Showing posts with label Dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dogs. Show all posts

27 September 2016

A Convention for the Rest of Us

By Barb Goffman


There's a famous Seinfeld episode set during the December holiday season in which we learn that George's father, Frank, doesn't celebrate Christmas. It's too commercial for him. Wanting a different kind of holiday for his family, he came up with his own and named it Festivus. And Frank didn't just name this holiday. He gave it teeth. Instead of a tree, there's a plain aluminum pole. Instead of presents, Festivus has the feats of strength, in which someone at dinner must wrestle and pin Frank. And instead of singing carols, Festivus requires the airing of grievances. "I've got a lot of problems with you people," Frank said during that episode, and my heart swelled. But the best part of Festivus is its inclusive nature. As Frank described the holiday, set on December 23rd of each year, it's a Festivus for the Rest of Us.

I wasn't thinking about Festivus when I came up with my own mystery convention two weeks ago. I was sitting on my couch with my dog, Jingle, reading Facebook posts from friends who had already headed down to New Orleans for Bouchercon--the world's largest annual mystery convention. Determined not to feel left out, even though I couldn't attend Bouchercon this year, I decided that Jingle and I would convene at home, and I would share our activities on Facebook. And Jinglecon was born.

With a focus on animal mysteries, Jinglecon had book bags, a book room, the New Dogs Breakfast, an interview of convention namesake Jingle by Scooby Doo, an animal fashion parade, Jingle Go Round (in which mystery/crime authors posted about their books, some offering giveaways), and panels. Many, many panels, including Fifty Shades of Bay(ing): Racy Animal Mysteries; Squirrels and Foxes and Cats, Oh My: All About Antagonists; Dogs Gone By: Historical Animal Mysteries; Dogbumps: Spooky Animal Mysteries for Kids; and my personal favorite, The Bitch is Back, about female dogs who return to their hometowns to take over the family business and become amateur sleuths on the side.



I hadn't planned on Jinglecon becoming so involved. I had originally thought it would involve one or two funny posts each day with some photos. But then I started hearing from friends, readers and writers who couldn't go to Bouchercon, who were checking into Facebook repeatedly each day, looking for new posts. They were thrilled that this year they didn't have to feel left out because now there was a convention for them. Jinglecon had become the equivalent of the Festivus for the Rest of Us.

Social media is wonderful because it can allow the world to feel smaller. It can allow readers and writers to connect through things like Facebook and Twitter and this very blog. But it can also result in people feeling left out. Before social media, non-attendees might have heard some talk about how Bouchercon was after it ended, but they didn't have access to hundreds of posts as the convention went on, talking about all the great panels, the parades, the fun at the bar. Now we have that access. And it's wonderful, but it can also make people who can't attend feel left out.

(c) Becky Muth.
So I was so pleased that my stay-at-home virtual convention enabled people who couldn't travel to New Orleans to feel that they, too, were participating in something fun. We talked about books we love. We gave books away. We had a lot of laughs. As a convention goes, I'd call it a success. Others clearly felt that way too because I had people ask me to open early registration for next year. So Jinglecon 2 will happen next fall. I'm planning to attend Bouchercon myself in 2017, but I also plan to run Jinglecon at the same time.  I loved enabling people who couldn't attend the in-person convention this year to feel that they were part of the fun, too. And with a year to plan, next year's virtual convention should be even better.

So look for #Jinglecon posts on Facebook next fall while Bouchercon is running in Toronto. Jinglecon is open to anyone who loves mysteries, no matter where they are. (Indeed, this year we had a bunch of people attending Bouchercon checking in on the posts.) But Jinglecon is especially aimed at those readers and writers who want to connect but aren't able to get to Bouchercon. Jinglecon--it's the Festivus for the Rest of Us.
(c) Becky Muth. Thanks, Becky.













01 March 2016

Leap Dog on a Leap Day


by Barb Goffman

The dog ate my homework. It's a well known expression, supposedly used by children because it's so easy. No worries if you didn't do the assignment. Blame it on the dog.

Alas, this week, I really am blaming it on the dog. I have no words of wisdom about writing for you today. No editorial insights. I'm stressed because I have a project I expected to finish today (Leap Day, as I write this post) and I'm behind schedule because of ... you guessed it ... the dog.

