Friday, September 29, 2006

The Wall Street Journal and the Amorphous Audience

My friend, the wonderful Stephen Jukuri, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal this week!

This is a thing that I find very cool because, though Stephen is an extraordinarily talented writer and artist, he's not exactly the money-driven, corporate poster child for the WSJ.

I told him I was impressed at his "connections."

His response:

I wish I was that well connected. Freak chance is all. [The writer] wrote a great article on multi-tasking, and I responded, and next thing you know....

This just goes to show how powerful responding to a person's writing can be. We write because we have something to say. We like to think we can touch people. It's always a welcome surprise, however, when we discover that we actually connect with our audience.

For many writers, their audience is a sort of distant, amorphous blur. The writer may wonder if anyone out there really gets what he or she is talking about. When someone actually does "get it," and takes the time out of his or her busy schedule to say so, it is a Banner Day, indeed.

So, kudos to Stephen -- not for being a featured Quote of the Day, but for taking the time to connect with someone whose words connected with him. Every writer should be so fortunate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Number One

For about 12 hours on September 26 and 27, books I'd written were the #1 and #2 bestselling Horse Books on (Geoff's was #1, Clinton's was #2.) It was a rather surreal experience to see onscreen.

Other cool numbers that cropped up showed that Geoff's book ranked in the Top 10 of Individual Sports titles, and in the Top 35 of all Sports titles. Its overall ranking for the nearly 2.5 million books available on was 1960-something. It may even have done better than that, but those were the numbers I saw.

It's never a good idea to put too much credence in bestseller statistics. From to the New York Times to other book trackers, the titles on such lists vary from week to week and from day to day. A book may hit #1 on one list and not even register on another. Playing the bestseller / numbers game can really mess with your head.

On the other hand, having a title reach #1, the Top 10, or even the Top 100 of a bestseller list can add a certain amount of cache to the book. It can help generate some "buzz" (a loathsome marketing term) and give the project a continued boost. The term "bestselling" can also help validate an author's efforts and be used to gild the writer's bio.

Aiming for #1 is hardly a reason to write a book. On the other hand, it makes no sense to put forth the time, effort, and energy necessary to create a book if you don't believe in the project enough to be willing to promote it as best you can.

I am fond of reminding writers: No one believes in your career more than you do. If you don't believe your book deserves to be a bestselling title, perhaps it's worth revisiting the project and perfecting it until it's clearly the best thing for readers to do with their money and their time.

I tell all new (and not so new) authors to go for it. Aim for #1. Come up with a plan and put it into action. The danger is not in aiming for the stars. It is in failing to raise your sights to the sky. It is also in believing that you're too good for this world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- West Nile Watch

This past weekend I, and most of my horse-owning friends and neighbors, received notification from a local veterinarian's office that West Nile has been conclusively diagnosed in our county. Needless to say, we are concerned.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the first case of West Nile was diagnosed in the U.S. in 1999. In the last 7 years, it has become a leading consideration whenever horses present with neurologic disease. It is, unfortunately, associated with a high mortality rate (over 33 percent of all infected horses die).

West Nile is a flavivirus. Mosquitoes and other bloodsucking insects transmit it to warmblooded hosts like horses, birds, and people. Horses and humans, you may know, are considered "end hosts," which means that the West Nile virus cannot be transmitted from them to another host.

Our West Nile notification suggested vaccinating and boosting existing vaccinations. The AAEP guidelines for West Nile vaccinating recommend that all horses in North America routinely receive the vaccine (though it is not recommended for pregnant mares, and has been associated with foal deformities and death).

Symptoms of West Nile include muscle weakness, stumbling, tripping, twitching, depression, fever, convulsions, partial paralysis, coma, and death. West Nile can be easily confused with other conditions, such as EPM and rabies, that may have similar symptoms.

All told, West Nile isn't really anything to mess around with. The fact that a confirmed case is in our immediate area doesn't exactly fill me with warm fuzzies. Though we've had some cold weather recently, it hasn't been enough to eliminate the mosquitos yet. It looks like we'll be vaccinating again -- sooner than we'd planned...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coaching for Accountability

I spoke with my coach, Stephanie, today -- brought her up to date, reported on current projects, and told her my plans for October and November.

I almost rescheduled our appointment, because my good friend Denise had agreed to come and help set posts for the riding arena. Of course, when I scheduled an arena-fence-post-day, I forgot about my session with Stephanie. But I didn't cancel. (It's always easy to say "no." I'm afraid it would have set a dangerous precedent...) Instead, I begged off from setting posts for a bit and came in for the call.

