Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Staying 'up'

I didn't post a blog entry last week because I'm spending most of my time finishing Homegrown Pork for Storey Publishing. It's the first totally 'meat animal' book I've written and it will be my last. I've had pigs for quite awhile but we don't eat them—they're pets. Writing about the meat aspect isn't too hard but illustration research is getting me down.

If you're familiar with Storey's great livestock books you'll know that they're illustrated with line drawings on nearly every page. To create illustrations that perfectly match what's going on in the text, authors provide examples for the illustrator to work from. For instance I recently used Google Images to gather eight representative images of pigs soaking in children's wading pools. They're tucked inside the images file for chapter 8, along with separate files containing images of a British-style pig ark, a Port-a-Hut, a hoop house, extension insulators for electric fencing, pigs wallowing, pigs drinking from troughs, a flap-style pig feeder, and a garden cart.

Normally I love the illustration-gathering phase of my Storey books but this time I'm running across disturbing images that I can't get out of my head. I realize that most people consider animals food and that's okay, but I believe meat-eaters should respect the creatures they eat. Yet I'm seeing so many disrespectful images of grinning hunters posed with wild boar with hats perched on their heads or tied on ATVs as if they're driving them. And pictures of pink baby piglets, dead, curled up in pans and of severed pig heads singed and grinning on a platter, ready to pop in the oven. These things haunt me long after I turn away. I'm writing about them because writing is a writer's job and I think Homegrown Pork will be an excellent book of its kind, but the images upset me so much that I know I'll never tackle a project like this one again. 

Another thing that's upsetting me right now is lack of payment for work I've completed for one of the companies I write for (not Storey). I've been with this company for over 10 years and writing for them has mostly been a joy. I've had to beg for book advances that were past due but magazine checks were never more than a few weeks late. Now they're running three months behind. This amounts to a lot of money that I need right now to feed my animal friends; after all, this is the main reason I write for publication. The other writers I know who write for this company are in the same boat. The company tells us, "We're mailing checks at the end of this week" but they don't. Am I worried? Yes!

So, it can be hard to finish my morning chores in the blistering heat, then come straight to the computer and start working. Since I do this six days a week, I'm struggling to stay motivated. In the past I'd be popping anti-depressants by now but since discovering Reiki, flower essences, and EFT (Gary Craig's Emotional Freedom Technique, a.k.a. tapping), I've been able to stay on a reasonably even keel without medication. Here's a tip: if you write or plan to write, investigate energy modalities; they'll help you stay 'up' without pills.

I also avoid negativity (we haven't had TV for 12 years, I rarely listen to the radio, and I read Google news only as needed) and I immerse myself in positivity as fully as I can. I listen to good music, read uplifting books, visit positive websites, and subscribe to free mailings that lift my spirits when I open my mailbox in the morning.

If you're tired of doom and gloom news reporting, try Happy News. Its motto is "Real News. Compelling Stories. Always Positive". The website is inspiring and the Happy News newsletter, free. 

Positive News – U.S. Edition is another source of inspirational, up-beat news.

And it's hard to beat Daily Good—subscriptions are free.

Another mailing that makes my day is Mike Dooley's Notes from the Universe. I find one in my mailbox five mornings a week. Notes from the Universe might not resonate for everyone but check them out. I love them.

Two blogs I recommend and subscribe to are Marelisa Fábrega's Daring to Live Fully blog and Henrik Edberg's The Positivity Blog. If you know of others like these, please leave a comment and tell me about them. I'd like to subscribe!

And when I'm feeling especially 'down', I take a goat break. See that face at the top of this entry? Kissing that face (and others like it) on a daily basis is more therapeutic than a fistful of Zolofts. I couldn't exist without animals in my life.  :o)
Please visit my Sheep Tips & Tricks and Goat Tips & Tricks blogs, and my Sue Weaver - Ozark Writer public page at Facebook. 


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It Isn't All Roses

I worked at a factory when I started writing in 1969. One day at lunch I told my friends I'd gotten a check for an article the day before and now I could buy winter hay for my horses. A co-worker asked how much I earned and I said, "$180". There was a stunned silence. That was more than we were making for a week's work in a union shop. Finally the person who asked me, said, "If I could sit at home and write stories for $180, I sure wouldn't work in this hole!"

