Hell Without Heat

I’m a weather watcher. This winter is seemingly starting early, starting out viciously and unseasonably cold (it’s ONLY mid-November!), and appears to be headed to another long, cold, and snowy winter, thanks to “polar vortices” and “above average precipitation” and “la nina” (or is it el nino?) . When I was a kid, we used to call this kind of weather “winter.” Last winter started out much the same and it was devastating for the cattle industry in places like Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa. Because the snow came very early, the cattle hadn’t put on their winter coats, and the snow was followed by the first, hard blast of the polar vortex, many ranchers lost a considerable number of head to hypothermia. It wasn’t that the ranchers don’t do all they can to help their herds survive the winter with hay feeding and by moving them down into lower pastures in the late fall or that the cattle couldn’t handle the cold and the snow under normal conditions—it was that “normal” wasn’t in play in fall and early winter last year.

Last winter and this year’s early arrival of winter make those of us who are Western history buffs think of the “Great Die-Up” on the Western Plains in the winter of 1886-87. The losses that winter were staggering and ruined many ranches. “Normal” wasn’t in play that winter, either.
The winter of 1886-87 came on the heels on one of the worst droughts that the settlers and ranchers on the Great Plains had seen in their limited time there. Prior to that winter, for many years of the preceding three decades of settlement, rainfall in a usually semi-arid land had been well above normal, creating lush landscapes on which to graze cattle. After the American Civil War, land was basically free for the taking under the Homestead Act and the land they grazed their cattle on was owned by no one so these cattlemen established codes to govern the West and to protect it from outsiders. Principal among such codes was the Law of the Open Range, the unwritten rule of free access to grass and water. Most did not own the land on which their cattle grazed, and thus the Law of the Open Range secured their rights, by warning farmer-pioneers “not to stand in the cowman’s route to the ranges, not to block his way with towns and fields–and of all things—fences.” The cattlemen had settled the West prior to the Civil War. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that their empire was built. After the Civil War the demand for beef reached unprecedented levels, driving the cattle to higher and higher values and more and more cattle were brought to graze the “free land” of the West.
Because of the railroads, that beef could be transported quickly and efficiently (either on the hoof or in rail cars specifically designed to transport meat kept cool with ice) to markets back East.
In the 1870s, barbed wire made its first appearance on the range, following the passage of The Homestead Act in the late 1860s. Now, smaller homesteaders could settle the Plains, keep their crops protected from ranging cattle and prevent access to water. The cattlemen were furious and range wars became the normal—but that’s a story for another day.

The rains dried up and the lush grasses that had first lured the cattlemen burnt in the summer sun. Two years of extreme drought was followed by one of the worst winters on record. The snows started in late October of 1886 and didn’t stop until the following May. There is a recorded period, from November 13, 1886 until December 24, that it snowed every single day. When it wasn’t snowing and would warm up to a few degrees above freezing, it rained. This rain created a cap of ice several inches thick on the snow cover. And when it would momentarily stop snowing or raining, the bitter cold would return.

In January of 1887, the blizzards came and with the blizzards came a kind of cold that locals call “freeze-eye cold”—a cold so intense and bitter it would freeze the moisture on eyelashes. Blizzards came howling over the plains, blasting the unsheltered herds. Some cattle, too weak to stand, were actually blown over. Others died frozen to the ground.

Starving cattle, already weakened by a lack of grazing fodder because of the drought, would attempt to paw through the ice and snow to what was left of the drought-blighted and sun-burnt grasses. “The cattle had the hair and hide wore off their legs to the knees and hocks. It was surely hell to see big four-year-old steers just able to stagger along” (Teddy Blue Abbott). The cattle would drift with the howling winds. Cattle won’t stop “drifting” until they run into an immovable object: a dead-end canyon, a rock face, a barbed wire fence. The results were horrific as one account states:
They moved “like grey ghosts” . . . icicles hanging from their muzzles, eyes, and ears,” directly into the fences. There they were stalled; they could not go forward, and they would not go back. They stood stacked together against the wire, without food, water, warmth or shelter. The pressed close against each other in groups all along the fence line, and sometimes they gathered in bunches reaching as much as four hundred yards back from the fence. Still there was not enough warmth in their huddled forms to counteract the cold, and within a short time they either smothered or froze in their tracks (Hill, J.L.. The End of the Cattle Trail. Austin, Texas: The Pemberton Press, 1969).
The spring thaw of 1887 (in late May) revealed the extent of the devastation. More than fifty percent of the cattle herds died that winter from hypothermia and starvation. Some ranches lost upwards of seventy-five percent of their livestock. Dead cattle were found everywhere, observed bobbing in the streams as the ice broke up, and discovered in large groups dying where they stood.

