Tag Archives: Doubting River

Wrapping up 2012

Wow — it has been a long time since I updated my blog! There has been a good reason for that: I’ve been heads down on a huge project at work. Lots and lots of overtime. But the largest part of it wraps up this weekend (handoff on Monday), and it’s time to do an update. Lots of changes around here.

All three dogs are doing well. Pax is getting older, which breaks my heart. I can’t stand the thought of losing him — ever. Most of my critter update isn’t dogs, though — it’s horses. Back in August, Mr. Blue came home again. I was inordinately glad to see him! I’d missed him terribly. Our barn is in no shape for horses, so I’m boarding him at Eden Farms where I’m taking riding lessons. Here’s a picture of him at a clinic acting as a demo horse with Monica.



A couple of months later, Monica posted the picture of a horse in the Enumclaw kill pen. (Translation: a horse who had been purchased by a guy who sells them by the pound to slaughter houses.) We made a deal: I’d buy him and cover his stall, she’d train him, and then we’d sell him in the spring.

Yeah, that selling part? So not happening. This is Charlie, right after he came in:


Can’t get a good look at him there — sorry. He’s a quarter horse, extremely similar to Blue in size and build. He is an absolute love! He’s doing well in his training, and hopefully will get his first ride soon. Right now I’m intending to keep him. If he ends up being unsuitable for me under saddle, I’ll go ahead with the plan to sell him.

Miss Guin is still down in Olympia, happily retired at my friend Leslie’s place. I get down there once or twice a year, and Leslie gives me updates. I bought her a new purple blanket for Christmas. Hopefully Leslie will send me a photo!

My long-term plans for the horses are up in the air. We were planning to rehab the barn this spring so we could bring everyone home, but my job situation (and our funds) got iffy, so I’m not sure what will happen. More on the job situation further down.

The remodel
We still have no walls in the basement. However we have propane, and the electrical and plumbing have been done, and we’ve got a brand new whole-house generator installed! That was a huge part of the project, and we’re thrilled to have it done. It means that winter can throw its worst at us, and we’ll be fine.

It also means we can have horses at the house again. See, our well is wired into the house. No power = no water. That’s not a huge problem for humans and dogs, but it’s a MAJOR issue with horses. That generator solved the last big horse-owning problem we had.

The next major step in the remodel is to redo the stairs to the basement and finish Jay’s office. Both parts of that are huge, expensive undertakings. Right now those steps are on hold, because of my job.

The major project was a major success. It was, without reservation, my favorite project ever. I’m extremely blessed to have gotten to spend the past six months focused exclusively on it. I’ll be sad to see it end. Technically, though, it isn’t ending. I am.

As kudos to a job well done, my job said, “We love you! Come take a massive pay cut and work for us full time! And if you don’t want to do that, get out!” Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but it felt like that. I’m a contractor, you see. My division at work has roughly 15 long-time contractors, and our senior manager put together a report showing how she could save the company money by converting all of the contractors to regular employees.

It’s not as bad a deal as I made it sound. They offered straight conversions for most of us, meaning we didn’t have to interview. (I’ve never heard of them doing that before.) And if you factor in the value of their benefits package, the total worth of what they were offering was essentially the same as what I make now for 40 hours a week.

That doesn’t work for me, though. My husband works for the state, so I don’t need their benefits. I need cash. The job would have required me to work in the office three days a week — 50 miles a day on my 13-year-old car, plus two hours a day lost to the commute. I just couldn’t agree to that, so I declined the “offer.”

The theory is that I will stay until they backfill my position. As I understand it, they won’t be interviewing for it until early January, so I’m hoping I can ride this out until the end of January. The *ideal* would be the second week in February, because I’m going out of town then anyway.

All of this caused me a lot of stress. I had been doing really well with my eating and exercising, and all that came to a crashing halt with the news of the re-org. I haven’t gotten back on track yet. I have processed the changes though, and I’m really not upset about them anymore. I wish the situation were different, but it is what it is.

What’s next?
Good question. I have to get another job in my field without question. My mortgage and those hungry horses insist upon it! But I think this is also a call to pursue some things for myself that I’ve put on the back burner.