That occasion stayed with me because that's how most folks look at writing: they think writers sit down, type out a few pages, send the results off to an editor, and voilà, it's money in the bank. They don't visualize hours of painstaking research before writing an article or highlighting printouts and compiling fact sheets. They don't know about proofreading and rewrites. And they especially don't realize the crushing rejection attached to writing. It's worth it—but it's there.

Picture this. A company I write for has fallen far behind in payment—a lot of money we need to pay our bills. They are not up front about the delays, even to their editors, some of whom commiserate with their contributors and others who don't seem to care. I agonize over whether or not I should continue writing for this group of magazines. I like them and I've been with them for years. Finally I refuse a feature article that requires days of research to write; I can't afford the time in the event I don't get paid. A month later I receive standard rejection emails for all of my 2013 article proposals. Did I cut my throat or save myself a world of grief? Who knows!

Fortunately, I have Storey Publishing to fall back on. I can't say enough good things about Storey. Every person I've met there has been a dream to work with. And, Storey editors are kind when they copyedit my books.

Readers who have never been writers think what they read is exactly what the author wrote down. Not so at all. Copyeditors delete here and suggest additions there; they move blocks of text from one place to the next. Sometimes stuff a writer really likes gets left out. But copyeditors know what sells books and what doesn't. Although a copyedit is depressing at first glance, the wise writer gives her editors free rein to make changes. And the editors at Storey do publishing right.

There are days when I'd like to heave my computer out the window and try something else. But I won't. I plan to stay with Storey as long as they want my books. There are also self-published ebooks in my immediate future. And, agonizing as it is not knowing when (or if) I'll be paid, I like writing for one of those magazines.

Writing for publication is rewarding but it isn't all roses. Keep it in mind if you choose to write.


Please visit my Goat Tips & Tricks and  Sheep Tips & Tricks blogs, and my writer's page at Facebook

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Google It!

My new Dreamgoat Annie logo, compliments of Teddi Deppner, Web Design

Here's a piece of advice for aspiring writers, especially anyone living in the backend of nowhere, as I do: take time to learn the nuances of your favorite search engine; search engines are a writer's best friend. I use and recommend Google.

Background: Before moving to the Ozarks ten years ago, I lived in Minnesota in a county served by the East Central Regional Library (ECRL) system. This gave me access to 14 brick-and-mortar libraries in six Minnesota counties as well as MnLink, an online feature that made it possible to order books from all 14 ECRL libraries, right from my computer and delivered to my nearest library. Interlibrary loan through ECRL was amazing; in a week or so I had century-old books in my hands originating in libraries states away or reprints from scientific papers of my choice. ECRL is researcher's heaven.

Then we moved to Arkansas. Our local Hardy library is a wonderful, friendly place peopled by the nicest librarians you could possibly imagine. But even associated with Arkansas' White River Library system, research possibilities are sorely limited.

So, I quickly learned that I'd have to buy my own research materials or find them online. I do both. But except for buying competing books to review, Google supplies nearly all my research material.

If you're looking for the ultimate online research experience and have a high-speed internet connection, I strongly suggest you download Google Guide, a free, 5.86 MB, 146 page guide to everything Google. If you can't download it, use the interactive version online. Need a two-page cheat sheet to keep by your computer? It's free too.

Whatever you need, you can find it through Google. I've already written about the thousands of vintage books downloadable, free through Google Books. Need to refer to a map, modern or ancient? They're there. A video? Images of any topic on earth?

And speaking of Google Images, don't you just love the cool goat logo at the top of this entry? I found it by Googling goat logos. I was looking for ideas for a Dreamgoat Annie logo when I came upon this gem. I clicked on the image and was taken to the website of Teddi Deppner, Web designer extraordinaire. I emailed Teddi to ask if she'd design something similar for me. She replied, saying the friend she designed the logo for is no longer in business, so with her gracious permission it's the start of my Dreamgoat Annie logo—watch for further developments!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Confession--Why I Write

Like Emony (at the right) I tend to clam up when others speak

Most writers say they write "because I have to!" And that's a large part of the equation. Writers, myself included, are nearly always compelled to write, but that's rarely the whole picture.

I began writing for publication in 1969. I'd recently had a baby and didn't want to go back to the factory grind to earn the money my ex and I needed to survive. It wasn't enough and I did go back, but I made some juicy sales that spurred me to keep writing in my spare time. I've written for publication ever since.

Nowadays I write fulltime and more, usually six or seven days a week. To support my huge animal family, I must. But I write for other reasons too. For one thing, I love the research that goes into an article or even more, a whole fat book. I'd rather research most topics than eat or sleep. In fact, I vastly over-research because the lure of one more luscious tidbit of information leads me to try one more website. Then another and another and another. Research is my favorite part of writing.

