Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Dolphin Tale" Premiers September 23rd!

I have been on the look-out for something uplifting this week. I have needed something uplifting this week, so news of Dolphin Tale's movie premier is a much-needed bright spot during an otherwise stormy time. (See "On Losing My Best Friend...")

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
According to the official synopsis, "Dolphin Tale is inspired by the amazing true story of a brave dolphin and the compassionate strangers who banded together to save her life.

"Swimming free, a young dolphin is caught in a crab trap, severely damaging her tail. She is rescued and transported to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where she is named Winter. But her fight for survival has just begun. Without a tail, Winter's prognosis is dire. It will take the expertise of a dedicated marine biologist, the ingenuity of a brilliant prosthetics doctor, and the unwavering devotion of a young boy to bring about a groundbreaking miracle--a miracle that might not only save Winter but could also help scores of people around the world.

"The real Winter, who plays herself in Dolphin Tale, today serves as a symbol of courage, perseverance and hope to millions of people--both able and disabled--who have been touched by her remarkable story of recovery and rehabilitation."

Here is one movie trailer:


And here is the other:


How's that for uplifting? News of Dolphin Tale's premier on September 23rd leaves me asking myself one huge question: How in the world did I NOT know this movie was being made?

As many of you know, I consider myself to be a bit of a dolphin nerd.  And the crazy thing is... I actually know Winter.  Okay, I don't know know Winter, but I know of Winter, and our friends travel in similar circles.  ;)

I began working as the Director of Education at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, FL, in February 2006--two months after Winter was rescued and brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater, FL.  Because the marine mammal rehab world is so small, our staff watched Winter's rehabilitation and recovery like she was our own.  Winter finally got her new tail in 2009, and although I had already moved on to my position at the Alaska Zoo at that time, I still celebrated like crazy.

The years passed.  Life got busy, and I lost track of Winter for awhile.  And low and behold, she was busy becoming a MOVIE STAR the whole time.  (With Morgan Freeman, of all people, as her co-star!  I mean, seriously, that's kind of the penultimate, isn't it?)

Here's a link to Winter's home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. And here's a link to the movie's official site: Dolphin Tale Movie.

Like most Hollywood movies, the storyline isn't exactly accurate, but the overall feeling of hope and inspiration definitely rings true.  Here's a rundown of the real escue ("Winter the Dolphin's Rescue off Volusia has Hollywood Ending"), and here's a great article from CBS News that details plans for Winter's 2009 tail introduction ("'Bionic' Dolphin Getting New Tail").

Monday, August 29, 2011

On Losing My Best Friend...

Bridger Pacey Boop Chickos: August 14, 2007-August 21, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011 turned out to be one of the worst days of my entire life.

My husband and I unexpectedly lost Bridger--our affectionate and vulnerable four year-old Alaskan husky--to a freak accident with a soft toy. Unbeknownst to us, he swallowed a few bits of fluff and string, and the string worked its way through his intestines and caused irrevocable damage.

I wish I felt articulate enough to write a blog post that captures Bridger's importance in my life--his awkward kisses, the way he leaned into my legs when he felt insecure, his floppy ears and massive neck, the way he trotted like a Tennessee Walking Horse, his terrible vision, the way he hid bones from his sister and often forgot where he put them, his steamroller hugs, his curly tail, his affinity for rugby balls and the way he lit up my life by just existing in it.

My husband and I rescued him during the fall of 2008 when he was just over a year old. He was an abused stray--dropped in the night box without so much as a note--and his vertebrae, spine and hips grotesquely protruded from his frame: 65 pounds of dog starved into a 42 pound body. We took him in, fattened him up and gave him what I desperately hope was three years of an amazing life: hiking, snowboarding, playing in the ocean, wrestling and sleeping right between us in our always too-small queen-sized bed. We also taught him about love, and trust, and my husband showed him that not all men want to hurt him, and I showed him that he would always have food and water and shelter and comfort.

And now he's gone. And I'm absolutely devastated.

My husband and I don't have kids yet, so Bridger and his sister Naia have literally been our entire lives. And his ABSENCE is suffocating. All-consuming.

