Quirky Girl

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I remember the day I first met you. I had taken countless compatibility tests to figure out what dog was right for my lifestyle. Welsh Corgi was the answer that kept popping up, and I didn't want a puppy. I responded to an ad in the paper for a one-year-old female Pembroke Welsh Corgi and drove across town to meet you. I was excited and a little nervous. I grew up with herding dogs but never had one of my own before. I'd never seen a Corgi in real life, just in photos with Queen Elizabeth. I wasn't sure what to expect. You turned out to be utterly beautiful and vibrant, with alert, bright brown eyes, a huge grin on your foxy face, and big ears that stuck out where devil horns could've been. Your parents were getting divorced and neither of them found a home that would allow you to live there too.

When I walked into their kitchen you were hiding in the back of your crate. I didn't understand then, but now I realize that sharing a home with a couple in their 70's on the brink of divorce probably wasn't a happy experience for you...especially in your first year of life. They probably shouted out decades of resentment at each other for your big puppy ears to hear. Maybe your crate was the safest place to hide? All I know is that the moment you stepped out and let me pet you, I fell in love. You were so shy and timid. You reminded me of myself back in high school, eating my lunch in a toilet stall because once upon a time I was that shy and timid. Your owner handed me your leash and I took you for a short walk. By the time we reached the fire hydrant on the corner I knew I was taking you home with me. I felt like I couldn't get you out of there fast enough.

It was summertime, and I loved driving with the windows down. Apparently you loved it too. Your parents hadn't brushed out your winter coat. Wads of red hair went flying all over the interior of my car as we drove home. I couldn't have cared less. When you stepped over the threshold, you immediately met The Cat. I wasn't sure how you'd react because cats and dogs don't always get along so great. I was afraid you'd chase The Cat. Instead, you turned around and hid your face in the corner so you wouldn't see her. My roommate commented "What a quirky thing to do," and there was your name.

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Once you realized The Cat was a friend, I combed a grocery bag's worth of dead hair out of your coat and showed you the new place. When my friends came over to meet you, I remember I was cooking dinner and they wanted to take you for a walk. Everyone was SO excited to spend time with you because they were from Europe and their dogs were back home across the globe. I handed them your leash, but you absolutely REFUSED to let them take you through the door! You sat at the threshold and didn't budge! I stopped cooking, took back your leash, and my friends and I all walked with you together. I think you were afraid that I was giving you away. It just made me love you so much more, because I was NEVER going to give you up. When you realized that I wasn't giving you away, you were so happy that you threw yourself on the grass and did a dive roll, then continued walking as if nothing weird had happened. My friends laughed and scratched their heads, but I knew you did that Quirky thing because you were so happy. You did it every time we went for a walk after that day, and every time you were happy. It's as if your joy was so overwhelming that your little body couldn't contain it all. You dive-rolled every time I threw a ball. You ran after the ball, but you never brought it back. Such a Quirky thing to do.

I watched your shyness fade, and your timid nature was replaced by a feisty spirit that I think was buried under all that dead hair I combed away. The Cat started joining us for our walks, and people would literally stop in traffic and ask if they were actually seeing what they thought they were seeing--a dog walking a cat. You trusted me to always be there. I trusted you to lick spaghetti sauce off a toddler's cheek and be as gentle as a lamb. I could trust you to never pee in the house, but you did chew up a tube of Ultramarine Blue paint on the white carpet of our first rental. Your blue paw prints were everywhere. When I discovered the mess, I didn't hit you (I wouldn't dream of it). I kicked myself for leaving it out. When you turned my Coach purse inside out and chewed up all my mints and lip gloss, I kicked myself again for leaving it where you could reach it. I still have that purse...because the teeth marks you left on it may as well have been imprinted on my heart.

I took you to the renaissance faire and you sat on my lap and ate turkey leg scraps from all the people squealing over you. Fairy dogs are kind of rare, after all. We were next to inseparable that first year. I got divorced, met someone else and moved to a new place, but giving you up was never an option. I was officially a dog mom, and you were my Quirky Girl...my first fur baby. You were my first for so many things.