It was a perfect storm of conditions: decades of unusually high rainfall in a semi-arid land, overgrazed land, a severe drought that ended the wet period, too many cattle and the open range cut-up and sectioned off with barbed wire. The “Great Die-Up” as cattlemen called it in a dark attempt at humor marked the end of open range ranching, that supposedly sure way to riches which Theodore Roosevelt called “the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.” And it proved again that nature can at any moment shatter all sense of human control.

Standing on My Soap Box

I’m getting on my soap box here. This topic has gnawed at me for a long time.
Back when I was a member of a group of romance writers that group had a critique group. It was a small group—both the main group and those who were members of the monthly critique group. Because of this, when I joined that romance writers group, they had already critiqued one another’s works and needed fresh blood—err, sorry, reading material.

I was asked if I would be interested in joining the critique group and if I was interested, could I bring a completed manuscript for the five members to the next meeting. I said I was interested and of course I could bring five copies of the manuscript. (Yeah, this was a few years ago.)
When the group got together for the critique of my manuscript, three members didn’t show up, but sent the MS back with friends and without a critique. One member said what I wrote wasn’t even a romance, and the other member said she couldn’t get through the whole MS. Needless to say, it was a short meeting.
I collected up the five copies of the MS, took the MS from the next person in the sights of the firing squad, and drove the two hours home. A week later, I opened up the printed MS and started to read. Head hopping, passive voice, no historical accuracy, a total lack of knowledge of horses and how to tack them up…all that being said, the story premise had quite a bit of potential and promise. I wrote a lot of smiley faces in the margins with the things that were good, made suggestions to change the problems, and three weeks later, went back to the next critique session.
All five other members were there and the four not being critiqued were just raving about what a wonderful story this author had written. I kept my mouth shut, but I was wondering if we had read the same MS. As I said, the story had potential but it had a lot of problems. At the end of that critique session, I gave my marked up copy of the MS back to the author and left.
A week later, at the regular meeting of the romance writers group, the program was changed to talk about how NOT to do a critique. If a suggestion is made to correct a problem, be sure to praise something else the author has done. Don’t be a negative Nellie. And, then, it was said that at the last critique meeting, one author had totally obliterated the author being critiqued, had returned an MS chock full of red ink, and crushed that author and that just wasn’t how things were done and if a new member was uncertain of how to do a critique, perhaps that new member should sit in a few sessions before critiquing. I felt as if a spotlight were shining on me because I was the ONLY new member in that romance writers group and critique group in over a year.

Seriously? I made it a point to note the things that were working, the things that I liked, the manner the author had in turning a phrase.
Needless to say, I didn’t go back to that group. I realized after that meeting that what this group was wasn’t a group of people trying to help each other become better writers, but a group for patting one another on the back and offering useless praise.
Imagine my surprise when six months later, I received a post card from the author I had critiqued announcing the publication of her first romance novel. And, then I did a web search for her publisher. It was self-published. Her publisher was a vanity press. Self-published in a time when that phrase meant vanity press and received zero respect.
And, all this brings me to our current state of publication and the world of self-publishing. For every single success story in the world of self-publishing, there are thousands of writers who continue to give the term self-published a bad name. Writers like that writer in that romance writers group who are so eager (desperate) to see their name printed on the cover of a book, so enamored with their own words that they cannot see their foibles.
To these people, I want to say a few things. First of all—LEARN THE BASICS! Learn how to avoid head-hopping. Do your damnedest to avoid passive voice. Avoid clichés. A story written almost entirely in dialogue is fine, if you’re writing a movie script (sorry, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves!).
Secondly—HIRE A FREAKIN’ EDITOR! For the love of all that’s holy, hire an editor. At the least, ask a friend with more than rudimentary English skills to read your MS and find the grammatical and mechanical errors so you can fix them before you upload that novel. Even Microsoft Word has built in spell check and grammar check. Not that I would ever rely totally on Word to make any MS better, but running spell check and grammar check is a start, for heaven’s sake.
Lastly—if you’ve posted this masterpiece of yours on Amazon and you’re getting creamed by reviewers and they all have the same complain—you might want to think about what they’re saying and try to fix the problem. Don’t blast them on your Facebook page or your blog. Those people took the time to buy your novel (unless it’s one of those forever free deals and then I’m of the opinion that the reader got what he/she paid for), took the time to read it and post a review. Three or more reviews hammering you for grammatical errors might be a hint you need that editor I said you needed to hire.
Let the flames begin.

