Monday, December 30, 2013

11K and Counting

     I had some more time to spend with Dungeon today.  I am now over 11k words.  It does not appear this will be a full-size novel -- at least not in its 1st-draft form.  My final conflict is in sight, as soon as my characters figure out what is going on...although that may take them a chapter or two. ;)
     I am looking forward to finishing Dungeon so I can read it and edit it and share it.  Exciting days!
     Writing, for me, sometimes feels like I am reading a book that I don't want to put down.
     But, I must.  Chores await...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Plot "W"

     Inspired to learn writing tips from great authors, I scanned the internet for brief tutorial videos.  I found a lot of unhelpful things, a few helpful things, and many more things to think about for a little bit (to see whether they are any good or not).
     Writers had different tips for plot structures.  One that I watched a video on was the "W".  The teacher had a W drawn on a large board.  At the beginning of the story (the top left of the W), everything is fine.  Then the conflicts pull the story down, down, down.  There may be multiple bumps in the road, but then the main character hits what they believe to be the lowest point.  This is the first dip in your W.  Fighting their way out of this, the plot begins to look up a little bit.  It makes it to a stable-ish place in the middle peak of the W.  Then everything falls apart and looks worse than it ever looked before.  This is the second dip in your W.  Finally, the end resolution of the book comes and you reach the final peak of your W.
    In my opinion, the W should look like it was drawn by a kindergartner, something like this:
     I like this because there are multiple "bumps in the road" as you follow your story through its ups and down.  I like the fact that my middle peak doesn't quite attain to the height of the first peak, and I like the fact that my final peak is higher than both peaks before it -- your characters should be better or wiser after their adventures.
     Since the teacher with the W said that the second dip of the W was the lowest point of all, I made this diagram reflect that.  I also added the horizontal line at the end to represent that section at the end of the book where you find out what happened to everybody.

     I haven't quite been able to bring myself to write a plot specifically to follow the W, but I was looking over what I had written in the Dungeon this week and realized that, without intending to, I was sort of following the W pattern.  So that was kind of cool.  We'll see how it turns out.

     One more note on the W plot pattern:  Somehow, in my mind, writing is a weaving game with several strands involved.  Characters are woven in and out of the story, as are descriptions, settings, clues, and other things.  So, perhaps the W should look like this:
What do you think?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I've Jumped into a Dungeon

     A while back, I had this random idea about a princess' discovery of a dungeon in her own castle.  It didn't seem like much of a story, but I typed up the first chapter to make myself feel better.  Then I shelved the project away -- not intending to ever come back to it.
     But, in the past 7 days, the dungeon came alive to me.  Strands of storylines and characters wound through my head.  Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down and type, and I wrote nearly 5k words.
     I'm at a little bit of a block today.  Yesterday, after many failed attempts, the princess made it down into the dungeon.  Today, she is trying to return to the dungeon, but the door is locked...again.  I am not sure why the door is locked and I am working hard to find a way to get her down there.  I'd really like her to be able to go down at will now.  If only she could find a secret door...or maybe find the keys...or something...I don't know, but that is where I am stuck (my princess is staring at the locked door with an armful of fruit) and I just have to figure out a way to open the door.
     I am having so much fun writing this one.  :)
     My princess is not having fun.  No, I am sorry to say she is having rather a rough time of it.  But that is what happens when a very sheltered princess finds out that other people are suffering and it's sort of her fault.
      But...I don't want to give away too much of the story just yet.  ;)  So that is all that I am saying about it today.
     And, you will be happy to know, I think I may have just figured out a way to get my princess through the door...I'm off to try it out!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Distractions During Intense Scenes

     Writers will tell you how much it means to them to be left alone while they are writing.  We have to be able to concentrate as we weave our tales.  And people trying to talk to you can make that difficult.
     I tend to get very involved in my writing.  When I am telling a story, I am there.  I can see it, I can feel it.  The emotions of the moment are strong inside me as I write.
     And my dog notices.
     Whenever I am writing an intense scene, when I am deep in that moment, when I am far, far away from real life..., this is when my dog feels the need to bring me back.  He props his front feet on my knee and howls.
     Yes, he howls.
      And then, as I quickly fall out of my story and back to earth, he wags his tail furiously.
      Now, how am I supposed to concentrate?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Would You Like to Hear About Next?

Hi, all!
     I have introduced a number of writing projects on this blog.  Which things would you like to hear about next?

- Alexander
- Bella and Gerard
- Caleb the horse
- Dungeon
- horses in general
- other inspiring writers
- about me
- Reagan's Island
- Scooter the horse
- The Journey
- The Ultimate Stand
- veterinarian stories
- WhiteStar the horse
- writing tips, ideas, adventures

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why We Celebrate Christmas (The Short Version)

