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Seven Thoughts In May

You are unique and you are like everybody else.

Your ship won’t come in if you didn’t send a ship out.

Up and down do not exist independently of each other.

Things fall apart and don’t work and get lost even when Mercury appears to be moving forward in her orbit.

Humor depends on surprise.

Smiles beget smiles.

fin

Ahora Entras Tu a song from Todd and Marcia’s new album Ahora Entras Tu.

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Fox Hollow Critters

A fox family lived on the edge of our property for our first few years in this house a mile inland from the town of Mendocino, so we decided to call our place Fox Hollow. The labels for jars of jam and pesto we made boasted Fox Hollow.

Then the foxes went elsewhere and we didn’t see a fox for a couple years. The name Fox Hollow began to feel erroneous. So we decided to call our place Skunk Hollow because we had lots of skunks and thought their babies especially cute.

We briefly considered calling our place Deer Hollow because deer abound here, but Deer Hollow doesn’t pack much poetic punch, so we stuck with skunk.

Several ravens nest hereabouts, but we were not inclined to call the place Ravenswood or Ravens’ Hollow. Too dark and foreboding. We prefer a more upbeat moniker.

We do have a beautiful feral cat who includes our acres in her hunting grounds, but she’s only rarely here so Cat Hollow would be misleading.

Recently a second feral cat started hunting here. How do we know these cats are feral? Because various neighbors have tried unsuccessfully to trap them, and no one in the neighborhood will admit to feeding them.

Now that we no longer have a domestic cat living with us, the lizard and snake and little bird populations have rebounded, so I suppose we could call our place Lizard Hollow or Snake Hollow or Little Bird Hollow, but those names don’t sing to us.

Then there are the chipmunks. Until recently, we enjoyed the occasional chipmunk scurrying around the place. We were glad not to have a cat or cats slaughtering the little cuties. But now, for the first time in our twelve years here, a new chipmunk has started coming into the house whenever we leave a door ajar. She boldly helps herself to whatever she can find to carry away from the kitchen, and she seems barely phased by our fits of rage when we catch her with a cookie.

Gone are the delicious summer days of leaving the doors open. This little demon is lurking in the ferns and waiting for her chance to get inside and steal our food. How about Chipmunk Hollow? Not a chance.

The foxes have returned, so we are Fox Hollow again and will remain so.

fin

Ruby & Spear from Todd and Marcia’s new album Ahora Entras Tu.

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News In Pictures

Gull Having Fun

This gull was obviously having fun goofing around with the little wavelets rippling over the big flat expanse of stone. Was he/she simultaneously looking for something to eat? A good bet.

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Estuary Gull

This gull on a post in Big River’s estuary is so accustomed to humans, I had the feeling he/she would have allowed me to pet her/him. However, I wanted to make sure to get a good picture, so I stopped ten feet away and he/she graciously allowed me to make this portrait.

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New Leaves On River Trees

I take pictures of these trees on the south side of Big River’s estuary every winter when the white branches are dramatically naked of leaves. Here the trees are leafing anew.

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Historic Blossom Set

When Marcia and I bought our house twelve years ago, one of the very first things we did was to have a sturdy deer fence installed around half our property to keep the ravenous ungulates from eating everything except the rhododendrons and huckleberry bushes. However, I did not extend the fence to include the apple tree in this picture because the little tree was hidden in a dense tangle of vines. I only discovered the apple tree after the deer fence was complete.

I have several times since then considered digging up the tree and transplanting her inside the deer fence. However, that would mean planting her in soil infested by voraciously thirsty redwood roots, and without her taproot, chances of survival would be nil.

During our twelve-year tenure here, the little tree has been harshly pruned by browsing deer, and with each passing year more and more of her branches and blossoms form higher than all but the biggest and most ambitious (starving) deer can reach.

However, despite this year’s amazing blossom set, the continuing absence of pollinators, notably bees, means the valiant little tree may not produce many or any apples. The bees are absent because our misguided local, state, and national governments continue to allow the use of pesticides and herbicides containing neonicotinoids that are the proven cause of honeybee and general insect decline in America and around the world. Don’t use Roundup!