It’s Okay if it’s Free, Just Not on a Pirate Site

Excuse me. I need room to climb up onto my soapbox. I need room to get up here because I don’t want to step on toes with this post, but I also know that I am going to do that.
I work hard to write a compelling romance. I am certain that just about every author, whether traditionally published or self-published, will say the same thing. Writing isn’t easy, it damn sure isn’t for the thin-skinned or faint of heart, and it requires not only dedication but a certain level of insanity. For every J.K. Rowling and E.L. James out there, there are thousands of authors who will never be able to retire on their writing royalties.
And these thousands of authors whine, bitch, piss, moan, and complain about the bastards who steal published works and post those pilfered words on pirate sites. Before these authors come after me with torches and pitchforks, let me make one thing perfectly clear. THERE ISN’T A LEVEL OF HELL DEEP ENOUGH FOR INTERNET PIRATES. My preferred punishment for internet pirates is to gouge out their eyes, break every finger in their hands (in multiple places), cut out their tongues, and then burn them at the stake to prevent them from ever stealing so much as another word from an author. (I feel the same way about plagiarism and I think I used to scare the hell out of my students when I taught and told each and every class that if I had my way, that’s what I would do to anyone caught plagiarizing. However, I was forced by the university I worked at to only be able to fail them for the paper or the class, depending on the severity of the offense.)
Now that I’ve established how I feel about internet piracy, here’s where standing on the soap box comes into play.
So many of those same authors bemoaning how rotten it is when they find their work on a pirate site and the hassles involved with getting the work pulled down under the terms of DMCA and then find that their work has popped up on another pirate site and feeling as if they are playing an never ending game of Whack-a-Mole are the very same people who are offering many of their works permanently for free on sites like Amazon.
I know the idea behind offering a freebie or two is to convince readers that they want to buy the rest of your books, but I don’t get it. Why is it okay to offer the book for free on Amazon and yet when the same book shows up on a pirate site for free downloading, it’s not okay?
When The Devil’s Own Desperado was first published, it was part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program and for ninety days, it was exclusive to Amazon. Okay, fine. During that ninety day period, it was offered for free for five days. I watched my rankings sky-rocket during that free period. I was elated. Until I realized I wasn’t making a single red cent on those “sales”. Neither was my publisher. And, shortly after that free period, I started playing Whack-a-Mole.
Pirates are smart. They’re good at what they do. They can strip the encoding out of a digital download (the stuff that’s supposed to protect the digital download from piracy) and have it posted on a pirate site pretty damn fast. I sent out fifteen DMCA notices before I stopped finding my book on pirate sites. I was told I was lucky. I had to send out ONLY fifteen notices.
Between the publication of Desperado and Smolder on a Slow Burn, my publisher decided to no longer participate in Amazon’s KDP. HALLELUJAH! One of the senior editors at my publisher has very strong feelings about the books listed as free, either temporarily or permanently. To her mind—and mine, I will add—an author who does that is selling themselves far short.
It’s one thing to buy copies and give them away for contests, to members of a street team, or to family members. It’s another animal entirely to have a book as forever free. And, I don’t want to make it easy for the pirates. Offering my book for free is the same as posting a huge sign on the cover begging a pirate to steal it and put it up on a pirate site. Because I have not offered either of my books for free, I’m not playing Whack-a-Mole. I still troll the internet looking for links where either might be offered for free, but I haven’t found one yet. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but pirates are also very cheap. They’d prefer not to buy something to put up on a pirate site when they’re handed it for free.

And, that’s all the more reason I will never allow my books to be offered for free. 