Pay attention to me now!
This is my dog, Jingle. He's probably part beagle and part dachshund. He's one hundred percent escape artist.

I have a large backyard for him to run in. He loves it. It backs up to woods filled with foxes, deer, squirrels, and other enemies that he loves to chase. The yard is surrounded by a split-rail fence covered with wire built into the ground. The fence is probably around five feet tall. Jingle is probably one foot tall. Yet he escapes the yard repeatedly.

I've seen him walking the perimeter, pushing at the wire, looking for weak spots he can exploit. He must have once crawled under the gate, because when a neighbor found him, his front paws were covered in dirt. And lately, he has figured out how to jump on an old stump, jump on the top of the fence like an acrobat on a high wire (I kid you not--I saw him standing on a rail with my own eyes), and jump to the other side.

Making himself taller
When he creates weak spots, I get them fixed or blocked. When he crawled under the gate, I had it lowered so he couldn't fit through the hole again. When he started using the stump as a springboard, I had a friend bring over a thick, tall, and heavy tree slab to sit on the stump, assuming the stump's new height with the slab would deter Jingle.

Nope. Somehow my twenty-five-pound dog pushed the slab off the stump and has continued his wily ways.

Panting after too much running
In fact, coincidentally, as I was writing this blog, Jingle ran away. I looked up and saw him in the woods behind the house. I stopped writing the prior paragraph, ran outside, called for him repeatedly, saw him run across the cul de sac toward a neighbor's house, got in my car, drove around calling for him, and finally found him running into a neighbor's garage. If this were a novel I was editing, I'd tell my client to cut the coincidence--no one would believe the dog escaped the yard while you were writing about him escaping the yard. But as we all know, truth can be stranger than fiction.

This little incident took twenty minutes of my time, and I've had many of them over the last few months. So that is why I'm behind schedule on my client work and didn't have time to come up with any writing wisdom for you today. But if there was any day for Jingle to leap over the fence, it was today, Leap Day. So that kind of makes it okay, right?
It's a good thing he's so cute.

I hope your Leap Day yesterday was less eventful than mine. And if you have any dog escape stories you'd like to share, please do. We can commiserate together.

BREAKING NEWS: A little Tuesday morning addition: Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers for being named finalists this morning for the Derringer Award given out by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. In the Long Story category, John Floyd, Robert Lopresti, and former SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin all have nominated stories. John is also a finalist in the Novelette category--a twofer. Very cool. I'm so happy for you all. And, I'm happy to add, I'm a finalist in the Flash category for my story "The Wrong Girl" from the anthology Flash and Bang. This is my first Derringer Award nomination, and I'm thrilled.

13 May 2014

Animal Attraction

By David Dean

Shortly before Christmas our dog died.  Silke, our ancient corgi, was just shy of her seventeenth birthday.  Robin and I were heartbroken at the loss of this venerable and uncompromising herder of Deans.  We had all come a long way since the kids discovered her in a pet store in Virginia.  Naturally, we had not gone to the great commonwealth in order to get a dog, but to check out a college for Bridgid.  She did not select the school, but she and her little brother did select a wee doggie that was too young to have been properly weaned from her mother.  As it turned out her mam had been killed by a car. 

I said no.  The kids pleaded and promised good behavior for all their natural lives (they lied).  Robin interceded on their behalf.  The dog was purchased for a whopping thirty dollars American, and the die was cast.

This is what a corgi looks like
For the next four months, Silke (so named because her fur was...yes, silky to the touch) made not a sound--not a whine, whimper, bark, or growl.  Nothing.  I was convinced that she was mute.  Then one day as Julian was roughhousing with her on the floor, she emitted a tiny squeak of a bark.  We were all thunderstruck.  It might have been the roar of a mighty lion!  She looked as surprised as we. 

She never shut up after that.  Her vocabulary of barks, whines, snorts, moans, sighs, and even sneezes of impatience, were never-ending.  Having found her voice she became a full-throated participant in all things Dean.  Intensely opinionated, critical of innovation, and ever the protector of the status quo as she saw it, she set about keeping order within our family through both rigorous physical and mental efforts.  She despised a closed door and was intolerant of privacy in general.  She never tired of testing our rules while ruthlessly enforcing her own.  Anyone exhibiting uninhibited behavior was subjected to her racing around them in ever-tightening circles while being barked at incessantly.  I suppose this worked on cattle back in Wales.  She had no love of spontaneity.  Affection expressed with restraint and a proper sense of decorum was allowed and even encouraged--especially if that affection was directed at her.  All others need get a room. 