     Thousands of years ago, the earth was beautiful and perfect.  There was no death, no evil, no pain.  In a special paradise garden named "Eden", there lived a man and woman.  Their task was to tend the garden, and with them was the Creator of all this beauty and perfection, helping them, loving them, talking with them.
     At some time before this, there was a rebel among those who served the Creator.  One, Satan, committed treason, trying to exalt himself above the Creator.  He was promptly banished...but that was not the end of his tale, not yet.
     Taking the form of a serpent, Satan pursued the man and woman as an opportunity for revenge and possibly a restoration of the power that he craved.  With twisted words, he coaxed the woman into disobedience to the very Creator who had placed her in this beautiful and perfect place.  And through her, Satan coaxed the man into the same disobedience.  This was too easy -- his evil plan was going perfectly.  Evil, pain, sorrow, heartache, shame -- all bad things were now introduced into the once-perfect world.
     The Creator banished the man and woman from the garden.  It would be cruel, in their fallen condition, to let them live forever.  No, there was only one way to restore them to the former glories.
     He could have turned his back on them forever.  He could have scrapped that project and started over.  But the truth was that He loved these people, and He would no more abandon them than a loving parent would abandon a disobedient child.
     There was one thing that bound the Creator.  He could never go back on His word.  Once a promise was made, it could not be reversed.  And the law against disobedience and other twisted actions had been spoken...along with the punishment for it.  And it was a punishment that no man or woman could bear.
      But the Creator had a plan.  It was a great plan, a perfect plan, a plan that would take many generations to accomplish.  From the beginning, it was set in motion.
     For thousands of years, the hope for the One who would reverse the fall was passed down, reinforced by promises from the Creator.  And then one night, in a little town, a Baby was born.  For the first and only time, the Creator was born as a man.  He alone was great enough to bear the punishment...the punishment for all men and women of all time.  He alone could fulfill the requirements set out in His own Words.  He alone.
     He grew from a Baby into a Man.  He reversed the separation that had occurred between Creator and creation - to restore things to the way they were supposed to be.
     And there is yet more to the plan -- a part of it that we have yet to see.
     But the day that He was born was a special day, and that is why we set aside one day from the year (Christmas) to celebrate His coming.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Clip from "Dungeon"

      It seemed like a good day to share a little bit from a project I started earlier this year.  It has the working title of Dungeon.  Someday, I will give you the synopsis, but, for now, enjoy this clip from the book:

  *  *  *
    The walls were cold and clammy to her touch.  And it was dark -- darker than any place she had ever been.  She sucked a deep breath into her lungs, wondering at the heaviness of it.  The feeling of oppression was almost tangible in those halls.  That was something she had not expected.  The weight of betrayed lives pressed in on her from every side.
     The hall turned to the right.  Here, the ceiling vaulted high above her head.  A tiny ray of sunlight filtered down in dazzling brilliance.  She paused, searching the high walls for the source of the beam.  It was a missing chink between masonry high above her head.  Somewhere up there, her parents sat idly with no premonition of the danger she was in.
     On she went, pressing deeper into the darkness.  Nothing but the persistent craving to see the dungeons for herself kept her moving.  If it were not for that driving force, she would have turned back long ago.  This was no place for a princess.
     Her eyes did her no good in this blackness.  She closed them, running her hand along the wall for guidance.  A foul smell hit her nose and she coughed.  Her hands searched the rough-hewn rocks as, again, the hall turned to the right. 
     Something on the wall felt slimy.  She shuddered.  With her clean hand, she fished in her tiny pouch for a kerchief.
     "Are you free?" an eager voice whispered in the darkness.
     The princess' heart pounded as she opened her eyes and searched for the speaker.
     "God be praised!" the voice murmured, expressing both relief and excitement at the same time.  "The keys!  By the guard room!  Quickly!"
     "Who are you?" the princess demanded in a whisper.
     Heavy footsteps echoed on stone steps from deeper halls.  A faint hue of flickering light crept into the room.  The princess could see the outline of a cell to her left with the form of a young man crouched in a corner.  The vertical iron bars forming the front wall of the cell glimmered faintly.
      For a moment, their eyes met: the princess' eyes wide with surprise and the young man's eyes intently searching.  Quickly, his eyes clouded with uncertainty and then derision.  His head dropped down on his folded arms, propped on his knees.
     Emboldened by her purpose, the princess tried another question.  "Why are you here?  What have you done?"
 * * *

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bagels and Friendship

     Hungry, I pulled a bagel from the freezer at work, popping it in the toaster to thaw it.  Then, caught up in the busy-ness that comprises an ordinary day at work, the bagel was left to sit...for hours.  By the time I got back to it, the bagel was pretty tough.  With some effort, I ripped a bite-size piece off and rolled it around in my mouth.
     "This bagel is tough enough to kill a blender," I commented to my co-worker.
     I felt secretly proud of my creative description, and I waited for my co-worker's response.
     To my delight, I heard her peal of laughter ring out.  It's great to have someone who can make you laugh, but it is also great to have someone whom you can make laugh.  Laughter should go both ways. 
      It is fun to have someone who appreciates your humor. :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Playing with Caleb - Part 3