The best thing about having a coach is that she keeps me accountable. She remembers what my goals are. She knows what I'm aiming toward. She keeps me on track and encourages me. And she holds me accountable for my own dreams.

When I'm working with a writer (as the coach, instead of the coach-ee), I like to do the same thing. As someone who's "been there," and as someone who is not so close to the project that I've become myopic over it, I constantly try to find ways to help the writer see the big picture.

I ask the writer to remember the reader. We explore ways to add value to the reader's experience. We discuss long-term plans for the book. We work to streamline the writing process and improve the writer's productivity. And we continually come back to The Point of the whole project, revisiting it from several different angles, to make sure that the end result is consistent with the original vision.

Working with a coach is just that: work. A coach pushes, prods, and challenges you. A coach is as invested in your success as you are, but the coach's dreams are not yours. If you want your vision to become reality, you must take responsibility for making it happen. A good coach in your corner can help show you the way. But it's up to you to commit to the journey.

Back Book News

"The Rider's Back Book" is nearly ready to send to the publisher. I spent some time on the phone last night with Dr. Warson, discussing the medical illustrations (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans and others) that will be in the book.

Our conversation was punctuated with such comments as:

Ooo, this is great. There's a metastatic tumor here that anyone will be able to see...

What an excellent shot of a ruptured disc!

Oh yeah! The L5 / S1 is so damaged that they've practically fused together. See? Ooo -- and there's a disc impinging on the spinal cord, too -- great stuff!

I told him I was seeing a whole new side of him. Most people, myself included, rarely include "ruptured disc" and "great shot" in the same sentence.

Ah, but he was in his element, looking at radiographs, commenting on them, and deciding upon the best ones for the book.

Tomorrow, we are to go over Charles' photographs and make sure all are seen and signed off on. Then it's just a matter of making a hard copy and sending the package off to Vermont. Life is good!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Title Tracking

An interesting website that is currently in Beta testing mode is Titlez.

The site offers a way of tracking the sales ranking of one or more titles. Though Amazon updates their sales numbers hourly, and the rankings are a useful way of tracking a book's popularity with the world's largest online retailer, they keep no record of the title's past success. collects and graphs Amazon rankings over time. Just type a title, subject, publisher, or author name into the search field, and you'll see a graph that features the day-by-day performance of a given book.

You can find things like a book's best rank, worst rank, 7-day, 30-day, and 90-day ranking, and lifetime average. You can also compare the performance of two or more titles.

Since the site is still in development, not all titles have information collected, but you can request a title be added. (Clinton's book, for instance, had the information readily available. I had to request that they track the sales figures for Geoff's book.) For now, access to the site's resources is free -- you just need to register with your name, e-mail, and a password. Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday. It's a BIG ONE. It ends in "0," which always invites a retrospective, and begs questions like What have I accomplished in my time on the planet? and Why don't I have more to show for my life so far?

I've always been a driven person. My plans for my life have been far-reaching and ambitious. I've discovered, however, that those plans have been found on no one's agenda but my own.

For instance, a decade ago, the last birthday that ended with "0" was very difficult for me. I wanted to have at least one book in print or one screenplay optioned by then. But God's time is not our own. And though you can work to advance your career, you cannot simply make things happen.

It took a few more years before I had a book out, but it wasn't the book that I thought would be the first published. By then, my daughter had come along to brighten my life. And my husband had lost his job. So much for my meticulously crafted Life Plan.

Today, in keeping with a grand tradition that includes carb-laden cakes, cards, and candles, I've made a few Birthday Wishes:

* I wish everyone would choose to do one self-sacrificing Selfless Act a day. It would be a regular reminder that there are those less fortunate than we are, and we are all in this world together.

* I wish everyone would "unplug" for 24 hours on a regular basis. With no TV, no radio, no CDs, and no DVDs monopolizing our brain cells, we'd be forced to confront our own thoughts, find our own entertainment, and reach our own decisions without relying on corporate-sponsored media that is focused more on their bottom line than on their consumers' well-being.

* I wish every corporation, every business, and every company were held accountable for the damage they inflict on the planet, and were made to take steps to clean up their collective mess. I wish it were impossible to conduct business without making a non-destructive footprint and leaving the world at least as good as you found it.