She never met another dog, cat, squirrel, or rabbit, that she liked.  She was completely indifferent to birds, however; even the large flock of turkeys that swept through our yard from time to time.  Didn't care.  It was like they didn't exist.

She also hated cars.  Not those passing by, but any vehicle someone might want her to get into.  No, thank you very much.  If she couldn't get there by walking she didn't want to go.  The only places a car took a corgi was to the vet's or the kennel--both bad places.  She didn't like veterinarians or kennel owners. They were added to the list.

In spite of all this, she was just what the doctor ordered for our little family.  She had arrived at just that moment when we needed her most--that juncture of adolescent angst and turmoil that rocks families and sows discord.  We had two teenagers and couldn't stop bickering,fighting, and challenging one another on every issue known to man, and some that passed human understanding altogether.  Silke would have none of it.

Either by crawling beneath the coffee table and peering out fearfully, thereby shaming us, or by interjecting her thick body between the warring parties, and reminding us to keep our distance, she did her part.  If all that failed, she would simply console the person most visibly upset and lay across their lap like an old-fashioned car rug.  Even during some of our stormiest times, we always found common ground in Silke.  Her antics, behavior, health, and happiness were subjects that we could all agree on and discuss civilly at the dinner table.  She was our family touchstone.

After the children went away to college and their adult lives, Silke became "our" dog--mine and Robin's.  She still went berserk when the kids came home, totally throwing us over for them, but as I grew grey, so did she.  More and more, she was content to be where I was, and go where I went around the house and yard.  I found she crept into a number of my stories; her character full-blown and ready to go.  In "Spooky" a dog tries to warn her master of something evil coming.  In "Whistle" a corgi goes missing, and when her mistress goes in search of her she finds the same fate.  "Little Things" features a corgi that helps fulfill her master's paranoid imaginings.

Silke is now buried in our back yard, watched over by a small statute of the Virgin Mary.  I'm not sure that's theologically correct, but that's the way it is.  What follows is a St. Francis Day joke that captures how I feel and provides some comfort: 

A priest was asked by an elderly widow, "Father, can my dog be with me in heaven?" 
After thinking it over for a moment, he asked in turn, "Would you be happy there without her?"  When the old woman shook her head emphatically, he added, "Then she'll be there." 

I hope so...I really do.



      



 

              

30 August 2012

My Favorite Characters, Part I

by Eve Fisher

Since I live in a small town and write about a small town, there are some people who claim that they recognize every character as a local.  They're wrong.  Most of my characters - and I assume most of yours, dear readers, as well - are a mixture of people I've met, people I know, people I've seen, people I've read about, people I've invented, and, of course, myself.  Some characters grow on me more than others.  Some I use more than others.  And some I like more than others.



Martha Jane Stark, better known in Laskin, South Dakota, as Matt Stark, is a sixty-something woman with a bad past. The first line I ever wrote about her was that "when she was 16, she ran off with the lion tamer from the circus, and he finally met his match."  The first story I ever wrote with her in it, she had just returned to retire in Laskin, after about a 20 year absence, and got into a huge fight with a former lover.  Since at the time of their affair she'd been in her 40s and he'd been in his late teens, now that she was in her 60s and he was in his 30s, he really didn't want to be reminded of the old days when they couldn't get enough of each other in the back booth of the Norseman's Bar.  Things happened.  I haven't sold that story yet, and I am beginning to suspect that it isn't that good - time to take it out for a rewrite, perhaps.  I figure the world must be ready for a hard living, hard drinking, unrepentant, bad-tempered woman in her 60's:  Think Bogart with sagging breasts...



Today, Matt still drinks, still smokes, still gambles (a bit), but has given up men.  Instead, she sticks with dogs, who she admits she likes better than people.  She is mostly honest, and she is loyal.  She drives her brother Harold - a dyspeptic accountant - absolutely nuts, but then he plays life very safe.  For very good reasons.  He is an accountant, and years ago, their father robbed the Laskin bank, and his mother turned into the town hermit.  Harold's been trying to live down his whole family for years.



