Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Dogged Determination of a Writer



Gustave Flaubert (the French novelist of Madame Bovary fame) said, “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” At first glance this suggests a writer’s life is awful (and in the nineteenth century a dog’s life may well have been bleak), but looking at the neighborhood dog that brazenly entered my home uninvited and now lies curled up at my feet I think otherwise. In fact “Risky” here (yes, after a bit of a scrimmage I found his name tag) is living the life of Riley—both footloose and fancy-free.


So in retrospect Flaubert’s intention may well be to underscore the free-willed, vagabond nature of a writer. Not bound by the onerous confinement of a nine-to-five job, but free to chase the creative sprites—free of the leash--wherever they may lead him (or her).

Dogged Writer’s Block
However, there is one curse most writers cannot avoid—which is of no concern to our four-pawed pals—and that is the fear of the blank white page. At these moments a writer’s prospects do indeed seem bleak; with nothing more to do than gaze at an empty screen, contemplating nothing more than the turgid, dog days of summer.
    Here the writer is chained. No more the vagabond. Fenced in by the lack of imagination (he thinks) and hungry for inspiration to present itself on a platter, as if a fresh, juicy bone.

Mixed Inspiration
This then was the moment Risky entered my study…yapped at the thrill of seeing me (ignoring my “who the hell invited you” frown), did his obligatory loops (why is it always three times?), and then collapsed with a sigh on top of my feet!
     I looked at the contented mongrel lying there. Yes, I was envious. He hadn’t a care in the world. Maybe this is what Flaubert meant, that it was “the only life worth living.”
Risky now had my attention. Though a mix, he was a handsome devil. A strong snout, powerful jaws (though happily benign as he showed no interest in gnawing on me or my shoes) and his coat was reddish-brown. He reminded me of something…yes, inspiration was beginning to percolate in my noggin...he looked like a Rhodesian Ridgeback!

Rhodesian Ridgeback—An Heroic Character
Now my novel, The Zebra Affaire is set in Southern Africa. Surely it would make sense (this is my brain questioning) to include a dog in the story…and specifically the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed with its valiant reputation as a lion hunter?

The answer to self was a resounding “yes”!

And thanks to Risky my writer’s block was no more and a vital new character (thankfully it is NOT a speaking part), Leo the Ridgeback, was added to the tail…ahem, tale.

Here’s a brief excerpt of Leo as he introduces himself in the story:

"The dog’s amber eyes locked onto Elsa’s. They appeared intelligent, so welcoming, and hinted at a twinge of remorse for his tawdry behavior. The regret was probably an illusion Elsa had read within those canine eyes; Elsa had always romanticized her understanding of animals. But in Leo’s intelligent gaze, proud stance, lustrous, mahogany-red coat, and strong curved wagging tail she saw a friend. In this African lion dog, with the distinctive darkened ridge of against-the-grain hair marking the length of his spine, she had found her first true companion since coming to the big city."

Needless to say my gratitude to my four-pawed "muse" was boundless, and I now welcome every wag of Risky’s abundantly enthusiastic tail whenever he chooses to drop by.

Enthusiastic Conclusion
I have now come to the conclusion a dog’s enthusiasm is contagious, and can have a positive effect on a blocked, but determined, writer. I have also concluded that Gustave Flaubert is far too highfalutin for me, and now prefer the sage utterances of Groucho Marx who wisely said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”