Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thinking about Butterflies

Photo Courtesy of Paul from www.Castaways.com.au
I have been thinking about butterflies lately. I have been admiring their ability to transform into something new and beautiful, and I have been wondering if they are frightened when they discard everything they know and take to the skies.

I recently learned caterpillars don't just gracefully sleep through metamorphosis. In order to transform, they must first release enzymes that quite literally digest nearly their entire bodies. It is from this "caterpillar soup" that the adult butterfly is born anew.

I find myself wondering about this process. Is it scary? Is the caterpillar aware of it? Does it hurt as much as it sounds? The melting and reformulating of your insides must be one of the most difficult prospects ever undertaken.

I suppose caterpillars must be willing to risk everything if they ever want to fly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jobstr in the New York Post!

Photo Courtesy of Jobstr
As many of you know, I recently began hosting an "Ask a Zookeeper" Q&A on Jobstr.com--a website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours. It’s as though [they] took the classic 'What do you do?' cocktail party question and turned it into a website…minus the awkward small-talk."

I have been having a great time answering questions so far (check out my thread here), and I just learned the New York Post even shares my excitement. Here's a link to an article just released yesterday: Profession Confessions: New Web site Jobstr lets nine-to-fivers spill the good, the bad and the ugly about their work.

Woot! Woot! So excited to be part of a website that is gaining so much momentum!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interview with my Literary Agent!

Photo Courtesy of Liza Dawson Associates
My literary agent, Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates, is lovely and perfect. (And for some reason, she digs the stories I write.) We are in the midst of revisions right now, and she is truly inspiring me to be a better writer.

Are you looking for a literary agent? I would HIGHLY suggest strolling over to Stacey O'Neale's blog and reading this: Interview with Literary Agent, Hannah Bowman.

If you are looking for a hands-on, editorial and super approachable agent, this is the agent for you!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Serious WARNING for Dog & Cat-Lovers!!

Photo Courtesy of Me
This toy doesn't look dangerous, does it? I didn't think so when I bought a nearly identical toy one year ago today. It was our dog Bridger's fourth birthday, and we wanted to throw him a proper birthday party with a cake and presents.

I was particularly proud of this present.

He loved it.

And it killed him.

I can barely write those words. I can barely see for crying.

Today is Bridger's fifth birthday. He isn't here to celebrate it, because he swallowed one tiny string from that toy. It stretched through his intestines, and it did irreversible damage to his insides. He died seven days later.

Bridger, Photo Courtesy of Me
I'm not telling you this so you will feel sorry for me. I'm not even telling you this so you will remember Bridger. (Although I want you to remember Bridger. My husband and I rescued him from the Anchorage pound in 2008 after he was abused and abandoned and left without a note in the night drop cage. He grew to be the love of our lives, and he brightened every single moment we were blessed to spend with him. My life is indescribably richer because Bridger was part of it.)

I am telling you this because I want to save YOUR pets from suffering a similar fate. You may not realize this, but every single year, thousands of dogs and cats die from ingesting the strings and stuffing inside their toys.

I will say this again, because if you are like me, you probably think this could never happen to your pet.

EVERY SINGLE YEAR, THOUSANDS OF DOGS AND CATS DIE FROM INGESTING THE STRINGS AND STUFFING INSIDE THEIR TOYS.

I'm sure I heard this warning somewhere. I probably even read it on the toy's packaging. But I didn't process the reality of this, because every single pet store I know sells AISLES and AISLES and AISLES of adorable, colorful, harmless-looking stuffed toys.

I probably filed this somewhere with the, "Caution, the beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot" warning. Something the manufacturers put on the toy in case a one-in-a-million anomaly occurred.

But what happened to Bridger is no one-in-a-million anomaly. According to VPI Pet Insurance, foreign body ingestion is one of their very most common claims. "In 2007, VPI policyholders filed more than $3.2 million in claims for foreign body ingestion for dogs and cats combined."

Why is foreign body ingestion so dangerous?

According to WebVet.com, "The digestive tract is essentially a long tube within the body that is surrounded by bands of smooth muscle. These bands of muscle produce rhythmic waves of contractions... which push food and other materials down the digestive tract, much like balls being pushed through a sock. On rare occasions, ingested foreign material can get stuck as it is being pushed along. If this obstruction is not relieved, the pressure at the site of obstruction can cut off the blood supply, so that part of the intestine dies. Untreated, this condition is usually fatal.

"Obstruction near the front part of the digestive tract causes severe vomiting, and the pet cannot keep anything down. Obstruction farther down the tract may also cause straining to defecate, with little or no feces passed. Obstruction anywhere in the tract usually causes severe abdominal pain, so that the abdomen is tense and rigid.

"Obstruction can be caused by many different materials, including cloth, bones, toys, rawhides, sticks, and garbage. Long pieces of fabric such as yarn, string, or nylon stockings are special problems that can lead to severe obstruction. These linear foreign bodies can cause the bowel to fold upon itself, so that large sections of intestine “pleat up” and lose their blood supply. This is especially a problem in cats, in which string or yarn looped around the base of the tongue becomes anchored there, while the other end pleats up the intestine."


