Category Archives: inspiration
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.
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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Comments? Questions? Email the author!
I’m amused at how fiction and reality interact. As an English teacher, I like examining the lives of authors to see if themes emerge in their lives that repeat in their writing (Kafka and Poe are classic examples, though there are authors who are a bit more, uh, positive in the ways their lives influenced their writing.).
I enjoyed the coincidence of a fire alarm at my work with the release of Corgi Capers: Curtain Calls and Fire Halls. At one point, my principal jokingly asked if maybe I’d set up the fire alarm as a publicity stunt. (No—hadn’t thought of that!)
In planning Corgi Capers 4, I outlined the scene so that the birth of a baby would coincide with a historic storm. I planned this long before I’d even thought about having a child of my own. Then, when the possibility of having a winter baby became reality, I decided to put the novel on hold out of superstition. It didn’t matter: it had already been outlined, and I welcome my child to the world during a historic blizzard.
Luckily, I’ve only found real connection between my life and Corgi Capers, not my darker works for young adults and grownups. In that sense, I enjoy seeing how my corgis, whose personalities served as the model for Zeph and Sapphie in the books, continue to fit those roles in real life.
This week’s case-in-point. It’s been so dry here lately, so our neighborhood didn’t hear many fireworks on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of July. But after a heavy rain on the 5th, many neighbors seemed to have felt it was safe enough to celebrate. So just at twilight, our neighborhood sounded like a battlefield.
True to her nature, Leia (the inspiration for the rambunctious Sapphie in the novels) expressed a bit of fear but simply placed herself underneath the open footrest of the recliner.
Yoda, on the other hand, embodied his inner “Zeph” and ran up to my lap, trembling. (Leia, true to her jealous “Sapphie” nature, quickly joined him.) As the barrage of fireworks continued, Yoda trembled despite my calming voice and constant petting, and Leia dozed off to sleep.
And another Yoda/Zeph connection: in the novels, the human siblings Adam and Courtney buy dog beds for Zeph and Sapphie: Zeph gets a rocketship bed, and Sapphie gets a princess bed. The corgis in the novel end up switching beds, a fact that horrifies Adam. He doesn’t want his dog to sleep in the girliest bed he’s ever seen.
Well, Yoda, who is afraid of most things, decided he absolutely loved it when our toddler was gifted a princess tent. In fact, I’m not sure sometimes who loves the tent more: Yoda or the toddler. Anytime I hear her giggling in the tent, I know it’s because Yoda’s in there with her. The two of them continue to make me laugh, especially since Yoda (in typical fearful “Zeph” tradition) was terrified of the kiddo when she was just an infant. Glad they are best friends now.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was called Four Puppies (I found a few copies available on Amazon.com here). At that age, I loved the changing weather and enjoyed watching the four puppies learn not to mourn the loss of each season.
Recently, however, I remember having a conversation with someone: we both agreed that each season offers something more to look forward to in terms of what follows—except for autumn. Winter offers the promise of spring, of melting snow and blooming flowers. Spring offers the promise of endless and carefree summer days, of wind whispering through leafy trees and painting patterns of light and shadow on the lawn. Summer offers the promise of cooler autumn days, of blazing foliage and cozy harvests. I personally never look forward to the cold, crippling snow of winter.
For my corgis, Leia and Yoda, their “looking forward” is a bit different than mine. For them, summer still offers the promise of a respite from heat (as well as all the awesome smells of autumn’s decaying leaves); autumn promises the fun of a crisp snow (Yoda could sit in snow for hours!); and winter offers the promise of melting snow, smelly mud (for mud baths!), critters emerging from winter hiding (all the smells!); but spring offers only the promise of weather that’s too hot for my corgis to enjoy. Indeed, I could never convince my corgis to enjoy water, whether a large body of water, a little wading pool, or a squirt from the hose. They’d much rather hang out inside, where they take turns napping on the prime kitchen vent, through which the cool air conditioning brings their heavy coats to a more tolerable temperature.
I never understood why they feared water so much. If only they gave it another try, maybe they’d see what they were missing. It’s the same way I feel about a certain relative of mine (ahem!) who refuses to try seafood of any sort. If only she would give it an honest try, she would likely see what she’s been missing. (I can’t believe she gives up the opportunity to have bacon-wrapped scallops every Christmas!)
My dad always told me, “A coward dies a thousand deaths; a brave man dies just one.” Although I knew what he meant, even I was hesitant to take chances, especially in my younger days. I preferred the familiar. And it’s true—we mostly regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we tried.
