Thursday, June 29, 2006

You Never Know Who's Reading

Or: I Have Trained Spider-Bots and I'm Not Afraid to Use Them!

Last Friday, I commented on the use of "business-speak" in one of my husband's magazines, explained what I meant by the term, and discussed the danger of such language keeping an audience at bay. I quoted an example of it, and took the author to task. I also admitted to being guilty of the same tendencies.

Ah, beware of publicly calling someone on the carpet. You never know when they'll hear what you have to say. (I suspect a legion of trained spider-bots crawling the web looking for any reference to certain keywords, which I no doubt used in the earlier posting.) The following Monday, a reference to the business-speak post appeared.

Fortunately, Mr. U. was very gracious -- a thing that is not always easy when people you don't know type your name and follow it with criticism, however well-intended. He could have taken issue with the topic in general. He could have called my intelligence into question. But he didn't.

The point is, you never know who's reading you. Oh, sure, you know your MOTHER does. And your spouse. And (maybe) a friend or two. But beyond that, it's difficult to pin down who is and is not exposed to the words we write.

The other point, I suppose, is to not take criticism personally when it comes (and it will). It's difficult, but imperative, to remember that most criticism is not personal. It's our duty to analyze any criticism and determine its validity. We need to decide how we're going to address the issue -- and then move forward, beyond it.

Mr. U. did a great job on that front. And I don't care how many spider-bots tell him I said so.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Thoughts on a Homegrown International Contender

And Hope for Lame Horses

Cecelia Trabert, the English rider featured in Clinton's book, and I have kept in touch after working together on that project. Her friend Deena Smith has been involved with one horse that is headed to Germany to represent the U.S. Deena has also been instrumental in offering hope and healing to one of her mares that developed laminitis.

(Just so you get to know the players, Deena is aboard "Rusty" in this picture. That's Cecelia, Rusty's owner, standing.)

I received the following information in an e-mail the other day. It was so interesting on so many levels that I asked permission to reproduce it in today's blog. So, Deena will be the "guest blogger" this Rider's Wednesday:


Brigadier (aka Bufford) is headed to Germany to represent the United States as a 6 yr-old in the 2006 World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Dressage. He qualified by becoming Reserve Champion at the Western Regional finals with a final score of 8.276.

Brigadier was born and bred here in Kansas and is registered with the ISR/OLD. While I am not the actual breeder (Page Hinds-Athan), I was the one to deliver him so it's been fun to watch him grow as a competition horse, competing and holding his own with the more expensive imported horses in the sport.

Brigadier is being trained and ridden by David Wightman of Adventure Farms.

Brigadier was the highest placed USA bred horse (placing 3rd) at the 2005 USEF/Markel National Young Horse Dressage Championships as a 5 yr-old.

I am very honored and excited at the opportunity for Brigadier to compete for the United States. As you can imagine this will not be inexpensive. The USEF does cover about 1/3 of the cost for this show, but that's all. I have found a fund that is tax-deductible for anyone who would like to contribute. Let me tell you a little about this fund.

My mare Keva developed laminitis almost 3 years ago. She was reaching the end of her time this winter and I knew that this spring I was going to have to make that decision that all of us horse owners dread.

Then one Sunday I read an article in the back of the USDF Connection and in it was information about a specialist in VA, Dr. Andrea Floyd of Serenity Equine Hospital.

I contacted her immediately and transported Keva there mid February of this year.

I just returned from visiting Keva this past weekend. She looks really good for a "dead" horse! She walks like a normal horse now... trots but is still a little tender about it... only lays down like a normal horse (I did not once see her down in her stall the entire 3 days I was there!)... she looks and acts like the horse she was prior to the laminitic event.

She will be coming home in August with the prognosis of total pasture soundness. We still don't know about riding soundness as she had a lot of damage in her tendons... but don't count this option out!

I saw many horses like Keva at the hospital... some in worse shape than she was. All are on their way to recovery!

I also met some of the horses that a special fund helps care for. It is called the CFMEF fund. These horses are rescued and have had some kind of catastrophic lower limb injury and/or laminitis. If this fund had not rescued these animals they would have lost their lives.

Dr. Floyd and her staff are the most caring and wonderful people I have ever met. When I was in VA this weekend I arranged with Dr. Floyd to use her fund to collect donations for Brigadier's trip. How it works is that everyone can donate to the CFMEF fund in the name of Brigadier (its important to make that clear on the check) and she will, in turn sponsor him. I have agreed to give 10% of all of the donations to this worthy fund for the care and treatment of the rescued horses. Checks can be sent to:

Serentity Equine
2954 Evington Rd
Evington, VA 24550

You can also go to the website, access the CFMEF page and use Pay Pal. Be sure to mark the donation/check in the name of Brigadier and give a return address. This is a tax deductible contribution and you will receive a receipt as such.

I appreciate any and all help for this wonderful opportunity to send my little Kansas boy to Germany to go against the best in the world and at the same time help some very needy horses.

Thanks again!!