     Game 1: Friendly game
    This involved a lot of touching and brushing.  Sometimes he let me touch him without hesitation and sometimes he pulled away.  For example: I reached out to touch his nose (to brush a fly away).  He swung his head away from my approaching hand and eyed me suspiciously.  In response, I kept my energy very low and calm.  I reached for a place on his neck that he consistantly trusted me with.  Then, with one hand on the trusted spot, I eased my finger toward his nose.  When I reached his nose, I didn't grab it.  Instead, I rubbed my finger back and forth across the itchy place where the flies had been.
     "Ahhh, that feels good," Caleb seemed to say.  "That feels really good."
     So we did a lot of that sort of thing.  Sometimes he would trust me and then he wouldn't.  If I could get him to relax enough for me to get a hand on that place (wherever it was), then I would.  If not, then I didn't worry about it.  Like I explained in earlier posts, I had all the time in the world.  And I happened to return to such a spot later and he would be fine with it.
     Since this was our first day playing in the arena, I didn't go for any known horsey-sensitive spots: ears, tail, between hind legs, etc.  I worked on back, chest, belly, face, and neck.
     Caleb really seemed to enjoy and appreciate our time together.  Sometimes when I scratched an itchy place or when I just stood there with him, he would swing his head over next to me.  He didn't push me, but it was very cuddly, companionable, and sweet.  He was winning my heart pretty quickly already.
     Game 2: Porcupine game
     This game involves putting pressure on a spot on the horse, expecting the horse to move away from that pressure.  Pressure comes in the form of a look, a stance, or a touch.  A touch can be so light that it barely touches the horse's hair -- or maybe doesn't even touch the horse at all.  That is phase 1.  Phase 2 just barely touches the horse's skin.  Phase 3 is a light push.  Phase 4 is a firm push.  You always start with the lightest suggestion possible and slowly, slowly increase from Phase 1 (up to Phase 4, if needed).
     I did porcupine game to ask him to back up.  I did porcupine game to ask him to turn in a circle, leading with his forequarters.  Both of those went smoothly.
     I did porcupine game to ask him to step to the side with his hindquarters.  Phase 1...phase 2...phase 3...phase 4.  When I reached phase 4, he started backing up.  That is not what I wanted so I maintained steady phase 4 pressure.  Then he took a step to the side, and I immediately released.  Ah, good boy.
     I waited a little bit and tried again.  I wanted him to figure out, by my quick release of pressure, that stepping to the side is what I wanted.  So I again asked him to do it.  Phase 1...phase 2...phase 3...phase 4 - he stepped to the side and I immediately released. 
     I was pleased that he didn't back up the second time.  He figured out what I wanted.  Now he needs to learn to do it at phase 1 and not wait until phase 4.  But we can save that for next time.
     Game 3: Driving
     This game is very similar to porcupine game except that I use rhythm instead of pressure.  I may tap the ground with my stick or rock it in the air.  Caleb did all that I asked of him pretty well.  It was not as beautifully done as WhiteStar can do, but I did not ask that of him.
     Game 4: Yoyo
     This game involves him backing away from me in a straight line and then coming to me in a straight line.  He did great at this game, especially the "coming to me" part.  And, being a more dominant horse than WhiteStar, he had no trouble with approaching me straight on.
     Game: Stick-to-Me
     This game wasn't actually stick-to-me.  I just led him around a little bit. 
     Stick to me is suppose to say, "How about you copy me perfectly," and this was more like "let's both move somewhere together."
     But it was still part of building trust and relationship.

     Twice, he boldly walked away from me to get grass.  I doubt that it was intended to offend me.  I get the feeling that it is a common move for a dominant horse.
     The first time that he walked away went something like this: I saw him stride off so I braced my feet and clamped the end of the rope.  He reached the end with a bit of jerk, and it surprised him.  He looked back to see what happened.  I softened my body and smiled and invited him to come to me.  He turned away and tugged at the rope with a couple tosses of his head, only to find that I was still holding it securely.  Again, he looked back and, again, I invited him.  He then came back to me very sweetly.
     The second time he walked away came later in our time together and it went something like this: I saw him stride off so I again braced my feet and clamped the end of the rope.  When he reached the end of the rope, he looked back and was invited to rejoin me.  He immediately was like "oh, yeah, that's where I could I forget I was hanging out with her?"  And he came back to me.

     Near the end of the day, I offered him flyspray again.  He sniffed the bottle and then stood still for me.  He was relaxed so I took that as a "yes" and I sprayed his front left leg.  He stood beautifully.  I was so impressed.  That was so easy.
    So I reached to spray his front right leg.  Caleb politely took a step away from me as if to say, "no, thank you."
     Well, one leg didn't have flies on it.  I can't say much for the other three legs, but that was his choice and, all in all, I felt it had been a really good start.

 Goals accomplished!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Playing with Caleb - Part Two