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Gull Perch Rock

This rock in Mendocino Bay is extremely attractive to my eye.  I’ve looked at this stone thousands of time in the last eighteen years, photographed it hundreds of times, and there is always a gull standing on the peak of the rock. I believe the eternal presence of a gull atop this rock explains everything.

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Fallen Icon

This mighty tree came down recently from her place on the headlands where she grew for a very long time. Countless photographs and paintings of Mendocino and Big River Beach dating back to the early 20th Century feature this tree standing above all the others. A defining feature of this stretch of the Mendocino headlands is no more.

Fin

Todd and Marcia’s new album

Pajaro, a piano solo from Todd and Marcia’s new album of songs Ahora Entras Tu.

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Stories In America

A reader recently wrote to say she enjoyed hearing about my beginnings as a writer. This got me musing, and as I mused I remembered that most people, including people in their seventies as I am, are unaware that before television took over the world in the 1950s, there were several hundred mainstream magazines and thousands of newspapers in America publishing short stories and poetry. Thousands!

Which is to say, before televisions were installed in every home, there was an enormous demand for short stories in our culture, with high-end magazines such as Collier’s Weekly and Harper’s Magazine paying very good money for short stories, with many movies made in those days based on short stories.

For instance, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is based on a story first published as a pamphlet in the 1940s by Philip Van Doren Stern and subsequently published in Reader’s Scope and Good Housekeeping before Capra bought the movie rights for 50,000 dollars. Yes, Good Housekeeping published short stories!

Then television conquered American society and culture, and within a decade the golden era of short stories was over. The time people used to spend reading short stories was now given to watching the tube. By the early 1970s, when I was in my twenties, there were only a few dozen magazines left that paid well for stories, mostly Men’s and Women’s magazines, and nearly all the stories they published were by established writers.

Nevertheless, in those days before the internet, before there were affordable ways to self-publish and distribute stories and books, thousands of aspiring writers bought The Writer’s Market every year, a volume listing all the magazines supposedly open to considering unsolicited (non-agented) stories and articles. This mighty tome, updated annually, was something of a fraud since most of the magazines listed therein would only consider stories sent to them by established literary agents, though many of the listings said otherwise.

I sent my stories to magazines large and small, collected rejection letters galore, and then in 1972, through a series of seeming coincidences and lucky breaks, a New York literary agent asked if she might represent me. Her name was Dorothy Pittman and she was among the very last literary agents in America who would gladly submit short stories to magazines for her known and unknown clients.

Even more remarkably, she was eager to represent what is now known as Literary Fiction, which has come to mean non-genre fiction. Sci-fi, Mystery, Young Adult, Fantasy, and Historical Romance are some of the most popular genres. By the 1970s non-genre fiction was becoming less and less saleable, and today Literary Fiction is a genre most publishers shudder to consider.

All the editors to whom Dorothy submitted my stories and books were middle-aged, extremely well read, and interested in unique writers, not copycats. None of them lasted long in the biz after the giant multi-national corporations completed their takeover of the publishing industry by the early 1980s.

In her first two years as my agent, Dorothy marketed my novella that had drawn her to represent me, two of my novels, and dozens of my short stories. She got several nibbles, but no takers.

One day Dorothy called the commune where I was living in Santa Cruz and said in her charming Georgia drawl, “Dahlin’, I’m getting so frustrated not selling anything of yours. I’ve got several editors who love your writing, but you’re not famous and your stories are a bit edgy, if you know what I mean.” She paused. “Have you sent me everything you’ve written?”

“Except for my stories in a folder labeled No Way,” I said despondently. “Otherwise, yes.”

“Send me those,” she said, and I did.

Fast-forward a year. By then I’d left Santa Cruz for Menlo Park where I worked as a janitor and teacher’s aide in a Day Care Center before moving to Eugene, Oregon where I was living in a converted garage with my girlfriend and desperately looking for a job. Out of the blue, Dorothy called from New York to say Cosmopolitan Magazine wanted to buy my short story Willow for a thousand dollars. Dorothy would take her 10% commission and I would get nine hundred dollars upon publication. For someone who just quit his job cleaning kiddy toilets for three-bucks-an-hour this was a mind-boggling sum.

