Friday, August 28, 2009

Writing about Animals

Okay. Time to weigh in on animals. I write about animals a lot. They are a large part of my life. I wake up to a small calico cat sitting on my shoulder. My daily rhythms revolve around feeding, watering, and caring for animals. I am very aware of the comfort and company they provide to humans. That's probably why animals tend to creep, crawl, jump, or gallop into my books, whether I intend for it to happen or not.

Here's a list of my favorite animals in order, and why:
1) Cats - they're soft.
2) Horses - they're magnificent.
3) Dogs - they're loyal.
4) Donkeys - those wonderful, long ears.
Now I admit - some people might be upset at this list. Some of you are dog people. You let your dogs sleep in the house, and your cats sleep outside. I'm just the opposite. My cats sleep in the house (so they don't get eaten by coyotes) and my dogs sleep in a warm doghouse outside (unless it's below 25 degrees). Actually, I'd like to let my horse sleep in the house, too, but he's too big. But the fact is, I love all animals (although I'm not too keen on snakes) but the easiest ones to write about are dogs and horses.

Why is this? I can think of lots of great dog books right off the top of my head: Shiloh, Old Yeller, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Call of the Wild. I can also name tons of horse books: The Black Stallion series, Misty of Chincoteague, Black Beauty, as well as lots of more recent ones. But I can't quickly bring to mind any great cat books, except for The Cat in the Hat, but that is a picture book. I'm thinking more of middle grade and young adult fiction.

So here's a question: why are there more books written about horses and dogs, than about cats?
And if cats are my favorite animals, why don't I write about them? Well actually, I do. I have a middle grade manuscript called WALKING THE DOG which features dogs (of course), but a cat figures prominently into the story also. And my newest WIP (work in progress) will probably feature rescuing a cat as part of the plot. (It is a work in progress, however, so anything might happen).

Here are a couple of things to think about:
1) Can you think of any good children's fiction that features cats?
2) Can you list your favorite animals in order, and why?

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Hole in My Heart

I recently made the heart-wrenching decision to sell my gorgeous paint horse. He was the sports car model of the horse world: fast and quick, eye-catching and a lot of fun to ride. He was also full of himself, and needed a lot of riding. After an unforeseen hospital stay last spring, and a desire to commit more time to my writing career, my head persuaded my heart that it was time to let him go, and I found him a great home. But owning a horse means loving a horse, and I cried big time tears when he left.

There were still four-legged critters in the pasture. I had one old donkey, and I wasted no time in finding her another donkey for a companion. This satisfied my equine needs for a couple of weeks, but walking around the barn, opening the tack room to see my unused saddle sitting on its stand, left an empty feeling inside. I wanted, and needed, another horse.

By now it was late summer, and we can have severe winters here in the northwest. My head told me I should at least wait until spring for another horse. My heart caused me to start looking on Craig's List every five minutes for new horse listings. Writers tend to be a little obsessive, especially when on a quest.

This time I wanted an older horse, calm and reliable, that I could ride only occasionally. We had a barn full of hay, lots of pasture, and a nice big stall. What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of horses needing homes. I knew the unwanted horse population was pervasive, but I didn't realize how bad it really was until I started searching.

Good looking, well-trained horses were still selling to people who wanted to enjoy riding during what was left of the summer months. But unwanted horses: horses on their last legs, thin horses, young horses with no training, horses with too much spirit, or horses with a touch of lameness or arthritis, were standing in pastures, straining their owner's pocketbooks, languishing uncared for in people's backyards, with no one to take them in, even for free. When I put the word out about what I was looking for, I was inundated with frantic phone calls from people wanting me to take their horse off their hands.

Between the dire economic times, the overpopulation of horses, the high cost of feeding and caring for a horse, and the waning lack of knowledge about horses as we become a more urban society, many gorgeous, magnificent animals now sit in fields and corrals, neglected and unwanted.

My newest manuscript, THE GIRL WHO REMEMBERED HORSES, is set in a future time when humans have almost entirely forgotten about horses and their connection to humankind. Sounds far-fetched, you say? I think perhaps not.

But in my case, I decided that an older horse might fit my situation well. Not only would I be giving an animal a home, but an older horse should be settled and calm, and might do well with only occasional riding. If only I could find the right one.

After a few days of searching, I answered a rather desperate sounding ad: Wanted - Someone with Barn. The horse I went out to see was an old gelding of indeterminate age and origin. About two hundred pounds underweight, he had spent the last brutal winter outside with a blanket, but no barn. He was long out of the habit of steady riding, but when I threw a saddle on his bony back, he walked out slowly and carefully, without a moment's hesitation. I wavered. Was he sound enough? Could I get his weight back on before winter?

This time my heart took over. I hitched up my trailer and brought him home. He made friends with my donkeys and settled in immediately.

Now, watching him stroll sedately around the pasture, checking out his new surroundings, I feel like I just traded in my sports car for a rusty Oldsmobile. Way past his prime, but with a heart of pure gold, Buddy approaches and lays his head on my shoulder. This old horse has healed a hole in my heart. Horses can touch people, in ways that we can never imagine. Please, let's not forget them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When Did I Know I Was a Writer?

I've always known that I could write. I was good in school and actually skipped the second grade. I collected excellent grades on English exams, wrote tons of college papers, wrote ad copy for several businesses I've owned, wrote many professional and personal letters, and I could always come up with a mean classified ad. But did I think of myself as a writer? No.

I wrote journals in long-hand, typed out thoughts on the computer, created poetry and songs, short stories and scenes. Did I know I was a writer? No.

Was it when I attended my first writing conference? Got my first critique? Completed my first manuscript, or sent off my first query letter? No. Filled with self-doubt, I thought I wasn't good enough - I did not feel like a writer.

Did I know I was a writer when I got my first real signature on the bottom of a rejection letter, or the first hand-written comment from an editor asking to see more work? No.

When my first book was accepted for publication, when I finished my revisions, when I held the actual book in my hands and saw my name on the cover as author, did I feel like a writer then? Well, maybe a little.

But when I stand in the kitchen fretting, crabby and hard-to-live with, when I'm out-of-sorts and irritable as life happens and I don't have time to write, when I feel life's obligations taking over and I haven't written a thing today, yet I feel this pressing need to get words down, words down, words down, do I feel like a writer then? YES. YES. YES. I know I'm a writer because I feel the NEED TO WRITE.

When I write, words or paragraphs or an entire chapter or two, when I write, I feel fulfilled, the world is a better place, my step is springy, there's a smile on my face, and I'm happy.

The reason I KNOW I'm a WRITER is because I NEED to WRITE :-)