(continued from 12/17)
     So I moseyed out to the field to fetch Caleb.  I found him at the far end of the field.  He was grazing but he came and greeted me.
     "Hey, buddy, how's it going?" I crooned. 
     I lifted the halter and slid it over his head.  He was fully cooperative and seemed extremely happy about it.  After weeks of passing him by, I was finally here just for him.  I could almost hear him saying, "Really?!?!?  Me?!?  You want to play with me?!"  He was so excited that I was actually taking him out of the field.
     I brushed some flies away from him.  He had a lot of flies pestering him.  Then I turned and led him on the long walk back to the gate that led to the arena.  He followed without hesitation -- he just seemed so happy.  It was priceless.
     Our path led by a neighboring field with a dominent gelding pastured in it.  That gelding approached us as we passed by his fence.  This made Caleb very nervous.  So I let Caleb walk on the other side of me, putting myself between him and the fenced gelding.  Then out of nowhere, Scooter appeared behind us.  Tension crackled in the air.  I blew out a big breath of air to keep myself relaxed and alert.  I had no idea what was happening, but I wanted to be ready for it.
     Suddenly I heard pounding hooves behind me.  I turned to look.  Caleb and the neighboring gelding were galloping side by side, each on his own side of the fence.  To this day, I only have theories about what that was all about -- I don't actually know.
     I thought Caleb would run when the other two started, but he only walked a little closer to me and gave me no trouble at all.  I blew another relaxing breath of air.  Whew.  Caleb and I reached the gate leading to the arena with no mishaps.
     Some horses do not come through a gate nicely.  Caleb was not one of them.  He did not balk; nor did he charge through.  I held the gate for him and he walked through like a gentleman.  I was quite impressed.
     Once we made it through the gate, however, he stopped to graze.  Polite horses at that barn are supposed to turn themselves to face the gate once they are through it.  It makes it easier and safer for the person to close and latch the gate.  Caleb, on the other hand, had his hindquarters squarely facing the post where the gate latches.  Ah-hem.
     Usually, I would ask a horse to simply swing his hindquarters around so that he was facing the gate -- only I had never done that with Caleb before and I really wasn't in a safe position to do that for the first time.  So, instead, I walked forward, leading him in a small circle that ended with him facing the gate.  Then I latched it securely.
     I had already decided that I would act like Caleb knew nothing.  This was partly because it had been 3 years or so since he practiced whatever he once knew.  It was also partly because I didn't know what things he had learned with his owners.  How far did he get in his training in the first place?  Without knowing those things, I take my time and only proceed when I know he knows something.
     So what do I know that he knows?  In our few interactions in the field, I have already established beginner friendly game.  I can toss the string anywhere on his back.  I can rub his back with a stick.  I can rub under his belly and chest with the stick to dispel flies.  I have touched his legs -- a little bit -- with the stick.  I have touched his face and the outside of his ears.  These are all safe.
     So, with that done, I moved in closer and ran my hands over the areas already established by the stick.  Then I got a brush and started brushing.  With WhiteStar, I simply drop the lead rope (or unhook it altogether) when I brush.  But I held an end of the rope while I brushed Caleb.  It is harder to brush while you are holding the rope, but I thought it was worth it.
     Poor Caleb.  He was swarmed by flies, and my heart went out to him.
     I pulled the bottle of herbal fly spray off the fence and held it out to Caleb.  This is the way that my instructor asks permission of Scooter before spraying him.  Caleb, however, was busy eating grass and did not answer my non-verbal question.
     Was this a "yes"?  Or did he simply not "hear" the question?  Hmmm.
     I pointed the nozzle away from him and sprayed the air.
     Caleb was unfazed.
     I turned the spray toward his rib cage and sprayed low.
     He raised his head and stared at me in surprise.  "What was THAT!" he seemed to say.
     "It was flyspray.  Are you okay with that?" I asked.
      He took an offended step away.
     "Okay, fine," I answered.  "You don't have to be sprayed."
     He went back to eating grass.
     But those flies were really bothering him.  His belly was almost black with flies.  I couldn't just leave him like that.
     I sprayed the brush with flyspray and held the brush out to him.  "Are you okay with the long as I don't actually spray you?" I asked.
     He sniffed the brush and seemed unconcerned.  So I brushed him with the flyspray-treated brush.  It helped a lot, and I was relieved to have found a non-offensive way to help him.
     Once he was brushed to my satisfaction, it was time to start some games...
                                                                                                                       (to be continued)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Playing with Caleb - Part One


     A week or so later, I was out to see the horses again.  I overheard my instructor say that she might play with Caleb today but that she really, really needed to play with Scooter.  She also said that she needed to go into town.  I sighed, figuring that my long-awaited playdate was being postponed again.  But before I gave up entirely, I asked, "Can I at least go say hi to Caleb in the field?"
     Her answer was quickly encouraging.  "Absolutely, you should play with him," she said.  "You can bring him to the arena -- in fact, I prefer that -- and play with him here."  She did not seem reluctant or impatient; instead she was very happy and encouraging.
     As I gathered a lead rope and halter, my instructor talked to me.  She went down a list of Caleb's bad habits.  He had a bad habit of running off when he was behind you.  Occasionally (especially in circling game), he would squeal and bolt if his person brought up her energy too quickly or too strongly.  He would likely be moving-slow-and-thinking-fast and would outsmart a non-savvy human.  He also had the potential panic and run, kick, buck, etc. 
     She also suggested that I saddle him when I rode him and to use her saddle.  No bareback stuff.
     "I'm not riding Caleb today," I interjected.  Yikes.  I wanted to get to know him, to figure out who he was, and to let him get to know me and trust me before I jumped up on his back.  I was not in a hurry with this horse.  I had no deadlines.  All I wanted was to give him love and to develop some of his potential for his future owners without scaring or scarring him.
     My instructor said she most certainly hoped I wasn't planning on riding this horse today.  Caleb hadn't been ridden in 3 years.  She assured me that the idea of jumping on his back on "day one" was not on her mind -- these tips were for my future knowledge.
     By this time, I had my 12-foot lead rope and a halter.  I glanced down at the herbal fly spray, hanging by its nozzle on the fence.  "Can I offer Caleb flyspray?" I asked.
     My instructor gave me a worried look.
     "I will ask permission from Caleb before I spray, I won't spray if he doesn't seem okay with it, and I ABSOLUTELY WON'T spray him in the face no matter what," I promised.
     My instructor agreed to my plan with those terms. 
     Basically, as much as I hate for flies to be bothering my Caleb, it would still be better to let him be pestered by flies than for him to lose confidence in me and be forever ruined against future attempts to apply flyspray.
     "Is that a 12-foot line?" my instructor asked me, eyeing the rope over my shoulder.
     I nodded.
     "You may want to use the 22-foot line with him -- especially for circling game and some of the other games, too," she suggested.  "On the other hand, you need to be really careful with your rope.  Don't let yourself get tangled up in it.  Don't wrap it around your arm.  Don't let it get wound around your legs.  If Caleb bolts..." 
     I decided that I would stick with my tried and true 12-foot rope.  I was planning to be moving pretty slow that day, and I really wanted to try to use the longer rope with my sweet WhiteStar before trying it out with a new horse.  My instructor left the 22-foot line over the fence anyway, just in case I decided to use it.
     So, with a 12-foot lead rope and a halter, I moseyed out into the field.  This was going to be very different from playing with WhiteStar...
                                                                                                                 (to be continued)

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Clip from Alexander

     Alexander is the working title of one of my auxiliary projects.  I have had this story rolling around in my head for years, and it has yet to safely make it out onto paper.  The central plot never changes -- it is fixed in my mind as securely as if it were true -- but the manner of telling the tale changes each year.  And, because of that, I have not gotten very far in the transfer from brain to document.  Nevertheless, below is part of a scene from Alexander for you to enjoy and comment on:

"...The soldiers handed out a few bruises and bloody noses among your remaining tenants, but nothing serious.  There’s a reward out for your head,” Nathaniel recounted.