I frowned. “Willow? The story about the black woman boxer who through a series of implausible flukes gets a chance to box against professional male boxers? Cosmopolitan? Really?”

A month later, down to my last few dollars, a check for nine hundred dollars came in the mail. My monthly nut was fifty dollars. I was rich! Over the next year I completed two novels, one of which was Inside Moves, my first published novel.

However, three years would pass before that miracle occurred. In the meantime, I worked as a landscaper in Medford, Oregon and did very little writing. Then Dorothy sold a story of mine entitled The Swami and the Surfer to Seventeen for five hundred dollars, and Seventeen commissioned me to write a Christmas story for seven hundred dollars.

While I worked on the Christmas story, I continued to labor as landscaper until I saved enough money to travel to New York to meet Dorothy in-person for the first time and meet the magazine editors who had taken a chance on my edgy stories.

I spent four months on the East Coast, thought about relocating there, ran out of money, returned to Oregon, and then moved to Seattle where I fell on very hard times until Doubleday bought Inside Moves for a pittance and Dorothy sold a few more stories for me. Then right before Inside Moves was to be published, New American Library acquired the paperback rights for a large sum, the movie deal was made, and I was lifted out of poverty for several years.

At the publication party for Inside Moves in New York, the editors from Cosmopolitan, Gallery, Seventeen, and Young Miss who had bought my stories were there to celebrate with me, as were editors from Redbook, Penthouse, and Esquire who had never bought a story from me. They came to let me to know they loved my stories and would have published them had I been better known.

Virtually every successful writer in America and England for the hundred years prior to 1970 published short stories in magazines en route to publishing a novel. In those bygone days, writing short stories was the training ground for becoming a professional writer. Striving to publish short stories was the gauntlet writers had to run if they wanted to one day enter the Promised Land of being a published author.

In 1980 I was on a radio show in Sacramento talking about the movie based on Inside Moves that was about to be released. The interviewer asked me how I got started as a writer and I mentioned publishing my first story in Cosmopolitan.

I think I must have sounded slightly embarrassed about my first commercial success coming via a Women’s magazine and not Esquire or The New Yorker, because a few minutes later an elderly woman called into the show and said, “I want you to know, Mr. Walton, you are in fine company having your first story published in Cosmopolitan.” Then she paused for effect. “For Ernest Hemmingway published his first short story in Cosmopolitan, too.”

I have never confirmed this, preferring to believe the delightful caller knew what she was talking about.

fin 

My latest book Good With Dogs and Cats: the adventures of Healing Weintraub is now available in paperback, e-book, and audio book. If you enjoy Literary Fiction, you won’t want to miss Good With Dogs and Cats.

And if you like wonderful jazzy music, check out Todd and Marcia’s new CD Ahora Entras Tu along with our many previous albums on Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and countless other online music sites.

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Who Was I?

I was twenty-one when I wrote my first novel. I’d written several dozen short stories by then and a few really long stories, but I was full of trepidation about attempting to write a novel. I had never published anything, though not for lack of trying. I’d garnered hundreds of rejection letters from magazines large and small, and covered two walls of a bedroom with rejection notes from The New Yorker.

The year was 1971. After two years of vagabonding I rented a little room in a former hotel in Ashland, Oregon during a very cold winter. I was nearly out of money and beginning to think I should go back to college. I was writing songs, working at odd jobs, writing stories, and feeling unpleasantly stuck.

At that time there was only one little bookstore in Ashland. I’d go there every day to read books and get warm and gawk at the young woman who worked there. I was afraid to ask her out because I had no money to spare.

One day I happened upon a little paperback edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle and read half the book standing in the bookstore. I bought the book, took it back to my room, finished reading it, and knew I was ready to write a novel. The chapters in Cat’s Cradle are only a page or so in length. There was nothing at all daunting to me about writing a book with very short chapters, so that is what I decided to do.