We NEED to Talk

I am done struggling with how to write this blog post and I’m just going to write it. I apologize in advance for the length, but there is no way to succinctly state this.
Earlier this year, I was humbled and proud to be part of a community of people around the world who love dogs and contributed to the medical expenses of a collie that we all came to know as “Lad.” Sadly, Lad’s story didn’t have a happy ending. The end to Lad’s story was bitter, but the manner that collie (and dog) lovers around the world came together to help The Arrow Fund and Lad did soften the blow of losing such an angel.
Then, earlier this summer, I was again proud to be part of that community when it came to light that several (more than 12) collies were dead from starvation and lack of water and the survivors of the hellhole they had been condemned to were in a local animal shelter in Alabama. Once more, the collie community rallied, offered financial support, and other than one owner, all the co-owners and/or breeders were in attendance at the hearing in Alabama to get their dogs back. To that one owner, I say, “SHAME ON YOU! Your name just topped my list of people to NEVER place a dog with.”
Then, last month, a hoarding situation with collies in Texas began to scrawl across my newsfeed on Facebook. More than 90 dogs were seized, many of them pregnant. Within a week, that number being cared for by Houston Collie Rescue soared to well over one hundred. Once more, the collie community jumped in, offering financial support, sending doggie blankets, food, crates, and anything else that might be of use, offering foster homes, and I know of one veterinarian who flew to Texas on her own dime and gave much needed medical care to these dogs. How do you thank such an angel? How do you say thank you to the many clubs (not all collie clubs, either) who have pledged and gave much needed financial support?
And, shortly after that, there came the story of a hoarding situation involving Irish  Wolfhounds, again in Texas. Once more, the dog fancy has rallied and the support to help these animals is coming in.
All the help provided to these wonderful, sweet, beautiful souls restores my faith in humanity…until I really start to think about it.
I still have faith that when there is need, the fancy will rally to assist those unfortunate animals trapped in hoarding or abuse situations. But, I wish I didn’t have to have that kind of faith. I wish that these situations never arose. And, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride…
I ask myself—where did these dogs come from? In the case of the collies in Alabama, the dogs came from some of the top show kennels in the country. The breeders on the dogs involved that were on the pages of this person’s Facebook account and his web page reads like a Who’s Who of the collie world. And, this wasn’t the first time this person had been involved in a hoarding/abuse situation. I know for a fact that several people tried to warn many who sold this man dogs that this was not a good place. The people who placed dogs with this man can claim all they want that they didn’t know and I will call “BULL.”
The case in Texas also makes me ask where did all these dogs come from? Even accounting for unsupervised, indiscriminate breeding over the years, this person started with some quality stock. The quality is still evident in the pictures of the dogs I’ve seen and been told by people who have hands on these animals many of them are wonderful representations of the breed.
I don’t know a lot about Irish Wolfhounds, but they aren’t an extremely popular breed, so I’ll go out on a limb here and say this hoarder had to have started with some good stock, as well.
I wish I had the answer on how to stop hoarding and abuse like these dogs have suffered. I do know that part of the answer lies in open communication. Call people. I had one breeder call me when she had a litter of puppies and she asked about that person in Alabama. I said I wouldn’t do it. That was enough for her.  Another owner was being pressured into giving co-ownership of her champion male to this man. I’m good enough friends with this owner that when she asked my opinion about it, I told her that I would do bodily harm to her if she even considered that offer for more than three seconds and I would steal her dog before he’d go south. He didn’t end up in Alabama, either.
Open communication involves asking questions and answering honestly. The hard questions. The hardest question. “Would you place a dog there?” If you can’t answer, unequivocally, “Yes,” say so. Trust your gut. No more dogs should die and be left to lie in a kennel run (for days on end) or dumped in the woods because no one would take five minutes to ask others about the person you’re considering selling a dog to. Photographic evidence doesn’t lie and the even in this day of Photoshop, the vast majority of us aren’t good enough to doctor images. (Yeah, I heard that one, too.)
Another part of the answer to preventing these horrific stories from ever being repeated with more living, breathing, sentient creatures lies in being unafraid to take a stand and say “THIS IS WRONG!” Standing up and shouting that will probably cost you some friends. (It cost me—but then, I’m not sure the people who no longer want to associate with me were ever friends in the first place.) Show wins, pretty ribbons, and slick web sites do not equate to a loving, caring home where each dog is valued for more than bragging rights and what it can produce. Sorry, it just doesn’t. You can argue all you want that “respected judge So and So wouldn’t have put him/her up if he/she is such a terrible person and took such horrible care of the dogs.” Wanna bet? I’ve seen it happen, again and again and again. That’s how those show win photos with the pretty ribbons end up on those slick web sites.
Am I bitter? Not really. More like furious. We are so concerned with the daily attacks on the fancy by the animal rights activists and these cases just play us into their hands. These hoarders and abusers are held up as the poster children of what a “show breeder” is and how horrible “show breeders” are. We MUST start policing ourselves and preventing cases of hoarding and abuse like this from ever happening again, or someone else will be policing us. And, while that external policing will make my wish of never seeing cases like this come true, we won’t like the rest of what comes with it, because there won’t be companion animals, show dogs, and dog shows. And, wishing for my beloved collies to be a part of my life again isn’t a wish I want to be making.

