Sometimes it’s hard

Earlier this week, on Thanksgiving Monday, under the title “In all things give thanks“, I posted a photo I’d taken during a drive in the Fraser Valley,  and I included a quote from Psalm 95:2.  We have so much in our lives for which to be thankful and I was feeling full of praise.

Give Thanks

Tuesday morning we were once again driving in the Fraser Valley and I took this photo as we crossed the Golden Ears Bridge. We were on our way to an appointment with our veterinarian. Our eight-year-old Labrador Retriever, Tynan, hadn’t been well over the holiday weekend and we were looking forward to finding a solution for whatever was ailing him.

The solution wasn’t at all what we expected.

After x-rays, ultrasound and various tests we were confronted with the devastating news that what was ailing him couldn’t be fixed. Even with immediate surgery, the prognosis was poor. Less than three hours later we were retracing our route, returning home without him, in shock from the unexpected loss.

To add to the ache, for the first time in over fifty years there were no canine greetings to distract us when we arrived home. We’ve had many dogs during our lifetime. Our first were Labrador/Shepherd crossbreds. Later I bred, trained and exhibited purebred Shetland Sheepdogs for thirty-five years. We’ve always shared our home with anywhere from two to five dogs at a time, but somehow, after the passing of our last Sheltie, Tynan ended up as our lone canine companion. Now the house is painfully empty.

With this heaviness permeating our hearts and home, how can we obey the admonition to give thanks? It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s very hard today. And yet, while my mind wants to complain bitterly at the sudden loss of our dearly loved companion, at the same time bittersweet memories are bubbling up and bursting out — memories that bring with them joy and thanksgiving, not for what is, but for what has been.

Best Buds

Best Buds

Through my tears I give thanks for:

  • the experience of smelling his baby puppy breath the day I carried him home on my lap those too-short eight years ago;
  • remembering how he  would clamber onto the shelf under our coffee table and fall asleep there, until he was eventually too large to fit the space;
  • how he and our younger daughter’s Lab and Aussie were always so excited to see each other, no matter how long it had been between visits;
  • the day our other daughter’s Brittany Spaniel taught him that there was joy in swimming, not just walking in the ocean waves, and how, at our Cariboo lake, he would happily do the work of swimming out to retrieve sticks, only to willingly give them up to our son’s chocolate Lab who was waiting at the shore to snatch and claim them as her own;
  • watching him shadow my hubby everywhere he went, even to waiting outside the bathroom door for him;
  • giggling at how he leapt into the air like a gazelle and gambolled about when asked if he thought it was his dinnertime, or if he was ready for his daily 3 km walk with my hubby;
  • loving how he would slowly elbow the front half of his 90 lb. body up on the couch beside me until he could nuzzle my ear and leave a tiny kiss on my nose before being chased off;
  • knowing how much he loved to go for a ride with us, and always knew which vehicle to approach when we mentioned we were taking the truck or the van;
  • marvelling at how he could instantly turn from a couch potato into a showdog when it was time to go to a dog show with his special friend and handler, Jayne Luke, and how he adored the specialty cookies that always arrived with her and the toys she bought for him after each of his wins;
  • laughing at his love of a plastic garden pot and how, whenever I was planting bedding plants, he delighted in stealing just one empty pot and racing ’round and ’round the back yard with it;
  • smiling at how his head tipped, his ears lifted and his expression brightened whenever we told him one of our family members was coming to visit — he knew everyone by name, including their dogs;
  • remembering how he watched inconspicuously for the last corner of a sandwich, bit of toast or pizza crust, because he always got it if he wasn’t blatantly begging.
  • how he would roll over on his back and freeze there, all four legs in the air, hoping for ‘a tummy rub’ whenever we walked past;
  • and perhaps most poignantly, how happy he was at the end, tail wagging, munching a generous supply of biscuits provided by our caring and compassionate vet, content and unafraid because we were there.
Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

He had his own toy box, and today the dozens of plush stuffies that he adored and played with but never destroyed, have been washed and put into storage — even the very first fabric squeaky toy made for him by his breeder. There might not be another Labrador in our family, but you never know, perhaps one day some new puppy will come along to adopt them.

You’ve been a long-suffering reader if you’ve persevered this far! 

My point, of course, is that no matter what disappointments or catastrophes life dumps on us, we won’t likely be thankful for them, but hopefully in retrospect we’ll look for snippets of joy in the experiences we’ve had despite them.

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R.I.P. sweet friend

CAN. CH. RIVERSEDGE TYNAN AT CAREANN
January 22, 2006 – October 14, 2014

Tynan 2012

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People Watching and Developing Fictional Characters

I spend more time than I should just staring out windows. It’s not that there’s a lot to see here, but you never know what you’ll miss if you don’t happen to be looking at the right moment.

