Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gone Fishin'--an update

Ah, summertime. This is adventure season, folks. Hiking, biking, explicitly NOT running (way too hot for that foolishness right now), roller skating, swimming, grilling, traveling, lightning bugging (I just made that up but it involves sitting on the porch at dusk drinking sangria and enjoying the company of lightning bugs), and reading.
Anna in cat form in summer mode.
And very little writing.
Get in, losers. Road trip.
Catch me in February, all sunshine-deprived and wrapped in blankets in a ball on the couch and you've got your writing weather. Not now. Now is the time for celebrating sunshine.

Hell yeah, summertime!!!
You may deduce this is as the reason why VetWrite slows down come May, into June, and now with this you're-not-fooling-anyone-Anna update in July. You're right. You're so smart.
This is so you.
So here's the deal. I have two fantastic interviews with authors coming up for posting this fall. Keep your beautiful eyeballs peeled for September. Until then, get outside, go kayaking, bird watching, wash your dog. Wait, that's my to-do list. OK. You get the point. I'll catch you when school is back in session.

If you're really jonesing for some reading material, I'm pleased to say that I've had a few fiction pieces published recently (when it rains it pours, but mostly a drought). Scoot on over to my "Fiction" page for the deets. But I'm way more interested in what you are reading and what you are writing. Dish, please, in the comments section.

So, until September, happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting, my friends and dear readers.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Celebrating Life with Style, Soul, and a Wink

The March 15, 2017, cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association features a pair of greyhounds. But not just any greyhounds--greyhounds with paisley. This piece is called "Paisley Paws de Deux" by Dr. Ande Hall, a veterinarian who is now a full-time artist in Kansas. Recently we talked about whimsy and not taking yourself too seriously.

"Paisley Paws de Deux" by Ande Hall, DVM
Ande used to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a desert city haven for artists. "I had a practice in Santa Fe for many years and I idolized the art," Ande says. "Whenever I went on a gallery walk there was a little voice inside me that said: I'm going to do that."

"Whenever I went on a gallery walk there was a little voice inside me that said: I'm going to do that."

After moving from Santa Fe to Kansas, Ande took ceramics at the local community college. In Pratt, Kansas, she had her first solo ceramics exhibit and began teaching classes in the medium. Ande says there were several reasons why she started with ceramics. "It was very tactile, I really enjoyed it," she says. "It's art but it's also craftsmanship." She says ceramics had a similar feel in the way you use your hands as surgery does, which was her favorite thing to do in practice.

"Power" by Ande Hall, DVM
"When I first got into ceramics, it felt like a safe art form," she says. "The pressure to produce something astounding was not there. It's an earthy art form and it usually doesn't take itself too seriously. Anything that you made that was a cup or plate or saucer had a function so even if it failed aesthetically, it always had a use. There was a utilitarian function to it."

In 2012 she and her family moved to a different town in Kansas. Not wanting to make the considerable investment of buying her own ceramics supplies and kiln, Ande turned to painting. She now works primarily in oil pastels and acrylic. Looking through her oeuvre on her website, her slogan appears at the bottom of the page: "Lively and eclectic contemporary paintings that celebrate life with style, soul, and a wink."

"I think that as a veterinarian there are perfectionist tendencies. In the long term, that can be wearing."

Ande says her slogan comes from the struggle to not take herself too seriously in anything that she does. "I think that as a veterinarian there are perfectionist tendencies. In the long term, that can be wearing. I try to make art that doesn't take itself too seriously. I like making things that have grace and dignity but also some humor."

"Jest, I surely do!" by Ande Hall, DVM
Grace is a predominant feature in a series of Ande's called "Winged Megafauna." These are large mixed media pieces featuring big pachyderms like elephants and rhinos. "I once saw a documentary on rhino poaching," she says. "It makes me so sad to think that these animals are more valued for their body parts than alive. I wanted to do paintings that juxtaposed their grandeur and size with their fragility and vulnerability. I was trying to think of a way to highlight their plight."

"More Precious than Gold" by Ande Hall, DVM
A large part of the whimsy that Ande breathes into her work comes from the fabric she chooses for her mixed media pieces. "These are a specific project I've been focused on for the past year," she says of her fabric pieces. "My mission is to explore ways to use pattern that are both expected and unexpected. I started with things that were really easy to see, like the paisley patterns to create brindle greyhounds. But then using cabbage rose for a Jersey cow--that was more whimsical."

