Dear Hazel

Dear Hazel,

My heart is broken. I woke up this morning to the sound of clicking toe nails on the hardwood floor only to realize that is was in my head. It couldn’t be you because you are no longer here.

IMG_0685You and I have had such a journey. I’ll never forget sneaking down to the Orange County animal shelter, and telling your soon-to-be dad, “that I was just going to look at her” – her being you since I saw your picture on Petfinder.com – “just going to look, I’m not going to get her.” At least I didn’t the first time.

Yes, I walked away that first day even though you were stuck on me like glue. I was afraid your dad was going to divorce me after the Siamese cat drama, but that’s a story for another time. Still, I perservered and drove the forty-five minutes to the shelter every day to look at you and pet you, and ultimately, to fall in love with you.

hazel_early daysOf course, there was a little drama, too. Your dad was going away for a big business trip, and wanted to wait until he got back to make a decision on even getting a dog. This is where your grandma comes into play. When dad left, grandma said, and I quote: “Just go get her, honey, and see how it goes. If it makes you panic or doesn’t feel like the right fit then you can take her back before he gets home.” It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and so I followed her advice and went back to the shelter to get you. They only took cash so I had to go down to the local gas station, and get cash out of the local ATM, which is probably the only time in my life that I’ve used my debit card. Thank god I could remember my PIN number because I never have money in my wallet much less the $65 bucks required for your adoption fees. It must’ve been fate because the number worked, and less than an hour later, you were riding in the back of my car, both of us unsure of what was going to happen next.

Those first couple of days were rough. I won’t lie. After giving you a bath, wow you were really stinky, and feeding you three cups of dog food, god, you were ravenous, I didn’t know what to do. And the panic set in, too. I’d gone against your dad’s orders, and knew I was in big trouble when he got back plus now we had a dog and lots of responsibility. What had I just done? And how was I supposed to entertain you? So I cried. A lot. And panicked. A lot. I finally broke down and called your dad to tell him what I’d done, saying I’d made a big mistake. He was in a taxi in Chicago with some EA big wigs going to dinner. You can imagine how that conversation went, but your dad was never one who panicked (that’s my job) and so he said we’d deal with it when he got home less than 24 hours later. That made me feel better, and somehow you and I survived those first two days by ourselves.

Your dad wasn’t overly happy with me when he got home so your grandparents said “Bring her to us and we’ll take her. She sounds like a good dog.” So we got in the car and went to see the grandparents. Once we got there, not only was it obvious that you were a great dog, but also, you didn’t leave my side the whole time, and wouldn’t let grandma’s two dogs anywhere near me. (Less than three years later, one of those golden retrievers would become your brother even though we didn’t know it at the time.)

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Snowmaggedon 2009 with Bailey

Needless to say, we kept you and you’ve pretty much stayed by my side ever since. At first, you weren’t very keen on your dad, and we had to get Karen the trainer in to help. We were never sure if you were abused by a man, or were just an anxious dog by nature, and you’d pee on the floor in the house on Locust Avenue every time your dad tried to put a leash on you to take you for a walk. Never for me – always for your dad. But we got through it, and became a family of three. You settled in nicely in our routine and we took you everywhere with us. You still weren’t keen on kids or crowds, but it didn’t stop people from remarking on how beautiful you were or how well-behaved, and honestly, you were so well-behaved, probably the best, well-mannered dog I’d ever seen. You aced all your training classes, and you could’ve easily been a service dog if it wasn’t for your anxiety. You tried so hard to please me.

Your health, of course, was never perfect. You were Lyme’s positive when we got you, but that never went away. You also had a bit of a limp some time, but you never let it slow you down no how many times dad threw the chuck-it squirrel or the tennis ball. You’d drop dead of a heart attack before you’d let it get away.

It wasn’t always easy. We had some moments along the way. Louie the cat picked on you a lot, and no matter what we did, he seemed to have an axe to grind with you. Luckily, he didn’t stick around long, and the whole family was relieved to see him move onto greener pastures. There was also your increasing arthritis. You had mostly good days, but as you got older, your elbow bent out more and more until you looked like you were paddling down the street. You were also a notorious food stealer on occasion, and we still can’t figure out how your petite lab frame was able to get all the way to the counter and pull off a loaf of bread and eat the whole thing except for the plastic. You always knew how to get the wrappers off like somehow you grew fingers instead of toes. Even the pound of butter was no match for you although you promptly threw it back up on the cream living room carpet, which never quite looked the same after that.

IMG_0314This letter would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Bailey as you know. We weren’t expecting to take in another dog, especially not an overweight 116 pound goofy, golden retriever who was so out of shape that he’d foam at the mouth just trying to walk down the street. But man, he adored you. From the moment he got here, he was all about you, and eventually you were all about him, too. The two of you were two peas in a pod – where you went, he followed. He also used you as an impromptu pillow most days, but you didn’t seem to mind. Yet, it wasn’t all one-sided. Bailey really did bring you out of your shell: you were better with your dad, better with strangers, and generally less anxious all around. If Bailey was our gentle, goofy giant, you were our old soul who always seemed wiser for your years. You were our serious dog, and you made us work for your affection, but it was a sweeter victory for all the effort.