Deep POV

I saw a writing tip the other day that really got me thinking. Authors were challenged to come up with twenty things that readers wouldn’t necessarily know about the characters in the author’s most current WIP. These things are most often backstory, very seldom make it into the final draft, but do lend themselves to allowing the author (and by extension the reader) to really get to know the character(s) more in depth. Some very deep POV can be gleaned from these tidbits. Because I’m one of those writers who writes way more than will ever be in the final draft, I thought I would come up with a list for my newest release Smolder on a Slow Burn available from The Wild Rose Press (http://bit.ly/1o4uw8u) and/or Amazon (http://amzn.to/1pstPH4). I don’t have twenty, but I’ve got a substantial list.
1.      Both A.J. and Allison were the H/H in a contemporary I wrote decades ago that I never did anything with. My niece read the original contemporary version shortly after it was finished and I will never forget her punching the daylights out of a teddy bear because A.J. was such an ass to Alli. After not doing anything with the MS for almost 20 years, I decided to make the original story a historical. In the intervening decades, I have to admit, A.J. has mellowed a bit.
2.      Both of them had a privileged upbringing and are well educated. A.J. is an attorney, though he doesn’t practice law, and Allison is a teacher. 
3.      Allison is a fraternal twin, meaning she looks nothing like her minutes older sibling. A.J. is the oldest of four, having two sisters and one very younger brother.
4.      A.J.’s mother was an abolitionist and even though he fought for the Confederacy, he holds her views on how evil slavery was. Allison’s whole family are abolitionists.
5.      I have said repeatedly that A.J. is the most honorable character I have ever written. (Probably the reason he doesn’t practice law.) Allison is strong enough to hold firm to her beliefs about right and wrong.
6.      As a young girl, Allison broke her wrist when she fell from a tree while collecting apples for her pony. What she doesn’t reveal in the retelling of this story was she was with several slave children who would have been punished for being in the orchard and it just wasn’t her pony she was getting apples for. By the time he was ten or twelve, due to his mother’s influence, A.J. had already determined that he would never be a slave owner.
7.      In the original version of this story, A.J. was estranged from his parents and Allison’s parents were killed in an automobile accident when she was only six. In the historical version, Allison’s mother died shortly after giving birth to the twin girls, so she and her sister were being raised by their father. A.J.’s father died when he was in his early teens and his mother died before he was eighteen, making him a defacto parent to his younger brother, Drake.
8.      A.J.’s best friend, Harrison Taylor, was the ring-leader in their escapades when they were younger. A.J. was the voice of reason, but because Harrison didn’t often listen to reason, A.J. found himself in trouble trying to keep Harrison from trouble. Allison, on the other hand, was the “brains” in her cohort of friends, and often leading them into mischief.
9.      In both versions of the story, A.J. and Allison’s first born child is named Pamela Grace. In both, though it’s never said, she is named for the epistolary novel Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson (published 1740). Yes, my geekiness for literature is showing. Sorry, but that’s what happens when you’ve got a Master’s in English…

The last blog post here was from Vander–he decided to take over my blog to write about our summer vacation. I have to rebut a few things he wrote, because he wasn’t completely accurate. I suppose that’s what I get for letting my dog write my blog.

I’m also part of a blog hop with this blog post at Christina Cole’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Anyway, here is my rebuttal to Vander’s post:

