Well, you all know that *I* think of this blog as something like a family, but it’s a truly rare treat when I get to feature actual members of a family here. Especially when they’re funny. That’s why I’m so pleased to welcome author, radio personality, & dog lover Mike Nettleton today. Mike is mystery author Carolyn Rose’s husband. As you’ll see from the below, he has a knack of his own for putting things into words–given enough motivation, of course.
We’ve recently welcomed a new member into our household. Max is a 3-year-old male Maltese. We adopted him from a young woman who felt she couldn’t properly mother him and work a full-time job as a hair stylist. So, the little critter has come to live in the kingdom of Bubba, our 10-year-old Schnorkie (that’s a miniature Schnauzer/Yorkie mix.) Here’s a candid shot of Max, taken shortly after his arrival:
The John Belushi memorial samurai topknot has since been hacked off.
Since Max’s owner told us he suffered from “doggie separation anxiety,” we decided to hire a dog trainer to help deal with it and perhaps instill a little discipline among the canine members of the family. Bubba, of course, thought this idea sucked in a major way and couldn’t understand why she’d been dragged into the whole thing. After all, she’d always been perfectly willing to do anything you asked her to do, as long as it corresponded with what she’d planned on doing anyway and as long as there was a treat or two involved in the process.
The techniques the trainer used are actually kind of simple. Other than at their mealtimes, the dogs get fed only when they successfully execute a series of commands. “Sit, Stay, Down,” and the always popular “Come,” earn them a bit of kibble. The results at first were positive in a negative kind of way. Max answered all commands with his “Look at me I’m dancing on my hind legs,” response and Bubba mostly sulked. Who can blame her? After all, she’d gotten dog biscuits in the past for such complex and taxing maneuvers as “being cute” and “walking across the room.” But, despite some initial resistance, both of the dogs are making progress.
This started me thinking—not always a good thing according to my wife, but always interesting.
My writing career has been marked by long periods of non-productivity and a lifelong tendency toward attention span issues. (“Ooh, bright, shiny lights, must go look.”) If I was a dog, I’d spend my days chasing squirrels. Because of this unfortunate affliction, I own the world’s largest collection of first chapters. (Which I someday plan on publishing in a book I’m calling Beginnings Without End.)
Perhaps, I thought, the response-reward technique would work with me. I love frosted animal crackers and have been known to sit and snarf up an entire bag while avoiding writing. Perhaps Carolyn—who is also my sometimes co-author—could dangle them just out of reach while issuing one word commands.
“Simile,” she could insist, firmly, but lovingly. Like Pavlov’s mongrel I’d drool and follow “as” or “like” with something pungent and evocative. Reward: half an animal cookie.
“Paragraph,” she’d command and I’d dutifully type a cluster of coherent sentences. “Good boy,” she’d pat my head and slip an entire sugary bear or hippo into my mouth.
“Second Chapter,” she could instruct and I’d delve into the themes developed in one of my five hundred first chapters and really get rolling. For that, I think she should let me dip my entire hand into the bag and grab a fistful of goodies.
Like the always-eager Max, I stand ready to give it my best shot. But have no fear. If this technique doesn’t work to generate momentum for my writing, I have a secret weapon to guarantee I’ll at least get a treat.
I, too, can dance on my hind legs.
Mike Nettleton grew up in Bandon and Grants Pass, Oregon. A stint at a college station in Ashland led to a multi-state radio odyssey with on-air gigs in Oregon, California, and New Mexico under the air name Mike Phillips. In 1989 he returned to the Northwest and in 1994 joined KEX Radio in Portland. He’ll retire in December after 42 years in radio. His hobbies are golf, pool, Texas hold-em poker, and book collecting.
Mike and his wife, the writer Carolyn J. Rose, have authored a number of mysteries together. Surf to http://www.deadlyduomysteries.com for more information. You can also view a video of their most recent Devil’s Harbor Mystery, Sometimes A Great Commotion