We’re in the midst of a heat wave in many parts of the country, so why not think about something a little…snowier? While I’m definitely a fan of summer, it’s also my most productive writing season. And I can’t ignore the fact that Corgi Capers book 4 takes place in a blizzard.
Here is an excerpt from a section of the book that I modified for my writing group (I’m up this month over at valmuller.com/blog). It’s from the middle of the work in progress, and I tried to avoid as many spoilers as I could. Keep your eyes open for announcements about the book’s completion.
The Grass is Always Snowier…
By Val Muller
Outside, the snow swirled. Courtney took several deep breaths. The house had been chilly an hour ago, but now Courtney was too hot, like she felt during gym class. Her aunt’s words echoed in her head: “You’re in charge now.”
Those words were everything she would have wished for—a few days ago. But now, especially with the blizzard, the young teenager wasn’t sure being in charge was exactly what she expected.
To calm her nerves, she went through the checklist. Back door: unlocked, drape open. Adam, Toby, and Zeph would have to come in sooner or later. Side door: locked, just like her aunt and uncle instructed. The last thing she needed was for Sapphie to wiggle her way out to find Zeph, not with the snow picking up. She peeked outside, looking over the sink full of dishes. The snow had already coated everything in a thin layer of white. Just a few years ago, Courtney would have thrown her arms in the air and hurried outside to play—like Adam and Toby and Paxton were, somewhere—but now she was in charge. She didn’t want her aunt to come home to a messy house, so she turned the water on and tackled the stack of dishes left over from last night’s dinner and this morning’s chaotic breakfast.
What else was on that checklist? she thought as she washed the dishes. Heat: on. Check. Phone: plugged in. Nope. Where was her phone? She couldn’t check now, not with soapy hands. She’d have to find it as soon as she was done. Her dad always warned the family to plug in phones and other devices if a storm was coming. “You never know when you’ll lose power,” he would always say.
Or, that’s what he would have said if he were here. Instead of somewhere tropical. Enjoying a frozen drink with mom. While Courtney was coronated as the Princess of Chaos. It just wasn’t fair.
She stacked the dishes in the dish drain. What else? What else? Feed the dogs. Feed the kids. That was later, of course. Assuming they all came home. Which of course they would. They wouldn’t be stupid enough to stay out in a blizzard, right? She craned her neck to peek out the window. The snow was still coming down, and the thin layer thickened while she watched. She didn’t see footprints, human or canine. Where was her brother and cousin and Paxton? Where was Zeph?
She took a deep breath. Remember, she told herself, Toby knows the area. He won’t wander far. He’s only four.
Okay, so feed the kids. With that went all kinds of things like don’t leave the stove on, or the oven. Clean up the dishes.
Speaking of dishes, Courtney had been clinking dishes for a while now, and no sign of Sapphie. Sapphie was usually the first to arrive when a single fork clinked against a plate, always hoping for a scrap or two. Where was she?
“Sapphie?” Courtney called out.
Courtney finished the last of the dishes and dried her hands with a towel.
Courtney started for the basement—maybe Sapphie got stuck down there. But then she remembered her phone. It was important to plug that in. If only she knew where it was. Let’s see—she had been playing with Toby in his room.
She hurried up the stairs.
No phone there.
Then she’d gone into the front entryway to talk to her aunt. There was nowhere in the entryway to put down a phone. She checked her pocket again. No, of course it wasn’t there. Where in the world could she have put it? She walked back to the kitchen to look out the window. No sign of Adam, Toby, or Zeph. No footprints or anything. Only more snow.
She glanced down at the counter and saw her phone sitting right there, next to the drain of drying dishes. Was she losing her mind? She was acting like her mom, now, scatterbrained. Maybe that’s what being in charge does to people—it heats up the world with so much responsibility that it melts the brain.
But she was too worried to laugh. Instead, she shook her head and went upstairs to plug in her phone. There, she passed the office computer, where Adam had hooked up his wildlife camera. She opened the camera and looked. Nothing but white piling on white. No footprints, no boys, no dogs.
And speaking of dogs…
“Sapphie!” she called.
Her heart skipped a beat. She remembered the time Sapphie was stuck in the office at home. A stack of newspapers had fallen, nearly crushing her. Sapphie’s track record of staying out of trouble was pretty low. A pit of worry formed in Courtney’s stomach.
