Musings and reflections about writing, storytelling, literacy, Rowan the Golden, and everything in-between
This is the journey toward writing a book. A book about two cats, one dog, and a woman who believed there could be "kumbaya" between all involved. Someday. Maybe. Perhaps. Or not.
In 2019 a friend bred her Golden Retriever female. Approximately two months later there were 15--15!!!--wiggling, blind, adorable creatures that resembled golden potatoes more than dogs. Their adorable-ness quickly improved, and soon they had wagging inch worm tails, pot bellies, and milky eyes. When they were eight weeks old I went to visit and play with 15--15!!--puppies. Yeah, you know what happened, don't you?
Wrong. I resisted. For one year, until I retired, and my daughter was home for the summer to help, and everything was ready. I replaced carpet with laminate and installed a fenced lawn. But wait! There's more. I installed a door from the garage to the yard. I asked family members for dog training videos for Christmas, and I read dog training books I purchased from my BFF, Amazon. Still more. I bought a crate for bedtime, and a crate for the car. I bought chew toys and stuffies, and covered computer and lamp cords. I was ready.
And then came the pandemic.
So, I ended up with what has come to be known as a pandemic puppy for many people who took the opportunity of being confined at home as an indicator that this would be the perfect time to train a puppy. Actually, my dog's adoption was preordained, long before the pandemic. When the female's second litter of only 13--13!!--puppies was born on May 19 I started receiving videos and photos of the golden potatoes. My daughter and I reviewed them carefully because we had been promised first pick since I had put in my reservation a year earlier. Would it be Red Collar, the first born and so self-confident? Would it be the one who was the most playful, or the one who was the most curious? Would it be male or female? Would it be the one who was adventurous, or the one who was quiet? Gradually we began to notice Blue Collar. Born in the middle of the litter order. More of a follower than a leader. Smaller than some. Sometimes bossed about by others. Growing well and looking certifiably adorable.
At six weeks we visited the litter to decide for sure. The breeder lived in rural Oregon, with many acres for the puppies to romp through, explore, and instantly collapse on, as puppies are wont to do. They had an adult brother that adored them, and no one ever noticed that he had only three legs as he romped and nuzzled with the best of them. Plus there was Mom with all her sweet milk, and an older "uncle". Lots of love and bouncing and licking for everyone.
We watched and laughed. We noticed all the happiness and good health. We waited for the right moment when Blue Collar would be close enough to scoop into hopeful arms. Was he the one? Finally he was in my lap and I held him and, well, you know what happened, don't you?
This time you're right. He picked us, we picked him. My daughter gave him the name of Rowan, which is Gaelic for "little red one," because we thought he might be more red than golden. We were wrong, but the name fits him perfectly anyway. His registered name is Keep On Rowan, and we frequently play with, "Where you goin', Rowan?" or "Rowan the Golden." July 12 was his Gotcha Day and we brought him home. Our hearts were ready, our house was ready, everything was ready.
Yeah, not so much. Have you ever had a puppy? I had never. Nor a dog. I thought everything was ready, but, oh, my goodness, life with a puppy is consuming, exhausting, challenging, and I was never quite ready for what he brought into our lives. 2:00 a.m. walks on our property, dressed in bathrobes and holding flashlights so we didn't trip over logs in the woods. Frustrating walks when he lunged at everyone and every dog. Peeing accidents when we thought he was fool proof. An obedience class where we saw that he was better than some, not as well-behaved as others. We constantly questioned our decisions. Is he limping? Why won't he eat? How much should he eat? Should we try a pinch collar so he won't lunge? How do we know when to let him be off leash? Are dog parks safe?
And then there were the cats. I have two elderly sibling cats who have been anti-social from the day I adopted them. They were turned in to the Humane Society after being found in an abandoned house. I wanted one, but couldn't stand to separate the two, so....They love me, they tolerate my daughter, and that's it. No one ever sees them because they hide under my bed when company comes. My brother calls them "your cats," with air quotes. But we established our routine over the years. Nicky would always greet me as I came in from the garage, sitting on the window sill of the breezeway. I called him Peek-a-boo Kitty, and he is long and lean, like a string bean. The other, Noel, is a fluffy potato with legs. She's grumpy and frumpy and loves to be petted. She hisses at her brother, and he harasses her. At night, while I watched TV, they were both in my lap, jockeying for their favorite position.
