Archive for September, 2008

A Happy Day.
September 18, 2008

With a sunset like this,



And like this,



A cooling rain, and then a good roll



A loving scratch



A scratch back,



And never underestimate a good meal.



TGIF fellow writers! May the weekend muse be kind to you.

(photos by Emily Murdoch)

The Antidote To Query Road Rage.
September 17, 2008

Is writing. No need to wax poetic or beat around the bush. I just wanted to mention how much I love the irony. It’s a humorous irony, at that.

Anything that turns life into the feeling of being a blessed child of a benevolent universe, singing happy songs at the top of your lungs and pounding out pages befitting a creative genius, or, just feeling like that for one amazing, glorious moment, is a lucky, lucky thing.

Happy down Query Road? Worth a King’s ransom. Two Kings’ ransoms. The whole point of it in the first place. Writing. Creating. Flow. Creating and changing worlds.  

So, I chugged the antidote yesterday, turning to writing as the cure for rejected writing, and when I realized what was happening, I was “saved”. From myself. I felt in tune, again, with that wonderful, hard-earned fact: I am a writer. I’m a writer, again. And I decide what that means, you know, and it has nothing to do with publishing.

It’s a calming, anchoring realization.

And it becomes an important question: if you were a writer who wanted to be published, would you continue to be a writer who wasn’t or couldn’t?

Going first, I’d have to say YES. Maybe throwing a few private tantrums from time to time, but the overall truth is that writing isn’t a choice, it just is; it just has to, is part of you, befalls you, chooses you. You can’t help it. That’s writing.

It’s wonderful, crazy and magical, just as it should be.


sometimes the best maps  

are the ones thrown out the window, 

throwing out the worry as well,

letting go and not asking why or where,

mindful to enjoy the ride,

buckled in and flying at the same time.


Might as well make the best of it, you lucky writer, you. And I’m grateful there are so many of us, to bolster each other’s spirits during the sometimes-bumpier ride of Query Road.      

Query Road Rage.
September 15, 2008

“Yet hold it more humane,

more heavenly, first,

By winning words to conquer willing


And make persuasion do the work of



Paradise Regained.

As you chug down Query Road, no different than any other road, it’s very likely you will encounter road rage, with one major difference: instead of the rage being other-oriented and aimed at you, it’s more likely to be your own rage aimed at yourself.

As you diligently contort and twist your vision into the proper query and synopsis key-shape that opens the door to publication, shake off the highway-hypnotism and keep the bigger picture in mind. Remember that every query and synopsis can be rewritten and refined for better chances, that a lack of skill or knowledge can be fixed by buying and reading books on the subject, and that there are things you can do to help yourself — you aren’t a helpless “victim” in the process. Just keep doing your homework.

(A friend in the know who is willing to help never hurts, either.) 

If you find yourself veering off the road and writing email subject lines such as, “Shoot me with a query, strangle me with a query, smash my brains out with a query”, it’s time to pull over into the next rest stop, (named after your favorite author), roll up the windows and scream at the top of your lungs, just to get the negativity and frustration out of your system. Negativity and frustration will ferment into poison until all perspective is lost.

Remaining balanced, level-headed and emotionally restrained is great, but being human, the query process does get discouraging, frustrating and overwhelming at times for the best of us, especially when continuously receiving “Dear Author” rejections. So, let the frustration out, before it turns into sugar in your gas tank. Do what you need to do — say screw it (temporarily), walk away for a week, take a break; attach your rejection letters to the nearest tree and get out your bow and arrow and have at it until you feel better.

Just whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP. No one has ever reached their goals or dreams by giving up. There are plenty of querying writers out there who won’t give up. Be one of them. Use the query process to make yourself a better writer, a more experienced writer, a more determined writer. 

