Friday, May 31, 2013

Guest Post: Chanda Stafford (Author of First, book one of the Live Once Triology)

Chanda Stafford's novel First is the debut novel in the Live Once trilogy. I asked Chanda to do a guest post for me, topic of her choice. She responded with a piece near and dear to my heart - A Dog's Life.  Enjoy!

A Dog’s life

It started with big black button eyes. They just sucked me in. Even if I’d known what trouble she’d bring, how she’d tear my house apart, and how she’d bark and bark and bark, I’d have done it all again. From the moment I picked up that fluffy white puppy from the cold, wet cement floor in a small town animal shelter, I was done. Finished. She had me at “Arrooo.”
On June 28th, Sascha and I will celebrate eight amazing years together. She’s travelled with me from Indiana to Arizona, where she turned pink from the red dirt and took on a pack of vicious javelinas, to Michigan, my home state. She knows my moods and my quirks and would do anything I asked. I’m so humbled by her love; it’s wormed its way into my writing as well.
In my debut novel, First, there is a dog. He’s just a rangy shepherd mix, brown and black, with floppy ears and a tail that sticks up half-mast. He has an easy-going personality and doesn’t leave his owner’s side. He could be any dog, but he’s not. He’s one of the last service dogs in existence in a world where technology has made them obsolete. His kind has been replaced by robotics and machinery, and by people who can just switch bodies whenever their own becomes an inconvenience. His name is Ben.
His human companion, Socrates, is an eighty eight year old man, a First, one of the select few who choose to live forever by switching bodies. Many of the other Firsts make the switch as soon as their age becomes troublesome, but Socrates often waits until the last minute, and rather than rely on modern technology, he chooses to have a dog as his guide.
Like my Sascha, Ben isn’t an ordinary dog. With an empathetic intuition that borders on a psychic connection, Ben anticipates Socrates’s needs and stays by his side. He provides both physical and emotional support as Socrates comes to grips with his failing health and fading memories in a world that demonizes both.  
In the end, Socrates has to make a choice. It’s a heart-wrenching scene. He can’t take his companion with him, but he can’t find the words to help Ben understand, either. In order to bring authenticity to this scene, I imagined myself in Socrates’ position, having that same discussion with my little white princess. I cried while I was writing it. I cried while I was editing it. I even still get teary-eyed when I read it.
My decision to give Socrates a canine companion spurs entirely from my own experiences. When Ben looks at Socrates with such devotion and love, I see my own dog’s eyes reflected there. His willingness to follow his owner to the ends of the earth reminds me of my own furry friend. Not only does Ben soften Socrates’ harsh edges, he acts as his anchor and his confidante in a world where the older man feels adrift and alone. Sascha has done the same for me.
Hopefully, I’ll have many more years with my girl, because I can’t even imagine the alternative. Ever since that first little tail wag and that first toothy smile, I’ve belonged to her. Besides, we have several more books to write together, and I need all the canine guidance I can get. 

Chanda Stafford teaches middle and high school English. She loves traveling and currently lives in Michigan with her husband and a menagerie of rescued dogs and cats.

When she’s not reading or writing, Chanda enjoys old zombie movies, authentic Italian food, and comic books.

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An excerpt from the book:

“Don’t say a word.”


