Time out to rescue me

They come in waves – swampy breath in your face, on the back of your neck. They bump against your knees to shepherd you away from a threat, slam into you during a wild game of tag, leap to snatch your attention. They snuffle at you – a cold nose in your ear, a whiskery muzzle against your cheek, the quick lap of a tongue swiping your fingers.

This is what it means to offer yourself up for rescue. There are so many dogs, and there are always more, and you want to write about each one – capture the who and the what and the why of each, but as one leaves the next comes and there are always more, clamoring. How does one write about that? How do you capture the essence of each individual dog in such a jostling crowd?

But writing is what I do. Even when I don’t do it, it’s who I am. This blog is my journal. In part, it’s my story garden,  to harvest as I gather the ingredients of my longer story of Henrietta Gurdy – my imaginary love child, my heroine, my nemesis. Henrietta and I have only one thing in common: we rescue dogs. If Henrietta were in fact writing her story it would have been done long since. She has her flaws, but procrastination and disorganization aren’t among them. So she’d be well into the series by now, instead of struggling to pinch out the time and creative energy and butt-to-chairness required to finish the first book.

So … this is my goal for today: to write about the daily round of dog rescue, preserving the stories of a few particular dogs and also capturing the relentless pressure of even a small rescue effort. This is more about the who and the why, than about the high drama of acts of terrible cruelty. Those acts do happen, and one deals with them as best one can, but mostly rescue is about a dog, and then another dog, and then another, one after another slipping a leash around your heart so that you have no choice but to take them home.

Zeus

Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Walla Walla, waiting for the vet clinic to call me to pick up Zeus and Violet. Do you remember Zeus? I told you about him, first here, then here. He needed all kinds of vet care before we could send him home, including having a broken canine extracted. He is the sweetest, most loving boy … but Zeus is a cop, and sharing a home with Argos, my Malinois and our resident delinquent, was an exercise in stress and vet bills. So it was a relief when he went home a few weeks before Christmas! He settled in well with his new Momma, Goldie, who rapidly became a friend to me as well, and flooded me with happy updates about how well he was doing.

Unfortunately that didn’t last. But before I tell you what happened, I should tell you about Daisy coming back. I’ve never told you about Daisy. She needed a temporary place to stay while her family moved house, so the Hubbit and I offered to take her in. That happened last summer, before Zeus arrived. You still with me? We had various dogs, including Daisy, during summer … then Daisy left and Zeus arrived … then Zeus left and Daisy came back.

Daisy

Daisy was a mess when we got her in summer. Her nails were so long that her toes were starting to dislocate. She had a roaring ear infection. And she was half out of her mind with the need for a job, and attention, and something to do, and to run, and to sniff, and loves, and to be seen, and and and just … more! She is a hard-driving, excitable working girl … and her designated owner was an angry teenage boy who thought he wanted a hunting dog, insisted on a purebred puppy, and then didn’t train her, wouldn’t walk her, left her at home with his non-dog-savvy family while he went out to hang with his friends. She grew lanky and wild and desperate for attention, and he grew surly and wild and refused to pay attention, and by the time Daisy came to me she was out of control (and so, apparently, was he, but that’s no concern of mine. I’m not in the business of rescuing, or indulging, teenage boys.)

So for the six weeks I had her I put her through biweekly visits to a groomer for nail trims, and took her to the vet to treat her ears, and let her run and didn’t let her be rude. I also lobbied the boy’s parents to give her up for adoption. It was maddening! They acknowledged that they weren’t a fit for her, but they couldn’t bring themselves to take her from the boy, and he insisted he loved her (although not enough to visit her, or take her for walks, or call to ask how she was doing). So eventually she went back to them, and a week or two later later we got Zeus, and it was only a few weeks after that that Daisy’s people called to confess that they’d realized life was better without her constantly wanting attention and exercise while they wanted to watch TV, and the boy was never home, and the fence he built so she could be out in the yard had fallen down, and his sisters were having to take care of her which wasn’t their job, after all, and would I take her back and find her a new home?

