My Favorite Page of Any Book

acknowledgement

The first page I turn to when I pick up a book is the acknowledgements. I read it again when I’ve finished the story. My favorite acknowledgements are the ones in debut novels, because those are the books that most writers have took the longest time to write. I love learning about the family members, friends, and fellow writers who supported them through their journey from first draft to published book.

Before I was ever offered a book contract, I’d spend hours working on my own acknowledgement page. And the list of people who should be mentioned is very long. It includes anyone who ever said “I’d like to read that” when I told them what my book was about, family members no longer living, all my family members still alive, friends, acquaintances, my husband, my dog, and that one couple I chatted with at the airport who were thrilled to meet an author.

It would also include a slew of other writers. The thing that has surprised me the most in this business is the support and mentorship that other writers offer. Romance writers in particular practice the idea of reaching behind them to lift others up while they themselves climb the career ladder. I still thank the lucky start that lead me to Romance Writers of America and my local chapter way back in 2007. My debut novel comes out next year, so it’s been a long and eventful journey, but I wouldn’t change it.

I am exactly where I need to be at exactly the right time and that couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for all the wonderful writers who propped me up when I needed encouragement, who offered advice when I was lost, and who were always available to celebrate every small victory, or help drown my sorrows when challenges turned into obstacles and then dead ends.

gratefulSo this November, the thing I am the most grateful for is everyone who supported me through this journey, but especially my fellow writers. Seriously, I could not have done this without you and when I finally get to craft my acknowledgement page, I’m going to have to ask for extra space or use a very small font.

Who do you always include/would you always include on your acknowledgement page?

Who wants Tofu Turkey and a Garden Salad for Thanksgiving? Not me!

I truly thought I had a moment of brilliance. Really.
What if I got a jumpstart on my annual New Year’s resolution to become healthier by starting a new diet in October? It made great sense to glide by Halloween without dipping my hand in any candy dish (but it didn’t actually work). Now I’m heading into Thanksgiving, a holiday that has become less about gratitude and more about extra gravy and mashed potatoes.

Currently I am attempting Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s 6 Week Eat to Live program. Imagine everything you love about food and replace it with an image of broccoli. Actually, the true problem is that I’m having various degrees of success. So the angel on my left shoulder is pleading that I’m finally getting a hold of my Diabetes, to be GRATEFUL that I might live long enough to finish writing my book. The devil on my right shoulder is shouting Feed me Seymour, Feed me BACON!

IMG_0032IMG_0033

Thanksgiving is in a few weeks and I have no idea what will happen at the dinner table. I know that food is an essential part of how I process my feelings. And the stress of the upcoming holidays and my family could always be alleviated with Arby’s mozzarella sticks. I have serious doubts that carrot sticks will have the same effect. So if anyone has suggestions on how to stick to a diet during the holidays, I’m open to all ideas.
However, there has been an unexpected side effect to this “lifestyle change”. It’s leaking into my writing. Subconsciously, I have added two dinner dates into my current WIP. In one scene the heroine is slowly munching on a sensible salad while her date is devouring a steak and French fries. She might have stabbed his hand with her fork but it’s not like he’s the hero so it will all work out. Probably.

I am thankful

gratitudeDigging out from beneath the weekend’s Halloween candy wrappers, it occurs to me that I can no longer deny the holiday season is upon us. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s come in a rush — not unlike a sugar rush. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it all “means” and what it’s all “about”.

So this month, the Janes are contemplating gratitude and thankfulness.

I try to be conscious of my relatively good fortune. I’m healthy enough, can keep myself fed and a roof over my head (although the back gutter keeps trying to fall off), have an avocation I love (even when it makes me crazy) plus people I love (ditto about the crazy), and live in a place where any fears or disgruntlements I have are mostly self-inflicted. So I have a lot to be thankful for. That doesn’t preclude the occasional lapse into brooding, but we’re all allowed that everyone once in awhile, right?

Day-to-day annoyances often seem to have more staying power than my overall thankfulness. I’m not sure why that is. Probably the same reason that one bad review on a book stings much longer — and requires way more of that Halloween candy—than any number of good reviews. I have four new stories coming out this winter, and each one has had (and no doubt WILL have) its challenges, but I am determined to focus on how grateful I am to have the opportunity to tell them and to share them.

It’s when I start to get caught up in the muck and minutiae that I lose the gratitude. The holidays can seem maudlin and trite, as if the words happy and thankful and joyful and merry might fade with overuse. But they don’t! (Unlike the words nacreous, viridescent, and concupiscence which can only be used once per book — maybe only once per writing career.) I can use them a million times and still have enough to save for spring when the daffodils emerge.

Okay, spring is awhile off, I admit. But there are always good things ahead. Meanwhile, I’ll reflect on the little sweetnesses in my life right now, whether that’s a Milky Way bar shared with the dog (I eat off all the chocolate and she gets the gooey part) or a walk in nature through the slanting light — or snuggling on the couch with a good book! There’s a lot to be thankful for, if I just remind myself to acknowledge it.

What little ways do you find to remind yourself to be in the moment, thankful and happy? Please share in comments.

SJP 2014 11 gratitude

P.S. Make sure you vote tomorrow! My reminder to look for the good in life is earnest and sincere… and does NOT apply to politics, but you only get to complain if you vote ;)

 

The price of being a Silent Ninja Dog Walker

My friends ask me why every book I own tends to have a dog on the cover. Or why my stories usually involve the rescue of a dog from a burning building, a tree limb or an amorous cat. My answer is the same. I have dog issues.

Dixie, my childhood dog, greeted me at the front door when I came home from school and slept next to me at night. She was a chubby lonely girl’s best friend. At least that is how I remember her. What I know for certainty is that as a young child I lacked appreciation and as an adult, I wanted to get that love back.

