Writing Promptly

 NaNoWriMo starts November 1. To encourage writers to start thinking about their upcoming writing odyssey they ran a month-long Instagram challenge featuring daily prompts. Writers were encouraged to post ideas for cover art, describe what their main character had in their pockets, and choose their main character’s theme song, among other ideas. The Career Authors blog posts a writing prompt every Sunday. Last week’s was about replacing unnecessary dialogue with a gesture or action that conveyed the same message.
I don’t use writing prompts to help me with my work in progress. But sometimes I’ll use a random writing prompt as a creative warmup, a way to get the ideas, and the words, flowing if I’m in a dry spell. Sometimes, like with the NaNoWriMo Instachallenge, I’ll join in for fun. I asked my fellow Missdemeanors their opinions about writing prompts.

I use a lot of writing exercises in my teaching. So often when my students are working on them, I work on them, and it’s very helpful. But mainly I love filling out character dossiers. I love those little details that crop up about characters and find I have to go hunting for them and the dossiers really help. The other day I was filling out one and remembered how my aunt could only sleep on white sheets. Colorful or, God forbid patterned, sheets made her nervous. It’s a small and insane detail, but I used it for a character and I really liked it.

I learned the value of writing prompts in high school and was reminded of them during the first Algonkian craft workshop I took a few years ago. These days, I don’t sit down and go through exercises unrelated to my WIPs but I do think about them when I see them, like the prompts on Career Authors. It flexes the writer part of my brain the same way lifting weights flexes muscles. In early drafts I give myself prompts to add depth and texture to setting, or address the “why” of a character. What time of year is it – describe it without using the words “spring,” “summer,” “fall, or “winter.” What does my protagonist hear when they walk out their front door? What did my MC want to be when they grew up and what derailed them? Who

I don’t use writing prompts. Stories tend to come to me more fully formed from some conversation between my subconscious and conscious mind. Right now, I feel like the news is a giant writing trigger.

Amen to that, Cate. I’m quite certain my first, second, and third books are informed by the political Zeitgeist (not a word that often seems appropriate, but it does now). When I struggle, I pick up a thread that works and keep going. Almost always, something points me in the right direction. That “ah ha” usually comes during dialogue when I let my characters just talk. They usually tell me something I was missing.
Having said, I’m currently working on a New York story, and I find myself having to trust the process of letting my characters guide me…and, I admit, it’s not easy for me. With the Abish Taylor mysteries, I have an overarching theme that guides each book. Here, I know the beginning and the end, but the theme isn’t so clear to me yet.

When I hear “writing prompt” I used to think it’s time to sit down and write based on this lesson. Maybe that’s old school! When I’m in a project, my new way of thinking of a writing prompt helps me over difficult humps. If I can’t get the scene right and am spinning wheels, then perhaps it’s time to Stop. But not stop working. Instead, I can pick an angle (aka choosing one of the writing prompts) and do it that way. Change the location, or the POV, or perhaps start at a different moment. This is a writing prompt to solve a very specific problem. Sometimes I then see both the good and bad in the original.
That said, I’m still not one to use a writing prompt out of the blue. I’m always working toward a larger goal (even if the goal is a “short” story). I may see a writing prompt and think great idea…. and then use it when I’m at a specific stumbling block. A writing prompt is also a writing tip. Or maybe I should say lesson. 

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Oh, to be a Unicorn

 I’m sharing  Kellye Garrett’s Facebook post as my guest post today. Hop over to her Facebook page (or  Missdemeanors’ Facebook page) to join the discussion. Graphic design by Leslie Lipps. She’s awesome. “Alexia had this made. My original plan was to post it with one of my trademark smart aleck comments like “my crew is more talented than yours.” But then I took another look at this ad and realized what it represents:

Seven extremely talented black women who love mystery novels enough to say “I’m going to write one and do everything I can to get it published in an industry that often refuses to acknowledge my existence besides being a victim or a sassy best friend.”

