Thursday, December 29, 2005

The First "Goal" Post

As the year draws to a close, and another looms before me, unsullied, full of purpose, and loaded with hours that have not yet been frittered away, I find myself thinking of all the things I want to accomplish in the next twelve months.

In Geoff's book, he spends an entire chapter discussing the importance of planning and making goals. I agree with his rationale. If you don't have a goal, how will you know if you've ever reached it? Furthermore, if you don't have something to strive for, keeping your focus and your motivation becomes increasingly difficult.

In the teleseminar course I am currently taking, communications & marketing guru Alex Mandossian also talks about the importance of goals. He uses himself and his level of income as an example. He talks about once having a goal of making his annual income (then about $60K) into his quarterly income. When he did that, he made a new goal of making that his monthly... and then his weekly income. He also discusses the steps he took to make that goal a reality.

I've been spending some time drawing up a list of goals in the hopes of keeping myself on track (and not overloading). So it seemed timely and appropriate to discuss goal-setting with regards to the specifics of the writer's and rider's life, in addition to the larger goals of having a productive year in general.

To begin with, goals must be achievable. In his book, Geoff talks about a rider's goal of riding in the Olympics. Though it may not be terribly realistic, he says, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big IF you have access to certain attibutes that make achieving your goal at least possible. For instance, a talented 12 year old with supportive parents stands a chance of making the Olympic team if he or she works very hard for about 20 or 30 years.

However, Geoff cautions, beware of making goals that only set you up for failure. If you are in your 40's and just learning to ride, the reality of your situation is that riding to Olympic gold is just not in your future. Unrealistic goals can actually detract from the enjoyment you derive from your endeavors.

In addition to achievability, a goal must be within your power. Setting a goal that is dependent on someone else for success is an exercise in futility.

For instance, a screenwriter with a goal of "Winning the Nicholl" in a given year is probably destined for disappointment. The same goes for a writer with a goal of "getting published by Penguin Books," or even "selling my novel." These sorts of goals, while possible, can only be achieved at the whim of someone else -- namely, the Nicholl judges, a Penguin editor, and a sympathetic publisher.

A more suitable goal is one in which you control the outcome. If you want to do well in screenplay contests, your goals might include "complete a comprehensive edit and polish of my most competitive screenplay and enter it in 5 reputable contests." That you can do. And if you don't meet such a goal, you are the only one to blame.

Any goals you set must be measurable. After all, you have to be able to know if you've reached them, or not. Because of that, "write a little bit every day," or "increase name recognition" are not great goals. How much is a little bit? How will you know if you are becoming known in your field?

Come up with a way to quantify your goals. Be as specific as possible. You might try:

* Write for 30 uninterrupted minutes every day.
* Write 1200 words a day.
* Finish a rough draft of a screenplay in three months. (That's only 2 to 3 pages a day, with time off for weekends.)
* Finish all note-taking and information gathering for a non-fiction book project in two months.
* Increase website hits by 10%.
* Improve website ranking on major search engines to land in the top 20 sites for targeted keywords.

You get the idea. Find a way to know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether or not you have achieved your goals.

Tune in Tuesday for more talk about goal-setting, with some specific tips from the masters on how to set yourself up for success.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rider's Wednesday -- Successful Shot Tips

Not long ago, I received a rather frantic e-mail from a friend on the subject of giving shots. She had to give her filly 15cc of B-penn 2x a day, and the horse (understandably) didn't care much for the new routine.

She started running away from her owner. She also tried backing up and pinning her ears.  My friend continued:

I can't get the shots in her now. I can't do them in her butt 'cause she spins in circles and kicks out. I tried hobbles, but I don't want to do anymore damage to the leg and to her. (The filly had injured her leg when a neighbor's horse got loose and ran her through a fence.) 

I do it in the neck but she pulls off the needle before I get it all in and shakes her neck around and bends the needle. It takes 3-4 pokes, and by that time the needle has to be dull. Once, she even broke the needle off. Food doesn't distract her, either. She has to have this, but its thick and takes so long to give and she is getting worse.

I only have a day and a half left, but 3 pokes is a lot when she is bad and I can't have her (or me) getting hurt in the process.

Sometimes, the hardest part about giving shots is discovering that the horse is skittish about needles. Shots aren't often something that the average horse owner starts to train a horse to accept until an injury or sickness occurs. And then it's close to too late.

The best way I've found to get a horse used to accepting shots is to introduce the syringe to the horse in stages, and always introduce it as part of an all-over body pat.

Clinton Anderson is a big believer in desensitizing horses to your touch. If you ever watch him or take a clinic with him, you'll see that he does a lot of this desensitizing. He'll start at the neck and just gently start patting or lightly slapping the horse. It's not a stinging slap. It's the kind of slap that well-meaning, but uneducated owners do to say "Good Boy!" (They never take into consideration that sudden movements and quick pats are not at the top of an herbivore's Top 10 Favorite Things list.)

As you do the patting, every time the horse flinches or moves at your touch, stay wherever you were that caused the horse to react. As soon as the horse stops jumping or reacting, stop patting on him and rub him. Continue until your horse will stand calmly while you pat / slap all over his body. Then hold the syringe (with the needle capped) and do the exact same exercise -- patting and slapping until he stands quietly as you go over his whole body.

Do this several times a day without giving the horse a shot. Also do it when you do give the horse a shot. But don't stop after the shot. Continue doing the slapping thing. Don't just walk in, jab the needle in, and leave. If you continue this regimen, the horse won't learn to associate the syringe with the pain of the shot. And the sting of the needle won't happen every time you walk into the horse's stall.

