Monday, December 16, 2013

Weekly Wags

Playing a little catch-up with some weekly wagginess. Feast your beady little eyeballs on these pet, vet, or writer-ly features:

1. Knit hats for your cats. I Tweeted an aviator cat knit hat earlier this week and people went crazy. As they should. I think my cat Tuna needs one of each. Seriously. I will fund the brilliant, creative, talented woman who is doing this. Meredith Yarborough, I love you.

2. Space Coast Half Marathon. Ran this bad boy in Cocoa, FL, on Dec. 1. Enjoyed it thoroughly (it was a flat course), enjoyed the pizza and pancakes even more at the end. And in ecstasy at being able to do my most favorite thing in the world (beach combing) in DECEMBER!
Finisher's medal for half marathon

If only every day could begin with a beach sunrise

3. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Just found out this morning Ms. Hoffman has this new book coming out in Feb 2014. Sounds delightful to me. I've read a few of her other works. I first discovered her by picking up a copy of Turtle Moon at a used book sale in England and I remember reading and enjoying it that summer (I was in high school). Happy memory :)

4. Top 10 Books of 2013, according to the Washington Post. Well, I haven't read any of these. And briefly feel like a degenerate. But then I remember that life is too short to waste time on books I don't want to read. But it's an interesting list, nonetheless.

5. Infrared study in Sweden looks at animal noses. Very cool images. And I love the idea of taking pictures of a Labrador while he slumbers away, totally oblivious of the fact that you are carefully studying and documenting his nose (photo below).


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What is it about dog bloggers? *guest blogger!*

Through my internet travels over the recent years, I have visited many an animal blog, pet blog, vet blog, and writer blog. I have wasted many an evening watching silly cat videos and cool dog Tumblr accounts, and almost convinced myself I needed this:
I ask you: who DOESN'T need a unicorn horn for their cat???
One thing I began to notice in these cyber travels is that dog bloggers seem to dominate the pet blogs. Dog bloggers are EVERYWHERE, in fact, and their love for their canines is infectious. Now, I mean, we all love dogs, right? So why do dog bloggers stand out? Why isn't there an enthusiastic army of Shetland pony bloggers or llama bloggers? Exactly what is it about dog bloggers?
To help answer my question, I turned to a friend and yes, dog blogger, for help. And thus, ladies and gentlemen and assorted scoundrels, I present to you my very first guest blogger! I am very pleased to introduce Carol Bryant, founder of Fidose of Reality, a canine-centric online magazine dog blog where dog lovers of the highest order unite, co-founder of Wigglebutt Warriors, crusading to save dogs’ lives through a variety of creative fundraisers, and the PR and Marketing Manager for BlogPaws. Most importantly, Carol shares her home with Dexter, her Cocker Spaniel.
Carol and Dexter! (credit: Carol Bryant)
Without further ado, take it away, Carol!
What is it about dog bloggers? 
by Carol Bryant
I am a dog mom. I love it when folks call me a dog mom; I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells in me. 
I have the great fortune of pursuing my dreams and my passion of a career with, for, and about dogs. I embrace that I do things with my dog as we approach 2014, that perhaps others who went before me did not (or could not) do with their pooches. My name is Carol Bryant, and I am a dog blogger.
Dog bloggers are a force with which to be reckoned. In a study I read about a year ago (Trone Brand Energy), a reported 20 percent of pet bloggers are considered highly influential and have monthly readerships of at least 10,000 readers. Three-quarters of these influencers have blogged for at least three years in order to build a steady, loyal following. Influencers report dealing with at least six or more pet care brands from a marketing perspective.
For many, dogs are the new kids, present company included.
Over the course of the last several years, there has been a tremendous boom in the pet blogger space, and we continue to grow as a niche market. 
Do you ever feel like this: "I know what pet parents want. I go to the shows, walk the expos, interact with the brands and my dog and his pack of friends participate in frequent play dates."
Or maybe: "I see the toys and water bowls, and read the food and treat labels with the scrutiny of a trained pet product expert's eye. I tell my friends, who are the key purchasing parties in their households for pet supplies."
Me too. And thousands, if not millions, of others. We are dog bloggers.
We take all of this information and our passion, knowledge, and love affair by and about dogs and we blog. 
So what is it about dog bloggers in particular? If you've been to a BlogPaws Conference, you know the energy, the enthusiasm, networking, idea exchange, and layers of relationships that are formed. Pet bloggers in general are the industry's rock stars.
The American Pet Products Association's National Pet Owner Survey for 2011-2012 revealed that in the past 10 years, use of the internet has more than doubled as a pet care information provider. Dog bloggers are influencing pet parents.
I could spend an entire afternoon reciting statistics that bark in favor of the pet industry and the power and responsibility of the pet blogger. Dino Dogan, founder of, perhaps said it best when he shared, "You guys are the celebrities of the future. You guys are the taste makers and influences. You guys are the force to be reckoned with."
My dog is a business card with fur. He introduces me to people, invites strangers to pet him, and in turn, a conversation ensues. Some of the best "social" media moments in my life have happened at the other end of a leash. My Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, is my best friend, confidant, inspiration for a rescue fundraising group I've co-founded, and most of all: the muse for my dog blog. 
A perfect gentleman, Dexter obliging for an interview (credit: Carol Bryant)
Dog bloggers strike a nerve in the hearts of millions of readers because we are a raw, honest, unconditionally giving, aim-to-please bunch, just like the dogs who inspire us. Follow me at Fidose of Reality: where dog owners of the highest order unite.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Aren't they neat, the people that you meet?