"Rosy the Jersey" by Ande Hall, DVM
A central concept that has surfaced in other conversations I've had with veterinary artists is that a deep, hands-on knowledge of anatomy helps when conveying an animal's body onto the page. Animals have a central theme in many of Ande's pieces--she also paints flowers--but Ande has a different perspective. "It's not that simple," she says of the anatomy/art link. "Sculpting is easier to apply your familiarity with anatomy. It's a three-dimensional art form and you have a three-dimensional memory of the structures you're depicting whereas painting is two-dimensional. It's quite different."

"Johann" by Ande Hall, DVM
When asked where Ande finds inspiration for her work, she doesn't hesitate to state point-blank: "Everywhere." She admires historic art which sometimes surfaces in her own work, like her piece "Johann." She also takes pleasure in the research of her subjects. One painting might lead to another, she says. Or she'll re-visit a piece she's done in the past. Ande's outlook and practicality make one feel as though the possibilities are endless.

Until next month, happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Write What You Want to Read

Sometimes, if you can't find what you want, you just have to roll up your sleeves and make it yourself. And I'm not talking chocolate chip cookies here. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Lydia Staggs, senior veterinarian at Gulf World, the largest marine rehabilitation center in the panhandle of Florida. Besides from a kick-ass day job, Lydia has recently made a splash (gimme a break, I couldn't help myself) in the fiction world with the recent release of her second novel, Rea, in her urban paranormal series, Shamar.

As always, I bugged Lydia about the how's and why's and what's and when's of her inspiration,  perspiration, and exhilaration at being a published novelist. She indulged me mightily. What came from our conversation was twofold:

1. The amount of fun Lydia has writing is almost palpable.
2. When you can't find what you want, you just gotta make it yourself. No excuses.

Here's Lydia's story:

"In 2014, I was home with my son," she says. "My husband was overseas and my child was four at the time and in bed by 7:30 every evening so I was sitting in the house, bored out of my skull. One weekend, I went to the bookstore and couldn't find anything I wanted to read. I talked to the personnel about what I like--fantasy, adventure, series--and they were like: 'We have 50 Shades of Gray. You're a woman, you would like that.' And I was like, no."

Lydia experienced the same situation at a second bookstore across the street. Understandably, she was miffed.

"They couldn't help me and I got really frustrated," she continues. "I complained about this at work and my intern said to me: why don't you write something? I said I'm not a writer. I mean, I write peer-reviewed stuff, which is really dry." But Lydia's staff convinced her to try her hand at fiction.

Lydia Staggs DVM and friend
"I wrote the first three chapters of Shamar and handed it back to my intern," she says. "I told her to read it and if she thought it was crap, I wouldn't go any further. And if she liked it, I would finish it."

End result? I think you can guess. "She said it was fabulous. So I said OK." Since then, Lydia hasn't looked back. With a complex plot bridging urban legend with dark family secrets, the Shamar series now consists of two books and Lydia is finishing a third.

"It started off as a single book," she says. "But it morphed into something else. I kept coming up with more ideas and thought, wait a minute. I could turn this into a series." Lydia anticipates her Shamar series will end with four books but with a caveat: "I don't know if that's really going to happen, but that's the goal. The story between the two main characters will probably end at four," she contends. "But other characters... there might be a sort of spin-off with them. Another series."

What Lydia has done, really, is what all fiction authors should aspire to: write what you want to read. That's how it started for Lydia: by not finding what she wanted in her local bookstores, she created her own universe.

Other authors have commented on this concept. Toni Morrison said: "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." And Carol Shields: "Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find."

Having fulfilled that initial goal of creating the book she couldn't find at the bookstore, Lydia says her writing has now since turned into a therapeutic outlet. "If I've had a bad day, I can sit here and write. When I have a really bad day, I tend to kill half my characters so then I have to go back and save them! It helps me deal with things like compassion fatigue, stress at work, and the challenges of being a mom."

Lydia has identified some of the challenges we face on a day to day basis in veterinary medicine and addressed these issues in her books. Her main female protagonist, Juliet Greene, is a veterinarian. "I wanted to show vet med in its own light," she says. "I wanted to portray the profession correctly and show the challenges vet med has." Her novels shed light on topics such as euthanasia, the challenge of non-talking patients, and the salary disparity between physicians and veterinarians.

"[Writing] seemed so Herculean at the beginning but then I thought, wait a second. Tackle little bits at a time. Remember: you did not become a veterinarian overnight, either."

As such, the old standby of write what you know easily applies to Lydia's fiction in part. However, she acknowledges this concept somewhat tangentially, connecting the physical act of writing in vet med with the act of writing in fiction. "Because I write so frequently in medical records, that pattern of writing helped with my novel," she says. "It didn't feel arduous. It wasn't intimidating because I already write so much every day." 