If you find yourself living out of your car at the rest stop, temporarily adopting the address as your own and emailing other writer friends things such as, “Today I lost it for a second and decided my next novel should be about a frustrated writer who hops a plane to NYC, and, office building by office building, beats agents to death with his/her brilliant but rejected manuscript”, then forget the soft pretzel and slurpee consolations, and go straight for the double scoop, gooey chocolate milkshake.

Last week, on a writing group I frequent, I read a thread by a writer (a good writer, too) whose frustration and discouragement was so viral it was contagious; I came down with it, myself. It took me a week’s leave from querying, along with a dose of “Annie” and a few rewinds of “The sun will come out, tomorrow”, to finally put me back behind the wheel.

I know I’m a hard worker. I’m an excellent driver, too. So are you. Identifying the obstacles on Query Road, including the ones we create for ourselves as writers, is the only way to keep chugging along. (It also doesn’t hurt to stop at the next scenic overlook, preferably with canyons, and yell “I am a writer, I’ll never give up!” and hear your strong, beautiful voice echoing back exactly what you need to hear.)

The Desert’s Beautiful Face.
September 8, 2008

“I am the things that are, and those that are to be, and those that have been. No one ever lifted my skirts: the fruit which I bore was the sun.”

Proclus. On Plato’s Timaeus.

(Inscription in the temple of Neith, at Sais, Egypt.) 

Photo opportunities forever present themselves in the desert, and I enjoy wandering our property on the look-out for beauty. The monsoon rains and accompanying cloudy skies magically enhance what is already a wild, breathtaking landscape. I love how the desert continually renews herself, shifting and changing like a kaleidoscope. 

This is where God lives — or at least, where she vacations.

The temperature is slowly going down, which makes all the chores that come with animal rescue work, horses and dogs much more bearable.

This has been the hottest summer I can remember in Arizona. 

While the rains are a reason for celebration because they bring the temperatures down, the clouds that refuse to comply perpetuate a humidity we’re unused to in this arid climate.

Piglet, our eight-year old terrier mix, is terrified of thunder. When the storms roll in most afternoons, Piggy becomes so clingy and frantic that I end up carrying him around with me while I do laundry or fill the horses’ water buckets.

On the other hand, Estrella Bella, our two-year old terrier-Italian Greyhound mix, saved from the pound (she was to be euthanized the next morning, with her terrier’s reverse-sneeze having been misdiagnosed as a sign of respiratory illness) couldn’t care less.

One of the best parts of monsoon season, and one of the most beautiful, are the rainbows.

With Autumn now approaching, (and along with it, meteor shower season, which started with the Perseids in August), dusk arrives earlier and earlier, and so do the Colorado River toads, as we found out last weekend. Even the moon can’t wait to take her place in the soon-to-be star-studded skies.


Life can be tough for the best of us, full of twists and turns, fears and worries. Find inspiration wherever you can find it, and don’t forget to look right outside your window for evidence of the bigger picture. 

“Tis sweet to be awakened by the lark,

Or lull’d by falling waters; sweet the hum

Of bees, the voice of girls, the song of birds,

The lisp of children, and their earliest words.”

Don Juan

Lord Byron

(photos by Emily Murdoch)

Dogs Doing Drugs.
September 7, 2008

 A few times in my blog entries, I’ve mentioned toads — poisonous toads — specifically, the Sonoran Desert toad, commonly known as the Colorado River toad.


Bufo alvarius

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

When I was a girl, being a tomboy through and through, ants and toads and frogs and salamanders, even crayfish, were fascinating to me. Where I grew up, though, ants were black and didn’t bite, rattle snakes weren’t around every corner, and toads were cute and harmless. 

I knew you didn’t catch warts from touching toads or frogs. I always put them back where I’d found them after taking a closer look, and even when they peed on me (in what I now know to be a fear and stress-induced reaction) it was no big deal (the pee, that is).

(Which makes me shudder, because boy would I feel differently about it, today!)