It’s a lesson I wish Yoda would learn (for a growing list of things he’s afraid of, check here). In Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi, a book I based largely off of Yoda, I write of a corgi who is afraid of, well, almost everything; and his owner, the opposite, looks forward to each new experience.
In celebration of the changeover to spring, my publisher is offering the book from now until March 31 for only $10, shipped! You can purchase here for the special $10 promotion.
I just happened upon a news story about a dog that was presumed dead for weeks–found safe and sound.
It’s a timely reminder about the importance of hope, even if a situation seems rife with despair.
In the nine months leading up to the birth of our daughter, we noticed that Yoda seemed drawn to my belly, and the baby seemed to love kicking him from inside. In fact, Yoda used to move his head from side to side on my stomach, and the baby’s kicks seemed to follow.
I thought he would be fast friends with the baby from the moment she came home. But that was not the case. After a traumatic few days leading up to his human sister’s birth, Yoda seemed terrified of the Six-Pound Terror.
At first, Yoda would barely stay in the same room as the baby. He preferred hiding in corners and darkness.
In a time that should be filled only with joy, I felt a little sad. Yoda, my favorite buddy, my best friend, was afraid to be in the same room with me. I didn’t think things would ever be the same with him, and I wondered if Yoda would ever be happy again.
And it continued to be a sad situation. Literally, all the baby did for weeks was–sleep. How, I wondered, could that be so horribly terrifying to a dog five times her weight? I researched tips on how to introduce dog and baby, but nothing seemed to work. I wondered if I’d ever get my old Yoda back.
But as the weeks (yes, weeks) passed, he snuck closer and closer to the little “terror.”
But as soon as her little baby arm would flail anywhere near him, Yoda scattered to the corners of the house. Until one day, when all hope seemed lost…
One of the smoke detectors upstairs had just started chirping, and I decided I would fix it later. I was tired from sleepless newborn baby nights and sad at Yoda’s lack of affection toward the baby (and, by extension, me, since baby was practically attached to me for those few weeks).
Of course, there’s no noise more frightening to my corgis than a chirping smoke detector. I have no idea why. The actual smoke alarm went off twice in our house, and the corgis didn’t react one bit. But the little chirping sends them into a frenzy. They tremble for hours afterward and hide in the basement or whatever dark corner they can find. And if they can find me, they hide on me, too.
So of course as I was sitting there with the baby, the two corgis come barreling down the stairs to find me on the couch in front of the fire. Leia took a leaping run to my right, sitting so she was touching my leg but not touching the baby. Yoda took a running leap to my left and soon found himself touching–dun, dun, dun!–the baby’s foot!
But the chirping smoke detector is exponentially more terrifying to the world’s scarediest fraidy-dog that he took no heed of the baby, instead drawing comfort from the physical contact. When the dogs settled down many moments later, Yoda realized he was touching the baby. I saw the realization come into his eyes, and I fully expected him to scatter.
But he didn’t. Instead, he sniffed the breath coming from the softly-sleeping child. Then he curled up, allowing his paw to touch her foot. I didn’t want to move or make a big deal out of it, lest the progress fall by the wayside.
But the next day, when the smoke detector was well fixed, I asked Yoda to “sit.” I wanted to hold the baby on him so that she’d be sitting on his fairy saddle. I would be right there in case anything happened, and maybe Yoda would take comfort in that. And, finally, an entire month into the baby’s existence, Yoda made his peace.
Now, one of his favorite things to do is a game called “get petting from the baby.” Yoda, the gentle “giant” (well, compared to a tiny baby, anyway), allows her to grab his ears, eyelid, fur, you name it… I think she may grow to be his new favorite person in the world.
And as long as the two of them are happy, that’s a title I’m willing to give up–for the both of them.
All three Corgi Capers books are now out for Kindle! They’re part of the Kindle lending library, so if you are subscriber, you can read them for free. If you’ve bought the paperbacks from Amazon, you’re also entitled to a free copy of the corresponding Kindle edition. Haven’t read them yet? They’re only $2.99 each and available here:
Authors love book reviews! If you review (or have reviewed) any of the Corgi Capers books, email me the link to your Amazon.com review, and I will send you a coupon code for a free Kindle version of the next book in the series!
I’ve taken a bit of a break from this blog as I focused my energies on bringing my new daughter into the world! And what a story it was—she decided to arrive in the middle of a historic storm (Winter Storm Jonas).
The whole night made me think about Corgi Capers: Curtain Calls and Fire Halls. In this third book in the series, Adam volunteers at a fire company and contemplates what actually makes a hero. Sometimes I think we’re trained to think heroes have to be “Big,” like Superman. Adam makes the same mistake.