But I also write to be heard. I was an extroverted child but something happened when a favorite teacher belittled me in seventh grade. I stopped speaking up and for the most part I still don't. So, I listen. Other people like that and really, I enjoy it too. But when I try to inject my interests into a conversation, people tend to tune me out. It's terribly discouraging sometimes.

So imagine my surprise when I learned I have…fans. People who enjoy and learn from the things I write. Now I don't fret when I can't get a toehold in a group discussion. Now I just listen, enjoy what the others say, and bide my time. Then, I sit down at the computer and write, knowing my readers care what I have to say. I love being heard. And I appreciate my fans with all my heart.
Please visit my Sheep Tips & Tricks and Goat Tips & Tricks blogs, as well as my Facebook writer's page

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vintage Books as PDF Files--for Free!

Yesterday while searching Google Books and the Biodiversity Heritage Library for a few more old pig books to quote in Homegrown Pork (my upcoming pig book for Storey Publishing), it occurred to me that not everyone knows about these fabulous resources. I've downloaded the full text of hundreds of vintage livestock books over the years and it hasn't cost a cent, not ever. You can do it too.

When I'm researching material for the books and articles I write, I download material directly onto a thumb drive (zip drive) devoted to that subject. This way I don't clog up my working computers, as they tend to get sloooow when I fill them up with PDFs and hi-resolution photos.

These are my pig, horse, and cattle book thumb drives

I keep my thumb drives in a box by my computer. So I can find them quickly, I mark them with a distinctive tag. Since these drives hold an immense amount of material (my pig drive, for instance, holds 4 gigabytes of information), I can download and keep even huge files.

My favorite source of livestock material is the Biodiversity Heritage Library, offering 55,757 separate titles. And, this site is easy to use. Here's what to do.

Navigate to the Biodiversity Heritage Library site, click on Subject (be sure to use the Subject tab, not General or any of the others), and fill in your needs. Let's use Morgan horse for an example. When your search results for Morgan Horse come up, click on Morgan horse again. This will bring up six titles, all of them exquisite, next-to-impossible-to-find-in-print classics like Joseph Battell's The Morgan Horse and register (I paid $150 for a truly battered hardcover copy of this book in 1978 and later sold it for $200) and D. C. Linsley's Morgan Horses, a premium essay on the origin, history, and characteristics of this remarkable American breed of horses. Click on your title of interest and when it loads, choose they type of download you desire from the Download/About this Book pull-down menu at the top of the panel. It's free.

Or, if you'd like to view sheep books, type sheep in the search box; this leads to a choice of 14 subjects including Cheviot sheep, Merino sheep, sheep breeding, sheep breeds, and just plain sheep. Click on sheep again and choose from a list of 155 titles. Wow!

Google Books is my other source of vintage books in public domain. Enter Morgan horses in the search box. When results come up, click on Free Google eBooks in the left hand column (it's under the heading, Any books). Battell and Linsley's books are there, though Biodiversity Heritage Library offers a wider selection.

But, the beauty of Google Books is that most volumes are also downloadable as EPUB files to read on modern readers like Nook. Click on the gear symbol in the upper right hand corner of the page to choose the type of download you prefer. As with Biodiversity Heritage Library, downloads are free.

A third resource I use is the Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project website, where 76 vintage cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century are available as free PDF downloads. Browse the cookbooks or use the website's search feature to home in on specific recipes.

These sites represent a great way to add to your research library for free, less the cost of a thumb drive to store your vintage books. Check them out! You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If You're Short of Trouble...

Since I'm up to my eyeballs in work this week, with Storey's permission I'm reprinting another favorite Inside Storey blog entry from 2010.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sue Weaver: If You’re Short of Trouble . . .

One of my favorite sayings is the Finnish proverb, “If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.” The Finn who coined that phrase knew goats. They are intelligent, affectionate, winsome souls, but goats have a fey side, too.

Shiloh (left) and Salem (right) are mischievous lunkheads

Background: our property is set up with a 2-acre, rocky, semigrassy expanse we jokingly call our yard, flanked on three sides by animal paddocks and pastures; the fourth side abuts our township road. Our house (a goat-hoof-dented manufactured home — but that’s another story) sets as far back on the 2-acre yard as we could set it, leaving a long rectangular commons between us and the road gate. Our sheep and goats access their pastures through the yard via goat- and sheep-size passageways that keep the equines and cattle from filing in the opposite direction in the same manner.