Ideally, you can practice getting the horse used to this before you ever need to administer regular shots. But even so, you can still use the technique to take some of the frustration and fear out of shots. A little time spent getting the horse used to being tapped or slapped all over his body is well worth it when weighed against the prospects of breaking a needle off in the neck or chest of a frightened animal in pain.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Chihuly in Kalamazoo

Today is a day for feeding the artist's soul, rather than editing, drafting, transcribing, writing, re-writing or anything else that requires me sequestering myself away from my family -- both visiting and otherwise.

We are taking an excursion to Kalamazoo to see the Chihuly art exhibit there. I'm hardly an art snob. There are a few artists that I admire, and whose work I can usually recognize when I see it (Erte, F.W. Dicksee). But I think Chihuly is in a class by himself. He has made glass into a whole new art form.

But nothing lasts forever. The exhibit is here only until January 1. So today we're leaping at the chance to see the largest exhibition of his work in North America.

Besides -- Geoff's book is out of my hands. The flap copy is written and submitted for Trafalgar Square's approval. I'm (dare I say it?) caught up. Mostly. Enough that taking a day off won't throw me hopelessly off schedule. That's enough for me.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Good Friends and Open Spaces

This past Christmas weekend, I was reminded again and again of the wonderful people I am fortunate to call my friends and family. I recieved this as a part of a Christmas wish from a friend and colleague of mine that I rarely see, but who is wonderfully supportive:

To each of you who, I want you to know that you are very special in my life and I am blessed to have you as friends. You have added life to my life in your friendships. God bless you all.

I appreciate both the honesty and elegance of thought. It's true -- good friends do add life to life. Often, they make life more enjoyable, more bearable, and more worth living.

Though good friends make the world go round, trying to do everything with everybody over the holidays and get all your work done can be exhausting. Shakespeare certainly had it right:
"The world is too much with us.
Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."

And so, I played hooky this weekend, gave myself an early Christmas present, and stayed home while the rest of the family went on an outing. I know I stepped on a few toes by not going along. But all I wanted to do was spend some time by myself in my house. I got about 5 hours alone and didn't do a single second of work. It was wonderfully relaxing and recharging.

The same friend I referenced earlier included a holiday devotional thought in his Christmas wish. He has no idea of how I jealously covet time by myself, but I thought his choice of words inspired. An excerpt:

The world has become too much a part of us, and we are afflicted with the idea that we aren’t accomplishing anything unless we are always busy running back and forth. We no longer believe in the importance of a calm retreat where we sit silently in the shade... We become entirely too practical. We believe in having “all our irons in the fire” and all the time we spend away from the anvil or fire is wasted time. Yet our time is never more profitably spent than when set aside time for quiet meditation... We can never have to many of these open spaces in life.

Here's wishing you an abundance of good friends, silent shade, and open spaces as this year draws to a close and the new one nears.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Tis the Season

Short update today...

I spoke with Martha, my editor at Trafalgar Square, yesterday. Exciting news. Based on the strength of the uncorrected proofs of Geoff's book ("Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers, and Equitation") one of the major book clubs will be spotlighting the book as a Featured Selection. Very exciting. What a wonderful Christmas present!

Because of visiting family members and the last minute rushing that accompanies a major holiday, I'm a day or two behind on finishing up the galley proof edit. That WILL happen today.

I've also been asked to write the jacket copy to promote the book. Of course I said "yes." Who knows the work better than I? And, frankly, how often does one get the chance to help create the marketing for one's own product? I consider it a compliment and an honor.

A final note on Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm":

Because of the rising cost of insurance, among other things, our family had determined that finances would be falling about $1,000 a month short after the first of the year. I hadn't mentioned this to anyone. We've been in similar situations before, and something always comes through.

Yesterday, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a client who would like my help with ongoing marketing / promotion campaigns. The hours they want from me, at my regular rates, end up totaling $1,000 a month. Hmmmmmm...

I believe in God. I believe He takes care of us. A lot of people may be uncomfortable with that, but there it is. I have no other explanation for such serendipitous "coincidence."

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Rider's Wednesday -- 5 More Winter Wonderland Tips

The snow continues to pile up as Christmas approaches. And so, a few more suggestions for taking the edge off of the weather follow:

* Have shelter readily available. Muck lean-to's and run-ins frequently, and make sure that the footing in and around them is safe. Storms can blow up quickly. The animals need to be able to get out of the elements when the temperatures are near freezing.

* Do not use rock salt or any other commercially available ice-melting product anywhere that horses will be walking. If ice is a problem, throw down a layer of pine shavings or sprinkle non-clumping clay kitty litter over the offending area.

* An old hair dryer in the barn is a quick and easy way to warm up cold bits.

* If you blanket your horses, Bag Balm (available in the distinctive green tins) is a great ointment for blanket rubs.

* You can also smear Bag Balm or petroleum jelly on the ends of the horse's muzzle whiskers -- if he hasn't been clipped recently -- to keep ice balls from building up on them.

Say "Ahhhhhh!"

Recently, my 15 year old Dalmatian has been having difficulty standing after sitting (don't we all, sometimes). He's also had trouble going up stairs. In fact, he's fallen a few times in the past week. So, yesterday, when my friend Denise, who owns Whistler Farm, a horse boarding and dog breeding and training facility, called me to say that the vet / chiropractor was coming to her place, I dropped what I was doing and took my boy.

Dr. Weaver was wonderful with him. He said that Bogie had a displaced pelvis and hip, and that his spine was seriously out of alignment. You could hear the "snick" as he put it back into place. Bogie went from being in serious pain to sitting and standing comfortably in a matter of minutes.

He's walking and moving better now than he has in days.