Deena Smith


According to Cecelia, Deena got to see the amputees on her visit to Virginia. Some horses and donkeys there have "peg legs and a wonderful life." A six year old stallion has been there 3 years with his peg leg, breeds with no problem and is well cared for. Deena says it is amazing.

Worth checking out, anyway...

Happy riding! And good luck, Brigadier!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Myth of "Self-Explanatory" (Part II)

Yesterday's blog featured a minor rant on the non-existence of a user's manual for a new MP3 gizmo I bought recently. The saga continues. I spent some time online on Monday looking for the aforementioned manual.

On the manufacturer's site, they promised that I could download one, but the .pdf file I received only contained a tantalizing cover with a picture of the Device that called attention to the many varied things it can do -- if you know how to use it.

Regardless of how simple things may appear, if you are unfamiliar with them, they are not self-explanatory.

This is especially true when writing how-to nonfiction of any kind. "Familiarity breeds contempt," the sages tell us. This is a constant danger when writing about a subject with which you are intimately familiar. It is all too easy to forget that not everyone has the same vast experience in the subject field as you do.

A recent illustration on the "self-explanatory" myth:

When working with Dr. Warson on the rough draft of "The Rider's Back Book," I wanted to take some of the stretching and strengthening exercises he recommended and explain them in detailed, step-by-step format.

One of the exercises he calls "Foot on the Ceiling. Here is a transcription of the original dictation explaining the exercise:

So let’s take an exercise like Foot on the Ceiling. What you want to do is raise that foot slowly to the ceiling. Hold it, counting to 5 or so, for starters. And then let it down. And then you can hold it for 10 or 15, gradually progressing up to that point.

What I made of it:

Strengthening Exercise A: Foot On the Ceiling

1. Lie on your back on the floor or on an exercise mat, with your legs straight out in front of you. Relax your arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and normally.

2. Keeping the knee straight, slowly raise the right foot as far toward the ceiling as possible.

3. Hold the foot in position while counting slowly to “5.”

4. Slowly lower the foot to the ground. Repeat the exercise with the left foot.

At first, 3 to 5 repetitions will suffice. As your strength improves, you can gradually increase the time you hold each leg up (Step 3) to a count of 10 or 15.

What he really meant:

OOPS! "Foot on the Ceiling" is done with the patient on their hands and knees, not lying on their back. The leg is brought up, trying to touch the flat of the foot to the ceiling.

Ah! Kneeling! Who knew?

The closer you are to a subject, the more important it is to have someone unfamiliar with the field to read and comment on a draft of your work. This person should not be someone who thinks that everything you write is fabulous. There are times when you will want your biggest fan to read your stuff and say it's brilliant. A "how-to" piece is not one of them.

Spell things out. As I said before -- if people already know it, they can skip that part. But if they don't know it, you owe it to them to tell them what they're missing.

There's No Place Like Home...

I worked up an overview of "Things To Do" in July and got myself a little geeked out yesterday. So much to do. So few days. So little time.

If all goes as currently planned, July will go thusly:

Houseguests, Boston, Montreal, Vermont, Boston, Houseguests. (And that's just the first week!)

Then: Orlando, Home, Dallas, Home, Houseguests / book photo shoot.

Gotta love those frequent flier miles! Good thing I love to travel!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Myth of "Self-Explanatory"

Last week, I got what I thought would be the niftiest gadget in the world for helping me with my writing -- a combination digital dicta-stick and USB Flash. Very cool.

We ordered it after much looking around on-line. It records and then downloads an MP3 file directly on your computer. Just imagine the possibilities.

Well, I am still imagining. What I will now call "the Device" arrived promptly. I opened it with great hopes of promptly using it...

And looked fruitlessly for a "How To Use This Device" manual.

None came with it.

Now, if my MILK CARTON contains directions for use ("Push here. Fold here. Pour here."), I don't think I'm being unreasonable to want something that I'm going to insert into an orifice in my computer to provide the same service.

The Device has 8 buttons on it. After inserting a AAA battery and twiddling around with it, I have discovered:

A.) How to change the back light color from purple to seafoam green to red and back to purple again.

B.) How to change the setting for how long said back light remains lit.

C.) How to click between each of the 7 menus ("Music," "System," "Telephone," "Text," and more).

D.) How to twiddle between some of the submenus.

But I can't even figure out how to change the date (it's January 2, 2005, according to the Device). I did get (VERY) brave and plug the thing into my computer, in the hopes that perhaps it contained a file on "use and care."

It didn't. But it came pre-loaded with "Like a Virgin." Got that to play, but can't figure out how to unlock the Device to trash the song.

The Device is NOT self-explanatory. My wonderful, geek-boy husband could probably spend 10 minutes with it and figure out how to use it for what I want. But that doesn't mean that he would have learned all there is to know about it.

Besides, these days, with electronics being so complex, who has the time to spend in trial and error? It's a tool. Not a codex with a map leading to fame and fortune, where half the fun of the journey is getting there.

We'll get online today and see if there is a user's manual available for downloading. There has to be. Right?

