Sunday Puppy Pix Fix & The Puppy Love Paradox

The pup I adopted in June is now 16 months old. Merlin has adjusted pretty well to his new life, as have I. We have a regular schedule that he can depend on, regular meals, daily playtime, walkies, games, baths, and grooming every Sunday. He has transformed from a scrawny, fearful, un-socialized puppy into a handsome, cautious (but curious!) teenager who is becoming less shy every day. I love him and he loves me. Unreservedly.

As it should be.

I have previously recounted the story of Piggy (akaFirst Toy), describing how Merlin came to me having never had a toy to play with. It took him a while to figure out that Piggy was his, and it took him even longer to figure out what a squeaker was. But that was then, this is now.

Merlin has acquired quite a few toys, over the past few months. He accompanies me to the pet store now (having bravely conquered his fear of the double-automatic doors and myriad of people and dogs in PetCo), and has even been able to pick out his own.

In the beginning, all toys were sacred. He dragged them ALL to his bed and lay them, when he wasn’t actually playing with them. He delighted in doing this, and it warmed my heart to observe him ‘herding’ his toys.

Recently, I have noticed a difference in how he treats some of his toys. This is different from the behavior of my previous dogs and their toys. My previous dogs (all Australian Shepherds and a Corgi) preferred to disembowel every and any toy they could sink their teeth into. Rowan did have one stuffed animal (Pony Puppy) that she carried around for years, and would let none of the other dogs near it. But I think that was because Pony had a pressure sensor inside it that neighed every time it was picked up. I think Rowan thought of the ‘neigh’ as a puppy squeal, because she carried it around like a puppy. Over the years, the neigh began to sound more like a moan, and then disappeared altogether, but by that time, she’d lost her hearing (along with her interest).

Anyway, back to my point. Some of Merlin’s toys get the exact same disembowelment treatment that my previous pack bestowed on their new toys. You can see from the picture, that (from left to right) Foxy, Big Dub, and Wubbie all seem to have met a similar fate. Big Dub and Wubbie (actually, Big Dub and Wubbie are the same toy, but in two different sizes) in particular, have each had all 6 of their legs chewed off in the first week. But they are extremely popular, mostly because their squeakers are still functional, and are still presented to me regularly in anticipation of a good came of catch.

However, there are three toys that, while they are played with every bit as much as the um, mutilated toys, they are in nearly pristine condition. The are (from left to right), Beastie, Purple Squirrel, and the now legendary Piggy (aka First Toy).
Note the near pristine (if somewhat grimy) condition of Piggy in particular, who sleeps in Merlin’s crate every night. And Beastie was the first toy Merlin ever picked out at PetCo. Purple Squirrel, who has 3 (count ’em THREE squeekies inside) is by far the MOST played with toy in Merlin’s flock, with Big Dub holding tough in second place.

I don’t know if Merlin has ‘favorite’ toys or not, but it seems to me that he has two categories of toys: those he chews on and those he doesn’t. I couldn’t figure out why. All the toys have squeekies. All are mouthable and small enough for him to carry around. But after taking pictures of the toys this morning, I was struck by something I hadn’t noticed before–none of the chewed up toys have faces. Oh, foxy had a face for about 20 minutes when he first arrived, but it was a toothy growly face. Wubby and Big Dub don’t have faces at all.

But Beasty, Purple Squirrel, and Piggy all have smiley faces.
And thus is my theory of the Puppy Love Paradox.

Have you smiled at your dog lately?

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Old Habits Die Hard: Remembering Good Old Days

A friend of mine reposted about a writing contest sponsored by Dream Foundry the other day. As I always do, I pulled up the link to see if the theme parameters were something that matched a story I’d already written or if it was something intriguing enough that I wanted to write a new story for.

Everything looked good. Any speculative fiction considered, check. No entry fees, check. Entrants retain all publication rights, check. Anonymous submission to ensure fairness, check.