Dr. Weaver also performed adjustments on two horses while I was there. One, a 10 year old Arab gelding, came to Whistler Farm about two months ago. He was extremely swaybacked and carried his neck jammed back into his withers. He had next to no fluidity in his shoulder movement, and very little back strength.

Now, after concentrated back strengthening exercises and a few chiropractic adjustments, he looks like a different horse. His topline has improved dramatically, as has his overall muscle tone. He has learned to separate his front end from his hind end, and to move both independently. His attitude and coordination have improved as well.

The point of this is just to offer an opinion on animal chiropractic manipulation. Many scoff at human chiropractors as being somehow on the shady side of the medical tree. They suggest that the relief people feel from an adjustment is "all in their heads."

That may be, but I don't think anyone ever told Bogie or Magic (the Arab) that an adjustment would help them. The placebo effect, or "mind over matter" explanation doesn't hold true when dealing with animals. All I know is that Magic looks like a million bucks, and Bogie can move without crying. I'm a believer...

We Have A Name!

In other news, Geoff, Trafalgar Square, and I have finally agreed on what to call his book. The winning title is:Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation: Develop a Winning Style.

At first glance, Trafalgar Square also liked the new and improved photo captions. And the galley proofing continues to go smoothly -- albeit, not as quickly as I'd hoped, what with the holidays, houseguests, household renovations, and all. With any luck, the book will be in print in a few months. It looks wonderful!

This is all great news, because I heard from Dr. Warson today. The contracts for "The Rider's Back Book" are signed (and the advance check is cashed). Two more tapes of dictated information are on their way. Time to gear up for the Next Big Project!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Book By Any Name

Geoff and I spoke for a long while today, hashing out the final tweaks on his manuscript. We've agreed on captions for the photos that needed extra attention. But we're still working on a title. Current choices include:

Riding Hunters and Jumpers with Geoff Teall: Becoming Confident and Competent to Reach Your Goals


Geoff Teall on Hunters, Jumpers, and Equitation: Developing Confidence and Competence to Reach Your Riding Goals

Any thoughts / comments / suggestions / alternatives are welcome.

We talked about his target market (anyone who rides hunt seat, who wants to improve his or her form and competitiveness over fences).

We discussed keywords, asking ourselves, "If people have questions that are answered in this book, what words would they type when searching for reference material?"

We talked about using his name in the title -- something he was very uncomfortable with. Trafalgar Square and I, however, argue in favor of it.

And we considered the need to balance zing with accuracy. In other words, though the book is about how to take a methodical, measured, long-term look at your riding, and explains how perfecting your position can improve your competitiveness even if you don't show in the Equitation division, neither aspect is sexy enough to mention in the title. People not only judge books by their covers, but they also judge books by their titles. Which means that mentioning the words "equitation," "position," or "methodical" would probably not inspire a landslide of book buyers.

More's the pity. As I do the line-by-line proofing, I am struck again by the merits of what Geoff has to say. Though working on one's basics may not seem exciting, it is a necessary and ongoing part of becoming an accomplished rider.

I've been batting around title ideas for this project for over a year -- almost since it began. We've come up with (and subsequently discarded) several. Our working title was "Practical Equitation" -- exactly what the book is about. But it's also about goal setting, course analysis, life lessons, and so much more.

If I had my way, I'd call it On Course with Geoff Teall: How To Have the Ride of Your Life.

Whatever we decide to name it, it will be in print in just a few short months. If you read it, you'll see what I'm talking about. It's like having a portable, personable, personal instructor telling you exactly what to do to get your act together. It's a worthy read. Which is why we want to find the perfect name. Tune in tomorrow for further updates on the Great Title Search...

Monday, December 19, 2005

On Cougars, Communism and Considering the Source

On Saturday, the Standard-Times, a Massachusetts news publication ran an article with this chilling lead:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

The student was working on a research paper on Communism for a class on fascism and totalitarianism. He followed protocol and filled out an inter-library loan form, requesting the book. Two agents with the Dept. of Homeland Security then showed up at his parents’ home because the book was on a “watch list.”

Let’s be clear. “The Little Red Book” is NOT a classified document dealing with national defense. It is not a banned book. It is not illegal to print, to own, or to read.

The agents brought the book with them, but didn’t let the student have it.

The article quotes UMass professor, Robert Pontbriand, as saying, “I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book.”

Commendable journalism, or raging terrorist plot? You make the call. In any case, it is quite clear that reading certain books can put Big Brother’s eye upon you – even if the books are not illegal, banned, or otherwise censored.

Now, this seemed like an entertaining Hollywood plot point in “Conspiracy Theory,” in which Mel Gibson’s character is programmed to compulsively buy a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” whenever he goes anywhere – with the transaction thus alerting the shady G-Men tracking him of his exact wherabouts. But when real college kids have actual agents respond to an attempt to finish a research paper, I feel the icy fingers of fear tickle my spinal cord.

We live in a society where innuendo, gossip, speculation, and hypotheses are too often paraded before us as fact. Witness, for instance, the National Enquirer’s public apology to Teri Hatcher, for printing a story about her activities that they now believe was fabricated. OOops. Nothing like checking your sources AFTER someone takes legal action.

Another case in point is the ongoing Berrien County Cougar story. When one person says, “It was a Big Cat,” very few reporters have the time or the inclination to check on that person’s credentials, to question his agenda, or to verify other, similar proclamations he may have made in the past.

I am a big fan of going to the source. I don’t like to read paraphrases, and I despise abridged versions. I loathe soundbites and prefer to hear an entire speech, so a quote is heard in context.

Not going to the source for one’s information allows someone else to do your thinking for you. It allows someone other than the original speaker to command your attention. It gives someone else the right to decide what information you have access to.