So after Zeus went home I fetched her. She was frantic. She couldn’t understand why she had to lose her people again. She was scared to go far from our house, but desperate to run. They’d failed to keep up with the toenail trims so her feet were hurting again. She tried to play with Argos and he was still pissed off over Zeus beating him up, so he beat her up. She tried to play with the other dogs and they snapped at her to chill the fuck down! She tried to play with the horses and they threatened to stomp her. She tried to play with the cat and I spanked her. She tried to play with the chickens and I dragged her away by the collar and wouldn’t even let her keep the feathers. At last she went home – to people with another hard-bodied happy-go-lucky girl in need of a playmate, and no cats, chickens or horses, and miles of trails leading from their back door – and we heaved a sigh of relief and promised each other to take a break.

But then the vet called. One of her clients had found an abandoned Shar-Pei … Would we help?

Donnabella

We don’t say no when a vet who helps us asks us for help. First she was spayed and had surgery to correct entropion, so she was a sad, sore, scared, skinny beast when I brought her home. She’d had puppies and was still lactating – they weren’t dumped with her – so we couldn’t feed her as much as she wanted, because her poor little body needed to stop producing milk. She had to wear a cone, and she was in any case a weird-looking dog with her skinny body and squinchy eyes and great hippo nose. Even our blase pack treated her like a pariah. But over a few weeks she healed. Most importantly, she healed inside. She learned to trust us, and to play, and to ask for snuggles. It was time for her to go home.

Usually it’s a relief to hand off a dog into someone else’s care, as long as I know I can trust them. It was different with Donnabella. I knew she’d be safe and loved – I’d not have left her otherwise. But she was so afraid, when she saw I was leaving. She had given herself completely to me, by then – her squinchy gaze, her crumply smile, her starved little heart: they were all mine … and then, just as she believed herself safe, I left her with strangers. I acted in love but in the moment it felt like cruelty, and I sobbed all the way home.

Mind you, that might have been because I was so, so tired. Rescue is hard! You see such stupid-ugly things, you think such angry thoughts! And then there’s the pee, and the poop, and the visits to the vet, and the giving of pills, and the shed hair that you never have time to vacuum, and the house smells like a kennel, and your own dog gets resentful and starts acting out because he can’t even with all these damn strays!

Kuja and I agreed, and I promised the Hubbit: No More! We’re taking a break!

Pearl Fuzzybutt

But a few days before Christmas we got a call about eight husky cross puppies, only five weeks old but weaned so they had to go immediately. By the time we got to them, a couple days later, they’d already given away four, so we brought home four pups from that litter (we nicknamed them the Fuzzybutts), plus Bambi, a pup from a different litter in the same house. There were also a great many cats, but we found someone else to help them, and we had most of the adult dogs remaining in the home sterilized and vaccinated. We found a foster home for the four puppies; we did the vet stuff – vaccinations, microchipping, deworming; we took pictures and posted them online to be adopted as soon as they were eight weeks old.

And while all that was going on, just before New Year, we took in a litter of seven Labrador mix pups – the Snugglepot litter. They urgently needed to be removed from their home, but we didn’t immediately have a foster home for them, so they spent their first three days in the Hubbit’s and my spare bathroom, pooping enormous, tangled piles of worms like scoops of hellish spaghetti out of their grossly swollen bellies. They perked up pretty quickly once they were done with that, and soon learned to come running, full tilt, when I called “Hey puppypuppypuppeeee!”

Oreo, Tucker and Lucy Snugglepot

The next few weeks were a frenzy of processing applications for Fuzzybutts and Snugglepots, as well as little Bambi. That’s no small task, the way we do it. First, we write very detailed profiles of all our dogs, which we post on Adopt-a-Pet and Petfinder. That generates email inquiries – fewer for “less desirable” dogs (like adult Chihuahuas and Pit Bulls) but the floodgates open when puppies are on offer. Our application forms are around five pages long and comprehensive, and when they come in we follow up with online background checks, and phone calls to landlords, vets, references, the adopters themselves, and sometimes home visits. We’ll choose the best homes we can, and write to disappoint the people who didn’t get to adopt them. We’ll follow up after the adoption to make sure all is well , and advise if it isn’t, and post upbeat pupdates on Facebook to ensure our supporters don’t get bored and drift away, taking their wallets with them

