Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Boom. A Reinvention.

Photo Courtesy of *Sally M*
Alright, so a new background template isn't exactly a reinvention, but I'm feeling inspired to keep things fresh lately. I started this blog nearly a year ago, so I thought it was about time to switch things up slightly. I also thought it was about time to update my profile pic to a photo that wasn't taken six years ago. 

A puppy may not be quite as exotic as a dolphin, but it's still pretty adorable. And I'll keep my old profile pic hanging around there on the right in case I ever start missing it.

It's 2012, ya'll. Out with the old and in with the new. Boo-yah.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Storyboard Update

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday! I've been working a bit more on my storyboard today, and I just figured out a fun and creative way to display it in my office (which also happens to be my guest bedroom). A few of you have expressed interest in figuring out exactly what I'm up to, so here it is:

Photo Courtesy of Me
I used tacks to secure the twine to the wall, and I used clothespins to arrange my plotted note cards. Each card is highlighted with a unique color assigned to each major character, and none of the cards are numbered--which allows me to rearrange/delete things as needed.

Photo Courtesy of Me
Very simple, and very straightforward, but a great way to keep myself inspired and organized. I hope this inspires you as well!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And Now... A Storyboard!

Photo Courtesy of Virginia Hammer
To continue my trend of doing things I never do, I organized my work in progress, ESSENCE, into a storyboard today.

It was actually kinda fun and fantastic. I have a billion interesting scenes in my head, but I had no idea how I wanted to organize them, so I wrote down them all down as quick notes on index cards. I shuffled the notes together, and then I laid them all out on the ground. From there, it was fairly easy and logical to organize them into a loose story structure.

I'm leaving these scenes open to change--if something particularly interesting jumps in my head and takes over--but I feel so much more confident about actually writing with purpose now.

Wow. What a strange and productive weekend. Have you guys ever made storyboards before?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Brand-New Inspiration Board

Okay, I've never done anything like this before, but I just sat down and created my very first Inspiration Board. It's filled with scenic photographs and character models for my work in progress, a coming-of-age novel called ESSENCE. Here's a very grainy and not-super-pretty iPhone photo of it:

Photo Courtesy of Me
Wow, I'm actually super stoked about this. I'm an incredibly visual person, so I wonder why it took me so long to realize my photographs and maps needed a better home than my laptop?

Have any of you ever made Inspiration Boards before? And what else do you do to keep yourselves inspired during the novel writing process??

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Memories of a High School Me!

I'm so excited to be interviewed on Jaye Robin Brown's blog, "Hanging on to Wonder." She does these great bi-monthly interviews where MG and YA writers reflect on our own high school experiences, and today's my day!

So check it out, and prepare to enter the hallowed halls of Bay High School in Panama City, FL: Memories of a High School You -- Lisa Ann Chickos.

Oh, and one more thing. Do you see this creepy statue?

Photo Courtesy of ClassReport.org
Bay High School's mascot is the tornado, so this bizarre tornado statue graced my school's front lawn (and haunted my dreams) for many, many years. It was made by some students in the 1970's, I think, and when it was finally demolished and replaced by a tornado that actually looks like a tornado a few years back, I have to admit that my heart kind of broke. (How is it possible to become so attached to something so atrocious?)

But I digress. And I hope you enjoy my interview on Jay Robin Brown's blog!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Animal Careers

It's Wildlife Wednesday again, and today's question comes from Maya Hassan, who writes:

"I'm sixteen, and I really want to major in and have a job that has a lot to do with zoos and working with animals. What advice can you give me to fufill this?"

Photo Courtesy of John Gomes
This is a great question, and it's one I've received quite a lot through the years. Many people feel naturally drawn toward animals, so when they see a zookeeper tromping around with an elephant or hitching a ride on Shamu's snout, it seems like a perfect career choice.

And it is a perfect career choice for many people, but it's also way harder--and way less glamorous--than it looks. That's why it's so important to have an accurate understanding of what a zookeeper actually does before taking the leap and deciding to become one.

Photo Courtesy of Me
StateUniversity.com sums it up perfectly: "Zookeepers do not have glamorous, high-paying jobs; they enter the field because of their love for animals. Much of their work requires physical strength, patience with the animals, and the ability to make detailed observations and keep accurate records. 

"Captive animals require attention twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so the hours can be long and exhausting. A special kind of dedication is needed to stay at a zoo through the night nursing a sick animal, or to get up in the middle of the night to meet a pair of rhinos arriving at the airport. Animal odors and the smell of cleaning fluids may be disagreeable to some people. Having to euthanize old or sick animals can be emotionally stressful. However, most people who enter the profession love animals and receive great satisfaction from helping and working with them."

