December 15, 2010

Guest Post: Mike Nettleton

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:47 am

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.

Sometimes A Great Commotion

Mike Nettleton

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 for more information. You can also view a video of their most recent Devil’s Harbor Mystery, Sometimes A Great Commotion


  1. Hi, Mike,

    Is it difficult working with the person you live with?
    I co-authored only one mystery novel, WHERE IS ROBERT?, written with my teenage sons at the time. We actually collaborated well together.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — December 15, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  2. Yes! I could use ongoing treats to keep me focused, too!

    Comment by Sara — December 15, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  3. Jacqueline, that is fascinating. Collaborating with not one but two teenagers? And they’re related to you? I’d love to hear more…care to write a guest post ;) Seriously…

    Here’s a treat, Sara!

    Comment by jenny — December 15, 2010 @ 11:30 am

  4. I’m up this morning, checking out the aftermath of the tornado that ripped through Aumsville, a small town 60 miles or so Southeast of hear. Amazing. We don’t often get that kind of weather here. Unrelenting rain and gray skies without end, sure, but a twister? Also working with the dogs a little bit this morning. Training Max to jump over a bar on command. Which he’ll go along with for a while, until he notices he can just walk under the bar and what’s the big deal anyway?

    Difficulty working with the person you believe in. There was some tension involved in the process. After all, we’re invested in our own creativity and sometimes take offense when the other half of the writing team insists it’s not contributing anything to the forward motion of the story and needs to go live in the clever-but-irrelevant writing scrap heap. But, other than a few extended sulks, the process works well for us.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 15, 2010 @ 11:38 am

  5. Oops, the word believe should be “live.” Although, as freudian slips go, that one probably won’t lose me anyh serious husband points.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 15, 2010 @ 11:39 am

  6. Mike, so glad you’re not in Oz this morning! I was worried about you and Carolyn and my Oregonian friends and family.

    This wouldn’t work for me and my husband at all–and we both do work from home and love being together 24/7. But how could I prioritize *my* work, and ask him to get done and make dinner already, if I couldn’t tell myself that BOOKS are SO much more important than COMPUTERS…?

    Comment by jenny — December 15, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  7. Now I know why I get so chunky, the more I write!! lol. Actually, with a 3-y-o in the house I can only edit at McDonald’s. It’s terrible. :)

    Comment by Savvy — December 15, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

  8. I couldn’twork with my husband. . I think I’m too solitary a creature.

    Comment by Judy — December 15, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  9. Actually, we didn’t work together-together, if you catch my drift. We brainstorm the basic premise of the book, setting, primary characters, and most importantly, what deserving soul has to die. Then one of us takes the lead and hammers out a first draft. This is usually Carolyn, although the exception was Hermit of Humbug Mountain, our YA fantasy novel, where I churned out the initial draft. The other person adds their touches on the hard copies, writing in the margins, crossing out and adding stuff. Then the primary takes them back and reworks the material. There is a certain amount of negotiation, whimpering (by me usually) and wheedling.

    What’s interesting is that going back and looking at the books years after we’ve written them, we have trouble discerning who wrote what.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 15, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  10. Yeah, Mike, it’s interesting – it’s also a measure of how many brain cells are croaking as the years go by.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — December 15, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  11. Thanks to Jenny for asking me today. I’ve enjoyed myself and hope there’s an animial cookie reward in your immediate future. By the way, the tornado that came through Oregon (a rare occurence, honest) did result in some damage to a small Willamette Valley community but no deaths or serious injuries. Of course, being the metaphysical equivalent of a tornado magnet, a mobile home community was struck too. No serious injuries there either.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 16, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  12. Thanks for being here, Mike! Great conversation.

    Glad everyone fared OK in Willamette…

    Comment by jenny — December 16, 2010 @ 9:00 am

  13. Glad you chopped off the hair bob. Not a good look. xo,

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — December 17, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

  14. The way I trick myself into writing 2nd chapters is to delete the last paragraph of the first chapter and paste it into the beginning of the second and keep going. If I were a dog this would be tantamount to dancing on one lege for a bit and then switching to the other…if that doesn’t work, ask a cat lover for some tips ☺.

    Happy holidays!

    Comment by Joyce Yarrow — December 17, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  15. Joyce, welcome to Suspense Your Disbelief! What an excellent tip. I’m just curious though–do you then leave the last para as the first? Does this mean that when you end a chapter, you’re not writing to a certain peak moment that that chapter requires? I love the range of processes there are–from dog treats to bic (the famous butt in chair, courtesy of author Maryann McFadden).

    Comment by jenny — December 17, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

  16. Great tip for Joyce. I’m here at 1190 KEX doing my final At Your Service Saturday show ever. (Retiring at year’s end). When I got my start in radio 42 years ago at “The Bichin’ Kricket 99″ playing Chicken Rock (teeny bopper stuff) who knew I’d end my career in 2010 talking gardening, home repair and car care. Anyone curious as to what I sound like can hear us iin real time at I’ll be Amplitude Modulating 9:06a-2p PST.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 18, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  17. Hi Mike
    I learned about your writing at our 66 reunion at Bud Dow’s place this weekend. You should have been there. Enjoyed your dog story. We’ve had a boston terrier for several years and have written about her on our blog. Dogs and grandkids are fun.

    Comment by ROD WILLETT — July 25, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

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