Category Archives: Creative Writing

Puppy Love- Part IV and Conclusion of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding episode of Little Jack’s backstory. He clearly has enjoyed dictating his story, and I have enjoyed writing it down. I have learned Jack is an amazing little brown dog with a far more interesting and heroic background than i had suspected. He and I hope you have enjoyed his story. Jack has certainly enjoyed his fan mail.

 

Little Jack dictating his story

 

I knew I couldn’t survive much longer on my own. By then I had learned the pitfalls of being a lone dog on the road. Eating whatever I managed to catch had proven too infrequent to sustain myself. Moreover dodging guard llamas and donkeys, avoiding fierce horses, evading cars and trucks, and barely escaping the clutches a mountain lion had taken their toll on my freedom-loving doggie spirit. I was ready to exchange a few biscuits of freedom for a bowlful of security.

The following afternoon I trotted along the country road until it passed through a ranch entrance. There the road became an even smaller byway.

A sign at the ranch entrance

I then traveled up a steep hill. With the climb my paw pads became progressively sorer and my belly increasingly empty. When I lifted my nose from the ground, I saw a white stone house perched high upon the hill. It became a distant visual target that encouraged my flagging hopes. I knew exhaustion would soon overcome me if I couldn’t find rest and food. What did I have to lose by proceeding up the hill to its summit? Might this signal what I had been searching for my whole life?

Shortly after arriving in the front yard of the house, I heard a noisy, old pickup grinding its way up the hill. Fear welled up within me, as I had suffered close calls from such vehicles. I tried to hide, but could find no good place to do so.

Soon out of the truck stepped a clean-shaven man who was quickly followed by two large dark and white dogs. The dogs that later I learned were Border collies sensed my presence almost immediately. When the collies ran my way, I retreated, but the two dogs were bigger and faster than I was. The collies quickly trapped me inside the fenced yard. I turned on them, crouched, growled, and prepared to make my stand. While trying to appear aggressive, I knew my energy level and my physical state were depleted. I doubted I could protect myself for long from these larger well-fed, highly energetic dogs.

This is the pickup that came up the hill. Now I get to ride in it rather than have to walk everywhere

I hunkered down, my teeth bared, expecting a vicious attack at any moment. Then to my surprise the man called off his dogs and they stood down. The man then tried to catch me, but even in my depleted state, I was far too quick for him. You see two-footed, overweight humans move pretty slowly. This was my first time I saw Pickup Man. I didn’t know his intentions, and he frightened me, because by then I was afraid of just about everything and everyone.

Pickup Man with his Border collies and me

The man who by then was out of breath headed for the stone house and left me alone in the yard with his dogs. The Border collies fortunately kept their distance from me. Not long after going into the white house, Pickup Man came back carrying a piece of fried chicken. Oh, it smelled so good. In the face of the luscious smelling meat, my fears simply melted away. My thoughts of evasion collapsed before that tantalizing smell and luscious looking meat. I climbed straight up into his arms to eat the meat. I wolfed down the tasty chicken, as Pickup Man held me and carried me toward the white stone house. He stroked my head as he walked and said soft words.

Once inside the house he called out to his human companion. That’s when I first met Nice Lady. She came into the room and looked surprised at what Pickup Man was carrying. She approached us and gently took me from his arms. She caressed my head, scratched my ears, and said kind, soft words to me. She told Pickup Man how skinny, dirty, and, exhausted I appeared.

Nice Lady standing beside a Hay bale

The rest you might say is doggie history. Nice Lady proceeded to give me a soapy, warm bath in a large bathtub. She fixed a place for me to sleep next to her bed. She fed me regularly and liberally.

Nice Lady even feeds me with me sitting in her lap

Oh, and the food came from cans, a seemingly bottomless giant plastic bin of dry dog food, and even her dinner table. It all smelled and tasted so good to this half-starved dog. It took me several weeks to get used to all that food, as my system wasn’t used to eating much or very often. I eventually became used to eating more frequently and the food proved so much better than the meals I had eaten while on the road.

Here I am all cleaned up but looking pretty skinny

Nice Lady stroked me often and nursed me back to full health. I gained weight and my energy gradually returned. I knew I had found a promising new home with caring humans along with an accepting pack of dogs. And to make matters even better Pickup Man regularly took me for rides around his ranch in the backseat of his pickup. The Border collies he relegated to the bed of his pickup. Riding in a pickup was ever so much easier on my paw pads than walking.

Here I am with Pickup Man inside his truck

Well this is the end of my story prior to coming to live with Pickup Man and Nice Lady. It isn’t heroic like the stories of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, both legends in the canine world. Nor am I as well known, as a dog that lived up the highway in Mason, Texas, a dog whose name was Old Yeller. But it’s my story and I’m proud of it.

My adventures in the big stinky city and my exploits on the road made me, for better or worse, what I am today. For sure I learned resiliency.

