My Friend, My Dog, My Eyes

It’s like looking through old pictures from when you were a baby, or watching home movies of your antics as a toddler.  It’s fun, it’s endearing, maybe a little embarrassing, and you smile at just how far you’ve come.   What am I talking about?  Reading material you wrote when you were just starting out.   I was walking through my parents’ garage last night and a blue 3-ring binder with a golden retriever puppy on it caught my eye.  I smiled as I walked by, knowing what it held: the manuscript of My Friend, My Dog, My Eyes.  I tried to think of the opening sentence, and when I couldn’t recall how it started, I turned around and picked the binder up.  I read the first sentence, said, “Oh yeah,” and put it back down.  I walked to my RAV4, put my two dogs in, then turned and walked back to the garage.  I picked the binder up, brushed the cobwebs, dust and live spiders off of it and took it with me.

Over last night and today, I read through the entire book.  It was such a blast from the past.  I smiled the whole time, usually over just how bad it was.  To be fair, this manuscript was not actually when I was “just starting out.”  Technically, it was my fourth completed book.  It was longest I had ever spent (on that time) working on one.  I spent three years, between the ages of 12 and 14, on this work.  It was my “first” a lot of things.  It was the first time I had written from a first-person POV.  It was the first time I lost some of my book (thanks to my brother holding my notebook out the window of the car and having the wind rip it from his hands.  My mom even drove back and looked for it, but we couldn’t find it).  It was the first manuscript I transferred from handwritten notebook to word processor (about 1/3 of the book is printed out on that paper that was connected by perforated edges and you had to tear apart).  It was the first time I did any “editing” (my EXTREMELY few little highlights, penned in corrections and cross-outs are adorable, especially considering how many strictly technical errors I missed).  It was the first time I had someone outside of my family critique my work (God bless Kim and her wonderful former-babysitter super English teacher self and her willingness to slog through that). It was the first manuscript I ever sent to a publisher (oh how I groan with embarrassment).  And it was my first rejection letter (actually, two rejection letters).

There is so much of me in this book.  They say “write what you know”; well, I certainly stuck close to that in many ways in this manuscript.  I don’t remember writing a lot of it.  I didn’t remember many aspects of the story as I read through.  But figuring out where I was in life at that time and what was going on in my world and seeing the parallels is funny.  On a side, one of the very few things I do recall when writing this book was I wanted it to be at least 100 printed pages long when I was done.  I’m not sure why that was my goal, but it was.  The final manuscript was 104 pages (each page number hand-written in the upper right-hand corner with a little circle around it).

The book is told from the POV of Katie Miling and follows through her life from age 12 to about 22 or 23 (I’m not sure exactly how old she is at the end as my timeline gets a little fuzzy in the middle and seems to contradict itself a few times).  It begins with our protagonist finding out her parents are going to have a baby and she is going to be a big sister for the first time.  While I already had two other siblings (one older, one younger) my parents had my youngest sister when I was 11, about a year before I started this book.  About four months later, young Katie experiences a tragedy when she falls off her horse and hits her head on a tree.  Her retina are detached and she becomes blind.  I had horses when I was growing up and have fallen off more times than I can remember.  Horses frequently figure into my books (curiously enough, most of Katie’s friends also had horses, which seems a bit odd since they lived in Hawaii; I know, classic, right?).  Fortunately, I have never hit my head hard enough to detach my retina: I am still blessed with sight.  However, the entire creation of this book was built around something very significant happening in my life at that time.

My mom had introduced the idea of me raising a guide dog for the blind.  It was something she had always wanted to do and solved the problem of both me and my sister wanting to show our house dog at the county fair.  It just so happened we had a neighbor down the street who was blind.  We approached her and found out she obtained her guide dogs from an organization known as Pilot Dogs, Inc.  So, we contacted them and got the ball rolling.  At the age of 12 I became a “puppy walker” and received a little yellow lab named Sinbad to raise for a year.  Sinbad would be the first of 5 dogs I raised for this organization over the next 5 years.  He was also very much the inspiration for writing My Friend, My Dog, My Eyes.  In the book, 12 year old Katie gets special permission to receive a guide dog from Hawaiian Eye, a non-profit center providing guides for the blind (just like Pilot Dogs).   She receives a Golden Retriever named Caleb.   Over the rest of the book, we see how Caleb helps Katie embrace and engage in life.  I was surprised, upon re-reading it, by how little I actually focused on Caleb.  While he was certainly in the book and mentioned frequently, the story focused much more on Katie and less on her relationship with her dog than I recalled.

Considering how young I was, and how blissfully ignorant I was of the way certain things in the world work, I was quite knowledgeable in certain areas.   For example, when Katie began to learn Braille, I was able to explain the process in decent detail because my neighbor offered to teach me how to read and write it and did so for 5 years.  I also knew quite a bit about the process of receiving a dog, from talking to her and from what I learned in my dealings with Pilot Dogs.

Other things that caught my attention was the technology in my book.  It made me feel old to read about tape players, and videos, portable phones and snail-mail letters.  No emails.  No Facebook.  No iPods.  Only two cell phones mentioned in the whole book.  I start to wonder what sort of things show up in my current books that will be obsolete in 20 years; then I remember, I write fantasy.

If you’ve been writing for a long time, or especially since you were a child, go back and re-read some of your old work.  It’s such a hoot.  I could see my growth as a writer just between the beginning and the end of that book.  Nearing the end I actually found a couple of decent sentences.  It wasn’t bad for a 12-year-old.  I was able to form a complete and coherent story with a thorough plot and a little character development.  I tried my hand at romance (another first; she marries the kid who raised Caleb as a puppy) and it’s really amusing to see how I wrote a 20-something-year-old character when I was still a teenie bopper.  Still, as with all my former books, I am proud of what I accomplished and how it has helped me develop as a writer.  I will treasure this three-ring binder and am so glad I have the entire manuscript.  Now, go have your own blast from the past, if you dare!

~ S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on August 5, 2013.

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