Monday, March 20, 2006

Man's Best Overlord

Someday I will post about something other than my dog. Today isn't that day.

One of the things I learned when I was researching breeds was that Australian Shepherds are smart dogs. More than one article warned that they could out-think their owner. Now, while I understand that it's a good thing to include in an article that one is ostensibly going to read prior to plunking down anywhere from $500-$1200 for a purebred dog, it's also the sort of information that will lead someone who considers herself to be forearmed (like me) to wonder if her puppy is engaged in a scheme to undermine her.

Is my dog smarter than I am? Ye gods, I hope not. He's fifteen weeks old and completely entranced by squeaky toys. I hold a Master's Degree from The George Washington University.

And yet, I have to wonder: how does this game of mental chess begin? Is my dog using me to get what he wants, and I'm too dim to realize it? Maybe it starts with the realization that Sitting Patiently By the Door means that, yes, he'll be brought outside (as, in our house, that is Dog for "OMG I Gotta Pee!!"), which then leads to the dog sitting by the door every time it wants to be let outside, thereby throwing the owner into a quandry -- does he really mean it? Does he really have to go, or is this going to turn into the owner standing in the yard while the dog in question trots around, sniffing every blade of grass, but producing nothing.

Is the owner stupid if s/he falls for this ruse? I don't think so -- it just means s/he isn't of a mind to clean up a mess.

What I'm worried about is whether this trick (which, yes, Darwin does pull) will lead to larger, more grandiose canine manipulations. Will I start discovering unusual charges on my credit card and slobber on my mousepad? Is he asking to be taken for a walk just so the cats can indulge in whatever nefarious deeds are lurking about in their frighteningly complex and occasionally evil feline brains? Underneath the chasing (Darwin) and hissing (Bronte and Kisa), is there an unholy alliance brewing that will result in humanity bowing and scraping before three furry overlords?

Actually, it would be two furry overlords, as Kisa is sweet, but her scratching post doesn't go all the way to the top. Bronte, however, knows how to open doors, and is perilously close to figuring out how to turn on the kitchen faucet.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eureka!

Well, I finally figured out my problem with the writer's block. Essentially, chapters 9 and 10 built up to an opening scene in chapter 11 that... wasn't cooperating. It was all causing me to foam at the mouth, because it's just frustrating when you're trying to write and everything you produce just sucks.

So I went back to, oh, about chapter 5 or 6 and read everything through, and finally decided that what I needed to do was scrap 9, 10, and 11 and change my approach entirely. My characters were doing unexplainable things that complicated their situation unnecessarily -- it's something I call the "Stupidity Quotient." You know how you'll watch a movie, say your generic, run of the mill "disaster" movie -- and there's an active volcano, and it's gonna blow, and there's no escaping the fact that it's going to annihilate everything in its path, and yet you'll have the one character who stubbornly refuses to evacuate, or the kids who decide to go exploring, or the young hot couple who'll go make out in the shadow of said volcano? High stupidity quotient, there. Horror movies have a ridiculously high SQ, too. It's a shame, because I love a good scare, but idiocy just makes me gnash my teeth.

Anyway. My characters were being stupid. And I can't abide by that, so I scrapped the chapters and I'm starting over again, trying to keep things a bit more reasonable and realistic, and stick to actions and reactions that make sense. (Before, I was going for a bit of humor -- a whole "comedy of errors" thing, and it just wasn't funny.)

In non-writing related things, I took my dog to a local dog-park today, because running full-tilt in a wide, open space is something he doesn't get to do as often as we'd both like, and (hey, since we're speaking about stupidity) I'd like to wonder WTF some of these dog-owners are thinking by (a) taking aggressive dogs to a place where other dogs congregate and (b) what the owners of small breeds are thinking by taking their dogs into the "large breed" area. Darwin's a puppy still, yes, but he plays rough (Australian Shepherds, more often than not, are known for being rambunctious playmates), so I can't really take him into the "small dog" area. There's actually a weight limit in the small breed area, and recently passed that cutoff point.

