When Your Dog Learns To Spell & Other Methods Of Mayhem

My 13 year old rescue, who I’ve had for the last 11 years, loves to play. With the exception of a couple of teeth that will be removed soon, he appears to be in wonderful health, squeaking his toys incessantly, running at full speed around the house and yard, and developing the definition of the term he-diva.

But there’s a problem . . .

With the exception of his life companion, who we unfortunately lost to a brain tumor last year, he hates everything with fur. And he screams his hate from the top of his lungs in his best warrior princess cry.

And I worry . . .

He needs exercise. Companionship. Another member to his little lone wolf pack. As much as he disagrees, I can’t help but feel that I’m doing him a disservice by allowing him to have his way.

When I adopted him all those years ago, I was told that he got on well with all other animals. (Not true.) I was fortunate that he got along with my other dog, but he didn’t have much of a choice. She was a boss in the way only Jack (or Parson) Russell terriers can be. An overconfident little girl who knew that her way was the best (and only) way.

Yet he screams at every other creature . . .

I spent months sitting with him along the side of the road, giving him chicken or porkchop or some other delicious treat whenever another dog walked by as ‘positive reinforcement’. Each time he’d spit the food out to yell (what I imagine are) obscenities. I hired a trainer, who worked with him for one afternoon before advising me to, “Just keep him away from other dogs.” Easier said than done, especially now. Even a walk around the neighborhood is a nightmare of epic proportions.

See the source imageDon’t get me wrong – he loves to walk. Nothing makes him happier (besides food) than racing full speed like the wild wolf he is, conquering the world and claiming it as his own. Until he sees, hears, or smells another dog. (And we live in a neighborhood where almost everyone has a dog.) When that happens, my little angel shouts his hate with the endless wrath of a hell hound. A demon who can break glass and shatter eardrums with his high pitched notes.

See the source imageThe other day when we were walking, someone asked me what breed he was. “A Singapore Shrieker. They’re used to hunt parrots and monkeys. Their high pitched calls make their prey fall right out of the trees.” While complete BS, it’s possibly believable, and I wanted to say it so bad because it would explain a lot, but instead I hung my head and said, “Schnauzer mix,” which translates as my dog is horribly behaved in public while we both winced at the sound of the little man’s madness.

Needless to say, there’s no such thing as a casual stroll when it entails enduring a headache and humiliation. My husband and I do our best to make sure we’re both up for the walk of shame before pup knows it’s on the table.

Only, there’s been a new development . . .

See the source imageA few nights ago, after dinner, we discussed a W-A-L-K. Spelled. And pup went to his leash. Then proceeded to bounce his front paws off the door like the he-diva he’s become. Several experiments have confirmed it. There’s no mistaking it. He’s learned to spell (at least that word, but who knows what will follow next).

This. Changes. Everything.

In a sheer panic we texted (while in the same room). We’ll use code words. Nonverbal communication. Sign language. Anything to hold on to the last shreds of control that we have, but who knows how long that will last. All the while, pup smiled at us, rather smugly.

I had a brief flashback to my childhood, to my parents spelling the things they didn’t want me to hear, and the day I cracked the code. My own feeling of triumph at having leveled the playing field. Did I (smugly) spell back to them? Do I deserve this? Ugh, I think maybe I do.

At the end of the day, I’m incredibly grateful to have such a smart, healthy pup, but still . . . if anyone has any suggestions, please, send help. And if not, and you see us coming . . . cover your ears and run!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter To My Possible Future Literary Agent

Dear Possible Future Literary Agent,

There are some things you should probably know about me.

I love words. I love reading. I love writing. I write for myself but also because I hope to entertain people and help them to escape the reality of life from time to time. Awards are good, I have nothing against them, but I have no desire to win a Pulitzer. If you’re looking for the next Toni Morrison, it probably won’t be me.