The room smells musty, unused. Kind of like the back storage buildings on the farm, or the old cellar the Chesanings don’t use any more where we explore and play games. Shafts of sunlight slant through the cracks in the heavy, dark red curtains, and when I take a step, more puffs of dust cloud the air. Chairs covered in white blankets line the walls and tower over me in stacks almost as high as the ceiling.
“What do you think they’re doing out there?” I whisper, but it’s so quiet, I could be shouting.
My servant, Will, shushes me. “If you listen closely, I bet you can hear your First talking.”
I creep over to the door and press my ear against it. Nothing. As if no one’s on the other side. “Isn’t this the Release Ceremony? Shouldn’t I be out there with him?”
Will nods, leaning against the wall, crossing his arms in front of him. “That’s normally how it happens. This is… odd.”
“Did I do something wrong? Did I make Thoreau mad?” I bite my lip to keep it from trembling. Grow up, Adrian. Stop acting like a baby.
“No, of course not.” He flashes me a quick grin, but I can tell he’s nervous.
“Are you sure?” I hate it when my voice is all shaky like a little baby’s.
“Definitely. I would know if there was a problem.” He shrugs, and a bar of light illuminates his carefree smile. “I bet it’s to save you from having to sit out there for the whole ceremony. Some of them can get pretty long.”
On the other side of the door, I hear clapping. An old man’s voice rises up as the applause dies.
“There, you see?” Will says. “Nothing to worry about.” I turn away and tune him out so I can listen to Thoreau.
“Thank you, my friends, for this most welcome reception. As a First, I’ve lived for hundreds of years, influenced this country in ways the average person can’t even begin to comprehend. With your continued support, and that of Princeton, I will use your gift to change the future and create a better tomorrow. Thank you.”
A dull roar follows his words, and I fidget in my seat, watching the door. My eyes dart to Will.
“This doesn’t make any sense, Will. I should be out there.”
“I’m sure they’ll call you shortly, Adrian. Maybe the usual waiting room was unavailable and—”
A loud boom shakes the room, and I almost fall down. The chairs weave back and forth in their towers, and millions of dust particles rain down. Will shoves me away from the wall and pushes me toward the back of the room.
“Move, now!” he shouts, but my ears are ringing, and I cough from the dust. He looks behind us at the door and forces me to move faster.
“Murderer! Child killer! Free the Second!” a loud, mechanical voice shouts from the other room. “Free the Second! Free the Second!”
There’s more yelling, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. Another, quieter boom. Will pushes me to a narrow closet.
“In here,” he hisses and shoves me inside. We stay like that for what feels like a couple hours before the door to our main room bangs open, and I hear the heavy clomping of boots.
“You in here with the Second, boy?” Will stays silent. There is a general grumbling outside, some swearing my mother would never approve of, then the deep, gravelly voice speaks again. “Alpha Code One, this is Underground Robin. Is the cargo safe and accounted for? I repeat, is the cargo safe and accounted for?”
Apparently these are magic words for Will because relief washes over his features.
“Who wants to know?”
“Papa bird.” The men march over to our closet and slide open the door. “Good spot, boy.” The head guard, an older man with a pinched face and a permanent frown sheaths his Artos. The other guards keep theirs out. Why? Is it still dangerous?
“What’s going on out there?” Will asks.
“Nothing we didn’t expect. Stupid rebels, always doing things half-assed.” He grins. “Let’s go.” One of them reaches out for me, but I jerk away.
Will touches my shoulder, reassuring me. “It’s okay, Adrian. We’re safe now.”
I shake my head and step back. “Where are we going?”
“Someplace safe.” The head guard takes my arm roughly in his. “Don’t worry. We won’t let anything happen to you.” One of the other guards laughs, as if that’s somehow funny.
“Is… my First all right?”
“He’s fine, boy.” He drags me from the closet. “Now let’s go.”
“Where?” My feet skitter, trying to find purchase as the guard forces me to follow him. The other men glance at each other, at me, then away again. Even Will won’t meet my eyes. Fear freezes me, and I dig my shoes into the thick carpeting. “Will? What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” he answers too quickly. “Just a trip down to the medical center, to make sure you’re all right.” He tries to give me another smile, but he’s lying about something. I can feel it.
“But I’m fine,” I protest as the guard pulls me to the side of the room, behind the curtains where, instead of a window, there is another door. “Can’t you just tell them that? I’m fine. I just want to go back to my room.”
Will shakes his head, sadly. “I’m sorry, Adrian, I really am.”
“What’s going on? Why are you sorry? Will?”
“Let’s go,” one of the other guards growls from the rear of our group. “We don’t have all day. Some of us have work to do.”

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