            Dear Dog! 
            First of all, Van—dear, love, one of the lights of my life—I am not attempting to lead break your daughters because as of this writing, they are only six weeks old. They’re barely weaned. I understand time to dogs is a bit different than it is to people, but six weeks isn’t old enough to even think about starting that. And to call the mother of your children hard-headed is not a wise move, especially considering how the mission to get Dixie to conceive was accomplished. (You don’t want your secret fetish with plastic bags to come out, do you?)
            Secondly, yes, I did make a lot of show leads, but those leads are sold to help support YOUR show career. If you want a new show lead, say so. Honestly, I would think you’d want to stay with the lead you win on—but, hey, your move, chief. And, I watched Man of Steel no more than five or six times this summer. (As a trip to Wyoming didn’t happen this summer, I needed something really pretty to look at, other than your beautiful face.) I fail to see how you can be sick of it when you were only sleeping in my office one time when I was watching Man of Steel and I had the headphones on the whole time. We won’t talk about all the times you wanted to watch the Lassie movie, because, Dude, that’s a boy. Thank you, though, for noting I have been working on a third novel.
            Also, teasing your big brother is not a wise move. Arizona could flatten your pretty butt to the ground any time he wanted. He just doesn’t because he’s a gentleman. And your cousin is NOT a jerk. Wyatt is just a high-energy, very self-confident male—rather like yourself. Speaking of the collies at Jacque’s, you forgot to mention that one of your girlfriends who lives there was also at the shows in Biloxi and she gave Dealie a run for her money all four days we were there. Forgetting to mention Daisy could have hurt Jacque’s feelings so try to be a bit more careful with what you post on my blog, if you ever guest post again (and I’m thinking it will be a cold day somewhere before I let you do that).
            Yes, you did get it right that Tenna and I will be neighbors with Jacque AND DICK in the foreseeable future in Tennessee, but you forgot to mention that Dave, Tenna’s husband and Ken were also involved in this purchase. (We really need to talk about your jealousy issues with other males—regardless of the species!) And, Jacque informs me that the pot-bellied pig IS NOT—I repeat—IS NOT to be chased, harassed, tormented, or annoyed in any manner. Eating her is off the table, too.
            Adding the Piper story as a post-script…Vander, really? That is every dog owner’s worst nightmare, that their beloved pet gets lost, gets found, and then won’t be returned to them. There isn’t enough bandwidth to discuss how sickened I am with Penny Sanderbeck and her so-called rescue operating under the name “Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue.” Yes, we have been following that story since the twisted tale began in late April and while I appreciate you chiming in with your meme of “Bring Piper Home,” you could have given the story a bit more prominence in your blog post. I think we need to talk about your organizational skills when it comes to writing, too. You could have at least shared a link or two so that people who don’t know what’s going on could read up on how utterly messed-up that whole story is. Like this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1444028252510403/
            After this experience, I don’t think I’ll be letting any of my dogs guest blog for me again. Sorry, Snape…tell Vander about it. He blew it.
            If you click the link embedded in Christina’s name at the beginning of the blog, it will take you to the main page for this hop where you can check out a lot more summer vacation reads. There’s also a rafflecopter contest where you could win all kinds of neat prizes, including an Amazon gift card. Go to Christina’s page and show her some love, too.


Guest post from my dog

photo by Tenna Perry
Hi, all! Ummm…my name is Vander and I’m filling in for mom for this blog post. She was supposed to write about how she spent her summer vacation but she’s busy with promotion for her latest release from The Wild Rose Press and trying to get my two daughters trained to walk on a lead. Good luck with those two, Mom. They’re way too much like their mother. Never met a more a hard-headed bitch than Dixie. (And, I’m not calling her a bad name. In my world, dogs are male and bitches aren’t.)
Anyway…how did Mom spend her summer vacation? Let’s see, we played dog show until the first weekend of June. I went to those shows but didn’t get to play because I thought it would be a wise move to shed all my coat the weekend before. Mom was so not impressed with my idea to shed. But, I got to cheer for my buddies Driver and Dealie while we were in Biloxi. And on the way home from that trip, we stopped and spent a couple of days at Aunt Jacque’s house in Tennessee.
I LOVE staying with Aunt Jacque. All of us get to get out of the van and run for hours. We like it there so much sometimes Mom stays an extra day just because she can. Aunt Jacque’s got the coolest place in the woods there—lots to see and bark at. There’s a couple of deer who wander through every morning about 4 AM. I’ve seen turkeys, hundreds of squirrels (I hate squirrels because they don’t play fair), birds, and even a pot-bellied pig. And one of my girlfriends lives there. Plus, I get to tease my big brother, Arizona, and my nephew, Wyatt. Wyatt is a jerk, BTW.
Apparently Mom and Aunt Tenna (one of our traveling to dog show buddies) like it so much at Aunt Jacque’s that when some property right next to Aunt Jacque came up for sale, Mom and Aunt Tenna bought it. I wouldn’t mind living in Tennessee. The winters aren’t as cold and snowy there as they are here in Indiana.
photo by Johanna Lance
Mom spent most of the summer making dog show leads, watching movies (and let me tell you, I AM SICK of Man of Steel and if she names a dog around here “Clark” I’m gonna puke!), and writing her third book. She told me that she’s dedicating it to me—because I make her smile. I don’t know what it is that I do to make her smile, but she does smile a lot when she looks at me. She makes me happy, too. I love to play dog show and get all the cookies she feeds me while we’re playing but we don’t play dog show in the summer because it’s too hot for us (the collies) to have to run around a ring and Mom says she hates really hot, humid weather. (Me, too!)