(Here's a link to a recent post of mine, a list of nitty gritty zookeeper duties: You Know You're a Zookeeper If...)

Photo Courtesy of Me
Peter Dickinson also puts it in perspective: "Are you really sure that a zookeeping career is what you are after? It is not like other jobs because it is not simply work. It is a vocation, a way of life. Forget about making money, forget about becoming famous, forget about 9 to 5 and long holidays. Be prepared to face extreme cold or intense heat, rain, hail, snow, gales and lack of sleep. You are guaranteed to work long hard days when you have a hangover or headache and would have much preferred to have stayed at home in bed. It is highly likely you will have to skip holidays or days off at a moments notice. Don’t expect applaud or thanks or even sympathy because you will not get any.

"Still Interested? Then read on.

"What you will get is job satisfaction. The chance to contribute to our understanding of animals and an important role in ensuring that they remain on this planet for future generations to enjoy. You will have the chance to work outdoors in the best of weather too... You will become a member of a big zoo `family,` assured of a welcome wherever you go. Whereas there will be repetition in your daily routine, no two days will be exactly the same. You will not get bored. You will become party to one of the worlds best kept secret.... that zoo keeping is the world's best profession!"

Photo Courtesy of Me
Are you still with me? Awesome! In that case, let's move on and a little bit about how to become a zookeeper. Here's what WiseGeek has to say:

"Since there are more would-be zookeepers than zookeeper jobs available, it’s important to start working toward getting your ideal zookeeper job as soon as possible. If you live in a major city, it’s quite likely you have a zoo where you can volunteer. If you don’t, then work on volunteering at humane shelters, or look for private wildlife reservations where you can volunteer.

"Often zoos welcome volunteers in their early teens, though jobs with more responsibility may be held for kids who are 16 years or older. Some zoos offer one week summer camps to train those who would like to be zookeepers. If you can’t work at a zoo close to your home, consider saving up for one of these camps. Volunteering and experience with animals is an essential quality for getting hired at a zoo.

"Even before middle school and high school, begin studying and reading everything you can about wildlife. Subscribe to a few quality wildlife magazines... Also work hard in science classes and speech courses. As a zookeeper you will need to have a good background in animal science, but you may also need to make presentations to visitors to the zoo, so good speaking skills are a must."

Photo Courtesy of Me
"...College study to become a zookeeper should focus on animal science, zoology, marine biology, if you are interested in aquatic parks, and animal behavior and psychology. You might even want to ask a nearby zoo what qualities they look for in employees, and what type of employees they hire. This can help you direct your choice of college toward the schools best geared toward helping you fulfill your dream of becoming a zookeeper.

"While in college, don’t forget to keep volunteering at zoos or shelters. In fact, you may want to choose a college close to a major zoo, so you can get impressive volunteer credentials and superior training.

"In addition to lots of experience and a good education, a zookeeper must be physically fit. Your job will not involve a lot of sitting, so keep yourself in good shape, and practice some weight lifting. When feeding animals or cleaning cages, you may be required to lift as much as 50 pounds on a regular basis.

"Be prepared to work flexible hours. Zookeepers often work every day of the week, and may work a swing shift or midnight shift, since animals need around the clock care."

Photo Courtesy of John Gomes
Wanna learn more? Here's a huge list of great links (in addition to those listed above):
If you are interested in working specifically with marine mammals, I would also HIGHLY recommend this book, Starting Your Career as a Marine Mammal Trainer, by Terry Samansky. (This was one of my first purchases, and it has a great directory in the back filled with species and contact information for every accredited marine mammal facility in the entire country.)

Photo Courtesy of OpenLibrary.org
I hope this answer was helpful, Maya, and best of luck as YOU start your career. Please let me know if you have any more questions; I can talk about this stuff all day!

Also, thanks to everyone for tuning in to this installment of my Wildlife Wednesday series, and make sure to check back next week for a brand-new nature article. Have a wonderful week!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Goodreads 2012 Reading Challenge

Badge Courtesy of GoodReads
Did any of you resolve to read more books during 2012? If so, GoodReads is hosting this great challenge called the "2012 Reading Challenge" where you can enter your reading goal and track your progress throughout the year.

It was a no-brainer for me to enter, as I already track all the books I read through GoodReads. (Have you found me on there yet? I'm Lisa Chickos, and I'd love to follow you!) I apparently read 32 books last year, so I've decided to shoot for 30 this year--with the idea that I can secretly shoot for 40 and surprise myself when I exceed expectations. (It's all about exceeding expectations, after all.)