Image result for cheeseI’ll listen to what you say, because I’m well aware that I don’t know everything, but there are some things I do that you might not like. Sometimes I get bound by the bonds of alliteration. I can’t stand the way a properly executed em-dash looks, so I use spaces around it. And I like to do things in a series of three for emphasis. Why? Why? Why? I don’t quite know, but if you tell me to stop, I will try.

I’ll need to know your favorite treat, because I believe in celebrating everything, and if you give a Shannon a contract, she’s going to want to send you a cookie food. I’m not going to assume it’s chocolate, and hope you’ll do likewise. I enjoy chocolate like most people, but sometimes the sugar doesn’t make me feel so great, plus my husband will probably eat most of it before I get a chance.Image result for cheese

But don’t worry, because I also like cheese. Said husband likes cheese, too, but I believe I can eat more cheese quicker than him, plus, I’ll take the best cheese, the tastiest one, and put it in the hidden part of the refrigerator, the secret vortex that keeps things hidden from the husband’s eyes. There’s a reason our vegetable drawer is always full – so no one can see what’s at the back.

But, if a treat for you is hot yoga, I can arrange that too. I understand that while it may not be my thing, it might be yours. I have nothing against hot yoga, it’s just that it’s hot. And sweaty. And sweaty leads to stinky. Then you’re in a room full of hot, sweaty, stinky people, and the teacher wants you to move around and stuff, which means you’ve got to breathe. Deeply. If you’re into all that, it’s cool. But I’ll stick with the cheese, please.

Image result for cheeseYou should also know that I’m not afraid of hard work, and I won’t give up. I’m not just saying that. I’ve got proof.

I get out of bed every day, even the days meant for staying in bed, like rainy Sundays when I’m in the middle of a book I don’t want to put down. On those days it’s mainly because a girl’s gotta eat, and said husband is willing to exist on things he can dip into mustard and salsa (with a side of cheese) if it allows him to maintain his claim that he can’t cook. That, and I’d have to get out of bed to open the window for the delivery driver, anyways, so I might as well just stay out of bed.

Also . . . I know SO many ways to dispose of a body, which makes me the ideal person to be that friend everyone should have on hand. Unless that offends you. Then you can be that bastion of levelheaded wisdom friend for me. We don’t even have to be friends if you don’t want. I’m not very social, anyways. You’ll probably have to do most of the work. So, I’ll let you decide.Image result for cheese

My point is, I’m well aware that I need you more than you need me. Everyone and their uncle’s a writer. Not everyone and only some uncles are agents. I’ll do my best to make you proud. And if you’re having a hard day and feeling blue, I’ll do my best to cheer you up with a song I create just for you. (Actually, I might re-appropriate one of the ones I sing to my dogs, but I’ll change the name to yours and throw in a couple of other details to make sure you feel special.)

My songs, by the way, are delightful, engaging and entertaining. (There’s that three thing again!) And you’d like more tempting, tasty tidbits about me? (Score once more for alliteration! Do you see what you’re missing out on?!?!)

I love horror movies and have a tendency to laugh at the worst parts. I bar-tended through seven years of college, and not just how most college students bar-tend, but professionally, so I could cater all your lunches with acquisitions editors and make them super strong drinks that taste like candy. And what else . . . oh, yeah. I like cheese.

Most Sincerely,

Shannon

 

 

 

 

Fieldwork For Fiction

Write what you know. It’s common advice for writers. But how does it apply to you and your writing?

I recently overheard a fantasy writer remark that they couldn’t “write what they know” because they “create worlds and make things up”. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t really agree with it, because all fiction writers make stuff up, right? And beyond that, all people, writers or not, know and recognize certain things.

I walk hundreds of miles a year. I’ve walked over mountains, through swamps, across beaches and scrubland and pine forests and oak woods and grassy plains . . . and plenty of habitats inbetween.

