The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Well, it’s happened. Book Three, Robert’s Rules (Beaufort Books, Spring 2018), is finished, and off to the publisher. I say that in passive voice, as if it miraculously wrote itself. Not so. Over the course of the past year, and most particularly of the past six months, I have neglected friends, family, and dogs, and reduced my life to work, writing, and basic human survival. A trail of entropy lies behind me.

IMG_5146So, you ask: Now what will you do? Revel in the freedom? Drink champagne, or possibly bourbon? Walk the dogs? Go to Disney World?

Well, some of the above, except for the Disney part. But mostly more mundane things like do laundry, overthrow the reigning chaos in my office, and remind my family and friends that I still love them (the dogs, being dogs, still knew that). For both my dear readers, I will also go back to writing my blog.

On the other hand, I have, unintentionally, but apparently irresistibly (again that misleading sense of the passive), begun work on Book Four, A Small Earnest Question.

Life has its cycles.

 

Adding to the Menagerie

We were walking the dogs the other night, and we saw something ahead of us in the road. The sun was going down, and it was shining in our eyes. “What is that?” my husband asked. “Is it an animal?”

He held the dogs, while I went up to see. It was a tiny black kitten, sitting in the middle of the road. At first, I thought its eyes were not yet open, but as I peered into its face I had the terrifying thought that perhaps it had no eyes at all.

I picked it up reluctantly, and cuddled it against my sweatshirt, while my husband took the dogs and continued on the walk, figuring that their feelings toward the kitten might not be especially altruistic. The kitten and I went home.

I dabbed warm water on his eyes with a paper towel, and wiped away the crust that was keeping them shut. He had been completely blinded, but now his eyes were open.

I found some powdered milk in the pantry, and made some warm milk with brown sugar, and he lapped it up, trying, as Auggie does, to put his feet into it. 

Out in the country at our cottage, the township had no contract with the local humane society, so the Sheriff’s department contacted an emergency number, and somebody from the humane society called me back. They wouldn’t pick up, so we would have to bring him in.

By now he was getting lively, and didn’t want to be held, but I was afraid he would disappear under the porch or a bush and we wouldn’t find him again. When the dogs arrived the kitten stood on my shoulder and hissed and spit. Moses just looked puzzled. Pete and Auggie didn’t even notice him.

We drove him to the humane society, where nice people took him in, assured us that he wasn’t seriously ill, and made us sign a statement that he didn’t belong to us. “What’s his name?” asked the woman.

“Doskar,” I said. “Felix,” said my husband.

We missed the sunset, which had been the whole reason we had gone to the cottage, but we didn’t really mind. That kitten had a lucky, lucky day. I doubt he would have survived a night blind, in the woods, with raccoons and foxes and coyotes, swamps to get stuck in, water to fall into.  I can’t help worrying about what happened to his littermates.

Every time we left the house we found ourselves looking for kittens in the road. Hope they are safe somewhere, and warm.

 

He’s all right

After multiple treatments, Moses still smelled like skunk around his eyes and muzzle. I couldn’t put any of the harsher treatments near his eyes, so we went with the old-fashioned method of tomato paste.

Moses made it quite clear that this was beneath his dignity, but after he had wiped his face on Pete and splattered tomato paste all over Auggie, he contented himself with licking off some of the residue. He got several very big pieces of chicken for his patience. And he actually smells better too.

Meanwhile, I think we have his Halloween costume in the bag.

Sith warrior, anyone?

QUICK NOTE: If you would like to read my first novels in preparation for the release of the third in the series, Robert’s Rules, next spring, they are both on sale for $1.99 each on Kindle this month.

Skunked

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So at 4:56 pm yesterday, four minutes before my you-can-stop-working-now alarm went off, I was done. My husband was away, I had worked all day, and I was a little stir crazy. So were the dogs.

I combed my hair, put on some lipstick, and decided to go to the local farmers’ market to see if there was anything tempting. The dogs had already had their big walk of the day, but it was cool and cloudy, so they could come along and sit in the car if I stopped. That way they wouldn’t sulk at being left behind.

We all piled into the car, but when we got there, everybody had already gone. I needed to see the sky, so we went for a little drive. After some random driving around I ended up at the grocery store. Not as good as the farmer’s market, but I’m always happy with a fresh rotisserie chicken.

As I returned to the car ten minutes later, I opened the hatch to put the groceries in the trunk. Moses was leaning his face on the backseat looking soulfully at me. “Oh, you big baby,” I said. “You are such a good dog. I know what you want.” He sighed, his eyes never leaving my face. “Ok. Just one little spin around the woods. Would you like that?”

So we went to the woods. I in my new jeans and new suede espadrilles (I know) and dogs in their usual attire. The woods have trails that make successive circles with intersecting paths. One long route around would make everyone happy.

As I walked I was very pleased with myself for having made this decision. I had needed this as much as the dogs, but they especially deserved something extra nice for having been so patient all day. The sun had come out for a bit, and it was a beautiful night.

Why is it that when I get all sentimental and self-congratulatory something bad always happens?

Pete is always the pack instigator. He’s the one who ran off the path to sniff at something interesting. Moses immediately followed, and Auggie galloped after them with his adolescent enthusiasm. At first I thought it was a routine disgusting thing, and then I thought it was a squirrel because I could see the white tail flashing. It was not a squirrel. Squirrels do not have white tails.

Thank God, Auggie listened to me and did not get close. Pete, too, managed to get away. Who knows how.  But Moses, who is particularly fond of squirrels in a way that squirrels don’t quite appreciate, got a full frontal spray of skunk. I think he must have gotten a mouthful of it. I was so concerned about getting them away from there that I barely attended to his misery, which was profound. But by the time we ran back to the car he seemed better.

