Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zack, the Epileptic Dachshund

One of my writing buddies is a mini-Dachshund named Zack. No matter how long I spend immersed in my writing obsession, he stays close by, waiting patiently for a random scratch of his head or pat on his rump. It’s astounding how little attention it takes to make his tail wag in unconditional love. I probably take him and his little companion, Dinky, for granted.
Couple nights ago at 2:00 AM, Zack slept next to me on the couch where I had fallen asleep while watching late night poker. He suddenly leaped from my side, ran down the hall to the kitchen and back to me, his chest bouncing off the ground as his body twisted in violent contortions. This is the third grand mal seizure he’s suffered in his 5 years of life, so I knew what to do.

I dropped to the floor, wrapped him tightly in my arms and began stroking his chest and head so he felt secure. He responded, as he always does, by pressing his head against my chest. I called out to my wife for a towel because the little guy loses bowel and bladder control during these episodes. After wrapping him in a towel, his anxiety level seems to drop and his body begins to relax. It only takes about two to three minutes for his rock hard muscles to return to normal and for him to “let down” from the crisis. Then, he throws up and falls into a deep sleep for an hour or so. It’s really tough on the little guy, but two hours later, he’s perfectly normal again. I can’t even get help from the vet because she just points out how “healthy” he looks an hour after the terrible seizure.

Today, I’m back writing. Zack and Dink are snuggled together in one doggy bed, spooning to stay warm. My poor wife was exhausted after the early morning emergency because she could not get back to sleep. She went to work short on rest. As for Zack, he’s just fine . . . but I’m not. The crisis got me to thinking how much I really love that stupid little critter. I know other men who have similar affection for their dogs, especially my friends with hunting dogs. Their animals become more than property. They become friends. Zack has grown on me.

As I sit here, expanding on my sci-fi sequel, Rotaga’s Revenge, I wonder about my characters. How would they “feel” about a pet? Would their relationship with a pet be a good tool for defining or illustrating their character? Do the relationships between people and pets make a good analogy for sentient beings—perhaps one is more advanced than another? I know I would run into a burning building to save Zack or Dink. Can a strong pet relationship be used in a story for more than character development . . . maybe even to drive a sub-plot? Then, I remembered Old Yeller and Black Beauty, both stories centered on human-animal relationships. Turns out, real life has always provided rich material for those writers who observed nature around them. Okay, okay, so I was slow to get the message...LOL.

Let’s see, what would an epileptic Dachshund look like in a space suit?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the Right Track

Will Rogers once said, “You can be on the right track, but if you just sit there, you’re gonna get run over.”

I have that quote taped to the wall above my computer. The simple truth of Mr. Rogers’ wisdom applies to everything in my life. You see, I like to “just sit there.” Listen to the birds. Feel the cold steel of the track while basking in warm sunshine. In the distance, a freight train blasts its warning as it approaches some street crossing. Am I alarmed? Nope. Like most procrastinators, I figure I’ve still got plenty of time.

My current manuscript rests somewhere in a literary slush pile in New York. It’s also being ripped apart by a screenplay writer in hope of becoming a movie. It’s been six months since I decided to get this story into the mainstream book media. The process resembles Chinese water torture . . . tic, tic, tic . . . days drag into weeks. Months pass without any constructive feedback. Then, it dawned on me, I’m sitting on the writing “track”, waiting for something to happen, and there’s a train a’coming. If I don’t keep moving, my writing aspirations could end up splat across a literary cow catcher. Without more stories in the hopper, each rejection slip takes on artificially greater importance. What a wake-up!

The sequel to my sci-fi story, The Last Human War, had been calling to me from the deepest recesses of my imagination, but I wasn't listening. My main characters from the first book fell in love, got married and Kelly is about to have a baby as the sequel opens. In the first chapter, her premature baby is kidnapped by an alien cult and her husband, Simon, begins a quest to find his child. Unfortunately, the evil Heptari Empire chooses this terrible time to enact Rotaga’s Revenge against the Tanarac Empire and its human allies. While I was sitting on that metaphorical track, all this galactic angst was begging for expression. Well, I followed the advice of Will Rogers and got to work helping Simon find his baby. Unfortunately, Prime Skah Rotaga beats him to the child, bringing this sequel to life with unexpected complications that I have yet to solve. More importantly, the water-torture of the publishing process vanished in a cloud of creativity as I discover the fate of Simon's child, humanity and the Tanarac Empire.

In addition to the sci-fi sequel, I dusted off an old cookbook that I wrote back in 1978. It’s called Kids, Pancakes & Sunday Mornings. Well, it’s not so much a “cook” book as it is a pancake design manual for kids. I can’t believe how long I let that book languish in my file cabinet.

So, while my current manuscript, Jihad: The Breath of God, languishes in slush piles and screen play development, I left that comfortable place on the train track. Yes, I look back longingly, because I do enjoy procrastination, but I’m not ready to watch the author-train go roaring past. I’d rather be the guy who’s way up front, laying new track for life’s train. So, thank you (yet again) Mr. Will Rogers, for the reminder. “You can be on the right track, but if you just sit there, you’re gonna get run over.”