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 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.