“Where is that dog?” she muttered.
She ran from room to room, calling for Sapphie and looking for paths of destruction, but everything looked normal. No, not normal. Nothing about this was normal. Her aunt and uncle were gone, of course, but so was everyone else. Everyone and everything she was supposed to be in charge of was missing. Her brother, her cousin, her dogs.
“Urgh!” she yelled.
A strange chill pricked the back of her neck, but this time she wasn’t imagining it. She followed the chill out to the side door. The side door she knew she’d locked.
It was wide open.
And in the dusty snow that had spread onto the covered porch, two pawprints. She’d recognize them anywhere. They were Sapphie’s. Only two prints that disappeared into a fresh layer of snow that was falling way too fast.
So everyone was lost. Adam, Toby, Zeph, and Sapphie.
Courtney had been in charge for less than an hour, and she had already failed. She thought about her aunt and the promise she made to keep an eye on everyone. Her parents, her teachers, everyone who warned her—they had all been right. She was not responsible. She took a deep breath. Her parents were miles and miles away, in a different climate, on a cruise or an island somewhere. Her cousins were miles away. She didn’t know any of the neighbors. She had literally no one she could reach to for help.
She had failed.
No, Courtney hadn’t failed. This wasn’t over. She hurried inside, put on her winter gear, then took her best guess as to the direction of those in her charge. At the last minute, she hurried inside for Toby’s flashlight and backpack kit. She made sure to close the door behind her as she hurried out into the whitening world, feeling more like a space explorer in one of Adam’s comic books than a teenager babysitting her family.
* * *
Every Thursday, I post a story by me or another member of the Spot Writers over at www.valmuller.com. For this week’s prompt, I had so much trouble getting started–I usually write a poem or a story for “grown ups.” But this week, I felt pulled into the world of Corgi Capers. So, here is the reprint of the story that originally appeared here.
It’s a short scene from the upcoming Corgi Capers book 4 (I haven’t fully settled on a title yet, but it does involve a blizzard!)
The prompt for my Spot Writers group was to write a story using the words TV, flamenco, midget, toilet paper, dragon.
The Corgi Princess’s Streamers of Victory
By Val Muller
Sapphie lowered onto all fours, eyeing her people. That box was making noise again. What did they call it, a TV? It usually distracted everyone, but these kids seemed to be paying extra attention to her. She needed them distracted now, now, now! She could see it there through the open bathroom door, the object of her quest: toilet paper.
It wasn’t Adam and Courtney. It was the midget, the little one, the one who wasn’t part of the family. What did they call him again? Cousin, that was it. Cousin didn’t have a Sapphie of his own. Cousin only had a Paxton Glen, and that pup was not nearly as cute or amazing as Sapphie. No one was! So of course Cousin couldn’t look away. But it was sure becoming annoying. Sapphie needed a distraction.
Courtney was pushing that thing that made different colors appear on the TV. First, bright, flashy ones. Then, dark, calming ones. Then—a doorbell!
Sapphie, Zeph, and Paxton all skittered on the cold floor toward the front door.
Who, who, who? Sapphie wanted to know. Paxton howled too, his voice becoming more like a corgi’s.
“It’s just on TV,” Adam said over the noise. “Quiet.”
It’s just on TV. Those words were possibly the most disappointing words people ever said. All manner of things were “just on TV.” Cats, dogs, doorbells, beeps, horns.
Still, the command to be quiet was perhaps just what Sapphie needed to regroup for her mission. The people seems calmer now. Cousin was laughing at the commotion. Courtney and Adam had turned back to the TV.
“Oh, look,” Adam said. “A commercial for the new Logan Zephyr film. Let’s watch this one!”
Zeph, hearing his name, trotted over to Adam like the Goody Two Shoes he was. Paxton trotted to the couch, where her hopped up to cuddle with the delighted Cousin. Courtney pulled out her phone.
Sapphie tested the waters, skittering back and forth behind the couch. Like a flamenco dancer, she floated across tiles, eyeing Courtney for a reaction.
She ran to the water dish and dipped her front paws in it, splashing.