I thought, with time, they would adjust to Rowan. I thought they would learn to co-exist and establish new routines. I thought there would be a few swats on Rowan's nose from one or the other and he would know to keep his distance. Sigh. It's been a year and they still hate him. They sleep and eat all day in my bedroom. Very occasionally Noel will venture out and slink past Rowan in what can only be described as a creepy, slow motion alligator crawl. Very occasionally Nicky will sit on one side of the pet gate while Rowan lies on the other, tail thwacking with nervousness. They don't look at each other, and Nicky occasional growls, looking more like a Gila monster than my sweet cat. Rowan is completely intimidated by these cantankerous, stubborn felines.
I'm still hoping. To help me accept the many changes in routine, and my guilt, I wrote a book. That's what writers do, of course. We write and create a new reality, or reflect on the one that exists. My book is for early readers, and is a series of humorous conversations between two cats, set in their ways, who must adjust to the invasion of a puppy. Sound familiar?
How long have we been under the bed?
I don’t know. It’s a big number so it must have been at least 100.
Maybe dog is gone?
You go look.
Shhh. Someone’s coming.
Does Hooman sniff?
Only when she’s baking brownies.
Whoever is coming is sniffing. A lot.
Paws, claws and whiskers, it’s the DOG! In Hooman’s bedroom! Our bedroom!
Growl! Ha! We made him pee.
He really needs a litter box.
She’s taking him out.
Furballs! She's bringing him back in.
Have you noticed that every time he sees us he starts wiggling? And wagging. And sniffing. Kinda cute, actually.
He looks like he wants to play.
Cats don’t play with dogs.
I repeat. Cats. Don’t. Play. With. Dogs. It’s a law.
Who made the law?
Cats made a law about dogs. Interesting. Well, I’m a cat and I want to play. I want to chase. I want to boop.
He just fell over. Is he dead?
Kinda cute, actually. Ooh, he’s waking up! She’s taking him out. A-a-a-a-nd they’re back. He’s asleep again.
He doesn’t do much, does he?
Neither do we.
Of course not. We’re cats. It’s a law.
The book is in the nebulous stage of searching for the agent who says, "Yes!" I haven't found him/her yet, but I will persist, as writers do. In the meantime, new routines include snuggling with the cats on my bed when waking up and at night before sleeping, and laughing all day long at the goofiest, happiest, loving-est dog I could ever have imagined.
September, 2019, was when I had everything all planned out. Refirement, volunteer work, workshops, consulting, blah, blah, blah. And then life happened, assaulting my well-made plans with many interruptions.
First, a painful interruption. My mother, age 94, let go after a failed surgery and decided it was time to join my father in the light. She died November 1. My grief was more than just grief. It was acceptance and regret and loneliness and memories all tumbling through me and grabbing at me. I miss her no less today than I did then. I couldn't write. I just let myself feel, and survive the holidays.
Next came a world-wide interruption. Then came March, 2020. You remember that, right? Suddenly we couldn't hug or visit or gather. My daughter had to leave her university to complete her senior year at home. She had a "drive by" graduation. We searched for masks on the internet that reflected our selves. (They were all uncomfortable.) We wrote a silly Youtube musical, complete with puppets, to the tune of "From a Distance." We talked a lot about my mother.
A cute interruption. In July we got a pandemic puppy. Not because of the pandemic. I had planned for his adoption long before we knew about Covid-19. I'd never had a dog, let alone an 8-week-old puppy. It was a nightmare. Actually, worse than a nightmare because that would imply sleeping. Every day I wondered, "What was I thinking?" He controlled our thoughts, our movements, our schedules. We commiserated with others who had puppies, and we gradually established boundaries. We took him to obedience classes. Most of all, we loved his silly, doodley, adorable antics. He twisted himself around to look like Scrat from Ice Age. (He still does.) He invaded our hearts and, thirteen months later, we are smitten with Keep on Goin' Rowan.