     “What of my men?” Alexander asked.

      “Edward will send his warnings to them soon, I am sure,” Nathaniel said.  “I reached all of the leaders in this area.  Caphogen and Rinton are cautious.  They are loyal to Henrique’s line and will likely side against you as a rogue general if it helps them serve Edward.  Testope and Vonklin will seek to remain neutral – on your side but never openly.”

     “Down with the neutral cowards!” exclaimed Heathon, one of the men with Nathaniel.  “We will overthrow them along with Edward, the double-minded brutes!”

     “Here!  Here!” cheered two other men.  “Long live Alexander!”

     “No!” Alexander spoke the word only once but forcefully.  “No man under my command will harm the son of Henrique.”

     “But Alexander…he is nothing like his father.  For the good of the country, he does not deserve to reign,” one of the cheering men protested.

     “Maybe he was switched at birth,” suggested a wry voice, somewhere in the crowd.

     An appreciative laugh went up from several of the men at that statement.

     “Alexander, we risked our lives, our homes, our families for you.  We want that to mean something.  Do not let us down,” argued the other of the cheering men.

     “I do not seek the throne.  Edward will reign as king.  I and my men will seek refuge in the forest for as long as needed,” Alexander stated.

     Heathon spat on the ground.  “Then you are a coward, too, Alexander,” he said, accusingly.

     One of the men, a burly sort of man, pulled a long knife from his belt and jammed it under Heathon’s neck, only a hair’s breadth from his skin.  “No man calls Alexander a coward on my watch,” he growled.

     “Stay your blade, Quince,” Alexander ordered.

     “There’s nothing Alexander can do,” another man spoke up, mulling over the situation.  “He’s tied his hands.  He won’t dethrone Edward, and Edward will do everything in his power to kill Alexander.  There’s nothing Alexander can do but hide.”

     “So, what do you want of us,” another man queried, with one eye on Quince as the burly man slowly re-sheathed his knife.

     Heathon rubbed his neck ruefully and made a face at no one in particular.

     “I am with Alexander,” Nathaniel swore.  He looked disdainfully at Heathon.  “You say that he is great enough to be king – and he is – and then you proceed to tell him how to do it your way.  Who is it that you want to lead here?  If he is that great, then he knows what he is doing now.”

     Heathon pointed a grubby finger at Nathaniel.  “Well, I didn’t sign up to hide for the rest of my life,” he hissed.  “We either change the world or I’m going home!”  He punctuated his sentence with a final jab of his finger, spat again, and stalked away, shoving other men out of his way as he went.

     “So, what do you want of us,” came the repeated query from one of the men.

     “Serve Edward if you can," Alexander answered.  "If not, every one of you is welcome to join me.  But I warn you my life will not be easy.”

     A young man stepped forward.  “I’ve followed you in battle.  I will follow you anywhere, even here.  I’m with you, Alexander,” he said...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Feeding the Horses

     One of the things you learn when you play with horses is how much you can say with your body language.  You can make your body like a brick wall that says, "I own this place.  Here you stop and go no further."  You can make your body tense with fear to say, "I see something that scares me.  I am now prepared to fight or flee or freeze."  You can make your body soft to say, "Come join me.  This is a good, safe, welcoming place."  You can also make your body soft to say, "Where you are is perfect.  What you are doing is perfect.  All is well.  Relax."