In addition to ranting about time-savers that turn out to be time-wasters, my experience with the Device has illustrated the importance of spelling out how to do something. Often, when you're talking about a subject with which you are familiar, it's easy to forget that not everyone knows as much as you. It's always a good idea to spell things out for people who might need a refresher course. Those who don't need it can always skip that part.

The only negative review I've read of Geoff's new book was a rant by someone (not a "real" critic, but a "real" reader) who took issue with the fact that he took time to cover the basics. She was insulted that he explained how a student should adjust his or her stirrups while riding, for instance.

But the advice was clearly intended to show students how to make the most of the time they spend in a lesson: If you've paid for it, don't waste time fritzing with your tack. Here's how to quickly change your stirrup length. This frees you up to pay attention to your instructor.

In any discipline, in any field, there are a lot more people who don't know a thing than people who do. As writers, if we write about a topic, it's our responsibility to make sure the reader has the opportunity to learn enough to make good use of that information.

More thoughts on this tomorrow.

Project Updates

Early this morning, I'm going to the printers to look at a test run of mock-ups for Carol of the Horse. Our designer has done a beautiful job laying out the project and making it look good. I can't wait to see it in print.

I finished the illustration and photo lists for Dr. Warson's back book project. Now our photographer, illustrator, and Dr. Warson can look at the lists and see how they can start crossing items off.

The project is out of my hands for a few weeks, at least. I'll do an edit of the whole book in the middle of July, before our final photo shoot. Then Dr. Warson and I can discuss nitty-gritty word selection and exercise explanations. For the most part, however, the book is done. (Yay!)

I met with my friend who is an expert on the subject the book I re-wrote for He Who Will Not Call covers. She gave me the expert's take on it, which is great, since I am by NO stretch of the imagination well-versed in the field. She's very happy with the content. I can't tell you how happy that makes me, and how much more comfortable I am with the project.

Things are happening quickly. Three book projects finished (to some degree) over the weekend. Life is good.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Say What?

My current favorite quote (from the June 19, 2006 issue of my husband's hardcopy of InfoWorld, a magazine intelligible only to hardcore geeks):

"By syndicating metadata, I'm inviting others to more richly contextualize their aggregations of our stuff."

This gem wasn't even buried in article text. No -- the editors loved it so much they called it out and featured it as a 28 point red font banner running right through the article in which it appeared.

Now, I have no doubt that Jon Udell, who penned the words in question, is a brilliant analyst and programmer. Heaven knows I'm not. And I realize that his words are intended not for plebes like me, but for the Chosen Few who not only understand them, but are also interested in things like aggregated search results, metadata streams, and sentences that include terms like "iwx."

But I do have issues with the featured sentence (and none of them include its passive construction or the split infinitive).

When writing to a savvy, knowledgeable audience that is well-versed in your topic, wonderful things can happen. You can skip the "for Dummies" lead-in and dive straight into your content.

A problem arises, however, when you allow business-speak to masquerade as jargon. "Jargon" is a sort of sub-language of key terms used to speed up communication among those in the know. "Business-speak," on the other hand is an altogether different animal.

Business-speak occurs when people take a rather common word and add to it in order to create a more officious sounding term that means, essentially, what the original root means.

Business-speak is based upon the premise of, "Why use a simple word when a complex one makes my project sound more important ... and, therefore, worth more money?"

Business-speak sounds weighty, educated, and well-read, but it rarely speeds up communication. Instead, it often distances the listener or the reader.

Some examples:

We'll utilize third-quarter parameterization to optimize fourth-quarter results.

Prioritization is crucial to our paradigm of continued economic excellence.

Our integrated culture of diversity is amortized by our commitment to globalization.

I'm really not slamming Mr. Udell. Writing business-speak is frightfully easy to do. I find myself guilty of it when I get "on a roll" on a topic I've written about a thousand times, and start writing on auto-pilot. It's especially insidious when I start thinking more about the subject I'm discussing than about my (real or imagined) readers.

It's as easy as constructing a passive sentence, or ending a sentence with a preposition. But it's also as easy to spot.

When you find business-speak peppering your written words, consider quick excision. Often, all those big words do is cause your readers to skim, rather than savor, them. And all too often, they make your readers go, "huh?" rather than "ha!"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the Links

Making Your Connections Work Harder

As I mentioned in Tuesday's blog, I'm gearing up to launch a new site. One of the things I like to do is link to related pages throughout my site.

Before I go any farther, I must confess: I'm no programmer (thank heaven for my husband, who is), so the nuts and bolts of HTML, XML, Java, and the like are only slightly less interesting to me than learning how to rotate brake drums. But just because something doesn't necessarily pique my interest doesn't mean I can't learn a thing or two about it.

In fact, when I was at the MEGA Marketing Conference in L.A. earlier this year, one of the speakers there -- Brad Fallon -- gave a very interesting presentation called "Stomping the Search Engines." Mr. Fallon has several wildly successful online businesses and was an engaging presenter, so I listened carefully and took notes that I thought might be of use to Robert.

