It was hard not to write to all of you last week, seriously. But, I made some real progress on the novel and that feels good. I didn’t write thousands of new words, but I got some good work done on the structure and plot. (Not that plot is important in a mystery . . .) An especially helpful step was getting Plottr, which gives you a great visual representation of the flow of the book. I also had a good talk with my agent, who reminded me to always ask myself, “What do you want your reader to be feeling right now?” Great advice.
FYI, just in case you are interested, a few books have been particularly helpful to me, especially James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. One of his best tips is to always ask yourself “How does this section advance the story?” It’s ridiculously easy to natter on about this or that, especially about dogs, but if it doesn’t move the story forward, out it goes.
I am also so grateful to all of you for the recommendations of mysteries that you’ve enjoyed, especially those with dogs. I’ve definitely made a list, and I will check it twice, promise. Life is good when working is defined as reading a mystery novel, yes?
My desire to write to you last Monday (I am apparently addicted) was eased by a last camping trip that Jim and I took in our camper last week Sunday to Tuesday. We went to Devil’s Lake State Park, did lots of hiking with the dogs and enjoying our little camper. Here’s Jim and the dogs on Tumble Rocks Trail, which goes alongside the lake and avoids some of the steep climbs that the area is famous for.
It’s a lovely lake and a lovely area, and not too crowded if you go out early in the morning and can avoid the weekends.
Lessons learned: First, the dogs seemed shocked when we arrived and let them out. Our last four trips in the camper have been to stockdog trials, and I swear they got out of the car and asked “Where are the sheep?” They looked around, sniffed around, looked confused, and eventually lay down in the camper like teenagers stuck with their boring parents for the weekend. They were also, of course, on leash all the time, it being a state park, so that must have felt very different to them too. I promise you they didn’t suffer–they got lots of interesting walks and new smells, but I’m pretty sure that they had expectations that weren’t met.
Second lesson? The reason we found such a good looking site in the campground that was still open (flat, against woods, no other campers on one side) was because the “empty” site right next to us was actually where everyone dumps their sewage and garbage. We just laughed at ourselves and it was fine, just a little noisy Sunday afternoon when campers the size of small European countries idled beside us waiting to empty their tanks. But overall, it was a peaceful get away in a beautiful place. I came back refreshed and excited about the novel.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Skip is migrating his way up onto the couch. You can see, however, that he’s just not quite sure that he wants to be up there.
Recently I posted this photo on Facebook and asked “Which dog is allowed on the couch during the day and which dog isn’t?” But, argh, I didn’t explain the rationale behind it and got lots of questions about why I was treating Skip so poorly. It’s pretty simple: Skip used to play so roughly with Maggie that it scared her, so we let Maggie leap up onto the couch to escape him. He never even tried to get up on the couch, and so she had a “safe space” that ended up giving her confidence. That way she controlled the play, rather than me awkwardly trying to intervene.
As time has gone on, Maggie has gained confidence, Skip has learned to self-handicap (a bit), and they entertain us after their dessert (Kong stuffed with soaked kibble and frozen) by playing in the living room so rambunctiously that we turn the TV off and laugh at the best entertainment ever. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that Skip can get up; he seems to like cubby hole-like places to sleep, so we’ll see what happens as time goes on and he has free rein up on the couch. Maggie, as you can see above, pretty much figures the couch is hers (but is happy to share).
I’ll leave you with this strangeness from this part of the country: An Iris blooming in late fall (backed by asters, who should indeed be blooming now, but the Iris? No way.)
I’m sure you know that Iris bloom in spring, and no, these are not a variety that blooms twice. They won’t bloom next spring when they normally would. Nor will the lilacs in full bloom in my neighbor’s yard. Our weather is bizarre–we are lucky to have avoided floods, fires and drought, but it got super cool in late summer, and then brutally hot, and then cool again, so that many of the plants thought they must have made it through winter and now it must be spring. It all feels a little Alice in Wonderlandish. I’ll let you know if I see a Mad Hatter next.
Followed any White Rabbits yourself this week? And I’m curious, have you ever had couch privileges for some dogs and not others? I’d love to hear your stories. For me, it’s mornings in the study working on the novel, and working with Skip for the last trial of the season in a few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.