My source material for Matt is two-fold.  Calamity Jane (whose name was Martha Jane Canary) is a definite inspiration, but even more than that colorful woman is my Aunt Katt, who never married, loved dogs, and lived wild.  Aunt Katt was the one who, while living in Chicago, woke up late one night to find someone either had killed or was killing her dogs.  Whichever it was, she got up and, dressed only in her nightgown and a hatchet, went out to find the dog-slayer and have vengeance.  I'm not sure what the outcome was, but in our family the story always ended with "and everyone got out of her way."

Matt Stark is one of my favorite characters, because she is who she is.  She is my truth teller:

Matt about the victim in "Death of a Good Man":  "He was the type that leaves everything behind.  Walks away clean.  Or so he thinks."  And of one of the victim's lovers, "Maria can't believe a man loves her unless he sleeps with her."

Matt on two juvenile delinquents she tends for a while in "School Days":  “They’re okay.  They kept stealing stuff at first, but I nailed them on it.  Now they know they can have toilet paper for the asking, they can eat anything I got, and I turn a blind eye when they snitch a smoke.  Anything else, there’s hell to pay.”

Matt when Carl Jacobsen shoots Jack Olson in self-defense in "Rights":  “Look, a lot of people think you got to take sides.  Cause if Carl made a mistake, then Jack’s dead for nothing, and that just pisses everybody off.  And if Carl’s wrong, that messes with being able to defend yourself.  So Jack must’ve done something, because otherwise Carl wouldn’t have shot him, so Jack’s a son of a bitch, and all’s well with the world.” 


I use her sparingly, but I always enjoy it when she shows up, usually having a red beer at the Norseman's Bar, playing euchre at Mellette's, or walking her last remaining dog, Whisper, down the street.  She will do something outrageous, and then she'll say what no one else will.  And order another beer.  And light another cigarette.  And walk her dog.  As long as I'm writing her, she'll never change. 

21 February 2012

Animal Instinct

by David Dean

My last posting concerned the grey hinterland of human mind control and was extremely taxing to write, so I often found myself contemplating the family's fifteen year old corgi as a means of  mental relaxation.  She seldom appeared to have a lot on her own mind, but napped in apparent comfort as I labored away.  Occasionally, she might stir herself to stretch and shift positions, or sit up to peer out the window onto our street.  This last would only happen if something truly important roused her, such as a UPS truck going by (she hates UPS...don't ask me why, as I've always equated the truck with Christmas gifts and happy times).  She, on the other hand, has held a grudge against Big Brown since she was a pup many moons ago.  By people years she is 105 and, apparently, has a long memory when it comes to grievances, real or imagined.  She holds the vacuum cleaner (any model) in the same contempt, and just as inexplicably.


A good corgi--not Silke
In case you don't know, a Welsh corgi is an ancient breed of cattle dog.  I found this idea laughable, at first, as Silke (that's her name--she was christened by my offspring who also found her) has short little legs and I couldn't imagine her herding cows, or even sheep, for that matter.  But then, I am a low and ignorant knave.  Corgi means dwarf in Welsh (hence the short leggies) and this allowed them to nip easily at the ankles of their wards while avoiding being kicked--being so low to the ground they can drop quickly beneath the damaging arc of the cow's hoof.  The official book on these furry devils warns, "Not for first-time owners".  That's right; that's what it says.  Care to guess what we were?

It seems this invaluable breed of canine tend to be bossy and are prone to nipping.  Thanks, kids.  I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone who knew what they were bred for--being bossy to a bunch of cows and nipping their hooves.  But I had no idea what the kids were getting us into.  Corgis are highly resistant to Mind Control.  This last is my own admonition as, believe me, I have tried.  But Silke remains serenely impervious to all attempts at training or discipline.  I gave up years ago--Pavlov did not use Welsh corgis in his famous experiment .  This shouldn't have surprised me, really, as my own progeny have also resisted my every effort at mind control.  It makes perfect sense that they should somehow, while on a trip to Virginia, manage to find just this dog in a pet store.  The shop owners claimed that they had no idea what kind of mutt it was...sure they didn't.