Dax

The last of the puppies went home about a week ago, but by that time we had Dax. You know how some dogs just make you happy? That’s Dax. As best we can tell, his previous owners bought him for their teenage son (what is it with people giving ridiculously unsuitable dogs to their least reliable family members?) and then, when the son lost interest and didn’t bother to feed him, they let Dax go hungry. Eventually when that failed to accomplish whatever the hell they were aiming for, they advertised him (the dog, not the kid) for sale on Craigslist. One of our young volunteers was foolishly browsing the pet listings (I say “foolishly” because she can barely support herself, her kid and the dog she already has, never mind daydreaming about rescuing another one) and she was horrified by the sight of this poor skinny puppy, so she emptied out her bank account and went to get him. Then she called us, and voila, the Hubbit and I got to have another German Shepherd living in our house.

Actually, Dax was easy – a sweet, happy boy who gained weight fast and got on with everyone, even Argos. We all took a deep breath. He’d be easy to rehome, and then we could take a break, right?

Nope.

A few days ago the people who gave us the Fuzzybutt pups called us to take another two pups and Lola, the mama – now, now, NOW! – because Lola had killed a goat and Papa was getting ready to shoot her and her verminous offspring. How dare they insist on eating? Did they not realize they were only dogs? I took Lola to be spayed on Monday (she wasn’t done with the others in the house, because at that time Papa was determined to breed her to a husky and make lots of money) and yesterday a delightful couple of husky-lovers drove all the way from Bellingham – six hours at least from our small town – and took her home with them. They’ve offered only to foster her, but we’re hoping they and their husky boy will fall in love and invite her to stay for good.

The two new Fuzzybutts are pretty girls and will be easy to place in good homes … but Kuja is barely keeping it together, and I’m dragging so badly my tail is muddy. We handed them off to another rescue group that we trust.

Meanwhile, I got a call from Goldie, Zeus’ adopter. She was hysterical. Out of the blue, with no provocation and no visible warning, after six weeks of living together in harmony, he’d just tried to rip her other dog’s head off. He was also threatening to kill the cats.

So I told her to bring him back. I decided to put him in boarding for a week to recalibrate while I girded my loins for a prolonged period of juggle-the-dog – because obviously he had to come back to me for reevaluation, but equally obviously he couldn’t be trusted with any of our dogs until we figured out what was going on with him. I met her at a park to let him stretch his legs before we dropped him off at the boarding kennel … and while we were there, what should we find but a happy, friendly, pretty puppy. Of course I took her home – what else could I do?

Goldie named her Violet. I have no idea why, but I was too tired to argue. In any case, she was in good condition, so I figured she’d escaped from her yard and would be claimed soon.

Sometimes when an adoption fails you know it’s the adopter’s fault. Somehow you missed something about them, during the interview process. And after living with a dog 24/7 for several months, you know the dog. But in Zeus’ case … no. There had to be something else going on. He’d been through an enormous amount of stress – not just being dumped and then all the vet stuff while he was with us; within two weeks of his adoption, the family had been hammered by two deaths and a sad Christmas with people they don’t much like. But I think the root cause of Zeus’ behavior is some undiagnosed physical problem.

So I persuaded Goldie to quit beating herself up, promised to figure out what was wrong with him and place him in a “better” home … and gave her Dax. I get almost daily updates about him, and they invariably make me smile

Violet

Violet, meanwhile, has turned out to be a disrespectful, destructive, jumping-up, counter-surfing, pushy, loudly opinionated, completely clueless, piddle-anywhere pain in the butt. It’s very clear that she didn’t run off – she was dumped – because, after all, when you get a puppy you expect it to be fun and cute and cuddly, not to grow into a big clumsy beast who needs training! Right?

People make me tired!

Anyway, as I write this she’s being spayed and vaccinated. Soon she’s going to a foster home where there are kids, and cats, and younger, energetic humans who will teach her manners. Then we’ll find her a home.

Meanwhile Zeus is back in our home, living in my study (while Argos reigns supreme in the bedroom). We’re putting him through an array of blood tests. So far everything looks normal, but we’re waiting on results for his thyroid test. And right now he’s back at the clinic that extracted his canine, because it turns out they left a chunk of it behind – which is something that can happen with canines, but dang I wish I’d known this one had broken during the extraction! It’s entirely possible his behavior was due to a sudden twinge of toothache! Bits of broken tooth were pushing up through his gum – can you just imagine? And … can you imagine if it had twinged when Goldie’s seven-year-old son walked past him, rather than her dog? The thought gives me the cold horrors!