And somehow, some way, there is a little black girl out there right now who is going to see this and it’s going to make her write a book.

#blackgirlmagic for real.

I love my fellow unicorns.

P.S. My crew is more talented than yours.”   https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10156064468627945&id=546517944 

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Queen of the Last Minute

 I’m a procrastinator. Always have been. I never do today what I can put off for at least a week. I’m the kid who wrote the book report the night before it was due, the college student who pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam at eight the next morning, the woman who leaves the house five minutes before she’s supposed to be at church and slides into the pew as the opening notes of the processional hymn ring out. My motto could be, “There’s no time like the nick of time.” I am the Queen of the Last Minute. Occasionally, my procrastination is born of passive aggression. If I have to go someplace I don’t want to go to or do something I don’t want to do, I’m in no hurry about it. Mostly, however, I procrastinate to stave off anxiety. The less time I have to think about a task, the less time I have to obsess over the infinite number of ways things could go wrong. If I finish the paper right before I turn it in, I don’t have time to fret over how terrible my writing is, how shallow my analysis is, how flat my characterizations are, how many semicolons I misplaced. If I study right before the exam, I don’t have time to ruminate on how much I don’t know, how much I forgot of what I knew, how much smarter everyone else is than me. If I slip into my seat at the last minute, I don’t have time to notice how awful my hair is, how frumpy my clothes are, how fat/short/ugly I am, how everyone is staring at me. The modern, rational part of my brain knows my writing isn’t that bad, I’m not that dumb, and no one’s laughing at me. But the ancient, animal part of my brain, the part that’s riddled with self-doubt and fueled on nightmares and angst, tries to shout down the rational part of my brain every chance it gets. So, I try not to give animal brain a chance to sabotage me. By procrastinating, I try to trick animal brain into thinking I’m not doing anything, then, when it drops its guard and goes to the fridge for a snack, I rush to the goal line. But, ironically, I’m not good at doing nothing. Doing nothing at all induces guilt. The Protestant Work Ethic is strong in this one. I take that whole idle mind, devil’s workshop thing way too seriously. So, to combat the guilt, I procrastinate creatively. I avoid working on the task I most need to accomplish by working on other tasks that could just as well wait. Manuscript deadline? Clean the bathroom! Speech to write? Grocery shopping! Blog post due? Vacuum! Death to dust bunnies! I’ve rearranged bookshelves, cleaned out basements, sorted stationery, reorganized sewing boxes until the last minute-bell chimed. No more procrastinating. Animal brain be quiet. It’s do-or-die time. A little caffeine, a lot of adrenaline, and I’m off. Are you a procrastinator? Or do you finish things well ahead of when they’re due? What are some of your cleverest ways to procrastinate? Tell us in the comments or join us on Facebook.

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Social Media: Tonic and Toxin

 I’m in a love/hate relationship. With social media. I love connecting with people on various platforms. As an extreme introvert, I find too much face-to-face contact exhausting. Social media provides me with the distance I need to make social engagement engaging, instead of an exercise in “put on a happy face”. Social media also lets me keep in touch with geographically dispersed friends. Neither my budget nor my schedule let me go visiting all over the world. And, as much as I cherish handwritten letters, social media accounts tend to change less often than physical addresses. Finally, social media lets me connect with readers and reviewers. I have a day job so extended book tours are not an option for me. Social media is vital in promoting my books and building my audience. But, I hate the way a constant diet of social media makes me feel. Instagram’s not so bad; it’s mostly pretty pictures. However, a week of ingesting negative news and caustic comments on other platforms leaves me feeling worse than a corn dog-and-fried-Twinkies binge at the State Fair. Despite my good intentions to only post, and respond to, funny Episcopal Church memes and heartwarming stories of animal rescues and Mike Rowe, I get wrapped up in the stories of injustice and bigotry and discrimination and cruelty. I get angry at the state of the world and the unkindness of humans. My cynicism goes into hyperdrive and I end up feeling helpless at my inability to “fix” things. My ire paralyzes me. When I reach the righteous anger saturation point, I have to find a way to reset. Otherwise, I can’t function. I accomplish nothing. My to-do list goes ignored. Pent up frustration leads to restless, purposeless futzing. This past weekend was one of those times. I hit a wall. Fed up with humanity, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a back corner in my closet and rock back and forth. Luckily, the community center came to the rescue with a screening of “Casablanca”. Watching an iconic story of self-sacrifice and redemption play out against a backdrop of ultimate evil convinced me—or, rather, reminded me—that even the most cynical among us may be harboring a “rank sentimentalist” inside and will manage to do the right thing when it counts.
 How do you detox from digital negativity? Did you sign off from social media? Do you limit yourself to certain platforms or type of posts? Block comments like a defensive linebacker?