I wanted Pickup Man to write down my story to fill in my background for Nice Lady and him. This is the best I can recall.

Later when talking to friends, I overheard Pickup Man and Nice Lady talk about naming me Little Jack Kerouac. They said something about a book written by a man named Jack Kerouac that described his time on the road. Pickup Man and Nice Lady thought there must be similarities between his story and mine. Kerouac had described his experience, as the road is life. Well I also had traveled a road of my life to this new and happier place, and perhaps like Jack Kerouac, I had grown from and been molded by my life experiences.

I am now a wiser dog but also a pampered one

The friends of Pickup Man and Nice Lady all laughed at hearing why my name had been chosen and seemed to enjoy it much like I might enjoy a good steak bone. So that’s how I gained my new name, and I hope it makes better sense to you than it does to me. Humans can act pretty mystifying at times. But I am happy now with my name, Little Jack, and have learned to respond to it.

Now I’ll leave the rest of the story to Pickup Man, that is, if he chooses to write it down. I don’t know if he will, as he spends a lot of time sitting at his desk, clicking away on his keyboard. Sometimes he says he is moving his mouse around and on one occasion even claimed his mouse had died. Sometimes humans say the silliest things, because I know what a mouse is and even caught and ate several while on the road. I don’t know what makes Pickup Man say such crazy things, but I care for him anyway, even if a little daffy.. I think overall he is a good pack leader.

Frankly I’d just as soon Pickup Man get up from behind his computer and take me riding in his pickup, or else go for a walk across our ranch. I wouldn’t even mind if he takes along those herding obsessed Border collies of his. After all they long ago gave up trying to herd me. You see, I ‘m not the biggest dog around, but I carry a big bite.

I have gotten used to the Border collies and to respect their bravery

I’ve actually learned to respect those Border collies for their skill at herding cattle and for their bravery in the face of some really big animals. They aren’t varmint hunters like me, yet I have gained a grudging respect for their remarkable abilities. Admittedly, I have also grown to care for them, look out for them, and enjoy being part of the same pack.

What makes my life even better is knowledge that a full dinner bowl always awaits me at the house. Despite knowing this I still keep my nose to the ground, and seek out armadillos and possums. If I catch an armadillo or possum, I don’t even bother to eat it anymore, as I know better fare awaits me- dirty nose and all- at my white stone home on the hill.

As I write this I am almost nine years old, that is 63 in dog years. Wow, I am getting old. In the process I’ve learned a few things that I wish to share. Chief among my observations is gaining a strong sense of place. While early in life, I wished to explore the entire world, now I know that to be impractical. I now recognize my special place, my correct place in the world, is right here in Live Oak Valley living in a house on a hill.

I can explore the valley, splash in my favorite spring-fed creeks, relish my varmint chases, quietly observe graceful deer without feeling the need to chase them, and most importantly revel in a sense of belonging to one special place. I love my dog/human pack and my pack loves me. As I’ve grown older, being loved and loving others have become more important matters to me. I think perhaps that is what life is all about. This valley, this ranch, these dogs, and these people just feel right to me. It feels like I’m home at last.

I hope you have enjoyed my story

Oh, I learned lessons in the big, smelly city and even while lost on the road. My actions taught me self-reliance, survival skills, and provided me with almost limitless self-confidence. But I’ve proved myself and am now an accomplished, grown up dog. I take life a little easier now. You might say I’ve become semi-retired. At last I’ve discovered my real home and more about what makes this dog bark. Isn’t that an important aspect of anyone’s life?

 

The End

Paws Across Texas- Part III of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the third portion of Little Jack’s Backstory that he has been dictating to me. By the way he loves to hear from those who have enjoyed his story. Please share any of your thoughts with us.

 

Little Jack, also known as Scrapper, dictating his backstory. Note he lays on two pillows- a long way from his days when he was on the road

 

That first night was awfully scary. That is because in the distance I heard the yipping and howling of coyotes. I could not see them, but I knew they were out there. They yapped and howled all night in a most unnerving way. While I had never confronted coyotes before, somehow I knew if they found me, it would not be good. I slept little and restlessly that night with one ear cocked up.

When the sun finally rose over the distant hills, I felt safer. I also felt hungry, as it had been a day since I had last eaten. With my nose to the ground I began to search for something to eat. Despite my concerns over finding food and safety while on my own, I reveled in my freedom and chance to explore new territory. At last the whole world lay before me just as I’d always hoped. It was like the world had become one big dog park.

Later that morning while walking down a stream bed I came across a strange round animal. The animal moved slowly and awkwardly. When I approached it, the animal pulled its head back into its hard shell that covered its body. I pawed at the animal, tempting it to come out. I managed to tip the animal over, but even then the animal did not stick out its head. I tried licking on the strange animal and found it cold, and it didn’t taste very good either. I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to wait out this odd creature. I departed to search for better hunting.