Having goats and sheep lounging around the yard between grazing sessions is a simple joy that gives us ample opportunity to interact with and enjoy them. Unannounced visitors are, however, forced to run a gauntlet of curious and occasionally ornery animals to reach the house (we put them in their paddocks if we know folks are coming). That includes service providers.

We treasure the UPS driver who carefully winds his truck through sheep and goats rather than hang packages out on the gate. One hot autumn day when he was making deliveries with his side doors open for cross-ventilation, he threaded his way through goats to our door, honked his horn, and stepped smiling from the truck, package in hand. At that moment Salem, one of my giant Boer-Nubian wethers and an especially impish spirit, sprinted for the passenger’s side of the truck precisely as his brother, Shiloh, mounted the driver’s side steps.

I lunged at Salem, snagged his collar, and hauled him back, shouting, “Watch your door!” The driver’s smile slipped as he spied that giant body ascending the steps. Simultaneously, Kahless, our equally huge and seasonally smelly Boer buck clambered up the passenger steps and took a sharp left toward the back of the truck. I dropped Salem’s collar and dove after Kahless as Salem trailed me up the steps and began happily munching paperwork.

The driver, helplessly clutching my package to his side while maintaining a death hold on Shiloh’s collar, pitched the package at our doorstep, and somehow beat Shiloh up the steps. At that point we had three 250-pound, paper-eating goats gridlocked in the UPS truck. Since then, the UPS man secures both doors before turning into our driveway.

I’d like to say that tale is unique, but it isn’t. On February 22 I was working on my Storey cattle book when I heard a commotion in the yard. I backed up the file and stepped out on the deck to spy a young man with a clipboard clutched to his chest retreating at a fast clip across our yard — with a pack of curious sheep and goats hot on his heels. This was surprising because nowadays the road gate is locked through the day while the animals are out of their night paddocks (several of them, particularly Mopple, my lamb, have no fear of motor vehicles and beg to be run down; thus I lock the gate when they're in the yard); he had to have climbed the fence to get in, ignoring the "Livestock Guardian Dog on Duty" sign in the doing.

Teasel is prone to poking people's backsides with her horns

Feyza, a huge and very protective Anatolian-Pyrenees, was lunging and barking furiously but not biting, so I didn't intervene (he was almost out of yelling range by then). However, as the young man crested the hill, Teasel, our intrepid horned goddess, hotfooted it up behind him and jabbed his butt with one of her long horns (in Teaselese this means, "Hurry up!"). Did he jump!

The sheep, goats, and Feyza all flocked together and watched him bail over the fence, leap into his truck, and speed away, while they collectively nudged one another, saying, "Who was that guy?" I imagine he was checking our propane tank. I also imagine he'll call before he comes next time.

Who was that guy?

Even we have trouble with goats’ mischievous natures from time to time. Just last week Big Mama gave birth to beautiful twins. Big Mama retired here because she wasn’t to be bred again, nearly dying after her previous delivery 2 years ago. She is old, a huge, lavishly bearded Boer-Saanen with a mind of her own. We wouldn’t allow our buck, Martok, to breed her. Solution: she backed up to the buck run and encouraged him to breed her through the fence. I observed the hanky-panky and quickly led Big Mama away, thinking they couldn’t have — could they? But they did. Fortune smiled on Big Mama (an aggressively healthy prekidding diet undoubtedly helped), and this year’s delivery went without a hitch.

Big Mama and her brand new daughter, Simka

Goats are a joy, but they’re mischievous, and they can be vexsome, too. My words to the wise: if you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t get goats.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Write About Something You Like

Wolf Moon Gunnar Woolenbrau

The best tip I can give prospective writers is this: write about things you like, especially at the beginning of your career and especially if you write books. It makes sitting at the keyboard for hours on end so much more enjoyable. I've learned that with proper motivation (the need to earn money to feed my horde of animal friends) I can research and write about anything but when it's a topic I love, it's much, much easier.

Writing Homegrown Pork has been a push. I don't like to think about using animals for food and this book, more than anything else I've ever written, is precisely about that. Although, collecting antique recipes for this book has been fun. I find them in vintage cookbooks archived at Feeding America; The Historic American Cookbook Project website. That's a definite perk for writers: you'll discover some seriously cool resources while conducting research.

