Learning Dog Tricks Made Me a Calmer Person

Writer, Cindy Zikmund talks about the words, “leave it”, and how they can be of benefit in our life.

While practicing the dog trick, Leave It, with my five-year old pup, I unexpectedly learned to regulate my own impulsive reactions and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

During a live internet broadcast about COVID vaccinations sponsored by my employer, the typically cordial colleague-to-colleague chat turned hostile over the company’s vaccine requirement. Two years of isolating and conflicting information had transformed a professional, respectful organization of almost 20,000 employees into a battleground. We’d forgotten our manners, and shot four-letter words, insults, and outlandish accusations across the ether. 

My friend frequents Twitter and forwards the more polarizing discussions to a group text. Responses from our group hover around, “How can they think that?” or “What’s wrong with him/her/they?” Like my Zoom call at work, more people are publicly venting their rage and less people are understanding them. 

We’ve become a “type first, ask no questions later” society. 

Since the pandemic, I’ve been a remote worker. My rescue pup, Leo, stays near me all day. When the tone of a Zoom call changes, gets too loud, or the pitch goes too high, he sighs and walks to another room. I imagine him thinking,

“Why can’t they just Leave It?” 

Leo and I practice a “Leave It” exercise at night. I drop a dog treat on the floor and say the command. The appropriate response is for him to turn his head and ignore the salmon jerky. 

Leo is a Chow-Shepard mix, literally a chow hound. It’s challenging for him to control his food urges. But when he does, he gets a reward, two treats, one of higher more tasty value, and the first one I retrieve from the floor. 

This exercise has a grander purpose. When out for a walk and another dog appears, Leo’s protective instincts fire up, he growls, jumps, and pulls at his leash. But when I say, “Leave It,” he’s been reprogrammed to show no reaction except to look away. He’s not always successful and I sometimes forget to issue the command in time, but for the most part, the daily conditioning worked to control his natural impulse in a high stress situation, curbing his aggressive behavior. 

On the Zoom call where my colleagues flung word arrows at one another, my fingertips were poised to issue a zinger, but Leo’s reaction sidetracked me. He sensed the tension, snorted, and left me alone with my frustration. 

That hurt. 

Over the past twenty-four months, Leo and I have shared a daily routine, going from office to kitchen table and back throughout the day. We’re rarely separated and are always aware of the other’s location. When he walked away, a force took over. 

I had to make a choice. I could either type my snarky comment or leave my computer. 

At that moment of lift, the meeting moderator said to the inflamed crowd, “Take a breath. Step away from the keyboard.” 

Leo’s instincts had been correct. I exhaled, followed him to the kitchen, and gave him a dog treat and myself a chocolate. 

The heated exchange wasn’t what weighed heavy on my mind. It was realizing how frayed we all had become. More so than before, the behavior common on social media had seeped into our workplace, disrupting our core tenets of being inclusive and staying humble.  

I wanted to push a reset button and restore everyone back to 2019. 

Over the past two years, our collective mental health has been challenged. The Today Show recently aired a segment, “How Parental Burnout is Affecting Families.” Parents have had to become everything from elementary school teacher, caregiver, cleaner, emotional support, parent, and spouse. These demands have created a hidden risk to their wellbeing. To combat burnout, the advice given was to take a few minutes each day, have a comforting beverage, breathe deeply, and let the wave of anxiety pass. 

This reminded me of practicing Leave-it with my Chow-chow mix. 

I wondered if we could retrain ourselves the way I had retrained Leo. For each of us, the exercise will be different. For some, it might be deep breathing, for others it might be going for a run, or reserving time with your favorite drink at the end of the day. 

We can’t expect to miraculously transform overnight, and we can’t always take the high road when we’re feeling low. But we can set aside a little time each day to practice. And make sure we receive a high value reward the way Leo enjoyed his tasty treat plus one.

We may even find that the reward is simply knowing we can let things go. 

I made a promise to myself: to observe Mental Health Awareness Month. For all of May – and hopefully beyond – I promise to practice restoring the calm I once knew.  

It’s an old remedy. Be mindful. Do unto others. Count to ten before you speak/type. The reason these simple antidotes have lasted is because they work. Albeit we’re up against more severe circumstances and extreme stress than ever. 

Even more reason to stop for a moment each day and Leave It. 

Cyndie Zikmund’s essays have appeared in Cutleaf, Under the Gum Tree, Pink Panther Magazine, Magnolia Review, and The Literary Traveler. Her book reviews have been published by River Teeth, and Southern Review of Books and her poems by North Dakota Quarterly Review and In a Woman’s Voice. She has served as CNF Editor for Qu Literary Magazine. Cyndie has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, MBA from Santa Clara University, and BS EECS from UC Berkeley. 