The boys were lost in the TV. The world belonged to Sapphie. She danced her way toward the bathroom, leaving wet pawprints everywhere. And then, next to the toilet, the object of her quandary hung, swaying in the gentle rush of hot air from the heating system.
First, like a mischievous fairy steed of lore, deftly she tiptoed across the tile. Then, like a dragon, she leapt in the air and landed victorious, a soft white square gripped firmly between her teeth. The toilet paper pulled easily off the holder. With no one to stop her, she twisted it around her neck, her collar, her stubby little legs. It just kept coming, a streamer of victory, unending. Her tail wagged a million miles an hour as she ate several pieces of the white fluff.
Yum, yum, yum! she barked, dancing across the floor with her streamers of royalty celebrating her reign as they trailed behind her on the paw-printed floor, reflecting the colorful glow of the television.
April continues with National Poetry Month. I’m challenging myself to write one poem per day for the month. I’m partly using this as a chance to experiment with poetic forms. For the virelai, I challenged myself to write a poem whose form started with the letter of my first name. You can read more about the vieralai form here: https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-poetry/virelai-poetic-forms
My poem from April 15th just happened to be about corgis (and I’m pretty sure at least one more poem this month will revolve around them as well).
“A Ride in the Car”
We wake up and bark
In the early dark,
To hear singing lark
Or squirrel’s snark
With canine ears: mark
Out teeth like a shark’s
Our owner’s command.
A hush takes the land:
Of sustenance canned.
Our dish in her hand,
Food! We understand!
Our barks, as she planned,
As we eat. Then out,
Bark over her shout:
The car is about!
We sniff, snort, and scout
Excitement and clout
And follow the route:
It’s National Poetry Month, and I’ve been challenging myself to write a poem each day. As you can imagine, some of those poems just happen to be about my corgis, Leia and Yoda. Here’s one I wrote a few days ago inspired by true events, of course.
“Grading is Better with a Corgi on Each Foot, a Ghazal”
Grading late work is better with my corgis.
Office: sitting warm, cool view, nearby: corgis.
Late work floods my screen: drowning. No end in sight.
Perhaps students were distracted by corgis
Or whatever intrigue captivates their soul:
Cat, hamster, book, song, or asking “Why?” Corgis
Don’t question why I sit at my screen all day.
My feet are their pillow. Sleep. Snore. Lie, corgis.
Life is better with a corgi on each foot.
And what helps me when work makes me cry? Corgis.
Yesterday was Leia and Yoda’s 12th (!!!) birthday!
I’ve been swamped with the transition to distance learning with my high school students, but the corgis have been on my mind. First, I’m working on book 4. It has only a working title right now. I know it’s not right, and I’ll know the right title when I see it. I can say that book 4 is the hardest for me to write because it takes place during a snow storm, and I’ve had bad experiences! But I’m hoping to channel those into something kids will love.
Second, the corgis have been on my mind because–well, they are at my feet. All. The. Time. The benefit of distance learning is that when I teach from home, Leia and Yoda snooze under my desk. Most of the time they keep quiet, but at least they save their barking until I am right in the middle of a class 😉
During a creative writing class, I had my students write an autobiographical poem. I always try to write along with the students–something new–to show them how even experienced writers struggle with the writing process. So, in honor of the corgis’ birthday, I wrote a poem about the day we brought the corgis home. Here it is! I hope you enjoy 🙂
And, now that my kids are both sleeping through the night, I plan to blog on here much more frequently!
The Day of Improbable Things
by Val Muller
We took a rare drive that morning,
Into the next county,
To see a matinee.
It was a children’s movie,
And we had no kids.
But Neil Gaiman was well worth the money.
We should have been home sleeping
Instead of in the car,
But there we were, driving,
Thinking about the Improbable Things
We’d just seen in Coraline:
Her improbably name,
A woman with a million dogs,
Training mice for a circus,
Having Another Mother,
A world of doppelgangers;
Two people with no kids,
To see a children’s film
On a day when
We could have slept in.
It was as Improbable as
Driving by a utility pole
At the very moment
A person with a hammer
Nailed up a sign that said
CORGI PUPPIES FOR SALE
As Improbable as
Looking at me knowingly,
“Seems like we better stop.”