Interruption Four. Volunteer work came and went. I'll write more about that another day. Suffice it to say I tried to do too much, and was on Zoom too often for trainings, meetings, and other communications. Worst of all, I wasn't getting any writing done. So, I pulled back. A lot. A friend once told me that when you retire, at first it's "Go, go, go." Then comes "Slow, slow, slow." And, finally, "No, no no."
I reached the "No" stage in May when I realized that the one thing--the ONE thing--I wanted most to do when I retired was not getting done. Writing. I did manage to finish the manuscript for "Bringing Heart and Mind Into Storytime: Presenting Social Emotional Learning With Books and Creative Activities," to be published by ABC-CLIO soon. (I say "managed" because I literally had to put a pet fence around me as I wrote so the pupper could not jump on me.) But I was anxious to work on a teen novel. I have two completed historical fantasies that I sent out, but no agent has responded with an enthusiastic, "YES!" Yet. I wanted to try something more realistic. It wasn't happening.
The fifth interruption. I had dinner with a friend (Were we wearing masks? I can't remember.) and she listened to me talk about the craziness of my house with a puppy eager for play and attention, and two middle-aged anti-social cats who did not comply with my plans for kumbaya and group hug. Not happening. The cats hissed, the puppy cowered. Then the cats became permanent daytime residents of my bedroom to avoid any contact with the intruder. I still have guilt. But my friend said, "You should write a book. Two Cats and a Dog." So I did.
It's a funny early chapter book of conversations between the two cats who are disgusted by the antics of a puppy that has been brought into "their" home. "He has to learn to sit? Dumb." "Why is she putting up a gate to our bathroom? Gates are for keeping someone in. So, once we use our litter box we can never come out? We're in there with the poo forever?" I'm sending it out, searching for the right agent.
Still, there's the teen novel, knocking about in my head. I considered what teens like to read, based on my forty years of being a youth librarian, manager and avid reader. I knew I wanted it to be about important stuff, real stuff, thinking stuff. Being a member of Moms Demand Action, I tried writing about a shooting at a park and how it impacts each of the victims and survivors but it was too disturbing, and my writing was disjointed and trite. Recent news tickled my brain with Greta Thunberg, polar ice caps melting, the disadvantages of fracking, the death of the last male white rhino in Kenya. Bits and pieces that mulled and roiled and, eventually, gelled.
In March I finally sat at my grandfather's roll top desk (which I had moved out of my bedroom and into the living room in order to provide more motivation) and waited for clarity. All of this climate change/global warming/ecosystem disaster stuff would mean research. A lot of research. How much was I willing to do? I also knew I wanted an animal to be part of the story. What animal? I've always been captivated by sleek and playful river otters. Yes? No. I have been to Kenya twice and love every animal, from warthog to leopard. Yes? No. And then a word crashed into my brain.
What I knew about wolverines five months ago would be less than enough to write a sentence. "Wolverines are scary mammals with big claws." A very short sentence. So I began the research. I discovered The Wolverine Way by Douglas H. Chadwick, who studied and tracked wolverines in Montana. I was impressed and intrigued. I wanted more. I read The Lone Wolverine: Tracking Michigan's Most Elusive Animal by Elizabeth Philips Shaw and Jeff Ford, and was not impressed. Too much of one guy's obsession and not enough about the wolverine. Barry Lopez's Lessons from the Wolverine is a lovely "spiritual adventure" about one man's journey to understand the power of wolverines. I watched videos of wolverines hunting, traveling, devouring, and, most of all, being elusive. I tracked down wolverine legends and facts. The more I knew about this "phantom of the woods," the more I knew this was exactly the right animal for my book.
So I began writing. And researching. I am still writing and researching. There is a girl, Coral, and her cello, Camille, in my book. There are street wise young adults. There is a missing person, fracking, a Wild Child, and there is the wolverine, traveling through it all, searching for a mate and what she needs to survive. Snow. Water. Food without deadly chemicals. I wrote 25,000 words and then rewrote it all, changing from first to third person. Why? Because it worked better is all I can say.
Interruptions will still happen. Rowan needs to be walked, groceries need to be purchased, social media needs to be addressed (thus this blog), friends need to be hugged. But writers need to write. And so I am now traveling with the wolverine, to wherever she guides me.
All My Hats
Manager of Youth Services in public libraries for 40 years. Avid reader.