I started writing fantasy and romance, and I put you in the first draft of my first book. I changed my mind, although I learned a lot of fairy lore along the way. It's rumored that Pembroke Welsh Corgis are the steeds that the fae-folk ride on. The markings on your coat were thought to be where the saddle went. The little spot on top of your head is sometimes called a 'fairy kiss.' Not all Corgis have them. I honestly believe you were kissed by the fairies. You were too magical not to be.

We went camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains, we went on road trips to see the grandparents. I adored you so much that I added Charlie to our family to double the fun. Instead of getting jealous, you taught him how to be an amazing dog. The three of us used to hike around the 100 acres we eventually lived on, and you'd both chase the cows around, doing what you were bred to do.

I was thrilled when the two of you had puppies together. The vet felt your belly and estimated there were 2 or 3 little versions of you growing inside. Since we were living on so much land and I had a decent job, I originally planned to keep every single puppy. Then the boyfriend moved in with someone else and it was us against the world all over again. I remember the day you went into labor. November 2nd. I was taking you to the doggy daycare/vet next door to my office and I noticed your waters had broken. I kept getting updates on your labor, and I was heartbroken when I learned that the first 2 puppies didn't make it. I didn't realize at the time why you wouldn't push. Now I know it's because you were SO well house trained that you didn't dare 'make a mess' at the vet's indoor office during your labor. If only they'd taken you outside to the grassy area near the parking lot, I'll bet you would've pushed like a champ...but we didn't know any better. I had mere seconds to make the call...did I want to risk losing every puppy or did I want to put you through an emergency C-section? I chose surgery.

Brand-new mom!

Brand-new mom!

The vet and I were floored when they opened you up and found 5 MORE little ones inside you! They were all healthy, and as happy as I was, I felt awful that  you had to nurse 5 little ones after having major abdominal surgery. I slept on the kitchen floor with you and tended to your every need. I had the vet on speed dial because I wanted to give you the very best, and I felt like I'd failed miserably. The 2 puppies that didn't make it were little girls, with your same exact coloring. They were beautiful and perfect. While you rested in the kitchen, Charlie and I went out into the field and buried your girls under a beautiful oak tree. Sometimes I wonder what they would've turned out like, especially around this time of year.

The end of that relationship meant the end of living on the farm, but I wasn't leaving you or Charlie or your puppies behind. My friends helped me drive the 2000 miles to Oregon. Charlie rode with one of them in the moving truck while his wife and I took turns driving my car. The puppies rode in a laundry basket in the back seat, and I swapped them out for you to nurse whenever they were hungry. You and Charlie settled into our new life just fine, although I couldn't figure out why my car smelled so gross until one day I was giving a co-worker a ride home. "Sorry about the smell," I apologized. "I've vacuumed my car and Armor-All'ed it, but I can't get this odor out." My co-worker took a whiff and declared, "It smells like sour milk." That's when I realized it was sour dog milk from you nursing your puppies. I held back my laughter until my co-worker got out of the car. Then I drove to the car wash and cleaned the rugs, laughing the entire time. Eventually I upgraded to a bigger, nicer 'Puppy Wagon' so I could drive you kids around more easily.

Harry was the puppy I kept, and even though I found great homes for his siblings, it was heartbreaking to part with them because they were four incarnations of you. I loved you so much I wanted as many of you as I could get. But as Harry grew up he developed his own personality, and it turns out he's not exactly like you. There will only ever be one Quirky Girl. I took the three of you to the ocean for the first time in your lives, and I let you run and splash and get dirty and roll in whatever you wanted. Because that's what good dog moms do.

July 2009, settling into our new city!

July 2009, settling into our new city!