* I wish every overweight person would become financially responsible for and sponsor a person who is dying of malnutrition -- until both people were healthy.

* I wish every parent would recognize the enormous potential within his or her child, and would accept the responsibility for helping that child thrive. This includes surrounding the child with unconditional love, giving opportunities for success and for failure, insisting upon personal responsibility, and protecting the child from the world at large (because it is a very large world).

And finally,

* I wish every person would take steps toward reaching a personal goal. What is life without a dream?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"The Sting of Ignorance"

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article by Harvard Medical School professor Jerry Avorn detailing his experience with a toxic jellyfish tentacle, an emergency medical team powered by conventional wisdom, and the omnipotence of the internet.

One of the unmistakable points of his piece, however, is the paramount importance of doing one's own research. Not taking others' suggestions at face value. Not blindly following the lemmings who lead the way. Not falling in the rut of "we've always done it like this..." No -- there is much to be said for personally looking into a thing to gain a greater understanding of it.

True, when using the internet, one must be careful of one's sources. But that's true of any research project.

I use the internet so much on such a consistent basis, that I find it hard to remember how I ever fared without it. But I am amazed at how haphazard many students and other users are toward what it has to offer.

It's not that they're unfamiliar with the computer or the internet. They know how to use all the pieces of the research puzzle quite competently. But too often, they're not entirely sure how to assemble the pieces in order to come up with a discernable picture.

The problem, I fear, is not a lack of information. Nor is it that the information is somehow difficult to access. The problem is simply that solid research skills are taught less and less. To many students, all sites are created equally -- they carry equal academic weight, are equally factual, and equally impartial and unbiased.

My friend TG and I have had many discussions on several variations of this theme.

When she taught at the university level, she routinely ran into administrators who told her not to "waste time" teaching things like critical thinking and research skills. Often, classes such as literature, comparative studies, and writing intensives that would make use of such skills were eliminated entirely from the curriculuum. Instead, they were replaced with things like "keyboarding," "business writing," and other benign courses designed not to educate, but to turn out cubicle drones.

I am inclined to agree with Avorn when he categorizes the internet as one of the three most useful medicines he knows (along with aspirin and acetominophen). It places potent information at our fingertips. It remains to be seen, however, how long we consider information valuable enough to ascertain that it remains free and available to all.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Empty Promises and 11th Hour Angels

Our church is having a series of meetings that started this past Friday and run through next weekend. Normally, I'm pretty skeptical of such things and tend to stay away from them. But they're offering child care during the meetings and made a desperate plea for volunteers. And, since Robert's a deacon, they asked him to help pick up the offering and crowd control. So I decided I'd offer to help with the 4 to 6 year olds. Besides, I figured Cassandra would enjoy hanging out with the other kids.

Last week, we went to an orientation for the volunteers. About 15 of us had offered to help with the 4 - 6 year olds. The woman in charge of the program was thrilled to see us. She had someone all lined up to do a Nature Story every night, she said. But that person fell through two days before the meetings were to begin. Instead of having 10 nights taken care of, she had bupkiss. Would anyone be willing to help?

(This explains why I took a chicken to church on Saturday night, and a duck on Sunday. Monday's attraction will be goats, if I can orchestrate it correctly...)

To further spice things up, the piano player that had committed to playing for the 15 minute opening song service has not deigned to show. So my Extremely Rusty piano-playing skills have been put to use. (Every night I hope someone -- anyone -- shows up to make a repeat performance unnecessary.)

Now, I am the first to realize that sometimes life throws curve balls at you that make it impossible for you to keep a commitment. On the other hand, in this electronic age, if you cannot do what you've said you will, there is NO excuse for not calling with an apology, offering an explanation, and finding a replacement.

Every night, we've had over 60 kids to watch. The job is not difficult. It's actually kind of fun. They sing songs, listen to stories, eat a snack, and do a craft. But every night, we are reminded of the empty promises made by would-be volunteers, and grateful to the 11th Hour Angels that have stepped up to the plate so things run smoothly.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thoughts on Heavy Lifting and the Benefits of Free Press

One of the many electronic newsletters I subscribe to is Dan Poynter's Para Publishing Newsletter . It often features useful information on marketing and publishing, as well as other items of interest to writers.

One of the topics that continually resurfaces stresses the importance of getting featured in the news. One mention of your name or your book's title in a news story or article does far more for your credibility as an author or expert than buying ad space. The public instinctively distrusts the truthfulness of purchased print. Furthermore, the majority of readers still believe in an unbiased press (to a point).