Anyway, he’s with us now, and we’re working with a behaviorist and figuring it out. Hostilities between him and Argos continue, but he’s comfortable with Jim’s four, so managing the war zone is less complicated than when he first returned. And after the thyroid test results come back, and we know whether that’s something that needs attention, we’ll post him for adoption again … and this time, I hope, we’ll get it right.

I’ve just received a text from a woman I loathe and despise. She’s a backyard breeder of Belgian Malinois – a breed that only a few hardy souls, outside of the police or military, should even think of owning. (Yes, I have one. No, I really shouldn’t. But … I had one before, and they’re addictive!) She sells them for a royal sum to whoever will write her a check, and when her dogs are no longer cute, entertaining puppies, and start tearing up their homes and threatening the neighbors, they flow into our local shelters and rescues. Anyway, she wants to know if we “still take dogs”. I don’t pretend to be friendly. “Why?” I ask. She’s “in overload”, she says, is “thinking about rehoming one”.

I’m not encouraging … but … It’s a Malinois. What will happen to her if I don’t take her? I tell her, “If you decide you want to, contact me.” I hesitate, my finger poised over my phone, then hit send. I’d like to jump through my phone behind the text and bite the silly bitch! If she must breed something, why not Golden Retrievers? It’s inexcusable to pick a breed every damn fool out there wants (because so smart, so much drive) and most can’t handle (because too damn smart and in perpetual overdrive).

The vet just called. It’s time to pick up Zeus and Violet and head back home.

This was good, taking time out to write, even if all the time went to a blog post instead of the novel. I promise myself to take more time, and next time to work on the book, not indulge myself by blogging. Because rescue matters, it’s important … but writing stories is why I’m here. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Somehow … somehow, between the waving tails and lolling tongues, I have to find timeouts like this.

And the winner is…

… a mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and a peanut butter sandwich. Not fancy, and it makes my stomach hurt, but it’s still the ultimate comfort food.

It was the tomatoes and apricots that did me in, mind you. Kuja stopped by and we wandered out into the veggie garden, and – because she’s not one for half measures – she got busy picking pretty much everything that was ready. I’ve been wanting to do this – no one benefits from food left sitting on the vine – and somehow that resulted in just having to taste a tomato … and then a different one … and another. So my mouth started singing the Halleluja Chorus, which woke up my stomach, and then a few other things happened that demanded action … and so, to end an interminable story, I ate the samn damwich. It was yummy!

Anyway, I still think I’m a winner. Three days of no food? That’s pretty darn good for me! I am going to try to make fasting a regular part of my life, and I need to have another go at keto … although it’s really hard to wrap my head around being completely carb-free when we have all sorts of trees and squashy things and tomatoes right out there.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good. I’m tired, but I feel energized. I’m also as happy as all get out because Peter Pan is back … I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Peter Pan, apart from a brief mention here … Hmm, where to begin?

I’ll begin with a picture and end with a promise to tell you more next time I write. Right now, I need to use this welcome energy burst to Get Shit Done in time for an early night, because tomorrow morning I am once again taking up my quill and reconnecting with Henrietta Gurdy. I’ve told you about Henrietta – I mentioned her by name here, but she’s changed a lot since then. I learned just recently that someone I met at the PNWA Writer’s Conference last year is gifting me her reservation for this year, which gives me just five weeks to make Henrietta presentable.

Anyway … this is Peter Pan…

20161221_130311
He’s a tad more hairy than when this was taken in December 2016, but still the eternal boy. I’ve missed having him around!

And now I must go unskunk a dog. Gotta love life on the farm!

Do you ever find that winning and losing are hard to tell apart? 

I have to write a bible

Exploding head
This did not happen to me, but it was a close call.

Well, my head didn’t explode, so that’s good, but I had to skip most of the evening sessions and the whole of Sunday at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, or it might have. It was intense and I learned so much! And something about being immersed in an imaginarium of writers got my creative juices squirting so hard they darn near flooded me out of my own brain.