Previously on this blog I've discussed my introverted-ness and how that influences my work as a writer and veterinarian. I'll be honest: when writing, I used to develop anxiety whenever a magazine article assignment required interviews. Always wanting to conduct interviews via email so I didn't have to actually talk to anyone, I began to realize that really the best soundbites came from a live interview (over the phone in most of my cases). Getting a feel for the person, a live interview gives the conversation a certain dynamic that emailed questions simply can't create. A live interview can also take you places you wouldn't have expected and add more detail or intrigue to the article itself. There are several decent websites on conducting interviews, like here and here.

What I'm about to tell you is strictly off the record...
Beyond getting a good story, however, there's also the people factor. The simple fact is: I've met some really cool people through interviews.

Most of the interviews I've been conducting lately are for articles on pets or livestock (go figure). Many interviews are with other veterinarians, like equine surgeons or feline specialists, answering questions like: what's the first thing you recommend when a horse owner suspects colic? Or: what are the most common diseases seen in older cats?

Once in a while, I do get to write less vet med-themed pieces. For the October 2013 issue of Dog Fancy magazine, I wrote a piece on how dog owners are involving their animals in social media. This allowed me to talk to several creative dog owners about how and why they blog, Tweet, and Facebook about their pets. One interviewee really stood out in my mind for her creativity: Jessica Rhae Williams. Creator of the blog youdidwhatwithyourwiener, Jessica hikes the wilds of Washington state with her two Dachshunds Chester and Gretel to get fit, break stereotypes, and fight pet obesity. Also president of the Adventurewiener Club of Seattle, Jessica's sense of humor and her message left a mark in my memory for sure.
Just a wiener on an adventure.
More recently, another interviewee has left an even bigger impression on me, and for more than the interview-based information. About a month ago, I was writing an online feature for the magazine Modern Farmer about Rocky Mountain Oysters (fried bull testicles). Needing some first-hand knowledge on how to cook these bad boys, I spoke to a woman in Virginia City, Nevada named Brandi Lee. Brandi is a multi-time winner at the Virginia City Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry and has been competing for over 20 years. As if these facts weren't enough to reserve Brandi a permanent place in Anna's Memory Hall of Fame, at the very end of our phone interview, after chatting about our dogs, Brandi said to me, "You know what else I used to do? I used to race ostriches."


At first I thought I heard "raise ostriches." Thinking that was a little unusual but then again I know folks in Maryland with emus, the conversation continued into the mundane. However, a phrase about jockeys soon popped into the dialogue and I put one and one together: RACE not RAISE ostriches. This changed the game entirely.

Brandi allowed that she also used to race water buffalo and camels. "When I do something, I get right in the middle of it," she said. I could imagine.

