Love at First Sight

This is a very special day, not just for me but for one of the greatest loves of my life. Two years ago today I drove seventeen miles from my home to a no-kill animal shelter to check out the dogs there, with the idea of fostering one. And though there were far too many pooches there in need of a home, one in particular caught my attention. I think you might justly call it love at first sight.

The dog was Tink, an eight-year-old shepherd mix, who is now a permanent part of my household. I/we had a rough time of it for two months. Having been abandoned at least three times in the previous four months, she had severe separation anxiety and was prone towards being very destructive when left alone. Then one day, while not in my care, she went missing, and for four weeks I devoted myself to finding her. It was one of the most demanding, gut-wrenching experiences I have known in my many years.

I am now writing a memoir about those two months, and hope to have it published by the end of 2016. To help me achieve that goal, I am active with two writing groups that are contributing to making me a better writer.

While I wish neither Tink nor I had to be put through that wretched ordeal, I will say this. Rather than declaring I grew so attached to her despite what I underwent during those two months, I think my love for her in large part is because of what I endured to get her back. Below is a photo I took of her the first day I saw her.

I love you sweetheart and am so happy our paths in life crossed.

 

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Rising from Ashes: Not the Movie – Me!

In the unlikely event that anyone is still following my blog, I am resurfacing after nearly a year of hibernation. “WTF!!!” you may be thinking. “We figured that you must have died.”  Not quite. In fact I am doing quite well. “Well then why the hell have you not been posting anything?”  No one single reason…and I refuse to be defensive about my inactivity.

The simple explanation was lack of motivation. My stated aim for starting this blog was to write reviews of books I was reading,  books that in one way or another had a connection with the novel I was writing. Well, guess what? I lost interest in the project I started in 2013; or more to the point certain events happened in my life that made working on my manuscript impossible. And by the time matters were resolved, I simply had lost the fire to get back to working on the novel. No novel to write, no need to read books that would make my work better, no reviews to post. Simple as that.

“Okay, then why are you bothering to write anything here now?” Good question. My reason is because I am now in the process of writing a new book. This time not a novel, but a memoir. I can see the eyes rolling  and hear the smug chuckles. Yeah, I know my credibility is a notch lower than that of the U.S. Congress.

So here’s the deal. I am serious about this. Really, I am, though I don’t blame you for doubting me. In fact I feel highly motivated, much more so than I ever did about the novel. On that last point, I plan to one day get back to the novel but probably not for another two years.

“Alright. Get to the chase Ed. What the hell is the memoir about?”

Thank you for asking. The memoir is focused on a two-month period in my life, the time when my novel got thrown overboard because of catastrophic events; well, catastrophic at least for me and a wonderful four-legged creature named Tink.

I began working on the book in August of this year. I have just completed a memoir writing class and in a few days will begin taking part in regular meetings with some very gifted writers who I am confident will give me the support and feedback I need. I have set a goal of having a first draft of the manuscript finished by early spring 2016 and a publication date of later in the year. Now does that not sound like I am taking this seriously? I think it does.

I am not entirely certain what direction this blog will take. Musings about the book, challenges I am experiencing writing it, short excerpts from it, the writing group I have joined, books I have read, all of the above, none of the above? I’ll figure it out. I am also not at this point going to commit to posting something here every X number of days.  I’ll figure that out too and once I get into a groove, try to stay with the flow.

I’m excited; I’m thrilled; I’m motivated. Wish me luck!

Blogging Again!

 

blogging-againIt’s been quite some time since I did any serious blogging. This site is primarily focused on my comments and reviews of books I have recently read, books I read with the hope that they would inspire me and help to make me a better writer as I plod along on the manuscript of my novel. Occasionally I do digress from that general theme to muse about events going on in my life that I deem significant.

Back on Feb.1, I posted that I would be taking a break in the action and that my blogging would be less frequent and shorter so that I could devote more time to my manuscript. That was the plan. Then my world got turned upside down when one of my two dogs went missing. For the next four weeks I did precious little else during my waking hours that did not have something to do with finding and rescuing Tink. Blogging, working on my novel, and countless other activities that seemed so important previously now seemed to be trivial compared to finding my lost girl. The story had a happy ending and she was rescued. In fact she’s lying by my side as I type this. Life goes on, thankfully.