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Roger Johns and his River of Secrets

The Miss Demeanors are thrilled to have Roger Johns back! He’s busy with the launch of his latest book and we are honored he took the time to join us today. Roger is one of the people I look forward to seeing at conferences and we’ve had fun sharing the stage at several venues. I know everyone wants to hear about his latest book, River of Secrets, but I have to mention that Roger was voted a Georgia Author of the Year a few months ago. What a well-deserved honor!  Now, Roger, let’s hear from you. I read an advance copy of River of Secrets and loved it. Wallace Hartman is back and…. well, I’ll let you explain.    Tracee, thanks for having me back on Miss Demeanors, to talk about River of Secrets. In this second in the series, Baton Rouge homicide detective Wallace Hartman investigates the murder of a controversial state legislator. Because the victim is white and the accused killer is black, race is a dominant theme in the book, and politics, personal danger, street violence, and sabotage from within her own department complicate Wallace’s search for the truth. But, as with Dark River Rising, the first book in the series, overcoming these complications is more than just a way to find out the identity of the killer. In my little corner of the crime fiction world, characters contend with forces that affect ordinary lives. But ordinary is not the same as unimportant, so my goal is to use these stories to examine and understand the characters, not the other way around. Intense situations are certainly important, but the people are my primary concern. My initial approach was focused mainly on the idea driving the story but, eventually, I realized that was not going to work for me. Having to make dramatic changes to the main character to get that first book across the finish line taught me the overarching importance of characters and the effects the story has on them. Once this approach became clear, I focused on finding stories that would reveal my principal characters in ways that I hoped would capture the ongoing interest of readers. Stories that hold a strong appeal for me unfold against the backdrop of the chaos that comes in the wake of disruption. In Dark River Rising, it was a disruption of the illicit cocaine trade, and in River of Secrets it’s a disruption of people’s preconceived notions about others. Few things in life are as jarring as discovering that someone is not the person you thought they were, and there’s a lot of that going on in River of Secrets. Ambiguity creeps into the picture for most of the main characters, and situations that initially appeared to be one way slowly emerge as something altogether different. Wallace is challenged both personally and professionally, by what she discovers as she pursues her investigation. But, even as she sees dangerous changes coming, even when she realizes they are going to profoundly change her and her life, she stays the course and remains true to her principles. This was a difficult story to write, but I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot about my main character and about myself. If you get a chance to read the book, I hope you enjoy it. Roger, thanks for sharing a bit about your path for River of Secrets. In both books I’ve enjoyed Wallace as a character, just as I’ve enjoyed your descriptions of Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. You paint a picture of Louisiana that isn’t the ‘usual’ of New Orleans and it’s made me want to travel there soon (although I’ll make sure to stay clear of the criminals in Wallace’s world).  Now, everyone should rush out to their preferred bookseller, purchase River of Secrets, and settle down for an amazing night!  ROGER JOHNS is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor, and the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books: Dark River Rising (2017) and River of Secrets (2018). He is the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year (Detective ▪ Mystery Category), a 2018 Killer Nashville Readers’ Choice Award nominee, and a finalist for the 2018 Silver Falchion Award for best police procedural. His articles and interviews on writing and the writing life have appeared in Career Author, Criminal Element, and Killer Nashville Articles. Roger belongs to the Atlanta Writers Club, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers, where he is one of The Fearless Bloggers. Along with four other crime fiction writers, he co-authors the MurderBooks blog at www.murder-books.com. Visit him at www.rogerjohnsbooks.com.