To make a long story short, within a few years I had turned into a compulsive novel writer. Over the next thirty years I wrote twenty novels. Some were published by big publishers, some I self-published, the others I threw away. When I wasn’t writing a novel, I felt out of sorts. Out of identity.

When I was fifty, my commercial writing career kaput, I decided to stop writing novels and find out who I was when not working on a novel. I wrote very little for the next three years, during which time I went through a massive identity crisis. I spent much more time on my music than I ever had before, patched together a minimalist living as a gardener, secretary, and editor-for-hire, and found life perfectly okay without working on a novel.

On my fifty-fourth birthday, I put pen to paper and began writing something that turned into a novel. Since then I have written many more novels and several hundred essays and stories, though I am no longer a compulsive writer.

I write when the spirit moves me, not when my intellect tells me I should.

fin

My new novel Good With Dogs and Cats is now orderable from all but a few bookstores on the planet and is widely available online as a paperback, audio book (Apple or Audible) or e-book.

Our new album of songs Ahora Entras Tu, piano and cello collaborations, is available from many online music sites. And Pooches and Kiddies, the sequel to Good With Dogs and Cats will soon be published!  

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Changed My Life

My uncle David Walton died eleven years ago at the age of eighty-six, at which time I posted a brief remembrance of him. Uncle David.

This remembrance elicited dozens of emails and phone calls from people who knew David or had spent time in David’s legendary Monterey coffee house the Sancho Panza, 1955 – 1967, before the place morphed into a Mexican restaurant.

To this day I get emails from people telling me what an enormous influence the Sancho Panza had on them in terms of how they subsequently lived their lives and related to other people.

What was it about that place and my Uncle David that had such an impact on so many people? The words that come to mind are: welcoming, accepting, encouraging, creative, diverse, exciting. Everyone felt welcome there – young and old, famous and unknown, hip and straight, all colors and creeds and identities – which made the place an emotional and spiritual Shangri-la.

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Thinking about the Sancho Panza changing people’s lives, I remember seeing the movie Zorba the Greek in 1965 when I was a sophomore in high school. Clueless about who and what I might be in the world, that movie catalyzed my transformation into the person I wanted to be. I saw the movie two more times before it left the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park, got the novel Zorba the Greek, read it twice, and over the next five years read the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis, some of the novels two and three times.

When I dropped out of college at nineteen, I was keenly aware that my decision to leave the confines of the straight and narrow was greatly influenced by my immersion in the works of Kazantzakis, and specifically the movie Zorba the Greek.

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Another movie that literally changed my life is The Horse’s Mouth, starring Alec Guinness (who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel). I first saw The Horse’s Mouth when I was a little boy (also at the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park) and subsequently saw the movie several more times at key moments throughout my life. The Horse’s Mouth is about an artist for whom making art is far more important than anything else, a story both tragic and beautiful in this regard.

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Come to think of it, the movies Zorba the Greek and The Horse’s Mouth did for me what Uncle David and the Sancho Panza did for so many people. They opened my mind and heart to the possibility of living a creative adventurous life imbued with knowing everyone is unique and worthy and valuable.

fin

Speaking of unique, readers have informed me they would like to hear the audio version of my new book Good With Dogs and Cats, but don’t wish to join Audible to hear my reading of the goodly tome. Good news! You can get the audio book from Apple Books for a one-time fee and don’t have to join anything.

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Ahora Entras Tu

Our new album Ahora Entras Tu is here! We’re so glad to be able to share this suite of new piano songs and piano/cello songs with you.

The album contains nine songs and four short poems and is downloadable and streamable from Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and other music web sites! We will soon be getting our shipment of the actual CDs to send to community radio stations in hope of getting some airplay, and to dispense to friends who still have CD players.

We began the recording process last year when Peter Temple came to the house and recorded me playing the piano tracks on my Yamaha U7, an excellent upright piano I bought new in 1980 and have babied for forty-five years. I then went into the studio and added vocals to three of the eight tunes and gave those eight tunes to Marcia. She listened to them for some weeks and decided on four of the tunes she wanted to compose cello parts for.

When she was happy with what she’d created, we went into the studio and she recorded her parts. Then we lived with those renditions for a time, she made changes and additions in subsequent studio visits, and… voila!

