H is for Hit By a Flying Wolf

Here’s a book recommendation brought to you by the letter H.

Hit by a Flying Wolf by Nicole Wilde

Cover-for-ebook

Yesterday, I quoted from Nicole Wilde’s blog post about growling. As a follow-up to that and my post on the Evolution of Dogs and Wolves, I decided H-day was a good opportunity to tell you about her latest book.

Since Wilde is a dog behavior expert, and I screwed up so many things with our first dog, I didn’t expect Hit by a Flying Wolf to so closely echo my own experiences. How reassuring to learn that an expert has struggled with a dog as much as I have!

The first half of the book contains stories about four of the dogs Wilde has lived with, and the second half concerns wolf rescue. The first dog, a long-haired German shepherd, had the same fear of high-pitched noises that Mia has. Mojo, Wilde’s “soul dog,” was the crossover dog who helped her learn that positive reinforcement training is more effective than using old-fashioned choke collars.

I have a special affinity for Bodhi, who came from a shelter and shared my dog Leo’s penchant for doing things like “grabbing a trailing hand and chomping down, or jumping up in front of me and placing teeth around my arm, exerting a disturbing amount of pressure.” Bodhi’s story hit home the most for me, because it illustrates how much dedication is needed sometimes to get through to a troubled dog, and shows that it’s worth it.

A major highlight of this book are the color photographs. I read a lot of books about dogs, and it bums me out when the photos are grainy and black and white, or worse, when there are no photos at all. I want to see the dogs! Wilde is an accomplished photographer. Not only are the animals described vividly in prose, but the images of the dogs and wolves also are stunning.

I learned about the risks of keeping wolfdogs as pets from Ceiridwen Terrill’s Part Wild. Terrill’s story was heartbreaking, but Hit by a Flying Wolf demonstrates how wolves and wolfdogs can be safely contained and cared for after living in a home hasn’t worked out for them. While not an endorsement of keeping wolves as pets, Wilde’s stories about the wolves are touching, suspenseful, and entertaining.

H is for Hit by a Flying Wolf

H

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Taking Wonder with a twist of Danger

During a recent martial arts class, Rob asked his students whether they saw the world as a dangerous place with moments of wonder, or a wondrous place with moments of danger.

Definitely a wondrous place, I thought. Then I considered my writing and realized that to move the action forward in my novel, I need more moments of danger. Nobody wants to read a book about a happy well-adjusted young woman in a great relationship who loves her dogs. That’s why I didn’t have a memoir until Isis died. Pain equals conflict equals drama.

A few days later, I made one of my fictional doggie characters viciously bite someone.

I didn’t stay in the dangerous world long. Last weekend, I participated in Stephanie Renee Dos Santos’ Saraswati writing and yoga workshop.

Saraswati

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science… depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring… Saraswati is the goddess of learning, and not a god; the feminine aspect signifies creativity. … Saraswati is known as a guardian deity in Buddhism who upholds the teachings of Gautama Buddha by offering protection and assistance to practitioners

I’ve dabbled in yoga for many years, but never connected it to my writing practice before. We met on the labyrinth at Fairhaven Park, a perfect setting for outdoor yoga. After an hour of poses targeting our hips, back, neck and shoulders, opening ourselves to creativity and culminating in Tibetan meditation, we sat down to write.

Stephanie guided us through writing prompts focusing our attention on the natural world. The yoga gave my writing an awareness of my physical surroundings that I sometimes neglect. We returned to our mats for a few more vinyasas before a final writing exercise to bring it all together. I was quite surprised to find that the stream-of-consciousness observations from the earlier prompts fit perfectly into my novel, and I wrote a short scene that I didn’t even know my story needed.

After that infusion of wonder and beauty, I went to a dark place. Literally. I pulled Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places off my shelf. I tried to start it a few months ago, but wasn’t in mood for dark that day. I read the first line (I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ), and thought “Not today.” Can’t remember what I read instead, but since then I’ve read some Chuck Palahniuk, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I Am Forbiddenthe latter being this month’s book club selection.

Without any sense that this book could help me with my novel, Dark Places looked good to me on Monday. I don’t write violent psychological thrillers, but I sure do enjoy reading them. Once again, my inner reader knew what I needed even when my conscious mind didn’t. The main character in Dark Places is a damaged young woman with a violent past. She is angry and stunted, rather like my main character in Fight Like a Lady.

You find inspiration where you least expect it.

Writing in Community

I keep telling one of my coworkers how antisocial I am, but he doesn’t believe me. That’s because I interact with him mostly through online chat and the very occasional in-person meeting. When I do meet with him and the rest of my team, it’s a welcome respite from the relative isolation of my day-to-day work. We chat and laugh, and I talk really fast and all of that gives the impression I’m a friendly people-person.