But don't think that even if you're experienced in the subject you write about that you won't have to do a lot of research—you will. Editors expect writing based on solid, varifiable research, not personal experience, though you can work that in along the way if you like. For fun, I piled up my printouts when I finished writing Hobby Farms Llamas and Alpacas and the stack was almost three feet tall.

Now you're probably wondering what the little cutie pictured at the head of this entry has to do with writing. Nothing at all! Except that he and his mom are frisking around the yard as I write this and I couldn't resist grabbing my camera and framing this shot. That's Wolf Moon Gunnar Woolenbrau. His mom and relatives are part of what keep me at the keyboard most of the day, five and six days a week. Ask me: Is it worth it? You bet!  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Economical Horsekeeping

The beautiful Arkansas Sweet, Half-Arabian and minimally expressed Curly, is one of our homegrown mares
Few of my friends know this, but I'm writing an ebook in my spare time. That is, I was until I launched my present work intensive to finish Homegrown Pork for Storey. When that's finished, I'll wrap up my ebook and start marketing.

Over the years I've purchased quite a few ebooks as research material, always as PDF files as I don't yet own a Kindle, but until recently I hadn't given much thought to writing one. Now I'm enthused and have a list of subjects I plan to cover in this manner, including a tips and tricks guide for goatkeepers and a guide to relocating and buying a country home in the Ozarks.

This all came about after proposing a book called Economical Horsekeeping at Storey. However, print horse books aren't selling well right now. Only one in four that recently reached the presentation stage at Storey (this is when an acquisitions editor likes a proposal so much that he or she presents it to the entire editorial board) were accepted. So, since I think this is information readers need, I'm publishing the book myself.

I have had horses for 53 of my 65 years and have always had to pinch pennies to keep them. I've learned to choose horses wisely (except for our horse rescue years when need outweighed ease of horsekeeping) and to keep them hale and healthy at minimum cost. I know where and how to buy quality equipment at modest prices but that lasts and lasts. I've boarded, so I know how to choose a quality boarding experience for both horse and owner, without breaking the bank. I know how to keep horses healthy and avoid unnecessary injuries to cut down on costly veterinary bills. This is what Economical Horsekeeping is about. And, there will be bonus reports for those who buy my ebooks.

But now I have to learn the ins and outs of ebook publishing and marketing. I'm not terribly computer saavy nor am I a social media fan, but I'm going to learn to be. It's part and parcel of writing ebooks, so I'll adapt.

I've purchased and also downloaded lots of free "write your own ebook" material that I'll be talking about in upcoming posts. I'll also give you an inside look at my work on Economical Horsekeeping. For now, if you're even vaguely interested in writing and publishing your own ebooks let me recommend Jeff Goins' You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) and How to Market and Sell Your eBook by Sarah Mae, both of which are both inexpensive and brimming with pertinent information. My favorite blogger, Marelisa Fábrega, also offers a fantastic PDF guide called Write, Market, and Publish Your Ebook but her site went down recently and it isn't currently available; you can however, read it online at Squidoo.

P.S. I've set up an Economical Horsekeeping blog and will start posting to it when I've finished Homegrown Pork. I'll let you know when I do!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Writing Life - part 2

Rumbler and me

This is my second excerpt from Storey's great Inside Storey blog. I'll start posting new content later this week, so please come back often—and tell your friends!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Every once in a while someone e-mails to ask me, “How can I become a writer?” They’re likely annoyed when I respond, “Go to the library, check out some Writer’s Digest books, read them, then write.”

That’s exactly how it happened for me. Flash back to August of 1969. My infant daughter is 2 months old, my husband and I are short of money, and I’ll have to go back to work — soon . . . at the automotive wiring factory where I worked before my baby’s birth. Ugh. I don’t want to put my daughter in day care. But what to do? I have no college education, no prospects.

Then The Western Horseman came in the mail. As I flipped through the articles, it occurred to me, “I could do this. I can write, and I know horses.” But how to begin?

Before the Internet there were libraries, and libraries were my dearest friends. I took myself to the Plymouth (Indiana) Public Library, located the writers’ section, picked out Writer’s Market and half a dozen other promising titles, and took them home and read them from cover to cover. When I was through I returned them to the library and photocopied the horse magazine market information from Writer’s Market. I hauled out my army-surplus Remington manual typewriter, sat down, and over the next few days wrote three articles, one for The Western Horseman and two for the now-defunct newsstand magazine, Horseman.