You can also download this great widget (see my sidebar) that tracks your progress on your blog. What a fun way for us to become inspired and to inspire others to discover great new books this year!

Interesting in signing up? Visit GoodReads and search "2012 Reading Challenge" to join in on the fun!

(As of right now, there are more than 90,000 participants, and almost 6,000,000 books have been pledged! Doesn't that just make your heart swell??)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Can Dogs Read Minds?

Hello all, and thanks for tuning in to my newest installment of my "Ask a Zookeeper" series, which I am officially renaming "WILDLIFE WEDNESDAY!" In celebration of the New Year, I am also making this series a weekly occurrence, so make sure to check back next week for a new post.

I plan to balance all this craziness by providing bi-weekly "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month, and by posting nature-related articles on the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.

Next week, I will be answering Sumaya Hassan's question about how to obtain a career in zookeeping, but this week, I will post my first nature-related article: a great one from DiscoveryNews titled, "Can Dogs Read Minds? Not Exactly."

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
By Jennifer Viegas
Thu Jan 5, 2012 12:00 PM ET

Dogs often seem to be psychic, anticipating what we're going to say or do, and now research reveals one secret behind this canine ESP: Dogs intensely track our eye movements, which can be tied to intent.

Human babies also possess the ability, described in the latest Current Biology. The discovery might help to explain why so many people treat their furry pals like their kids.

"Dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to six-month-old human infants," co-author Jozsef Topal told Discovery News.

"They read our intention to communicate in a preverbal, infant-like manner," added Topal, who works in the Institute for Psychological Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

For the study, Topal and his colleagues presented dogs with video recordings of a person turning toward one of two identical plastic pots while an eye tracker captured information about the dogs' reactions.

In one test, the person looked directly at the dog, addressing it in a high-pitched voice with "Hi dog!"

In the second test, the person gave only a low-pitched "Hi dog" while avoiding eye contact.

The study determined that dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person first expressed an intention to communication.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
While dog-lovers the world over have likely suspected that their pets have such talents, the experiment is actually the first to ever use eye-tracking techniques to study canine social skills.

The researchers say that dog social skills reach the level of a two-year-old human, since the only talent that's missing is language.

"Although dogs might use a different cognitive architecture for processing human communication, they can play the role of being a child substitute," Topal said.

"These skills on the part of the dog help to make the human-dog bond stronger, which is actually unique when taking into account the biological differences between the two species."

Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and for no apparent direct benefit, such as for food or herding, explained Topal. Dog social cognition has evolved over thousands of years, during which time wolf-like capabilities were transformed by the challenges of living with humans.

Topal and his team suspect that horses and domesticated cats may also be able to read human intent, since they too have lived closely with us for many years.

Dogs may be the most perceptive, however.

"Dogs are in a special way tuned in to humans," Topal explained. "They are interested in finding out how we think, and they are able to do it by reading our subtle communicative behaviors."

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
In a separate new study published in the journal Animal Behaviour, researchers discovered that dogs communicate with humans to request, but not to inform. Nevertheless, the process is still very focused and intense.

We show "how much dogs are tuned into the intentional dimension of human communication and how important certain signals are for them to know when communication is relevant and directed at them," said Juliane Kaminski, lead author of the paper and a researcher in the Evolutionary Roots of Human Social Interaction group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Topal thinks it's possible that dogs are even sometimes better than adults are at reading human intent, given that they are so attuned to smells, sounds, and other cues.

"They can easily learn to associate even unconscious behavioral cues of their owner with particular consequences," he said. "This way, a dog can acquire an ability to anticipate the owner's behavior, and this may give a false impression of mind-reading."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Awards, Awards, Awards!

Happy Monday, everyone! I recently received two beautiful blog awards that I'd like to pass along to hopefully brighten your week.

The first is the Beautiful Blogger Award, gifted to me by the always clever and creative Jenny Phresh, whose blog is a true work of art. I'm serious. This is her profile pic:

Photo Courtesy of The Party Pony
How can this woman NOT be a creative genius??

When I received this award, I knew EXACTLY who I would gift it to right away: Lori Parker of GirlParker.com, who just gave her blog a beautiful facelift. It was lovely before, but the beautifulness has truly stepped up a notch. Well done, Lori! (And the most amazing news is that there are no rules associated with this award, so enjoy at your leisure!)

My next award is the Versatile Blogger Award, given to me by Yelena Casale, a new blogging friend who is an urban fantasy writer with an amazingly practical and helpful blog, filled with tons of great information for aspiring writers.

