Thursday, July 26, 2012

Live Q&A with a Zookeeper!!

Photo Courtesy of Me
As many of you know, I used to host a weekly blog column I called "Wildlife Wednesdays: Ask a Zookeeper." Utilizing my knowledge as a zookeeper, animal trainer and environmental educator, I answered your animal-related questions--many of which came from your story ideas and manuscripts.

(Credit for the idea actually belongs to Lydia Kang, who is a medical doctor as well as a young adult author. Her "Medical Monday" posts offer incredible insight into disorders, injuries and such. Many writers I know have made her their go-to doctor whenever they have story-related questions--i.e., "How long could a person be knocked unconscious without suffering brain damage?" "How long does it take for a sleeping pill to start working?" etc.)

I figured many of you out there might have similar animal-related questions, so "Wildlife Wednesday" was born. The column had a good run. Here are links to some of my favorite posts, including my bear attack post, which has BY FAR the most hits of anything I have ever written:
5. Ask a Zookeeper: Clever Capuchin Monkeys

Unfortunately, my life got a little overwhelming this spring (see An Explanation: Where I Have Been), so I had to give the column a temporary hiatus. 

I have been wanting to bring Wildlife Wednesdays back for awhile, so I was very pleased when Dan Corbin of contacted me to see if I wanted to host a zookeeper Q&A on his website.

Jobstr, by the way, is a website "where you can ask people anything about their jobs. Whether you’re exploring new career paths or simply want the down-and-dirty on the professions of others, Jobstr allows you to ask everything, from the most basic questions to the most provocative." (BTW, what an AMAZING resource for writers! Everything you could ever hope to know about any job in the world, from police officer to day trader to professional poker player!)

I happily agreed, and my Q&A is now live! Do you have an animal or zookeeping-related question? Please stop by and visit: Jobstr: Zookeeper / Animal Trainer. (Or, if it's a really long and complicated question, feel free to email me directly instead: lisa.chickos(at)hotmail(dot)com.)

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rest in Peace, Sydney the Giraffe

Sydney the Giraffe (Photo Courtesy of ZooWorld)
Thirteen years ago, I nervously filled out a volunteer application and began my first real (if unpaid) zoo job at ZooWorld of Panama City Beach, FL. I was given a rake, a bucket and an introductory lesson about the petting zoo. Here are the highlights:

1. The goats will figure out a way to escape. It is your job to play linebacker and catch them before they make a dash for the rest of the zoo.
2. The llamas really do spit. Oh, and they hate you. For real. Never look them in the eye.
3. The goats will realize your fear of the llamas very quickly. They will spend most of their time INSIDE the llama enclosure. Don't you DARE go in there after them, or you will be sorry.
4. The pigs are fantastic, and they are actually really smart. Rethink your decision to eat pork.
5. Stay away from the dromedary camel. He is the only creature in the entire petting zoo scarier than the llamas.
6. You will meet a giraffe named Sydney, and he will completely rearrange your destiny.

Okay, maybe no one TOLD me Sydney would rearrange my destiny, but he did. Literally and profoundly.

It didn't happen immediately. I was mostly nervous around him at first. That long, bowlegged stance... The super flexible neck... The muscles that rippled like waves through his chest... Sydney may as well have been an alien--and a wicked fast alien at that--so I mostly just dropped off his food and stayed as far away from him as possible.

But then something strange happened. He started watching me. He began perking up whenever he saw me, and he began leaving guests on the platform to run over to the barn to see me.

Did this animal actually know who I was? Did this animal actually (*gulp*) LIKE me?

The realization that Sydney had preferences--just like you and I have preferences--was astonishing. And the realization that I was one of his preferences was even more amazing.

I began spending all my extra time with him. I sketched him, I sang to him, I sat quietly and watched him eat. And he began responding to me, too--greeting me differently than he greeted anyone else, leaning in for kisses and staring after me long after I walked away.

Some of my favorite memories are the afternoons I spent cleaning his stall. I would lock him outside in his yard, but he would often lean in and stick his neck through his open window. He was HUGE--nearly seventeen feel tall--and I would usually be so absorbed in my raking and hosing that I wouldn't even notice his presence until he extended that great big tongue and wrapped it around my ponytail. Or, even better, when he would sometimes simply lower his head onto mine until I felt the gentle weight of his jawbone against the top of my head. He never pushed, and he was never fussy. He simply moved his head along with me, following my every action like an oversized giraffe hat.

When I left for college, I cried at the realization that I would no longer be able to interact with Sydney on a daily basis. But I realized as he watched me leave that I was no longer the same shy, hesitant girl he first met. My attachment to Sydney was strong enough to build my confidence and send me on a career path that would lead me to zoos, aquariums and wildlife rehabilitation centers all across the country.

So where did that leave Sydney? At ZooWorld of Panama City Beach, FL, where he delighted and amazed guests for the next thirteen years. Where he was loved and spoiled by the public and by his keepers. Where he undoubtedly launched countless other zookeeping and environmental education careers.