At the very least, not going to the source is a sign of sloppy, lazy, just-scratch-the-surface writing. At the worst, it’s dangerous – offering opinions as fact, and hearsay as evidence. A news story suggesting that federal agents are employed to monitor citizens and keep them from accessing the text of books that are not illegal to own blows a very cold wind over the plains of journalism and frosts the freedoms that too many of us, I fear, take for granted.

If free speech and freedom of the press were no more, would you notice? Normally, I don’t consider myself a political animal. But I find it bleak indeed to think that I may discover the answer to that question in my lifetime…

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Cat News & Other Updates

I started this blog as a means of helping writers learn a bit more about the craft, and to provide an inside look at the life of a working writer (and horse lover) for anyone who might be interested.

If someone contacts me about what I write, it is usually to ask a question about the writing world, or ask my take on a horse training technique. I never claim to know it all, but I try my best to respond when people ask me something.

But lately, it is this ongoing "Berrien County cougar" story that is compelling people to write to me. Most of them are the well-meaning romantic types who desperately want to believe that the cougars are coming back, and who take me to task for questioning the veracity of the verdict that a cougar is in the area.

While I, too, wish the cougar would make a comeback here, I remain skeptical that one was responsible for the horse's death late in November. I am appalled that no DNA testing has been performed on the animal -- especially after digging up the equine carcass so sensationally, and then not inviting a DNR representative to the forensic exam.

And so, I was very interested in the following email from N.F. of Kalamazoo yesterday:

The idea of a wild and reproducing population of cougars in southern Michigan has a wonderfully romantic appeal - I wish/hope it is true. Unfortunately Dr. Rusz and company are trying to prove it the wrong way - cutting corners and sensationalizing reports.

N.F. then directed me to the Cougar Network. This fascinating, fact-filled website has a “Breaking News” section that chronologically lists cougar citations in the reputable media.

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and Dr. Patrick Rusz (whose visual examination of the horse’s carcass provided the media with the cougar confirmation, you’ll remember) are mentioned in several articles. One from the January, 2004 edition of Woods-n-Water News calls Rusz’ methodology and official statements into question.

The article by Tom Carney is well-written and reported. It also serves to illustrate why it is important for journalists to check their sources.

The jury is still out on what attacked the horse near here. But that doesn’t stop people from speculating. Some say “cougar.” Others say “dog pack.” Still others say “bear cub,” “wolverine,” or “escaped pet tiger.” I only hope it doesn’t take another livestock tragedy or – God forbid, an attack on a human – for people to conclusively find out exactly what it was.

In Other News

I am very honored to have my article Fashioning Fabulous Forewords featured on this week. Regular readers will quickly notice that the article was derived from the content of several postings on this blog earlier this year.

If you are at all interested in writing, I encourage you to check out the AbsoluteWrite website. It’s got something for everyone, and it’s full of reputable bankable information on the craft (and not just from me!).

Furthermore, earlier this year, Jenna Glatzer, the Absolute Write editor, worked to compile “Stories of Strength,” to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. All proceeds go to disaster relief charities. The book has been available for less than a month and has already raised over $3,000 for disaster relief efforts. What a great example of writers coming together to make a difference!

Saying “Thanks!”

I received a note regarding the acknowledgments in Geoff’s book from one of the editors at Trafalgar Square today. In our acknowledgments, we mention her by name and thank her for all of her help.

She very kindly pointed out the names of two other people on the publishing staff that did the hands-on editing and manuscript checking, and suggested that they should get a nod as well.

Of course, we’ll add “Thanks” to them as well. I just thought it was nice of her to mention some that we may have inadvertently overlooked. That’s just one more thing that I like about working with Trafalgar Square – they’re not in it for glory. What a refreshing rarity!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rider's Wednesday -- 5 Winter Wonderland Tips

Now that the ground is covered in snow, it seems appropriate to talk about ways to keep the equine members of the family comfortable through the long winter months (and short winter days). In no particular order, here are some suggestions for when the weather outside is frightful:

* Petroleum jelly is a great ice deflector. Gooping Vaseline (or equivalent off-label product) on the soles of your horse's clean hooves will help keep ice from packing into them. Petroleum jelly on the horse's fetlocks will help keep ice balls from forming.

* Desitin diaper ointment is a wonderful way to keep white blazes, strips, and snips from getting red, raw, windburned, and sunburned.

* Make certain that horses have water available 24 hours a day. Do not reason that a horse can just eat snow if he's thirsty. It takes at least 5 gallons of snow to make 1 gallon of water. Furthermore, a horse has to expend a huge amount of energy in order to heat up the snow and turn it to water. If horses are left unwatered in snow-filled pastures, they usually end up not getting all the fluids that they need. Dehydration and colic can often result.

* If you find that your horses aren't drinking enough, their water may be too cold. Use a water heater suitable for your tank (Some are appropriate for plastic tanks. Some aren't. Some float on the water. Others sit on the bottom of the trough.) Whatever water heater you use, make sure that you never leave it plugged in while out of the water.

* In the weird science department -- warm water freezes faster than cold water. Pouring hot water into your horse's water bucket in the barn will not make water available to him longer.

Holiday Greetings!
Christmas cards went out today. Because so much happened in 2005, for the first time in my life, I wrote an end-of-the-year Christmas letter and put it in with my cards. I also posted it online. Feel free to check it out. Have a wonderful holiday! Stay warm!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Generosity Makes the World Go Round

I just hung up the phone from the first of an eight module teleseminar course I signed up for. While on the one hand, the course is expensive (it costs about as much as a 4 credit course at a major university), on the other hand, the information provided is well worth the cost.