So now I have a lot of lost time to try to make up. My manuscript will remain my top priority or I should say second priority since caring for Tink and my loveable other pooch Aries are and will remain my top priority. I also set a personal goal to read thirty books this year. I’ve polished off six already so I’m on track for achieving that goal and want to make sure I do not fall behind.That brings up trying to make time to write reviews of books I’ve recently read (three and counting at the moment) as well as my reflections on the wonderful San Francisco Writers Conference that I was attending when Tink disappeared. I had to skip the fourth day of the conference to begin my search for Tink, but benefited greatly from the three days I attended and want to write a little about that experience. I hope to make room for one blog a week until I actually have caught up. Then again as I learned in February, I do not know what curve ball may be coming my way. Stay tuned!

Welcome Home Tink!

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I am so happy to report that after missing for 4 weeks my wonderful pooch Tink and I were reunited on March 13, almost to the exact hour of when I last saw here on Feb. 13. Tink is an absolutely loveable, affectionate and gentle 8 year-old shepherd mix that has been in my life now for only 2 months. While attending the annual San Francisco Writers Conference I left her at the shelter where I first met and fell in love with her. Five hours after leaving her there, she was outside their building and the person “taking care” of her lost control of my sweet girl. She fled, probably thinking she would try to find me. I did not learn of this for two days and from that moment until she was rescued my life was centered around trying to find her. Complicating matters further was the area where she was lost is about 18 miles from my home, making my search especially challenging. With the exception of caring for my other dog Aries, everything else in my life went into cold storage. I could write a book about what that four-week ordeal was like. In fact a good friend of mine who herself is a very gifted writer told me I should. I may just do that once the manuscript I am currently working on is complete. In the meantime it’s wonderful to have my little girl back in my life again and to be able to get back into my normal routine. Welcome Home Tink!

My Missing Girl Tink

Tink at Dracena Park # 3

For the past 2 weeks my life’s mission has been trying to find my missing dog Tink and so I have ignored my blog as well as most other activities that are not crucial. Above is a picture of her; in case you’re interested in more detail I’ve been posting nearly every day my activities on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ed.hartnett. I’m leaving my house soon to resume the search. Wish me luck!

Writers Conference & Runaway Dog Named Tink

SFWCTink at Dracena Park # 3

I attended the four-day San Francisco Writers Conference which began on Feb. 13 & presumed I would be writing about what I learned there on my latest blog. Unfortunately on Feb. 15 I got a call that the dog that I have been fostering had cut loose only hours after I left her at the shelter where I got her. Trying to find her immediately became my top priority and while we have had some promising leads, as of this writing she still has not been found. Once the dust settles and hopefully she is back in my home I’ll come up for air and share my thoughts about the conference. Wish me luck finding Tink.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Winter Birds” by Jim Grimsley

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Winter Birds is the third book I have read this year by Jim Grimsley and like the previous works this was a definite winner. Comfort & Joy was the first book of his I read and it traced the meeting and eventual loving relationship of two men from completely different backgrounds. Ford McKinney comes from an old-monied Savannah family and like previous generations is a successful doctor. Dan Crell is a hospital administrator working in the same hospital as Ford who comes from impoverished rural North Carolina roots. Comfort & Joy hints that there is a dark ugly side to Dan’s family history but leaves the reader wondering what it is. Because I enjoyed Comfort & Joy so much and read that Grimsley’s first novel Winter Birds was the story of Dan’s childhood I quickly added the book to my To Read list.

Winter Birds is a mere 200+ pages and one that can easily be finished in a day if the reader is so inclined. The bulk of the story takes place on Thanksgiving Day. Ironically enough I finished reading it on Thanksgiving Eve. The author uses an interesting second person POV for the story, suggesting that Dan or Danny as he is called as a boy is viewing the story in his mind probably as an adult. He and his four siblings live with their parents and family dog in incredible poverty in the rural South. The father lost an arm in a farm accident and from that point forward becomes a cruel, abusive, drunken monster whom everyone in the family fears. In the longest chapter in the book, we learn the history of the family’s routine movement from one poor home to the next (a total of 7 in Danny’s brief 8 years at this point) to which he and his older sister Amy Kay have assigned appropriate names; the Snake House (snakes everywhere), the Fish House (formerly a fish store), the Ice House (only one small heater in the house), etc. The last home is the Circle House since it is circular and one door opens to the next and it is here that the story both begins and ends. The design of the house helps to add to the book’s heart-pounding finale.

