I got my first dog the week after I graduated from college. Even though I thought I knew everything – I mean, heck, didn’t that piece of paper with a stamped signature demonstrate that I am a certified know-it-all – there is so much that wiggly puppy taught me in her life. A lesson that continues with our second dog.
There I was, a week into my new job, barely able to take care of myself and yet I was raising a 7-week-old puppy. Having been around dogs my entire life (outside dogs, mind you), I think I maybe did an Internet search once for “crate training” but aside from that I fumbled my way through it. And somehow, through my shear naivete, I didn’t do half bad.
Training Katie was much like writing Phoenix. Like when I brought home that roly-poly ball of fur, I launched into writing the first draft without reading about how to train the story, give it structure and teach it how not to pee on the furniture. Again, somehow, through my naivete, I didn’t do half bad.
It also wasn’t perfect. It took several drafts and time with my writer friends and critique group to mold it into a story I could take into public without worrying about it humping someone’s leg. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years of patience and positive reinforcement to gain it’s trust and create a symbiotic relationship (wait, we’re still talking writing, right?).
As the years I put into Phoenix added up, they added up for Katie as well. Like raising her from a puppy, writing Phoenix seemed easy, as if the story was pristine and just simply needed some love and discipline. I mean, sure it got into the litter box from time to time, but it was self-aware enough to not do it when I was around.
It isn’t lost on me that the pre-publishing phase of Phoenix wound down at the same time that Katie became horribly sick. Less than a week after I signed my publishing contract, we said good-bye to Katie. My parents handled the good-byes for the family dogs, but this was the first time for my husband and I to go through the process. She was in pain, so realizing that we could ease that hurt made the decision less agonizing, but it still sucked.
I spent nearly two weeks completely lost, crying myself to sleep every night and fanning my eyes at work to keep the tears from washing away the mascara. As a writer, I observed my emotions, bottling these feelings for the next time I have to write a painful scene (yeah, we’re a sick sort, aren’t we). Then, my husband showed me the sweet face of a dog on his second chance — well, third actually, but who’s counting.
Charlie has been with us for 24 hours now. He is an 11-month-old golden retriever/yellow lab mix with a face so sweet it will give you a cavity, but a history so sad that you’ll want to beat up his previous owner. As a puppy, Charlie was tossed in a backyard and neglected. Animal Control saved him and another dog, and after a week at a vet putting weight on, he spent six weeks at the animal shelter. On the day he was to be euthanized, a no-kill rescue group saved him and he spent nearly four months at his foster mom’s house. He’s now a healthy, happy boy, but he’s still skittish around men and seriously afraid of his leash.
Just in the day that we’ve had Charlie, I’ve realized something: he is not Katie, never will be and really, I don’t want him to be.
Just the same, Pardon Falls is a different novel. Sure, it has a couple of the same characters as Phoenix, but they had experiences that made them afraid, skittish and unsure of strangers. It doesn’t know that I’m here to help, that given a little time I will do what’s best for it. In all fairness, I haven’t given Pardon Falls the consistent attention it needs – a few chapters here and there but largely inconsistent with the time I spent writing (I am, after all, an inconsistent writer). Like developing a relationship with Charlie, I have to remind the story that it’s OK to trust me.
And, not to poop in the library.