Find her on the web at www.cyndiezikmund.com, Twitter, and Instagram

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Critique Group

An update on the WWW hosted Writing Critique Group from the coordinator of the group, Deborah Swenson. 

The response to the WWW Critique Group has been great, yet there are still some kinks to be worked out. As of now, we will start a waiting list for the WWW Critique Groups. If you are interested please complete the questionnaire on the WWW website which will then be forwarded to me. Make sure to include your email address. I would still like to limit individual group members to six. This may mean waiting until a spot opens up or a new group needs to be formed.

If there is anyone who has not yet had their initial contact with their group to set up a group start date please let me know.
Email me, Deborah Swenson at WWWCritiqueWritingGroup@gmail.com with any questions and concerns.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

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New Release ~ The Road To Me by Laura Drake


Jacqueline Oliver is an indie perfumer, trying to bury her ravaged childhood by shoveling ground under her own feet. Then she gets a call she dreads—the hippie grandmother she bitterly resents was apprehended when police busted a charlatan shaman’s sweat lodge. Others scattered, but Nellie was slowed by her walker, and the fact that she was wearing nothing but a few Mardi-Gras beads. Jacqueline is her only kin, so like it or not, she’s responsible. 

Despite being late developing next year’s scent, she drops everything to travel to Arizona and pick up her free-range grandma. But the Universe conspires to set them on a Route 66 road trip together. What Jacqueline discovers out there could not only heal the scars of her childhood but open her to a brighter future.

Laura Drake is a New York and self-published published author of Women’s Fiction and Romance. Her debut, The Sweet Spot, was a double-finalist, then won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She’s since published 12 more books. She is a founding member of Women’s Fiction Writers Assn, Writers in the Storm blog. 
Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Visit Laura’s Website, and forllow her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

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Social Media Executor, Say What?

Anne R. Allen recently wrote in one of her blogs about the loss of a good friend. After not hearing from her frined in a while, she went to social media, only to find the FB page “had been gutted”.
Having previously written about the topic, Anne returns us to the reasons why a Social Media Executor is necessary. Her thoughts hold true for anyone who has on social media for any reason. Businesses, personal, writers, and artisans, to name a few, should all take her words to heart. 

So What is a Social Media Executor?

A social media executor can be any trusted friend or relative who’s savvy about social media.

Make it clear to this person — it’s best to put it in writing — what you want to happen to your social media and website/blog when you’re gone.  If you have a free blog, do you want your executor to keep it up and monitor it for comments and spam? (If you have a self-hosted blog or paid website you want preserved, that should be put into your will and communicated to your financial or digital executor.)

It’s often best if your social media executor isn’t also your financial executor. Appointing an online friend or fellow writer will take the burden off the family. Families have so much overwhelming stuff to deal with when there’s a death, that social media can seem trivial.

Read the full story of “Why Every Writer Needs a Social Meida Executor, NOW!

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Women Writing the West 2022 Conference

Have You Registered Yet?

Be one of the first 100 people to register for the 2022 WWW Conference and receive a leather journal.

Our generous sponsors, Typo Market and The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum have donated these lovely leather Journals.

Created by L3Designs, Stillwater, OK, they come in two colors: Maroon & Creme, are filled with quality, lined paper to take notes during the conference or for journaling afterward.

For more information on the 2022 Conference and to Register, visit the Women Writing the West Conference page.

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Nail That First Line!

Darynda Jones’ book – First Grave on the Right 

Laura Drake talks about why the first line of a book is important.

Stephen King reflected on the magnitude of a novel’s introductory sentence. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” he said. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

Preach it, Steve. 

I’m not saying a killer first line will get you an agent, get your book sold, or make it a NYT bestseller. But it sure won’t hurt your chances, and I’d make a case that a book that achieves all the above, more often than not, has a great first line. 

Why? A first line is a promise to the reader, telling them what kind of book this is. What your voice is like. Maybe who the main character is. A good first line will pull a reader into a story. 

But how do you do that? Here are some suggestions:

Irony – A contradiction or opposite of some kind, something unexpected. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You just know from those 23 words, how Jane really feels about this ‘universal truth’. And you could guess how she’ll handle it in the book, right?  BTW, many will argue to the death that this was the best first line ever written. Let’s not go there – we have a lot more to do.

Catalyst –  The catalyst is what sets your story in motion. A knock at the door, a phone call, please, just don’t start with a dream!

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Anthony Horowitz, Stormbreaker

“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” Paul Auster, City of Glass

Comparison – A simile or metaphor. 