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The Beginning (full stop).

  Great opening lines are memorable. I suspect many people can quote the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities even if they don’t know what they are quoting.  The first scene in a book is often the first one written. It may even be the scene that inspired the rest of the book (that image that won’t leave the writer’s mind, taking over until it has spawned characters, plots, settings, and hopefully a satisfying conclusion).  Fingers tap the keyboard or grip the pen, speeding through the first pages, tumbling onto the next chapter, and the next until it is time to type The End. Of the first draft, that is. Then reality sets in. The first pages are the ones that sell the book. They are the hook. The decision to continue. They become THE EVERYTHING. I suspect that first pages, or first paragraphs or better yet, first sentences are more studied than any other pages in any manuscript.  Workshops are organized around perfecting these critical pages (our very own Paula Munier frequently lends her expertise to a First Ten Pages bootcamp through Writer’s Digest). This is an excellent opportunity to receive critical feedback. However, what if you don’t have the ten pages yet? What if you have an idea for a story but keep fiddling with opening pages, second guessing yourself, until it is clear the book will never really start?  I have two suggestions. First, read the first pages of books that are well regarded in your genre. How do they treat the action and introduction of setting or characters? Precisely how are these pages setting up the story for the reader? Second, visit Art Taylor’s blog The First Two Pages. Art features various writers each week, each critiquing their own work, explaining the whys and why nots of their decisions. When asked to post as a guest on his blog I was surprised by my recollections of earlier drafts. After a refresher glance at my old manuscripts’ pile I could trace my own decision making processes. The beginning shouldn’t be honed to the point that the rest of the book falls short of its sheer perfection, but those pages are critical. Should I turn that page, and the next, and the next all the way to the end? That is the ultimate reader’s question. Hopefully the end of the first sentence gets, a Yes. The end of the first paragraph, a second Yes and by the end of the first page it’s no longer a question. It’s a given. Then you can start to worry about a conclusion that surpasses the perfect beginning.

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The dream notebook.

Every writer has a notebook in hand, ready to jot down plot and character ideas. There are snippets of overheard conversation that spark an idea, bizarre bits of information that might sneak into a manuscript. Certainly there are carefully noted descriptions of places that will reappear somewhat fictionalized at a later date. It is a well known fact that even the very best idea ever conceived will not be remembered if left to the vagaries of the mind. After all, we’re all busy and the very best idea is often the one that is so unique it won’t pop into the forefront of your mind unaided.    But what of the dream notebook? The one that stays on the bedside table and records the fleeting bits of epic adventures created by a resting mind.  I don’t have a dream notebook, although I usually remember parts of a dream upon waking and often find them fascinating (although I think everyone thinks their own dreams are ready for prime time). For me, the time before going to sleep, and the time upon waking are not interesting for the half remembered dreams but ARE valuable for the more conscious, but free ranging, thoughts about my work in progress. This is when I find the path forward, freed from what I’d ‘decided.’ Without a notebook I wouldn’t remember these ideas! So…. I keep a notebook on my nightstand ready to catch them… and if a dream finds its way onto the pages, well, maybe it was a fascinating idea!

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Why writing is not like baking or candy making.