I’m signed up for a Reiki Level 1 class in January. I’m going to focus on the animal communication again. And probably most importantly, I’m pulling Doubting River out of the drawer. The Universe asked me to write that, but I got too comfortable in my life and put it aside. Now I’m on the edge of being not-so-comfortable. I’m going to get to work before I become decidedly UNcomfortable! There are a few other things I’d like to work on too. (Honestly, if I didn’t have to get a job again, I wouldn’t be bored. Promise!)

December 22 will bring not the end of the world but the beginning of a new cycle. I think it’s a good time for a new cycle for me as well, eh? Reinventing-Melissa, indeed.

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Inspiration, part 2

In my last post, I found pictures to represent most of the major characters in my work-in-progress, Doubting River. I saved one important character for his very own post — River, the title character. Before we talk about River, though, I want to talk just a moment about setting.

Doubting River is set in a small, imaginary town in rural Mississippi. This photo is actually startlingly close to how I imagine Marlie’s farm to look.

Now let’s talk about River. River is a curly coated retriever, just like the dog I named for him. I don’t have any pictures of my dog here, though, because I haven’t had him out in the field, and River is most definitely a field retriever. Instead I asked my dog’s breeder to share some of her photos. First, here are some shots of curlies in their natural habitat.

In the book, Charm and Lucas are training River for an AKC retriever field trial. These trials are extremely competitive events open to both professional and amateur trainers. Of the seven eligible retriever breeds, the vast, vast, vast majority of the dogs who run in the trials are Labrador retrievers. In addition to Labs, a small number of golden retrievers and an even smaller number of Chesapeake Bay retrievers compete. The other four breeds are virtually unheard of in the sport, and to my knowledge no breed other than Lab, golden, or Cheesie has even won. That includes curly coated retrievers.

Dawn doesn’t compete in field trials, but she does do hunt tests through various organizations. These photos aren’t, then, exactly representative of what Charm and Lucas will be doing, but I think you’ll get the idea.

See the fake gun in the next picture? That’s common in some venues. In a real hunting situation, the dog’s handler would be shooting the ducks that the dog retrieves. In a hunt test (and field trial), the live flyers are shot by someone in the field so the handler can focus on the dog. The handlers are still required to carry a gun in some venues, however. This picture also has a good full-body shot of a curly. They’re taller and leaner than the other retrievers. My River (the living, breathing one) stands 28″ or 29″ at the shoulder and, at 16 months old, weighs about 90lbs.

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Inspiration, part 1

A writer friend wrote a recent blog post about pictures that inspire her. That sent me on my own hunt. My journey took a different path, though, and I ended up searching out photos that resemble the main characters in Doubting River, my novel-in-progress. Although none of the actors I ended up choosing were the inspiration for the characters, and none match the pictures in my mind exactly, the ones I chose below are pretty close.

The protagonist is Charm. He returns home for the first time in almost twenty years after the death of his sister’s husband and reluctantly agrees to stay and help with her farm and injured son. This photo of Adrian Grenier captures two of the physical features that stand out most to me about Charm: his wavy brown hair and his killer smile. Charm is one of those people who has learned to use his looks and his smile to manipulate others.

His sister Marlie is struggling to right her world after her husband dies and she discovers their farm is near foreclosure. Her focus on restoring things to the way they were blinds her to her son’s need for closure. I never really thought of Charlize Theron as embodying Marlie, but this picture captures Marlie’s short, wavy, red hair perfectly. Too bad Marlie doesn’t have many opportunities to smile like this.

Lucas is Marlie’s nine-year-old son. His leg was shattered in the same accident that killed his father. As his family crumbles around him, he clutches his father’s last wish — to win the local trial — certain it is their salvation. This picture is of Ty Panitz, the young actor who plays Parker Booth on Bones. He is perfect as Lucas all the way to the blond curls spilling into his hazel eyes.

And then, there’s River, the title character in Doubting River. He’s a curly coated retriever — and my own dog is his namesake. Look for pictures of him in a follow-up post.

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November challenge

I made a challenge to myself this month.