So, anyway, here is what I know: My book sucks. I have to go back to the beginning and start again.

On the other hand, I have learned things that will help me get it right. I will now share some of what I learned for the edification of fellow wannabe-serious-writers.

  1. Amazon is amazing. It has a bazillion (free!!!) platforms for different types of writing. Terry Persun, who gave a detailed presentation about marketing writing through Amazon, is a writer, not an Amazon employee, and by the time he was done he had me thinking “Pah! Self-publishing is clearly the way to go – I don’t even need a publisher, much less an agent!”
  2. Agents and publishers still regard self-published authors with suspicion. They acknowledge that times have changed, but by damn they’re taking a stand for traditional values!
  3. It is possible to be hungry and distracted and psyched up enough to pay $8.00 for a bottle of water and a banana. I know this because it happened to me at the hotel where the conference was held. Needless to say, I stayed a mile or two down the road at a hotel that didn’t serve bananas or bottled water at any price.
  4. It is also possible to be stuck with a bill for $27.00 for five hours of parking.
  5. Riding the bus is a relaxing and efficient way to get a mile or two down the road.
  6. Back story is key, and you have to write it down in something called a “bible”. This contains everything you know about every character – and when it comes to main characters, you’d better know everything – when they were born, where they went to school, that weird birthmark, sexual proclivities, number of earrings, favorite flower, verbal tics, wishes, fears and dreams – it all gets written down, and as the characters reveal themselves to you during the course of writing the book, you keep updating the bible. The bible also contains maps of any locale where any action happens, building plans, timelines – in other words, anything you could conceivably need to remember 50,000 words into the book.
  7. You don’t start your story with a giant dump of the main character’s entire back story. You dribble out tiny crumbs of information as you lead your reader through the forest to the witch’s house. This means that, to create believable characters, you have to do a shitload of writing that no reader will ever actually see. (How could I not know this? I did know it, but I forgot, and my first two chapters are just this giant blurghh.)
  8. Some things give away a person’s nationality even better than accent. For instance, I was oblivious to Cherry Adair’s South African accent, but when she mentioned  Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs I had a flashback to my university days, playing glassy-glassy (aka ouija) with my friends and spending hours researching my perfect mate (as outlined in Sun Signs) while ignoring the fact that I was not, as advertised, a tall, slender, green-eyed blond. Then she talked about how all her characters have lots of hot monkey sex, but it’s important for them to have a solid back story, so that the novel isn’t just a sex book, and even though I still wasn’t sure of her accent I knew she had to be South African, because Americans don’t talk about monkeys in the context of hot sex. Anyway, apparently when Ms Adair is getting to know a character, she gives them a birthday and then looks it up in her old copy of Sun Signs, and that tells her everything about the character that she needs to know. (She figures out the sex stuff on her own.)
  9. According to an agent who gave a talk on “How to Hook an Agent”, it’s not that hard to hook an agent, but if they don’t pick you it’s not because your book is no good – it’s because … something about going to a supermarket to buy a snack and even though the chocolate looks delicious you walk past it because what you really want just then is popcorn. Seriously – who would do that? I didn’t get to tell him about my book, so I don’t know whether he’s a chocolate or popcorn guy. The point is, don’t feel rejected, just keep doing your chocolate (or popcorn) thing until someone eats you.
  10. There are many different ways to write a series, but you’ll be sorry if you try to do it without a bible.

What else? Oh – I had my first experience of meeting a blogger I follow face-to-face, so that was cool! Lynn Price of Behler Blog is an excellent resource for us wannabes, so go check her out.

And, of course, I mustn’t forget to mention the main reason I went to the con. On Saturday morning I pitched my book to three agents and two editors. The way it worked was, about an hour before the pitch session they let those who had booked for the session into a special room. (Security was tighter than it is at the airport – there was no way anyone got in without the special ticket.) I was one of the first in line (I was early for practically the whole conference!) so I got to sit in the front row of seats. Five minutes before the session started they opened the door, and every author present released their inner buffalo and stampeded for the pitch room. (Sometimes it helps to be on the wider side of chubby – I simply stuck out my elbows and didn’t let anyone pass me.)