Watching 3

You can observe a lot by just watching.

[Yogi Berra]

Watching 2

You may get real tired watching me,
but I’m not going to quit.

[Harrison Ford]

Watching 1

Discipline is just doing things
the right way
whether anyone’s watching or not.

[Michael J. Fox]

While I’m watching I try to put into practice what my father once told me when we were out hunting: “Look for what doesn’t belong.” Of course, that had us checking out a lot of stumps on hunting trips, but it’s true — a movement, a shadow or shape that wasn’t there before is often what alerts me to the presence of a visitor in the garden.

I like to people-watch, too. In a stadium or on a bus, train or plane there are wonderful opportunities to study the people around me. (I try not to stare, especially in church!) Some of the characters in my novels bear the traits of people I may have seen during one of those times. A few well chosen quirks or tags can make a character memorable.

My characters are totally fictional, not modelled on anyone specific. Seeing them in my head and developing them into believable people within a story may end up with them being a composite of people I’ve seen or known, but it’s important to me that they behave true to their personalities. I can’t combine a random assortment of personality traits and expect the resulting character to be credible. People may act in peculiar ways, but there’s usually a good reason. The writer’s challenge is to find that reason.

One resource I’ve found valuable for ascribing appropriate traits to my characters is the WRITERS GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS: Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types by Linda N. Edelstein, PhD.
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So, I’m curious. How do you develop your characters? How do you select the key personality traits that govern their actions and reactions? Oh, and are you a people watcher? Do you have a method for camouflaging your observations… or do you just go ahead and stare? ;)

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How do you pick a name (for a cat or a character)?

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DSC02105This is Zeke. Our grandchildren started out calling her ‘Trooper Zeke McGuire’ until it eventually ended up as just plain Zeke — not that either name was particularly appropriate for a female kitten. Of course at the time of naming, everyone thought she was a he, and by the time it was discovered she wasn’t, nobody was about to change the name.

Zeke has attitude. Oh, I know… you’ll tell me all cats do. I’m not a cat person so you could fool me. My life has been filled with dogs for more than sixty years but there’s never been a cat. Zeke and I have the loosest of relationships. She belongs to my son’s family, and has a chocolate Lab in her household to boss around when she feels the need to play her dominant card.

The Lab barks when she wants into the house. If the cat also happens to want in, when the door opens she darts in ahead of the dog. When Zeke wants in and the dog isn’t around to offer assistance, Zeke backs up to the French doors and thuds a rapid tattoo against them with her back paws! For some reason that reminds me of a jackrabbit. Why couldn’t they have named her Jackie? Or then again, wasn’t it the song about Frosty the Snowman that tootled, “Thumpity-thump-thump, thumpity-thump-thump, look at Frosty go?” Why couldn’t they have named her Frosty?

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Zeke’s Chocolate Lab is called ‘Java’. Our own Black Lab is ‘Tynan’, which is Gaelic for ‘the dark one’. No further explanation needed, right? But ‘Zeke’ for a grey, long-haired female house cat???

Finding suitable names for cats or dogs, babies or characters in a novel is a challenge. How can anyone know what will suit them when they first arrive… before they’ve displayed or even developed a personality?

When it comes to characters, I usually have an image in mind. Then it’s a matter of checking the image against a list of potential names — sometimes it’s in my mind, other times it’s in a telephone book, a ‘name your baby’ book, or possibly rolling credits on the movie or television screen. I discard them one by one, depending on who I might have known with a particular name, and whether it suggests either positive or negative connotation or remembered personality traits. It can be a slow process.

I’ve been known to change a character’s name several times in the course of writing a story. That can cause problems of its own. While the ‘search and replace’ function in my word processing software is very handy, it’s not fool proof, as author Denise Jaden reminded me on Facebook yesterday when she said she’d “changed a character’s name using the Find and Replace option in Word, but forgot to add spaces before and after the names. Now I’m coming across words like resebastianable (instead of remarkable). Makes me laugh every time.” Later she added, ” Upon further thought, I think I may keep reSEBASTIANable as my own addition to the English language. I’ll use it whenever anything is extra remarkable.”

How difficult is it for you to find the right name (for a cat, kidlet or character)? Have you ever regretted your choice?

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A Doggy Dilemma

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Not many dogs own forty toys. That’s right, forty! Our dogs have always liked a stuffie or two, a nylabone to chew and the occasional tug toy (to gnaw on; we don’t encourage tugging). But in his half dozen years our Labrador Retriever has managed to accumulate quite the assortment. He adores getting a new toy and never destroys anything, so the numbers keep building.