One of the things Mr. Fallon mentioned, however, has very little to do with programming and everything to do with writing. It is also one of the least understood aspects of website linking. And it's SO simple to grasp, once someone explains the underlying concept.

It has to do with the actual text that one clicks on to link to another page.

Evidently, the way I understand it (which may be deeply, intrinsically flawed, you understand), the search engines pay special attention to the text that serves as a clickable launch to another URL -- be it a page within the site, or one off-site.

If you want your pages to improve their rankings, then use appropriate keywords for the clickable text. (I call it "bluelined text," much to my programmer husband's dismay. But you know what I'm talking about...) That way, when people are looking for such keywords, your pages containing them will show up before pages containing identical text that does not contain links.

For example:

If you have written an award-winning short story, poem, or play that you would like to bring to people's attention, the text on your site might say something like,

Read an excerpt from "Fabulous Work of Art," my award-winning poem featured in "Snooty Literary Publication".

Clicking on the first link would allow someone to read your poem, posted on your site. Clicking on the second would take someone off your site to the home page of the publication that printed it.

If the Snooty Literary Publication also published your work online, you may wish to choose to link to that as well.

The point, however, is not to say:

To read an excerpt from "Fabulous Work of Art, my award-winning poem featured in "Snooty Literary Publication," click here.

Mr. Fallon says that "Click Here" is the most used link in the world. Do a Google search for "Click Here" and see what he's talking about.

When including links in your site, try to use text that someone might conceivably use as part of a search. If someone were looking for an award-winning poem, your site might show up if you had those words as clickable text (technically called the "anchor text," my husband informs me). It might not if you don't.

And For My Next Project

Had a very interesting phone call from Trafalgar Square today. They asked if I'd consider working on writing what can only be described as a Dream Project. After about .3 seconds of thought, I said I would.

Very nearly too good to be true.

If all goes well, I'll meet with the Experts involved in early August. If we all like each other and think we can play nice with each other, we should be able to start work on the book by this fall.

Further bulletins as events warrant -- but today, life certainly got a little more interesting.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Bareback Breaking

Since I finished the rough draft for Dr. Warson's Back Book, I've made good on my promise to work Theo every day.

He's been so good with the groundwork, listening to me, responding well, and learning to ignore Scary Things that it's time to move the training along. So, the other day, I got on him. He was bareback, with just a halter on, and he could have cared less about carrying a passenger.

I did a variation of what Clinton calls "the Human Currycomb." In his version, you lay lengthwise along the horse's spine, rubbing him vigorously with your hands the whole time. Then you slide backwards in increments along the spine, until you are hanging off the horse's butt and slide to the ground.

Well, Theo's butt is over my head, so I wasn't real keen on the whole sliding backwards off it scenario. Furthermore, since he's so big, I couldn't just jump up on his back. I needed to stand on top of a picnic table, and stand on tip-toe in order to get up there.

But I did several of the things that I've seen Clinton do. I stood with my feet firmly planted on one side of the horse while I waved and flailed my arms around on the other side of him. (This is to get the horse used to seeing you on both sides of him, and to accustom him to a human moving on his back -- as opposed to getting on a green horse and sitting quietly still for fear of spooking him.)

Then I rubbed one foot up and down his spine, while itching his withers and neck with my hands. He loved that. (He's a very itchy horse.)

Then I draped over his back and just hung there, rubbing on him, scritching itchy places, and waving my hands and feet back and forth.

Finally, I thumped very solidly to the ground -- dramatically announcing my dismount.

I repeated the whole process about 50 times -- mounting, hanging on, waving around, and plunking to the ground -- from both sides. Theo could have cared less. He was far more interested in nibbling on a lunge whip I'd left lying on the table top.

Clinton says there is "something about having your heart close to the horse" that makes them stand still and enjoy this part of the breaking process.

Theo is the first horse I've broken using many of Clinton's methods, and the first one I've started bareback, as opposed to using a saddle. I have to say that the combination of solid groundwork and bareback breaking make for an unusually cooperative green horse who obviously enjoys the training.

This, of course is good when the three year old in question weighs close to a ton and towers over your head. As I lay across his back and climbed all over him, I couldn't help but think, "That's a great big slab of muscle I'm sitting on," and "It sure is a looonnng way down..."

Fortunately, for me, however, Theo was thinking, "Oooooo! She found another itch!"

That's another thing about bareback breaking -- it lets you capitalize on all the itchy spots. Everyone wins! And it feels great!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who Am I?

I'm in the process of compartmentalizing my business. I'm separating part what I do -- the actual hands-on writing for clients (and, on occasion, for myself) -- from the educational offerings that apply to many writers in many situations.

To that end, I'm readying Muse Ink, a writer's service site offering coaching, educational tools, free information, workshop classes, and personal advice to writers. I have big plans for it. I'd like to see it grow to include several "writing muses" -- professionals in the industry -- who will speak, educate, and inspire writers on a variety of subjects from screenwriting to agent acquisition, from fiction to non-fiction.

