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The Normand Hound

June 2022

The Last Waltz The Normand Hound It’s always easy for me to see, in retrospect, how a novel of mine comes to be. I’ve a fixed pattern of planning one activity, or a series of activities, only to postpone them until after I write another novel. This delayed gratification is the carrot portion of my carrot-and-stick reward system for accomplishing my work, or mission! The stick part is determined by My Muse, who allows me just enough sleep each night so that I can wake up each morning with revisions and dialogue in my head. The next chapter is on the way . . .

When I purchased this art print, “Hounds At Rest” by John Emms, in late March of this year, I’d thought the picture was merely decorative, and amusingly so, but not necessarily functional, except in the sense of profound appreciation of the scent hound. By the beginning of May, I knew otherwise. I began to organize research materials in my writing room, known as The Buckaroo Room. By the beginning of June, my days and nights were engaged in writing this novel, and in making revisions to the text. Final edits to the text are about to take place. By the summer solstice, I hope to present THE LAST WALTZ in e-published form. In truth, I wrote many passages of THE LAST WALTZ during the summer, autumn, and winter of 2014. I performed an enormous amount of research, almost without realizing it, during the next several years, while I was working on other projects, including designing and building a Dream House.

I stored away THE LAST WALTZ, thinking that I’d get to it, later, much later . . . Life, however, can be quite a catalyst for the art of writing. After I’d completed translating THE DAWN into L’AUBE in January 2021, I began to settle into my new house. Settling in led to more creative catalysts. I wrote my first Western, SHADOW, earlier this year. By spring, the images and visions, whispers and rhythms of this novel re-emerged, as if for the first time! And memories of Bootsie, my Puppy Boy, returned to me, with affection and vitality, an aesthetic energy materialized in the person of a fictional dog. The canine character of Antoine honours my beloved Bootsie, the noble hound who died in early February 2011 while I was writing THE DAWN.

Antoine belongs to Monsieur Cubré. This Great War veteran keeps watch over Sophia during her “period of confinement”, or pregnancy, while her husband, Charles, is engaged in the final operations of World War II. The final bloody combat comprises the Battle of the Bulge. The Ardennes Offensive by the Germans begins on 16 December 1944. Hitler’s last gamble plays itself out while Sophia prays, and waits, and hopes, in her maison de maître in Staint-Hubert, France. Antoine plays his part as a scent hound for protection of that domestic realm. Such loyalty and devotion are the proper domain of le chien Normand, the Normand dog. The illustration shown above is taken from the classic French dog book entitled Les Chiens, le Gibier et ses Ennemis: The Dog, the Game, and His Enemies.

A scent hound can be a loving animal, a fantastic pet, and an intensely devoted and dependable friend. Do not, however, mistake his gentle demeanour or his softly pleading eyes as signs of submissiveness, much less a willingness to obey a command. When the enemy is smelled, or heard, and then seen, there’s no stopping the French sniffer dog from tracking his prey, and then, meeting his objective, according to his primal instinct — killing the critter. Domestication of the scent hound that became known as the beagle has trained into the beast a strong need to bond with his master, but the desire to obey that cherished human remains problematic, at best; elusive, at heart; and impossible in mind. I still recall the deeply voiced cry of Dear Husband, standing outside, in the middle of the hot summer night, calling to Bootsie, who had been let outside to attend to his private call of nature. Nature then called Puppy Boy to the pursuit of — a skunk!

BOOTSIEEEEE! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Bootsie, yes, got his piece of the skunk, an odeur that fragranced The Home for almost a week. Bathing Bootsie in tomato juice helped, to a point. The point for Bootsie was to protect The Home and his pack of inhabitants. This faithful sentinel took his job very seriously, patrolling his portion of the perimeter at the Peach House, a half acre that he surveillanced like a sentry. Images of Bootsie, on-duty, remained tenderly in my mind long after he’d gone to his celestial reward.

When Dear Husband and I moved out of the Peach House in May 2018, countless souvenirs images of that magnificent and dignified dog traveled with me. Those souvenirs of the ever-faithful scent hound with a noble soul, dedicated to his humans, have since journeyed in time, all the way to the year 1944. And to a place called Maison Charpentier, a maison de maître in St. Hubert, France . . .

in my northern French novel — THE LAST WALTZ.


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