This is a very painful, terrifying story to read and a sad reminder of the all too common incidence of extreme abuse both physical and emotional that far too many women, children and animals endure on a daily basis. At one point Danny reflects, “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up, no matter how loud he yells. Except then I’d be scared to wake up and see what he did when I was asleep.” The book begins fairly slowly but by the half way point the pace picks up dramatically building to a horrific conclusion. I could not put the book down for the last 80 pages even though it was way past my bedtime. Part of the suspense of the novel is reading moments of terror followed by calming relief, but the calmness has a lingering sense that more evil will soon follow. The reader just does not know what form that evil will take and just how far the madness of Danny’s father Bobjay will go.

I have read that this story is at least partly autobiographical. I can only hope for Grimsley’s sake that there is more fiction that fact in this his first novel. Writing this must surely have been a cathartic experience for the author. American publishers initially rejected the work, regarding it as too depressing and dark and for many years it went unpublished. Bear in mind self-publishing 20 years ago was unlike now fairly uncommon.  Only after being published in Germany did the reading public begin to appreciate what a phenomenal book it was. Eventually two years later it made its American debut and won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction in 1995.

Like the other books of his I have read, especially Dream Boy, this is anything but a feel-good work of fiction. Oh but it so worth it. I am so glad I had the good fortune to stumble upon Grimsley’s work this year. He is an amazing author and one I hope to I encounter again in my readings.

UPDATE: I just finished re-reading the review I wrote earlier this year of Grimsley’s book Dream Boy. “Enticing, entrancing, powerful, moving, violent, tragic, sparse, brilliantly crafted and executed, immensely satisfying” was how I described it. All of those words apply as well to this work.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Three Junes” by Julia Glass

Three Junes

I’m just now catching up on some delayed reviews of four books that I read over the past month. Today I want to comment on Three Junes by Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2002.

What a superb and totally rewarding novel this proved to be. While a review that I had read made the book sound appealing, it far surpassed my expectations.  I absolutely loved it and since I myself am struggling with writing a first novel I was in awe that this was the author’s debut effort.  The book is not one to be rushed; rather it is best enjoyed by a slower pace of reading to savor the author’s great gift of storytelling, and what a gift she has. Three Junes is actually a literary triptych, with overlapping characters in each of the three stories. The book’s title refers to events that happen in the month of June, 1989, 1995 and 1999.  Each story focuses on people dealing with grief and loss and trying to survive after having their hearts broken. Through effective use of flashback we learn much about the lives of the three main characters and those who are close to them. The first and last stories are told from the third person POV. The middle story is narrated by the book’s main character, a young man named Fenno.

The opening story “Collies” focuses on Paul McLeod, an older recently widowed Scotsman who is trying to put some sense back in his life while vacationing in Greece, six months after his wife’s death. While there he becomes infatuated with a young American female artist named Fern. Even though the two never become sexually intimate Paul is able to envision a brighter future for himself as a result of their encounter. This story’s title is a reference to Paul’s wife Maureen who devoted her life to the breeding and raising of border collies. Through a series of flashbacks we learn much about Paul and Maureen’s relationship with one another and with their three sons. “Collies” won the 1999 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella.

The second story “Upright” is by far the longest and most moving of the three stories. It focuses on the life of Paul’s oldest son Fenno who is gay and is now living in Greenwich Village where he owns a popular and successful independent bookstore. Though openly gay, Fenno continually struggles with fully accepting his sexuality and is terrified of contracting AIDS.  The title “Upright” is in fact a reference to this fear and Fenno’s constant reminder to himself; “stay upright and you will stay alive.” While living in New York he develops a very close platonic relationship with a flamboyant music critic named Mal, struggling to survive while living with AIDS. The bond between the two men is poignant and is the most engaging of any of the relationships in the novel. Fenno also has an ongoing sexually satisfying but emotionally unrewarding relationship with a photographer named Tony; the relationship eventually results in Fenno being painfully humiliated by Tony’s chicanery. All of this we learn through flashbacks since the setting of the story is the family home in Scotland where Fenno has gathered with his two younger brothers and their wives following the death of their father. During the visit Fenno is asked to make an important decision which if he agrees to do will dramatically change his life forever. While I felt that the author did an excellent job in drawing the reader into each of the three stories, “Upright” is by far the most endearing and interesting.