I don't want to launch the site, however, before it's ready. I'm pleased with the numbers of people visiting my webpage every month. I want to make sure that if I send a considerable percent of those people to the Muse Ink site, it's worth their while to go.

I also want to take care to develop a site and business necessities (business cards, logo, one-sheets, and other promotional materials) that can grow along with the business, instead of needing revamping every time a new wrinkle is added.

And so, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about things like:

* Who are my ideal clients?
* What questions do they have, and how I can best answer them?
* Where do these people go for information?
* How much disposable time do they have?
* What is their attitude toward continuing their education or acquiring a new skill?
* How do they learn best?
* What do they value most?
* Why should they come to me?
* What do they need to learn from me, in order to do what they need to do?

Not surprisingly, though the questions are rather straightforward, answering them took quite a little bit of time. I "know" who my clients are, but I wanted to make sure that I had considered my business from their perspective first, instead of concretizing it to fit my interests.

If you are in a business you would like to grow, to attract new clientele, or to take in a new direction, it might be worth your while to ask yourself "Who Am I?" Then answer the question from your Ideal Client's point of view.

You need to know what keywords the IC will type when looking for something you can deliver. You need to know how much disposable time and income your IC has -- and then tailor your services to match the IC's resources. And you need to know what you have to offer.

I guess the point really is: Know Thyself. And be able to articulate that knowledge so your clients can find you.

More thoughts on the subject on Thursday...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mid-Month Update

Dr. Warson's "Rider's Back Book" is done! Well, the text of the mansucript is written. It's not illustrated or edited yet, but that's not the point. The writing part is FINISHED!

I finished it Friday evening. Just in time to do the Happy Dance and kick back and enjoy the weekend:

Robert and I took Cassandra to the park after church for a picnic and to play on the playground...

Visited an old friend for a while...

Enjoyed a bonfire and ice cream cones at our neighbors...

Read a magazine...

Played with Theo (saddled him, attached big, bouncy empty laundry detergent jugs to the saddle, and proceded with our normal groundwork -- Fun!)...

Started tearing down the remaining fencing of our old paddock, making room for the new fence...

Went to dinner (Moo's Chinese) and a movie (The Lake House)for Father's Day.

All in all, a wonderful, relaxing weekend.

Now, back to reality. I have "homework" to do before my next (and last, ::sniff::) session on Tuesday with my Life Coach, Stephanie. It involves taking as objective a look as possible at my current and projected business, and developing materials that accurately depict what it is that I do.

That's on today's agenda -- all day long. I've been thinking about some of the issues that need to be addressed in things like:

* website design
* one-sheets
* opt-in pages
* business cards, and
* workshop and conference materials.

I've also been spending a lot of time thinking about who my ideal clients are, and figuring out the best way to connect with them and deliver quality, personal services that are tailored to fit their needs.

The planning has come a long way, but not all the bugs are worked out yet. Stay tuned for future updates.

In other news, I received this e-mail over the weekend from the wonderful folks at

Hi Ami,
Hope this note finds you well. I wanted to let you know we reprinted
one of your free articles, The Care and Feeding of Press Releases in last week's Absolute Write weekly newsletter. Thanks so much!

Best regards,
Amy Brozio-Andrews
Managing editor
Absolute Write

I'm always happy when Absolute Write says "hello." They do a very good job of connecting writers of all levels and genres with reputable, useable information. (And some of it is mine!)

Friday, June 16, 2006

"The End" is Near

On Thursday, I finished the first draft of the next-to-last chapter of Dr. Warson's Back Book. Wheee! With any luck (and a lot of babysitting on Robert's part), I'll make a big enough dent in the final chapter today to put the finishing touches on it over the weekend.

I love it when the end is near. It makes me start to think about all the things I've been putting off that may soon get done. The schedule fills up quickly, I've discovered.

Received this in yesterday's mail:

Hi Ami,

I saw your article on Press Releases on Absolute Write and loved it. I went to your site to try and contact you and found the one on bios equally interesting. I was thrilled to see I could post them at my web site with your bio and credit. I have them posted at Global Authors Publications on Articles 2 page. I hope they inspire others as much as they did me.

Kathleen Walls,
Publisher, Global Authors Publications

I wrote and thanked her for including me on her site. And gladly felt like the Snap-On guy (see yesterday's post).

Incidentally, we put the horses out in their new pasture yesterday. Theo enjoyed running through the field. For the older two geldings, it was a non-event. They just stuck their muzzles into the grass and began eating. I don't believe they moved more than ten feet the whole day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Fencing Fantasia

They're here! The fencing guys are here! Here's hoping that by the end of the day, they'll be gone and leave behind a brand new, Theo-proof pasture!

To start the project, they sank the corner posts last night, and strung guide wires between the posts to keep the fence line straight (a novel concept where my fencing is concerned).

Today, they will sink the rest of the posts and get the actual fence up. The top strand and a lower strand will be electrified. Three other strands are white poly-coated high-tension wire for high visibility.

