Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dogs aren't children's predecessors . . . They're the replacements!

In most U.S. cities, the surest sign that a young married couple is harboring intentions to conceive is the sudden introduction of a pup among the humans, a new little furry member of the family. For about a year (with small dogs, which lose their puppyhoods in about that time) or two (with larger dogs, such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback), married couples learning the ropes at parenthood dote and fawn on their new babies. From expensive toys and bedding to all-day sitters and once-a-week doggy-daycares, proud parents of canine kids are unconsciously mimicking the next mutation on tap for their relationships--that of human parenthood.

Okay, so being a young married woman who's seen countless peers jump off this bridge--in droves, mind you--this is, indeed, anecdotal evidence, it's true.

But, all this to show why, being out here in San Francisco, something caught my eye: The dogs around here are trained! And not ostentatiously well-trained or well-bred, as you might see at a dog show, though there were a few of both... but casually trained. As if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Up on Nob Hill, enjoying a surprisingly crisp, sunny day in June at Huntington Park across from Grace Cathedral (the Notre Dame lookalike). And marveling at the swarms of dogs. Groomed, beautiful, charming animals, which--leash or no--sit proudly by their owners, or trot along beside them, or play fetch without getting distracted or running off, or sniff inquisitively in what can only be a predefined radius. No fear of the rapidly chugging traffic below.

And it's because in San Francisco, of the 855K residents, nearly 110K are dogs, reared and raised as meticulously as you'd raise a kid--more so even. And the stats--after a bit of Googling--also reveal that this city has the lowest child to adult ratio in the U.S. (Thanks to National Geographic for that.)

So, in effect, San Franciscans skip the new-furry-member step, and go straight to offspring. That happen to be four-legged and furry-tailed, of course.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Transaction Phenomenon

    The other day, one of my dear readers called me frantically to say that the first prologue I'd written perhaps a week ago and at his direction was much better than the revised one I'd just sent him and why why why did I make those changes?

    After discussing it for a while, we moved on to the bulk of the book--the reason he'd been reading the revised prologue: I'd gotten stumped. Overwhelmed. Paralyzed.

    (It happens that a plotted book is like woven fabric and that if you begin pulling out threads, or changing the positions of strands, or dis- or re-coloring them, the rest of the woven thing must change to accommodate. And the more you pull—say, in Chapter 1, two strands; in Chapter 2, three, etc.—the more tangle and unmanageable the thing becomes as you go deeper.

    Thus, I'd gotten stumped and so begged him to read a half-finished, ugly book.)

    In any case, one interesting result of note:

    A character we both loved dearly changed over the course of the rewrite due to the single word, sniffed. In the early draft, this word had been paired with the adverb derisively, but in the later draft, I had deleted that word out of loathing for that part of speech. The problem was that Abigail Hunter sniffed often. And she used to sniff derisively often. Now, though, without that word, she was simply sniffing, had lost all her round haughtiness and had become a silly, thirteen-year-old girl, sniffing whenever she was teased. She was a horrible character!

    All because I'd deleted a word. Abigail hadn't changed a bit, other than that word. But the transactional experience for my reader had changed. He hadn't gotten the association between the sniff and her characterization, and so had no access to her. He wasn't very happy about it, either.

    And so I put it back, that useless part of speech.

    Abigail sniffed derisively.