Let me tell you that skunk smells much, much, much, much, much, much worse than you think. My dogs have had minor skunk encounters, so I had been lured into thinking that these situations are not all that bad. I was wrong. It was a very long five minute drive home.

Then began the fun part.

Today we did a re-treatment with the anti-skunk enzyme, which is pretty good, except for the fact that you can’t just spray it on a dog’s face, where the worst smell is. Then we will wash Moses again. And probably again. And we will wash all the towels and things with the enzyme too. If that doesn’t work, the towels will have to go.

Possibly we will repeat the process. I may also buy some tomato juice for his face. Maybe tomato paste.

I suppose I should be grateful that I only have one skunky dog, not three.

Did I mention my car? And the suede espadrilles?

I’m not sure this counts as procrastination for the novel, but the results are the same.

UPDATE:

And then I noticed the lump on Moses’s leg. Skunk Bite. Vet visit. Rabies booster. Antibiotics. Rotisserie chicken dinner for Moses. Wine for me. Possibly bourbon.

Island Update

As both of my readers know, when I am writing a book, the blog gets short shrift. A couple of weeks ago, however, I had an experience which may be of interest: I went to Pete and Fiona’s wedding.

My novels (Available at Amazon, and also here, Barnes and Noble here and here, Target here and here, Walmart here and here, or at your favorite booksellers, for example, here, herehere, here, and here. I’ll wait.) feature the story of Fiona Campbell, a Chicago reporter who moves to Washington Island on a dare. That’s all I’m going to say.

But by an extraordinary coincidence, a couple whose names are Fiona and Peter got married at the island property where I write my books. Susan, my landlady, made sure I knew about it, and the couple were gracious enough to invite me.

It was a perfect summer day. The bride and groom were beautiful, kind, and clearly in love. Everyone was happy.

Just thought you’d like to know.

 

Don’t get any ideas.

A Small Sneak Preview of Book Three: Robert’s Rules

In June I will be making an appearance at the ALA (American Library Association) 2017 Conference and Exhibition in Chicago. One of the traditions at this event is for authors to provide unedited copies of the first three chapters or so of their upcoming books, flaws and all.
So, with the permission of my editor, I think it is only right that those of you who follow me here should have the first glance.

So watch this space for periodic sneak previews of what’s to come in the third book of the North of the Tension Line series, beginning with this snippet.

PROLOGUE

My earliest memories are of fire.

I was lying in my crib in the dark, and my father woke me, wrapped me in my blankets, and carried me from the house. There were sirens coming closer. I remember the scratchy wool of his jacket on my cheek, its dusty smell in my nostrils, and the feel of the cool night air. Then the smoke was everywhere.

My mother and father and sister and brother were all there, with jackets over their night clothes. My father carried me in his arms as we all moved toward the fire down the street.

“The pig farm,” my mother said.

I knew the pig farm. I knew the comfortable smell of well kept animals; the sight of the red barn on the hill, the pleasures of catching a glimpse of a tractor, or better yet, a family of piglets, on an afternoon ride.

Instead, I could see the silhouettes of men against flames that reached into the sky, the yellow and orange fire that flickered and shot up; the black shadows of men in big coats, and boots, and helmets, carrying hoses and axes.

There was a low rumbling sound from the diesel engines of the fire trucks; the crackling static voices of the radios and walkie talkies.

My father hoisted me up on his shoulders, and I could look down at the tangle of hoses, the gleaming puddles everywhere, with the circling red lights. I could hear more sirens in the distance, more fire companies arriving, the undulating shift of their sound changing as they moved.

“The poor animals,” murmured my mother, watching the flames. There was another smell in the air that was not wood burning.

I was afraid, but I did not cry.

Maybe I slept on my father’s head.

At last the men’s voices changed from shouts to words, the brilliant, intoxicating light in the night was gone, leaving a gray dawn. The red lights of the trucks still turned, reflecting in the puddles of water as the firemen coiled the hoses. The voices on the radios still crackled, but with less frequency, as the fire men, weary, diminished their conversation.

I do not remember being tucked back into bed. But I remember the flames.

I always remember the flames.

In the Prayers of a Stranger

I recently realized that my life had become rather narrow, and that music, once the central focus of my existence, had been reduced to passive listening. So, most days, now, I spend some time playing the piano badly.

It doesn’t matter that I can’t play as well as I used to when I was serious, just that I play. It is both engaging and mentally clarifying.

To assist in building this new habit, I am using an app that tactfully nudges and rewards for building habits.  The app also includes a portion I don’t generally use, an opportunity to be part of the app’s “community” of people messaging others who are working on the same things.

These kinds of things are not to my taste. Community means real people that you can see and touch. But last night I casually started glancing through this section, and along with the people needing to study for their exams, or lose weight, I came across a message from someone trying to escape an addiction to Meth. It was more than a cry for help, it was a howl of despair.

We all live in our little bubbles. We write. We sleep. We go to work. We make dinner. We try to be kind. We are people, presumably of good will. But then something happens, and the reality of real people in the anguish of suffering and surviving breaks through without warning.

Modern life expands our boundaries beyond our capacity to cope. We are not meant to bear the suffering of the whole world. We are meant to see what is before us and to act. This is why anonymous technology and non-stop news is so hollow and soul-crushing. It both puts the suffering of the world before us, and makes us powerless to attempt any help.

I doubt my message made any difference.  Disembodied words are no substitute for being present. But maybe there can be some small comfort in being in the prayers of a stranger.