Lydia makes novel writing sound like a blast. Her enthusiasm and love of her craft shined through our conversation the entire time. "This has been a fun experience," she says but openly acknowledges that the hardest part of the entire process was getting the damn thing published, which to many writers nodding with a wry smile while reading this, is not a surprise. But the writing itself? "I didn't realize until I got started how less of a challenge it really was. It seemed so Herculean at the beginning but then I thought: wait a second. Tackle little bits at a time. Remember: you did not become a veterinarian overnight, either."

You heard her. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work. Until next month, happy reading, happy writing, and happy vetting.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Medical Writing: The Cool, Smart Practicality of It All

OK, folks. Let me bend your ear (eyes?) a little bit. There are many facets to writing. We all know this, but sometimes forget it as we get sucked into our own projects and read our comfort books on our favorite topics. But I'm not talking genre differences--literary versus sci-fi versus romance (oh, but watch me try my hand at some sci-fi this year! Scary in an out-of-my-element sort of way but SO MUCH FUN!). I'm talking fiction versus non-fiction and then traveling one level deeper to break non-fiction into creative non-fiction, technical writing, medical writing... Wait. Did I say medical writing?

Yes. Yes, I did.

Medical writing is a thing. A hidden-in-plain-sight sort of thing I was only aware of at the very fringes. Medical writing to me used to be like a shadow that catches at the corner of your eye--you're not really sure what it is but you're vaguely aware of it.
Recently I talked to Laurie Anne Walden, DVM. Laurie Anne just so happens to be both a veterinarian and a medical writer and she enlightened me on this fascinating writing niche, which I'm thrilled to share with you all now. Ready? Let's meet Laurie Anne.

First things first. Laurie Anne opened her medical writing business, Walden Medical Writing, LLC, in 2014. Her journey to her present professional place has not been the typical path medical writers follow. But, as each of our own lives leads a tortuous path and one never knows where she is going to pop out of the woods, Laurie Anne is taking it all in stride. She went from vet school to internship to private practice for more than ten years before she made the gradual shift to writing.

Here's how she explains her beginnings: "I blame it all on the kids." (I suspected I was going to like Laurie Anne before I talked to her and this confirmed it.)

Seriously, Laurie Anne was a full time small animal vet until deciding to go part time when she had her first child. She continued part time after having her second child, but as the kids got older and went to elementary school, Laurie Anne started thinking. "I enjoyed being in charge of my own schedule," she says. "I wondered what I could do at home as a vet."

"I love editing. It's not about being critical. It's about helping people be clearer with their writing."

Some exploration online and contact with a colleague piqued Laurie Anne's interest along the lines of technical writing. "I had always liked writing and reading," she says. "So, the more I looked, I found out that medical writing was actually a thing."

Laurie Anne got her start editing research articles written by non-native English speakers. She says this experience was interesting and positive, though not a sole way to make a living. "I had so much fun doing that," she says.

With the pay for that sort of editing being quite low, Laurie Anne considered it as sort of her "internship" into medical writing. "It was a way of starting to get home-based employment in the field," she says. She spent a little more than a year editing in this way and loved it. "To me, I love editing," she says. "It's so much fun. It's not about being critical. It's about helping people be clearer with their writing. It's like being a hairdresser to their writing. Especially when their first language isn't even English. I think the fact that they're even trying is great."

After dipping her toes in the self-employed editing world, Laurie Anne got serious. She joined the American Medical Writers Association and then passed a certification exam. She's now on the Board of Editors of Life Sciences. "You don't have to have any qualification to say you're an editor," she cautions. "Just go online and announce you're an editor and there you go. I decided a certification would be at least something I could show people." After earning her editing certification and a writing certification from the AMWA, Laurie Anne says she feels better about her editing credentials.

Currently, Laurie Anne has shifted to writing more copy. While she still does editing (because she loves it so!), she primarily is now a medical writer. Laurie Anne is an interesting example of a freelance medical writer who--important point here--still practices part time. "Most people who do medical writing either work for drug companies or for medical publication firms," she says. "So starting as a freelancer is not the way I'd recommend doing it. I never wanted to quit practice so working full time at a company was not an option for me."

"Actually, veterinary training prepares you really well for being a medical writer. You understand the language of medicine."