I feel like I'm drowning.

I was doing some internet research today, and I found a good article in the New York Times called "Mourning the Death of a Pet" that begins to scratch the surface of the depth and intensity of pet loss. The author, Tara Parker-Pope, had this to say:

Last year, researchers from the University of Hawaii’s animal science department conducted a study to determine the level of grief and stress that a pet owner experiences when a pet dies. Among 106 pet owners interviewed from a veterinary clinic, 52 percent had lost one or more pets from natural causes, while 37 percent had lost a pet to euthanasia. Although many pet owners experience significant grief when a pet dies, about 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. Severe grief that resulted in major life disruption was less common but was estimated as high as 12 percent of those studied.

It’s not only animal researchers who are taking note of the grief that occurs when a pet dies. The journal
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care noted that the bond between people and their pets can affect both physical and mental health, and that the grief reaction that occurs after a pet’s death is “in many ways comparable to that of the loss of a family member. Unfortunately, the loss of a pet is not recognized consistently by friends, acquaintances or colleagues as a significant or authentic occasion for bereavement.

Here's some advice from "Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Understanding and Coping with the Grief of Losing a Pet" on HelpGuide.org:

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk with others about them.

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for humans, grief for animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
  2. Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.
  3. Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
  4. Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
  5. Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
  6. If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too.
I'm trying to take all this advice, but mostly, I'm just trying to survive right now.  And I'm now on a rampage against soft toys, so please, please, please read this article from PetMD.com about the symptoms, treatments and preventions of canine intestinal blockages: Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs.

I'm really, really, really missing Bridger.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WriteOnCon Update + Blog on Fire Award!

Whew, what a crazy week! The WriteOnCon online conference has been a whirlwind, and it's been great learning from pros, chatting with other writers and honing the craft. And holy crap, was anyone else part of the madness that was the opening of the live YA MG Pitch Forum Event with Carlie Webber and Christina Hogrebe? I literally had to stop on the side of the freeway to get my Twitter pitch posted!


I also recently scored a blog award I've been oogling for ages: the Blog on Fire Award, from the lovely and talented Cherie of Ready. Write. Go.  Not only is she a great blogging buddy, but she looks EXACTLY like the main character in my novel The Mermaid Gene.  I'm serious.  It's freakish.

The purpose of the Blog on Fire Award is to stoplight up and coming bloggers who deserve acknowledgement for all the hard work and dedication they put into their craft.  There actually aren't any rules associated with this one, so I'm just going to pick five great bloggers and call it a night.  Feel free to pay this award forward if you like, or you can just enjoy the fun!

1.  Kalen O'Donnell... He's too nice too brag, but the guy literally has FOURTEEN full manuscripts out right now.  He's also written like 300 books, so he's pretty much set for life at this point.
2.  Lori M. Lee... Both of our main characters are named Kai, and Lori just scored a request from a big-time agent during one of today's WriteOnCon live events.  The best part?  The manuscript isn't even ready yet--and she told the agent that--but the agent loves it enough that she's willing to wait!
3.  Jenny Phresh... is one of those people you don't want to go on a double-date with, because she's so damn snarky and hilarious that both dudes would totally pick her over you.
4.  An Alleged Author...  She is a fantastic writer, and I'm so glad Deana Barnhart's GUTGAA blogfest brought us together.  She's also been ripping up WriteOnCon, and she is definitely one to watch!
5. Michelle Fayard... gives fantastic editing advice, and her website is one of the best resources I've found for aspiring writers.

There you have it!  Have a wonderful evening, everyone!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Home for "Splintered!!"

I'd like to tell you about this great YA novel, Splintered. Actually, I'd like to tell you about an incredibly talented woman named Anita Howard who wrote this great YA novel, Splintered.

When I first began this literary submission thing, the first writing website I began visiting regularly was Query Tracker--a fantastic resource (if you haven't checked it out already) that allows you to keep track of your agent submissions, view agent stats and get connected with others who are querying the same agents as you.  One of Query Tracker's greatest amenities is a series of message boards for each agent--a place where you can post your stats and celebrate/commiserate with others as you receive rejections, requests and offers of representation.