I’ve had wild boars run across the trail ten feet in front of me, seen a snake mating ball writhing in the grass, and wandered upon a ginormous alligator sunning across the path. I can describe the difference between sweat from stifling heat from that of frigid cold and that of fear. I can tell you that pines just below the timberline on a summer day in the mountains smell like Christmas. Or that the sulfuric stench of a river has briny undertones, while that of a swamp has a ‘meatier’ rotten egg odor.

While walking, I love taking photographs of interesting trees, but I can also use those different trees to help set the mood of a scene. A palm trees with spear-like projections stabbing into the air from it’s trunk, (the kind you can imagine mangled bodies impaled upon), is very different than a majestic oak with sun limned ferns growing atop a sweeping bow. I’ve seen trees with actual thorns, mangroves with spindly witch hands, and trees with gnarled limbs like knotted arthritic fingers.

 
Pay attention to all of your senses. What sounds do you hear when you go outside? Birds, insects, frogs? Traffic, sirens, jackhammers? What would you feel if those sounds suddenly stop and all you hear in the silence is your own heartbeat and the slosh of your spit as you swallow?

I guess my point is this – writing what you know isn’t just subjects you know about. It’s including sensory descriptions and emotions you can invoke, and for that, you have to get out and actively experience your life. Next time you’re at the mall, pay attention to how the smells change as you go from store to store. If you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to how the noise level varies throughout – is it louder at the bar, when you walk past the table with three kids under five, or near a group of rowdy friends?

I think most of us observe more than we realize during the course of our daily lives, and I know that, as a reader, when a writer includes something – no matter how mundane – that makes me remember an experience of my own, it draws me that much deeper into the story.

Only a small percentage of my fiction is set outdoors, but I do a lot of fieldwork to bring those scenes to life, and what I observe on the trail can apply to other fictional settings as well. (But don’t go seeking out a giant alligator so you can catalogue your body’s fear response 😬. Safety first!)

Writers – what fieldwork do you do for your fiction? And readers – what has an author done to really make you connect with a story?

(All pictures my own, most featured on my Instagram account

How To Tell If You’re Writing In Deep Point Of View | Writers In The Storm

Here’s a great article from the Writers In The Storm blog written by guest poster Lisa Hall Wilson. Deep Point Of View can be difficult to master, but it’s a great way to learn how to show versus tell, which will strengthen your writing and draw your readers deeper into your characters and story. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did!

https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/11/how-to-tell-if-youre-writing-in-deep-point-of-view/

4 Techniques to Fire Up Your Fiction | Donald Mass | Writer’s Digest

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the SurfaceWhen it comes to writing tips and advice, Donald Maas is a master! It’s no secret that his book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, changed the way I viewed writing as a whole. I stumbled on this article he wrote for Writer’s Digest back in 2009 – an oldie but a goodie – and had to share!

Source: 4 Techniques to Fire Up Your Fiction | Writer’s Digest

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ Leveraging Fear

Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.

Image result for halloween movie release dateIf I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of. 

See the source imageA general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.

The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?

Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.

If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”

Three different questions, all with different answers.

Image result for dr evilThis is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.

How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?

It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?

But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!

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Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ The Pregame Show

With NaNoWrMo almost here, I decided to give some thought to the pregame show. Spoiler Alert – This isn’t about sports. And there’s nothing to actually watch. It also isn’t another plotter vs. pantser post. This is about what you write before you write (I’m going somewhere here, I promise).

comp book
Actual picture of my notebook. I use the clip to section off notes from previous works, and the tabs to separate the different works.

I am a pantser, which means I don’t create an outline before I write. More power to the writers who do, it just doesn’t work for me. When I start a new piece, sometimes all I have is the beginning. Or the ending. Sometimes the middle, but more often just an idea I’ve been kicking around that I think I can develop into 60-80,000 words that I hope will keep readers distracted from reality for a while.

I don’t outline because I like to see how things organically progress, like a social experiment where you drop a group of people into a situation and watch to see how they’ll react. But, since I’m more drawn to plot than character, I tend to not know who I’ll be playing with when I start. Which can make the stark white page with the blinking cursor looks kind of daunting at times.

