I suggested falconer’s gloves to our veterinarian, who laughed and said “This ain’t my first cat rodeo” before tackling my tiny wild beast. That vet deserves a medal or at least a lifetime supply of Betadine and Band-Aids.
In the past few years, Buddy’s real-life adventures have rivaled those of even the most daring fictional kitty. He’s been cornered by predators and captured by brambles and the resulting rescues inevitably required ladders, clippers, brave volunteers, and a whole lot of swearing. (By humans, that is. No idea what Buddy was saying, although it’s safe to assume it might have been “Get me out of here!”) He’s broken or dislocated more bones than I can name and now sports a non-retractable razor-sharp claw. And, despite being uncoordinated to the point of being unable to climb trees–not a bad thing, in my opinion–he’s managed nonetheless to scramble over a tall fence more than a few times, only to discover he couldn’t get back over the way he came. Once, he landed in a yard owned by a pit bull. (To be fair, their meeting was entirely Buddy’s fault and the dog wisely retreated before the interloper attacked.) Is it any wonder we call him Buddy The Wonder Cat?
He watches Westminster dog show every year, and he’s not shy about announcing his favorite (last year, it was the Great Pyrenees). We no longer let him watch any shows with lions, though, after he imitated their habit of dragging off their kill. In Buddy’s world, he drags off whatever he decides to claim as his own, and good luck finding his booty once he stashes it. To date, that includes the electrician’s pliers, the plumber’s wrench, a house guest’s scarf, the dog’s leash, and every string he can find. The strings are the only things that routinely turn up–in his food dish and water bowls.
Since Sasha joined the household, he’s decided he likes having a dog of his own. He joins her for training sessions and scent games and is apt to “help” her when she loses the trail or overlooks something I’ve hidden. He watches over her while she eats and keeps her company whenever she’s crated. When she’s out of the house without him, he paces until she returns and he can see for himself that she’s okay.
You’ll meet Buddy The Wonder Cat’s fictional self in Dangerous Deeds (book #2 of the Waterside Kennels mystery series). While that’s making it way through the book pipeline, here’s a slideshow featuring the many faces of the kitty who came to stay.