I'm bordering on brain overload, however. It's like wanting a drink and sitting in front of a fire hose with a straw in your mouth. I've learned so much in the past few hours that it will take several days to digest.

The teleconference teacher is Alex Mandossian. He talks about making his annual salary his daily salary (!) in less than five years. But my favorite thing about what he has to say is that he doesn't always focus on the money. In fact, he says that focusing on the money you could make will stunt your long-term growth (he's talking about your business, but I think the concept is true across the board...).

He's a big advocate on giving things away: talents, knowledge, ideas, suggestions, expertise, and goodwill. His philosophy is: Go ahead. Give a bunch of stuff away for free. If you're any good, and if you really have something to say -- honestly -- how much information can you possibly give away in an hour or two?

In other words, holding your cards too close to your chest only makes you seem petty and greedy. Playing with an open hand lets people get to know you. It lets them try out some of your suggestions. It gets them to like you and trust you. And it makes them feel much more comfortable about paying their hard-earned money for a more in-depth look at what you have to say.

That coincides so perfectly with my own philosophy of things. I am always skeptical of people who claim that they can solve all my problems... if I only pay them first. I'm much more willing to give people the time of day when I've seen what they are capable of -- and have been able to ascertain that what they have to say will work for me, too!

I have to say that based on this first module, if I don't recoup the cost of my investment, it's my own fault. The sheer amount of information and new ways of looking at things, however, is still staggering. Going to take some time, now, and rest my weary brain. Then I'll pick up that straw and go back for another drink.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Cat Stories Continue…

This weekend I received the following e-mail from someone who must have read Wednesday’s blog:

Ami, FYI regarding the cougars in Michigan. Shame on you for ridiculing the people who are trying to educate others about the cougar's return to the Midwest. Upon doing your homework you would have learned that cougars have been in that area for about 1 year.

The reason why we know the horse was attacked by a cougar is because we have tested the DNA and scats left remaining. (In case you do not know "scats" are feces) The DNA is unmistakably that of a cougar, which by the way is also known as a "mountain lion", depending on what part of the country you are in.

There are a group of people who do not want to admit that the animals have existed in the area. I imagine it would be a little embarrassing to those who "manage wildlife" to be told that cougars do exist in the area, when they previously belittled the people who had Class 1 evidence.

The groups who have informed people that the cougars are here, are the people who are attempting to educate you and others about the return of these cougars for one reason - to protect them. You may not know that they are an endangered species. This is very exciting to those of us who would love to see the population continue to increase.

In the early to mid-1800s there were very large populations of cougars throughout the Midwest including Indiana. (Technically Michigan is not considered "the Midwest", but the cougar population was very large in both Indiana and Michigan.) It was not uncommon at all for people to see cougars running around in Indiana and Michigan during that time. The only reason the cougars have had to make a come back is because people hunted them nearly to extinction.

When you read stories about the cougars, they are not hype. The only person who is exaggerating the news about the cougars is you...they are not 9 feet long and 200 pounds. They are about 90 pounds, and smaller than a deer. So be on the side of the animals, and not on the side of the people who will either deny that they are back, or panic and want to grab their guns and start shooting them again.

Just an FYI, thanks and have a good weekend.

I don’t allow comments to be posted on this blog because when I allowed them on another blog, I got so much spam that it was a constant struggle to keep the page “clean.” So I appreciate anyone who takes the time to e-mail me. Even if they tell me that I’m wrong (always difficult to take) and exaggerating (not something I’m often accused of).

And so, here are a few words to my e-mailer, and an update of the Big Cat Story:

I re-read Wednesday’s post, and feel compelled to say that the only people who can justly feel “ridiculed” by it are certain members of the media. I maintain that the news stories I read were poorly written and designed for sensationalism. Regardless of whether or not a cougar, tiger, bear, wolverine or goldfish was responsible for the attack, I still think that leading with the voice of speculation, and ending with a “definite” quote was poor journalism.

None of the news stories I’ve read, heard or seen (see below) have ever mentioned DNA or scat as conclusive evidence of a cougar attack. Instead, they all cite Patrick Rusz, of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, who examined the horse’s exhumed body a few days ago. By all accounts, Dr. Rusz’ verdict was made based upon visible evidence only.

According to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy 7 counties have had verifiable cougar DNA found in scat. All counties are in the northern portions of the state. Any other “Class 1 evidence” is not mentioned on their website, or on any other reputable source that I could find online or in print.

Furthermore, I took the 200 lb., 9 foot long dimensions from information provided and published by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy itself. A pamphlet titled “Living With Cougars in Michigan” states, among other things, that the animals range in size from 80 to 200 pounds, and measure from 7 to 9 feet from nose to tail tip.

Interesting goings-on in this corner of the country, that’s for sure. Regardless of what got the horse, I’m bringing my boys in at night…

Here’s what the Dec. 10: Kalamazoo Gazette had to say:

Investigators in Berrien County Friday slogged through snowdrifts to dig up a two-week-old grave, heaved the 1,000-pound carcass onto a flatbed truck, and then spent three and a half hours meticulously documenting the ragged and bloody punctures and tears that ravaged the body -- all to learn what killed Bingo, a 20-year-old horse.

What prompted these extraordinary measures?

A hope that careful analysis of Bingo's death in a rural Berrien County pasture might shed light on a mystery that continues to dog wildlife scientists.

Do cougars still exist in Michigan? And if they do, are they part of a growing population?

Or did Bingo fall victim to the commonplace coyote or wild dog?

The wounded horse was discovered early in the morning of Nov. 25 when it broke through an electric fence and went up to a house, said Valarie Grimes, animal control director for Berrien County. People were awakened by the ruckus and called a veterinarian, who determined quickly that the horse should be euthanized, she said.

