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.

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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.)





The Seven Day Fog

22 01 2013

“It all started with a wrong turn in the velvet fog of Venice.”

Chapter one, line one, new autodogography.

I am off to the City of Water to do some research. Venice in January: like an iceberg in a snowstorm and tourist-free.

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Steamy bars laden with the scent of tobacco and milk chocolate. Trattorie packed with bodies warming to a plate of squid-ink pasta or creamy truffle risotto.

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Gondolieri standing in their boats, wrapped up like winter hams, waiting for business. Ice between my toes. Frost on my snout. Pregnant mist pushing its long, fleshy fingers between the towers and canals.2292218586_e546c44060_m

I know only roughly (or ruff-ly, as is the case) my plot. Certain things have to occur: suspense, romance, danger—and magnificent meals. Truffles will take part as it is winter in northern Italy. And a French-African Chihuahua I once met will play in.1159578853_5864672ff8_m

 

 

Write what you know is what I say, until you no longer know. Then make it up. It’s fiction. All life is a type of fiction, after all. And the living, nothing more than writers. Comforting to know one can always change the ending. All dogs understand this.

The ending is always owned by it’s writer in more ways than one.8381306661_3b58d2eccf_m

Chew on that.

Chow.








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