Where--no matter how far away I found myself--he was always, always, always loved by me.

This morning, Sydney passed away. At nearly 30 years old, he was a very, very old giraffe.

My sadness over his passing is profound, and I can't imagine how many other lives he touched. The two years I spent with him were a gift, and I will never, ever, ever forget the gentle weight of his jaw as he leaned inside his stall to spend time with me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dylan James Laflin!

Hello everyone! Sorry I have dropped off the map for a few days, but I am in Florida helping my sister take care of her very first baby. It's my entire family's very first baby, actually, so life is definitely in transition right now. The next generation has begun, and this feels life-altering.

When you are young, you feel like everything is black and white. Your parents are parents because that's what they have always been. That's what they were born to do.

The realization that we are all fragile, imperfect and human is pretty powerful. It is also incredibly humbling.

Planet Earth has Dylan James Laflin now. And I already wonder how I ever existed in this place without him.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Query Tracker Success Story #851!

Photo Courtesy of Matt Reinbold
I will keep this short, but sweet. My Query Tracker Success Story has just been posted! You can find our more about my novel ESSENCE's pitch and concept--as well as my not-always-smooth path to representation--by clicking here: An Interview with Lisa Ann Chickos (A Query Tracker Success Story)

If you have a chance, you should also check out Deana Barnhart's latest blog post: Keepin' it Real. (She gave me a super nice shout-out, and she is an incredibly strong woman who is definitely going places.)

Have a wonderful afternoon!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Grateful and Amazed and Humbled

Photo Courtesy of xMatt

To say I feel grateful right now would be a HUGE understatement. When I announced my big news about signing with Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates earlier this week, I expected a few cheers and high fives. I expected a couple of really nice comments, and I expected the buzz to last fifteen seconds or so.

What I didn't expect was an outpouring of so much encouragement and congratulations that my Twitter feed felt like an actual party for a couple of days. I didn't expect so many amazing and thoughtful comments on this blog, and I certainly didn't expect so many of those comments to be rallies about overcoming obstacles, staying true to myself and not taking "no" for an answer.

It was humbling for me to realize how many of you have been here for me all along--even when I was agent-less and manuscript-less and insecure about whether or not I even had a place here.

In an effort to expand my platform, I took a stab at creating an author page on Facebook last night (even though I hated the fact that I couldn't call it a "writer" page instead). I sent out a request on my personal Facebook page to see if anyone would mind "liking" it for me, and I was once again floored by the response.

Overnight, my page went from zero likes to 55 likes. It's up to 79 likes now, and I keep getting more hits every time I refresh my page. (Here's the link if you would like to visit: LisaAnnChickos.)

Here's why I'm all choked up about this. Probably two-thirds of the people who have "liked" my Facebook author page so far have zero percent interest in young adult fiction. Many of them don't even dig reading novels.

These are my friends from high school, my zookeeper co-workers, my roommates, my travel buddies, my hubby's best friends from rugby and the Coast Guard. These are people whose natural inclination would be to walk right past my novel in a bookshop, but they have taken the time to "like" my page anyway.

They have done this without thinking, and they have done this for one reason: they have done this because I needed them. It's not about the novel; it's not about the writing. It's about the fact that I asked for support, and they were here for me.


As many of you know, I have been quite the nomad since my high school graduation. In the past twelve years, I have lived in FIFTEEN different houses in NINE different cities in FIVE different states in TWO different countries in TWO different hemispheres.

In some ways, this is incredible. I have experienced many really unique situations, I have seen countless amazing things and I have met lots of interesting people. I have been given the opportunity to reinvent myself time and time again, and I have learned who I really am when you take away all the constructs.

At the same time, I have missed out on so many things. I have had to say goodbye--not only to good friends, but to best friends and soulmate friends. I have had to rip myself out of places I have loved, and I have had to bid farewell to animals I've raised since the moment they were born. I have missed weddings and births and celebrations and deaths. I have been absent for little moments--like my sister's graduation from medical school or my grandmother's 80th birthday party. I wasn't there to attend my mother's retirement dinner, and I have barely seen my sister's increasingly swollen pregnancy belly.

I ache for the kind of community many of my friends have: the type of network where almost everyone you love lives within driving distance. I ache for the kind of day-to-day camaraderie that grows from long friendships, and I ache for a time when I don't have to give potential friends an elevator pitch of who I am in 100 words or less.

My husband and I are on the right track. We have finally settled in Colorado after many years of wandering, and we hope to buy a house and start a family sometime in the next few years. We hope to begin finally putting our roots down, and I honestly can't wait for that moment.

I tell you this because I am reminded today of how lucky we already are. Although we have had to say goodbye to so many people we care about, your posts and "likes" remind me that you guys haven't really gone anywhere. Although I don't get the pleasure of seeing you every day like I would like, you are still here for me after all this time.

The world suddenly seems a little smaller and a lot less overwhelming.