Fast forward one month and the Modern Farmer article was published online. I sent Brandi a link and was delighted to hear that she loved it. A few back and forth email exchanges later and this week what showed up in my mailbox, but an original copy of the June 1974 issue of National Geographic magazine. On page 747 is a full color photo of a woman racing an ostrich (see below). It is the one and only Brandi Lee.
Go, Brandi, go!
To boot, the photo had also been autographed for a nice personalized touch. I now officially have an ostrich-racing, bull testicle-eating 21st century pen pal who I would never have met if it weren't for that interview. Now instead of feeling anxious to conduct an interview, I'm looking forward to my next phone call. Who knows who I'll meet next. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekly Wags

TGIF, people. TGIF. Here's some stuff to feast your greedy little peepers on over the weekend.

1. Animal photobombs are always the best, but when the photo-bomber is a horse and the photo-bomb-ee is the Queen of England, you've gone to a whole other level.

2. Wordbirds by Liesl Schillinger. This creative book is an illustrated guide to the author's made-up words that add a little literary oomph to the 21st century. Read a great blurb on the book here.

3. Cats in tights. It's not quite what you think (actually, a little creepier than what I originally thought), but cats in people clothes are always good.

4. Do you want to write or do you want to be a writer? Good post on the topic. I found it on The Rumpus, where you can always count on getting a good punch in the gut when you need one.

5. New theory posted by National Geographic on the domestication of dogs.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Random Reading Recommendations or The Old Geiser's Guide to Books for Anna

Last Saturday, I was at my local library gleefully checking out books with my husband when we noticed to our utter delight that A BOOK SALE WAS OCCURRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This, next to hikes in the National Parks, chocolate, kittens, and Labradors, is the best thing in the world. Naturally, we went by for a look-see. Naturally-er, we bought about ten books.

While I was there, rummaging through a box labeled "non-fiction hardback" ($1 each!!!!!), a random older gentleman approached me with a book in his hand.

"You might find this interesting," he said. "It's a first edition 1909 copy about a woman basketball player."

Nodding politely and feigning interest, I took the book from him (only to put it down later when he was gone, seeing as I am not at all interested in basketball, female or otherwise). This is not the first time a random older gentleman has politely directed me toward a book about women and I am left wondering: is this happening to other people as well????

Another recent example occurred early this summer, when we were in Seattle. Visiting the Flying Heritage Collection, a small, well-organized airplane museum, one of the volunteer docents approached me and directed me to their only female-themed exhibit: The Night Witches. An actually fascinating story, The Night Witches were young Russian women who, during World War II, flew bi-planes at night over German camps to terrify the troops.

So, ok. Thank you random old guy for guiding me to learn about something interesting. I am not wholly unappreciative. But I do notice there is a theme here: Older Gentleman Sees Young(ish) Woman And Impulsively Directs Her Toward Female-Centric Book, Exhibit, Etc.

I'm not sure what to make of this. These aren't perverts here. And they all seem genuinely invested in whatever they are recommending to me. And hey, I like to talk books with just about anyone. Trying not to have my indignant feminist head get carried away with the fact that they aren't exactly recommending books about locomotives or space travel, I also recognize they aren't directing me to the cookbooks either. So what's a young(ish) book-loving woman to do?
Maybe nothing. Maybe just sit back and observe what people think I might be interested in. Maybe next time it'll be a book on UFOs or stingrays or alien stingrays on UFOs. And that would probably be even more baffling.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Weekly Wags

Here's the haps this week in the world of animals and writing.

1. Cassowarys

Reading a recent National Geographic magazine, I discovered the large, flightless bird called the Cassowary. Living in a select portion of Australia and Papua New Guinea, this awesome (and I think beautiful) bird lives on fruits and seeds. And the male rears the young!

2. S. Sgt. Reckless

This little mare was the pride of the Marines during the Korean War. Used to carry ammunition and artillery, this incredible animal was trained to ignore gun fire, explosions, and general mayhem. She was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

3. Maddie on Things

While not new news, this Tumblr account is just neat. A rescued Coonhound, Maddie is photographed standing, sitting, sleeping, etc., in unusual (unusual for a dog at least) places. Just a nice site to visit when you need a break.

4. Hemingway's cats

Hemingway liked cats. Loved cats. And although I'm still trying to figure out my opinion of Hemingway, I like that he liked cats. And that's that.

5. NaNoWriMo

That's National Novel Writing Month for you newbies. And NaNoWriMo is in November, so WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? GET A WRITIN'!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Can you SOAP a writing project?

