Sunday, January 19, 2020

Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd on How Her Dog Rio Saved Her Life

In this interview, Joni darc Shepherd talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life.

“Dogs are little angels with fur.” ~Joni darc Shepherd

Joni has liked dogs ever since she was a little girl, as there had always been one dog in their family’s house at all times. Much as she wanted to have a dog of her own, it wasn’t until she lived on her own that she got a dog for herself, as her mother prohibited any other dog but her sister’s to live in the family home. Her first dog, Marley, was a rescued black Labrador mix, whom she really bonded with.

Joni remarks that the right dog comes along to a person at the right moment. To those who would own a dog, Joni recommends that they do their homework, creating a list of things that will and won’t work for one, such as the dog’s energy level and the dog’s age, a puppy will be very demanding. Once the criteria are set, one should check out dogs, such as during a dog exhibit set by a local dog club, so one can see how the dog behaves. That said, dogs also have their own personalities, and she encourages rescue dog adoption. “You need to take it [dog guardianship] seriously,” Joni remarks, “because it is for your life and the dog’s total life.” Where giving dogs as presents is concerned, Joni notes that the person receiving the dog might not be ready for one at that point in his or her life, and while the dog might be a nice one for the giver, it might not be the right one for the recipient.

Rio, according to Joni, is a “real person,” and has done things for her that humans haven’t, helping her go on the journey she is presently on. Joni’s sister, aunt and Marley died in quick succession. The stress didn’t stop there, as Joni needed to look after her 91-year-old mother and both her sister and the latter’s dog, when both contracted lymphoma. Joni then fell into depression, feeling lost and that her whole world had fallen apart, with her waking up some days not wanting to do anything but hide. It was shortly after Marley’s death that she looked for a dog and found Rio, and the dog’s cheerful, endearing, friendly nature pulled her out of that depression and got her living life once again, as well as opened up doors and commit to doing bigger goals than she was used to.

Rio is a Belgian Tervuren, and Joni notes that, in the United States, there are four recognized Belgian breeds (Malinois, Tervuren, Groenendael, Laekenois) that are very similar to each other, but that, in Belgium and the rest of Europe, those four breeds are treated as a single breed. Where Belgian dog breeds are concerned, Joni notes that these can “do it all,” whereas other breeds might specialize in sniffing, while others would specialize in herding, and still others in obedience.

Joni remarks that Rio is an exception to the breed, as he is sweet, friendly and endearing. Joni cites examples of Rio going up to animals such as camels, rabbits and supposedly ornery horses, and getting friendly greetings from these. Rio is also a flirt, as he manages to find at least girlfriend at each meet he goes to, with the girls occasionally fighting over him. Joni remarks that Rio’s energy is infectious, particularly when her alarm rings at 3 a.m. and, while she’s wondering whether to get up or not, Rio gets her attention and asks: “Where are we going today, Mom?”

When Joni got Rio, the breeder told her to show him in the confirmation ring, which was something she had not done before. Joni committed to doing that, with Rio winning championships at such shows. (Confirmations are shows where dogs are shown to judges who are familiar with such breeds confirmed, and the dog with the traits that best meet the standards met by clubs - and the standards can be numerous and specific - wins awards.) Joni mentions that an award-winning dog becomes most in demand for breeding, which has an impact on future generations of the breed.

For his part, Rio doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over, which was why he has participated in several canine sports. Joni shared some incidents with Rio, such as with her losing her shoes during a sheep herding competition, and remarks that Rio has also participated in obedience trials as well as agility, where he was stopped by the dark, curved tunnel until one of his girlfriends was placed on the other end - after which he had no difficulty negotiating that obstacle. That said, Rio is also afraid of heights, which was why he stopped doing agility work. Rio has also done dog trick competitions, with one of his best tricks being mimicry, and has also done barn hunting competitions, where he has bested an Airedale, which have been bred specifically to find rats on riverbanks, to win first place in that particular competition. Rio has also done farm dog competitions, where the dog has to do twelve different things which simulate different tasks done around a farm, and doggie dancing. Rio is also a certified therapy dog, and the tricks he knows helps entertain and draw out nursing home hospice residents. Joni intends to have Rio do duck herding when he gets older, as ducks don’t run fast.

Where the book is concerned, Joni notes that the book is inspirational, motivational and upbeat, as well as touches on every emotion possible. “Through my journey,” Joni remarks, “one of the main things that I’ve learned is that the most important thing is love.”

Purchase from Amazon: Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life by Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Beth Cramer on Dying to Live (Her Cancer Memoir - Why Didn't I Notice Her Before?)

In this interview, Beth Cramer talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Why Didn't I Notice Her Before? A Memoir about Dying to Live.

“I don’t wanna do anything I don’t wanna do anymore.” ~Beth Cramer

Beth admits that she’s a storyteller, and film became a medium of choice. Being an editor gave her the leeway to learn not only about filming but also how to tell stories. Crafting commercials was one way for her to do so, as she needed to tell a story within thirty seconds. “I’ve always wanted to pull at the heartstrings,” she remarks. She also created a documentary on single women who wanted to raise children without a partner, and one of the reasons she set up Brain Films was to set up a brand for herself in the filming industry.

Beth remarks that she had actually been trying to write a novel on a woman with cancer, and had been finding it difficult to move the story forward when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, when she came in for treatment for heartburn in 2017. “Ovarian cancer is called a silent killer for a reason,” Beth notes, as this type of cancer is mistaken for such benign conditions as bloated bellies (which was one of Beth’s conditions), and there is no diagnostic tool to determine its presence. Beth’s family has, additionally, had no history of cancer, which made the diagnosis all that more surprising. The cancer started in her fallopian tubes and had spread to her chest, neck and lymph nodes at the time she was diagnosed.

Beth notes that she had been suffering from anxiety since 2010, and the diagnosis offered her clarity and gave her an opportunity to live in the moment. Beth mentioned that she had close family ties, and that support was important where dealing with her condition was concerned. She eventually got most of her treatments in Washington, D.C., where her sisters and her mother lived, whereas she lives in New York with her family; and doing so made things a lot easier for her.

Beth remarks that her mother was “astounded” that she wrote a book that was “so raw,” as Beth is the most reserved of her daughters, and she notes that she had a lot of things she needed to overcome to essentially “target” her own cancer. She also noted how “funny” it was to use “the cancer card,” as it’s called, in various ways, which stems from being honest about the situation she found herself in, such as going into a hot yoga class while wearing a wig. Beth notes that such moments can be painful as well as comical, and remarks that her book isn’t intended to be a depressing book or a clinical book. She also remarks that, while cancer is the catalyst for a lot of the stories she wrote about, those stories are personal but also ones which a lot of people can relate to, which gives her book its appeal. “It’s about how we navigate this crazy world with crazy minds,” she remarks, adding that her book isn’t clinical or medical in nature.

Being released from the trauma that caused her anxiety was one of the things she got out of being diagnosed with cancer, and perhaps the biggest lesson she got was that things happen for a reason. She also remarks that she has not denied herself that which feels good for her, such as the foods she likes. Beth admits that she had always been idealistic and determined, prior to her diagnosis. “There was not a lot of self-kindness there,” she notes, and her diagnosis that she had cancer silenced her inner self-critic, as such concerns didn’t matter anymore. “I could see the essence of myself again,” she remarks, enabling her to live closer to her truth.

“Don’t second-guess yourself or your instincts,” Beth advises. “Go for it, and pay attention to the signs and try to laugh.”

Purchase from Amazon: 
Why Didn't I Notice Her Before? A Memoir about Dying to Live by Beth Cramer