I was a bachelorette for 2 more years, until the three of us traveled another 2000 miles to live with your dog dad Scott. It was impossible to find a rental in a decent neighborhood that would accept a tenant with 3 dogs. He knew I loved you too much to split up our family, so he bought us a friggin' house to live in together! I warned him about how you got into things and chewed them up.  Sometime within the first month we all lived together, Scott & I came home and I noticed your svelte figure was shaped more like a football. We walked through the place in search of what you'd eaten. I found the big bowl of Easter candy, which was no longer sitting on the coffee table, and no longer full of chocolate and jelly beans. The marks on the lid looked a lot like the marks you left on my Coach purse.

"You left chocolate where Quirky could reach it?" I yelled at him.

"I put the lid on!" he snapped back.

Luckily, you didn't get sick from all the candy you ate. Every time I took you outside for the next few days, your poo was decorated with pastel foil and smelled just like chocolate. I once had a summer job in a chocolate factory, so you know I'm not exaggerating. That was the last time your dog dad left food out.  :)

After a few years we thought about buying a bigger place, but this house was already filled with so much love and so many memories that we decided to stay put. These past eight years as a family flew by together so fast...too fast.

Waiting for their treats from the stocking Puppy Santa left them on Christmas morning.

Waiting for their treats from the stocking Puppy Santa left them on Christmas morning.

Your vet always told us with pride that you had the heart of an athlete, that they couldn't believe you were as old as your paperwork said. You were always a model of perfect health, so we spoiled you with table scraps at Puppy Thanksgiving. You got toys and treats and even lobster for Puppy Christmas. You taught our shy and timid niece not to be afraid of you, although you still never fetched the ball when she threw it. (That's why Charlie is her favorite.) One by one, the puppy birthdays began to add up until the day we arrived here...In old age and failing health. You have arthritis and your back is a mess. Last month I almost threw out my back while putting on a sweater. What the hell happened to us??? I remember the last time our niece and nephew were with you. I remember explaining to them that your back legs don't work right anymore. They were so gentle when they tucked your feet into your bolster bed. That's when I wondered if it would be the last time they'd see you.

It was.

All your symptoms point to Degenerative Myelopathy, although the only way to diagnose it is through an autopsy. Scott and I debated with our vet about whether or not we should put you through multiple tests and surgeries...just in case it was something else. We knew that general anesthesia is hard on older dogs, and we had to accept that there was zero chance of you ever making a full recovery. We tried different pain medications, acupuncture, physical therapy, and a rear harness to let you walk around the yard to relive yourself with dignity. Our baseline of what was normal for you kept sliding down, then down again. First, it was happening every couple of months. Then it became every week. The muscles in your back legs wasted away, and we started bandaging your feet to protect them from getting hurt. We took you out into the front yard where the grass was softer. You started yelping and snapping your teeth when we'd pick you up to take you outside. Eventually you didn't want us to pet you. Then you stopped getting quite as excited about getting up to eat breakfast, and we knew what we had to do.

Money can buy Puppy Wagons and big bolster beds, and it can pay for treats and in-home dog washes and the best medical care, but it can't justify putting you through hell for another handful of months just because "I'm not ready." Fourteen years and seven months is a really good run, Q. If dogs lived twice as long I still wouldn't be ready for this day. I know that our time together is coming to an end. I can't hold onto you any more than I can hold onto the lush, warm, green vibrance of summer. The leaves will always fall from the trees, reminding us that we can't stop time.

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Right now you're napping in your usual place in the living room, where you've napped for the last 8 years. Jack the plumber is downstairs installing a dog wash that I'll never get to bathe you in. You always hated bath time anyway. In less than forty-eight hours you'll be gone...just like your two little girls that died almost exactly 10 years ago. The cynic in me is bitter that the 14 years and seven months of your life will be reduced to a container of ashes and a commemorative paw print. What a shitty trade-off for such an amazing dog. I'm going to look at your deep nail marks in the clay and remember how you were in too much pain to let me trim them. Then I'll remember those paw prints tracking Ultramarine Blue paint all over the white carpet and I'll feel a little better. I've tried bargaining that your spine and your legs shouldn't have given out years before your sharp mind and your athletic heart. I'm in denial that your bright little light can't shine forever. I've accepted that as much as I want to hold on, I know I have to let you go. While you're napping in the living room, I'm sobbing in the kitchen because I know how sensitive you've always been and I don't want you to worry about anything.