And now you’re gone.

It’s so hard to write this part without the tears. Waking up to find you missing felt like someone had stabbed me in the gut over and over again. To see all your beds gone, your medications removed, to not let you out even before I got my first cup of caffeine . . . all those things are slowly killing me today. All the gaps where you used to be, all the times where you came first, and now there’s only me (and dad). Your last moments yesterday before Dr. Cook administered the injection are permanently etched in my brain – I would’ve done anything, made a pact with the devil, to keep you if only for a little bit longer.

But you were tired, so tired. The kidney failure that had begun to eat away at your life couldn’t be kept at bay any longer. I had always worried about how we’d know when it was time, and I constantly fretted about that, drove your dad nuts in fact on a daily basis, wondering how we would ever be able to gauge that point.

Even now I doubt myself. Even after you stopped eating on Thursday, even as the falls got worse, and you laid on your bed all day sleeping and hardly moving. Even when on the final morning when I had to pick you up and move you to your comfortable bed in the living room so you could be closer to us. Even through all the signs, my heart held on. Because this is my truth:

You are the heart of my heart

You and I were inseparable, and now it feels like a piece pf me is gone. It was bad enough when Bailey left, and I thought I knew grief, but the loss of you feels like part of me is dying. I wish I believed in god or an afterlife just so I know I’d get to see you again, but I know that you are truly gone, and it’s broken me.

People will say that you’re just a dog, and in time, I can get another, but our bond can’t so easily be replaced. You were mine and I was yours, and I truly believe that that sort of connection is a rare and beautiful thing.

IMG_0976I miss you already, Hazel. You will always be the heart of my heart.

Mutterings of a mad mind

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Right now, I’m all over the place. I’m in the final countdown for TNEE 2016 as we gain speed and race towards the weekend. Tuesday is going to be here before I know it, and while I’m mostly organized, there’s also a part of me that is scrambling like a wee mad thing trying to ensure that everything is on my list. Hint: everything isn’t.

But let’s not worry about that right now, eh? Instead, here are a few musings from my brain this week that need to get out . . .

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY – GET AN EDITOR

I have not just one, but two editors plus a whole host of additional professionals behind me to make sure that I’m not releasing rubbish. I’ve said this over and over on this blog having learned the hard way myself: no self-respecting indie author should release a book without a qualified editor *EVER* even if you are an editor yourself. Your brain is wired to your thought and speech patterns. It will miss so many grammatical mistakes, typos, word switcheroos that you’ll wonder if some grammar goblin came in the middle of the night and fucked with your manuscript. Just don’t do it. Pay the money and have someone go through it at least twice. Even better if you get a content/vision editor on board first who will rip your darling apart and give you the best damn advice of your career. Life it too short to read badly written fiction much less create it. If you want to be a professional author, please for the love of all things holy, act like one.

WHO INVENTED INSOMNIA – MAY WE BREAK THEIR LEGS

I’m a sleep monster so without it, um, I’m also a monster. A very scary, emotionally psychotic beast of epic proportions. You people who have infants should get Pulitzer Prizes – every single one of you. Anyone with great insomnia tricks, hook me up with your solutions.

WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAPPEN AT ONCE

My life is extremely boring. I like it that way. Right up to the point that I have to something major to do, cue this completely crazy TNEE business . . . so why is it that as soon as I have a big thing coming up does everything else blow up? Is there a rule of odds that I don’t know about?

GRIEF IS A HORRIBLE THING

This post never got finished on Friday because of the post that is about to follow this one. Needless to say, while grief is a part of who we are as human beings, it’s the worst possible emotion anyone can feel. I’m feeling a lot of it today so I’ll finish on this note: enjoy every minute of your life like it’s the last. Love hard and live hard because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks until TNEE

As I was tidying up my desk today, I came across a fortune cookie fortune that must’ve somehow resonated with me in my not too distant past. It reads –

“He who bravely dares must sometimes risk a fall.”

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I’m not, by nature, a risk taker. At all. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m very good at saying “no,” but not so good at saying “yes” when it comes to new experiences. I’m comfortable in my own skin, and at my age, I know who I am and what I want, but at the same time, if approached to try something new, I normally run panicking out of the room, perhaps even leaving the house altogether, diving into the car, and then screeching down the street towards the distant horizon. Yeah, that’s me.

With less than two weeks left before I leave for Atlanta, I’m trying to figure out how I talked myself into not just going to, but also, partaking in a show where I literally know not a single soul. The thought is terrifying . . . and yet I’m conflicted.