In my fencing research, I learned several factors about safe fencing for horses:

1.) A horse thinks "forward" before he thinks "back" and tends to reason with his neck. In other words, if the head and neck are past a certain point before the horse gets zapped by the electric, he will jump forward (through the fence) rather than backward (and stay in the pasture). For this reason, you want an electrified top wire that zaps him before he's reached over the fence to start grazing.

2.) Visibility is more important than electricity. Horses will avoid what they can see more than they will stop at an invisible shocking "something."

3.) Corners are key. Strong corners will keep an entire fence line up. Weak corners can compromise the entire fence.

4.) The strongest fence for livestock is one that is strung up on the inside of the posts. That way, if livestock do lean over it, they will push the fence into the post, rather than popping it off the post. (Unsurprisingly, the prettiest fence is one strung up on the outside of posts. Pretty is as pretty does...)

5.) Fence in as much area as you can afford. (Remember the bit about the corners being the most important factor? Corners are expensive. One square acre, or 4 square acres, it makes no difference -- you've still only got 4 corners.) Fencing 4 acres does not take twice as much material as fencing 2 acres.

Nothing worthwhile comes cheaply. But if done right, a fence will last for years -- and so will the horses inside it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Attitude and Perception

Earlier this month, my friend Kim, who is battling breast cancer (and winning, thank you very much, God!), sent the following e-mail about attitude vs. perception:


There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head.

"Well," she said, "I think I'll braid my hair today." So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.

"H-M-M, " she said, "I think I'll part my hair down the middle today." So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.

"Well," she said, "Today I'm going to wear my hair in a pony tail." So she did and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn't a single hair on her head.

"YEAH!" she exclaimed, "I don't have to fix my hair today!"

Monday was an attitude / perception kind of day. I'd planned to spend it working on a project that has been cursed from the beginning, tying up loose ends so that they don't unravel any time soon, and putting other plans on hold. It was not a day I was looking forward to.

Lo and behold, when I went to do some work that involved choosing and placing photos, the CD that was supposed to be full of .jpgs... was blank! An electronic glitch!

Which means that it'll come overnight and I'll work on it today. But which also meant that I had an unexpected "gift" away from the ::bleah:: project on my anniversary. If perception is everything, it was a wonderful present, indeed!

In Other News
Had a lovely "date night" last night with my husband of 18 years and our 3 year old daughter. Pizza Hut and "Cars." An awful lot of fun with my two favorite people -- for under $30!

Congratulations all over the place to my friend, fellow screenwriter, John Alarid! His screenplay, "A Kodak Moment" was a winner in this year's Moondance Film Festival. That's the second contest success John's had this year. He's on a roll! Yay!

Monday, June 12, 2006

In Praise of Persistence

Yesterday I helped my friend CK work with her two horses. She has a three year old gelding and a 4 year old mare. Both were PMU foals. She's had them for three years.

She'd like to be riding both by the end of the summer. Yesterday we focused on groundwork.

The gelding I had worked with before -- about a year ago. He's big and strong, and he knows it. He's dragged her repeatedly, run through fences, and been a general pain in the butt. I think he's quite smart. But he's also got a crafty, sly side to him, and he's not convinced that humans are worth paying much attention to.

If he were mine, I'd have put him in a hole long ago. Life is too short to own a horse that could kill you. (Yes, I know, any horse could. But few would make a point of offing you. This one might enjoy such a thing.)

But my friend, being of infinitely softer heart than I, has stuck with him (and has the bruises to prove it). Yesterday, she was showing me how she worked him in the round pen at liberty and online, and I have to admit, she's done a LOT of work with him. He behaved himself quite well.

By the end of the session, she was working him outside of the round pen, in a large field. He was exploring new things and learning to handle being new places while still paying attention to the human at the end of the line. Her persistence is paying off.

Not much credence is given to persistence these days, but there's much to be said for sticking with a thing you believe is worthwhile and seeing it through. Today is my husband's and my 18th wedding anniversary. How time does fly!

Of course there have been ups and downs, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. I might have chosen to have some things in our lives work out differently, but I wouldn't have wanted to go through life with anyone else.

Persistence. If you're working on a big project, training an animal, raising a child, or writing a book, persistence is a must. All good things take time.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Calling in a Professional

As recent readers are well aware, we recently tore out our cobbled-together pasture to clear the way for someone who knows what he's doing to put in a new, Percheron-proof fence.

It has taken me years to come to the realization that though I may be capable of doing a thing myself, that may not be the best choice in order to have the job done in a timely, economical, competent manner.

For instance, I built the horses' shelter / lean-to in our pasture (with help from my friend Chari and my wonderful husband Robert). I'd never built anything of any consequence before. One look at the lean-to attests to that. Oh, it's still standing, and it serves its purpose. It's functional. But it ain't pretty.

Sometimes being a do-it-yourselfer can teach you a new skill. I am by no stretch of the imagination what one could call "mechanically inclined," but I once successfully detached, tore apart, cleaned, balanced the innards, reassembled, and reconnected the carburetor for my Ford 9N tractor. It works just fine.