And I found a sitter for Robin and went back to work at the automotive factory. Still, I watched my mailbox. Closely. Imagine my delight when all three articles sold — and each for more money than I made in a week at the factory!

I didn’t quit my day job, but those early sales gave me the hope I needed to keep on writing. Except for a few hiatuses between then and now, I’ve never stopped.

Another epiphany occurred in 1992 when I bought a copy of Cherry Hill's Becoming an Effective Rider. What a cool book! I looked inside; it was “A Garden Way Publishing Book” by Storey Communications. Yep, I told myself, I’m going to write a book for Storey some day.

The years passed, and hundreds of horse articles down the line, Karen Keb of Horse Illustrated asked if I’d like to write for a brand-new magazine, Hobby Farms. I loved writing for Karen, and she was to be Hobby Farms’s editor in chief. Just like that, life took a new direction.

Instead of everything equine, I wrote about haymaking, rare pigs, and crafting cheese. And about tools (for the Tools of the Trade column); that took a lot of research!

In late 2003, out of the blue, BowTie Press (a division of BowTie Inc., the organization that publishes Horse Illustrated and Hobby Farms) phoned me about writing books in their new Hobby Farms handbooks series, one about chickens, the other about sheep. I happily agreed.

The upcoming year was . . . interesting. I went through a succession of five project editors on Hobby Farms Chickens alone. I’d finally understand what one of them wanted me to do, then she’d quit her job and another would appear. I was ready to toss writing books when the heavens opened up and Jarelle Stein became my project editor (and has remained so ever since). Oh, happy day! Book writing became a pleasure after all.

Carol Ekarius and I were exchanging e-mails in 2006 when I mentioned my dream of writing for Storey. Carol gave me Deb Burns' address, and correspondence ensued. I quickly realized I had found my writing home at Storey.

Now, through ups and downs and thanks to my editors’ patience (life seriously got in the way of my progress several times), I’ve written six books for Storey, I’m wrapping up my seventh, and hopefully have a series of livestock books for children waiting in the wings.

Which goes to show that if you want to write, you can write. I did it; you can do it, too. This is the advice I give my writer wannabees (at least one of them followed through and made it really big!):
  • Read everything you can about the craft of writing. If your library doesn’t carry a lot of writers’ books and CDs, scope out the Writer's Digest Bookshop for useful titles. You can often buy them used at Amazon.com for pennies. However, always choose the current Writer’s Market (if you freelance you'll need a new one every year), and home in on books with such titles as The 28 Biggest Writing Blunders (And How to Avoid Them) and Write Tight: How to Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused and Concise (in all seriousness, I reread these books at least once a year).
  • Accept that, to sell, you must write what editors want, not necessarily what you want to write about. Forget about a book of your memoirs or magazine articles espousing your personal opinions. I wrote about tools for 5 years (try to get excited about power washers or tree-limb saws). Boring, but money in the bank.
  • Learn to live with rejection. Not everything sells the first time out; query another editor, tweak it for another market, and send it out again. And don’t take editing personally. My heart plunges to my feet the first time I read my edited book manuscripts, but editors know better than writers what sells, and selling books and magazines is what it’s all about.
  • Write. Write voraciously. Write even when you don’t feel like it. Keep tweaking your craft; keep sending out material. Persevere. That’s the bottom line. Don’t give up prematurely.
To bring this blog entry up to date, I want to mention a fantastic resource I recently discovered. It's Jeff Goins' ebook, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). It's an inexpensive download and the best writing book I've read, ever. If you want to be a writer, get it. And subscribe to his blog and read the archives. I promise you won't be disappointed.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Writing Life - part 1

Since I'm going to be blogging about writing, I've asked my friends at Storey Publishing if I could reprint two entries I made to their wonderful Inside Storey blog in 2010. Not much has changed since then. This is my life.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I’ve written for publication since 1969. You’d think I’d have it down pat, but I don’t. I write slowly and am easily distracted. So, on my birthday, I resolved that beginning June 1, I would write at least 1,200 finished words a day — or else — and for one week I’d tally the day’s events to see where I squander my time.

June 1, 2010

5:45 a.m. — I’m up. I’ve checked Ursula at 90-minute intervals throughout the night, and I check her now. Ursula is my friend Lori’s immensely overweight pet ewe who was due to lamb on May 28. A former bottle lamb who took road trips in the family truck and rode in the cab of the tractor while Lori’s husband made hay, Ursula has next-to-human DNA. She appears to be carrying triplets. I do not want anything to happen to her.