    Caleb met me at the gate the next week.  I did a little unofficial friendly game with him and then walked out into the field to get WhiteStar.  Caleb followed me.  I wished I could take him to the arena and play with him, but my instructor was busy.
     I thought about why my instructor wanted to help me with him.  I decided that, in addition to the safety issue, she also didn't want me to do something terribly wrong and ruin him before we even got started.  So I was trying to wait patiently for her.
     I had a good time playing with WhiteStar.  We mixed up the order of our games and tried some new combinations.  I was starting to feel confident enough to do that.  I also learned a signal to ask her to back up while I was riding her.  Something about that felt really cool to me.
     After I finished with WhiteStar, I helped my instructor feed the horses.  I carried WhiteStar's bucket out to the field.
     "WhiteStar!  Here, sweet girl!" I called.
     She was at the far end of the field but she came when I called (more because of the bucket I was holding than anything else).  I sat the bucket down and waited for her, making my body soft to say, "Come join me.  This is a good, safe, welcoming place to eat."
     WhiteStar made it to about 20 feet away from me when she suddenly shied away.  I was surprised and tried to soften my body even further.  I backed away from her bucket, thinking that perhaps I looked too intimidating standing over her food.  She still danced away.
     At that moment, my instructor yelled, "Look out for Caleb!"
     I turned around to see the big white horse moseying toward me, with his eyes on WhiteStar's food.
     "Oh, no, you don't," I thought.  I straightened my body, squared off at Caleb, and planted my feet with a little bit of a stomp.  "This is WhiteStar's food."
     Caleb pulled his head up in surprise and hesitated, wondering whether he should turn away or continue coming.  He watched me for a clue.
     I took a meaningful step toward him at the same time as my instructor shouted for me to use rhythm.  So I incorporated a wave of my arm at the end of the step, but Caleb was already turning away.  "I'm so sorry -- I didn't realize you cared," his attitude seemed to say as he returned to his own bucket and continued eating.
     As soon as Caleb turned away, I relaxed my body, and WhiteStar came and ate.  I stayed stationed between the two of them, keeping my body soft to say, "Where you are is perfect.  What you are doing is perfect.  All is well.  Relax and eat."  But I was ready to be firm if necessary.
     Caleb's hindquarters were squarely facing me.  Horses, in general, can see behind them due to the placement of their eyes.  Staring at Caleb, though, I thought, "His hindquarters are too broad -- I bet he can't see me." 
     With this thought in mind, my gaze fell from his hindquarters down to his bucket, which I could see through his legs.  And there, over the edge of the bucket, one large eyeball was directly focused on me.  I almost jumped, startled, when I realized he had been watching me the whole time  --  not around his hindquarters but through his legs.  Surprise!  It was kind of funny, actually.  I grinned ruefully at myself.
     WhiteStar finished her meal and meandered away to eat grass.  Caleb was still eating.  So I walked around a little bit, exploring the field.  There was a giant tire laying down nearby.  I climbed on top of it, wondering if the tire in the field was an intentional desensitization project.
     I look back toward the horses in time to see Scooter moseying toward Caleb with his eyes on Caleb's bucket of food.  Scooter is the top horse in the field.
     "Oh, no, you don't either," I thought and strode two steps intently toward Scooter.  Scooter dropped his head and returned to his own bucket.  I immediately relaxed again.
     This was pretty cool, though.  I had proved myself a strong and capable leader, both by correcting Caleb and by defending Caleb.  I couldn't have set it up any better.
     My instructor was putting in some extra practice with Scooter that day, since she was doing a demonstration at a retreat over the weekend.  So, after all the horses ate, Scooter went to join her in the arena to play.  There was no time for working Caleb in the arena.  That would have to wait until next time.  So I gave a goodbye to WhiteStar and Caleb, and then trotted up to the arena to watch my instructor.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Talk to My Instructor About Playing with Caleb


     With all of my interactions with Caleb, I was hesitant.  Was I even allowed to play with him?  He obviously wanted to be played with, and maybe, somehow, I could help him become a better horse for his current owner or any owners he would have in the future.
     So I went to talk to my instructor.  Could I play with Caleb?
     That conversation was easy.  She said she would be thrilled for me to play with Caleb some.  His owner had just called and offered to give him to her (again, and my instructor turned her down again), and maybe Caleb would even be available for me to own at some point. 
     She warned me that Caleb was a left-brained introvert who occasionally, and somewhat unpredictably, switches to a right-brained extrovert.  In other words, he is usually slow to move his feet and quick to think, but he flashes into full-action panic mode at times.  This, my instructor said, scares people.
     After telling me all about Caleb, my instructor summarized that, if I have extra time after I play with WhiteStar, it would be great for me to play with Caleb...but I should have my instructor there to help me with him when I do. 
     "Caleb is not a beginner's horse," she said multiple times.
     I think this is a great idea.  I would like to have my instructor's help anyway.  This is very, very new territory for me...

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Different Horse


     Caleb had an owner already, but she was very sick and had been for a long time.  She had not played with him in years.  Wanting him to belong to an actively caring owner, she offered him to my instructor.  My instructor turned her down (she didn't need any more horses at the moment), but he was much on my instructor's mind.  I began hearing more stories about Caleb's previous life.  She said he had some trust issues.
     One time he was tied in a stall when somebody unexpectedly started a tractor right behind him.  Caleb panicked, struggled, and fell down in his stall, hitting his head on the concrete hard enough to knock him unconscious.  His owner thought he was dead.  Caleb probably thought the tractor snuck up behind him, roared, and hit him in the head.  Needless to say, he was a little afraid of tractors.
     Caleb was also scared of fly spray.  One time, his caring owner glared at him and sprayed him in the face with chemical fly spray, with no warning.  That's scary to a horse.  Of course, the owner's actions were not intended to be scary.  She was so frustrated with mean horse flies who were attacking her beautiful Caleb.  There were flies on his face and she reacted, spraying them angrily.  But how would he know that?  Sometimes "trauma" comes from well-meaning people.
     I started making a point to give him a quick pat or call a friendly greeting to him when I went out into the field.  Sometimes I stopped to pick a brier out of his mane.  He appreciated that.  My heart went out to him.  Even though he was well cared for, there wasn't a person playing with him, and he obviously wanted to be played with.
     He was very different than WhiteStar.  What he liked and disliked, his view of the world, his opinions -- these were all very different from WhiteStar's or Selah's.  By this time, I knew what made WhiteStar happy or unhappy.  I could pretty much tell what she was thinking.  But Caleb was different.  He was his own horse.  It was kind of neat for me to see that not all horses were exactly like my WhiteStar.
     As my heart went out to him more and more, he came to me more and more.  The idea of playing with him continued to roll around in my head.  I hadn't talked to my instructor about it yet, so all of my friendly game in the field felt a little covert.
     One day, when I went to get WhiteStar from the field, Caleb followed, nearly making a nuisance of himself, although I couldn't help but notice he was in perfect stick-to-me position.  I wished I could reward him for his attentiveness by playing with him longer, but I was there for WhiteStar.  So I went on my business, and he followed me to get WhiteStar and to bring her back to the arena.
     When I finished playing with WhiteStar, Caleb met me at the gate again.  I gave him a quick pet, swatted some flies, and left.
     It was time to talk to my instructor.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Talent Bashing