The final section “Boys” takes place in the Hamptons, where Tony, Fenno’s ex-boyfriend, is house-sitting. Sharing the house with him is Fern the young artist first introduced in “Collies”. She is dealing with feelings of guilt from the recent accidental death of her husband with whom she had become estranged shortly before his death. Fern has recently learned that she is pregnant and is struggling with how to let the father of the child know. At the invitation of Tony, Fenno comes for a weekend visit. Even though Fenno and Fern never realize the link they share through Fenno’s father Paul, they nonetheless enjoy each other’s company and a bond soon develops between the two. While I felt this was the weakest of the three stories it nonetheless was well written and provided a satisfying conclusion to the book.

If one is looking for a fast-paced action novel, this is not the book to read. But for anyone interested in a character-intensive, beautifully nuanced literary novel this book is almost certain to please.  This was clearly one of the best books I have read this year. I fully intend to read more of Julia Glass’ work since she clearly is a masterful storyteller.

A Tender Message Posted in a Park

This weekend while wandering through one of the wonderful nearby off-leash parks where my dog loves to play ball and chase squirrels I saw a slip of paper attached to one of the trees. Out of curiosity I approached it to find out what was written and read a beautifully written poignant message from another dog lover who earlier in the week sadly had to say goodbye to her companion of more than 15 years. Her words impacted me so deeply that I felt an urge to contact her and express my condolences even though I did not know her or her departed canine friend. Fortunately she left her e-mail address on the note she had written. Below is the message I sent her. Life is precious and all too brief…be sure to let those you love know how important they are, no matter what their species.

 

I was in Dracena Park this weekend and saw the notice you had posted about the loss of your beloved Sequoia. Even though I do not believe I ever met you or Sequoia I was deeply moved by your message and wanted to write to express my condolences. It was evident from your words that obviously you loved her enormously and must be experiencing a terrible sense of loss, emptiness, and sadness. There’s very little that those close to you much less strangers can say or do to help you get through this tragic period in your life other than let you know that they are thinking of you and hoping that time will ease your pain.

 8 ½ years ago I had to say goodbye to my beloved Sheba, a Border Collie/lab mix that we adopted when she was 4 months old and who was a cherished member of our family for 15 years. In my life I have lost many close family members and very dear friends; yet having to make the horrific decision to end her life was the most painful experience I have ever endured even though I knew then and now it was the humane thing to do. Despite the passage of time I still think of her often and have pictures of her throughout my house including a favorite one on my desk. It took me a long, long time to heal; I was a true basket case for months. Even now on the anniversary of her passing I become very withdrawn and downhearted although I have found that making a donation to one of the many worthwhile animal welfare organizations is a worthy way of honoring her memory as well as helping me to deal with my sorrow better. I still think of her often but now those memories are mostly happy ones. One thing that has helped me is knowing that both my life and hers were ever so enriched by the years we spent in this world together and I am ever so grateful for that time, as brief as it was.

 I mention my history and my handling of Sheba’s death without knowing anything about you other than the poignant words you left for all your fellow dog lovers in the park. You wrote “she changed my whole life and taught me so much” and “she will be in our hearts forever”. That so echoes my sentiments about Sheba and tells me how deep the love was that you shared with her. Allow yourself to grieve. There is a wonderful quote from the movie “Shadowlands” that so well sums up the feelings you are forced to endure now. Anthony Hopkins’ characters comments “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” Sadly that is the deal – to not be feeling that hurt now you would never have known the joy she brought into your life.

 You ended your message on a very positive note. “I will see you back here when I find my new doggy soul mate.” That is the hopeful, healthy outlook that will help to get you through your dark days. It took me 8 months to heal sufficiently and to find my new best friend, a lovable, energetic, playful 8 week old Border Collie mix that we named Aries. I swore when we got him that I wouldn’t allow myself to love our new boy like I had loved Sheba. And yet of course I did and he is now the sunshine of my days. He will be turning 8 years old in 2 weeks. I’m sure your doggy soul mate is out there waiting for you to fall in love with him or her now or sometime in the foreseeable future. You’ll know when you’re ready and when you are I wish you much joy and happiness. I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful mom to the loveable and lucky pooch.

My Best Wishes to You

Ed Hartnett