Ursula pre-lambing
6:00 to 7:45 a.m. — It’s 87 degrees, with a 92-degree heat index; it’s going to be a sultry day. I milk and then feed the animals. A jumping spider nips my hand while I check the water tanks; it hurts, and I don’t like it. But I buck up and lead the goats out to graze. Teasel (she's the long-horned Spanish goat in the picture below), a cantankerous old goat who is attempting to move up from her dismally low spot in the goat hierarchy, sneaks up and bashes me on the side of the hip. For an old woman I am fast and manage to lightly boot her backside as she scuttles away. Hopefully, she gets the message.

7:45 to 9:30 a.m. — I lead the rams to the goats’ clover-carpeted paddock. Goats spurn clover; sheep love it. As I close them in, Morgan, my Sable wether, saunters out of the dairy goat shelter where he’s been hiding. He needs a pedicure, badly, so I shut him back in the dairy barn and trot to the house for hoof-trimming gear. When I return, Morgan has scaled the pipe gate between the dairy shelter and the buck paddock and is being amorously and aggressively courted by Martok, my Nubian buck. Martok’s companion, Uzzi, bashes Morgan with his horns. I rescue Morgan, who has emphysema and is puffing like a runaway freight train. When he doesn’t keel over, I trim his hooves, then shut him out in the pasture with the other goats.
With hoof trimmers in hand, I decide to trim the goats in the buck pen. I begin with Uzzi. Martok, who is in a Morgan-inspired sexual frenzy, shoots me with a stream of urine (this is how buck goats say, “I like you”). I stop, wave my arms, wipe my hip and leg, and bawl him out. He instead pees on his face, then scrubs his forehead against me — many times. I trim three sets of hooves in record time and plop in the water tank as I go by, noting that Wooby, Lori’s white ram, is standing by the goat shelter instead of eating clover.

9:00 a.m. to noon — I shower, run a batch of laundry, do some online research, and then write like a banshee, determined to make up for lost time. I continue checking Ursula every 90 minutes.

Noon to 1:30 p.m. — I glance out the window. Wooby is in the same spot. I investigate. He has somehow crammed himself between the woven wire fence and the shelter, and he’s cooking in the blazing noonday sun. He’s wedged himself into the tightest possible spot and stuck two legs through the fence. I push, pull, coax, threaten, and cry. It doesn’t help, so I race to get my tool chest and cut away a significant part of the fence, allowing Wooby to collapse in a heap on the ground. I sprint for the hose and hose off his legs and face and then his body. He gradually comes to, shoves himself to his feet, and sedately begins grazing clover. Using fencing brads, I secure the remaining fence directly to the goat shelter so that nothing gets stuck there again. It’s now 97 degrees, with a 103-degree heat index.

1:30 to 4:00 p.m. — I check Ursula before heading back to work. She’s off by herself, introspectively studying the wall. Note to self: she’s going to lamb. I write with frenzy until the dratted Internet server goes down. I step outside and hear a baby goat shrieking. She’s squeezed through the fence and now can’t get back to her mom. I reunite mother and child. Server is back up, so I write until John comes home from work, then fix salad for supper.

5:00 to 9:00 p.m. — We feed and water animals. Ursula, who is housed in a three-sided hay shelter adjacent to our unused round pen, is digging a nest in the bedding. I rig up temporary lighting and prepare a jug (a small, private pen where ewes bond with their new lambs), then haul an armload of cattle books to the round pen and take notes. By 8:00 p.m. Ursula is having contractions. I offer encouragement and Tostitos. Whippoorwills call as the fiery red sun sets across distant ridges to the south. I lay aside my notes and set up a lounge chair. As I settle back to wait, I think life is goooood.

9:30 p.m. — Ursula is in serious labor and getting cranky. She stomps to her companion, old Rebaa, who is nested in bedding, throws herself down directly atop Rebaa and pushes. Rebaa’s legs are windmilling; Ursula throws back her head and is bearing down, gritting her teeth. I save Rebaa; Ursula stomps out into the darkness of the round pen. I grab a flashlight and follow.