Patrick Rusz, who works with the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy examined the animal at the invitation of the Berrien County Sheriff's and Animal Control departments.

``It definitely was attacked by a large cat, almost assuredly a cougar. I'm 100 percent sure,'' said Rusz, who holds a doctorate in wildlife ecology.

But Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologists are still not so sure.

Although they were not invited to or notified of Friday's examination, Steve Chadwick, DNR wildlife biologist at Crane Pond State Game Area, reviewed Friday the report of a conservation officer and photos of the attack. He remained unconvinced.

``From the photos, it just does not suggest a cougar to me. I agree with (the conservation officer),'' he said, that it was likely coyotes or dogs that killed the horse.

Chadwick said he has talked to hunters who are out tracking coyotes several times a week, ``and they have yet to cut a cougar track.''

He has also visited cougars in captivity to collect samples of droppings and to make castings of their prints for comparison in the event reports come in.

``I've looked at several suspicious tracks, and most have been dogs. ... It's not like we're not looking,'' Chadwick said. ``We're just not finding the evidence.''

The damage to Bingo's face and body were enough to make believers out of Grimes and Mark Johnson, the veterinarian who put the horse out of his misery and assisted with Friday's investigation.

Grime said she wants the public to be aware of the possibility of predator attacks on livestock. Johnson said that while he is convinced that a cat was responsible for the horse's death, he's not so sure that means people should change their behavior.

``It's important for veterinarians in the area to have this understanding, and by documenting what this was it may be helpful to others in other parts of the state or country to know what they might be dealing with.

``But (this particular cat) may have taken quite a beating in this failed attack,'' Johnson said. ``There's an old saying: `A cat only walks across a hot stove once.' These are intelligent animals.

``You'd think it would (from now on) take on mice or rabbits, better than trying to take on a 1,000-pound horse.''

I know Dr. Johnson. He’s a very good, very reputable vet in the area.

This is from the South Bend Tribune:

A wildlife expert says a mountain lion is responsible for attacking a horse last week on a Berrien County farm.

Friday, animal control officers dug up the 19-year-old horse, named Bingo. A wildlife expert then performed an autopsy, and found eight wounds about an inch and three quarters deep -- the typical length of a cougar fang.

Dr. Pat Rusz of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy says claw marks were all over the horse’s shoulders and face.

“It appears to be clawed in the face, prominent bite marks from an animal with quite a lot of crushing power,” Rusz told NEWS22. “Not the nips you’d expect with a coyote for example.”

Rusz says this case adds to his research that Michigan does have a cougar population and that people need to be aware. But he says there is no reason for people living in the area to panic.

“Even livestock owners,” he said. “The repeat attacks by the same cat is very, very small.”

Experts say never approach a cougar. If you encounter one, don’t run away. Instead, stand tall, open your jacket and flap it about. You should also yell and throw stones or rocks to show the cat you are in control.

Further bulletins as events warrant…

Friday, December 09, 2005

Creating Killer Captions

While it’s true that every photo needs a caption, opinions on what that caption should say are as diverse and as individualized as editors.

What to include in the photo caption varies according to taste and philosophy. Some publications and publishers have guidelines for cutlines. Others simply have an unwritten style that has evolved over time.

Allow me to suggest some of the many schools of thought for caption creation. Perhaps one or more of them will help you in your next project:

Less is More. This is my personal favorite. Spare, sparse, single sentence captions can not only describe what is going on in a picture, but can also help make a single illustration relevant to an entire chapter.

One way to apply this technique is to sum up a section in a single sentence that applies to the photo. Such captions are especially effective when the illustration is included as much to break up large chunks of text as anything else…

For example, let’s say that you are writing a piece about running, and have a sizeable chapter on the philosophy of running. In the chapter, you’ve discussed things like a positive attitude, determination, and perseverance. At first glance, a photo of a runner running leaves little to say. Yet a caption such as “Every runner has a reason for running” can help the illustration enhance the text of the whole chapter.

More is More. The great rider William Steinkraus was once an editor himself. He reportedly said that the only words people ever read in a book were the ones underneath the pictures. Perhaps for that reason, the cutlines in his book are little mini-chapters all their own.

Many publishers prefer expanded photo captions precisely because people often look only at the pictures.

Lengthy captions can be very effective in highlighting a particular paragraph that you want to call special attention to. In our example of the illustration for a text on running philosophy, a paragraph identifying each of the attributes that make a successful runner would be an appropriate caption.

Get Personal. Captions can be a great way to make your readers identify with the subjects in the illustrations. Calling attention to a specific aspect of a picture, and calling the subject of the picture by name, can introduce a level of intimacy and engage your readers more with the text.

Such a caption for our runner might read, “When Sandy Smythe started running, she used to become discouraged at what she felt was her lack of progress. Recognizing the destructive, limiting nature of her own attitude enabled her to see that “progress” was an arbitrary measurement. She soon stopped competing against herself and allowed herself to enjoy the experience.”

Attract Attention. Many editors like captions to make pointed, controlled observations about the illustrations they accompany. In these instances, the cutline text directs the reader’s attention to specific aspects of the picture. Such captions frequently include words like “here,” “this,” “notice,” or “note.”

If we were to apply this captioning style to our running illustration, we might end up with something along the lines of “Running is a state of mind. Notice the runner’s expression. The same relaxed and confident manner with which she moves is mirrored on her face.”

Think Punchy. Sometimes it can be useful to think of illustrations as short, thousand-word mini-chapters. To caption them, just come up with a snappy, witty, or alliterave “heading.” Then add a few sentences that sum up the photo and editorialize upon it.