Most people realize the medical profession is filled with lingo. Acronyms, vocab, cool-sounding abbreviations - us vets (MDs, too) love that stuff.
These tools make writing medical notes and prescriptions efficient and succinct. One acronym used frequently is SOAP. This is a tool used to make the process of examination and diagnosis more organized.

Standing for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan, "SOAPing" a patient is really what all doctors do mentally during and after an examination - this is just a way of writing it down in the medical file.

Subjective means just that - what are your subjective (unmeasureable) physical exam findings? Common terms to use here are BAR (bright, alert, responsive) or depressed.

Objective is where you record your measurements, such as heart rate, temperature, even bloodwork values.

Once you've gathered your S and O during the physical, you use these findings for A: Assessment. This is essentially when you put all the pieces together and formulate a working diagnosis list. Is George the 15 year old cat quiet and depressed, with no appetite, losing weight (only 7 lbs), with kidney values elevated on bloodwork? Your assessment might include chronic renal failure.
Poor George
P is for Plan. This is what you're actually going to do for the patient. This can include more diagnostics, medication, surgery - what are your next steps?

As I was thinking about SOAP the other day, I began to wonder if this type of planned thinking could apply to the sometimes seemingly chaotic world of creative writing. Can one SOAP a writing project?

Let's see...

Subjective: perhaps this would be how a character feels. Is your antagonist bitter? Vengeful? Sadistic? Rude? Totally clueless?

Objective: maybe this would be what actually happens in the story. Does your protagonist get hit by a car, fall into a coma, then wake up not even remembering her own name? Does the ship at sea wreck on the shoals of a coral reef and the survivors are forced to swim to a leper colony? Does the spaceship abduct the wrong person and make completely incorrect assumptions about the human race based on this bigot's behaviors and answers during interrogation?
Insert plot here
Assessment: Where are you going with the story? What do you want to accomplish with it? I see this as sort of a writer's "check in" as the story starts to fill out. You know how sometimes you set off writing the most brilliant piece ever imagined by a human brain but once the heat of the moment cools off you suddenly find yourself 5700 words in and then wonder what the hell is happening? Not that that's ever happened to me... But, preferably before that happens in a story, a writer could probably benefit from a step back to scrutinize the project and make sure it's going the direction he/she originally intended.

Plan: OK, we're in the home stretch. Perhaps the P in Plan could represent how you're going to wrap everything up. Don't forget about the blind daughter of the store clerk you mentioned in chapter two. And recall that the protagonist's best friend has a birthday in two weeks; surely that needs to fit in somewhere. Another way to see the P is like this: what is your plan after you've finished writing? Is this a novel that needs an agent or an article you need to query for a magazine? Basically, what needs to happen to this piece to get it to where you want it to be?

Maybe I've just answered my own question. It appears it is possible to SOAP a writing project. Maybe it would even be helpful, especially for us more scatter-brained writers who claim we are simply free spirits with our creativity, but in the end all that really means is there are Post-It notes all over the walls and half-filled notebooks threatening to bury the cat. Yes, perhaps SOAPing my next project could prevent the wall of papers from caving in on me, thereby saving my life. Maybe SOAPing could save YOUR life. If it does, you're welcome.
Shhhhh, she's being creative

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Weekly Wags

I'd like to offer some Weekly Wags to stuff (news, photos, information, laughs, general mayhem and tomfoolery) I've found while scrounging around on the internet.  Not sure if this will become a permanent fixture here at VetWrite, but let's give it a try.  Stuff will usually revolve around animal stuff and writer-ly things.  Go figure.  Here we go!

1. Washington International Horse Show!

This exciting equestrian event is this week at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC (October 22 - 27).  We went last year on Thursday night, which is Barn Night and Gambler's Choice, where different jumps are assigned varying point values and riders pick jumps to accumulate as many points as possible within the time limit. This year we have tickets for Friday night which is the Puissance competition - horses and riders face the Great Wall as it gets higher and higher and only one pair remains without knocking it down.  The height to beat is 7 feet 7.5 inches, set in 1986.

2. Brides Throwing Cats Tumblr

OK, don't worry, it's all Photoshopped, but hilarious - a creative Tumblr account replacing bouquets with cats. Brilliant!