I also dismantled the same tractor, replaced the old radiator with a new one, and put it all back together again. Still runs like a top.

Sometimes, however, it's just best to hand the job to someone who knows what the heck they're doing -- who doesn't have to consult a how-to guide in order to do what needs to be done.

Internet marketing guru Alex Mandossian's advice in this vein is to "hire people who play at the things you work at."

This certainly holds true in my field. Most people who have never written a book before would be well advised to hire a professional coach, consultant, or editor to look the manuscript over before sending it off to a publisher or -- as is increasingly the case -- self-publishing.

If you're going to commit something to print (which means that it will be around in one form or another indefinitely) AND it's going to have your name on it, it is absolutely in your best interest to take it to an objective third person who can help you fix the flaws before the project goes to press.

Will it cost you something? Absolutely. Hiring a professional always does. But the question that's more pertinent is: What is it worth to have a book that reads cleanly, that presents your vision in the best possible light?

We've all suffered through books that never should have seen the light of day. It's not that the ideas within them were no good -- it's just that the execution or presentation of those ideas was amateur at best.

Kind of like my lean-to.

He Who Will Not Call's book is in the editing stage at the publisher. They hope to send it out to print within a month or so. I know less than nothing about the subject matter of the project (though I wrote the entire thing -- a practice I would never advise). So earlier this week, I called in a favor from a friend of mine who is a professional in the same field, though she specializes in a very different niche market. I asked her to read the manuscript with a pro's eye, to ascertain that the information presented in it is correct.

There are times for pushing through, relying on yourself, and taking responsibility for the results of your amateur efforts. And then there are times to call in a professional.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Catalog Corrections

An interesting development occurred the other day.

Robert was updating the book information found on my website when he discovered that, for some reason, the co-author of Clinton's book on was listed as "ami henckson."

No, this isn't a rant about the world getting my name wrong. Really.

It's more a rather unsettled musing about how easy it was to log into and tell them to change the author's name.

I know that when the book was released, the spelling of my name as co-author was correct. (Sure, I checked. I was so darn happy to see the book exist online.)

Does this mean that someone, somewhere, bothered to log in and change it? For what possible purpose? And does it mean that there is no Grand Poobah Amazonian who decides what does and does not constitute a bona fide catalog correction?


Just for grins and giggles, I think it would be a hoot and a half to submit catalog corrections to author's names all over the place. Some suggestions:

* Think and Grow Rich -- by P. Hilton

* Bush's Brain -- by Dr. Seuss

* The Da Vinci Code -- by J. H. Christ

* I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings -- by Col. Sanders

* To Kill a Mockingbird -- by C. Heston

* A Million Little Pieces -- by A. Einstein

* Animal Farm -- by M. Stewart

The change form I submitted informed me that it would take about a week for the correction to show. Maybe by that time, someone will have told them that Hugh Hefner wrote the book on The Feminine Mystique.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Long Early Rides

A friend and I recently bartered some of my help training her young horses (a 3 and 4 year old) in exchange for fence lumber and posts for my new riding arena. We're working out the details, but the negotiations -- and my own 3 year old Percheron who is anxiously awaiting the day when I finish up this book project and can spend concentrated time playing with him -- have set me to thinking about approaches to training.

For instance, when training a horse to maintain a steady, consistent gait, I'm in Clinton Anderson's "long rides, wet saddle blankets, and concentrated training" camp. Too often, people try to train a green horse to do a ratable, consistent, three-beat canter without giving the horse ample time to find his stride.

The first time I ride a horse, we trot. A lot. I like to trot until the horse is no longer thinking about having to carry me around and is more concerned with when I'll let him walk. I don't advocate running the horse into the ground. But I am a big fan of giving him time to find his stride and learn to balance with a rider. I'm also a fan of nipping any spooking inclination in the bud.

When training the canter -- which should be done as early in the breaking process as possible, I believe -- I like to give the horse plenty of opportunity to get it right. The first time we canter, we'll go for at least 5 or 10 minutes. If the horse is fresh and frisky, we'll go 5 or 10 minutes more.

When the young horse is first ridden, everything is new to him. He's not used to having anyone on his back at all. So everything that involves a human astride is foreign. It doesn't matter if the human is sitting, standing, or tap dancing. It doesn't matter if the horse is walking, trotting, or cantering. Exposing him to all the gaits that will be expected of him early in his training just sets the stage for him to accept human guidance regardless of what speed he's travelling.

Long early rides. In my eyes, they pave the way for an animal with a solid work ethic and superior balance. In other words -- a joy to ride.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Power of Print

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, a week ago, the Herald-Palladium ran an article that talked about my involvement in Geoff's book and other writing endeavors.

It's amazing how powerful print can be. I heard from people who've been out of touch for months, and even heard from some people I've never met. One woman is a neighbor. She wrote me the following e-mail:

Hello! I just wanted to congratulate you on all of your achievements you have achieved in writing and with horses as well as the lovely article that the Herald Palladium featured on you this past Tuesday.