     Do you have a talent?  One that you hope to do something great with?  Here is my tip to you:

Don't bash it.
     I am serious.  How many people down-play the very talent they want to go far with?  "I'm not that good."  "I could have done better, but..."  "My end product is awful."  "I don't know that I will ever be great."
     Why do we say these things?  Because we are scared?  Scared of what it would take to be great.  Scared of people thinking that we are not as great as we hoped.  Just plain scared.
     What good does it do to bash it?  Does it help you succeed?  Does it make your talent better in some way?  Does it actually do any good whatsoever?
     Bashing your talent disrespects the One who gave you the talent.  Hiding in fear instead of pursuing it in faith does the same thing.  I challenge you to only speak well of the gifts you have been given.  Don't let those words of fear out of your mouth.
     Try saying other things instead.  "I will be good at this."  "I did my best this time, and I will do even better next time."  "My end product is great."  "I will be excellent in my field."
     I am not talking about being prideful.  You are smart enough to know when you are being proud and when you are just being grateful for a gift you have been given.  Who are you praising when you speak?  Yourself?  Or God?  There is a difference.  Figure it out.
     And, in the meantime, accept my challenge and don't bash your talent.
Quote of the day:
"If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all." -- Thumper (quoting his father) on the Disney movie Bambi.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

12,000 words and counting

     I have heard other writers talking about how much they have written in their books.  They say things like, "Oh, I wrote 10k words on my book this week," or "I wrote about 62k words on my book, and I probably have another 10k or 15k before it is done."
     These other writers have been blogging about their writing longer than I have, so I feel like a big girl now that I can say that Bella and Gerard has over 12k words.
     Unless someone makes me, I don't write to a word count.  I just write my story, and I will worry about how many words it has after I am done.  After all, who knows what changes may come during the editing process?  There is no point in worrying about the number of words yet.
     A novel generally seems to run 50k to 80k words (sometimes a little more or less based on the genre and the age range of the readers).  I can't predict how many more words there are in Bella and Gerard, but I am still introducing characters and plot strings into the story so I imagine I have quite a ways to go.  This story may be a novel yet.
     For those of you who are monitoring the progress of Bella and Gerard, I just introduced Harry and John into the book.  For those of you who have no idea who Harry and John are, please read my earlier posts on those characters.  I talked about Harry in November, and I introduced John to my blog on October 26.
     And now I am off to write some more...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is My Chihuahua Dying?!?

     Dr. Madison sat in the treatment area in the back of her veterinary clinic.  She was writing her clinical notes in the various charts from the morning appointments.  It had been a fairly quiet morning.
     Suddenly, pandemonium broke loose in the lobby.  Two women, sobbing and screaming, burst through the front door.  One of them held a tiny chihuahua who was "ki-yi-ing" at the top of his lungs.  Both women were too hysterical to explain what was going on, and the poor receptionist could not make heads or tails of the situation.
     Dr. Madison brought both women and the screaming chihuahua into an exam room.
     "We don't know what happened," one of the women managed to say.  She was visibly shaking.  "He just started screaming.  We came here as fast as we could."  And, with that, the woman started wailing again.  "Oh, my baby!!!  My poor baby!!!  What's wrong!!!  My poor baby!!!"
     "May I see him?" Dr. Madison asked gently.  Very tenderly, she reached for the panicky chihuahua.  As she took him into her hands, she noticed that his foot had somehow gotten caught in his collar.  Dr. Madison carefully slid the foot free.
     Instantly the chihuahua was quiet...and grateful.
     Dr. Madison finished examining him, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.  He had just gotten his foot stuck and, when he "ki-yi-ed" for help, his doting owners panicked and rushed him to the doctor's.  They had not noticed his trapped foot.
     No, ma'am, your chihuahua is not dying.

{The above story was based on a true story, but names have been changed.}

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Almost Veterinarians

     Anyone who has worked with animals or worked in a facility with animals knows that the general populace views you as "almost-as-good-as-a-veterinarian".  In some cases, you are even better because, while you may not have studied for years in school, you are free.  Friends will call you on the phone.  Neighbors will swing by with a quick question.  Random people will stop you in the grocery store.
     Here are some questions you might get:

"My dog's got a limp.  What do you think is causing it?"

"What is the best over-the-counter product for flea control?  I want something that is completely effective, totally safe, and under $5/month."

"Can you come over tonight and look at my dog?  I think she's dying." (That was a sad one.)

"Hey, I just noticed that my dog's tongue has a black spot on it.  He seems to be acting fine.  I don't know if that spot has always been there or if it just showed up.  Should I be worried?"

"My cat is having trouble breathing, and she hasn't been able to walk since this morning.  She looks really blue-colored, and I think she just went blind.  I don't want to take her to the vet.  Is there anything I can do for her at home?"

"Oh, yeah, by the way, any idea what might be causing (brace yourself if you are squeamish) the bloody green diarrhea in my dog?"  (Yeah.  That's exactly what you want to be asked in your favorite restaurant.)

"Is there any way that you could give my dog her vaccines?  I can't get her out of her pen, and my vet is too scared to go in there..."

       And, if you ask questions of some almost-vets, here are some answers you might get:



"Take it to your vet."

"Don't take it to THAT vet."

"Your dog ate what?!?  Okay, give me a minute while I look it up in my toxicology book."  (Dead silence for a moment)  "Oh, um, well...the good news is that if your dog was going to react he would already be dead by now..."

