Little Things That Make me Happy

John’s brother is staying with us this week.  He only flies into Fort Wayne a couple times a year, so it’s always nice to see him and catch up.  This time, we’re doing whatever strikes our fancy, and it’s been really nice.  We went to the new River Promenade and walked the entire park, then ended up at Barnes and Noble.  It’s a personal sin to walk out of that building with no books, so….   what can I say?  We bought a few.  One of them was a new bird book because my old one finally fell apart and died.

My bird feeders make me happy.  We have a crabapple tree that blooms right outside one of our side windows, and we have four birdfeeders and suet hanging there.  I have more sparrows than anyone needs, nuthatches, chickadees, tufted titmice, blue jays, cardinals, finches, three different kinds of woodpeckers, and sometimes wrens.  I throw peanuts under the tree, and we have fox squirrels and black squirrels,and too many chipmunks.  We have more, but they’re not regulars, but I love watching them.  Our new neighbor across the street, who’s a super nice man, put up a birdfeeder station in his front yard.  He owns a construction company and built it himself.  It’s huge.   It makes our feeders look second-rate, but my birds still come.  There are enough to share.  And that makes me happy.

Friends and family make me happy, but I’m really blessed with friends who care about my writing.  And that’s wonderful.  I’ve heard writers who don’t get much support.  I’ve never had that problem.  My friends have always told me it was just a matter of time before I sold books.  They tell me often that they believe in me.  Sometimes, they believe in me more than I do.  How lucky can a girl get?  And I belong to a writers’ group who critique each other AND offer encouragement and support.  And I’ve known some of them for so long, they’re extra special to me.  And their opinions matter.  A lot.  So when ANY of us finds success, it makes me happy.

Reviews make me happy.  Not ALL reviews.  There are always a few that make me wince, want to paint my forehead with ashes, and sulk, but MOST reviews.  The ones who say the series just keeps getting better make my day.  And this time, for the first time, a reader told me that she read the recipe I put at the end of my book and went right out and bought the ingredients she needed to make the steak tips over buttered noodles, and she LOVED them.  BLISS!

When a writer I respect and admire reads one of my books and gives it a great review, it’s AWESOME!  Reading really well done books makes me happy.  Reading favorite authors who deliver lifts my evenings.

When one of my daughters or grandsons call to talk about anything, it makes me happy.  And spending time with my DH, who to this day thinks he got lucky when he met me (silly man) makes me happy.

And yes, if you read this list, you know that I count myself a pretty fortunate person.  So do I have a skip in my step and hum a happy tune when I walk?  Heck no.  I’m still the borderline grumpy person I’ve always been, because it’s in my nature.  And as much as I love writing, some days I curse it and fuss.  Because life’s like that.  I guess the Universe doesn’t want us to get bored by making things too easy.  But for right now, I’m spending time playing and having fun, and I’m feeling pretty happy:)

Hope you are, too.  Happy writing, all!


Writing–Dogs vs. Cats

I killed a dog once.  In a story.  It was back when I was still writing mysteries.  And I got some pretty strong reactions from editors.  “How could you kill a cute, little dog?”  Now, mind you, I’d killed a few people in this novel, but that was par for the course.  Kill a dog, and I heard about it.  But more than a few editors responded with notes that said, “Killing a dog in a mystery is risky, but NEVER kill a cat.”  I guess that an inordinate amount of mystery lovers are cat lovers–so just like in Egyptian times, kill a cat & the gods might smite you.

I wrote some short stories for a Barnes & Noble anthology once, Crafty Cat Crimes–got lucky and had two accepted–but the trick was to have the cat solve or help solve the crime.  I know that a lot of my friends are fans of Lilian Jackson Braun and some of the new “cat” mysteries, but I had never, ever written a mystery where an animal brought justice to the villain.  I have to admit, that slowed me down for a minute.

I learned from experience, though, that I got strong, passionate feedback when I included animals in stories.   I wrote a novella where I had the hero race his horse home, hand him to a groom, and tell the groom to give him an extra treat–that he’d earned it…and got feedback about how the horse should be wiped down and walked to cool off, etc. BEFORE he went to the stables and was fed.  Which was great, because the reader obviously loved horses.  And I obviously should have mentioned that the horse was well tended.

