I got many responses to my plea for help, mostly from friends shaking their heads in disbelief and promising to spread the word. But here’s one from a compete stranger: “I think I saw the dog you’re looking for yesterday about 6:45 pm running down Crenshaw near Silver Spur. He seemed to be very aware and staying out of the way of the cars. I tried to stop, but he disappeared so fast. I sure hope he is found and is okay. He’s so cute.”
The search continued . . .
Friday 3/27/09 To say he just slipped between my fingers is an understatement. Yesterday I got a call around 4 pm from a neighbor who had just seen him nibbling on the kibble in my own front yard! I charged outside and saw him running up the street, so I jumped in my car and drove in the direction he had run. There he was, trotting around the corner. SLOWLY I followed, careful not to frighten him. He stopped and looked at me. I could have sworn he smiled. Then poof! he was gone. Into a yard, down a trail, or over a hill. There are a million different hiding places around here. Time to get serious . . . I heard about “a guy” with a trap. I called the “guy,” and he said he’d loan me his trap. I recruited Mark (husband) to go with me because I had to meet the “guy” that night behind a Denny’s in Carson. We went. We parked. We waited. A van pulled up and a guy got out. Mark rolled down his window. The “guy” looked like a drug dealer – straggly hair, tattoos, shorts and flip-flops in 50 degree weather. He peered in and said, “You Julie?” And I said. “Yeah.” And Mark said, “Got the trap?” And he said, “In the van.” And I said, “Mark, you get it; I’ll wait here…..” or something like that. Anyway, we made the exchange. Mark and the guy started chatting, so I got out to see what was taking so long. Mr. Trap-owner was actually very nice and wanted to give me explicit, detailed instructions. In fact, he would not shut-up. Then he introduced us to his two “sweetest in the world” pit bulls. Ok, time to go. Mark gave him a twenty for his trouble. As soon as we got home, I set the trap out in the front yard. When I got up this morning, I held my breath and crossed my fingers and went to check the trap. Inside there was . . . a raccoon.
So that’s where we are. Tonight I will try again with different enticements. No doubt I will catch another raccoon or a skunk, possum, or grizzly bear. I’ll be up early tomorrow (Saturday) morning to begin another search. If anyone wants a nice morning walk, be at my house at 7:30. Please keep spreading the word – it’s the only way I will find him! When this is over, I’m going after the Lockness monster…. Julie Brown, exhausted dog lover
Again, a flurry of responses: Here’s a good one with sensible advice: “Having had this experience a few times, if you do catch a skunk, throw a plastic tarp over the cage first so the skunk won’t see you coming. Then open the door and back away, trying to stay out of sight. The skunk will eventually exit the cage, and you may have avoided being sprayed. Even if it does spray, the spray will stay on the plastic and won’t stink up your house and yard.” And my favorite: “Julie, it appears that you are seeing this dog everywhere now. I think you should name him “Elvis.”
Writers are often asked: “What is your writing routine?” It’s a good question. After all, people want to know how it’s done. How do writers find time to write between jobs, kids, pets, chores, distractions, and the endless list of things that must be done before we allow ourselves the luxury of indulging in our creative passion.
Hmmm – this is where “the plan” comes in. My schedule is rigid. I am asleep every night by ten pm and up at five am – before the household stirs. I make coffee, settle down at my laptop, and click away, letting the words flow from my imagination without interruption. I don’t stop until the sun sends golden rays of light through the window and I’ve pounded out at least 1000 words . . . And of course, I write every day.
Oh please, rigidity is not even a concept I understand. I’m the queen of loosie-goosie, the wing-it girl, the juggler of all things that probably shouldn’t be juggled. I stay up way too late watching animal videos on you-tube. My mornings don’t even begin until the sun assaults my eyes with razor-like precision. My husband makes coffee before he leaves the house (it’s one of the things I like best about him). My three dogs paw at me to get out of bed. I find an excuse to text my children or spy on their now defunct FB pages. Then I get caught up in posts and photos – photos of glorious vacations my “friends” are on and the perfect lives of people I don’t even know. I tear myself away from social media when the phone rings, the wash machine buzzes, or a dog throws up. How the hell do I ever find time to write?
Here’s the truth. Writers do not “find” time – at least not the ones I know. We make it. We carve it out of our days in bits and pieces. I put “write” in my calendar wherever there’s open space. I say “sorry, I can’t go” to a lot of fun stuff. There’s no magic, no roadmap, and definitely no one-size-fits-all answer.
Writers without editors or agents breathing down their necks to meet deadlines can be like untethered balloons. We are at risk of wandering from project to project, changing goals, touching down in random places, getting lost. It’s up to us to tether our strings, preferably to the back of a chair in front of a desk, and focus.