I spent with weekend with extended family and we have been cooking! In addition to the ‘real food’ we worked our way through the fun food. The Texas sheet cake my father remembers his mother making. My youngest sister’s childhood memory of our great aunt’s cheese straws. We added a few new recipes including chocolate turtles.  New recipes are easy. The stakes are low. Follow the directions and enjoy your success however imperfect. Next time you can overcome any deficiencies. If the recipe involves a new skill – like making caramel – then it’s a success regardless of outcome. For the record, our Turtles look pretty good and taste amazing! (How can you go wrong with caramel, chocolate and pecans.) My father has made the Texas sheet cake enough times that he no longer says that it’s good but not as good as when his mother made it. We’ve all agreed that this is the nostalgia talking, and that’s okay.  My sister is a harder customer to satisfy. We made several batches of cheese straws, each time making slight variations while texting our cousins to get their opinion (my great aunt is their mother/grandmother and this recipe is more highly protected than a government secret). To sift or not sift the flour, precisely what brand of cheese and butter works best? Do you use a heavy spice hand, use a cookie sheet, cookie sheet with parchment paper, or …? (Turns out ‘or’ is the right answer. I’ve been sworn to absolute secrecy on this recipe so I can’t be more specific.) My sister feels that she has finally mastered the technique, after a final batch to study the exact pressure of the piping tube – the dough released as a column or pressed slightly to flatten the bottom….. you get the idea. I spent the weekend assisting and thinking about how different this is from writing. Baking and candy making are essentially chemistry. The ingredients, the order they are combined, the application of heat, all these details are carefully worked out chemically. Deviate and you may create something new and unexpected, but more likely you will have a disaster unfit for human consumption. This is very different from cooking, where the same ingredients may be combined in unending variety each leading to success. THAT is like writing. There may be a formula or rules, but the combinations are endless and, in fact, successful writing depends on this.  Baking and candy making are rigid. Experimentation must be carried out within the rules. Trust me, caramel comes together at a certain temperature. This is a law of nature. As I sit down this morning to work on a manuscript I’m thankful to leave baking behind for a few hours, I’m looking forward to the freedom of rules without boundaries. 

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Ready to read… any suggestions?