As I prepare to send copies of the album to radio DJs, I’m calling the music Jazz with a Latin feel, though the music isn’t traditional Jazz. These tunes are melodic inventions, several of them Latinesque, as their names imply. And one groovacious blues.

We hope you’ll take a listen.

Blessings and Thanks!

Todd & Marcia

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Who We Were

I subscribe to the Buddhist idea that happiness arises from living fully in the present moment. Yet as a subscriber to this idea, which I know to be true, everything I see and do, and virtually anything anyone says to me, triggers an avalanche of memories, which I then have to dig out from under in order to get back to living fully in the present moment.

Einstein wrote: The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once. This suggests that the past must be part of the present moment, in which case living fully in the present moment must entail simultaneously living in the past.

Of course the Buddhist idea about living fully in the present moment is an idea, an ideal, a practice. Even the most advanced enlightened Buddhist occasionally dwells on events and feelings from the past. In fact, neurologically speaking, we are the end results of our past actions.

I’m not speaking of karma – our actions determining the courses of our lives – a notion I also subscribe to. I’m speaking about Brain Maps. Having read a bunch of fairly up-to-date books about neuroscience, it is now understood that every time we do something or think something or see something, our brains make a little synaptic map of that something. If we repeat the action or thought, or see the same view out the kitchen window over and over again, those synaptic maps get etched deeper in our brains.

And if we repeat an action or a thought or see the same thing thousands of times, those brain maps dictate responses in us so automatic they resemble innate reflexes. This is why when you play a piece of music once, your playing will be tentative compared to the hundredth time you play that same piece of music. The brain map directing your body/mind/spirit for the playing of that piece gets etched more deeply into your neurological system with each playing, and your fingers/body/actions in that regard become vastly more proficient as a result.

Thus: we become what we do over and over again.

So here we are aspiring to live fully in the present moment while being, in large part, made of what we were, because what we were created the mechanics of how we operate in the present moment. By the same token, if we spend lots of time thinking about the future, those thoughts will shape who we are now!

So when I’m schlepping firewood from the woodshed to the north porch, practicing being mindful as I place those pieces of wood into the wheelbarrow, and as I gaze in wonder at the leaves and clouds and blades of grass as I wheel my wheelbarrow along the path, and a memory of a girl I was too shy to pursue when I was sixteen drifts into the matrix of my brain maps, I can’t help but feel her appearance as part of the totality of the present moment.

And now the time has come to make my list of things I’ll buy at the grocery store in the near future. To make this list I will pay close attention to what we no longer have because we ate those things in the past. Thus past, present, and future collide in the kitchen and reverberate throughout the universe in every direction and in myriad other dimensions, too. Caramba!

fin

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Writing Table

Todd in 1996 at his writing table in Berkeley with Ruby & Spear

The year was 1995, a mere twenty-nine years ago when I was but an overgrown child of forty-six. Recently divorced and settling into my new digs in Berkeley, the universe bestowed a large (relatively speaking) chunk of money on me: a modest advance from a publisher for my novel Ruby & Spear and eye-popping option money for the movie rights to my novel Forgotten Impulses. Thus ended a decade of month-to-month barely squeaking by, and thus began a couple years of having sufficient funds to work on my writing and music full time.

To celebrate this joyful turn of events, I purchased a few things I’d always wanted: a writing table, a dining table, and a medium-sized green vase. Not far from the house I rented in Berkeley was a woodshop specializing in furniture made from recycled lumber, and in their little storefront I found the writing table of my dreams and the expandable dining table of my dreams, both made of reclaimed pine. The dining table is our dining table to this day, and the writing table is the subject of this missive. I found a marvelous green vase a few weeks after moving to Berkeley and it is still our go-to vase for fleurs from the garden here in Mendocino.

Unbeknownst to me, I arrived in Berkeley during the last year of rent control and so was able to rent my old three-bedroom house for 1100 dollars a month. A year later the dot.com revolution exploded in synch with the demise of rent control, at which time my house would have rented for 4000 dollars a month. Fortunately I was grandfathered in and my rent could not be increased. So I was able to stay there.