[The above quotes are based on true stories.]

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I meet Caleb

     I had seen him in the field with the other horses, but I didn't pay much attention to him.  He was not one of the horses I had been assigned to work with.  He didn't follow me around when I was in the field or crowd under my elbows.  He was just one of the horses out there, and, other than calling an occasional friendly greeting, I ignored him...until that day -- the day that I met Caleb.
     I had just finished a full afternoon of playing with WhiteStar.  As I turned her out to pasture, a couple of the friendly horses gathered around me for a quick pet.  I stroked each of them and then turned to go.
     That's when I saw him.
     He was standing on the outskirts, looking both shy and interested at the same time.  He shifted his weight nervously, obviously wanting to come closer but too unsure of the situation to pursue it on his own.
     I shifted my weight and invited him to come to me.  He hesitated and then came quickly.  He stood by me with head up and ears flicking.  He looked a little astounded by his own bravery, and he eyed me carefully to see if I was going to do anything scary.
     I felt almost as jumpy as he did.  He was so big and powerful-looking!  I had only been playing with horses for a few months, and here I was next to a nervous horse I knew nothing about.  What if I moved suddenly or touched a sensitive place and he panicked?
     At the same time, though, I couldn't help but wonder at the circumstance.  He was the one who wanted to meet me.  He was the one who came at my invitation.  For the way I felt, I could have been in a wilderness, approached by a wild horse.  It was one of those breathtaking moments.
     Slowly, I rubbed his shoulder and neck.  As I did, we both relaxed somewhat.  I picked some burrs out of his mane and forelock, and I talked to him.  He still kept an eye on me but seemed to enjoy the attention.  I scratched his face, and he liked that.
     There were flies on his back, but I didn't know Caleb (or horses in general) well enough to feel comfortable reaching over his back without being able to watch his face.  In my hand, I had a long stick with a string tied on the end.  I used the stick to reach Caleb's back and scratch the itchy places.  Then I tossed the string across his back a few times, kind of similar to the way a horse tosses her tail to keep flies away.  Caleb closed his eyes.
     Then Caleb stepped forward, head high, and crowded close to me.  Silly boy.  I put two fingers against his chest and raised my "energy".  This is a signal that is supposed to mean "back up," but Caleb was not quick to respond.  I kept my fingers there, waiting for him to figure it out, but I almost thought my fingers were going to get too tired and give out.  Then, just before they did, Caleb took a couple steps back.  I instantly relaxed.  Whew!  Good job.
      So, as we stood there, just relaxing together and enjoying the sunny day, I really began to wonder about this horse.  What if he just needed a friend?  Somebody to play with him?  What if I were to start playing with him?

Friendly Game

     Friendly game just starts out as a way to show yourself friendly to your horse.  Your body is relaxed and "friendly".  You might just stand nearby.  You might toss your string across his back, like a horse flicking flies away with his tail.  You might rub an itchy spot.
     At first, you just want to show yourself friendly.  But gradually, you want to show other things as friendly...especially things that could be potentially scary.  This phase is a combination of desensitizing the horse and also teaching the horse to trust your cues.  For example, let's say you are opening an umbrella next to your horse.  You are teaching your horse that (1) the umbrella is not scary after all and (2) as long as you are relaxed then the horse can be relaxed.

     Toward the end of the summer, I started adding the more advanced friendly game.  I did this very slowly, much slower than necessary.  It was all new to me, and I was preparing as though it were new to WhiteStar.  But she has trained many a student before me.  She dozed off while I carefully introduced new "scary" things into our friendly game.  It was all "old hat" to her.

     We had developed a pretty amazing friendship by this time.  True, I was still very much a beginner.  But I had a strong feeling of comradery with her. 
     I knew that she was extremely patient and forgiving.  I knew that she was gentle and kind.  I knew that I could make goofy "beginners' blunders" or try something new, and it would be okay. 
     She knew that I genuinely loved her and wanted good things for her.  She knew that I would face any lion on her behalf.  She knew that I was not just "learning on her" but that I actually cared about her.
     In other words...we were friends.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Some Quotes from Bella and Gerard

I am on the run today so I will leave you with these excerpts from Bella and Gerard:

     “Your aunts want to see you in the dining room,” was all Miss Edna said when she met Bella at the door.  Miss Edna’s voice was strangely urgent, though there was no panic in it, and her face was carefully devoid of expressing any opinions.  Bella gave one last glance at it as Miss Edna pushed her into the dining room, but she could not figure it out at all.

     “She belongs with me,” Gerard responded.  His eyebrows puckered together as though he could not quite understand why his sisters were being difficult.  “Her mother gave me guardianship.”


      Something rustled beneath her window.  Bella held her breath and listened.  There it was again!  Something was moving in the trellis that led up to her window.  A cat, perhaps?
     No, it wasn’t a cat.  A hand reached through the open window.  Bella clutched her bedpost in fear and tried to scream but no sound came out.  A man’s body appeared, silhouetted against the night sky, and crawled across the windowsill.

     Thump!  He landed on the floor.  He held very still for a moment.  There was no other sound in the house.  Bella’s heart was pounding.  She opened her mouth to scream.

     “Bella,” the intruder whispered.  “Bella?”

     “Isn’t the night air bad for you?” she asked Gerard, staring with all her might into the dark and not seeing anything.

     “Not at all,” Gerard answered, and Bella could detect a hint of annoyance in his voice.  She silently wondered if the aunts had told him about the night air when he lived at home.