Take our runner, for instance. “Running For Your Life” might be a suitable caption heading. “Living On the Run,” “”Mind Over Muscle,” or “Attitude Adjustment” are other possibilities. The sentences that follow can either expound on the chapter text or summarize it, depending on your preference.

These suggestions are by no means comprehensive. But they may help to inspire you to broaden your thinking about crafting cutlines. Here’s to inspiration!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Cardinal Rule of Captions

The designers are nearly finished with Geoff's book. Galley proofs should be ready for us soon!

A few little fires still need our attention, however. Most of them have to do with photo captions. The publisher has asked us for more specifics – more details – in the text of approximately ten captions.

Of course we’re happy to oblige. But the situation started me thinking about various approaches to photo captions, and ways to make the most of the words that accompany the pictures.

When it comes to captioning, only one rule is carved in stone: Every photo needs a caption.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but books are worlds where words reign supreme. A wordless picture lacks a tether to the text. It floats ineffectively on the page and raises more questions than it answers.

It is true that most people will look at the illustrations before they examine the text. (If you don’t believe me, visit a bookstore for an hour or so and observe. Or – better yet – sit at a booksigning and watch people peruse the pages you wrote. Flip, flip, flip, flip… “Oh, that’s a cool shot!” Flip, flip, flip… It’s humbling in the extreme.)

Still, when the reader actually reads the text, he or she needs to be able to put the photos in context with the words that are on the page.

Because of layout and design considerations, photos don’t always appear in the midst of the relevant words. The pertinent illustration may appear anywhere on the page or even on an adjacent page. That is why every illustration that merits inclusion in the manuscript deserves, at the very least, a name.

Tune in tomorrow for some suggestions for constructing killer captions…

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rider's Wednesday -- Story of the Hour

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! Five fluffy inches of powder fell today, with more predicted and on the way. Thank God for a house and a barn!

Shortly after Thanksgiving, a horse at a farm about a mile from my house was attacked by something. Something horrible got the poor creature and mauled it so severely that though it lived through the night, it had to be destroyed the next day.

(Photos on the news showed -- among other things -- an animal that could have used a few more groceries on a more regular basis over the past year or so. Evidently the owners were away, and "the caretaker" made the gruesome discovery. ::Bleah::)

The story was nowhere to be found for a week. The attack happened near a county line, but calls to both counties' Animal Control revealed no reports of anything unusual.

Then, suddenly, on Monday of this week, it made the news. And, true to form, speculation masquerading as fact ran rampant. Local radio stations carried interviews with Animal Control officers who postulated that a "big cat" was responsible for the attack.

Here's the lead from WSBT television out of South Bend, Indiana:

(WSBT) Some investigators believe a mountain lion could be to blame for a vicious attack on a horse in southwest Michigan.

Pretty sensational stuff, huh? "Some investigators." "Mountain lion." "Vicious attack." No need to read any further, because that sounds like an official permission slip to be scared spitless.

Since scare tactics work so well, they play the "cougar" card again and again:

It happened on a farm along Hagar Shore Road in Coloma. The horse suffered more than 100 bite marks and had to be put down.

Berrien County Animal Control is looking into whether a mountain lion attacked the horse. The office has received several reports of mountain lion sightings in northern Berrien County in the past year.

“We’re thinking large cat attacks, just because of what we’ve seen -- comparing what we’ve seen with a coyote attack versus a mountain lion attack,” Val Grimes of Berrien County Animal Control.

Now notice where they put Mike McGee -- an officer with the DNR who actually has experience with mountain lions, and who says a sentence that includes the word "definitely" in it:

But the Department of Natural Resources suspects a coyote or a pack of dogs is responsible for the attack.

“It was small bite marks more consistent with dog or coyote,” DNR officer Michael McGee told NEWS22. “It definitely wasn’t a cougar.”

There are no confirmed reports of a mountain lion in Berrien County. Animal Control has contacted Michigan’s Wildlife Conservatory to investigate.

Yep. They bury the boring old Voice of Reason at the end. Long after the people who started watching the segment have left the room and are screaming at their kids to "Get inside! Now! Don't you give me any lip, young man. There's a killer cat out there!"

A few radio sound bites and a TV news spot, and that's all it took for cougar fever to hit. It's the Story of the Hour.

You think there will ever be a follow-up story when they actually find the animals responsible? If it's not a 9 foot long, 200 pound tom, or an escaped, illegal pet tiger, we'll never hear about it. Wild dogs just aren't that interesting.

Actually, though, a pack of dogs that would attack a horse, bring him down and rip him to shreds is as worrisome to me as a big cat. Dog packs have no intrinsic fear of humans or farm animals.

The experts are telling us to not go outside at dusk, to keep small children nearby, and to not leave our livestock out at night. Yeesh! What do they think this is? The COUNTRY!? Why -- everywhere you look, Chicago people are buying cookie cutter houses in little mini-burbs on once fertile and productive farmland. You think they want to deal with a bunch of feral dogs? No, no, no... This will NOT look good on the realtor's report...

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to regularly check on the animals in your care. I can't imagine that the horse got as mutilated as the pictures indicate in total silence. Yet, evidently, no one was around to hear the commotion.

Another lesson to be learned is to bring your livestock indoors in inclement weather. Or at least give them a place of shelter and safety. If you must leave them out in the elements, do so in a herd, so that they can band together and try to ward off any predators that might be lurking. Where prey animals are concerned, there is safety in numbers.