The rules for this award are a little more intense:

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

Would you guys be opposed if I adapted this award slightly and just passed it on to five of you? I hope not, because here's my list:

1. Rebekah Crane, who has the dual job of writing an amazing paranormal novel and also talking me down from ledges whenever I'm afraid I've stolen an idea from an already-exisiting novel, even if I've never read it before. Versatile indeed, my friend!
2. Beth Christopher, who I will love until the day I die. Her blog, "On the Trail," follows her life as an active, nature-loving Coloradan, and she writes some of the most poetic blog entries I've ever read. (Also, I've been fortunate enough to read the first few chapters of her current WIP. Quite simply put, it's badass.)
3. Peggy Eddleman, who has one of the greatest "brands" I've ever seen on her blog. Its title, "Peggy Eddleman: Will Write for Cookies" pretty much sums everything up. Also, her first novel, THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH, will be published by Random House in September 2013!
4. Jaye Robin Brown, an animal lover and writer of the type of fiction I go crazy to read. She also hosts this great "Memories of a High School You" series... Definitely worth checking out when you're in the mood for a trip down Memory Lane!
5. Lora Rivera, who I respect and admire so much. A contest win brought us together, and I'm so, so, so happy to know her. Lora is a a writer of literary adult and children's fiction, a freelance book editor, and a Life Book writer for Aviva Children's Services. She's also just a wonderful person.

So there you have it! I was fortunate enough to receive this award twice before (must be the whole, "Are you a zookeeper or are you a writer" thing ;)), so here's a link to my first seven random facts: An Embarrassment of Riches, and here's a link to my second seven random facts, which are about the main character in my novel BELOW THE SURFACE (formerly titled THE MERMAID GENE):Versatile Blogger Award and Seven Facts About Kai Murphy.

This time around, I think I will give you--in no particular order--my seven favorite books of all time:

Photo Courtesy of GoodReads

Photo Courtesy of GoodReads

Photo Courtesy of GoodReads

Photo Courtesy of GoodReads

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Photo Courtesy of GoodReads

Photo Courtesy of GoodReads
Oh my gosh, is it just me, or is it nearly IMPOSSIBLE to lower down your favorites to seven?? I'm already second-guessing myself, but I think this is a good cross-section.

Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012: The Year I Will Be "Present"

Photo Courtesy of Mykl Roventine
Happy New Year, everyone! I am finally back in the world of blogging, after a nearly silent Christmas holiday. The truth is, I needed a little time to decompress after a somewhat stressful and uncertain 2011, and I now feel like I am finally ready to take on the New Year.

For those of you who don't know, the past eighteen months have been an incredibly challenging time for me--in those fundamental, life-altering ways that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and nearly always irreversible. The ball began rolling in October of 2010, when my husband and I relocated to Colorado from our home in Alaska. This set in motion a chain of events that have successfully combined nearly every stressor imaginable, including moving, car accidents, goodbyes, hellos, deaths, births, financial uncertainties and career changes.

In short, 2011 has been a growing year for me. And I've realized something fundamental about myself: I need to work on being more "present" during 2012. During the chaos and challenges of 2011, I had a tendency to disappear inside myself. I would hole up with my computer and use my writing as a way to escape the things I didn't like about my life.

Escapism in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but I used escapism as a crutch. And instead of dealing with the issues I faced in my life, I found myself clinging to my writing like a drowning man on a life raft.

It became an addiction in some ways: "Everything will turn around once I get my first full request..." "...once I get an offer..." "...once I sign a contract..." "...once I go on submission..." "...once we go to auction..." "...once I sign a book deal..." "...once I get my advance..." "...once Hollywood starts fighting over movie rights..." "...once I buy a 100-acre ranch in the mountains and work in a beautiful studio overlooking a river..." "...once I'm the next -<INSERT NAME HERE>..." And on and on and on.

I've been fortunate enough to reach some of those milestones this year. But I haven't reached others. And I may NEVER reach some of them. And 2012 is the year, I've decided, that I will realize I'm okay with that.

Daydreaming is fun and fantastic and one of the reasons we all became writers in the first place, but this year, I resolve to view writing as one facet of my life, rather than the fix-all that will magically resolve all my problems. Because here's the thing. Writing doesn't have the ability to do that. And no matter how successful I may someday be--if I'm exceptionally dedicated, lucky, talented and persistent--I will still need to work every single minute to keep all the other facets in my life full and rich and fulfilling.

Because I've realized, finally, that writing should complement my life.

It shouldn't replace it.