Theo is a gorgeous horse! I live... right near you and caught my first glance of Theo as we were driving down (your) road. Since then we have gotten to see his growth process. A few times, my black lab has gotten loose from me and ran over to play with a dalmatian on your farm! It was so very nice of you to share writing tips with those that dream to write as well!!

I have been home disabled almost 4 years now, when I became ill at the age of 30. I had professionally modeled for several years, went to MSU, and became ill along the course. I have had 2 guest columns in the Herald Palladium, as well as several editorials. I am trying to use my illness to bring out my creative side. Growing up I was in a writing program for a few years, and I have written some poems throughout my life. I find it very therapeutic and the written language beautiful. Perhaps that is why my other favorite hobby (besides my dogs and writing and advocating for my illness) is reading!

I thank you so much for the tips you gave in your article! They definitely helped inspire me to set some goals for myself writing since I have so much time to myself!

When I responded, I thanked her for her kind words and mused on how sad it is that it takes a newspaper article for neighbors to meet. I also congratulated her on her writing successes, and made the following comments on living with disabilities:

Since we've been wrestling with my husband's medical condition, I've come to the conclusion that though a disability makes doing "normal, everyday" things more difficult, it may be God's way of freeing up a person to do the Thing that really matters with his or her life.

Many perfectly healthy people work in windowless, fluorescent-lit cubicles all day. I daresay that they don't often get the opportunity to think about what they're going to do with the time they've got on the planet. Yet, in our experience, having a disability forces you to examine the Big Questions on an almost daily basis. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Her response:

Your words regarding disability just touched me.

I'm still adjusting to the limits I have with (my condition). I'm struggling to turn it into a positive situation instead of labeling myself and staying negative and burdened by it. What you have just said shows me that there is an entirely different view to look at my situation and that I really do have time to do anything I can and want during my days, I'm free and not stuck!

Good luck on your deadline!! It's very honoring and touching when authors respond to their readers!

I hope she does pursue her writing. Print is still a powerful product. It can energize, invigorate, draw people together, educate, and inspire.

Powerful, indeed.

In Other News:

I received this on Monday from my friend, screenwriter and playwright, DonnaMarie Vaughan:

I just found out that ME, II will be performed locally here in Buffalo at the New Phoenix Theater in November as their season's second show.

ME, II is a musical, more than 2 years in the making. I co-wrote the "book" and helped with ideas for lyrics and songs, which were written by Grant Golden, the other co-writer of the book. Many editing dinners and rewrites later, we were finally happy and started to submit it - and immediately it was snapped up for production!! YEAH!!

ME, II tells the funny story a man so eager to get out of his lengthy doctor's appointment that he sneaks a peek at the file and writes down his diagnosis! -only to discover via the internet, and only AFTER he's gotten engaged that he is dying! In a desperate measure to avoid telling his fiance about his impending illness, he and his best friend seek a solution - but no good deed goes unpunished!

And talk about small worlds and circles in life... David Granville, who directed my IN SICKNESS AND HEALTH full length stage play in 1988 is once again back as director for ME, II.

For those far away, I know you can't attend, but wanted to share the good news. Hard work and co-work sometimes does pay off. I doubt there will be any money from the production (no cultural funding here with the budget cuts, so all plays rely on ticket sales) but it's an addition to the resume, and hopefully we will snag some press along with it.

Congratulations all over the place, DonnaMarie! I wish I could attend opening night.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Back From Afield

Yes, I know I've been un-blogged for awhile. The short explanation is this: we're having a new pasture put in, and the old one needed to be ripped out.

Sounds simple. But it took over a week to do. Worked outside in unseasonably warm weather, trying not to think about not making my self-imposed deadline for finishing the book. But at least the pasture-ripping-out is done. Now we're just waiting for the wonderful Fence Gods to smile upon us and magically make a new pasture appear.

In the time since I've been incommunicado, several things have happened:

* I finished the next chapter of Dr. Warson's book, and it received his enthusiastic blessing. Only two chapters left to write. With no further fence to tear down, I've allotted one week to each. Which means in two weeks, I should be celebrating.

* Geoff had a very successful booksigning at Malvern Saddlery while at Devon. By all accounts, everyone involved was pleased with the book, with the sales that made the signing a success, and with the information that Geoff was happy to share with those who attended.

* Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation broke into the Top 25 Equestrian Sports books on, and into the Top 50 of all Horse Books. Yes, it's a transitory rank. It changes daily, if not hourly. But it's kind of cool to see it creeping up there. (And, as I write this, only has 3 books still in stock... Rah!)

* Jan Krieger, a writer who has attended some of my Writer's Workshops interviewed me, and wrote a nice, front-page-of-the-section feature article in the Herald-Palladium, our local paper, that favorably mentioned the book.

I'd love to post a link to the article, but the H-P fancies itself on a par with the New York Times. To access their archives, one must first pay -- more than one would pay for the actual paper itself. When asked about this practice, one of their head editors rather bluntly explained that the paper was really only interested in making money. Looks like I'll keep my $1.50, and just tell you about it. Tune in tomorrow for more on that front ...