When I initially joined Query Tracker, I was more of a silent stalker than an active poster.  Why would I want to share my information with all these strangers, anyway??  But then I started noticing something.  Or someone, really.  A user by the name of raven1 who began appearing everywhere.  She already HAD an agent (Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency), but there she was anyway, posting congratulations and
messages of support to everyone. And she was just so damn NICE that I finally felt compelled to make contact.

A quick email introduced me to the woman behind the curtain, and that is how I first met Anita Howard. And since that day, she has quickly become one of the women I admire the most in this industry.  She's always supportive, encouraging, positive and thoughtful; she gave me my very first blog award, and through her blog, A Still and Quiet Madness, I have met loads of like-minded writers and partners in crime.

This summer, Anita and her agent been shopping for a publisher for her YA novel, Splintered, and today they made it official: Splintered has been picked up by Abram's Amulet imprint--home of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Shine!  Not only did Anita get to go to auction, but she also got a two-book deal!

Her first novel will be making its hardcover debut in the spring of 2013, and I am so excited for Anita that I just can't stand it. I can't WAIT to buy my hardcover copy!

Splintered, by the way, is a dark and whimsical take on Alice and Wonderland.  Check out some fun background info on her main character, Alyssa, here, and watch this amazing book trailer she made:


Last but certainly not least, check out her official announcement here: Overwhelmed, Ever-Grateful, Blessed and Humbled.  And check out the rest of her beautiful blog; this is a woman who is going places!! :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Contests, Conferences & Pitches, Oh My!

Autumn is shaping up to be a very busy season, and I have just completed a marathon evening of conference and contest registrations.  Are you an aspiring writer as well?  If so, I encourage you to check out some (or all) of these fantastic events.  Perhaps I'll see you there!


This is it. My first "Big Girl" writer's conference, and I'm so nervous/excited I just don't know what to do with myself! Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial novel-length fiction. To that end, the organization strives to provide an environment of support and encouragement among members, stimulate interest in and appreciation for the art of writing, act as a dissemination point for information concerning commercial fiction writing, and bring together authors, editors, agents, and other related professionals for the mutual benefit of all

RMFW hosts the Colorado Gold Writers Conference each September and sponsors an annual contest for unpublished authors. It also sponsors critique groups, publishes a newsletter, hosts monthly meetings on the craft and business of writing, and periodically publishes an anthology of short fiction showcasing the talents of its members.  This year's conference, "Lifting Off," will take place September 9-11 in Denver, and I just completed my official registration.  I also signed up for an agent pitch session--something I've never done before--and now I need to crazily figure out exactly what that is!


She Writes is a community, virtual workplace and emerging marketplace for women who write, with over 15,000 active members from all 50 states and more than 30 countries. Leveraging social media tools and harnessing women’s collaborative power, She Writes is fast becoming the destination for all women who write.

She Writes' “We Love New Novelists!” contest is a writing contest open to emerging authors and members of She Writes with the first 2,000 words of a novel (complete or in-progress) ready to show agents and editors.

Through the “We Love New Novelists!” contest, She Writes is using networks, connections and platforms to provide five first-time women authors immediate and exciting access to major literary agents and editors, as well as the opportunity to share their work with the She Writes community at large.

The winners will be selected on the basis of the merit of their entries, which will consist of a cover letter and a 2,000-word excerpt (preferably the first 2,000 words) from a novel, completed or in-progress.

Through the first-ever “We Love New Novelists!” contest, She Writes has leveraged its relationships with publishing industry – specifically with passionate, talented agents and editors they respect and admire – to give five unpublished, un-agented first-time novelists the chance to skip the slush pile and sail straight to the top.

Want to learn more?  Visit the contest information page here: We Love New Novelists! Contest Guidelines.


Last, but certainly not least, WriteOnCon is a free Online Children’s Writers Conference (rated MC-18, for Main Characters under 18 only) created by writers, for writers. The Conference is designed to give attendees many of the features of a live writer’s conference, but in an online environment. Thanks to technologies like blogging, vlogging, livestreaming, and chats, WriteOnCon connects writers with both industry professionals and fellow peers from the convenience of their own homes. Critique forums allow writers to receive feedback and exposure for their work, and the entire program is designed to be both informative and entertaining.