Anyway, today I brought him to the park, and everything was going fine until this one dog owner brought her Golden Retriever in, and he started bullying the other dogs. And then someone brought a wolf hybrid mix in, and... yeah. I've brought Darwin there before, and the other visits have been very positive. Today, though, we left soon after the wolf-hybrid got there, because a few of the larger dogs were starting to gang up on Darwin.

Now, I realize that it's my responsibility as a puppy owner to be aware of the safety of a situation, and I'm not suggesting that the other dog owners should let my puppy do whatever he wants. I also realize that dogs have their own rules for hierarchy. I know that dogs will play rough. But when a dog has chased mine behind/under a bench, and has him cornered, and is barking its fool head off keeping my dog cornered, I'm going to get a little annoyed. When I take my dog to the other end of the park, far away from aforementioned other dog, and that dog chases Darwin down just so he can get my dog in a submissive position and then keep him there, I'm going to get a little more annoyed. And when the owner is nowhere to be seen, then I'm going to get downright cranky.

Why is it that I can maintain better control over my puppy than someone else can over their adult dog?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

An effort to post more often...

Mark said I'd be forgiven for my lapse if I took care of myself, walked the dog, and posted at least twice a week. I'm flu-free, and I've taken the puppy out, so here's an effort to post more often.

I've been giving serious consideration to posting the novel-in-progress, tentatively titled "Universal Truths," here. I'm hesitant, for a variety of reasons, but lately I just feel lost with it, like my characterizations are inconsistent, my dialogue is awful and I can't make things progress forward. I'm sure everyone has days when they feel like they can't write for beans, but I'm having a hard time shaking this. It's been difficult for me to get constructive criticism from my beta readers, because they all have their own lives, and I'm not needy and demanding enough to whine that they pay attention to me, me, ME!

That said, I'm not sure if posting it here would be a good thing either, since I'm pretty sure mine is a not-widely-read blog. And... I don't know. I feel strange about posting original fiction online. It's a whole different ball of wax. I suppose part of it is insecurity, and maybe a little bit of shyness. Part of it, however, is that online posting (or, if you prefer, "publishing," though that would be using the term loosely) seems... it just feels like a bad idea. I can't articulate why. Does it "cheapen" the work? This is something I'd like to finish and shop around, so is it best to keep it to myself and limit the number of people reading it? (And I'm not even assuming it'd get read if I posted it here.)

I think I'll keep thinking about it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Oh, for crying out loud...

I just read my last entry, and am in the process of whanging my head against the nearest wall. I'd managed to write some more in January, but February... ate me.

On February 2nd, I became the proud mama of an 8 week old Australian Shepherd. On February 5th, I was hit hard by the flu (which lingered for about three weeks). Add to this a grad-level accounting class, and you get a month with the life sucked out of it.

But now Darwin (the Aussie) is reaching something resembling housebroken, and I can turn my back for five minutes at a time without looking up to find him chewing away, quite happily, on one of the cats' toys, a sock, or a bit of god-only-knows-what from the carpet.

I just wish I hadn't had to lose an entire month of writing. (I tried. I definitely tried. I had the laptop in bed, and when I wasn't lost in a fever-coma, I was... glaring ineffectually at the screen and staving off sleep for as long as I could.) And when you have a puppy that needs to be let out every two or three hours (even overnight), that makes life Very Interesting indeed. (I will never, ever miss standing outside at two in the morning, in 30 degree weather, with a fever and a cough, waiting for Darwin to Do What He Needs To Do.)

Of course, now that I have the time and mental stamina (okay, that part was questionable to begin with) it's almost as if I've worked myself into a sort of psychological block. The writer's block I had in January is still in place, mostly because I'm stuck on a scene -- I'm not sure whether to write everything out as it happens (which seems like it'd be laborious and dull), or to gloss over the event itself (a luncheon) and get to what happens afterward. I mean, it's a scene that has to happen, because two important characters meet, and things really start to happen AFTERWARD. So... I'm starting to think I've built it up too much in my mind, and I should just write the damned bit, and if it's awful, then it's awful -- but at least I'd have something to EDIT.