These days I do most of my hunting from the back of a pickup

The following day, I had still not eaten and my hunger had increased. I sensed a hollow feeling in my belly. Later that morning I came upon an animal that had thick scaly plates all over it, but this one moved considerably faster than had the round animal with the shell. This new animal could not retract its head into its shell as had the first one, and it gave me a tremendous chase before I managed to catch it. I bit down on its plated tail, only to have its powerful legs and clawed feet pull away from me.

The animal was almost as big as I was and seemed determined to escape. Eventually I grabbed its pointed head and shook that animal for all I was worth. I think I broke its neck, as while shaking it, I heard a snap like that of a breaking twig.

Desperate from hunger, I believed this animal could serve as a meal. After shaking the life from the armadillo, I began to tear at it with my teeth and claws until I penetrated its covering on its underside. It wasn’t the best of meals, yet the meat was warm and filled my empty belly. With improving hunting abilities and finding these animals plentiful, armadillos kept me mostly fed for the time I was on the road.

My excellent sense of smell helped me greatly and led me to many meals. I also learned on really hot days the rotting carcasses had extra vibrancy and could be more easily located. I learned this especially by finding dead animals along a roadside. While off putting, the strong smell simply had to be overlooked in order to serve as a meal.

Many days later while watching a ranch house from a safe distance, I saw a panel truck rumble up to front door of the house. The truck stopped in the driveway, and the driver climbed back into the back and pulled out a package. He then got out the back door of the truck, placed the package under his arm, and proceeded to take it to the door where he left it. Remembering how much I loved to ride, I impulsively ran to the truck and jumped through the open back door. Sometimes I just do things on the spur without thinking much about it.

The panel truck looked something like this one.

Once in the truck I looked about and quickly learned that the truck had no windows from which to see the passing scenery. I was disappointed. But it proved too late for me to jump out, as just then the truck’s back door slammed shut.

For the next several hours I mostly hid behind packages while the truck made multiple additional stops. At each stop the driver would remove one or more packages and deliver them to various houses.
Since then I’ve been asked if the truck was brown or if it had orange markings. I do not know because, you know, I am not very good at seeing colors. I can tell you though that the truck had a noisy ride and smelled of cardboard and paper.

I eventually felt the need to relieve myself. As I was closed up in the truck, I could not get out to find a proper pee target. To make matters worse, we traveled over bumpy country roads that worsened my sense of urgency. Eventually I couldn’t hold it any longer and hoisted a leg on a nearby box. Relief at last! I felt so much better.

That basic need addressed, I found myself again becoming hungry, which had remained my typical state ever since going on the road. While the driver of the truck was out delivering a package, I crept up next to his seat and pulled a food sack back among the packages and into my hiding place.
There I shared his sandwich, just like I had done in the big city with the sweet, flower scented girls. After finishing my fair portion of the sandwich and during one of the frequent stops, I returned the remaining food to its original place in an admittedly torn sack. I didn’t think the driver would mind or perhaps even notice. Well people, I was wrong!

When the driver stopped in a pull off area to eat his lunch, little did I expect his reaction? When he retrieved his lunch sack, he did not act at all as had the sweet smelling, young ladies in the big city. Not at all and, in fact, yelled out, opened the door to the back of the truck, and came back to where I was hiding. I saw his eyes cut to where I’d pee-d on one of the packages. I guess that too was a no-no, as he became even more excited. The driver began moving boxes around until he revealed me in my hiding place. I cowered back as far as I could. While he looked like a nice, clean-cut sort of young man, I learned that day that looks could be deceiving.

The next thing I knew, I was on the side of a busy highway. He had thrown me out the back of the truck. I licked my sore spots and thought how ungrateful the driver was. A real spoiled sport, I thought, because if the situation had been reversed, I would have gladly shared my armadillo with him. Ever since I have hated those panel trucks and will bark furiously whenever I see one. Panel trucks are bad news!

I began to trot alongside the highway. Some really large trucks screamed by with noisy wheels and huffy brakes. These trucks scared me and when I heard them coming, I would retreat into the weeds and trees alongside the highway. There I felt a little safer. I would hide until they passed.

I don’t have to sleep in the wild any longer but sometimes I have to share my bed with another dog

Also to my surprise by the highway, I found old deer bones. I’ve always had powerful jaw muscles and was able to crack the bones and eat them, marrow and all. Occasionally I came across a freshly killed animal hit by a passing car. The deer meat, if it hadn’t already gone bad, was especially yummy. I was able to fill my belly in this way, although the quality of the deer carcasses proved variable. Nevertheless, my road-kill finds provided me with periodic meals and kept me going. I was, however, losing weight. I noticed my ribs had begun to protrude, and I stayed hungry most of the time. My energy also had begun to diminish. My paw pads had become sore and required my licking them thoroughly every evening before falling asleep.

I also once had a close call when dragging a dead possum off the road. I misjudged the speed of the approaching car and barely escaped becoming road-kill myself. I recall the blaring of the car’s horn and the screeching of its tires. The car just grazed me but left me with a sore hip and the bad smell of burning rubber in my nose. More than hurt, I was scared. I had come so close to being killed on the highway.

