Notes from “a Dog” on Writing.

20 09 2016

Dogs know the way to pen a tale. Any writer can learn how. Read on:

A Lesson In Storytelling From The Ultimate Dog Tease





Man Bites Dog

22 07 2016

If a man can write a dog of a screenplay, can a dog write a script with humanity? I tried my paw…left, then right. I’m ambidextrous. A feat for a quadruped. Make that feet. The advantage, clear, no?

At any rate, this little canine wrote a second novel, yet to be released, and out of the blue it optioned for film, and I, contracted to try adaptation. Relatively new at manipulating the keyboard, anything having to do with film (beyond Asta and the Thin Man or Lassie Returns) is totally perplexing. I watched The Wild Prairie last week and spent the best part (creatures going to ground) trying to burrow between the wall and the television. As far as I know there’s still a meerkat family back there, though they clearly bathe twice a day, because no scent exists.Meerkat5

So…movies. I recently read that if a novel is a poem, a screenplay is a telegram. No small exercise for a verbose canine with an e-thesaurus. The good news: novels are built from the skeleton out. Bones I know.polishing_bones_deer_bone_db

Sniff out the main artery of any story and therein lies the heart. Write the heart, make sure each scene speaks to the ending, trim the dialogue until it sings (especially if it’s a musical) and, voilà, the essence of the tale ready for film…until a wad of producers hire others to re-piece the work into, at times, something only Frankenstein’s mother could love. But I digress.

Since completing said script, I realize that adapting a novel for film is the perfect exercise for every novelist, whether or not they want their work on the screen. Adaptation forces clean, sensible, streamlined writing, something even the literary writer needs in their toolbox. And, for those who have difficulty finding the real meaning in their work, a good logline written and posted above the workspace, keeps the message on track.sniff

And like any good dog, once that scent is picked up, it’s easier to stay on the trail.





Dog Talk

21 11 2014

Let’s discuss etymology. For those out there challenged by syllables (i.e. certain men), I’m talking words.word

Science tells us that the humble dog is able to recognize more words than ever before thought. Beyond the simple “fetch”, “sit”, “shake”, “ball”, and the proverbial (literally) “no”.no-means-yes

Words like “impossible,” “never”, “stupid”, “stubborn”, and even (cringe) “neutering” have resided in the canine dictionary for centuries. And we didn’t learn them from man, we learned them because of man.caveman

The dog is inherently optimistic. The possibility of the “impossible” is a never-ending focus in our minds. Ever see a dog sitting statue-like at the base of a tree waiting for a squirrel to make a misstep?

Ever watch the canine attempt to bite the mailman through the front-door glass––every day, rain or shine, for a decade. the idea that it will never happen, dare I say “NEVER” occurs to him. Otherwise he would have given it up the second day.

“Stupid?” Not in the Webster’s Canine. Since wolf-times, dog has known that each failure up the ladder of success leads you closer to the prize. What dog is born with the knowledge they need to survive? Try, and try again, does not imply stupidity. It speaks to adaptation.

And “stubborn?” Nay, we use the word persistent. Part of evolution and natural selection. Give up and you die.images

“Neutering?” What self respecting canine would EVER invent the idea let alone the word?

The moral: Man is too easy with his labels, failing century-after-century to understand the root of his words, passing off traits he finds displeasing as failure, in one way or another.

Dog’s message to man: Relax. Take a Milk-bone.milk+bone1 Stretch out in a patch of sunlight pouring through the dining room window. Let your instinct guide you.

Trade your Webster’s for a dog.Dictionary Experiment

Ciao





How to Talk Sports with Dogs

7 10 2014

Men: Not all dogs share your passion for sports, in case you hadn’t noticed. The reason? Everything they do, they do for treats.

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“Most Dogs don’t care about stats,” says A. Manischewitz, DVM, author of Football with Your Dog: Canine Fandom Around the World. So while you’re enthusing about Russell Wilson breaking the rushing record at a recent Monday Night Football game, your pooch would rather hear about how young Russ bakes every Sunday, producing a tantalizing array of magnificent tasty rewards for his beloved dog. Or how he drives ten miles out of his way just to hit the best slice of doggy water park this side of Figi—and even took two days off from his job the week before the Super Bowl to tend to Fido’s little “snip-snip” surgery (after taking said canine to the local bar for wings and beer before the event).