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It was laundry day recently and there weren’t quite enough dog towels to make a full load, so my hubby decided to toss in the dog’s Christmas toys before packing them away with our decorations. (Yes, he has special Christmas ones. Don’t look so surprised.) It was while extricating them from among the others spilling out of the toy box (of course he has his own toy box) that the quantity prompted us to count them. Forty! That’s an embarrassing number, especially since we have only one dog at present. It was time to do some culling.

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Have you ever tried to clean out your closets or basement in preparation for a rummage or garage sale, only to have family members snatch items from your grasp because you apparently didn’t realize they were still treasured possessions? Uh-huh, you get the picture. One by one he grabbed them from the pile and raced through the house, dropping them in other rooms. We only managed to sneak out one white panda bear that was so grimy I don’t think he recognized it.

He still has thirty-nine toys. He needs a bigger toy box.

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Subtle Differences… or maybe not so subtle

Earlier this month on the way into our cabin I took this photo:

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On the way out a week later I took this one:

Same horse, same general location, but the weather had changed. Who would have thought a few snowflakes could alter the mood of a scene so drastically?

The same thing happens with point of view in our novel writing. There is a subtle change — or maybe it’s not so subtle — when a scene is viewed through different eyes or in different conditions. If you have a ho-hum scene, consider changing the perspective and see if that brings the scene to life.

Do you have an essential scene in your writing (or perhaps in a photograph) that lacks punch? What might you do to make a difference?

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(A click or two will enlarge any photo for a closer look)

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What constitutes success for a writer?

Can. Ch. Shiralee’s Elizabeth Barrett (“Sonnet”)

I’m not keen on being in the spotlight. My comfort zone is more behind the scenes. But since the mid-1970s I’ve lived with show quality purebred dogs. For years I subdued my nerves and stumbled around the show ring with our Shelties. Eventually a good friend (who later became an all breed judge) rescued me, and I soon discovered it was much more exciting to watch from the sidelines as the dogs won.

Our Labrador, “Tynan”, third from left with handler and friend, Jayne Luke

Many exhibitors thrive in the competitive environment – one of my recent manuscripts features a character who is addicted to it – but I’m not one of them. My thrill comes from being the breeder and/or owner of a dog whose quality is well presented, acknowledged and rewarded. I don’t need to be in the ring trying to make it happen.

In the purebred dog fancy success means different things to different people. It can be achieving goals in a breeding program – producing sound minds in sound bodies, and great family companions…

Can. Ch. Riversedge Tynan at Careann (“Tynan”)

owning top quality show dogs that can win trophies and ribbons in competitions…

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or becoming a celebrity (of sorts), perhaps in a movie or magazine.

Yes, that’s our “Tynan” on the cover

In the writing community defining success can be challenging. Many writers labour over their words in private, satisfied by their written expressions in journals and personal memoirs. For some, having their words make a difference to others is the goal as they write devotional material or create encouraging messages for greeting cards. Still others strive for publication of books that will garner great reviews and take their names to the top of bestsellers’ lists.

“For every available bookstore shelf space,
there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space.”

[OutThinkGroup]

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Not everyone reaches a specific goal. Sometimes the criteria for doing so is beyond their control. Sometimes the effort put forth isn’t adequate for the desired result. For me, what’s important is acknowledging my motivation, seeking God’s will in my decision making, setting realistic goals, doing my part to reach them, and enjoying the process en route. That’s a hefty list, but I believe each item on it is crucial if I’m to feel fulfilled and be content with my level of success.

What’s your interpretation of ‘success’ in your current endeavour(s)?

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Patience may be a virtue, but….

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It was nearing dinnertime, at least for our Labrador. Hubby and I wanted to get the Christmas tree up first, so we ignored the blatant hints. Tynan’s a patient dog and finally lay down to wait.

 

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That was hard to ignore! As soon as the tree was secure and before any decorating was begun, his patience was rewarded with his nightly bowl of kibble. Afterwards, in the first bin of ornaments, a bag of old Christmas dog toys was unearthed and he was ecstatic. Dinner and long lost stuffies! Life was good.

Patience may be considered a virtue, but passive patience doesn’t achieve much.  It needs to be accompanied by some kind of purposeful action. If Tynan had settled into an unobtrusive corner to wait, he might be waiting still. Instead, while he didn’t beg, agitate or annoy, he made his presence something we couldn’t ignore for very long. He was just too appealing.

We aspiring authors could learn a lesson from him.

What do you do while you wait for a response to your query letters or submissions?

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