At my first opportunity I crossed the highway and headed down a shady, less traveled country road. I put increasing distance between the highway and me. On each side of the lane, I found ranches with a stream crossing under a bridge on the road. The cool water was so good. On one side of the road was a long stacked rock wall. I saw several horses peeking their big heads over the wall. They looked none too friendly to this hungry dog, and I determined their pasture wasn’t good to wander through.
While road-kill proved scarce along the country lane, the woods along the creek had live animals including squirrels, possums, mice, and armadillos. I couldn’t be sure of making a kill every day, but my hunting proved successful enough to sustain me.

One night the temperature dropped very low. When I had left my people from the big stinky city, the leaves had begun to fall from the trees. After having been on the road for a long time the nights became very cold and ice formed in the creeks.

It was during this cold time when one night I heard a loud screaming sound, a sound I had never before heard. The eerie sound caused me to lift my nose from under my tail where I had placed it to keep it warm. The frightening noise repeated many times, and I could tell it was coming closer and closer toward me. I jumped up onto a dark, rocky ledge. I drew back until my tail touched a wall. I crouched low. I lay very still on the cold rocks. I was downwind of the approaching animal. The scent in my nose was like nothing I had ever smelled.

That Mountain Lion looked like this

Again I heard an even louder cry. Just then out of the shadows came the biggest cat I’d ever seen. It padded by not more than fifty feet away. The large animal was slender and had a small head. Its color was a light tone and it had a very long tail. Its eyes looked menacing and unblinking. I felt my heart race and I began to shiver in fright. Slowly, ever so slowly the cat silently moved my way.

My thoughts briefly flashed back to earlier in the day when I had found a huge store of deer bones in a nearby cedar thicket. Only after spotting the mountain lion did I comprehend what had created that bone yard. I understood the risk that now stood on four paws mere feet away from me. I remained very quiet, nearly frozen in terror. I prepared to fight as best I could should the giant cat detect my scent and attack. Oh I hope that mountain lion isn’t mad at me for discovering its haunt and for having taking some of its store of bones!

The mountain lion gave me the impression that it might slink off when suddenly it stopped, turned around, and stared vacantly with bright eyes in my direction. I saw its whiskers twitch. It must have sensed something but couldn’t identify where or exactly what was out there. I barely breathed and suppressed my desire to pant or to run. The giant cat took several steps toward me, but stopped, as if considering what next to do. I could tell the mountain lion was four or five times my size, and I instinctively knew that I could not outrun it and certainly couldn’t out climb it.

I searched my experience for a way to escape that scary predicament. What could I do? What could I do? Then it came to me– the bluff that Tex and I had played on the puppies. It was a real long shot, but I could think of nothing better. What choice did I have? Suddenly I drew myself up, pushed out my chest, and flung myself off the ledge. During my descent, I let out a fearsome howl and on hitting the ground, charged directly at the mountain lion. In the process I made as much noise as possible by knocking down small bushes and breaking sticks. The cat startled, shrank back, and then turned away. To my relief, it sprinted off into the woods.

As soon as the giant cat turned, I pivoted and raced away in exactly the opposite direction. I ran as fast as I could. My heart pounded, and I didn’t stop shivering from fright for several minutes. I had successfully bluffed that giant mountain lion. What luck. But it had been a very close call, far too close for my satisfaction.

I continued to run through the woods and didn’t stop until completely out of breath. About then I came across a flock of goats and sheep. I was tiring of being a lone dog and believed it would be safer to join up with those sheep and goats. After all, they were numerous and safety existed in numbers.

Just as I began to circle prior to plopping down, I saw an angry donkey heading my way, braying loudly. The donkey clearly was unhappy about something, as it had its head down and charged in my direction. When it turned around in front of me and just before it began kicking, I took my leave. But my terror due to almost having been kicked by an angry donkey had not ended, as I quickly encountered an even larger animal. It was light colored and had thick, shaggy fur, a long neck and later I learned it was a llama. The llama pursued me. I zigged and zagged in my attempt to avoid that strong-minded and persistent llama.

I mean that donkey looked mean

I tried running under trees beneath which it could not go. I wasn’t but about fifty yards from a barbed wire fence through which I was able to slip. The fence acted as a barrier and halted the mad llama. The shaggy beast stood at the fence looking really bossy and spitting at me. I then moved on down the country road.

Having barely reached safety, I trotted along the roadway and avoided pastures. I remember wondering why donkeys and llamas were so protective of goats and sheep and how ill mannered they had been. After all I wasn’t there to eat one of their precious charges, only herd up with them.

Not long after I found an even smaller road, heading off to the left. I took it because it put still greater distance between me and the mountain lion, donkey, and llama. After a while, I felt reasonably safe from those scary and cranky animals, at least safe enough to stop and rest. Indeed, I felt exhausted, emotionally shaken, and very sleepy.