There’s a part of my brain that is lonely. Being an author is a lone, introspective form of therapy where it’s just you, a keyboard, and that gray matter between your ears. It can be cathartic, sure, but there are days where you understand why people go into an office and work a 9 to 5 job. It’s because they have to make money, of course, but there’s something about being around other people. Human beings are not solitary animals – we roam in herds/clans/tribes/gangs/gaggles/whatever word you want to insert here. A human being left alone too long doesn’t fare very well. Same with authors. We need hugs, too.

So there’s that. The part about finding my tribe, that age old dilemma of feeling understood and accepted. Atlanta gives me a chance to see if I can connect and thrive. That’d be nice.

There’s also the part about it being hard to be an author without readers. Pretty self-explanatory. Technically, I can be an author without any readers, but honestly, how depressing would it be to write stuff that nobody read? That my friends is a narcissistic wormhole of self-loathing waiting to happen and not something for me. Life is too short to write stories nobody wants to read, but me.

And while I moan and panic and carry on (ask the husbot) maybe it’s not such a bad thing, this putting yourself out there lark, maybe an old, rigid, and anal retentive dog can learn a new trick after all. Got me. Ask me after TNEE.

Author Photos

 

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Author photos are a bit like dating sites profiles: you look too good to be true. No, you don’t run half marathons just for fun, and you definitely didn’t open up that village school for girls in Africa. The closest thing you’ve gotten to philanthropy was giving the homeless guy three bucks in quarters that one time you were stopped at a red light. Exercise is the equivalent of walking to the fridge for left-over pizza because you just can’t seem to get through this one scene in your new draft without a little pick-me-up. That’s the reality. You’re still in your pajamas at 11AM on a weekday wondering what sort of TV you can binge watch as a reward for hitting your 3,500 words for the day.

So when you see us all gussied up and pretty, and this is important, THIN, it’s because someone, somewhere is a photography god, and can make us look 25 instead of 45. They use their magic mumbo jumbo, this thing called a camera, and they make you look absolutely amazeballs. Those people, every single one of them, deserve a god damn award because we’ll be using that photo for the next freakin’ decade. Any author who says differently is a liar. Trust me – go flip open the dusk jacket of any book you have on your shelf. Stephen King hasn’t aged one god damn day since the ’80s. Either he’s done a deal with the devil (which wouldn’t surprise me) or his publicist is pulling that crap out of the archives every time he’s got a new book coming out. It happens.

I’m not pointing fingers because I’m no different. Confession time: my very first head shot was a sideways snapshot of me talking to my mother-in-law in a dark country pub somewhere in the county of Kent in Ye Olde England, on a holiday, to visit family. In 2011.

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So we all do it, myself included, which is why I needed new photos, no matter how much I loathe the whole process.

Enter my sister-in-law, Jodi Hanagan of jodihanaganphotography.com

I’m a big believer that the people who know you best are also the people most likely to capture the true you. That’s not to say that they don’t adjust the lighting or soften the edges, but they do seem to have an uncanny ability to capture the essence of who you are without pulling out all the props and wind machines, and frankly, funky angles that people are willing to contort into to look 5 pounds lighter.

SSAP-JH.jpg-50That’s just not me.

So if I have to have photos done, then I want someone who understands me. That’s why I feel super lucky to have my sister-in-law, Jodi, who is my own photography god (*see above). I’m not good posing in front of a camera. It’s not natural, it’s totally awkward, and I have a tendency to grit my teeth like someone has rammed a pole up my butt. But having my sister take my photo is more like a girls’ slumber party. If I have to listen to someone boss me around and tell me to put on my prettiest smile, it’s much more natural to have someone say it who happens to be related to me. Call it the big sister thing. It works for me.

At the same time, Jodi is a professional photographer and knows exactly what sSSAP-JH.jpg-88he’s doing so there is that. And she’s good at what she does, too. So perhaps I have a bit of an unfair advantage there. I’ll take what I can get.

If you ever have to have photos taken, I’d suggest going down the family tree if you can. Someone somewhere has to be good with a camera. Take them up on their offer to help you, especially if you’re just starting out, or you’re like me and hate photo shoots. They’ll get the job done at a reasonable price, and they’re likely to capture you for who you really are.

Just watch the funny angles and the wind machines.

 

 

Dear Reviewers . . .

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Dear Reviewers,

I must admit that I’m a bit of an idiot. Call it mush brain, lack of sleep, hormones, or just going plain out crazy getting ready for TNEE 2016, but in my frenzy in updating this blog, I inadvertently changed my “Bio” page to an “About” page. That means all those emails I sent to you asking you to review my lovely tomes, yep, in that email is a broken link to my “about me” page.

You may ask why I don’t just change it back? Well, the problem is that the link is correct in about half of those emails so I’m damned if I do, and unfortunately, damned if I don’t. I am literally a horrible cliche right now.

Please don’t hold it against me. It is Monday after all.

Your humble and embarrassed Author Friend