So do I follow the “rules?” Sometimes, maybe, sort of . . . but for every rule that exists, there are exceptions to prove it wrong. And I can tell you this – I do not write every day. But I sure do think about it.
“The Golden Rule is that there are no golden rules.” George Bernard Shaw
I submitted this essay in application for the Dr. Ellen Taliaferro Scholarship to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017. The prompt was this: Write 500 words or less on the power of forgiveness. So I did. And I won! The conference took place at the Mark Hopkins Hotel this past weekend. It was fabulous. Thank you Dr. Taliaferro!
“It took a long time, but as soon as I let go of my anger and resentment, I was free. I dropped the chains I’d been carrying around like Ebenezer Scrooge and felt as if a single balloon could lift me off the ground and carry me to the sky.”
I wrote those words some time ago while working on a story in which my main character had been betrayed. She was suffocating under the weight of her own hostility and venom. As the writer who created this character, I understood her refusal to forgive. In fact, I was quite sure I didn’t want her to. But as any writer knows, sometimes characters have minds of their own, as if they can jump off the page and poke the author on the shoulder and demand we go in a different direction. That’s what my character did – she forced me to allow her to forgive . . . of course that changed the trajectory of my plot, but that’s another story!
I used to think forgiveness could only be given following an apology. I mean, why should I let someone off the hook who isn’t sorry for acting against me? It makes sense that apology and forgiveness go together. They are opposite sides of the same coin. They complement each other like ingredients in a recipe:
Sift equal amounts guilt, remorse, and admission of wrongdoing into bowl. Add an open mind, a kind heart, and a scoop of understanding; stir gently; bake as long as it takes. Enjoy the delicious blend of sincere apology and heartfelt forgiveness.
But over time I’ve learned that forgiveness is like a piece of art that stands on its own. It might be part of a set, but it is still complete and rich with possibility all by itself. A willingness to “let it go,” with or without the apology, makes us better people. People who forgive readily are happier, easier to get along with, and have more patience. They don’t hold grudges or revisit old arguments and are kinder than those who choose to stay angry. And what I find most interesting, people who forgive are quicker to recognize their own faults and apologize for their own misdeeds.
So, back to the story in which my character decided to forgive her betrayer . . . She and I ended up parting ways, and I decided to set the story aside. But my opinionated character left me with a wonderful gift, a message whispered into my ear:
“The true beneficiary of forgiveness is not the one who receives it . . . it is the one who grants it.”
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And what’s that got to do with writing anyway?
One of my writing colleagues recently published an article about prejudice against beauty. What? Who doesn’t like beauty? We all enjoy seeing beautiful things, places, faces. But what we don’t usually consider is how that pretty face makes us feel. Envious? Intimidated? Intrigued? Superior? Before that gorgeous gal utters a single word, have we judged her based on appearance?
Drawing conclusions, positive or negative, and making assumptions about people according to how they look is human nature. If I see a good looking guy driving a fancy-schmancy car, I think he’s rich. But he could be the chauffeur, the son of a rich guy, the boy-toy of an heiress, a car thief . . . who knows? From a young age, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover (or a man by his car), but we can’t help it.
From Science Daily: “Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.” Okay then, it’s all about survival. While we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, we cannot ignore our instinct to be wary of those who might harm us, thwart our plans, or get in our way. Stereotypes help us make sense of the world, and we want to be able to look at people and think we know what they’re about.
So what do stereotypes have to do with writing? For starters, it’s one way writers create surprises, twists, and tension. We take preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. The drunk, depressed girl with no life becomes the one who solves the mystery (The Girl on the Train); the nerdy newspaper reporter turns out to be the super-hero (Superman); the ambulance chasing, low-life lawyer is at his core a noble advocate for the truth (The Night Of); the outcast, scrawny dog/wolf steps up to be the leader of the pack (Balto).
As writers, we often give a protagonist prejudices as a way of showing character arc and creating tension. The protagonist must evolve, have a change of heart, or experience a revelation in her quest for whatever it is she desires. And it’s the “will she or won’t she” question that keeps the reader in suspense.
So the next time you draw a conclusion based on nothing more than appearance, don’t feel bad. It’s your inner caveman at work. Just know, you might be wrong . . . then again, you might be right.
Read Mark Fine’s insightful article here: http://www.thefinemaxim.com/are-searchyou-prejudiced-against-beauty/
Would love to know what you think . . . And please follow my blog by entering your email in the box on the main page. Thanks!
I’m sitting in a dark room sandwiched between two old women in wheelchairs. The one on my right is my mom. We are watching An American in Paris. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Over the last month, my mother’s health and well-being have preoccupied my life. As a writer, I’m not happy to have my writing schedule thrown off track, to miss deadlines, to feel my creativity stifled. However, as a daughter, I am far more distressed to see my mom decline.