Scott and I went to a movie last night, trying to forget about what's going to happen in the next couple days. When we came home, you still managed to pull your broken body to the door to greet us. You used to rush outside the door and herd us back into the house, because that's what corgis were bred to do. They keep the herd together. Instead of petting you I could only let you lick my hand before you scooted away, dragging your legs behind your little bunny butt. I savored that moment because it was the last one we'd ever have with you welcoming us home. You used to sit in my lap and let me play with your stumpy little corgi feet. Now I can't pet you without causing you pain. I can't pick you up and dance in the kitchen with you like we used to. I can't even touch you without causing you pain. I can't give you any comfort...except being nearby and giving you food. At least I can do that. This last year of working from home has allowed me to be here whenever you need me. I can give you extra kibble at meals and pieces of cheese and turkey bacon and liver treats. You can have some of my pasta too, because let's face it-- keeping you fit and trim doesn't matter at this point. All that matters is that you are as happy and as comfortable as you can be in the short amount of time you have left.

Scott took this pic of Q waiting for me to come home.

Scott took this pic of Q waiting for me to come home.

I've been staying around the house to reassure you that I'm still right here after all this time. I know you don't like it when I'm gone. Our amazing vet is coming to the house and helping us give you the gift of no more suffering. The humans all agree that it's better we let you go peacefully a little too early than wait a day too late. I promise that I will be the last thing you smell when you take your last breath, and I will be the last thing you see when the light in your eyes stops shining. I promised you that I wasn't going anywhere. I hope that makes it easier for you to cross the threshold between life and death. I can't come with you this time, but I hope you know you're taking a piece of my heart with you when you go. Nobody's going to take you out that door without me being right there by your side.

And knowing you, you probably wouldn't let them either.

Quirky sleeping in my office, January 2017.

Quirky sleeping in my office, January 2017.

Quirky Girl passed away peacefully in my arms two days later. I finally got to hold her as I let her go.

My Writing Process

EPIC AUTHOR POST!!!

I received a Facebook message from Alana asking me multiple questions about my writing process. Here's my response...and it's truly epic-length!

My creative process has become a lot more organized with each book. I'll be the first to say that there is no right or wrong way to create...what works for one person will be a nightmare for another. For example, some authors are plotters, and others are 'pantsers,' meaning they write by the seat of their pants. Some write in a linear fashion, meaning they start at page one and go in a straight line until they get to the end. When they stop writing for the day, they pick right up where they left off. Not me! I start at whatever section is screaming at me to be fleshed out, and then I jump around a lot. I add things in and take things out over and over. This is the reason why I don't give too many 'sneak peeks' of a work in progress until the book is almost finished -- because I'm constantly coming up with little nuggets that have to be planted early in the story for them to have a bigger impact later on.

That being said, I used to be a pantser, but now I establish a loose plot line that is flexible enough for me to change as needed. And it happens a lot. I've learned to let it change and evolve as it wants to. Sometimes that means I might lose a reader, or upset them because I didn't give them what they wanted, but you can't make everyone happy. Plus it's a great opportunity for some fan-fiction! I'd totally read it if people wrote it! ;)

Ideas come to me constantly, and out of nowhere, so I rarely leave the house without a notepad and a pen stuffed in my purse. If I'm in a pinch I'll email myself notes. I've written notes on napkins, invoices, paper plates, receipts...whatever is handy. The idea of leaving the house without my notebook gives me mild anxiety. It's like a security blanket for me.