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Treat (pun-intended) your sports heroes as dog-owners and not just players on a field, and you’ll suck that four-legged friend into anything.

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Just don’t expect him to wear the foam finger. After all, he has no opposable thumb….and he’d rather chew it up.

Some may call me misocynistic, but the label is miso-placed. I AM a dog.Shimoni 001

Chow.

***Shimoni lives in Rome with his family, and one cat (not family), and is an authority on the canine point of view. For more information refer to his autodogography, Jack of Hearts, written by his alter-ego, Robin F. Gainey. Available as a paperback, digitally, or in audiobook form.IMG_4780





By Any Other Name

26 06 2014

So, I hear that the Washington Redskins have been “urged” to change their name. Why are Native Americans the only offended group? And, if so, what about the Kansas City Chiefs? Or the Cleveland Browns? Anybody guess what that name is about? louis-joe-22And the Titans and the Giants (clearly a reference to the overweight), and the Buccaneers (slander toward those privateers who made ancient trade routes great). Is their no justice for those groups? Where are the relatives of Buffalo Bill? Do the Patriots represent those American Communists who may also enjoy football, or the Saints include their atheist fans? And, is there no justice for the animal world? Where does the SPCA stand on the Colts, the Eagles, or the Ravens?

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As a dog, I propose that football discard all tags and references and use the only sure-fire way to identify anything: the nose.

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Once employed, there is no longer any doubt as to the nature of the beast sniffed. Not only the last bath can be detected, but the last meal, as well; the last hand to stoke a back, and virtually all previous encounters and wanderings. Want to name your team the Redskins without offending? Put together a group of Apaches. The Vikings? Real Norwegians wearing horned helmets. The Buccaneers? Eye patch and swords, of course.

You think Rome used to host the greatest animal games? Try watching a team of Bears, Panthers, or Jaguars claw it out on the field.cr2

This accomplished, the only judgements rendered will be nothing but the truth. Gone will be slanders and insults. “It is what it is” becomes the mantra, and the teams identified by scent.

The Washington Corruption. Now there’s a name we all might agree upon…corruption

Ciao.





Writing is Listening

25 04 2014

Writing. A cakewalk some might think. Sit down with a cup of warm milk and a box of chicken flavored dental treats and pound the keyboard. For one who has inflexible toes, and no opposable thumbs, it’s an impossible scenario. To the canine writer, the closest comparison might be the paraplegic. Let me tell you why: it’s all about listening.156059336-124599_238x238

I propose a different point of view (I’m a dog): Writing is not a cakewalk, it’s a “dogwalk.”

A dog pulls the master along, pausing here and there to sniff a clue––or drop one. And so the writer leads the reader, imagining clues to add along the way as a path is created, hoping the reader will recognize, however subconsciously, the ones they’ve deposited.

How?

The written word of the author, as recited in the mind of the reader.

Ruh. You don’t have to be a canine ophthalmologist to know this.

Within those neat little sentences fashioned on the page should be everything that must be known about the story at the precise time it needs be known. To garner the information, the reader must pay attention, and here the writer is the master to its slave. The whip is micro-tension, akin to scattering a handful of liver snacks on the floor, and setting a cat on one side and a dog on the other.

How does one see the other? Micro-tension provides this insight through showing the friction between the two. Even if they are friends, there is bound to be some conflict in the above example. Let me tell you, it usually starts with a growl on one side or the other–––even though, of course, I LOVE the cat.

The two characters are at odds, resisting, undermining, attacking, either directly or in the sub-text of the scene. In exposition, emotions are in conflict and ideas at odds. The reader seeks relief by turning the page. The authors greatest hope.

The reader hears the words in his mind. If the writer has done his job, the words trigger a thing called emotion: the literary Pavlovian response. imagesWith a little luck (and a lot of skill), the feeling isn’t resignation, leading the reader, shoulders slumped, to put the book down, and shuffle off to the library for something new.

I know the importance here. This is my struggle. I may be canine, willing to give my heart to most passersby, but words can stump when used to evoke emotion. All my life, a wag of the tail, or a bared tooth, has done the job. Words on a page, free from vocal intonation, are difficult for me. But I think I’m getting closer.