Our last meeting really energized me. Lots of ideas were hatched, and my mind raced the whole rest of the day. I felt super passionate about my work, which makes me one of the lucky 30 percent who doesn’t hate my job.

But because I’m antisocial — or to use the personality type, an introvert — I seek out isolation to recover from the high of interacting with other humans.

I noticed this at the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, which was a wonderful experience all around. Toward the end of each evening though, I was eager to curl up in my bunk with a book, while many of my fellow writers were hitting the bar. Nothing against the bar, mind you, I loved the time I spent there with my writer buddies before dinner. But at the end of a long day of learning and talking about writing, I wanted to be alone.

sleeping lady

Lucky for me, the Chuckanut Writers Conference last weekend was in my neck of the woods. I could fill up on writerly knowledge, then go right home to Rob and the dogs. But the sense of community I feel at these events is as important as the time I spend reflecting on what I’ve learned.

Writing often is a solitary pursuit, so I welcome the reminder that I’m not alone. I hunger for the buzzy sensation I felt in my fingertips as Wendy Call finished her presentation examining the ways we “transmute life into art.” I was confused at first by her slides of man’s first expression of the written word. Then she asked us to write down our first memory of experiencing something as beautiful. Our first experience with the written word.

My pen froze above the index card. I couldn’t conjure a single genuine memory, just stories I have heard about myself as a child. I closed my eyes and pictured that weird lined gray paper with the dotted line between two solid lines. Was that recycled paper? Is that why it was gray? Or was it newspaper paper?

I remembered a spinning ballerina doll with a bun on her head. The commercial showed girls putting their finger on top of her head while she spun, but when I imitated that, her hair tangled around my finger, cutting off the circulation. I wouldn’t say that ballerina was my first memory of something beautiful, but that’s one of my earliest memories.

Call’s next two questions were the ones that revved my writing engine. What would you change about the world? It can be anything. First thing you think of.

Racism.

Not sure if that’s even true, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind.

Next, what is the burning question you are trying to answer with your latest project? And if you have a firm grasp on this, congratulations, you’re way ahead of most people.

How is dogfighting different than mixed martial arts cage matches?

Now of course, I know the two are completely different, but I need to find a way to answer that question in my novel.

Here’s the kicker: In closing, Call told us to consider the relationship between the answers to those last two questions.

When she asked us what we would change about the world, she didn’t say it had anything to do with our writing projects, and yet, racism is related to my story of fighting dogs. Prejudice against pit bulls is a form of racism.

Who knows what any of that means, or what I’ll do with it, but moments like that, learning from other authors, sparking ideas — those experiences keep me going and remind me what my passions are.

The Stud Book looks at breeders from all angles

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an author event like no other.

Monica Drake, author of The Stud Book, was joined by her Portland writer buddies Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain for a night of flashing devil horns, glow-in-the-dark beach balls, and R-rated bedtime stories.

That's me in red and blue, dead center. Photo: Bellingham Herald.

That’s me, dead center, in red and blue. Photo: Bellingham Herald.

Everyone in attendance went home with a signed copy of The Stud Book, which I read over the weekend.

The book jacket had me at “Sarah studies animal behavior at the zoo.”

The Stud Book is a brilliantly written and totally engrossing exploration of breeding, mostly among a group of female friends in Portland, interspersed with fascinating details about animal husbandry.

Dark and absurdist in tone, the things that happen to these characters feel like they could really happen. I love it when an author really goes there. Even scenes I found off-putting (like Georgie’s husband at the bar while she struggles at home with a newborn) paid off in the end.

Generally, I’m weary of books that bounce between narratives about multiple characters. When you like some characters more than others, it’s frustrating to leave them behind for a less interesting storyline. In this book, I got wrapped up in all the characters, eager to see what would happen next.

As a rule, I like novels to have more resolution to their resolution than The Stud Book does. However, I will forgive Drake for this open-endedness because the book was so thought-provoking, I don’t mind filling in the blanks with what I think will happen next.

So smartly written. I look forward to reading more from Drake.

Hey! Free Books!

book box

The idea behind World Book Night is to get books in the hands of people who don’t read much, or at all, or who don’t have the resources to buy books.

When I applied to be a World Book Night giver, I requested books that are appropriate for young people, because frankly, I consider all youth to be at-risk youth. I was delighted to be chosen to give away Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.

I made prior arrangements to give half of my books to a youth program whose members “love to read,” but don’t necessarily have access to new books. The second half, I really wanted to share with kids who didn’t consider themselves readers. I drove down a street block usually crowded with juvenile delinquents. I’m not being bigoted here; I know for a fact that the regulars on these street corners have served time. Sadly, I didn’t see any of them at 6 pm on this Tuesday evening, so I headed for the skate park.

The House on Mango Street is appropriate for both genders, of course, but because the main character is a young girl, I approached three pierced skater girls.

“Do you want a free book?”

Skater Girl 1 shook her head. Why would anyone turn down a free book?