The conference is scheduled for weekdays, so that attendees won’t have to set aside an entire weekend to be glued to their computers. To accommodate day jobs, the schedule features more static elements during working hours, and most live events are saved for the evenings. Transcripts/replays for live sessions are also available for those unable to attend, and all of the conference content is archived on the website.  Check out more information here: Gearing Up for WriteOnCon 2011 Registration.

Have you heard of any other interesting conferences or contests lately??

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Interrupting your Saturday: The Greatest Dolphin in the Whole Wide World

I'll keep this short, but I just found the cutest picture of my favorite dolphin, and I had to share it with you guys.

Photo Courtesy of Alex Mancini
This is Astro, a rough-toothed dolphin I had the honor of getting to know while I worked as the Director of Education at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, FL from 2006-2007. He was rescued off the coast of Texas after he stranded in 2005, and he was deemed unreleasable after he was diagnosed with scoliosis of the spine. (Who knew dolphins could get it, too?)

He has some pretty sweet digs at Gulf World these days. He's a fully-functioning member of the park's seven member rough-toothed dolphin pod, AND he has his own personal chiropractor. He's a lovable staff favorite, I visit him every time I go back to Panama City Beach, and he still seems to remember me, all these years later.

This pic was recently posted on Facebook by a guest who visited the park, and Astro can be seen clowning around with his very own traffic cone--one of the many objects given to the animals on a rotational basis to enhance environmental enrichment and stimulate critical thinking.

Wanna know more about rough-toothed dolphins--my absolute favorite animals?? Check out this great background article from MarineBio.org: Steno bredanensis, Rough-Toothed Dolphin.  Environmental enrichment information is also available in this break-through publication by Robert J. Young, Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals.

Feel like totally nerdin' out? I can talk about this stuff for hours!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mariachi Band Serenades Music-Loving Beluga Whale

Oh. My. God. Lora Rivera just shared the most adorable link with me.  Check out this article from DiscoveryNews.com, and you gotta watch this fantastic video of a mariachi-lovin' beluga whale at Connecticut's Mystic Aquarium.


MARIACHI BAND SERENADES MUSIC-LOVING BELUGA WHALE
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas
Wed Aug 3, 2011 01:25 PM ET


A playful beluga whale named Juno recently interacted with a mariachi band that played at a wedding held at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

Kelly O'Neil, senior trainer of beluga whales at the aquarium, told me that Juno was hanging out in his 750,000-gallon tank when the wedding festivities began. Juno shares the tank with two other female beluga whales.

The whales can choose to go up to the window, to watch any human happenings, or they can retreat to quiet, private areas, which include two back pools that are out of sight.

"Juno is extremely playful, so the mariachi band must have piqued his curiosity," O'Neil said. "The two females might have stayed away since he was hogging the window."

Beluga whales are known as the "canaries of the sea," due to their musical vocalizations. (You can listen to some in this beautiful clip.) O'Neil said the whales can hear outside of their tank, when they get up to the window, so there's little doubt that Juno was aware of the music.

He is also clearly aware of the mariachi players' movements, even dancing along with them as he mirrors their head bobs and sways.

O'Neil said Juno was previously trained to move his head up and down, as well as from side to side, so these motions are familiar to him. (No trainer was coaching Juno during the mariachi moment.) For enrichment outside of training sessions, the whales are additionally exposed to all sorts of different things, from bubbles to TV shows (I hope they're watching Discovery!) just to keep the whales engaged and entertained. They have active minds that need stimulation.

In the wild, beluga whales are "curious from afar" and "skittish," O'Neil said. It's no wonder. Our hunting of them and harming of their habitat has reduced their populations in the wild. The IUCN Red List classifies them as "near threatened."

Juno and his tank buddies, however, are doing their part to help turn the tide. Through public education programs at such aquariums and other conservation efforts, people like us are made more aware of these magnificent, intelligent animals.