Nearby was a dry creek bed where I curled up. Never before had I felt such total exhaustion. I covered my nose with my tail and rapidly fell asleep. I had a cold night’s sleep in that uncomfortable, rocky creek bottom. When I awoke I thought back to my previous warm beds in the big stinky city and the cozy dog box of my puppyhood. My life in the wild had evolved from a carefree adventure to what had become a journey increasingly packed with great risk and discomfort.

 

To Be Continued

Jack’s Tail of Two Cities- Part II of Jack’s Story

Editor’s note: This is the second part of Little Jack’s dictated story. I hope you enjoy it. Also Jack asked me to thank his fans for their emails and words of encouragement.  When he said this, his tail was wagging broadly and he sported a giant canine grin.

Little Jack, also known as Scrapper, dictating his backstory. Note he lays on two pillows- a long way from his days when on the road

 

It wasn’t long after Eddie’s departure for college that I overheard his parents talking about a trip to visit one of her littermates. Actually I may not have understood the whole event at the time but filled in details later. I know that I understood “go” and “car”- two words quite sufficient to excite me. At that time I was still learning to understand more complicated human speech.

I sat licking my paws just to have something to do when the important conversation between Eddie’s parents occurred. Initially I had a glimmer of understanding but that soon grew into a full-fledged idea, much like when chewing on a bone in the dark and becoming surprised to discover residual meat on the bone.

You see, I vaguely remembered from where I had come and held a strong desire to visit there again. Haven’t you had this feeling? My birthplace may not have been perfect, yet I recalled it as nearly so. Eddie’s parents became more purposeful that week and began to pack their suitcases. I became increasingly excited over the prospect of going on a car trip.

I displayed my excitement by repeatedly scratching to go in and out the backdoor of our house, a behavior that seemed to irritate Eddie’s parents. Wasn’t that what back doors were for? I must admit that I become frustrated by how slowly humans move. After all, once I had my collar on, I was packed and ready to depart!

One morning my sluggish human companions finally began loading their suitcases into the car, grabbed up my sack of dry dog food and bowls, and climbed into the car that made the droning sound. I didn’t have to be called, as I had already bounded onto the backseat of the car. No way would I be left behind.

No way are you leaving me behind. Note tags that jangle.

We headed out of that busy, smelly city and drove into the countryside. We drove for a long time. Eventually the flat plain fell behind us, and the land turned hilly with gurgling creeks and streams. I kept my nose pressed against the window, panting the whole time. By the end of the trip I had nose prints covering that side window.

The number of cars and trucks on the road gradually grew less. The air became fresher and more fragrant. I smelled flowery smells, the earthy smells of cattle, and the sweet fragrance of freshly turned soil. Those smells I recognized and they pleased me and made my tail wag. This all had an uncanny familiarity for me. These scents not only were familiar, but they also tantalized my nose and made it twitch.

We eventually arrived at a cattle ranch just west of Fredericksburg. The trip seemed to take a long time, perhaps because I was much too excited to sleep. I rode in the backseat with my tail striking the back of the front seat. I think my thumping tail on the back of the seat and the jangling sound of my tags from scratching had aggravated the man, as during one of the car stops he removed my collar. It just didn’t take much to irritate him. For me I like the sound of jangling tags, except of course when I am stalking a squirrel.

Ahead of the car appeared a beautiful, bright sunset, as if beckoning me home. I panted with excitement. I could barely contain my excitement. I felt at one with this countryside; a completely different feeling than for the big city.

Soon I’d be free to run around in a big yard and go free without that wretched leash. I was one happy, excited dog, although I knew a visit did not mean forever, and it would end far too soon.

Admittedly, once back in the country, I gave thought to running away from the ranch. I feel guilty for even admitting this. I had several opportunities when I could have easily slipped under the barbed wire fence and have taken off to explore surrounding ranches. Nevertheless, leaving my food bowl and more importantly, deserting my humans kept me from doing so.

Hadn’t Eddie asked me to look after his parents? And what about chasing off those pesky squirrels in the yard? Those taunting squirrels might just overrun the place without me!

Ultimately the day of our planned departure for the big, stinky city arrived. At the time I rested under a tree next to a stream not far from the house. From there I watched Eddie’s parents straining to carry out their suitcases. I heard Eddie’s Dad call out for me in his deep voice.

“Scrapper, Scrapper, time to pack up the car and go! Come on Scrapper.”

I considered turning my back on him and heading off in another direction. I felt a tug between my feeling of oneness with this country that felt so right and my loyalty to my family from the big, smelly city. They weren’t much of a family, mind you, but loyalty is loyalty, and I am a very loyal dog.

“Hurry up Scrapper. It’s time to leave. Load up now!”
Both Eddie’s parents were calling. Their pitched voices sounded sorrowful, as they repeatedly summoned me. As if my own will had been stolen from me, I stood up, arched my back, stretched, and trotted back toward the yard. Once there I feigned a happy side-to-side tail waggle and jumped through the open back door into the car. Eddie’s father smiled.