Intellectually, I knew this to be true. But I recently experienced the reality of it first-hand.

Earlier this summer, I bought a pre-built structure to use as a studio. It's a cute, little, self-contained thing that measures 12 by 20. It technically qualifies as a "temporary" (read "non-property-taxable") structure. It's sided, has nice, vinyl windows, air conditioning, ceiling fans, electrical outlets, and more. It's only a quarter of a mile from my house. All that it needs is to be moved down the road, leveled, and voila! I'm in business.

This was my thought process when I bought the building.

Then I started looking for someone to move it.

After literally hours of letting my fingers walk through the yellow pages, and talking to friends, begging for suggestions, I eventually reached a point of abject frustration. It's not that I thought the movers I spoke to were quoting me unreasonable prices to move my studio. It's just that I couldn't find anyone who was interested in (or capable of) doing the move in the first place.

I eventually went through the phone book and called every single business that might have cause to use a driver with a big, flat trailer. No luck. (Actually, the Bobcat dealer did give me a name and a phone number of a guy who could do the job. I even got the guy on the phone. He thought he might be able to do it. But he never called me back.)

I got to the point where I called and begged a friend of mine who has heavy equipment to see if he would take a stab at it. He came out and looked at the project. He probably would have tried it. But it was obvious he wasn't comfortable doing something like that, and I didn't want to push it.

And then my Dad (who was visiting last weekend) read the paper. The Tri-City Record is published weekly. It's our local guide to what's going on. Among other things, it features high school sports results, covers city and township meetings, and (my personal favorite) runs short excerpts of news stories from 100 years ago.

Right in the middle of the paper was a story of a congregation that had set their original belfry on the roof of their new church building. The article featured a picture of the belfry being maneuvered into place with a giant boom. (I never said it was news of national interest, but here in northern Berrien County, we like to be kept apprised of such things.)

"Bet that guy could move your building," said my dad.

I looked more closely at the photo and -- lo and behold! -- the truck had bold lettering on it proclaiming "T & W Transport." Even better yet, it is located right here in Coloma. A phone number painted on the truck's side was also legible in the photo.

So I called. The very nice man who answered came out and looked at my project, and I had an estimate that day.

It made me think of my experience chasing the Snap-On Man. True, it pays to advertise (of COURSE people in the construction industry should include their phone numbers on their vehicles). But the best advertisement is being featured in the free press.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Essential Agent Attributes

Interesting developments may be afoot with regards to Carol of the Horse, my children's audio book, featuring the fabulous musical talents of award-winning inspirational vocalist Sharie Conard.

In July, Sharie and I attended the MEGA Book Marketing conference in Orlando, Florida. There, we were both impressed with one agent in particular. We returned home, made the tweaks to our book that we felt it needed, and published it. But neither of us are interested in becoming publishers. We'd like to find the book a home with a publisher who believes in it as much as we do.

The agent we both liked is based in Nashville -- a city where Sharie spends a significant amount of time as part of her recording career. So, after some talk and much prayer, we researched the agent's contact information and she called him yesterday to see if he would be willing to consult with her and offer some advice on the project.

Amazingly, he answered the phone! Even more amazing, he was very nice and very helpful.

He doesn't represent children's books, he told her (very few agents do, by the way -- the advances and the market for such books are paltry compared to other genres). But he knew someone who does. He recommended a specific person, and told Sharie she could use his name as a referral. (Referrals, you should know, are the "Get Out of Jail Free" cards of the Agency Game.)

Sharie immediately called the agent he'd recommended, and she agreed to do a consultation on our project. We're not begging her to represent us, you understand. We would just like an honest appraisal of the project, and some suggestions from Someone Who Knows.

Again -- the agent was pleasant, personable, and good-humored. Online queries quickly told us that she's been in business long enough to have fantastic contacts. She had authored numerous books herself. She regularly speaks at writer's conferences and workshops. In the past few years, she has sold enough titles to major publishers to make it obvious that this is her business and not a hobby.

She'll have our book by Monday.

Forget the horror stories you've heard about the cons, predators, and rogue agents in the publishing industry. Of course they exist. There are too many desperate writers out there -- and desperation attracts the lowlife agent sharks just like blood in the water brings in the oceanic ones. But the desperate writers almost never do their homework.