TRACEE: I know, I know. Everyone’s TBR pile is a mile high – as is mine. Sometimes I need a nudge toward ‘clearing’ it. And…. I’m not adverse to reading something straight from the store before it hits the pile.  I’m packing for an Ocean voyage to be followed by a few months in Europe. This means I need to decide what to take to read (while I read in other languages, it’s not the same, so the main reading plan will involve English language books).   There are a few books that I haven’t read for one reason or another, including The Nightingale, although I’ve had a dozen people tell me it have to! While traveling I like to revisit old favorites – particularly handy in a travel emergency where you aren’t sure if you are going or staying and can’t quite concentrate. For this I may take Shogun. But it’s a toss up with Lonesome Dove.  If anyone wants to point me in the right direction this is the moment. Send me your reading favorites! SUSAN: Safe travels, Tracee! Seeing Lonesome Dove and Shogun makes me think of James Michener, and I wonder how he holds up. Also The Thorn Birds. I loved The Nightingale. I read it on a trip to England and I picked it up when we took off and was still reading it when we landed. Just an incredible book. I also like to read books about the country that I’m visiting, so when I went to India I read Vikram Seth’s book, Two Lives, which is a memoir that brings together an Indian love story and the Holocaust. I also find anything by Karin Slaughter grabs my attention. PAULA:When I travel, I like to take nonfiction and fiction. The nonfiction tends to be about writing or yoga or poetry, or, as in the case of te book I took along on my last trip, all three: The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life, by Natalie Goldberg. If you haven’t read Goldberg, start with Writing Down the Bones. It’s a classic.As for fiction: I have a lot of ebooks loaded on my iPad. If I’ll be on the road awhile, I start a new series and read them in order. I read Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels this way. They’re fabulous. I also take a Jack Reacher paperback with me. I’ve read all of Lee Childs’ Reacher novels, and collect them in most all formats: ebooks, paperback, and hardcover. I like to reread them for character and action–and because they are guaranteed to distract me from the annoyances and anxieties of travel. TRACEE: I can’t agree more about the Reacher novels. There’s something about them while traveling! ALEXIA: I bring paperback books (1 or 2) that I won’t mind leaving behind when I’m done with them. I think of it as gifting it to the next traveler. Agatha Christie and Rex Stout are travel favorites. I just read my first Brother Cadfael, and loved it, so he goes on the list. After that I choose something from my TBR pile that’s small enough to slip into a large purse/tote bag. Sometimes I leave my reading choice to fate–and Hudson Booksellers–and choose something from the airport. I actually found one of my all-time favorite books that way–Han Solo at Stars End.P.S. Don’t the Cunard ships have libraries?  ROBIN: I’m like Alexia, if I travel with physical books, I leave them behind in hotel rooms when I finish them. That’s where I tuck tips for hotel maids. The number of physical books I bring depends on where I’m going and why. If it’s business or city travel and the hotel room has a safe, I’ll bring my Kindle, too. If I’m going somewhere with a beach or pool, I leave the Kindle at home and bring only physical books. The number of books depends on the duration of the trip. I’m also a sucker for Hudson Booksellers so I leave room in carry-on luggage for last minute impulse purchases. Funny that Susan brought up Michener – I read Hawaiithe first time I went to Kauai. It didn’t occur to me until just now that I do that sometimes, read fiction relevant to where I’m going. I discovered Cara Black before one of my trips to Paris. I read Joe Finder’s The Fixer on a trip to Boston and then read Paranoia on my way home. Living near San Francisco, I read a bunch of local contemporary authors and several classics like Jack London, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, and John Steinbeck. Tracee, my parents used to love cruise ships. They would pack one suitcase dedicated to carrying their books. Usually Cold War spy novels and history for my dad, biographies and rom-com’s for my mom. Have a great trip! MICHELE: One of my favorite things about traveling is deciding which books to pack. Honestly, forget clothes and cosmetics. It’s all about what I will read, how I will write. Books, notebooks, pens, post-its, and highlighters go in the bag first. But which books to bring depends on where I am going and for how long. When I go to St. John or Mexico in the winter, I’ll pack hardcovers, paperbacks, and my Kindle Paperwhite. Titles depend. I save books for occasions like trips. I will read the latest Elizabeth George when I’m on a longer trip because her books are quite lengthy. I started Donna Tart’s The Secret History after loving The Goldfinch, but quickly realized it was too intense to read in little gulps. Sometimes I pack something light and delicious for the plane/beach.  I have a quick trip to St. John coming up. I’ll be taking Paula’s A Borrowing of Bonesand Alison’s Blessed Be the Wickedwith me. When I return, I have to dig into The Dublinersfor a course I signed up for. Happy trails, Tracee. I envy your trip and all those books you’ll get to read. TRACEE: Love all of your suggestions. I should have mentioned the 8,000 volume library shipboard which will provide over two weeks of reading material. I won’t see a single airport, which means I won’t have the joy of the airport bookstore. Although that means I could lug around heavy suitcases for months without worrying about weight allowances, I have decided I’ll use my e-reader. That way I can have a huge assortment of old favorites and new selections available at all times!  ALISON: I love the idea of browsing a library while crossing the Atlantic by ship (Tracee, please send pictures!) and packing books for winter in St. John or Mexico (Michele, what a life!). Back in the pre-Kindle/pre-smart phone days, I always packed Austen and/or Bronte when I travelled because I just love the stories. The writing is beautiful, the characters delicious, and I could rely on relatively happy endings. Now that I can bring an almost infinite number of books with me on my Kindle app, I try to make sure I have a balance of a few books in the mystery/suspense genre (Robert Galbraith springs to mind, Elizabeth George always, Linda Castillo), fiction outside my comfort zone recommended by friends , and then some non-fiction simply because it interests me. Right now, I find my knowledge of Chinese history appallingly thin, so I’m going to find a good primer for my trip to Nashville next week. Happy reading, everyone! TRACEE: Thanks everyone! I’ve been taking notes and my final reading list is coming together! Now I need to remember to pack clothes.

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Miss Demeanors Go To The Dogs. And Cats. And A Horse?