I let one of my bedrooms to a series of housemates, one of the bedrooms became my office/guestroom, and the third bedroom was my bedroom. The new writing table became the centerpiece of my office, and for my first two years in Berkeley I used my writing table for… writing.

Then money became scarce, I became the sole support of two needy dependents, and the days of month-to-month squeaking by resumed. And ere long the writing table became a storage area rather than a writing surface.

As I’m sure you are aware, any flat surface elevated a few feet off the ground is a magnet for mail, bills, glasses, wallets, earplugs, postal scales, computers, printers, car keys, flashlights, guitar picks, pens, pencils, dishes, mugs, sheets of paper, scraps of paper, silverware, half-eaten cookies, snapshots, cameras, phones, statuary, rocks, driftwood, lip balm, address books, change jars, crystals, and bowls of sage, to name but a fraction of the things we humans collect and stack on flat surfaces (and on top of each other.) It’s just how we are. I’m sure this propensity to stack things on elevated flat surfaces is genetic.

Near the end of my eleven-year stay in Berkeley, my mother died and I inherited enough money to make the move to Mendocino and rent a place where I could start anew and use the surface of my writing table for writing and drawing again, which I did for a while, and I was glad.

Then my old iMac died and I got a new one with a long bubble backside (strange design) that was so long the only surface in my office wide enough to accommodate the thing was my beloved writing table. As I’m sure you know, a computer of any size, let alone a big bulbous one, immediately and thoroughly negates the beauty and spaciousness and je ne sais quoi of a good writing table. Yet despite the warnings and pleas from my higher self, I surrendered my writing table to the elongated computer and made do with other surfaces for writing.

Then twelve years ago Marcia and I bought our house in which we each have an office studio, and in my new office I gave my newer and less bulbous iMac domain over a standing desk and freed my writing table to be a spacious writing surface once more.

However, my office is not large, and having recently launched my career as a self-publisher and self-music producer, the office and writing table soon became functionaries of a laughably inefficient shipping operation in which my writing table assumed the identity of a multi-layered quagmire of easy-to-misplace and easy-to-overlook and easy-to-forget stuff.

I did my longhand writing on the dining table or I sat in chairs writing on a clipboard, and for the last twelve years my table desk has been a clutter hell, a stack of woe, a mechanism of self-sabotage.

Looking back over my life, psychoanalytically speaking, I can recall many Large Instances of Self-Sabotage, many Lesser Instances of Self-Sabotage, and myriad Minor Instances of Self-Sabotage. Large instances include teaming up with negative, critical partners who undermined me at every turn, drinking too much coffee, and going barefoot on nail-infested construction sites. Lesser Instances include waiting too long to fill the gas tank and running out on a remote highway during a tempest, renting a room in my house to a psychic leech, and eating too much popcorn in one sitting. Minor instances include tripping over shoes I should have put away and leaving the door open so clouds of mosquitoes come into the house.

But perhaps worse than those instances of self-sabotage identifiable after-the-fact are Unconscious Instances of Self-Sabotage, one of which is rendering the heart, if you will, of my creative process unusable by covering my wonderful writing table with detritus that should never be put there, and certainly not left there for days and weeks and months and, yes, years!

Also psychoanalytically speaking, while acknowledging that some percentage of mess-making can be blamed on human nature, I think it important to acknowledge that most self-sabotaging behavior is LEARNED. And here’s the thing about Unconscious Self-Sabotage; though I (We) may have consciously decided not to emulate my (our) profoundly neurotic parents, and in many ways we have been successful in not emulating them, they are still inside us influencing our neurological operating systems. Yes they are.

Only eternal vigilance can keep us from repeating behavior our primary caretakers relentlessly modeled for our wildly receptive psyches throughout the formative years of our childhoods.

Now that I no longer sell books or music CDs from my web site, and my office is no longer a shipping depot, I finally got around to making my writing table a table for writing again. Hurray!