“Unlike the typical bluesy earthy folksy denim-overalls noble-in-the-face-of-cracker-racism aw shucks Pulitzer-Prize-winning protagonist mojo magic black man, I am not the seventh son of the seventh son of the seventh son.” Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle

Dilemma – 

“Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.” Roxane Gay, An Untamed State

“He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we understood the gravity of our situation.” Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Question – But be careful using this; it’s been used SO much that has to be fresh and intriguing. NO clichés!

 “What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.” Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

Intriguing Character – 

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Intriguing Premise – The line itself may not mean much, but after reading it, you HAVE to read on! 

“Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms.” Vitor LaValle, Big Machine

 “Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.” Dennis Lehane, Until Gwen

“They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise

 “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  

“Here’s a weird one for you.” David Foster Wallace, Signifying Nothing

Here’s mine, from The Sweet Spot:

The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was grateful for the bull semen.

I screwed up with that line. I wasn’t going for funny. I didn’t even know it was funny until, when I read it at a writer’s retreat, Tessa Dare snorted coffee through her nose and almost wet her pants. See, bull semen is a legitimate industry – just as racehorse semen is. See, Charla Rae owns a ranch where they raise and train bucking bulls. The book is emotional, and deals with grief and forgiveness. So, in this case, the first line breaks its promise to readers (unless they know the bull industry). But you know what? When people meet me, they mention that line. They actually remember it. So I can live with that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about first lines, lately. I may not have the perfect first line when I start a book, but if I don’t, it niggles at the back of my mind until I come up with one – even if it’s after I’ve written half the book!

I knew I didn’t have the best first line for my current WIP – it’s a hard-hitting, right to die novel. Here was my first shot at it: 

Funny, how knowing the exact time and place of my death makes me exquisitely aware of being alive.  

It’s not bad; it raises a question in the reader’s mind. It’s in the voice of an upper-middle class scientist and professor, which the protagonist is. 

But I knew it wasn’t a killer first line. Enter the brilliant Margie Lawson. On a Writer’s Cruise (yes, it was as amazing as that sounds), she worked with me on my first scene. Together, we came up with the first line:

Today, death rides a bicycle. My bicycle.

Oh yeah.

For more information about award winning author Laura Drake, visit her website.

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Women Writing the West 2022 Conference

Conference Sponsorship Opportunities

Our 2022 Conference theme is, “Red Earth Voices: We All Have a Story to Tell. We will focus on the connective power of storying. To uplift. To empower. To inspire.”

There are several sponsorship packages available for the 2022 Women Writing the West Conference being held in Oklahoma City on October 20 – 22, 2022.
Visit the WWW 2022 Conference Sponsorship page for more information.

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Contests & Awards for Writers

Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole looking for contests and awards to submit your written work to? Carolyn Niethammer has compiled a list to help you on your research journey.

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Women Writing the West 2022 Conference

Red Earth Voices: We All Have a Story to Tell

This will be Women Writing the West’s first-ever conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 
Oklahoma comes from two Choctaw words: okla, meaning people; humma, meaning red. The land of the red people. This year’s conference is entitled Red Earth Voices: We All Have a Story to Tell. We will focus on the connective power of storying.  To uplift. To empower. To inspire.

Visit the WWW 2022 Conference page for more information.

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New Release ~ Norman by Ann Edall-Robson

When a rough-around-the-edges barn cat introduces himself to the new Hereford calf called Norman, the day turns into one Buttons will not soon forget. How was he going to explain his way out of the shenanigans his new friend had persuaded him to take part in, especially when he knew better?

Norman is available on Amazon and at Ann Edall-Robson’s website

The official release date of Norman coincides with Children’s International Book Day, April 2. The book is the second in the Barn Cat Buttons Series, and if you’ve lived with animals or been around them, you’ll understand where the inspiration came from to write stories for children.

Ann Edall-Robson relies on her heritage to keep her grounded. Reminders of her family’s roots mentor her to where she needs to go, excerpts of a lifestyle she sees slipping away.
​     Snippets of rural life materialize in her writing and photography as she immortalizes the fast disappearing western heritage in her creative pursuits.
​     A finalist for the 2016 Mayor’s Night of the Arts – Emerging Artist Award, Ann was also shortlisted for the Literary Lightbox 2016 Indie Spotlight. Not only has her writing been recognized, her photography has garnered awards and enhanced book covers. 
     She is the author of several books, is a regular column contributor to the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, and her work can be found in a variety of published anthologies.     
     Ann is an avid quilter, photographer, and enjoys traveling the backroads and spending time with family. She resides near the foothills of Alberta where nature and the traditions of the West immerse her in the way of life that influence and inspire her work.

Visit with Ann on her Website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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