Opportunities for freelance medical writers can vary widely. Currently, Laurie Anne has a bulk of work writing articles that summarize recent research in the scientific literature. "I'm summarizing what's relevant in these articles and what will make veterinarians' lives easier," she explains. She says this work has been interesting and challenging. "Some of the research articles I have to summarize are not in the areas I have any expertise in, so it's great that I have this opportunity to learn about new stuff," she says. And then Laurie Anne taps into one of every clinician's fears: hard core radiology. "I have had to edit some radiology documents that were basically all physics," she says. "Oh god." I feel your pain, Laurie Anne. I feel your pain.
Radiation physics??? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
She's also recently written various client education articles, which she enjoys, as it's a marriage of her clinical and writing skills. "Actually, veterinary training prepares you really well for being a medical writer because you understand the language of medicine and understand where it all comes from," she says.

Laurie Anne stressed that her path isn't likely the most usual path for those interested in pursuing a career in medical writing and encourages folks who might be interested in medical writing to do their research first. The American Medical Writers Association is a great place to start and has lots of resources.

Until next month, happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The fun, the challenging, the personal: daily blogging the vet way

Happy 2017, dear readers! I'm fortunate to start the new year sharing a delightful conversation I had recently with Dr. Shawn Finch, a veterinarian at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. Shawn's daily blog, Finchdvm.com, caught my eye some months ago. During our conversation, she shared with me some of the reasons why she writes what she writes and I'd like to share them with you, too.

Shawn Finch, DVM

Shawn started blogging in 2006 and her first blog, Riley and James, was prompted into existence by one of Shawn's brothers, a web designer. "I first wanted to get the word out about preventative veterinary care," explains Shawn.

While Shawn doesn't regularly post to Riley and James anymore, it's still available as a resource. Blogging part deux occurred when Shawn's brother suggested she write shorter posts on a daily basis. "I really liked that idea," says Shawn. "It has more structure and it's been fun to post something every single day. I need external structure to get anything done, so that's been helpful."
One of the many cool things about Finchdvm.com is its color palette. This was something that struck me immediately about the site and I didn't realize until talking with Shawn that there's meaning behind the look. "When my brother asked me how I wanted the new site to look, I was thinking about how dogs and cats see things differently than we do. For example, we used to think that they can't see three dimensionally and we know that's not true and we once thought they could only see black and white and that's not true, either. So I thought it would be cool if the blog was in the colors dogs and cats can see. I've had fun with that."

Love it.

Finchdvm.com has been live for about 16 months now and Shawn still considers it relatively new. However, she's just now feeling the friendly pressure of daily writing requirements. "When I started, I had a bunch of stories and could fill up my post queue without writing daily," she says. Now, she's running out of her backlogged content and is pushed to writing in real time. "It's a bit scary," she says, "But it also makes me think through my day."
Example of the dog/cat color vision palette on Finchdvm.com
This act of daily writing and quiet reflection is becoming very important to Shawn, especially as she identifies herself as an introvert. "Sometimes, with the days in the clinic packed, if you're not able to pick your way through the day, you can find yourself depressed and not really be able to put your finger on it," she says. Writing daily on her blog gives Shawn the space and time to look back on a busy day and internalize it. "It also allows you to think of things from a happier perspective," she continues. "You can write whatever you want. Even if you just gave vaccines all day, you can go home and write about how cute the dogs were. I really like it."

"[Writing]... allows you to think of things from a happier perspective."

Shawn says her goal for her blog is to connect to pet owners. "I get a little tunnel vision in the clinic," she says. "I get caught just thinking through: is this dog sick or healthy and how am I going to fix it. I want to relate to the owner and in a twenty minute appointment, you can kind of do that, but not really. I wanted to look at the more fun side of pet ownership. Not that it's all fun--some of it is sad--but leave the technical side out of it. Make it more relatable. I'm such an introvert and in the exam room, I think that I'm coming across as relatable but I'm probably not."

There have been many things written about the benefits of daily writing, as in a journal, and what Shawn is talking about exemplifies this in a fantastic way. "It's a good stress reliever, too," she says.

And her blog really is relatable. She breaks her blog into three categories: fun, challenges, and personal. Some posts are directly related to her daily life as a vet and others aren't. It's a glimpse into a life that is sometimes vet but always (subtly) writer and observer. It's extremely calming.

Shawn writes occasionally for DVM360, too. (Read about how Shawn's clinic uses underwear as a tool for positivity here.) It was surprising to me to find someone who is so engaged in writing and yet Shawn says the art is somewhat new to her. "I didn't really start writing until I started Riley and James in 2006," she says. "I didn't realize how much I would like it. Once I started there, I just started writing a lot. It was never something I did as a kid or thought I would be good at; I had no formal training. But, it's really fun." 

You see that word Shawn keeps using? Fun. Talk about positivity!  

Subscribe to Shawn's blog for a daily dose of wonderfulness (and fun) and visit her on Twitter: @Finch93.

Until next month! Happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting.