Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Styles

Styles's shelter photo
Our pitbull puppy, Styles, turned a year old this week.

We started looking for a puppy after a friend of Zac's, the owner of Cooper--a pitbull/retriever rescue we've come to love--sent us a link for a pit/lab/hound puppy named Ringo.  We'd discussed the possibility of a dog on and off over the prior year.  Ringo gelled that thinking.  Zac never had a dog growing up (Tripod, the three-legged cat; Cowboy, the hermit crab; Slippery Slowpoke, the escargot that lived in the shower; Veyda, the cat that jumped on Zac's back and hung around Manette's neck like a fur collar; and other cats, yes, but no dog) and he always wanted one.  Manette and I had dogs growing up.  It was time; we were getting a dog.

Ringo got adopted.  We checked out Petfinder, looking for Cooperesque rescue candidates.  Zac had a major hand in raising Cooper.  He also was instrumental in raising a former room-mate's, pitbull, Nina, a sweetheart who we all loved.  We thought about the "bully breed" reputation of pitbulls, thought again about Nina, Cooper.  And for Pete's sake, Petey from the Little Rascals was a pit.  "Bull," we decided about the "bully breed" myth.  A dog is what you make it, how you train it, how you treat it in the home you give it.  We decided on pit/lab mixes.  Pit/other mixes.  We met Cinnamon, Buster and Ziggy at a Petco-sponsored adoption day for a local rescue shelter.  Too houndish.  Back to Petfinder, refined to pitbull babies.  Rocky and Missy Blue Eyes in South Orange.  Truffles in Brick.  Miss Eleven at Ramapo-Bergen Animal Rescue Inc (RBARI) in Oakland, NJ, looked like a mini-Cooper.  And they also had this brindle, Styles, that made me laugh.  We liked their writeups, planned to visit.  On a Sunday we went to RBARI.  Miss Eleven was cute and feisty.  Styles was sweet, with a shiny, unusual brindle coat, white chest and white front paws like Two-Socks in Dances With Wolves.  Undecided, we left to have a family meeting.

We talked most about Styles.  The staff at RBARI works hard to match dogs with families.  They thought Miss Eleven might be a better match for us than Styles; as a male pitbull, they saw him as potentially more aggressive with other male dogs.  Zac and I favored Styles, with the only reservation that he played hard and might not socialize well with other dogs.  Zac said he'd teach him and live with it if Styles couldn't learn.  Manette favored Miss Eleven, but Zac and I thought she was aloof, less sweet than Styles.

That Monday night, Zac told me he loved Styles and wanted him.  Tuesday morning Zac had to work so we planned to visit Rocky and Missy Blue Eyes for perspective, then convene again.  We discussed what Zac said about Styles, then called Karyn Montuori, Styles's trainer at RBARI.  She'd fostered Styles for 3 weeks, working with him on socialization with her 3 other dogs, and food-guarding.  "He's the best dog here," she told us all on the Sunday of our first meeting with Styles.  On the Tuesday call, Karyn assured us Styles would be great as a playmate for other dogs, including Cooper, as long as we socialized him early.  We picked up Styles that afternoon.  Zac didn't know until he got home from work.

Styles is a true rescue.  He was surrendered at Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, NJ, at a few months old.  Karyn saw his potential and had him brought to RBARI.  He fostered in the evenings with Steven, one of the RBARI staff.  He received all his vet care and started his obedience training under RBARI trainers, including Karyn.  He also went once a week to visit special needs kids, where he was a favorite.  After he fostered with Karyn for three weeks, we adopted him in mid-November at 5 months old.

RBARI requires adopters to keep training their dogs.  We would have anyhow.  We're continuing to work with Karyn.  Styles loves her (and she him) so it's a great situation.  We have a big back yard with about 1/4 acre enclosed with a pool fence, so it's an ideal space to walk, play ball with and train Styles.  He also recently graduated from Jeff Burger's group obedience class at Petco.

Styles and Cooper have become good friends.  Cooper sleeps over, and Styles sleeps over at his house, and they share some quiet time together.  Two donuts curled up next to each other.  Although most of the time Styles is the young instigator of their rough play.  Invariably it's Cooper who can't wait to leave to get this indefatigable little guy out of his face.  You can just see him thinking, "Enough play, already.  Give it a rest, squirt."  Styles was a sensation at his first dog park.  When we walked into the gate at Overpeck Park in Leonia, five dogs encircled him, sniffing the new kid.  He did great.  He played with about 15 dogs, only one of whom kept trying to hump him, and made us all proud with the admiring comments he got from the dog owners.  And he's the only dog in the park who runs around to meet every dog owner as part of his routine.

His food-guarding days are over.  He ate from our hands for weeks, and soon learned to make eye contact and sit in front of his food bowl after we put it down, waiting until we say, "Okay," before eating.  And when Manette says, "Little bites," and feeds him strawberries, his favorite treat, he nibbles off little pieces until he reaches her fingers, then waits for her to give him the rest.

We've had fun with him at McDonald's.  Karyn said we should take him for a drive-in burger as a good socialization experience--the car, the drive-in window sights and sounds, the staff, ordering and picking up--and a treat of a piece of burger.  The lady who took orders said, "Oh, he a cutie," when we ordered, and Manette inched the SUV close and opened the window so he could stand on his front paws and lean out for her to pet him.  When we pulled up the lady deserted her post to run forward to the pick-up window to pet him again.  That lady isn't always working when he visits, but Styles knows exactly where he is as Manette and Zac drive in.  And he always stands in the window.

Happy first birthday, little man.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reflections on the Past Months

It's now been over four months since I launched Trojan Horse. My attitude at the time was "What have I got to lose?" after deciding to commit myself to writing full-time and seeking out an agent to take the traditional publishing route. Since then a lot has happened for me. Trojan Horse made it to #1 in Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue and to the top 15 in Kindle books. I released The Gravy Train, a 50 thousand-word novella, which is now #14 in Suspense Thrillers, and a week ago I released Bull Street, another thriller set on Wall Street during the financial crisis. Bull Street is now #29 in Suspense Thrillers. So I now have three books in the top 40 in the overall Thriller category on Kindle. I've had an offer of representation from a top-notch New York literary agent and, separately, have been offered a publishing deal. I'm at work on my next thriller, the first chapter of which is excerpted at the end of Bull Street. I consider it's been a successful few months.

As a result, I'm reflecting on my situation. I'm grateful to be in this position, one I never could have scripted back in mid-January when I released Trojan Horse. And that means I'm grateful to those who've read my books. Those of you I've heard from have been incredibly supportive and generous with your comments and reviews.

I feel like I've only scratched the surface in my education on the epublishing world, but I do know that it's here to stay and will undoubtedly dominate the publishing world reasonably soon, in years, not decades. It's made it possible for me to have three books out in less time than I would have needed to find a publisher--and then start the 12 to 18 month process of getting one book out. The advent of the Kindel, Nook, Smashwords and Kobo platforms allows an efficient mechanism for authors to get their work in front of readers quickly.

I don't know where all this takes me but I have a pretty good idea: I'm working as hard as I ever have in my life, and as an investment banker I worked hard; it's a punishing career. But now I have a constituency out there--readers--that I don't want to let down, so I feel like I need to deliver more you'll enjoy reading. I'm excited about Bull Street; it's my favorite of the books I've written so far. It's been a great few months and I'm looking forward to what comes next.