I hereby vow to strive to keep my writing table free of stuff that shouldn’t be there. I know there will be setbacks in the days and weeks ahead (there are already minor incursions underway) but for now I have tasted the fruits of clearing the boards, and those fruits are sweet and nutritious and fill me with joy.

fin

Todd and Marcia’s music is gettable from Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, etc. Copies of many of Todd’s books are orderable from your favorite actual bookstores and many online book sources. E-books editions are available from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, and Todd’s fabuloso audio books are available from Apple Books and Audible.

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How I Came To

Todd (upper right corner)

A reader inquired about Good With Dogs Cats, “How did you come to write this book?”

Here is a long-winded answer.

I began making up and writing down short stories sixty-five years ago when I was in First Grade at Las Lomitas Elementary School in Menlo Park, California. My first successful short story was entitled Albert the Alligator and Billy Brown about a talking alligator who befriends a little boy.

I say successful because one day my First Grade teacher Mrs. Bushnell, desperate for a nap, had me up in front of the class to tell the kids my latest version of Albert the Alligator and Billy Brown. My classmates enjoyed the tale, especially my silly voices for the characters, and laughed throughout the telling. Mrs. Bushnell woke refreshed and thereafter had me tell stories to the class on several other occasions.

Word spread among the teachers and I was asked to appear as a guest performer for the other First Grade class, for both Second Grade classes, and so on up through the Fourth Grade classes. Heady stuff for little Todd, performing for giant kids who had a separate playground from us little kids lest the big kids trample us at recess.

My older sister was in one of those Third Grade classes I performed for. You may imagine her chagrin as her annoying little brother held sway over her classmates and garnered big laughs. I can still see her squirming in her seat and rolling her eyes as I babbled and cavorted.

I think it fair to say the adulation of those kids in elementary school emboldened me to continue making up stories for the rest of my life.

As a reader I have always favored short stories over novels. As a writer of fiction, several of my novels are composed of interconnected short stories. Now and then one of my stories will beget a related story that begets another related story, and so on until those related stories amount to a novella or novel.

This is what happened with Good With Dogs and Cats. Two years ago I published Why You Are Here, my first book of interconnected stories set in the mythical town of Mercy on the far north coast of California – Mercy being a mythical version of Mendocino where I live. Readers let me know they enjoyed Why You Are Here, and, having grown enamored of Mercy, I was glad when The Muse sent more stories set in the delightful little town.

Several characters who debut in Why You Are Here appear again in Good With Dogs and Cats: the adventures of Healing Weintraub as well as in the soon-to-be published sequel Raaz and Oz: the further adventures of Healing Weintraub. Those characters include the poet Helen Morningstar, her very tall husband Justin Oglethorpe, Ruben Higuera the unflappable Sheriff of Mercy, and Eliana Levine, a musician and actor.

When I penned the first of the Healing adventures, I had no idea the story would create such a frisson of appreciation in readers (a dozen encouraging emails!) nor did I imagine I would eventually write another fifty stories featuring Healing Weintraub, his family and friends, and the many fascinating dogs and cats he helps, but that’s what happened.

So that’s part of the answer to how I came to write Good With Dogs and Cats. However, I think the questioner was also curious about why I chose to write about a person who helps dogs and cats with problems they’re having with humans.

The answer to that part of the question is: I don’t know. And the reason I don’t know is that I never know what I’m going to write before I write whatever comes out on the page. I have never successfully had a conscious idea for a story and then written that story. Whenever I try to do that, the result is poo-poo. Better for me to write down what my inner storyteller has to say and then see what I’ve got.

Which is to say, I didn’t consciously choose to write about a person who helps dogs and cats with their people, but once that switch was flipped, so to speak, I kept writing until stories in that vein stopped coming.

Several people have asked me if the Healing stories are autobiographical. The answer is no, though it is true I love cats and dogs, they love me, and I do communicate clairvoyantly with animals, but that’s where the similarities end.

fin

Copies of Why You Are Here and Good With Dogs and Cats are orderable from your favorite actual bookstores and many online bookstores. E-books of both books are available from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, and a really neato audio book of Good With Dogs and Cats is available from Apple Books and Audible. Rave reviews most appreciated.