Holy Cow! by Bonnie Schroeder

Bonnie_Schroeder-McCarthy-Photo-Studio-Los-Angeles-7187

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter

 

I’m wrapping up our series of pet-centric posts today and hope everyone has enjoyed reading about the animals in our lives. . . and our writing.

I’ve had pets almost all my life, mostly dogs and cats, but few have had starring roles in my fiction.

My very first “published” short story, however, featured a cow as a main character, and not just any cow. My pet cow.

Here’s how it happened:

As a child, I spent my summers on my grandparents’ farm in northern New Mexico. It was a kid’s paradise, with all sorts of animal life: dogs and cats and chickens and pigs and cows. Being semi-obsessed by Western movies that were all the rage back then (mid-20th-century, that is), I often lamented that there were no horses on the farm.

The reason? Simple economics. My grandparents were not wealthy, and a tractor can do the work of many horses, without the attendant feed bills. My grandfather tired of my yearning for a horse, and he offered me what was, in his opinion, the next-best substitute: a docile milk cow named Brindy.

Brindy and I became fast friends during my summer visits. When I arrived, I’d race out to the pasture, climb over the fence and call to her, and she always came to say hello. I’d tell her how my time in California had gone, share a few confidences, rub her forehead and give her a carrot. When she was lying down, I’d often climb on her bony back and stroke her bristly hide. She was always gentle with me and seemed to enjoy the attention.Brindy

My favorite thing, though, was to help with the milking! You need VERY strong fingers to milk a cow, and I wasn’t always successful, but I kept trying. Milk straight from the cow, by the way, is nothing like the stuff you buy at the supermarket. It’s warm and thick and has a distinct, earthy taste.

How did Brindy come to star in my short story? As the product of a “broken marriage”—which was not taken so casually then as now—I was something of an outsider in school; friends did not come easily. But in the 5th grade, I discovered—or rather my teacher discovered—that I had a knack for creative writing. I suppose it came from all the time I spent alone with my books, coupled with a wild imagination. My teacher gave the class an assignment to write a story about an animal, and without my even having to think too hard about it, a story emerged about a cow that wanted to be a horse. The cow in my story, of course, was named Brindy, and although she tried hard to act like a horse, she eventually came to realize horses didn’t have it all that easy: people riding on their backs, hauling heavy wagons, and so on. Brindy decided she was pretty darn happy being a cow.

The ”be yourself” message must have impressed my teacher, because she typed up the story, shared it with the class, and sent a note to my mother that my writing “talent” should be encouraged—which, of course, it was.

That summer when I went to visit Brindy, very full of myself for all the attention my story had received and the friends it had won me, my grandfather cautioned me that Brindy had given birth while I was away. Eager to see the new calf, I hurried to the pasture and climbed the fence. Sure enough, there was Brindy with the cutest little baby standing next to her. I called out to her and ran forward. At this point, Brindy lowered her head, bellowed, and charged. I was threatening her baby.

I turned and fled and barely made it to the fence without being trampled. When I told my grandfather what happened, he shook his head. “I warned you. She’s mighty protective of that calf.”

And so it was that I lost my friend on the farm. Brindy became a mom and had no more interest in me. It made me sad, but then my grandfather brought home a puppy, and when he presented it to me, my disappointment over Brindy melted away. We named the puppy Buck, and he lived a long and happy life, watching over me and protecting me from the many hazards a child encounters on a farm. I decided a dog was a more suitable pet than a cow, after all.

Brindy had abandoned me, true enough, but she was my first muse, and I have always been grateful to her for that. In return, I gave her a kind of immortality, at least on the written page. If cows have emotions—and I think they do—she’d be proud.

THE DOG ATE MY . . . [FILL IN THE BLANK]
 
Novelist Bonnie Schroeder shares some of her favorite excuses for not writing. Visit her Author’s Page on Amazon.

 

Meet Thunder, the newest addition to my family. She is a Swiss shepherd, close cousin of the German shepherd. She blasted into my life on November 1, 2014. As it happened, I was working on the final act of my new novel, and I was stuck. I didn’t have a satisfactory, or satisfying, ending.
So I shoved the manuscript aside, having been handed the best excuse in the world: I had a new puppy. Housebreaking. Crate training. Socializing. Bonding. And generally enjoying the fun, excitement and disruption a new baby, human or animal, introduces to one’s life.
The trouble was, three months later I hadn’t picked up the threads of my novel, and by then Thunder had fairly well merged into the household routine. But, somehow, I still “didn’t have time” to work on my novel.
Normally, I am pretty adept at squeezing maximum usage out of my time. I wrote the first few drafts of Mending Dreams while working ten-hour days with an hour-long commute tacked on both ends of the workday.
So what was up? I avoided thinking about it as we started obedience school and I focused on training my puppy. Thunder, however, did some teaching of her own. Among other things, she made me realize I needed to curb my perfectionist tendencies. A six-month-old puppy will not and should not become an obedience champion overnight. She’s a work in progress.
That got me to thinking about my unfinished manuscript, and—duh! I finally figured it out. I did not have the perfect ending for the book. I was stumped. It wasn’t lack of time that kept me from working; it was lack of direction.
Somewhere along the line I’d forgotten a crucial fact about being a writer: you can’t fix what isn’t on the page. I’ve made enough false starts over the years that this lesson should have been permanently engraved in my brain. But it wasn’t.
So I took a deep breath and dived into the chilly waters of revision, crafting a new ending, better than the one that had left me stuck. Well, maybe “better” is an overstatement. It was different.
And something very weird happened, although I should have seen it coming. As I typed up my hand-scribbled draft, ideas began to float around in my brain. Hey, maybe instead of ABC, let’s try XYZ. Yeah, not bad. But maybe MNOPQ would make more sense? Try it. And try again, until you have something that kinda sorta approximates the vision in your head.
That’s how I did it, bit by bit, while Thunder was taking naps. Puppies sleep a lot, so I had many half-hours and hours to do what I thought I “didn’t have time” for.
Another thing Thunder taught me is that imperfections aren’t fatal. My puppy was born with a stubby tail, which some might consider a flaw. But to me she’s unique and special, and that little metronome tail is always wagging. Likewise, no piece of writing is perfect, and often it’s the flaws that give it depth and worth.
Thunder is flunking novice obedience—well, I’m flunking, and I’m taking her with me, but we’re learning a little. Next time around, or the time after that, we’ll do better. But if we didn’t start somewhere. . . Well, you know how it goes.
As I worked through all this angst, I came face to face with some truths about myself: I’m lazy. I like excuses. But underneath all that, writing is in my DNA. I may not be the world’s best dog trainer, but I am nothing if not persistent (some would say “stubborn”.) And, most important, I am a writer, and always will be.
So let me ask: what’s yourfavorite excuse for avoiding stumbling blocks in your writing? And how did you overcome it?