Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thunking Writerly Thots

Some while ago I joined a writers' website called Authonomy. It's hosted by Harper Collins and the premise is that aspiring writers post their manuscripts for critique by their fellow writers. Those few that get enough backing (read, become popular) are awarded with a visit to the HC editor's desk, for review. The rest try valiantly to learn from their peers and continue honing their writing and story-pitching skills.

It seems like a pretty good system: one gets live feedback from actual human beings, learns to take and give good critique, and hopefully benefits from hearing about the flaws and strengths of their work. I've just gotten active over there in the last two or three weeks, and it's interesting.

But there's a side of it that I find frankly ... weird. Mind, I have yet to post a manuscript there, though I plan to by or at the first of the year. But amidst the drive to reach the Editors' Desk and climb the ratings chart, there is a culture of self-promotion that I don't think I'll ever find personally comfortable. People pounce on each other with read requests and/or offers of read-swaps like a convention of door-to-door salesmen. I'm not sure how anybody even finds me, amongst the hundreds of members there, but they do, and almost daily I receive requests to read and back someone's book.

Which is fine, but sometimes it's so out of the blue, I just ... don't know what to say. Why me? What makes this person think I would make a good reader for their topic of choice? Another quandary is that I'm apparently a picky reader. Sometimes the writing is perfectly fine, but the story just doesn't grab me. Sometimes the story might be okay ... but the author and punctuation are not friends. (Do they have a volunteer proofreader's pool, there?) And sometimes the writing, the story, everything, is just ... not something I would look at for three seconds in a book store.

Suddenly I have vast and growing sympathy for what agents and publishers must experience. The worry here is that, on Authonomy, I have to consider that I'm going to want my book read and critiqued, so I can't be too much of a snob, or nobody will give me the time of day!

Oy. I don't know if I'm clever enough to play the game, over there. But I'll do my best, and try to be fair and kind, and if I really can't get my teeth into someone's book, I hope they'll forgive me if I decline to read. I feel I would rather say a polite and kindly, "No, thank you," than try to read and end up blathering some response that would help them not at all.

Well, that's half an hour I'll never see again. Back to working on my long pitch for my book. The end of the year is only days away ...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Once More to the Dogs

It's very rarely indeed, that we can point to any single person and say, "That person changed my life."

Oddly enough, only tonight it dawns on me, I know two such persons. Those people are my sheepdog trainer/instructor, Sandy Moore, and her good blue dog, "Mister."

My hubby and I moved into this area just over ten years ago, from a ranch in San Diego County. I'd had one winter's sheepdog lessons with my dog, Della, through a trainer down there, and I wanted to continue my training. So, I asked around to see if any stockdog trainer existed in the Carson Valley. This led me to Sandy - and to her constant companion, Mister.

Mister was one of Heaven's fortuitous accidents, a chance breeding between a Belgian Sheepdog and an Australian Shepherd. He was an only pup, and he chose Sandy just as much as Sandy chose him. When I met him, Mister was about 3 years old, a tall, confident, handsome rascal with an intelligent face and bright, wise eyes. Over the years, I got used to pulling into the yard and having him appear at my truck door, wanting to know who I'd brought and if I had any spare cookies. He was a constant fixture on every lesson day, and probably knew us all by name.

Mister was, in all the best ways, the lord of the manor. There on the ranch where Sandy trained, Mister was her hired hand. Sorting sheep, offering backup to inexperienced young dogs, standing patiently at the gate while Sandy worked with her students, he seemed for all the world as if he were supervising affairs. In his mind, he probably was.

The Blue Dog made an indelible impact not only on his human friends, but also sometimes on their dogs. Mister taught my boy, Jesse, his social graces: how to hang out and chill, how to wait one's turn. He also influenced Jesse in unexpected ways. All on his own, without my teaching, Jesse learned from Mister how to bring sheep out of a heavily crowded pen by crawling in under them. Jesse also learned from Mister the peculiar knack of shouldering sheep, particularly lambs, to get them moving, rather than using his teeth.

As a stock dog, Mister was amazing. I've seen with my own eyes how he could grab an uncooperative sheep and, without drawing blood, just slam the darned thing to the ground. When the sheep got up, Mister would simply stand there, watching, and sure enough, the sheep would do as Mister wanted. I've seen him go after a cow with every fang bared, and I've seen him nudging wobbly little lambs along, ever so gently. He was Sandy's partner, her friend and right hand, and more faithful than any human could be.

As Mister grew older, often he and my Jesse would stand at a fence together, quietly watching others work and undoubtedly exchanging notes. Thanks to Sandy, training and working my sheepdogs became my great passion. Thanks to Mister, Jesse became a true gentleman of a dog. Together, Sandy and Mister helped shape a very large part of my life, and I cannot imagine my world without their influence in it.

Sadly, I must now imagine a world without Mister in it. Last Tuesday, that grand old man, that good old Blue Dog, went on ahead to fields that our feet cannot yet tread. I've said enough farewells, in this past year, to know well the grief of losing a canine friend. But Mister was something extraordinary, a personage whose like but seldom comes along. He left his paw prints large in so many lives and so many hearts, but no one will mourn him as deeply as Sandy. My circle of friends is diminished by one, and while I know he is at last free of pain and weakness and the infirmities of age ... I'll miss him.

I'll miss him.

I leave the final words for Mister's passing in the form of a quote from Sandy herself:
"He seemed neither old nor young. The character of his strength lay in his eyes. They looked as old as the hills and as young as the wild. I never tired of looking at them."
~ John Muir

Mister -- Born: March 17, 1996 -- Passed: Dec 1, 2009

Good night, old friend.