The agents and editors were lined up in alphabetical order behind tables, about two feet apart…

A pride of lions soaking up the mid-day sun. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
They looked like this, only more lions and less grass. (Source)

… and we lined up in front of them, behind a strip of tape. A buzzer went off and the first writer in line scurried forward, sat down, and started talking really fast. Four minutes later the buzzer went off again and if they didn’t get their butt out of that chair immediately a volunteer came up and “persuaded” them, and then the next writer plopped down, while the seat was still warm. This went on for an hour and a half and then they kicked us out, and those who could still walk went and got drunk.

I’ll get the really embarrassing one out of the way first. Delegates got a list of all the editors and agents and what they were looking for, and on Friday morning there was a forum, where each editor/agent talked about what mattered to them and we wannabes frantically took notes. That’s what we used to figure out whom to pitch to. But in the middle of all this figuring out and lining up and scurrying forward to grab a warm seat and talking fast, I got a couple of the agents confused. Consequently, I sat down in front of a sweet lady who listened to the first half of my pitch and then said, “Ermmm … Is this a YA book? Because I do books for children and young adults.” I should have got up and walked away then, but instead I blinked, swallowed, and pitched her a YA book I haven’t looked at for about a decade because … lots of reasons; anyway, it is so not ready for publication. This time she didn’t interrupt me, but when I ran out of words she said, apologetically, “Ermmm … it sounds like a fantasy. I don’t do fantasy.”

So yeah, someone gave me a pity pitch.

The others went better. One agent wants to see a written proposal and 20 pages, another agent and an editor each want 50 pages, and an editor with purple hair wants the entire manuscript.

And it sucks so much!!! I feel like a con artist! Please note: this is not a request for Encouraging Words. This is real, but it’s okay. I confessed to the purple editor that the book needed a little work, and she said as long as she had it within six to eight weeks that would be okay. I’m going to assume the same is true for the others. So now all I have to do is write a novel in six weeks.

That sounds doable. No pressure. I’ll start work on the bible tomorrow.

What lifelong dreams are you getting ready to unleash? Is it scary for you too?

 

What if no one likes it?

Three days from right now will be half a day into the first day of the 2017 Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. I am not ready.

Early this year I decided, “If I finish my first draft in time to book the early bird special, I can go.” Then I decided, “I’m going to book because I can’t miss this opportunity and I want to grab the early bird special, but I have to finish the first draft before the con.”

Two months ago this looked totally achievable. Now? Let’s just say that to meet that goal I have to write approximated 25,000 words in two days and … Honey, that ain’t gonna happen.

Even if I hadn’t spent yesterday and today in a complete funk, it wouldn’t have happened.

The main reason I’m going to the conference is to pitch this book, and in fact the whole planned series. I’m set up to pitch to 21 (TWENTY-ONE!!!) agents and editors, 14 of whom are specifically looking for this kind of fiction. And I know very well that none of them is going to ask for a full manuscript right off the bat. If I am lucky they may ask for a written proposal. If I am very lucky they may ask for a sample chapter or three.

But.

What the fuck is wrong with me, that I have this … this thing that I want to do more than anything else in the world, that I’ve wanted to do all my life, that I know I can do, and I have this patient and supportive guy in my corner, and I have a laptop that works and a desk to put it on and a view from my desk that inspires, and if I need a change of scenery I have coffee shops or a library to go to or a car to sit in next to the river or at the top of a mountain…

And I now even have meds that make my brain work better, so that when I sit down to write the words just roll out of my fingers and onto the screen…

Bad evil men pointing at stressed woman sitting in a boxAnd I still have whole days in which fear sticks its hand in my chest and squeeeeeezes. Fear of what, you ask? Damfino. Failure, mainly. Rejection too. Mainly I’m just scared of sucking.

What if it’s no good? Actually … that’s not really what’s worrying me. That’s not arrogance; it’s plain good sense – if I didn’t think I could write, and specifically that I could write this book, I’d be doing something easier and more fun, like gardening or training my dog. It’s not great literature and it needs some hefty pummeling by both me and beta readers, but it’s a fun little story about something that should appeal to quite a wide readership base.