I can’t fully explain how I felt about this situation except to say, I was hesitant to leave. Still I was loyal, and they were my human companions. Eddie’s father stuck his head in through the backdoor and removed my collar and tags for the trip. I settled in, awaiting the final packing of the car, expecting to hear the trunk slam shut at any moment.

It was then that something entirely unexpected occurred, something so thrilling, so galling that it would change the course of my young life. I saw a black, four-footed animal with what looked like a black mask, scurrying across the lawn. It had dark, evil appearing eyes and an alternating black and white striped tail. I caught a whiff of it and the animal cast off a different scent from any animal I had ever smelled. I had never experienced a raccoon before, but I was pretty sure it held evil, vile intentions and required my dealing with it. I needed to defend the house and my people from this disreputable predator. I raised myself up and launched myself out the open door. I took off at full speed, racing after the intruder.

The evil raccoon

The raccoon saw me coming, turned tail and lit out. It ran under the fence and scurried into a nearby woods. I dove through the fence, raking myself on the barbed wire in the process. One must sacrifice when pursuing bad animals. I could run faster than could the raccoon and rapidly closed the distance between us. What I didn’t realize was how good the masked one would be at hiding. He had a regular disappearing act. Several times I overran that sneaky raccoon, as it hid behind trees and expertly concealed itself in low spots. I had to place my nose to the ground several times and retrace my path in order to pick up its distinctive, musky scent. Having found its trail, I followed it. Repeatedly I jumped the raccoon, and each time it raced off with me in close pursuit.

The sneaky raccoon

What I failed to recognize at that time was how my pursuit was leading me farther and farther away from my city family and the car that made the droning sound. During the frantic chase, I seemed to lose all track of time. Oh what fun I was having!

After considerable time had passed, I looked up, surveyed the area for familiar surroundings, and failed to recognize where I was. I began to make a large circle, surveying the area. Nothing at all looked familiar. I was lost. I felt confused and for the first time in my life, I was entirely alone. Let me tell you that’s a pretty scary experience for a small, young dog.

I spent the rest of the day, searching around for familiar landmarks and my people. But by then I had lost all sense of direction. I cocked my ears up and heard no telltale sounds. Time passed. Finally the sun began to set behind some distant hills. The air temperature dropped. Fortunately my fur coat keeps me warm unless the temperature gets really low. Tired by this time, I lay down in an earthen crevice beside a stream and began to assess my situation. I licked my wounds where I had earlier scraped myself bolting through the barbed wire fence. I considered my options. It didn’t take me long to realize my circumstances were not good, not good at all.

To Be Continued

Suggestions for New Writers- A Twelve Step Program

The Fredericksburg Writers Group recently asked me to speak on publishing my book, Carrying The Black Bag, and to provide thoughts for new writers trying to become authors. I was pleased to do so and thought I might share these same thoughts to my readers.Carrying the Black Bag book

My book took me five years to write (on and off) and confronted many difficulties and rejections. Some suggestions on dealing with this process are as follows:

1. BE passionate about your story. In my case, my stories demanded to be told. I felt my patients  entrusted me with their stories, and I was brimming to share my patients’ humanity and courage.

2. LEARN to write for a popular audience. This may seem simplistic but it is not. I found it challenging to break away from scientific and medical writing. Texas Tech University in Fredericksburg offered popular writing courses that proved  very helpful. I developed the courage to begin using similes, metaphors, alliteration etc., something as rare in medical writings as finding the Lochness monster.

3. REWRITE, Rewrite, and Rewrite some more. I had at least a dozen edits that I thought were wonderful, until I reread them. Your finished product (or at least what you think is your finished product!) must be your best to stand a chance of being published.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

This young reader gave me a great morale boost when I saw this picture of her reading my book between surgical cases

4. JOIN a critique group. Critiquing others and having them critique your work are extremely helpful for improving your writing. It may seem a little threatening, but you’ll get over it. Once trust has been established you will end up sharing what you may never have shared with your spouse or even with your dog.

5. IDENTIFY beta readers for your best version. These are a few folks well versed in literature and grammar and can provide a good editorial review.

6. FIND an agent. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by going to Literary Conferences. Many conferences have agents and publishers present and interested in the subject material of the conference.  It’s a great way to practice your pitch, gain feedback, and make helpful contacts.
In my case I landed two prospective agents at a medical writer’s conference. I selected Don Fehr at Trident Literary Group in New York City. It is the largest such group in the U.S.A. and has substantial expertise and reach.

7. From my agent I learned that for nonfiction, publishers did not buy books, they bought book proposals! This was news to me.
Many books exist on how to write a book proposal. My agent stressed the proposal be at least 65 pages long and be extremely well written. This was quite a task.