Being the first ones to look
At the pen of four dogs,
The largest running up to me,
Our eyes telling each other,
“You are the one.”
The dog-hater looking me in the eye
“Hadn’t we better get two,
And the owner,
Liking that idea,
Saying, “I’ll give you a deal
If you take two.”
The three males were named already,
Identified with personalities.
But their sister was not.
“You can’t take two males,”
The owner said.
“You’ll have to take the female.”
She looked regretful and mumbled,
“She’s okay, I guess.”
“The female” had that diva look about her,
Sometimes bullying the other three,
Sometimes being bullied,
Never fitting in.
Loaned us a book about corgis
As we drove to the ATM
And had lunch
About whether these two dogs
Would really be ours,
An Improbable conversation
For a day beginning
With a matinee.
“The female,” the outcast, the afterthought,
Was held hostage when we returned
By the Hello Kitty Apocalypse,
Two young women–sisters–
Dressed in pink and black
And Hello Kitty purses
And matching shoes
And Hello Kitty seat covers
In their pink and black convertible.
“The female” snuggled in the arms of the older Kitty.
My eyes locked with her round, brown, canine ones.
Her eyes were a universe,
A Schrodinger’s window
Through which I saw in a flash
One of her futures:
Days of dressing up–
Doggy raincoat and boots,
Boots matching collar matching tutu
Matching a pink cushion on the couch.
A second supernova in her eyes
Showed another world:
Grass and mud,
Frogs and squirrels
And her brother,
Who I had already mentally renamed Yoda
(because of the ears)
Always at her side.
“Hi Princess,” Hello Kitty was telling the dog.
And it was like the two worlds in Coraline,
A perfect world of button-eyed Hello Kitties,
Or an ordinary one with me.
The owner looked at me with frantic eyes.
I don’t think she liked the Kitties.
“These two ladies were wondering,” she croaked,
“If you changed your mind.
They want to take the female home.”
“Her name is Princess,” Kitty said.
The owner’s eyes screamed at me,
As if she too had seen
The female’s Hello Kitty Future
“Yes,” I said. “We’ll take them both.”
I never knew Hello Kitty could kill,
But in those eyes shone murderous intent.
“The female” turned to me, my Yoda already in my arms,
Then leapt away from her captor,
Leapt away from her Other Mother
And those creepy button eyes,
Leapt into the surprised arms of my husband.
She trembled just a moment,
Perhaps shaking off the limbo of
The world that could have been.
Then she took a look at Yoda.
Princess did have a nice ring,
To match her brother.
And then Leia stopped squirming
And settled into the crook of my husband’s arm
Because she knew
Finally, after an Improbable day,
She was home.
I had the honor of speaking at the rescue picnic for the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of the Potomac in August. One of the club’s objectives is “to maintain an organized rescue service” to help homeless or displaced Pembroke Welsh Corgis find a good home. The picnic, an annual tradition, was held to honor those who had rescued such corgis.
While I was invited to speak about my own corgis, Leia and Yoda, and their inspiration in my mystery series Corgi Capers, in preparing for the picnic I reflected on what my dogs truly mean to me. A highlight of the picnic—aside from the barbecue (thanks, Kathy and Stephon!)—was hearing the stories of rescuers adopting their dogs. The sacrifices, the time and energy, the love poured into the bond between human and canine. More than that, it was seeing all the corgis and the joy they brought and bring their people—and vice versa–even in the summer heat.
My daughter who came along, loved going around and asking to pet all the dogs. I wasn’t sure who was happier—her or the corgis. For the three-year-old, there was no pouting at this picnic. And that’s what I really think matters about dogs in our lives. It’s the mutual joy–the way they bring out the best in us. They make us slow down and appreciate details we might otherwise miss in life.
Talking to her grandkids, my grandmother always lamented the fact that we would one day grow up, that kids make everything more fun. While this may be the case, I say one of the secrets to prolonged youth is having an animal to care for–and to care for you.
In my own experience, my corgis have helped me to see other perspectives. It could be as simple as looking at a thunderstorm from two inches off the ground (it’s terrifying!), or learning that I need to dig out snow tunnels in the winter (check out the snow Olympics here).