3. US Military Working Dogs Team National Monument 

On October 28, the very first national monument for animals will be dedicated in San Antonio, Texas. 

4. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck with his endearing French Poodle Charley
Route of travel
The truck and camper Steinbeck traveled in, lovingly called "Rocinante"

I just finished this book and I loved it.  In September, 1960, Steinbeck took a drive across the US to "discover America." He was alone save for his faithful canine companion, Charley. Filled with delightful vignettes on Steinbeck's encounters with locals, traffic, and bears (!), this book was a surprise delight for me. Next up, The Grapes of Wrath (no, I haven't read it, don't judge.)

5. Dog sweaters. Argyle sweaters.

Because winter is right around the corner.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stormy Weather Makes Me Read Poe or How Weather Affects What We Read

I am very aware that the seasons dictate what I read. Just as a cup of hot soup is desireable on a blustery, gray November, I find that heavier, meatier books are on my palate in late fall and through the winter.
Not exactly what I meant when I said "meaty book"
I can't be the only one who has different tastes in books as dictated by the seasonal tilt of the earth. My prime example to back this up is the vernal appearance of "summer reads" in the bookstores when May rolls around.  And don't these summer reads usually fall toward the lighter end of the literary spectrum, perhaps some not even falling in the "lit" category at all?

Although October here has been unseasonable warm as of late, the abundance of pumpkins, squash, and mums in the stores and on lawns is starting to put me in the autumn mindset and when the crisp fall weather eventually does hit, I'll be turning my sights on the ever-reliable Edgar Allan Poe. I also have the book The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, given to me a few years ago by my mom, the eternal sucker for ghost stories set in Great Britain. It's never seemed like the right time to read the book until now, so as of today, it's in my stack of to-reads on my nightstand (a towering, sometimes precarious stack, I assure you. It may crush me in my sleep one night.)
Mark my words - this is the cause of my death
As winter comes around, I'll be turning my eyes on a few books I have about JFK. There's just something morally wrong to me about reading the weighty tome The Day JFK Was Shot on a sunny June afternoon. No, the likes of that will wait until January or February.

My beloved adventure books, in contrast, are all set for summer reading. This includes some of Jon Krauker's books (with the exception of Into Thin Air), Bill Bryson, and my new infatuation of reading about Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb (I have my eye on the 2012 book on this).

And then that brings me back to fall. Of course, I don't want to mislead you into thinking I have all my books planned for the next year. There are certainly hordes of books ideal for reading any time of year. Margaret Atwood falls in this category. Of course. Many other works of fiction fit 'round the calendar as well. Except Salman Rushdie. No, he's a winter read for me for sure.
They are reading Salman Rushie, I'm sure of it.
What about you? Anyone else have seasonal tastes that influence their reading repertoire?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Book Lender's Dilemma

It's no secret that I love books.  I love to read them, buy them, talk about them, gaze at them, smell them, and share my love of them with others.  But when it comes to sharing actual books, I'm hesitant, even reluctant to pass on one of my beloved books into the hands of someone else.  I've been burned before in the Great Book Borrow.  And once burned, twice unwilling to ever ever ever lend you a book again.  Or so the saying goes.

I suppose in the course of one's life, one slowly learns who is reliable and who is not.  My dad, for example is reliable.  When he borrows a book, he reads it at once and returns it promptly.  Just last weekend, I dropped off in the continuous O'Brien Book Swap both Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Mike Mullane's astronaut memoir Riding Rockets for Dad's reading pleasure.  I have no doubt they will be returned to me the next time Pops and I meet up. 

Best friends, on the other hand, sometimes prove to be not so reliable.  Take my best friend, Katie.  A few years ago I lent her my copy of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars.  I have yet to see it back.  I actually forgot I lent her the book (horror of horrors! Do I really have that many books now that I can't keep track if I'm missing one?!) until she casually mentioned it a few months ago.  As in, "Oh yeah, I still have that Mary Roach book you lent me...."  Great googly moogly, woman!  Send it back at once!

Another more alarming example is lending books to co-workers.  This is a very dangerous practice indeed.  There's a woman at work who shares some similar tastes in books with me.  Feeling a new rank of working friendship about to be leveled-up, I permitted myself to gush about Margaret Atwood to the co-worker, and offered to lend her my copy of The Handmaid's Tale.  My autographed copy.  I have no idea what I was thinking, lending such a beloved copy to a Wild Card.