The final lesson, I suppose, would be to start hunting for a pack of really hungry dogs who are looking for their next meal...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Justifiable Skepticism

Or, "Perchance it Pays to be Paranoid'"

I received an e-mail this past weekend with the following text:


Your photograph was forwarded to us as part of an article we are publishing for our December edition of Total Business Monthly. Can you check over the format and get back to us with your approval or any changes? If the picture is not to your liking then please send a preferred one. We've attached the photo with the article here.

The article was signed, "Kind regards," and included a person's name, as well as an online business website.

A .zip attachment titled "Article + Photo" was attached.

Since my website offers several articles for editors to freely use, and also includes photos for the media, I wasn't sure if this was a bona-fide e-mail or not. I checked out the website listed (, and was satisfied with the quality of articles I saw there. I would be happy to have mine be a part of their information exchange.

I am extremely reticent, however, to open attachments from places that I do not know. Especially .zip attachments. In this world of computer viruses, worms, Trogan horses, and other things that go "CRASH" in the night, I treat attachments from unknown sources with extreme respect, kid gloves, and large quantities of disinfectant.

I sent a reply e-mail to that effect. I also said that if my approval was required for something, I would prefer to proof it either online, or have it included as part of an e-mail text.

The e-mail address that I replied to, however, was not valid. Hmmmmm.

So I wrote to one of the contacts listed on the bona-fide website. I told them of the situation. I said that if this had been a legitimate attempt to contact me and get my editorial approval, several things about it raised some red flags. If not, I thought they should be aware that someone is using their business name in an unethical manner.

(I haven't heard from them one way or another. It's possible that I'm just intrinsically paranoid. But paranoia can be a valuable thing. I mean, just look at those sub-human cretins who try to get you to twiddle with your PayPal or eBay accounts, using e-mails that look so authentic. There is a special circle in hell reserved just for phishers. It's even worse than the circle set aside for spam mail originators and perpetrators. But I digress...)

On a better, more positive note, I was happy to learn that Absolute Write will feature one of my articles the week of December 14. Absolute Write, for those of you who don't know, is a writer's website dedicated to educating and improving the craft of writers of all abilities, genres, styles, and experience levels. I'm quite honored to have them publish my work.

Besides, I know they're legitimate -- they only send me things I've signed up for (their weekly newsletter is full of useful information). And they never include questionable files.

Geoff's Book Update
I spoke to the editor and publisher of Geoff's book yesterday. The book is in layout, and will soon be ready for our approval. In the meantime, she wanted me to take another look at, and re-think the captions for about 10 of the photos. When she explained what she wanted, it was easy to see where the text was wanting. Fixing that to everyone's satisfaction is the first order of business today.

We also discussed titles. The editors at Trafalgar Square have suggested several good ones. I'm going to run some of the more promising ones past Geoff and see what he thinks. It's a bit daunting, when you consider that -- adages aside -- people really DO judge books by their covers. What's worse, people judge books by their titles.

No pressure. None at all...

Monday, December 05, 2005


The only productive thing I got done today was making a list of things to do this week. Got a slight start on them, but ended up doing a bit of driving and running errands most of the morning and early afternoon.

Total productive things that happened: 3.

1.) Moved a piece of extraneous furniture permanently out of the house, thus making room for the as yet un-put-up Christmas tree.

2.) Called Blue Cross / Blue Shield and straightened out the snafu that involved them printing my insurance cards with a name misspelling.

3.) Returned my editor's call at Trafalgar Square to learn of some changes she wants in photo captions (on tomorrow's To Do list) and discuss title possibilities.

Other than that, the day was a wash. And yet I didn't even have time to check my e-mail until after 10 p.m.

Tuesday will be an improvement. It's gotta be -- at least in the "Work Completed" category.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

“No Education Is Ever Wasted” and Other Mother’s Mantras

Oh my GOD, it's December. While I will be overjoyed to wave good-bye to 2005 (For insight into some of the reasons, check out the Great Brain Drain Train blog. It's been a heckuva year.), I can't believe that in a mere 4 weeks it will all be over.

At any rate, we are home at last. As my mother was fond of saying whenever we traveled while I was young, “It’s always good to leave. But it’s great to come back home.”

We got home yesterday without incident. After my 70 year old father evidenced lightning-quick reflexes at 6:30 a.m. on the highway leading to the Tampa International Airport and narrowly missed a multi-car pile up, we all reveled in the adrenaline rush and continued on our way. The rest of the trip (thank God!) was uneventful.

I cannot go on a trip without hearing my mother’s “It’s good to go…” adage echoing in my mind. It’s not the only pet saying of hers that continues to color my life. Others include:

“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” (although anyone who knows us knows that I am clearly far less godly than my mom).

“If you don’t clean up your plate, you can’t have dessert.”

And, my personal favorite, “No education is ever wasted.”

I heard the “education” one often throughout my overpriced university years. I also heard it regularly when job openings for someone with my newly awarded diploma were woefully difficult to find.

For several years I earned more from giving riding lessons and training horses than I did from my English and Education degrees. This, of course, only served to prove my mom’s mantra right. All those years I spent soaking up information at the riding and breeding facility I worked at served a purpose much more far-reaching than just feeding an adolescent obsession.

I’ve recently embarked on a new educational journey. I’ve signed up for a rather extensive course on a marketing subject that I find intriguing, but know very little about. It’s an expensive course that I had to float a loan in order to take. So, of course, I’m hoping that in this, as in so many other things, my mother’s words of wisdom ring true.

When we arrived home, I discovered the materials for the course were waiting for me in an enormous, moderately intimidating box. I've only begun to look through them, but I can tell that there is an astounding amount of material that I will be trying to digest in the coming weeks.

“No education is ever wasted.” Stay tuned as the adventure in adages unfolds…