So, while I don’t spend hours plotting out what will happen, I do engage in something called prewriting. That’s when I jot down notes, ideas, and general directions I could go in before I’ve made thousands of words worth of commitment to an idea I’ll later abandon. It lets me see possible names on paper, maybe a quick character sketch or two, locations to consider and some plot points I may want to visit along the way. Basically, it’s a brain dump.

Sometimes, I scratch the whole thing. Other times, I realize one of the characters I’m considering isn’t going to work in the story or with the other characters. It creates a launching point so I can quickly get some words on the blank page. And when I feel adrift in choppy waters, another quick brain dump is usually enough to bring my boat back to smooth sailing.

Pros: It takes all of five minutes, so if you don’t listen to a word of it you haven’t lost much time, and if it doesn’t work, simply try again. It gives you a rough direction if you’re feeling lost. It’s completely fluid – you can add or scratch notes at any time without having to restructure the whole thing.

Cons: It leaves a lot to chance and the writer’s ability to tell themselves a story on the fly as they’re typing. It does not provide the structure of allowing you to see the scene you’ll be writing on a given day. It does not write the story for you.

So, for all of you who don’t want to create a detailed outline of a book you haven’t written yet, but also don’t want to go in blind, I hope this helps! Best of luck to all the writers out there, both those who are and aren’t participating in this year’s NaNo!!!

(Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for the latest updates, and visit me at http://www.shannonhollinger.com to check out the new look!)

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ Getting Real About Rejection

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been rejected as a writer, but over the years it amounts to hundreds. Hundreds of times that my work, and by proxy, myself, was not good enough. Thanks to my Duotrope stats, I know I’ve been rejected by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine ten times, twice with a personalized letter of rejection from the editor. Thanks to QueryTracker, I know my last novel was rejected 14 times, 7 of those times by agents that requested the full manuscript. My current manuscript has already been rejected 8 times, once by one of the agents that requested the full.

Now let’s look at Churchill’s quote. Have I lost my enthusiasm? Honestly? At moments, yes, but for the most part, no. I love writing. Of the 8 rejections I’ve received on my current novel, two were personalized emails saying that while this particular novel wasn’t for them, my writing was strong, I have a good novel, and some agent is going to want it. Is that success? During my good moments, yes. During the others . . . not so much.

Usually, when I write a post, that’s it. I read it over for typos, then schedule it. Not this time. Not this post. This post found me in the dark place writers sometimes go, that nasty little spot somewhere between self-doubt and city razing rage. (I suspect Godzilla must have been an aspiring novelist.) The unhelpful, ranting parts of this post were deleted. Rewritten. Deleted again. Because I know the game. I choose to play the game. But that doesn’t mean I always like it.

Sometimes those near misses feel even harder than the outright rejections. It’s like getting the candy bar out of the wrapper and into your mouth, tasting its chocolately goodness against your tongue before having it cruelly yanked away. No chocolate for you. Just the hint of it, that’s all. It’s a special kind of torture (especially when put in terms of chocolate!).

Believe me when I say that I understand that rejection is part of the process. Even all those manuscripts that find agents and publishers and homes on the shelves of major bookstores still get rejected by readers and reviewers and people who pass them over for reasons as odd as the cover being the wrong color. There’s no escaping rejection, I get that.

Sometimes I stare at my computer screen, wishing I’d self-publish and offer my books for free on Amazon in exchange for constructive criticism from the readers. Wouldn’t that be a more proactive way of developing my craft than stacking another abandoned manuscript on the dusty pile growing in the corner? Sometimes I Google masochism words trying to find the perfect one to describe the torture situation. And sometimes, I type away lalala all smiles and grins and faith that it’ll work itself out simply because I’m writing, which is (in my opinion) the best of all superpowers and as far as evil villains go, rejection isn’t that bad.

On those dark days, though . . . send chocolate and puppy memes. And tequila. Lots and lots of tequila.

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