8. The agent then sends the proposal (in the case of a nonfiction work) or the entire fiction manuscript  to a number of potential publishers. Then you wait, wait, and wait some more for the reviewers to respond. Ugh!

9. Once a publisher says it is interested, the publishing house (in my case Texas Tech University Press) will assign an editor. I can only hope you find someone as good as Joanna Conrad at TTUP. She was delightful and made the book better.
Following the review process by your press (mine being an academic institution, the manuscript had to be approved by, of course, various committees!) The next step is copy editing. I had a contract copy editor who proved extremely helpful. It’s humbling to learn that errors still exist in your much pored over manuscript.
Expect your publishing house to change your title. It’s inevitable. Also it will assign an artist to develop the cover, but hopefully it should ask you for your opinion. Also you will be asked to supply the “information about the author” and various blurbs for your book.
The whole process of publishing may take one to three years before your book reaches the bookshelves. This considerable delay is a frequent surprise for most new authors.

10. HIRE a publicist. Unfortunately even the largest publishing houses these days have limited marketing budgets. While this seems strange given that marketing sells books, but it is a truism. Authors are being asked to do more and more to market their books. As an aside, my barber even keeps a supply of my books in her shop. Customers ask about them and she has sold a number of my books. Be Creative!
Actually I have enjoyed marketing my book. It has been a heck of a lot easier than writing it. I began by forming a “street team” of people that liked my writing. These wonderful folks became “Tom’s Wranglers” and were invaluable in spreading the word, writing initial reviews, identifying book events where I might present, and providing much needed encouragement.

Two of my Wranglers- Betty and Cecil Selness

Madeline Douglas and La Nelle Etheridge, two more of my wonderful Wranglers

Now back to publicists– these are invaluable. A cost is involved but you really didn’t think you were going to get rich on your book, did you? The publicist can arrange for reviews of the book and may put your book up for awards.

11. Speaking of awards, nothing builds the confidence of a struggling writer as much as public recognition. In my case I won a third prize early on in a writing contest.  Woo Hoo! This provided a surprising amount of confidence.
I next won The Creative Expression Award from the American Academy of Neurology. Now this award, given by my peers, made me feel like a real author. You likely too have some outlet through your vocation to provide an outlet for your work and an possible award. It is worth a try.

In my case the agent and I went through some thirty publishers before finding one that wished to take on the task of putting my book into print without having to do a major rewrite. Authors best have thick skins as this process can be painful. There is simply no way to sugarcoat this– rejection hurts.

12. Once published my book won an award for best debut author and became a finalist for the Montaigne medal. These awards proved reassuring for me as a writer. How much they contribute to sales is highly questionable, but undeniably recognition provides a stimulus for the author to keep writing. Again, these awards were the result of the knowledge and expertise of my publicist, Maryglenn McCombs.

 

So there you have it. Becoming an author is arduous. It is nine tenths perseverance. One author I heard speak recently said success publishing depended on three things: 1) talent, 2) determination, and 3) luck. I agree that a degree of talent, a lot of perseverance, and finally a little luck are all needed to move from being a writer to becoming a published author. I wish all of you good luck in this process.

International Praise for Carrying The Black Bag

I am immensely gratified to have received an international award for my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales. In an act of shameless but necessary self-promotion, I share the good news with you. Hope y’all will help to spread the word!

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryglenn McCombs (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

TEXAS NEUROLOGIST WINS PRESTIGIOUS INTERNATIONAL AWARD
Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag, Among Honorees, Finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award

LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas doctor Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales has been named among the winners in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

A prestigious international award that honors the memory of American philosopher Eric Hoffer, The Eric Hoffer Book Award has become one of the largest and most sought-after awards for small, academic and independently-published titles. Presented annually, the Eric Hoffer Book Award was designed to highlight salient writing and celebrate the spirit of independent presses. This year’s award program yielded over 1300 book entries.

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, a memoir of Hutton’s career in medicine, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Health category. Moreover, Carrying the Black Bag was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award’s Montaigne Medal, which celebrates those books deemed the most thought-provoking.

During his thirty-plus years of practicing in West Texas and Minnesota, physician and neurologist Tom Hutton discovered that a doctor’s best teachers are often his patients. From these (extra)ordinary individuals, Hutton gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit. Hutton’s patients—and the valuable lessons they taught—served as the inspiration for Carrying the Black Bag. Part memoir and part tribute to the patients who faced major illness with grace, grit, and dignity, Carrying the Black Bag invites readers to experience what it is like to be a doctor’s hands, eyes, and heart. Imagine the joy of witnessing a critically ill five-year-old who, against all odds, claws her way back from a coma and near certain death. Meet a lonely Texas widower with Parkinson’s disease who hosts elaborate pinochle parties for a pack of imaginary canines. Step into the surgical booties of the author when he attempts to deliver his own child amid heart-stopping obstetrical complications—during a paralyzing Minnesota blizzard. Through real-life patient narratives, Hutton shines light on ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. Moreover, this captivating tale captures the drama of medicine—its mystery, pathos, heroism, sacrifice, and humor.