Months went by.  I heard nothing.  I started to fret.  What if she lost it?  Did she even realize it was autographed?  How do I demand that it be returned at once? 

This is why in vet school you never lent out your thermometer, calculator, pen light, hoof pick, or dog leash to ANYONE.  NOT EVEN YOUR GRANDMOTHER.  Because once it leaves your hands, it's as good as gone.  This is also why in vet school, a very clever male clinician in the small animal hospital had a neon pink stethoscope.  The girliest, ugliest stethoscope you have ever seen.  No one wanted it, no one borrowed it.  He was safe. 
Way uglier than this. Words can't even describe.
After about six months without a word on my Atwood book, I finally had enough.  I sent an email.  You would be proud; it was a polite email.  No hint of my seething rage crept into a simple declarative statement: just wondering if you still had my book...... 

Thankfully, she did still have it and after the email, she returned it promptly.  Unread.  She was keeping it hostage and hadn't even read it!  The NERVE. 

The reverse situation is that I'm a spastic book borrower.  I actually don't like borrowing other people's books.  No, thanks, I'll just get it at the library.  There's a lot of stress, you see, in reading someone else's book.  I need to read it NOW.  Just get through it and return it!  Get it out of my hands!  What if I lose it?  Bend it?  Spill something on it?  Great kitten whiskers, was the binding that knackered when she gave it to me?  Was that page originally dog-eared? 
I swear to god, it looked like this when you gave it to me!!!
To de-bunk the popularized slogan "Sharing is Caring", I say NO.  Sharing books is instead a practice that has the potential to break apart best friends and get one fired for workplace violence.  Perhaps I would make a terrible librarian.

So the answer is no, you cannot borrow my copy of The Silence of the Lambs or Mockingjay.  Oh, and you can't borrow my stethoscope either. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

O Authors, My Authors

I feel it's only right in a blog that is loosely centered around writing to include somewhere a shrine to my favorite authors.  Even more reason to broach this topic right now is the fact that this has been a stupendous year for some of my authors (yes, I call them my authors), with some of them having new books released.  So, without further ado, I give you my most adored writers:

1. Margaret Atwood
2. Mary Roach
3. Karen Russell
4. Joyce Carol Oates
5. Laura Hillenbrand

My first introduction to Margaret Atwood was as a freshman in college.  A friend introduced me to The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood's unbeatable dystopian novel.  From there, I was hooked. 

I got to meet Margaret Atwood once - a dream come true.  She was in DC a few years ago, promoting her book The Year of the Flood.  After a stage performance of a chapter from the book, I anxiously lined up for autographs.  I had her sign my beloved and well-read copy of The Handmaid's Tale, and it looks like this:

I re-read this book about every two or three years.  I think I'm about due. 

The thing about Maggie (sometimes I call her that) is her prose is so vivid but sometimes harsh in its brevity.  Somehow she maintains that delicate balance of description and succinctness that alludes me at all times.  If you're reading this Maggie, I love you.

I discovered Mary Roach when she published her first book: Stiff, the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.  This woman's ability to sink her teeth into the bizarre and come out with something that is both enlightening and hilarious is so wonderful.  Writing non-fiction, her journalistic skills make for great reading.  I remember reading her book Spook on a flight from vet school to home for Christmas vacation and stifling laughs as she described struggling to pull out a specimen of "ectoplasm" in the basement of a library. 

The thing about Mary is although she's entertaining and her subjects border on preposterous, her sense of scientific curiosity keeps the books moving forward.  She's not just writing to write weirdo stuff.  She's writing because she wants to know more. 

Karen Russell is my most recent edition to Anna's Top Authors.  I read her debut novel Swamplandia! in February.  It was her second collection of short stories, though, that really blew me away.  Vampires in the Lemon Grove came out this year and hang on to your hats, kids, because this girl can write. 

The thing about Karen is the creativity packed in her short stories is unbridled yet honed to a sharp point.  The Barn at the End of our Term is my favorite of her short stories so far and I look to her stories for guidance as I struggle with my own.