What if I’m no good? What if these agents and editors look at me – my overdue-for-a-cut-and-color hair, my caftans and flat sandals, my foreignness and fatness – and simply don’t believe someone like me can have anything of interest to say to people like them? What if I accidentally say something wildly inappropriate and they think I’m too weird to work with? What if they listen to my pitch about an alphabet series – 26 books, two per year – and think, “Yeah, right, it’s taken you over half a century to produce half a first draft of A is for Aussie and you want us to believe you can do 25 more full books in 13 years? You’re old, bitch – you probably won’t even live that long!”

What if I get to the con, and pitch to all these agents and editors, and none of them likes it? Sometime in the past 36 hours I asked the Hubbit this question. He said, “Well, you know it’s tough to break into writing. So if that happens we’ll simply self-publish.”

We.

Such a huge, magnificent word. I thought about it for a moment, after he said it, and thanked him. And then I crawled back into my funk.

So now it’s Monday evening. I have two days to prepare. But it’s okay – I have a plan.

  • Tonight I will pack my suitcase. Packing tonight will mean I won’t have to fly out of here on Thursday morning, running late and with insufficient underwear.
  • Tomorrow and Wednesday I will write my two-minute pitch and written proposal, and edit the crap out of the first three chapters, and I will print copies. I’m not sure how many copies … but some.
  • magic bookThursday I will attend a training session on How To Pitch Your Novel.
  • Friday I will deploy all the best words and enchant the shit out of those people (Yes, they are people, not demonic or heavenly powers.)
  • Saturday I will do whatever’s on the schedule that I can’t care about right now, and I will not obsessively replay whatever insane thing blurted out of my mouth during my most promising pitch session on Friday.
  • Sunday I will unroll that “we” like a magic carpet, and come back home.

And then we’ll see.

So how is your book going? And will you be at the con? Let’s meet for coffee!

Alternative retirement planning

Once upon a time I wrote a personal finance column for a South African daily newspaper. The column was called “Smart Money”, and every week I used it to yatter on humorously about stocks, bonds, money markets and such esoteric entities. It was fun. I got invited to insurance company shindigs and had lunch with movers and shakers like the head of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and they would ask my opinion about the economy, and listen with interest as I repeated whatever I could remember from the last shindig or lunch I’d attended.

Fun, but also scary. I was constantly aware that, at any moment, I could lose my conversational balance and plummet like a sheep out of a tree.

My friends and family thought this was the funniest thing of all the absurd things I’d ever done. In fact, the only time I ever generated more whoops of appalled laughter was a few years later, after I’d moved to the US, when I got a job driving a school bus. According to the people who claim to love me, the only thing I do worse than manage money is drive.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and pondering how much easier it is to give great advice than to follow it. Take my “Smart Money” column, for example. I knew I was entirely unqualified to advise people where to invest, or to forecast economic trends. But I figured out pretty damn quick that many of my readers were people who had accumulated money by being good at whatever they did, but were as clueless as I about how to make their money grow. They were widget-makers and dream-sellers, not investors. So instead of competing with those much cleverer columnists who pontificated knowledgeably about this or that investment opportunity, I kept just one step ahead of my readers by hearing terminology I didn’t understand, getting boffins to explain it to me, and passing along what I’d learned at a rate of about 750 words a week.

Unfortunately none of this knowledge actually stuck, in the sense of me personally doing anything with it. As a result I’m now hurtling inexorably toward 60 – 70 – 80 sans safety net or parachute. The Hubbit is a fair bit older than I am, so when he retired we chose the larger-pension-for-the-rest-of-his-life option, rather than the very much smaller-pension-until-whichever-of-us-lives-longer-snuffs-it option. Not to be ghoulish about it, I’m expecting a decade or so of widowhood (preferably later rather than sooner). I’ve always assumed I’d be the merry sort of widow – like this one:

Seniorin mit Hund am Laptop, auf Wiese liegend
Okay, so she’s not merry, exactly. Poking around Adobe’s stock photos I found lots of beaming bints with gray hair, kicking up their heels or frolicking on the beach. But this is my kind of happy. Dog, laptop, solitude, trees. That’s plenty merry enough for me.

Not like this one…

Homeless elderly woman sleeping rough in a park
If I’m ever homeless, I hope I at least have a dog.

Only … a question that lately has been coming to mind with disconcerting frequency is, “How?”