In my experience, the vast majority of bona-fide agents I've met and worked with are wonderful, hardworking, dedicated people. They are picky about what clients and what projects they will represent because each book they accept means -- literally -- months of hard work. Authors often have unrealistic ideas about what makes a manuscript salable. The agents are on the front lines of the publishing industry. Their income is entirely dependent upon them choosing their clients wisely, and making regular sales.

It will be interesting to see the book through the eyes of someone who's job it is to take such projects and present them to publishers. With any luck, she'll have some solid suggestions for us to put into practice. I'm already grateful to her, however, just for giving Sharie the time of day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- In Search of Self-Carriage

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with top hunter judge Geoff Teall, in which he discussed his "Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring." (Actually, he threw in a Bonus Tip -- offering additional insight into the view from the Judge's Box.)

His suggestions were excellent. It was good to be able to look at a class from the judge's, rather than the competitor's, point of view. Of course, to anyone who knows anything about showing hunters, some of his tips ("perfect your position," and "ride a reponsive horse," for instance) come as no surprise. However, rather than just state what he wants to see when judging a class, he also provided concrete, actionable, doable approaches for mastering each tip at home.

"Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring" will soon be available as a free download that's part of an online promotion for Geoff's book. But so much of what he said was succinct, worthwhile, and insightful, I couldn't resist a featuring a short "sneak peek" on one of his Tips here.

Case in point: Tip #8: Ride a Horse With Good Carriage.

I realize that this sounds like a given. (Don't we all want to ride a horse with self-carriage -- a capable mover who is well-balanced and fluid?) But I've seen far too many horses in the ring that look like they're going to pitch forward on their faces, or run through their chests. In fact, when sorting through images of competing hunter / jumpers for Dr. Warson's book, it was quite obvious that many, if not most, of them, were incapable of carrying themselves correctly. Evidently, the judges have seen too many of these horses, too.

Geoff spent some time defining what he meant by "good carriage." (In involves, in part, a horse that does not rely on the rider to hold him in, or hold him up. It is evidenced in a horse that stretches his head and neck forward and moves forward freely. It occurs in a horse that is supple, fluid, and forward.)

He then had the good grace to offer some tips for helping your horse develop it.

One of his suggestions had to do with flat-work -- and with working a sort of modified flat-work into your regular schooling. One key to developing your horse's self-carriage is transitions.

Transitions up (walk - trot - hand gallop).

Transitions down (canter - trot - stop - back).

Transitions all over the place (canter - stop - back - trot).

Mix things up, he advises. Get the horse thinking and responding.

Though he had several great suggestions for practicing and perfecting each tip, one of my favorite things about Geoff is his philosophy of "Less is More."

"If you're riding, and your horse starts doing something you like," he says, "it's time to stop and do something else."

In other words, don't drill and drill and drill on a concept. When the horse gets it, exhibit some self-carriage (or self-control) on your part, and move on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Expert Advice

Yesterday I conducted a teleseminar with noted hunter and hunt seat equitation trainer and judge Geoff Teall. For the uninitiated, a teleseminar is a podcast of sorts. It's like an audio clinic or interview that is conducted over the phone and then recorded and made available as an MP3 download or audio CD.

We've been wanting to do a teleseminar for some time. Long-time readers may remember that we actually had one scheduled for January 17, but health issues landed our bridge line operator and Chief Recorder Extraordinaire in the hospital. Once he'd recuperated, however, Geoff's busy life precluded us scheduling another one until yesterday.

The resulting audio file was worth the wait. Geoff talks about "Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring" from a judge's point of view. Throughout the hour-long discussion, he gives clear, concise suggestions for how to practice each element at home, in the comfort of your own ring. He talks about how to identify problems and how to erase them. He expands upon some of the information in his book and offers additional insights that never made it into print. It was an excellent interview.

The audio file is going to be part of a bonus package that correlates to a pre-Christmas campaign. I'll comment more about that as the campaign comes together.

For now, the point of all this is simply to comment on how honored I am to have the privilege of working with experts like Geoff, and Dr. Warson. When I was in Hawaii, Dr. Warson and I took an hour and conducted an interview on "The Harmonics of Horse and Rider" in which he talked about how to match horse and rider for the rider's optimum comfort.

(Sadly, I recorded the Hawaiian audio seminar on my MP3 Recording Flash Drive. Its microphone is just a wee bit too good, and the house was just a wee bit too lively. Ambient noise like doors closing and cats playing is all too audible. That'll teach me to bypass Gary my Bridge Man... I haven't yet determined if I should make the audio file available online as a free download anyway, or if I should type up the transcripts and disseminate the information as an e-booklet .pdf file instead.)