This month is National Novel Writing Month — more commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide phenomena in which a couple hundred thousand writers commit to writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. 50K is more of a novella than a novel, and what you have at the end is an unedited pile of… well, you know. But that’s okay. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to produce a finished novel. It’s to get the focus on butt-in-chair, words-on-page. It’s to get those creative channels open and productive — and to build that habit of writing consistently. It doesn’t matter if what you wrote is crap, because after November you have all the time in the world to rewrite and edit.

And now, after all that buildup, let me say… my challenge has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo. Sort of. I am not a fast writer, and I don’t want to be a fast writer. I have a completely different style of writing, and it works for me. But I struggle with the other key aspect of NaNo — butt-in-seat, write-everyday. So I decided to challenge myself to set aside dedicated writing time every single day in November. More specifically, I decided to get up at 5am and use those early hours to work on my novel.

I’m used to getting up at 7 — or even later this time of year, because it gets light so late. So on November 1, I was completely unsure I would make it out of bed.

But I did.

And I’ve done it every day since, even on the weekend. I even turn off email and close my browsers and Twitter before I go to bed, so I won’t be distracted when I get downstairs. Okay, it’s only Nov. 8, but I’m feeling good about it — especially since I have yet to need an alarm. I admit, I’m glad we had a time change last weekend; that definitely made it easier. In fact, I was up at 4:30 this morning, because my internal clock hasn’t completely adjusted yet.

It’s working. I’m making forward progress. Not fast progress — I’m not a NaNo writer — but progress I am pleased with. I expect I’ll get faster as I build the habit and get into the rhythm. It’s fun to see the page count and word count increase. Maybe I’m being optimistic after only eight days, but I can see this being sustainable.

What I’ve learned is that I have to have dedicated time if I want to work on my novel. Even if I don’t have a lot going on during the day, there are still enough distractions that I just can’t focus on the writing. After work? Forget it. My brain is fried, my creative juices dried up. All I want to do at that point is watch TV and then head to bed.

I like this challenge thing. Maybe I’ll come up with a different challenge for myself every month. So, tell me, do you have tasks that you find you absolutely have to set aside dedicated time for?

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Looking forward to 2011… and beyond

I’m probably not the only person who has been reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next one. As I’ve thought about and planned my writing goals for the next year, I’ve been trying to put them in a more big-picture context of a writing career.

My first goal is to finish Doubting River. I should have finished it this year, but I completely overwhelmed myself in the latter half of the year. I backburnered it for a while, and then had trouble getting back on track.


I know I’m busy, so I’m going to be realistic. Desired word count per day: 500 words. Absolute minimum, must-accomplish-or-else: 250 words. If I do more than 500 words, that’s gravy.

Second goal is to update this blog twice a week. Sunday and Thursday, I think. I’ve been thinking about how to focus the blog in a way that will satisfy my current readership and, hopefully, increase it. The feedback I’ve gotten is that people seem to like the writing-related posts, which is good, because there aren’t enough dog- or farm-related events to warrant regular updates.

My plan, then, is to continue to blog about my novel and the industry, but to focus the bulk of the posts on “A Plotter’s Guide to Novel Writing.” I am a plotter to the extreme, and because I first wrote screenplays, I’m passionate about structure. Those “Just write and see where it takes you!” pantser types will no doubt feel ill at the thought of putting so much planning into your first draft. Keep an open mind though. You might find something helpful for your editing rounds!

Those of you who want to read more about River, Pax, Pflouff, and the rest of the critters, don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten you. I’ve needed more photos and videos on the site. So I think I’ll make a goal of including a dog pic (or video) with each post, plus a short anecdote or update. If you think about it, you’re probably going to get more content than if I targeted the blog around the dogs!

My remaining writing-related goals are dependent upon the completion of goal number one:

Goal #3: Get an agent. I want to attend at least one conference this year — preferably two — and I want to get another partial critique from an agent during Brenda Novak’s charity auction in May. I did that last year, and the agent has requested the full. I will definitely send it to her as soon as it’s complete.

And finally…

Goal #4: Start a new book! I already have the premise. I’ve been anxious to write it for a long time, but I refuse to do so until Doubting River is out on submission.

I’m really looking forward to 2011! What about you? What are your goals?

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