“It’s not religious or anything,” I offered, waving the brightly colored paperback in her face.

She shook her head again. I said, “You really have no interest in reading this book? It’s really good.”

Skater Girl 2 said somewhat snottily, “I don’t think this is the place to try to sell books.”

Exactly why I chose it. “I’m not selling them. They’re free.”

With an “Oh, in that case” shrug, Skater Girls 2 and 3 took books, and I guess peer pressure got the better of Skater Girl 1, because she took one too.

Jackpot, I thought, wondering whether I’d find the books later, lying at the bottom of the ramp with skateboard tracks across their covers. How can I avoid being like the cop who bought that homeless guy a pair of boots only to find the homeless guy barefoot again the next day?

I crossed the skate park, on my way to another group that included young women when a Skater Dude saw my cardboard box. “Is that ice cream?”

“No, it’s better. Free books!”

I gave copies to him and two other nearby dudes and overheard one say, “Since when do you read books?”

Yes, I was definitely in the right place.

Catching up on Possession

Because this is first and foremost a dog blog.

Because this is first and foremost a dog blog.

If you know anything about me, you know that I get my work done on time. Well ahead of time for the most part. So it is with great shame that I admit a failure to meet my first deadline in my first read-along: A.S. Byatt’s Possession. In my defense, I’ve read it before, and had a terrible headache on Sunday and Monday. Also on Monday, I fell down and banged my knee badly enough that I took narcotic pain medication and watched 12 Monkeys when I got home, instead of reading Possession. The knee feels much better now, thanks for asking.

I read Possession when I was a senior in college, taking a British literature class and recovering from mono. I remember reading it while lying on my bed at my mom’s house and loving it. I loved it enough that not only do I still have my copy, but I also knew exactly where it was on my shelves.

When I cracked it open, I was amused to discover notes scrawled in the margins by 21-year-old me. I felt rather like Roland, discovering letters from Randolph Ash tucked away in one of his old books. My favorite so far is the notation “Incestuous Menage a Trois” jotted after the “Glass Coffin” story. Took me a few minutes to read my own writing. Thought “menage” said “marriage.” Wonder if Roland and Maud had any trouble reading Ash and LaMotte’s handwriting.

I did not remember Possession being hard to get into, but when I discovered the existence of this read-along, I also discovered people who have tried to read it and given up. As far as I’ve gotten this time around, I understand the difficulty. Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness hits it on the head when she points out that Roland is a weak character to get things going. As soon as he meets Maud, I’m immediately more engaged.

Byatt’s major achievement here is writing between styles. She’s created letters and works meant to be written by fictional poets during the Victorian era, while the bulk of the narrative concerns scholars in the modern age. I remember being awed by how skillfully she brought those facets together. But I confess, I don’t really “get” poetry, least of all Victorian poetry.

To sum up, not only am I surprised I had a little trouble getting into it this time, I’m surprised I didn’t have a lot of trouble getting into it last time.

I will press on, see if I can catch up by Monday.

The Chronology of The Chronology of Water

When I file this under Books Like Mine, I don’t really mean that my dog memoir would sit on the shelf next to this memoir about sexual abuse, promiscuity, and substance use. They’re both memoirs. I guess that’s all they have in common.

Mine is straightforwardly linear. We get a dog. We love the dog. Dog bites someone. We work with trainers. Dog dies. (As I said in one of my sessions at Hedgebrook, “Sorry, that’s a terrible elevator pitch.” I can do better, but this isn’t about me.) Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water is less chronological. Like water, as Bruce Lee might say.

water

Gratuitous picture of Isis frolicking … in water.

Hers is a stunningly beautiful book.

Yuknavitch’s writing style is nothing like mine. Her book reads like stream of consciousness. If the prologue hadn’t told me that she was in a writing group with Chuck Palahniuk and Cheryl Strayed, I might have guessed this book was printed as it came out of her head, with no revisions. Not to say that she needs an editor, but that her lyrical writing reads as effortless.

This is a self-aware memoir; she writes lines like, “But that’s not what I want to tell you about. I want to tell you about this instead.” She bounces around in chronology, but at no point do you get confused and wonder where you are. She mentions a second husband, and you don’t say, “Wait, who’s this second husband? Has she mentioned him before?” You know that she will give you all the information you need when you need it. I wonder how she decided how to order the chapters. When to tell us what.

Implicit in the narrative is the idea that having been sexually abused by her father as a young girl, Yuknavitch became a sexually aggressive young woman and experimented heavily with drugs. But she’s clear that hers is not a story of addiction. (Although I know from watching Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Sex Rehab that frequently promiscuity is a result of having been abused as a child.)

Yuknavitch doesn’t give a lot of specifics about the abuse, although she does depict her consensual sex acts in shocking, vivid detail. She doesn’t overly reflect on what it all means. She just tells the story for us to make of it what we will. I appreciate that.