I love it when experts get talking about a subject that is near and dear to them. They're happy to clarify, expand upon, explain, and illustrate. In a very short amount of time, they can disseminate a staggering amount of information. They can shine a light into the darkness of ignorance and frustration. And their passion is contagious.

I also love the idea of the teleseminar. It allows regular people very near access to those on the cutting edge of a given industry -- for a fraction of the cost of traveling across the country or around the world to hear the experts speak in person. After yesterday's experience, I think Geoff is intrigued by the plethora of possibilities that present themselves. We're already discussing the topic for our next audio clinic.

Who knows? Maybe we'll open the lines up on the next one and allow people to listen in live. We'll see where the learning curve takes me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

To Boldly Go...

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first airing of the first episode of the original "Star Trek" series.

According to the programming powers that be, the show never really found its audience. It was cancelled after only three seasons. For all intents and purposes, it was destined to be a mere "blip" on our collective consciousness.

But Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, never gave up on his vision. He never allowed the industry to define his success.

Regardless of whether or not you like the series, however, no one today could call it a flop. Countless Trekkies still dress up as their favorite characters, attend conventions, and analyze script inconsistencies. (The story is told of how William Shatner started out using random numbers for "Star Date," until he discovered that fans were keeping track, and were getting confused!) Successful movies and spinoff shows followed. The show's original opening is the most famous split infinitive in the English language.

Which goes to show three things:

1.) Correct grammar is not essential for success. There is no such thing as perfection. Worrying about making something "perfect" before showing it to the world is a sure-fire recipe for self-defeat.

2.) Some things get better with age. While "Star Trek" may not have found its niche right away, it has aged remarkably well. Granted, the special effects are as cheesy as they come, but it's still fun after 40 years. And its themes of human spirit, exploration, tolerance for diversity, and searching for understanding continue to resonate.

3.) Never believe what they tell you. If you remain true to your vision, you will eventually connect with others who share that vision with you. Rather than tailor your dreams to try to reach the masses, instead, adhere to your inspiration, and believe that it will one day inspire others. Go ahead -- boldly go where no one has gone before...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Virtual Birthday Party

Join the celebration!

I invite you to join me in celebrating my birthday, coming up this month (it's a big one, ending in a "0!"). No, there won't be a party with age jokes, fire extinguishers for the birthday cake, or black balloons. For my birthday, I wanted to do something worthwhile. So I set up a gift registry with Heifer, International.

Heifer, International is a non-profit, non-religious organization that supplies hungry people worldwide with sustainable livestock like chickens, rabbits, geese, goats, ducks, honeybees, sheep, cattle and more. They also teach animal husbandry, wool-gathering and knitting, and tree reseeding practices. They're a respected organization doing a much-needed work.

A $40 donation will buy a flock of geese AND a flock of chickens. It will buy a hive of bees AND a share of a goat. It will buy a flock of ducks AND a share of seedling trees. Or it will buy you dinner and a movie...

My goal is to raise $40,000 for Heifer, International. Of course I don't have that kind of money available for charitable giving. I suspect you don't either. But I'm not asking anyone to help me reach my goal alone. I encourage you to send a link to this page to those on your mailing list. Then click on this link, and make a contribution that's within your budget.

(You don't have to go through my gift registry to contribute. You can just go to the Heifer, International homepage if you prefer.)

40 is a nice, round number that holds a certain sort of significance as my birthday approaches. If 1,000 people were to help me celebrate my birthday by donating $40 each, I'll reach my goal, it won't put a crimp in anyone's wallet, and we'll all have made the world a better place.

I'll post the names of contributors on the Contributors' List on my website. If you'd prefer that I not mention you by name, just e-mail me and let me know. I won't be posting how much any person gives -- just knowing that you did something will be more than enough of a present for me!

Here's the link again:

Happy Birthday to me! And thanks for helping me celebrate!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- "iGallop" Away!

Special thanks to my friend SH who, when she's not swinging from the rafters of her parents' garage (you'd have to ask her, but it's a funny story...), is browsing online for all sorts of nifty, gotta-have-'em gadgets.

Like the iGallop, with three handy speeds: Trot, Gallop, and -- for a real workout -- Race. It sits in your home, looking for all the world like a high-tech whoopie cushion, just begging you to stay indoors, leave your horse in the barn, and go for a virtual ride. What's next? the iWheelbarrow? With iPitchfork? The iHaybale or iFeedbags?