In early morning walks around the yard with my dogs, I’ve seen sunlight streaming through a dew-speckled spider web, felt mole tunnels collapse under my feet, caught dozens of winter sunrises blazing through the white landscape, and relaxed to summer sunsets kissing the world to sleep. These are things I would likely have missed, relegated instead to the comforts of air conditioning and heat, if not for Leia and Yoda prancing and dancing and “Aroooing” at me to join them.
Once, in the dead of winter, I heard the sound of complete silence. No bird, plane, car, human, or canine. Leia and Yoda, normally barkers, froze as if entranced by the same winter magic that captivated me.
And it goes further back.
Growing up, the family dog, a bichon frise named Chip, made every day an adventure with daily walks and playtime. My sister and I peeked into sewers, checking out the tunnel systems with him. I walked in total darkness while listening to rustling leaves, sparking my imagination and strengthening my courage. We kept track of changing scenes around the neighborhood, and introduced ourselves to those we would not otherwise know. Scenes from my canine adventures have certainly made their way into my Corgi Capers novels, and for good reason.
To me, dogs bring me perpetual childhood. They splash in puddles, they run through bushes. Heck, they stop and smell the roses. I think my grandmother was onto something when she said that we all lose a little something when the children in our lives grow up. But she didn’t have dogs. I suspect that if she did, she might have felt a bit differently.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, and I admit I’ve been remiss. With Leia and Yoda, and their two human siblings, things can get extra hectic, and spare time has been spent scratching dogs behind the ears rather than blogging.
But I have been writing. In addition to the weekly (free) flash fiction over at www.ValMuller.com, I’ve been working on Corgi Capers book 4.
The fourth installment of the Corgi Capers series opens on a quintessential Christmas morning. Things don’t stay peaceful for very long, but in that opening scene I wanted to capture what Christmas morning was to me as a child.
In the scene, Adam and Courtney are opening presents with puppies Zeph and Sapphie. Mom and Dad are in the room, of course, but are far removed from the Christmas magic of childhood. In the background, the song “Marshmallow World” is playing. (If you’re not familiar with the song, you can catch a version here, with lyrics: https://youtu.be/0ujM9wreqGQ).
The song, to me, embodies everything magical about Christmas. A red sun, “like a pumpkin head.” A friendly metaphor for snow—a world covered in marshmallows. The world as a snowball, a world meant for sweethearts. In that first scene, Adam and Courtney each receive a gift ripe with all the possibilities of Christmas. Their parents, while physically present, are not part of that magical world of childhood, and when Mom and Dad are whisked away onto a cruise, it’s up to Adam and Courtney to work a bit of Christmas magic on their own—during a blizzard.
I’m enjoying writing the novel and can’t wait until it’s released. My goal is to have it out in time for the holidays next year—right around November 1.
The way kids act at the holidays brings me full circle to corgis and the Corgi Capers series. Dogs, like children, always seem to see the magic in things that grownups are too tired to busy to notice. An annoying coating of snow for a grown-up may mean extra time to shovel or travel, but for a dog or a kid, it’s a chance to romp around, build forts, and snack on the tasty white treat. Christmas wrapping paper means extra time clearing the floor before being able to vacuum—if you’re a grown-up. For kids and dogs, it becomes a fantastic campsite, with colorful balled-up paper for throwing and lounging on.
I remember magical evenings as a child. Mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner, and the living room was darkened. I slid across the hardwood floor while The Nutcracker played on (I’m dating myself here) our sound system that still played records. The Christmas tree was lit, as was the orange glow of candles in the window and the rainbow glow of a glass pine tree on the end table. The colorful glow in the darkness held every magical possibility to me, and the whole thing felt surreal. Sugarplum fairies and Christmas elves could emerge at any second. That would have been just as believable as my mother entering the room. I could hardly believe, entering the kitchen and its bright lights and normal dinner, that I had been on the same planet in those few moments before dinner.
That’s the magic of the holidays, and it’s something kids and pets often hold all year round. No matter your age, I hope you’ve found some magic of your own.
Happy new year 😉
To celebrate the new year, I am giving away two of my other novels: Faulkner’s Apprentice and The Scarred Letter. To enter, use the easy Rafflecopter form/link below:
I was lucky enough to be home with them–I am on maternity leave–to wish them a happy birthday. Their day started with an after-breakfast treat of peanut butter, followed by an after-dinner treat purchased by their human dad: hamburgers! And of course, lots of treats during the day.
