Dog. The word alone brings up a kaleidoscope of images from my life. I see the dog who bit me; the dog who had more gas than Exxon; the dog who had three legs; the dog who had just one eye; the dog who didn’t know how to growl. I could go on. I’ve been touched by dogs I’ve lived with and those I’ve met on my journey through life.
We call dogs “domesticated animals” and take credit as humans for the process of taming them. In fact, I think these wise, furry creatures adapted to US and made themselves indispensable to us for myriad reasons. Millenia ago, dogs became hunters, guardians, and herders for their humans. Though I haven’t found research yet to prove it, my guess is that dogs as companions were also a valuable asset to their people going back 18,000-32,000 years ago at their inception. We humans and dogs have been happy partners for all that time.
The word dog makes me smile. I think of my first dog, Charlie, a tiny poodle, who bit me on the way home from the breeder. There was Kindu, the valiant three-legged dog, who loved to hike the countryside with me and knew all her toys by name. Then, there was Mugsy, the criminal dog who ate my couch. That little mite of a dog took down an entire davenport. Quite impressive. I can still see the joy on the faces of people who my therapy dog Casey and I visited at care facilities.
While each of my dogs may have had particular likes and dislikes, none discriminated on the basis of color, ethnicity, or LGBTQ+ status. Charlie really didn’t like anyone, but it was rainbow of equal opportunity dislike. He just wanted to be left alone to worship our other dog, Suzy, who paid no attention to him.
Dogs, like people, are a delightful mosaic of beings, each with their own unique qualities. The diversity of dogs mirrors the diversity of human beings. They come in a variety of breeds, mutts, colors, sizes. Some shed, others don’t. Some approach life with serious determination. Others frolic in the daily joy of being alive. It seems like a commonality that dogs love their walks. City or country, it doesn’t matter; they just revel in the natural world.
Dogs have been the inspiration for much of my writing because of the joy they’ve brought to my life, couch be damned. Having a dog was the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for me in my childhood. It was my dream come true of my childhood. Their inspiration has made my dream of becoming a writer come true as well.
My parents adopted our Brussels Griffon, Casey, as a puppy. He knew nothing but love and radiated love outward from his whole body. When he came to live with me, he opened up a world of treasured service to people who loved him instantly. His cheerful smile and waggly tail brought a woman out of a deep depression. He brought a smile to the face of a severely challenged stroke survivor who could barely move any part of her body.
Casey was so full of joy that he didn’t understand negativity. If you gave him a frown and a reprimand like, “Casey, bad boy,” he would look at you in puzzlement. It was if he were saying, “Human is speaking. What could it be saying?” On the other paw, if you praised him, he’d light up with bright, happy eyes. “Now I understand you! Why didn’t you say that before?” he’d say with his whole being.
Sometimes, try as I might, it’s hard for me to see the brighter side of life. I live with depression and although medication helps tremendously, there are still residual episodes of darkness, lack of energy, and tears. Casey, in his time, and through my memories of him, always brings a smile to my face. I started writing poems from his point of view to cheer myself up and remind myself of my own positive qualities. Eventually, I had an alphabet of affirmative poems told from Casey’s perspective. I imagined him saying, “Everything You Say About Me THAT’S WONDERFUL is True.” That became the title of the book. Since it’s told from a dog’s perspective, it’s warm, humorous, and sometimes downright silly.
It took over 15 years to get my book published. At one point, early on, an artist friend discouraged me by saying it would be more work to do the illustrations than write the book. I was deflated. He had no idea how I toiled over every word, and edited, and re-edited, and re- re-edited my text. His words made me so ashamed of my work that I felt like I was trying to impose poor composition on the world. So, I put it away. I still liked it though, and periodically, I’d take out the manuscript and tinker with the wording and messages.
Just over a year ago, friends on Facebook were chattering about a publishing workshop being held by Orange Hat Publishing, a Waukesha, WI-based firm. I missed the workshop, but looked up their website and discovered that they were accepting manuscripts. Since “Everything You Say About Me THAT’S WONDERFUL is True” was the only finished manuscript I had, I submitted it. Less than a month later I had a contract and began the process of publishing.
Although it’s a children’s picture book, it still took a great deal of editing. I hired a wonderful artist, Amy Kleinhans, to bring my poems to life with illustrations that emphasized inclusivity and diversity. My life includes a diverse array of people, so I wanted my book to reflect this splendid mixture of colors, cultures, and abilities. I also wanted to invite all kinds of readers to enjoy it.
I sold out the first printing and am now working on marketing it to a broader audience. This is another challenge that takes skills I’m just learning, like using social media. It takes a village to market a book! I’ve been lucky to have the help of Jaime La Palm and Sally Stanton to get the ball rolling and keep it going.
When Orange Hat publisher Shannon Ishizaki embraced my first book, it gave me the impetus to dust off another old manuscript and bring it to completion. Orange Hat also accepted that book, “From Wags to Riches,” which is now in production. A middle-years novel, this book tells the story of a feisty little Yorkie named Wags who escapes from a puppy mill. I’m now going through my eighth proofread and still finding things I want to change. Given the current situation of social distancing, we’re postponing our release date to Spring of 2021 in hopes that we can launch it with a gathering of people in a safe environment.
Writing and publishing books has become an essential new career path for me since my former profession as a cooking instructor has completely ended due to the pandemic. It took a long time to make my dream of becoming a professional writer come true. I’m a late bloomer at 69, but publishing my books have opened doors I never even knew existed.
My message to you is to remember that Everything People Say About You THAT’S WONDERFUL is True, and to forget the rest.