Example, from Clara’s 3rd person POV:

Max said, “I love you.” The glass of ice water rattled as he set it on the table. He looked out the window as though he’d said the words to himself. Released. Clara slipped on her coat, left her key on the table next to the frosty glass, and walked out the door leaving it open to the frigid Christmas air.

or

His words were like a warm bath. “I love you.” The glass of water Max held materialized on the table, his arms around Clara like magic. Max’s eyes in the mirror above the Christmas fire were golden in the light, but he had the look of a man being led to hang.

***

 

Okay. Not Hemingway. images

But do you know how Max feels about Clara in each of these sentences? Do you know how Clara feels? Do you care? do you want to know what the problem is between them? Do you wan to turn the page? Please tell me you do.

I’m working on another novel (5th draft geared to micro-tension. Next draft: emotion…without any wagging tails). I take notes (recorded digitally, of course), I fashion metaphorical sentences––so many that my dreams are all in 3rd person narrative, no longer images, but echoes. I awaken to fragments that make me feel something.

 

Because I listen––and pay attention to the way words make me feel.imagesChow.





A Brief Interview

30 01 2014

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An interview about the writing of my novel, JACK OF HEARTS: A fictionalized account of the mayhem that ensued after I discovered my master’s infidelity.

What are some of the challenges you encountered in writing JACK OF HEARTS?

It was really daunting to contemplate writing about infidelity. I found it to be a vast, complicated topic. I had to muster my courage, I think, to take that on. More than anything I wanted to render it in the right way, and explore it from the standpoint of a dog. I mean, loyalty is everything to the canine, no? That was the other big challenge: writing in the canine voice…inner voice actually. Initially, that was intimidating. I would go to bed at night and wake up worrying about it. What thesaurus translates the wag in its every definition, for instance? But in the end, I felt so compelled to do this. It’s a subject that affects every member of the family, right down to the lowly cat. I think you just have to listen to that place inside yourself as a canine writer. It’s just a creative knowing. Like knowing which piece of undergarment to shred, where to bury a bone, or what part of the garden to ruin. I just took a breath and decided to take it on, write in my imagined voice, and trust it to be authentic.

Where do you like to read?

I have several spots. When I’m in the country, I read usually in the afternoon, under the chestnut tree off the patio – a short reading time, usually poetry. Ogdan Nash, Carl Sandburg, and Robert William Service. I love Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, DOG SONGS. Who wouldn’t? I read in bed every night. I usually get in bed pretty early with an iPad (with no opposable thumbs, it’s easier to swipe the pages), and I read until the management turns off the light. When in Rome, I sit in a lounge chair on my balcony overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. I love to be outside when the weather’s right. I can stay there pretty much all day––unless the squirrels demand attention.

What is your favorite word?

There are just so many beautiful words. Come, stay, car, park, rat, squirrel. Treat is probably my favorite. In Italian it’s regalo. A little more romantic, don’t you think? And covers so much more than simply the edible. Then there’s Bolognese, spaghetti, fromaggio. But I digress. It’s a shame the book couldn’t be written totally in Italian. Everything sounds better that way. Even veterinario. I think the word “chase” is beautiful, “inseguimento” in Italian. Not so much in its phonics, but just in the power of the word itself.

What is the first book you remember loving?

Go, Dog, Go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. I still have the first copy I read (although, somewhat tattered along the binding…). I remember reading it as a pup, outside, under the chestnut tree, just lying in the grass, one eye on a squirrel, the other on those glorious words in large type.

If you could recommend just one book, what would it be?

Travels with Charlie. Probably because I’d love to see America. The Incredible Journey was a great read, too, but a bit unbelievable. I mean, teaming with a cat?

The novel that probably had the most impact on me was, Lad, A Dog. Canine heroism is a huge motif in my  book. It goes back to the roots of what makes up a dog in mind and spirit, and the first sparks that ignited the path for dogs, from the Neanderthal campfire to the service dogs of today. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, “a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood.” I like to think of myself in the same way…except the collie part. It’s a period piece, but charming in its language, even if it is written in English.

And I do prefer print books. Hard covers are better for sinking one’s teeth into. Alas, because of my handicap (no thumbs), I am confined to the electronic device. At the end of the day, I would prefer to hold something concrete between my teeth. There’s something about the weight, substance, and concreteness of the words. The taste of the binding, scent of the glue, texture of the paper.

There is an alchemy to books. I mean, how else might dog tell a story?

Chow.

(With apologies to Huffington Post and Sue Monk Kidd.)








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