The wheels were churning until I caught the eligibility clause: “A beginner is somebody who has not yet demonstrated professional-level proficiency as determined by the market wherein they work.”  SFWA members specifically excluded.

Aah. I’m out, then.

An odd, mixed-up realization flooded through me.
I’m not a beginner anymore. No way, no how. I’ve got a SFWA card and everything, so it must be true. Those days of looking for writing contests are over. I’ve critiqued writers workshop submissions. I even ghost-copyedited a major speculative fiction e-zine for a few months.

But I don’t feel like a pro.
I’m not making my living as a full-time writer, I say. I haven’t been nominated for a World Fantasy Award, or even invited to the Hugo Loser’s Party. I’m not on anyone’s best-seller list or pushed in any “Year’s Best” anthology.  I’m not a ‘name’, like King, LeGuin, Martin, Norton or Simmons. And the thing is, that stuff may never happen for me.

It doesn’t matter. I yam what I yam, and that’s a pro. Gotta keep writing. keep learning, keep growing.  This is the real deal. This is the dream I wanted, manifested.

This post is not meant to be self-aggandization or a poke about turning pro or feeling sorry for anyone.  This is an observation that beginning writers do have legitimate publication opportunities that are targeted exclusively toward them. Keep writing and take advantage of them whenever you can, because after a certain point, your writing will progress, and you won’t be a beginner anymore.

And you may find that you’ll think of these days of angst and striving to get ‘good enough’ never really end.  They just become the good old days.

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Your Sunday Puppy Pix Fix

In the seven weeks he’s been living with me, young Merlin has gone from 20.5 pounds (per the vet’s scale) to a whopping 23.6 pounds. He’s filling in and his bones no longer stand out, but he’s still ‘quite lean’, according to the vet. She says a good weight for him will be around 25 lbs, so we still have a ways to go.

Clearly, in addition to not getting enough to eat, he did not have much in the way of toys.  In his first few days with me, he could not bring himself to pick up or show any interest in the toys I’d gotten for him.  In particular, there was a little pink pig that caught his eye.  He would not look directly at it, but I could tell he wanted it.  I tried to give it to him, but he wouldn’t take it. It wasn’t until I gave him an old sock with a knot in it that he realized that he could have something to do with as he wished.

For a week, that sock was (and still is) the best thing since eating twice a day. The other toys remained ignored, but the little pink stuffed piggy called to him, in that secret language that only coveted things know. I was pretty sure he wanted it, but he wouldn’t take it from me.

So I gave him a box.

The simple joy of shredding a cardboard box into tiny bits of flotsam cannot be overstated. It rocked his world.

I think the action broke something open inside him–gave him permission to embrace his inner puppy. It took him about 30 minutes to destroy the box, and when he was done, he made a bee-line to the pink piggy and claimed it for his own.

I thought he would disembowel the creature within minutes (all my previous Aussies were experts at stuffed animal disembowelment), but Merlin does nothing but carry it around and mouthe it.

We play a game.  He brings Piggy to me and I give it back. That’s it. That’s the game.  Sometimes, he brings me the sock AND Piggy.  The purple squirrel with the three squeekies is also included at times, but that’s another story.

Piggy is his pride and joy.

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Dog Days of Summer Return

Introducing Merlin the light-footed, or He of the Beguiling Eyes. Also known as Prince Snugglepup, and That’s Not For You.

Once again, I have a dog at my side. A miniature version of my favorite breed, the Australian Shepherd.  He is 11 months old, born on the same day as my dearly departed Mia, almost the same day my dear Rowan crossed the rainbow bridge.

For most of this past year, I’d been looking for a dog; the adoption websites, rescue organizations, you name it.  I knew I would know him when I saw him, and I did. When I went to look at him, he was emaciated, smelled something awful, and his coat was so badly matted, it took me a week to clean it up enough to give him a bath–and it was clear to me he’d never had a bath before. Never been to a vet, either. The first week I had him, he wouldn’t make eye contact, but he’s coming out of it.