So, that’s been our summer. I’ve been told that my vacation is almost over and we’ll be back to playing dog show. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go practice my show pose. I’m a bit rusty.
P.S. Oh, we’ve also been following the story all summer long about Piper the sheltie being kept from her owner by the Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue. All Mom and I have to say about this is #BRINGPIPERHOME
head study by Tenna Perry

Jump or Move Back

Yesterday, I felt as if I lost an old friend. I didn’t know him personally, but I thought the man was a comic genius, an incredible dramatic actor, and from what I did know of him, someone who was a genuinely decent and good human being. Robin Williams took his own life yesterday. Not out of an attempt for attention, but because as someone who suffered from severe depression he had apparently reached the point where there was no more rope to tie a knot into and hang on for dear life. The prospect of a life without the crushing sadness, without the continual physical pain of depression, without the agony of psychological pain was greater than the need to continue that struggle.
I know that struggle. Like Robin Williams (and countless others), I struggle on a daily basis with severe, clinical depression. I have Type II bipolar disorder. I go from periods of extreme manic (how does ANYONE think I can write a 65K+ manuscript in 10 days?) to crushing depression when the effort to even get out of bed is too much of a battle. Add in the perpetual battle with insomnia that even prescription medication will not touch and that depression becomes greater. I haven’t self-medicated with alcohol or drugs, but I can fully understand the temptation. ANYTHING to stop the pain…even the eternal numbness of death.
Depression is real. Depression is a killer—it is a silent, relentless, merciless killer. The bottom side of the never-ending cycle of manic/depressive behavior is a very, very dark place. Sometimes, it feels so dark that not even light can escape from it. Like most people with a depressive disorder, I can feel the changes in my thought-process before it even starts. For me, there’s a sense of being disconnected from everyone and everything around me. There’s a sense of hopelessness that becomes overwhelming and seems to dim everything. By the time the depression sets in, the actual physical pain is unrelenting.
I had started that downward spiral several days before the announcement of Robin Williams’s death. The announcement did several things to me. It kicked me fully into that dark place that depressives both fear and yearn for—because amazingly, within that dark place, we are so numb that the pain and heartache doesn’t seem to hurt so much. We fear that dark, dark place because it also skews our thought-process. We start thinking that if the darkness numbs the pain, how much better will we feel if we never have to leave that place and if we can make the numbness, the darkness, the painlessness complete? What would it take to make it complete, to make the pain go away?
If you know someone with depression, please, let them know you are there for them. Understand there is NOTHING you can do to help them, but you can save them. Just be there. Hold that person’s hand and help them hold on; tell them you will hold them until they can find the strength to go on; let them draw on your strength because sometimes, even just one second more of life is enough to change the through process from ending the pain to being willing to endure it for another minute…or day…or a lifetime.
A true depressive will not threaten suicide. We just do it. Ninety percent of depressives who commit suicide gave no warning. I was watching a stand-up routine Williams did with HBO last night and there came a part of the routine where he was talking about his recovery from alcohol and how alcohol affects the brain—shuts off the conscience, and he compared it to that little voice in the back of one’s head when you are on top of a very tall building and look over the edge. He said that little voice whispers, “Jump.” A chill went up my spine with those words and there was almost dead silence in the audience. He recovered quickly, realizing the joke didn’t have the impact he was looking for—but in that moment, everyone in that audience and everyone who has ever viewed that program had a glimpse into the skewed thought process of a manic/depressive. Most people don’t hear “Jump” when looking over the edge. They hear “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THE EDGE!”
I’m forcing myself to write this because I’m hearing “Jump.” I’m hurting all over. Depression is physical pain. The uptake receptors in a depressive’s brain don’t work right. The darkness is closing in. Asking me what’s wrong doesn’t help because there is nothing situational that can be changed to alter this depression. Trying to tell me what I have to live for is a form of trying to shame the depressive into a better mood—the old “snap out of it” line. I know damn good and well what I have to live for. Unfortunately, that little voice still says “Jump.”
I know what I have to do to silence that voice and I will do what I need to do to continue living. That is my promise to myself, to the people who love me, and the people who care about me. Silencing the voice telling me to jump and continuing to live are two different things. That voice will never be fully silenced. The only way to silence that voice forever is to enter the darkness for one last time and surrender, and I don’t think I’m ready to surrender.

