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'!!!!!!!!!!