I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with all the old farts you went to school or varsity with, way back in the Pleistocene … and they all seem so darn stable. Settled. Secure. A nice house in the suburbs, a holiday cottage here, an overseas trip there. How did they do it?

I seem to have lived my life just outside the masquerade ball. I can hear music and tantalizing scraps of conversations, I can smell food and perfume, I watch the dancers flirt from behind their masks and fans. I think I was invited but … ehhh … my mask makes my nose sweat. If I tried to dance I’d be like a sheep in a tree – baa-aa-aah, two, three, plummet.

Abandoning that strangely mixed metaphor and getting back to my point (I think I have one; I must just keep circling until I close in on it) … it’s clearly too late for me to spend my adult life preparing for old age.

For a while, until a couple months ago, I thought I’d get a job. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years doing a bunch of interesting things – not just journalism and tech writing; I’ve also started and run several businesses, a mission school and a dog rescue, some of which turned out well and taught me all sorts of useful skills. So now that I’m willing to let some plutocrat chain me to a desk for 40 hours a week in return for health insurance and enough money to pay down our mortgage, wouldn’t you think prospective employers would stare in awe at my résumé and exclaim, “Wow – you’re clearly a flexible, innovative problem-solver! We need you on our team right now!

We-e-ell, no. As it happened, their response tended to be more along the lines of “Seriously? WTF is this?” And, even more worrisome, every time someone turned me down I felt quite dizzy with relief that I’d evaded having to sit down at the same desk at the same time surrounded by the same people every day, regardless of whether or not I wanted to.

I’ve pondered getting back into freelance technical writing, but the problem with that is, you have to market yourself. Back in South Africa when I partnered with my bestie, Twiglet, she slapped on face paint, donned a pantsuit with a nice brooch and high heels, and topped it off with an elegant hairstyle, and clients had no difficulty at all taking her seriously. I, on the other hand, with my swirling caftans and my hair falling out of a bun? Not so easy to sell to go-getting executive types. Plus I hate it.

So the fruit of my recent ponderings is as follows.

First, the masquerade ball is almost over. The dancers are getting tired; some have already left. I didn’t want to go when it was in full swing; why would I go now at the draggy tail-end of the party? Baa-aa-aah-plummet – and then what?

Second, I kinda like what the Hubbit and I have managed to pull together in our small corner of the planet. It’s shabby and untidy and a tad heavy on the dog hair, but I’d rather spruce it up (or not) than replace it.

ants and grasshopper

Third, in nearly sixty years of rarely worrying about tomorrow, this grasshopper has never gone hungry. I guess God likes the sound of my fiddling; at any rate, He’s provided for me this far, and I continue to do my grasshopper best to please Him. (I understand the moral of the fable; I’ve just never liked it. Those ants are a miserable, self-righteous, mean-spirited bunch – why would anyone want to be like them?)

So I have decided: enough with the worrying and pondering. Definitely don’t start with the wishing and regretting. I’m grabbing whatever time I have left and doing what I love.

In other words, work on my book continues, y’all! It’s called “A is for Affenpinscher”, and it’s the first in a series of 26, which is enough to keep me busy for a while. This first one is going slower than I like because I’m having to take time to walk in circles and get acquainted with the various characters, and then make notes so I don’t get them mixed up. But it’s moving along quite nicely; I’m having fun with it and look forward to putting it out there.

Speaking of which, two months from today is the annual Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. The cost of attending is wince-worthy, but it provides an opportunity to meet with 22 – yes, twenty-two, that’s two hands plus two thumbs up – editors and agents, all a-tremble with their eagerness to sign up fresh talent.

In two months I can finish writing the first book in the series, map out the second, and maybe overhaul a completely different manuscript (a YA fantasy) that I set aside years ago when I realized it needed … oh well, I’ll spare you the details, but I have to do a shitload of research in the form of gaming, which scares me a bit because what if I get addicted?

So, anyway, that’s my retirement plan. If you think it’s a little nuts, you’re probably right. On the other hand, look what I found in my fortune cookie tonight!

Fortune cookie

It’s a sign, right?

If you’re a gamer, which game would you recommend for fantasy, quests and magic? And, regardless of whether or not you’re a gamer, how do you plan to spend your declining years?