First Step

Okay, it’s time to ’fess up. I have been told that the first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem. So, here’s my confession: My name is Lynda and I’m addicted to office supplies. Yep, pens, pencils, paper (OMG—the smell of reams of paper!), paper and binder clips…so this time of year is incredibly difficult for my self-restraint. Walk into ANY store in town and I find a display of back to school supplies. Those almost always include pens, pencils, paper…Well, you get the idea.
I can’t walk past these displays without touching the multi-packs of mechanical pencils (my favorites because I don’t have to keep sharpening them to keep a fine point), the pens (gel-pens and super-fine tip make me giddy), pads of paper. And, the packages of paper clips in a myriad of colors and different shapes…Did you know that you can get paperclips shaped like hearts, and little feet, and hands…and…Where was I? Oh, yeah…
I’m addicted to office supplies. My grand-daughter has discovered Grandma’s stash of pens, colored pencils, markers, highlighters, crayons (yes, I have those, too) and mechanical pencils in a large drawer in my office desk. She comes trotting in on a regular basis asking to borrow a few. Part of me growls when she even thinks about touching them but the larger part of me forces a smile and tells her she can borrow whatever she wants, she just has to be sure to put them all back when she’s done using them. And, she always forgets to put back the items she’s borrowed, so after a while, I wander through the house, collecting the abandoned writing instruments and carefully putting them back where they belong.
I’m afraid that my addiction is contagious, because while my grand-daughter may borrow writing/drawing utensils from me, she is also growing her own collection of crayons, colored pencils, pencils, markers, and highlighters. I may be creating a monster.
I do try to rationalize my addiction by comforting myself that when the grandchildren visit, I have plenty of paper and crayons, colored pencils and markers for them to draw and create with. And, if the zombie apocalypse happens, I’ll be able to still write—all be it long-hand—and I can probably completely secure our location with a fortress built of paper and binder clips.
See, it’s not all bad, is it?

An American Icon

 Last night, I watched The Searchers again. I have lost track of how often I have watched that movie. Yet, there is something about it that demands a reviewing on a consistent basis. I’ve written a few blogs about what a masterpiece this movie is, so I won’t go into that again. What led to this blog post, though, was a quote from The Duke on the door to my office.
That quote got me to thinking if I could find other quotes from John Wayne. A quick Google search revealed over 1.7 million hits within the search parameters of “John Wayne”. Apparently more than thirty years after his death from cancer, The Duke is still popular.
Here are some of my favorites that I found which can be attributed to John Wayne:
John Wayne was unapologetic in his patriotism and love of country, so it was no surprise to find that he said this: “Sure, I wave the American flag. Do you know a better one?” Nope, Duke, I sure don’t. And, while he was lambasted and lampooned for that staunch patriotism, Wayne never flinched. When he was invited to Harvard to attend the annual lampooning banquet and knowing he was the one who was going to be lampooned in that elitist environment, Wayne made the most of it. He arrived in a borrowed tank.
War movies and Westerns…those are what we remember John Wayne’s career for. He apparently had a few things to say about Westerns, things that still resonate today about what he saw as simple basic truths and values (especially with this Western historical romance author). Of the appeal of the Western, he said: “Put a man on a horse, and right off you’ve got the making of something magnificent. Physical strength, speed where you can feel it, plus heroism. And the hero, he’s big and strong. You pit another strong man against him, with both their lives at stake, and right there’s a simplicity of conflict you just can’t beat.”
Wayne was also a staunch defender of the genre. In defense of the Western he is quoted as saying “Don’t even for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at Westerns. They’re art—the good ones, I mean. Sure, they’re simple, but simplicity is art. They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions—love, hate, and anger—thrown in.”
John Wayne played John Wayne playing John Wayne—or at least that was the criticism of his acting skills. When confronted on that shortly after losing the Oscar for True Grit, Wayne said, “I play John Wayne in every part regardless of the character and I’ve been doing okay, haven’t I?” Another time, when asked in an interview what set him apart from other Western movie idols, Wayne is reported to have thought about his answer for as long as it took to finish smoking the cigarette he’d just lit. As he ground the butt out, he said just two words: “John Ford.”
Wayne’s loyalty to those around him, to his friends and family was legendary. He had little tolerance for racism and bigotry. The anecdotes of his lack of racism and bigotry are many—told by former cast members, members of the filming crew, and members of the extras used on set. He was incredibly well-read and highly intellectual—something of a surprise to Lee Marvin, who was also rumored to have been a bumbling ignoramus. When the men began comparing notes on the set of a movie they were filming together on the next book to read as filming a movie involves a lot of down time Marvin said something to The Duke about not being anything like the stereotype he was depicted as. Wayne leaned in and said, “Let’s just keep this among ourselves, shall we?”
When criticized about some of the violence in his movies, Wayne admitted that he had been in movies where he was depicted as killing people, but those people were killed because they violated the code. That code was what he lived his life by: honesty, loyalty, being true to one’s word, and strength of character. Because of his iconic status, Wayne was once quoted as saying he never wanted to make a movie that he would be embarrassed to take his mother, his wife, or his daughters to go see. He understood that he had another role to play outside of the movies because of the respect that he had earned from the movie-going public.
God, I miss The Duke.