We are taking things slow; hanging out, playing gentle games, and taking long walks. He’s returning to a playful, happy, loving version of himself.   And so am I.

Oh, the joyful dog days of summer!

Happy Solstice.

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Carpe Diem: Take a Hike

Great day for a hike this weekend. Temps in the 70s, and birds are everywhere you look; the gorgeous greens of Oregon are at their lushest best in the springtime.

I went out to Cooper Mountain Nature Park this morning for a lovely (if a bit steep in some places–after all, Cooper Mountain is, well, a mountain) hike.  It was the first time I’d been out there, but it was a perfect day, and there were a lot of folks enjoying the scenery as well. The trail I chose offers sweeping vistas of the Tualatin Valley and Chehalem Mountains, as well as passing through woodlands of oak, madrone & cedar and even a small prairie.

I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, other than a bit of rustling in the underbrush and couple of Steller’s Jays (I’d hoped to see deer or fox). Next time, I think I’ll go earlier in the morning. However, the wild iris was in bloom and beautiful.

So get out there and seize the day. Even writers need to get some fresh air, sometime.

Carpe Diem. 

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Earworm Day

Sigh. Paul McCartney was right, all those years ago.

I never believed it would actually happen, but there it is, and I just can’t get that music out of my head.

To celebrate, here’s a story I wrote on my birthday 5 years ago.  It’s about chocolate. And pangolins.

I will leave it up for a week.  Enjoy.

By Sharon Joss


Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.  This is a work of fiction.  All characters and events portrayed in this work are fictional, and any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or incidents or events is coincidental and not intended by the author.  This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the author. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.  Purchase only authorized editions.  



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Let ‘er Rip: The Archer’s Paradox and Writing

There’s a term in archery called Archer’s Paradox, which refers the effect produced by an arrow flexing as it leaves the bow. To my mind, it’s an expression that also aptly describes story as it is loosed from the author’s mind onto the page. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, the story flexes from what you planned to write before the words show up on the page.

At various writers workshops over the years, I have listened eagerly to different best-selling authors describe the point where they know they are ready to begin writing (their new novel). Some said they did all their research first. Others shared that they covered the walls of their writing studios with scene outlines. Even avowed pantsers confessed to starting out by sketching a few plot lines or writing out-of-sequence scenes. There seems to be no single method practiced by the masters in this business–nevertheless, it’s all fascinating stuff.

It was Tim Powers who confessed that he puts off the actual writing (of the novel) until the last possible moment. At a writer’s workshop several years ago, he mentioned that he spends most of the time allotted to his novel, not writing; building up the story in his head until the tension of the pent-up story is so compelling that when he does finally let fly the words, they burst forth in a torrent, and he writes as fast as he can to get them on the page. Like a taut bowstring, the story is loosed.  It doesn’t always exactly match the story originally envisioned, but it follows the path planned, flexing (with inspiration) as it travels rapidly toward completion. When I first heard him describe this process, it seemed like a rather unorthodox method to me.  Something that worked for him, not something for my writer’s toolbox; but I never forgot what he said.

As I struggled to meet a daily word quota on my latest work in progress, I eventually became discouraged and then totally blocked. I tried a number of strategies to get the story to come alive again, but it always died after I wrote the first chapter. After eight different Chapter Ones ended up in the trash,  I finally decided to try the Tim Powers approach; no words on the page until the words themselves could not be stopped.  Instead of writing chapters (plotter that I am), I went back to square one and worked on (a brand new) outline, not writing until story tension built up inside me.

It worked.

After a year of trying to force words to a story I didn’t care about onto the page, I stopped caring about word count and stopped writing for a while. I didn’t stop plotting or researching, or making notes or outlining, I just stopped trying to write anything that could be called a draft or chapter. After months of trying to force words onto the page, suddenly, I couldn’t hold them back anymore.  Today, I let my story fly.

It feels good.  Sometimes, not writing is the key. Let ‘er rip.

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