As far as the inspiration for those ideas, it comes from life in general. It could hit me while peeling potatoes for supper or watching a TV show (Mr. Cannaday & I are about to start Downton Abbey for the 6th time). Maybe it's a word, a location, a chord of music. It could be going to the antique shop and finding 'Talvi's straight-razor' or chatting with a girlfriend over lunch about her family. She has a relative who everyone suspects is a secret agent because he once left to pick up a birthday cake and came back 5 months later. All his family received was a letter on government stationary saying that he'd been called into work and don't ask questions. Sound familiar???

The characters are everything to me. They drive the story, and the plot changes depending on their reactions to the situations I put them in (or situations they put themselves in). When I wrote the first draft of The Flame and the Arrow, Talvi was supposed to be a nice, sweet guy...a little naive and innocent. More of a true hero. Then I got to know him better and I realized that I could never 'make him' behave that way. He was worldly and devilish and frustrating and immature about so many things, while clever and sharp about others. A lot of people hate on him, and I understand why. But a lot of people love him, and I also understand why. Same goes for Annika, and Finn. Some of my critics say that my characters are unlikable, that they are selfish (Annika), immature (Talvi), that they let us down (Finn) etc. It doesn't bother me because I don't really disagree with that

This is actually one of the reasons why I started writing in the first place, because characters in the books I read were SO perfect that I never thought of them as real. I felt like I was reading a book about a person who didn't exist. I never felt completely sucked into a story until I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. She made them real to me because they were so flawed, which made them beautiful and memorable to this day. My characters aren't mature adults making great life choices. They are younger, or inexperienced, or faced with situations and decisions that none of us would have to deal with. They mistake drama for passion, and fantasy as reality. I love mixing the fantasy with reality because it gives you a lot more room to explore themes with fewer rules...or at least, it lets you bend the rules. ;) I try to make the characters real, and that means flawed. Really flawed. Maybe the more flawed they are, they more real they seem, and that's what helps bring them to life? Maybe that's why we root for them so hard when they start to grow up, and why we cry when they self-destruct?

I used to keep a mirror at my desk so that I could scowl and sneer and smirk into it, and then write a description of what I saw. I love psychology and am able to read people's attitude & mood pretty fast when I'm with them in person. I'm sure that helps in bringing characters to life, too. I always wonder WHY someone did what they did, or HOW they will react if X happens. When you spend all your free time daydreaming about imaginary people, I guess you get to know them pretty well.

As far as the mechanics of my writing process go, I've gotten a LOT more organized in the past year! I try to write down major plot points or themes on my note cards and then organize what order I want them to happen in. The different colors indicate which characters those events are centered around, but with 5 colors and a much bigger cast, they have to share. ;) The cards can be rearranged at any time, depending on how things develop as I start filling in the gaps that link events together. Then I go into my manuscript and number off some chapters. Instead of chapter titles, I have a few words that say what's happening in that chapter. In the body of the text I write a sentence or two (or twenty) about what's supposed to happen in each chapter. I can always add in a new chapter at any time, and then I re-number them to stay organized. There are software programs out there for authors to make this a lot easier (Scrivener is a great one), but I stick to what I know -- Microsoft Word. I tried Scrivener and became so overwhelmed that I. Just. Couldn't. Even. I've found that I function better if I can write things down on index cards and look at how they fit together on my dining room table. I've worked with my hands since birth, drawing, creating, and building, so it makes sense that I like to write on the cards and touch them.

As far as my daily word count goes, it really varies. On a bad day I'll sit at my desk and squeeze out 500 hard-won words. On a great day I'll knock out 3000. One of my weaknesses is that I self-edit and self-censor when I should be writing the first draft with warts and all. Mr. Cannaday is constantly reminding me to stop hitting the "Delete" button. I know he's right, and I'm working on it, I swear!! I know some authors say they write 1, 3, and 5 thousand words day and they crank out a book a month, but they are not me. I am very, very careful not to compare myself to other authors that way. I can only measure my achievements against where I was yesterday, last week, six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. A lot of authors fall victim to 'comparisonitis.' I'm not one of them, and it's incredibly liberating!!