As I adjust to my new normal, I find time to write, as I’m doing now, in odd places and situations. In a strange and sweet way, Mom has become my muse. I’m spending more time with her now than I have since I was a child and she was the one who tended me – keeping me safe and fulfilling my needs. The ultimate role-reversal.
Hanging out in a senior home, surrounded by elderly, is both heartbreaking and humorous. If you think kids say the darndest things, try talking to old people. In general, they have no filters – they say whatever comes to mind without regard to appropriateness. The other day at lunch (yes, I eat lunch here on occasion), an old lady said to her friend, “Don’t order dessert, you’re getting fat.” I nearly choked on my orange jello. As it turned out, her friend didn’t hear her, or she pretended not to, or she just didn’t care. She ordered pie a-la-mode and a cookie.
As writers, we are keen observers – every person is a story. I’ve seen countless interactions here – a loving moment between husband and wife; an adult child holding her mother’s hand; a family bringing a new baby to meet Great-Grandpa. I imagine the pasts of these old people, who and what they used to be. The man who worked for the CIA, the woman who raised eight children on her own, the military couple who lived all over the world. I think about the lives they were living decades ago, when they could run and drive and use power tools. The lives they lived before their bodies aged, their minds faded, or illness robbed them of independence.
I’m trying to remember my own mom as the woman she used to be – my mommy, my advocate, my champion. Right now, I can’t, it’s just too hard. But someday I will. She would want that.
Note: I wrote this on August 24, 2016. My beautiful mom passed away six days later. I will be eternally grateful that, almost on a whim, I decided to spend that afternoon with her, watching a movie and holding her hand.
A PEEK INTO A WRITER’S LIFE
When readers read a wonderful story or book, the words flow seamlessly. The plot unfolds, the characters come to life, and the sequence of events makes perfect sense. Readers should never stop and think “Wait, this makes no sense,” or “Hold on, why am I just finding this out now?” or “Geez! I’m completely lost!” It’s the kiss of death when readers get frustrated – that’s when they put down the book and move on to something else. So, in a quest to please, thrill, and delight readers, good writers go to painstaking effort to write well, to captivate, to give their readers an experience that takes them into another world, place, or time. It’s daunting, to say the least, and sometimes leads the writer on the fast track to a severe case of WRITER’S BLOCK.
Nothing freaks writers out more than the inability to write. Panic sets in upon the realization that their story or novel has lost direction and is sinking into an abyss of confusion faster than my dogs eat treats. There are countless reasons why writers stumble, lose focus, and end up suffering the paralyzing effects of writer’s block. Here are three ways to get past it – if you are writer, take note. If you are reader – enjoy this little peek into “A Writer’s Life.”
GET MORE INFORMATION: You’re trying to write a disaster scene but don’t know what disaster to choose. Earthquake? Fire? Disease? You need your character to murder somebody and hide the body, but you know nothing about murder and body-disposal (at least I hope not). Your character is about to embark upon a journey into the rainforest but you don’t know how to describe the environment. Don’t panic! Do some research. Go online and study natural disasters; read books about real life murders; watch a documentary about (or take a trip to) the rainforest. Information gathering revives inspiration, increases creativity, and helps you put your characters in believable settings, situations, and predicaments.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS: One of my favorite exercises is interviewing. Ask your characters questions such as: “What’s really troubling you? Why do you hate your sister? Why do you always have to be in charge? What do you hope to achieve by confronting your enemy?” YOU (the creator of your characters) must know their wants and needs and, more importantly, understand the difference.
GET BACK ON TRACK: “To be (an outliner) or not to be . . .” If you don’t have an outline, there’s a good chance you’ll go off track. Even with an outline you may wander into the netherworld of tangents and storylines that take you nowhere and end up in the “deleted material file.” Regardless of how you lost direction, you must figure out where you made a wrong turn. It might be a quick fix or a complete rewrite. Either way, the earlier you cure it the better, because the problem will not fix itself and in all likelihood will only get worse. If you have an outline, go back to it. If you don’t have one, try writing one or, at the very least, make a list of plot points: first this happened then that happened then something else happened.
Bottom line: Writing is hard work. Reading shouldn’t have to be.
(previously published on ShelfPleasure.com)
I am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her, watching her read labels, check prices, and place items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone.
A short short story that will take you back to those awkward teen years:
“Come on, it’ll be fun. Besides, you’ve had a crush on Patrick since third grade.”
“No I haven’t.”
“It’s not a big deal, everyone knows.”
“He doesn’t,” I argued.
“Oh, I think he does.”
And with that, Ally convinced me to go to the new James Bond movie with Patrick and Steve, two boys from school. It was 1973. We were thirteen, and Ally desperately wanted a boyfriend. Continue reading