That thing about linear foreign bodies and "pleated up" intestines? That's exactly what happened to Bridger. That's why I was forced to say goodbye to him seven days after his fourth birthday. That's why I curled into the fetal position on the emergency room floor, and that's why I still can't say out loud the reality of what happened that day:

Bridger died because I killed him. 

I killed him because I had no idea how dangerous stuffed toys are.

I know what you're thinking: "But I give my pet stuffed toys all the time. He loves them, and I've been giving them to him for years. Something like this could never happen to me."

But it can. And did with Bridger, even though my husband and I had probably given him hundreds of stuffed toys before.

Which is why I spent Bridger's birthday inside a Petco tonight, buying a huge box of treats and toys to donate to my local animal shelter. I got all of Bridger's favorite things, but he isn't here to enjoy them. It only took one string from one toy to take him away from me.

PLEASE listen to my warning and get up from your computer the second you finish reading this. March to your pet's toy box, and throw away every single item you think he may be able to ingest. Even the cute ones. The ones he's had for years. The ones he loves most. Because it only takes one.

When you're done, give your pet the biggest hug you can possibly imagine. 

Maybe spare a kind thought or two for Bridger. 

And count your blessings you read this before it was too late.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Editing a Novel is Like Bombing a Village

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
I was never a big fan of math. The concreteness and exactness of it always intimidated me, and I hated the fact that one tiny mistake had the power to nullify all my other good work.

I did receive an incredible life lesson from my seventh grade pre-Algebra teacher, however, and it has always stuck with me. (That, and the longhand method to figure out percentages. And the realization that 68 degrees is really way too cold for a Florida classroom. Oh, and the proper way to sword fight, but that's another blog post.)

Mr. Dooley was a retired Air Force pilot, and he loved war stories almost as much as he loved math. He had an allegorical way of explaining things, and maybe that's one of the reasons I liked him so much.

When it came time for him to teach us how to solve a complicated problem, he told us the first step was never to be intimidated by it. Instead of viewing it as one huge problem, view it as many, many tiny problems all bunched together.

Take fighter pilots for example, he said. Do you think they take out an entire enemy village in one fell swoop? No. They break the enemy compound into several areas of interest. During their first pass, they take out the most critical structures, like the look-out posts and weapon stations. During their second pass, they take out weapon storage areas and communication infrastructure. During their third pass, they look to the garages and barracks. And so on and so on, until they have successfully taken out an entire enemy village.

At age thirteen, I remember thinking Mr. Dooley's analogy was unnecessarily violent and self-elevated. I was just solving a stupid pre-Algebra problem here, not changing the world.

But I can't tell you how many times I have returned to his fighter pilot analogy as I have tackled some of the most overwhelming problems in my life: "I want to move to Australia and work as an apprentice chef for awhile." "I want to live in Yosemite National Park for an entire summer AND pay off the debt I owe my parents." "I want to write a novel while simultaneously working full time and commuting 80 miles a day."

Instead of allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the prospects, I have simply broken the problems into many tiny steps. And for the most part, this approach has worked. (Another applicable lesson is the quote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," but come on. Would you rather be walking or blowing up things??)

Right now, I am in the midst of novel revisions with my wonderful agent, Hannah Bowman. And here's the thing. Hannah asks great questions. DIFFICULT questions. Questions that make my brain feel like it has just run a marathon.

The whiny part of me sometimes thinks, "What? I don't know the answer to that! Stop asking hard questions!" But the writer part of me is beyond thankful, because her questions are going to push me into making my story what it is supposed to be.

And whenever I feel overwhelmed, I can always think about fighter pilots.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trends vs. Authenticity

Photo Courtesy of Halle Stoutzenberger
The first novel I wrote--the one that DIDN'T make it to publication--was written around a trend. I hate to admit it--I feel like I should be better than that--but I would be lying if I told you THE MERMAID GENE wasn't influenced in some way by the success of HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT.

That's not to say I ripped off either of these stories. In fact, I was (and am) really proud of the unique and original way I brought a paranormal romance / urban fantasy / mystery to life. But the trend came before the story. I looked at HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, and I thought to myself, "What do those stories have in common? They took familiar cultural icons and completely reinvented them. Hmm, what's a cultural icon I could reinvent? I know, the mermaid!"

Perhaps that's why THE MERMAID GENE didn't make it. (That, and my rookie mistakes, and the flood of other writers who also had mermaid ideas.) I learned my lesson, and I promised myself I would never base another novel on something as fluid and fickle as a trend. Because here's the thing. I dig THE MERMAID GENE. I think it's fun and different and deep. Although the story has some structural problems and needs a good dusting, I think there's real potential there. That's why it hurts so much to be stuck at the dock, watching the mermaid ship sail away.

I heard a great quote on Twitter the other day. I can't remember the exact wording, but it said something to the effect of, Don't try to write the next FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Write what is in your heart, so others will want to become the next YOU.

Yep, I definitely scrambled that quote so much it's probably unrecognizable. But you get what I'm saying. It's wonderful to feel influenced by the work others around us are doing, but we should always try to put our stories first.

If we build a novel around a trend, it will most likely read like a novel built around a trend. If we build a novel around who we are, it will most likely resonate somewhere deeper inside our readers' hearts. And guts. And souls.

Know what I'm saying?