10:00 p.m. — I’m sitting on the ground behind Ursula. Her amniotic bubble has burst, and the first lamb’s hooves are out. Its heels are up. This is a seminormal, back-feet-first delivery, but I’ll have to pull the lamb once its rump appears. Ursula strains. When it’s time, I grasp the lamb’s back legs. She pushes, I pull him out. Him. Another ram lamb, but he’s big and strong. As I strip the goo from his muzzle and place him by Ursula’s face, she and I agree she did a good job. Ursula cleans the lamb. I ease back, awaiting the next delivery. But wait. . . . She’s starting to pass birthing tissues — there is only one lamb!
Ursula and her new son, Aries
11:00 p.m. to midnight — Ursula and son are settled in their comfy jug. I’ve trimmed and dipped his umbilical cord, and he’s sipping his first warm meal. I stumble back to the house, grab a quick shower, e-mail the good news to Lori, and survey my day’s work. I vow to write more tomorrow, but keep a running score of what I do? No way. It’s too daunting. I simply don’t want to know.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lamb Watch

I'm (kind of) on lamb watch, hoping that at least one of two possibly pregnant ewes is getting ready to have lambs.

Normally I would know but Jacy, a young white Classic Cheviot was in with Wee Mad Arthur for almost 5 weeks and though I never saw any breeding activity, odds are she should be bred. However, she's a first-timer and a naturally zaftig girl, so she might not have ovulated. So is she or isn't she? She's huge but all that bulk could be fat!

The other possibility is Wren, one of my favorite sheep. I saw her bred (many times) but she passed her due date last Thursday and has no udder development, so she probably doesn't have lambs on board. I'll keep her in the preggo pen until this coming Thursday just in case. Hope springs eternal.

I'm hoping for at least one more lamb as our one Classic Cheviot lamb to date (Wolf Moon Gunnar Woolenbrau, pictured above) is going to Lisa Piccolo in Oklahoma and he'll need a friend. My old ewe, Baannie, is due in July, so her lamb could be little Gunnar's friend but there would be a huge gap in their ages.

Our Classic Cheviots are also registered with the Miniature Cheviot registry. We also have a geriatric Wiltshire Horn cross ewe (Angel), a Dorper-Katahdin wether (Mopple of The Mopple Chronicles fame), a Scottish Blackface ram (Othello), and two Scottish Blackface-Classic Cheviot whoops! lambs (Ronnie and Zora) created when Othello got out with the main flock last November.

Sheep are my primary passion, along with goats, so I fully enjoyed writing The Backyard Goat and The Backyard Sheep for Storey Publishing. The Backyard Sheep will be released next spring.

Homegrown Pork is less fun because I don't like thinking of animals as meat but it's a necessary work. Gajillions of people who never thought of raising their own food are doing it now and that includes raising a backyard pig for pork. Homegrown Pork will show readers how to do it humanely. It also covers what to do with all that meat. It incorporates dozens of old recipes from the mid-1800s to early 1900s, when most country people raised and processed their own pigs. That part has been lots of fun researching. I think it will be a good book!

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's a Beginning

I haven't updated my Mopple Chronicles blog in a long, long time, partly due to time constraints and partly because Mopple, sweet though he is, is not the brightest bulb in the pack and training wasn't going too terribly well. We're going to try again soon (possibly with a different sheep, though I still want to teach Mopple to at least pull the wagon), but in the meanwhile I thought I'd start a more general-topic blog. This is it.

On a personal note, I spend most of my time these days writing and feeding animals (not necessarily in that order). I'm working on a book for Storey titled Homegrown Pork: Humane, Healthful Techniques for Raising a Pig for Food in Your Own Backyard, adding to an ebook on economical horsekeeping as time permits, and writing columns for Hobby Farms and Chickens magazines. Oh, and blogging as Martok the goat at Hobby Farms Online. It keeps me busy.

That's Ozark Jewels General Kerla, my two-year-old registered Nubian buck at the head of this post. Isn't he handsome? Does he not epitomise goatiness? Goats and sheep are my passion, hence my online name, Dreamgoat Annie. It's obviously a wordplay on Dreamboat Annie but also hearkens back to my youth (and Ann is my real middle name).

When I was 19, my parents and I moved to a farm in the sand burr country midway between Plymouth and Culver, Indiana. I rode my horse on the back roads near our farm and sometimes stopped to talk with an old German woman area folks called Goat Annie. She was very old, bent and wizened, and she lived in a tiny, tarpaper shack in the woods alone except for her goats. I thought at the time, "What a lonely life! And who'd want goats in their house?" Now I commiserate entirely. I could live in the woods with goats (but maybe in a bit nicer cabin). Funny how our values change as we grow older.