And they had two exciting disruptions to their daily routine: they got to bark at a salesman (he was invited, and they barked politely), and I broke protocol and let them chase two deer in the yard.
But perhaps my favorite part of the day was when my toddler got home from her school. On the way home, I told her it was the corgis’ birthday, and she was so excited, talking about baking a cake for them (until I told her they’d prefer hamburgers) and singing “Happy Birthday.”
And that got me thinking. “Dog people” love their dogs. But why? For many, it’s a canine’s simple happiness that can bring a smile even after a rough day. Dogs mirror our enthusiasm, wagging their tails at the mention of squirrels or treats or toys or–well, anything, really. But it’s more than just that. They bring their own enthusiasm, even as they slow down.
A neighbor recently learned that her dog had a blood cancer that was no longer responding to treatment. She knew her days with her best friend were limited, but she smiled every day as I passed them on their daily walks. She found happiness, she told me, in Ranger’s happiness. He didn’t get bogged down by his illness: he chased after my toddler and looked for squirrels and for other dogs and for nasty, scrumptious scents to roll in. On our walks, I wasn’t sure who was happier–my squealing toddler patting Ranger, or Ranger basking in the attention.
In some ways, having a dog is like having a perpetual toddler–in a good way. Toddlers are enthusiastic about the world. Many things are new and exciting, and some things–like the song they listen to on CD over and over and over–never cease to bring thrills. My daughter asks me to tell the same story over and over again, and she basks in every detail. My adult brain reels in boredom, wondering what the purpose is. But the little tykes don’t think that way yet. They still know how to enjoy the moment. When I try to tell my daughter about all the things we have to do in a day, she retreats into the now, giggling about a cool looking truck we’re passing by, or telling me about the shape of the bite she took out of her cookie. Toddlers appreciate the little things, and the present.
And so do dogs. While toddlers bring tantrums with them, dogs keep their enthusiasm with a more even temperment. The corgis enjoy going outside no matter how many times they’ve gone for the day. Each time I ask “Do you corgis want to go out?”, they jump up and bark, behinds wagging, as if they’d never been asked before. The “now,” the current moment, is what they have.
I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite poems is “Golden Retrievals” by Mark Doty, about how a dog’s purpose is to draw its person into the now, to enjoy the moment rather than allowing future moments or worries to deny us the present.
And that is why I’m so appreciative of all the time I have with the corgis. Their enthusiasm–even when the barking is excessive–is a reminder of the excitement each moment has to offer. Imagining the way they perceive each moment gives me great pleasure as I plan their next adventures in the Corgi Capers series and the characters Sapphie and Zeph who are modeled after them.
For all the “dog people” out there, enjoy your four-legged friends and all the moments they bring. For those without dogs, may you find moments now and again to think like a dog–or maybe a bit like a rambunctious toddler.
He always seemed to love all of our dogs growing up, and we tried several times to convince him to get his own dog, but he never did. I was surprised in helping to clean out his house that there were boxes of dog biscuits. Although he didn’t have his own dog, he fed neighbor dogs and took great pleasure in doing so.
My family gave me a stack of books, many of which I wrote, that belonged to my uncle. Since I already have several copies, I wasn’t sure the best thing to do with them.
It was around that time that I learned from the Facebook Corgi community that there was a dog found in need with someone serious liver conditions. The person who adopted the dog had two choices. Try to save her or let her go. The community rallied together, and Lily is doing well.
The thing about dogs is how they exemplify the true nature of love. We love to help them, and that in turn makes us feel better. Dogs are so great about returning the love that we give. It’s nearly always instant gratification– a very obvious example of how love can spread and make the world a better place.
To try to help with some of the vet bills, the Corgi community put out a call for auction items. I took one look at the stack of books that came from my uncle and knew what I should do with them.
If you are interested in helping out by treating yourself for a loved one to a corgi-themed gift, check out the auction. The auction ends tomorrow, so act quickly.: https://m.facebook.com/pg/Iron-Corgi-Maggie-Thatcher-519107171460607/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1696061390431840
Out of the 10 books that I put up for auction, all but three have bidders. I’m sure my uncle would be happy to know that his books were helping out a dog in need.