A girl and her best friend

  Endured Costumes  Happy Go Lucky

But living in a city that isn’t dog friendly to renters, I spent years waiting to get another dog. This time I knew I would be the perfect dog owner. My dog would get daily walks, the healthiest food I could afford and smothered with love. This time I would do it right. So when interest rates were just as high as housing prices, I bought a small townhouse, installed a doggie door to a cozy backyard and stalked petfinder.com like others would do on match.com. One day I found him.

Riley might have looked like Dixie but he let me know right away, by trying to herd my not-amused and not-declawed cats, that is where the similarities ended. We failed Petsmart’s basic training course. I pre-paid a private trainer to come to my home for 5 lessons but she disappeared after the third lesson. So we adjusted to life without outside assistance. When I come home from work, under no circumstances am I permitted to disturb him when sleeping. Allowances to snuggle are on a strict case-by-case basis but can be influenced by cheese. And I transform into a silent ninja on our daily walks, doing everything in my power to avoid any other form of life; humans, dogs, cats and even freaking squirrels.

What I wanted was a doggie do-over, what I got was a cranky old man.

Riley is NOT a morning doggy

Riley is NOT a morning doggy

 

  Riley endures costumes  Riley loves Starbucks puppuccinos

 

I have given my situation a lot of reflection. I can’t be the only person who adopted the same bred of animal, expecting the same results, but were given a fast lesson about individual dog personalities. I have learned two things. First, try as you might, you can’t replace an animal. Second, for better or worse, Riley is my crazy baby who gets away with murder.

Subconsciously or not, in all my stories, a dog will creep into my heroine’s life and become a central character. Some are show dogs in matching glitter outfits, while others roll around in mud before stretching out on white living room carpet. All might be issues I’m working to resolve with Riley. Luckily my hobby for creative writing has become a form of cheap dog therapy.

Here at SJP we agreed to upload new author photos with our animals. So why is my photo of my childhood dog? See below for the answer, a non-cooperative doggie.

Riley1Riley2Riley3

Good Dog, Bad Owner

owner

“The thing is,” the male deputy said, “this area looks like a town, but in reality you’re in the country.” He paused. “In the country, we shoot bad dogs.”

“But this is not a bad dog. It’s a very bad owner,” I protested. I had just told him and his partner of my morning trauma when a neighbor’s dog attacked Sammy and me.

“Unfortunately you can’t shoot the owner.” The female deputy offered a small smile.

It’s not the first time the big black dog has acted threatening toward us. His name is Bo and he defends his territory whenever we stroll by his yard on our morning walk.

Like most dogs do.

Like Sammy does from behind the fence whenever another dog comes close to our property line.

But that morning, Bo didn’t just growl and snarl, he attacked and had Sammy’s throat in his giant locked jaws.

Bo’s owner likes to keep him off-leash when she gardens in her front yard. She has never bothered to train him, so he ignores her shouts of “stay” and “come.” My best friend called the sheriff’s office earlier in the summer when she dog sat for me. Bo got too close and his owner didn’t listen to my friend’s repeated requests that she leash her dog.

Sammy’s no angel. He’s a rescue dog with hang-ups that includes chasing cars, picking fights with other dogs, and barking excessively at birds flying over our house. He’s strong and can drag me down the block when he chases after a dog or a squirrel. I control him by using a pinch collar.

I’ve asked Bo’s owner several times to use a leash on her dog. Each time she said that since Bo only has a problem with Sammy, the problem is mine, not hers.

Well, I made it her problem. After watching Sammy struggling for breath in Bo’s choke hold and earning several bites and scratches of my own when I fought him to release my dog, I had enough. I called the sheriff’s office.

And that’s why there was two very nice officers in my kitchen. The male deputy recommended carrying pepper spray. “It doesn’t actually hurt dogs,” he explained. “They don’t have tear ducts, so it doesn’t sting them. It just confuses their scent, and so they stop.”

I love dogs. My heart ached over the thought of pepper spraying a dog because its owner is irresponsible and won’t listen to reason.

I thanked the deputies as they leave and promised I’ll consider pepper spray. But I wasn’t. I’ve never been scared of dogs. I grew up with them. In our neighborhood there are several dogs running around loose and when I speak to them with authority, they back off.

The next morning, a yellow lab that I’ve never seen before surprised me when it rushed out from behind a building. It snarled and barked, getting closer and closer. My heart beat increased and blood pounded so loudly in my ears, I thought my head would explode. The dog slunk away after I yell, but I was too worked up, too afraid to continue the walk.

The second morning I didn’t take Sammy out. “I’m late for work,” I told myself.

The third morning my bruises were swirls of ugly yellow and purple. They covered my right thigh and I had a few on my left arm. That day I stopped by the store on the way home from work and bought pepper spray.

It’s been more than a week since Bo attacked. I haven’t seen him or his owner.

I walk Sammy every morning again. I take down his leash and watch his excited twirls and yips as he runs to the door. I tie the poop-bags on the handle of his retractable leash and then make sure the pepper spray is in my pocket. Maybe I’ll forget about it in a few months, but right now its weight pulls heavily on my clothing.

I miss the walks when I listened to music and strolled through the neighborhood with relaxed arms and legs. The walks worked wonders to loosen my stiff neck and hips, the banes of a writer who spend too many hours in her office chair.

Now I walk with my free hand close to the pepper spray pocket, shoulders high and tense. I’m constantly on the lookout for dogs that may attack because their humans don’t keep them behind fences or indoors.

Bad owners. Very bad owners. I wish I could spray them instead of the dogs.

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