This is a big week for our favorite agent, Paula Munier. Her debut mystery, A Borrowing of Bones , came out on Tuesday! The story includes a canine co-star named Elvis (what a great name). This got me thinking, I’ve seen a lot of social media photos of authors with dogs at their feet or cats on their desks. So, tell me, Miss Demeanors, are you on Team Dog or Team Cat? Robin: Personally, I’m Team Dog. I like cats, don’t get me wrong. My family had cats until I was 9. But I’ve had a dog for most of my life since then. They’re a great motivation to get outside – a tired dog is a happy owner. Or something like that. They’re also a burglar alarm that can take you off guard and make you smile in ways Cortana or Alexa never could. I mean, this face…. Susan: I am definitely Team Dog. I have two cockapoos, Bailey and Buster, and they are always by my side. They are playful and loving and very good companions. When things go wrong, we all lie on the floor, and when things go right, we all have a grand time. Once, when I had a truly grand time, we all went to Kentucky Fried Chicken drive thru. But that’s unusual. Michele: Funny, but this is one of the toughest questions of the week for me. I have loved all of the many cats and dogs I’ve had since I was a child and still miss them. But my last dog was Cheddar, an incredibly soulful friend to me. I sensed her nonverbal communications to me and found comfort and wisdom in them. She’s been gone two years and I still miss her terribly. One of the downsides of downsizing and sprouting wings is grappling with whether it is fair to subject beloved pets to globetrotting. I haven’t found the answer. I just know I have a huge hole in my heart. So, I guess the answer is dogs, said the writer in too many words.   Alison: Both! I grew up with cats and dogs and even a horse for several years. Some of my favorite childhood friends had four legs. Dogs provide a different kind of friendship than cats or horses do. I remember when I first learned to ride a bike. I was barefoot (a good start) in shorts (even better) and fell onto the ground covered of what we called stickers. They pierced my skin pretty much every where. I limped home, pushing my bike (tears were probably involved). Our family dog sat next to me on the porch, and, with his teeth, started pulling out the stickers.Of course, the universe likes to play with us. I fell in love with a man who has terrible allergies and have a daughter with asthma. No cats or dogs for me, and horses are impractical in a Manhattan apartment. Paula: I could never choose teams. I’m a cat and a dog person. I must have one rescue cat and rescue dog at all times. Dogs for their love and attention and loyalty and devotion, and cats to keep your lap warm in winter. Right now we have our 90-pound rescue Bear, the happiest dog in the world, and Ursula, our 9-pound rescue torbie tabby, Who rules the roost. As every self-respect and cat must do.Cate: I love dogs. Recently, my own dog had his very own lassie moment. We are doing some construction and the kids and dog have not been allowed outside in the yard for a couple weeks as a result. My youngest went outside while I was downstairs cleaning. Westley, my ten year old puggle, came barreling down the stairs, barking his head off, demanding that I follow him into the kitchen. He then went straight to the French door leading to the back and pointed his nose at my kindergartener getting precariously close to a six foot hole in the yard. She lost her iPad that day and had to do “mom” homework for another twenty minutes. He was so clear what he was doing that she was mad at him for telling on her. Alexia: I’m a switch hitter. (Pardon me for mangling my sports references–I am not Team Sports Fan.) I love dogs and cats. I’d love to have both. I only have a cat right now because of my travel schedule. I don’t think at this point in my life I can give a dog the attention he or she needs so, in fairness to the dog, I won’t get one. This is Agatha. I didn’t know I was a cat person before I adopted her. I thought I was strictly a dog lover. Now, I know better. I love both. Tracee: I grew up with dogs, first a Bassett hound, followed by bloodhound and St. Bernard. Now I am a Jack Russell terrier devotee, mainly because they are both sweet and stubborn. Alvaro and Laika are going to be treated to a ship board adventure this fall when I sail with them on the Queen Mary 2 to join my husband in Europe. Hopefully they will enjoy their time at sea as much as they enjoy all their other “human activities” with us (hoping for a breakfast in bed treat being a standing favorite!). 

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