Writing is now my full time job, but that doesn't mean 40 hours a week of sipping coffee/tea/wine and making things up in my office. It means doing all of the businessy stuff that a lot of creative people don't like...which is why they try to get agents and traditional publishing deals, etc. Since I'm independently published, I'm the one hiring the cover designer, the formatter, the narrator, and the distributors. I'm the one proofing their work, requesting changes, and coaching my narrator to give me more attitude and be snarly and seductive. I'm the one checking sales and setting the budgets for all of these professionals that I work with, and then investing in advertising, education, tax prep, etc. And then there's managing the Review Team, the website, social media, and writing emails, etc. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes!

My mother-in-law is retiring at the end of the year, and I'm training her to help me out with some of the administrative stuff to give me more time to write. However...the one thing that I never will outsource is responding to my readers! I might not always have the time to comment on something you post here, but I will 'Like' it to let you know that I read it. ;) And if you send a FB message, I can't always write back immediately (it would help if FB notifications worked better, too - sorry about that, Alana!). But I will do my absolute best to respond to anyone who reaches out to me. It's because of YOU that I'm able to be where I'm at today, and because of YOU that I get to create audiobooks and write The Darkest of Dreams and re-launch my contemporary romance series instead of having to return to a regular day job. Aside from making things up and writing them down, hearing from YOU is my favorite thing about this whole indie author gig. I've had some amazing comments and emails that give me such incredible inspiration to keep at this. That's why I love this Facebook group so much! Yes, my career is a lot of work, but I love it all so much that it honestly doesn't feel like work to me. It feels like a dream come true. Thank you so much for that. ;)

Hugs!!! <3

Fresco Opera Theatre, Edgar Allen Poe, & the Haunted Masonic Temple that brought them together.

I've always been curious about opera but never made it a point to attend one. That is, until some of my friends told me about The Poe Requiem, a production by the Fresco Opera Theatre based here in Madison. My conversations with singer & composer Clarisse Tobia regarding the pursuit of creative expression had left me wanting to hear more. Plus Edgar Allen Poe has been on my bookshelf since middle school, so when the stars aligned it was a no-brainer to attend.

I walked into this experience without any idea of what to expect. I was greeted by doormen dressed in red frock coats and white powdered wigs...like a vision from a 1700's palace. I was ushered to my seat by black-feathered ravens on stilted legs that glittered in the eerie blue and purple lights. They could've stepped right off the set of The Dark Crystal. There was video imagery on screen of swirling mist and paintings of the morphine-addicted tortured artist himself, along with the capillary-like pattern of a giant leafless oak tree projected onto the floor. A troupe of dancers evoked cobwebs blowing in the breeze, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and the raven that witnessed it all. Add to that a full chorus, soloists, organs and an orchestral ensemble - all macabre to the max. I was already dazzled by the experience, and then Clarisse delivered a solo that sent shivers down my spine.

The shame is that it only plays for 2 nights. This show ought to run for at least two weeks to give more people a greater opportunity to see it. Like a fleeting meteor shower or an elusive eclipse, I consider myself very lucky to have been witness to this experience.

The Poe Requiem was held at the Madison Masonic Temple, which ticked another box off my 'interesting places to visit' list. The haunted temple tour following the breathtaking performance was an unexpected surprise. I know a little about Masonic symbolism, but now I'm inspired to research more after seeing the ceremonial rooms filled with hand-carved wooden throne-like chairs, altars, columns that represent a Sacred Gateway tied to ancient Egypt, etc. The space definitely had a certain vibe to it that I can only describe as esoteric, slightly unsettling, and utterly magnetic. I would absolutely love to be locked in here overnight and get acquainted with the resident poltergeists and ghosts...and watch the show one more time.

A girl can dream.