What was it like living day-to-day with a dog that could attack at any moment?
“After rescuing him, Lance didn’t adapt to us; we adapted to him. Although we always held out hope he would get his act together, we gave Lance wide berth in the house, rarely petted him—and then only for seconds—and dared not pick up any food that landed on the floor if Lance was nearby. We also made sure lights were on to prevent surprise attacks. I didn’t fully realize what we had gone through until after Lance was no longer with us. After a seven year storm, the peacefulness has been eerie. I notice him in his absence just as, when he was with us, I was very aware of his presence.”
It’s clear that–despite his problems—Lance could be very entertaining. What would you consider his funniest caper?
“Well, there are so many to choose from. His swimming contest with a swan certainly ranks up there. That seems to be a favorite of readers. Of course, any car ride with Lance was absolute bedlam. Then, there’s the time he snuck off our property and ended up on a school bus…that earned me a visit from a policeman. After the officer left, I checked the entire perimeter of our fenced yard for any digging (found none) and wouldn’t you know Lance followed me on this tour, merrily wagging his tail. I had the strongest feeling he was laughing up his sleeve because he was escaping the yard and I couldn’t figure out how. Months later, I did, but I’ll leave that as a surprise for those yet to read the book.”
You utilize various slogans from 12-step groups. How did that come about?
“Years ago, I had my own battles with drugs and alcohol and I’m currently a drug and alcohol counselor. Some of the 12-step slogans fit seamlessly into the story.”
In the book, you refer to Lance as a teacher. Can a dog really teach?
“Lance taught by example. He struggled to overcome years of horrific maltreatment. He held on to his enthusiasm. He made the best of what life gave him. He never completely gave up. He fought to overcome his mental/physical handicaps. All this, even though he had been turned into a semi-feral animal with a damaged mind and body. I’d say he set quite an example.”
Chapter 40 is loaded with self-disclosure. Was it difficult to write?
“I belong to a writing group wherein we critique each other’s work. One member told me, ‘People are going to want to know what your connection with this dog is.’ At the time I thought Well, I like dogs, this dog was in a bad spot so let me get him out of that bad spot. End of story. Later I realized that every once in a while I’d thought of Lance and me as a couple of—pardon the pun—underdogs. That’s what led to chapter 40 in which I compare my childhood to Lance’s years of abuse. I’m a private person by nature but I decided to let it all hang out to make the book better, more impactful. Since dog lovers consider their canines family members, connecting a dog’s experience to a human’s seems natural.
The age-old question: Why did you write this book?
“The reasons for writing Lance: A Spirit Unbroken morphed over time. When I first sat down to write a book I was challenging myself to, once and for all, complete a project. I’m an accomplished procrastinator (pun intended) and, as a result, I’ve had many creative projects or ideas in the past that never got anywhere near completion. This time I was determined to finish something I had started. When it came to deciding on a topic for the book, the list was short and it always came back to Lance. I knew he was a very unusual experience for my wife and me. I had no idea if anybody else would find his story interesting and the only way to find out was to write and publish it. The response from readers has been truly gratifying. At this point, just having written this book is no longer enough. A portion of any book sale is going to animal rescue operations that I have vetted. I think that’s what Lance would want me to do. I have also put together a PowerPoint presentation that is half-lighthearted, half-serious and ends with me asking people to do something to help dogs that are in dire straits like Lance was. Actually, the call is to do something to help four-legged or two- legged creatures, just do something. I show it at libraries, senior centers, schools, YMCAs—wherever I can. I would ask your readers to please contact me if they have a venue in mind for such a presentation.”
Why should someone read Lance: A Spirit Unbroken ?
For a dog lover, it’s a natural. Marley and Cujo rolled into one dog—Lance. Even non-dog people marvel at his resilience and enjoy his humorous side. I also think a person in recovery from addiction, an abusive childhood or some other trauma can take heart hearing Lance’s story. Beyond that, Lance: A Spirit Unbroken appeals to anyone that can laugh, cry, or enjoy having his/her faith in humanity restored.
Go to www.lanceaspiritunbroken.com to read Chapter 1 for free!
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