I’ve used children in stories, and I think they add a nice, not-adult view of happenings that give a different take on plot points.  And people seem to like kids in fiction, but I don’t get nearly the strong feedback on a kid as on a beast of some sort.  In my Babet/Prosper novellas, I had a wise, poisonous boa constrictor (magic makes her poisonous) that chooses to be Babet’s familiar, and a few people actually squirmed at my writers’ group when I read about Morgana slithering onto Babet’s shoulders and wrapping her coils around Babet’s arm.

All that I’m saying, I guess, is that people aren’t the only characters that can make an impact in a story.  Weres and shifters aren’t quite as effective.  In readers’ minds, they’re still humans–just with a few animal instincts thrown into the mix.  But toss in a dog, a cat, or a parrot–and you’d better treat them right.  Readers will forgive grisly murders, betrayals, and mass destruction–but kill a dog..or a cat.. or a bird.. and you’re in a LOT of trouble:)


Messy Muses

I consider birds muses.  Not the best muses a writer could hope for, but in my case, all I’ve got.

I love birds.  I fill feeders with safflower seeds, black oilers, and mixed seeds to attract nuthatches, chickadees, tufted titmice, and cardinals.  I hang suet for the downy and hairy woodpeckers and toss peanuts out my kitchen door for the squirrels, blue jays, and red belly woodpeckers.  If I don’t, the blue jays sit in the crabapple tree and screech until I feed them.  I like that about jays.  They know what they want and pretty much demand it.

I throw out bread crumbs for the sparrows, grackles, and starlings.  They can be a nuisance, reproducing faster than rabbits, but I still worry when the hawks come.  And three different kinds of hawks visit our house.  My doves aren’t particularly fast.  The other birds take off, but the doves look around to see if they should be worried.  By then, it’s usually too late.  All that’s left is a flurry of feathers.

I get excited when I see a Carolina wren or a flock of cedar waxwings.  I sigh when I see goldfinches, but I’m not a true birdwatcher.  I don’t have a list like my friend, Neil, who travels to different state parks all over the country to find a bird he hasn’t seen before.  I just enjoy watching whatever comes to my feeders.  In the winter, once it’s dark, flying squirrels come to the shelf we nailed on our tree.  Our regular visitors are fox squirrels and raccoons, but lately, we’ve had black squirrels, too.

When I’m burrowed in my office, hunched over my keyboard, and my brain freezes, I wander into the kitchen for my umpteenth cup of coffee and look out the windows to see what birds are at the feeders.  I stall, watching them for a while, before inspiration strikes (or doesn’t), and I have to hit the keys again.   My steady companions, though, who are noisy and messy, the birds who share my writing room, are my grandson’s two parakeets, Ares and Abigail.

I had a parakeet when I was growing up.  I named him Hermes after the Greek god because he was clever and naughty.  I’ve been told that if you own one bird, it bonds with you.  If you own two, they bond with each other.  Nate’s parakeets get rowdy when they’re out of food, but other than demanding that I feed and water them, they want nothing to do with me.  They do like being spritzed with warm water, like a shower, and make happy noises, but once they have what they want, they’d rather I left them alone.  Just like the birds outside.  All I get to do is feed and watch them.

Occasionally, the parakeets annoy me.  I’ve threatened to ban them from my office, but the truth is, I’d miss them.  Some people play music while they write.  It puts them in the right mood for the scene they’re working on.  I listen to bird chirps.  I get feathers thrown around my room when the birds have a tussle.  But I like their noise, their company.  When my cat, Pywackett, was alive, he’d drape himself across my writing desk and stare at me with yellow eyes while I worked.  If I ignored him too long, he’d jump onto my keyboard and fill my computer screen with strange signs and symbols.  When he died, my daughter got dogs.  They’re not the same.  They might be loving and loyal, but they don’t have the patience to make great muses.  They bring toys for me to throw.  They bark at the mailman.  The birds hang on the side of their cage and chirp to me.  They don’t run off when a car door slams.

I think a cat is better, but the birds–by default–have taken Pywackett’s place.  They distract me enough to let my mind wander when I’m inbetween thoughts, searching for the right word or words, the right transition or hook.  But they’re constant enough to be a steady presence.  A muse is a fickle thing.  It inspires, and then you’re on your own.  It’s your job to make the thought come to life.  The birds work well enough at that.  They bob their heads and I glance over, then it’s back to prose and plot.  Symbiosis at a very primitive level.