What he learns through his adventures is that a hero is someone who is simply there for others—someone who lives his or her life making the world a better place. Adam’s direct experience with this comes in the form of firefighters, and I was fortunate enough to be able to witness this first-hand.
While I was sitting in the living room in pain, and wondering how in the world I was going to make it safely to a hospital when there were four-foot snowdrifts out there, a small army of firefighters were digging a pathway so that a fire department SUV could get close enough to my door so that I wouldn’t have to trudge through snow while battling contractions.
And then, once on the ambulance, I realized how many heroes there actually are. While most people were snuggled up by a fire or having a movie marathon at home during the blizzard, these emergency responders were out there on long shifts, driving through dangerous conditions to make sure anyone needing assistance received it. From the ambulance driver to the EMTs who kept me (and each other) calm, to the doctors and nurses who became stranded at hospital for days because of the storm, a night like the night my daughter was born is enough to restore faith in humanity and make me want to find a way to pay it back—and pay it forward.
Corgi Capers book 1, 2, and 3 are now available for Kindle. If you’ve purchased a paperback copy at Amazon.com, you’re entitled to a free Kindle edition! Each Kindle edition is only $2.99:
Authors love book reviews! If you review (or have reviewed) any of the Corgi Capers books, email me the link to your Amazon.com review, and I will send you a coupon code for a free Kindle version of the next book in the series!
Today, I’d like to give a shout out, err—I mean, a “woof out” to my best childhood friend, Chip. Chip was a little bichon frise with a huge personality. I was delighted to learn that a memory I wrote about him was accepted for publication in the recently-released Chicken Soup for the Soul book:
What I wrote about is how Chip brought out the best in each member of the family. Dogs seem to have an inherent understanding of human beings. They seem to know what we need even when we do not. I can’t count the number of days that my spirits have been lifted by a simple greeting from my corgis upon coming home from a challenging day at work.
Chip was no exception to this awesome ability. He brought out my dad’s creative side. He provided company to my mom. He encouraged my sister and me to be more outgoing and be diligent in teaching him tricks. Looking back through photo albums, I see that Chip was always there: posed among our stuffed animals when we were younger, curled up in bed when we were sick, dressed up in all manner of Halloween costumes over the years as we became teenagers… Chip was the dog we didn’t realize we needed—all of us.
In writing Corgi Capers, I was naturally drawn to dogs with strong personalities that both mirror and contradict the personalities of their people. Like Adam, corgi pup Zeph is hesitant and smart. Like Courtney, Sapphie is rambunctious and impulsive. Through interacting with their dogs, Adam and Courtney learn about their own personalities as well. They become better humans for having dogs.
As, of course, Zeph and Sapphie know just when to cuddle with a stressed-out human.
As do all dogs.
That’s why we love them.
With the Star Wars craze in full-bloom, you’d think that someone with corgis named Leia and Yoda would have been first in the theatre! But no, I have not seen the film yet. I prefer waiting it out a couple of weeks until the theatres are a bit less crowded.
So in the meantime, I helped to dissipate my outer-space enthusiasm with some doodling by the fire. At first I doodled about Christmas, then about summertime (since I greatly miss those beautiful temperatures). But then I wanted to be even more whimsical, and I ended up drawing Corgis in Space:
It got me thinking about the reason I love the concept of outer space so much. Why am I such a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who? Why does the idea of corgis flying around outer space fascinate me?
It’s the same reason I love sharing a life with dogs.
In a universe that includes space travel, possibility is nearly unlimited. The Doctor can travel through time and space—finding almost any possibility somewhere in the universe. The crew in Star Trek can explore the universe to find types of life previously unimagined. And, of course, the characters in Star Wars have the chance to fight for the type of world they want to live in.
And so it goes with having a dog. No, they can’t literally travel in time. But dogs can help us manipulate time, slowing down a stressful day simply by sitting on our laps or engaging us in a game of catch. Maybe they’re not discovering new forms of life in the vast corners of the universe. But they certainly can find any new forms of life that manifest in the back yard, opening our eyes to what would otherwise go unnoticed! Like children, they find magic and wonder in everyday life, and if we pay enough attention to them, we may, too.
While I’m sitting here typing, Leia and Yoda are chasing each other around a loop in my basement, play-fighting over a single white sock they found under the couch. Who knew the possibility of such fun existed in a single, mateless sock?
Certainly not me.
But then again, I’m not a space corgi!