Ah, Joyce Carol Oates.  You are a staple to any reader worth his/her salt when it comes to 20th and 21st century American literature.  I remember first seeing JCO's novel Blonde in the window of a bookstore in Covent Gardens, London.  A perennial fan of Marilyn Monroe, it caught my eye but it wasn't until sophomore year in an undergrad fiction class when we read a short story by JCO that I connected the dots.  Unlike my other favorite authors, I haven't yet read all of JCO's works (my god, that woman is a prolific writer!) but I'm slowly working toward that goal. 

Last but not least is the lovely Laura Hillenbrand.  Like any good horse lover, I dutifully read Seabiscuit which I probably would have enjoyed even if it was poorly written (which it's not).  The second time around, Laura's next book Unbroken confirmed in my mind what an engaging writer she is. 

Like Mary Roach, Laura tackles non-fiction, and has somehow dug up amazing stories left almost forgotten in history.  Piecing together interviews and research, Laura manages to piece together stories that read like water tight thrillers only better because they actually happened.  Oh, and to add to Laura's amazingness?  She suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome.  That's right - nearly paralyzed by exhaustion in bed, she still managed to put together not one but two New York Times bestsellers.  *commence standing ovation*

So there you have it for the record: my favorite author manifesto.  Which leads me to ask: who are your favorites?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Professional relationships Or: Always tell someone she has manure on her face

In vet med, we have what's called the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (or VCPR for short).  This is exactly what its long-winded name describes - the bubble that contains your vet, your pet, and you and it is necessary in order for your vet to properly assess your pet, make a diagnosis, and start treatment.  It exists a lot in part to prevent folks from diagnosing disease over the phone (or over the internet) for an animal he/she has never ever seen.  It helps ensure your vet is familiar with your pet's medical history and in many states, a VCPR is legally required for a veterinarian to diagnose and dispense medication. 

What this VCPR looks like differs between vets and between clients. There's a different bubble for everyone. For many small animal practitioners, the bubble exists in the exam room while he/she flips through your pet's records, asks you questions about medical history, and then proceeds with the physical exam.  For large animal practitioners, the bubble exists on the farm while he/she asks the farmer about how he manages his herd, looks at the herd and facilities, and, if lucky, drinks some lemonade or has a cookie that's been brought out by a family member.

Take note: the best clients are those who serve food and drink
These are professional relationships that exist to benefit and protect the animal.  But it's true that some clients become good friends with their vets.  And that's totally fine.  We should enjoy our jobs and be friendly with people when we can.  This got me thinking about professional relationships in the writing world and that naturally led me down the path of the writer-literary agent relationship.

Now, reader be warned, the rest of what you are about to read is pure speculation.  I do not currently have an agent (if you know of one who'd like to represent an awesome, brilliant, creative, hilarious, insightful, industrious, beautiful, and humble aspiring novel writer, please send them my way....).  I'm just imaging what I'd like my working relationship with an agent to be like, and this vision is probably WAY off because, for starters, it's based on what I've seen on TV.

Basically, I'd like an agent-writer relationship similar to the one in Showtime's Californication: Hank Moody (writer) and Charlie Runkle (agent).  Both characters of course have faults, actually numerous nasty faults, but their relationship is fun and self-deprecating.  They are best friends and through the trials and tribulations of everything that is the show, they work together.

Yup, just me and my agent, BFFs
However, I am aware that this is not usually how the whole writer-lit agent thing goes.  Numerous blogs tell me so.  And Twitter.  And magazine articles.  Something tells me most literary agents don't have the time to be a writer's best friend (so, you see it's merely a time thing, not a personal thing, right?).  I understand.  No really, I do.  Just like I don't have time to be BFFs with every single client of mine, right?

So....ok.  When I get one of my various writing projects to a point where I'm ready for representation I'll try to keep the VCPR in mind.  I won't expect anything above what I would normally provide in a VCPR.  But I will say this: there are clients out there who will tell you you have manure on your face and there are clients who won't.  I'm friends with most of the clients who tell me like it is and won't let me drive off their farm with a brown splat of who-knows-what (ok, we usually know what it is in my line of work) on my cheek or in my hair.  Some even help get it off.  I guess that's what I'd really like in a writer-literary agent relationship too.  Someone to call you on your shit and help you with it.  Is that too much to ask?