With the continuous (and heavenly) monsoon rains still upon us, the Colorado River toads have been coming out in earnest on the ranch. On the one hand, they’re great to have around; eating bugs, including scorpions, they make it safer outside for my terriers. On the other hand, the larger rescue dogs are obsessed with everything that moves — butterflies, birds, rabbits, toads — and would like nothing more than to catch them all.   

Essentially, the male toad finds a puddle (left from misters, rain water, or even your dog’s water bowl) and uses it like a hot tub, serenading the females with his best mating call.

Even when you can’t see them, you can hear them singing. Their arrival on our porch is heralded by the sound of rattling chain-link fence as they (astonishingly) squeeze themselves in and out of small spaces. In the photo below, this big, squat toad is making its way out of our dog kennels after finding the water bowls dumped and turned over.

A toad soaking in a dog’s water bowl can leave behind enough poison to kill a dog.  

The toads’ weapon is a milky venom housed in glands on their neck and thighs secreted when threatened, but even their skin is poisonous. It’s very clever, actually, as the toads parade around without fear under the visage of owl, hawk, coyote, bobcat and javelina. 

Some people actually “lick” these psychoactive toads for the high, although this method can be lethal to the person doing the licking. More so, the toads are milked (illegally) and their venom dried into “chips” which are then smoked.

The most likely scenario, however, is your dog being poisoned from either catching a toad in its mouth and absorbing the venom, or eating the toad, along with the poison glands.

Such was the nightmare last weekend when two of our rescue dogs, Clementine and Blue, caught a toad that hopped fearlessly into their midst, and, like a game of hot potato, passed it back and forth. I ran after them in a frenzy, yelling and slipping in the kennel until my legs were bruised and bleeding. My husband, hearing the ruckus, tore out of the house and between the two of us, pried the toad out of Clementine’s mouth.

Blue and Clementine

I was soon to see the symptoms I’d been telling my husband about only the day before, coincidentally having come across a local toad avoidance class advertised online and reading about the treatment for poisoning. It saved the dogs’ lives that night.

First of all, don’t panic. (I know — easier said than done.) If your dog has eaten all or part of the toad, bring the dog to the vet IMMEDIATELY. Many sources cite a thirty minute window before the poisoning can prove deadly, acting upon the heart and causing cardiac arrhythmias and arrest. 

If your dog had the toad in its mouth only, remove the toad and immediately rinse your dog’s mouth with water, from the corners of the mouth outward to avoid the dog swallowing the poison. Use your fingers to swish water between the gums and cheeks where poison could pocket. Rinse for fifteen minutes with a hose.

Signs of poisoning include:

— “Saw horse”, stiff-legged gait

— Dilated pupils (alarmingly so)

— Bright red gums

— Hallucinations, with the dog seeing things not there, whining, pacing, scratching

— Frothy mouth

The signs indicating the worst cases of poisoning:

— Convulsions

— Whining and crying in extreme pain

— Loss of bowel and bladder control

— Cardiac arrhythmias and arrest

— Paralysis

After rinsing our dogs’ mouths, the saw-horse gait, dilated pupils and hallucinations stopped, and the dogs were back to normal after fifteen minutes. We called our vet, who told us to keep an eye on the dogs for the next hour, during which no symptoms reappeared.

The best treatment, of course, is avoiding these toads altogether, with supervised outings at dawn and dusk during monsoon season, (the toads hibernate the rest of the year), along with bringing any outside dogs inside at dusk and keeping your dogs inside until sun-up.

What surprises me the most about these toads is their fearlessness — going where other small animals fear to tread. Unfortunately, prior poisoning doesn’t usually keep dogs away from the toads; our vet spoke of seeing the same dogs multiple times for toad poisoning.

Other things you can do?

— Rid the area of whatever pools of water you can (which will also discourage the breeding of mosquitos)

— Dump out and turn over dogs’ water bowls when not in use.


Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Coutesy of Wikipedia.

Having lost my beloved cat, dog and horse last summer, my greatest wish this summer was for all the animals to come through it alive and intact, including the toads. So far, so good.