Tom Hutton, M. D., is an internationally-recognized clinical and research neurologist and educator. The past president of the Texas Neurological Society, Dr. Hutton served as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Medical and Surgical Neurology at the Texas Tech School of Medicine. He now lives on his cattle ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas. Visit Tom Hutton online at: https://jthomashutton.wordpress.com/

Published by Texas Tech University Press, Carrying the Black Bag is available in hardcover edition (6 x 9, 257 pages; photographs; ISBN: 978-0-89672-954-4) Carrying the Black Bag was also awarded the Bronze Medal in the “Best Debut Author” category of the Feathered Quill Book Awards.

For additional information on the Eric Hoffer Book Award, visit: http://www.hofferaward.com/

Members of the news media wishing to request additional information about Tom Hutton, M.D. or Carrying the Black Bag are kindly asked to contact Maryglenn McCombs by phone: (615) 297-9875 or email: maryglenn@maryglenn.com
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Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

Best New Debut Author for 2017

Recently received the very good news that my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, won a national book award for 2017 from The Feathered Quill. This is a really big deal!

Will you please share this good news? The marketing/publicity from a regional publisher is limited and your help in networking my book would be much appreciated. Below is the news release for this award.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:                Maryglenn McCombs (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

 

TEXAS DOCTOR WINS NATIONAL AWARD FOR MEMOIR:

Carrying the Black Bag by Tom Hutton, M.D. among honorees in literary awards competition

 

LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas doctor Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales has been named among the winners in the Feathered Quill Literary Awards.

 

Sponsored by Feathered Quill, a leading web-based book review, the Feathered Quill Literary Awards is a national awards program that celebrates excellence in publishing. Recognizing books from both large and independent presses, the Feathered Quill Literary Awards honors the best books in numerous categories.

 

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, a memoir of Hutton’s career in medicine, was awarded the Bronze medal in the “Best Debut Author” category. Published by Texas Tech University Press, Carrying the Black Bag is available in hardcover edition (6 x 9, 257 pages; photographs; ISBN: 978-0-89672-954-4)

 

According to Ellen Feld, Editor at Feathered Quill “We were overwhelmed by both the number and extraordinary quality of entries for this year’s awards program. In particular, The Best Debut Author category was filled with worthy entries: consequently, it was difficult for our judges to pick among the many excellent contenders. Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag was a real standout: compelling, well-written, and an incredibly beautiful and hopeful testament to the human spirit. It is our great honor to recognize Dr. Hutton among this year’s Best Debut Authors. We can only hope he has more books in the works.”

 

During his thirty-plus years of practicing in West Texas and Minnesota, physician and neurologist Tom Hutton discovered that a doctor’s best teachers are often his patients. From these (extra)ordinary individuals, Hutton gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit. Hutton’s patients—and the valuable lessons they taught—served as the inspiration for Carrying the Black Bag. Part memoir and part tribute to the patients who faced major illness with grace, grit, and dignity, Carrying the Black Bag invites readers to experience what it is like to be a doctor’s hands, eyes, and heart. Imagine the joy of witnessing a critically ill five-year-old who, against all odds, claws her way back from a coma and near certain death. Meet a lonely Texas widower with Parkinson’s disease who hosts elaborate pinochle parties for a pack of imaginary canines. Step into the surgical booties of the author when he attempts to deliver his own child amid heart-stopping obstetrical complications—during a paralyzing Minnesota blizzard. Through real-life patient narratives, Hutton shines light on ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. Moreover, this captivating tale captures the drama of medicine—its mystery, pathos, heroism, sacrifice, and humor.

 

Tom Hutton, M. D., is an internationally-recognized clinical and research neurologist and educator. The past president of the Texas Neurological Society, Dr. Hutton served as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Medical and Surgical Neurology at the Texas Tech School of Medicine. He now lives on his cattle ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas. Visit Tom Hutton online at: https://jthomashutton.wordpress.com/

 

Members of the news media wishing to request additional information about Tom Hutton, M.D. or Carrying the Black Bag are kindly asked to contact Maryglenn McCombs by phone: (615) 297-9875 or email: maryglenn@maryglenn.com

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Appearance on Alternative Talk Radio

What fun I had as a guest on KKNW 1150 AM, alternative talk radio for the hour long program “Sunny In Seattle“. Sunny Joy McMillan hosts this wonderful program and asked insightful and probing questions about my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales.  We also had well-informed callers who  provided thoughtful observations and questions.

Any opportunity to discuss my book and writing method is always welcome, but particularly when it is carried out with the joy and intelligence shown by Sunny. Below is a MP3 link to the interview on “Sunny in Seattle” should you wish to listen to the full program

I wish everyone a marvelous Thanksgiving. It is good to stop and ponder that which we are grateful among which I am grateful for you, the readers of my blog.