Though resistant to all discipline imposed upon them, corgis happily impose their own special brand of rules on everyone else.  For instance, running, and other erratic movements, are greatly discouraged, as are overt signs of physical affection, unless those affectionate overtures are directed at the corgi.  Try cuddling up to your loved one and soon the thick, furry body of the Adversary inserts itself betwixt the two of you like a mobile chastity pillow.  As for games of chase when the kids were younger...this was strictly forbidden!  Silke would fly into action by rapidly circling the offending parties in ever-tightening spirals until all motion was halted.  I cannot recall how many times I have tripped over this beastie.  I suspect that this latter trait is why corgis are so favored by the Queen of England--the herding instinct insures that all in the royal party will move about in a decorous manner; assume a stately progress.  The alternative is to be either tripped or bitten.  I have read that many of her guests (and family) despise the little beggars.

Did I mention that Silke hates all other canines?  With a passion.  She admits of no other dog being an ally or kindred spirit.  She recognizes no kinship.  I don't know if this applies to her own breed, as they are somewhat rare this side of the pond, but I suspect she would be just as unforgiving with them as any other.

Well, of course, those same children who had to have this creature, grew up and went away to college and thence to their own lives.  Silke and me are still here.  She thinks Robin, my wife, is just swell, though I am the one left mostly in charge of her...did I say, "in charge"?  Well, you get the picture.  I do the walks, the feedings, and now, the insulin injections.  Mostly, anyway.  Yes, she has diabetes and has had for the past four years.  The vet gave her a year at most after diagnosing her--if  we gave her the insulin.  I came from a background that was less than sentimental about pets, being descended from farm folk who routinely slaughtered barnyard animals and hunted game.  There were no pets, as such.  Yet, Silke has prevailed even against my notoriously budget-minded ways.  We buy the hideously expensive insulin.  She yet lives.

She has also appeared in a number of my stories.  She has played the protagonist, victim, and villain with equal aplomb.  I get a kick out of working her into my efforts from time to time.  Because the truth be told, her completely uncompromising nature, besides being infuriating, also charms and intrigues me.  Animals have always had this effect on me, and probably a third, or better, of everything I've ever written involves animals and nature in various roles both great and small--by my count, fourteen out of thirty stories.

Sometimes they just provide a bit of atmospheric background, such as the clutch of neighborhood turkey vultures in "The Vengeance of Kali".  In other stories they provide warnings, or are harbingers of something terrible coming--a small dog (possibly a corgi) in "Spooky"; a lizard in "Tap-Tap", while in some they are the victims, as a cat and corgi each in "The Mole" and "Whistle".  But, in the interest of fair-handedness, animals are sometimes the victimizers as well: a cougar and spider in "Natural Causes", a zoo tiger in "Copy Cat", a corgi in "Little Things" and in "The Wisdom Of Serpents"...yep, serpents. 

I didn't start out to write about animals so frequently; it just happened.  In fact, for the first ten years of my taking up the pen, I was unaware that I was doing so.  It was only after I had built up a small body of work that I gradually became cognizant of the recurrent nature of...well, nature, in my stories.

It's not that I write animal stories, as such, it's just that they figure in so often.  I'm not alone in this, oh no; in fact, several Big Shot Writers in the mystery and suspense field have gotten there long before me--E.A. Poe and H.H. Munro of past renown, as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Doug Allyn of more recent note.  I stumble along in the paths of others.  But, I wouldn't be able to exclude wee beasties, and great, even if I wanted to.  They are all around us and figure into our lives though we dwell in suburbs or great cities. 

Just this morning, I was beckoned by a sparrow to open the door to my garage and free her.  This was not an isolated incident.  For some time now, whenever the weather is rough with rain or heavy winds, a sparrow hides herself (or himself) I'll never know which, within our attached garage as we pull the car in.  Come the morning, she begins to sing...loudly.    This is our cue to open the damn garage door and release her from her voluntary confinement.  This is accomplished on a regular basis.  At first, I thought it was just a case of the sparrow having inadvertently entered the garage and become trapped when we shut the door.  But repeated experience has shown me differently.  Is it the same bird, each time?  I will never be sure, but it is always a sparrow.  Additionally, there is no nest in the garage.  And it never happens when the weather is nice.  Also, she never sings while in the garage until daylight comes and the weather has cleared.  Gives the pejorative 'bird-brained' a slightly different slant, doesn't it?  But it does make me think, and whenever I do that I start to have ideas that sometime become stories, and when I write stories I become a happier person.  So, my little sparrow may not be the bluebird of happiness, and my dog may not be Lassie, but they both do me a world of good.

Sparrow