The reality is, those of us who enjoy riding actually like horses. We don't want a virtual experience. We want the Real Thing. When I have the time to ride, the last thing I want to do is find another excuse to keep me indoors. And I doubt that the iGallop is half as good company as my boys in the pasture...

Don't believe me? Then by all means, order yours today.

Book Update

"The Rider's Back Book" is as done as it can be for now. The text edit and photo selection is finished. All that remains is for Dr. Warson to read it and approve of the final wording, for Charles to tweak a few last pictures, and for the selection and placement of a few medical illustrations. Happy day!

With any luck, I'll have a few days of R & R to relax with my family, paint a room or two, and clean my house and barn. I also have a few personal projects I've been wanting to get to work on, as well as some in-depth marketing work. And there's always the contract negotiation for the next book project waiting in the wings. But it's good to be close to signing off on this project. It's been fun! Can't wait to see it in print.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

It Couldn't Happen To a Nicer Guy

I just found out last night that my friend, photographer extraordinaire Charles Hilton got married this weekend. What a wonderful surprise. I called him to talk about the photos for The Rider's Back Book, and heard the Happy News.

I am thrilled for him. Next to my husband and my father, he's one of the nicest guys I know. I had the privilege of talking to his new wife and congratulating both of them on their new life together.

Sometimes good things really do happen to good people. Charles also told me about an exciting new job development he has in the works. I say, "Good For You!"

One of the wonderful things about my job is that it brings me in touch with some truly extraordinary people. Things don't always go well for people, and I'm always touched when they confide in me during the down times. But sometimes, the clouds part, the sun comes out, and their lives just glow. Then I'm grateful to be a part of their lives and be able to share in their good fortune.

Congratulations, Charles and "Annie!" God Bless!

Oh yes: the edit of the book is finished. There are still some photo choices to be made, and I'm waiting to receive the radiographs, scans, and other medical illustrations, but I'm confident that neither thing will hold up the project. I sent the manuscript to Dr. Warson for his perusal.

I'm going to spend some time Tuesday finishing up the photo selections. After that, it's just a matter of waiting for everyone involved to sign off on the project, packing it all up in a neat little box, and shipping it to Trafalgar Square. Things are just peachy all around!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Labors

Had hoped to have the comprehensive book edit done by now, but it's not to be... Great progress has been made, but life intrudes on occasion, too. Went to lunch with my friend Denise on Friday, took Cassandra to the park Saturday evening, took time out to watch a video with Karen last night -- a sort of "last movie night" before she leaves us to head West tomorrow. You can't work all the time.

So, today, which I had hoped to have free to play with my family, will be yet another day of labor. That's ok; the end really is in sight. And there are many plans for the time that frees up, including finishing the riding ring, painting the guest room, rearranging Cassandra's closet, downsizing the toys and clothes we've accumulated and CLEANING MY HOUSE! All that "normal" stuff has been held at arm's length for far too long, but is now impinging on my consciousness and demanding attention.

Still, before I can get to any of that, the book must be done. So -- back to the trenches. Happy Labor Day!

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Strategy of Spin

One of my ongoing commitments is working as a marketing consultant for a small publisher. I come up with ways for them to get their name well known within their target audience, and also suggest marketing ideas for specific titles.

I love this kind of work, and like to think that I'm pretty good at it. Still, when I read in the Washington Post yesterday about a
$20 million PR contract from the U.S. military for more positive coverage of news in Iraq
, I wasn't tempted to submit a bid for the job.

The $20 million would be spread out over two years. According to the proposal, a team of 12 to 18 people would be involved in proposing several public relations events per month, such as speeches or news conferences, including "preparation of likely questions and suggested answers, themes and messages as well as background, talking points."

Any way you slice it, that's over half a million a year per spin doctor. (If you're interested, bids are due Sept. 6, and the 24-month contract is scheduled to begin on Oct. 28.) It's a possibly promising position, until you realize that then you'd be expected to put a positive spin on reports like the one in yesterday's Boston Globe which included these factual gems:

[T]he pay gap between soldiers and defense CEOs has exploded. Before 9/11, the gap between CEOs of publicly traded companies and army privates was already a galling 190 to 1. Today, it is 308 to 1. The average army private makes $25,000 a year. The average defense CEO makes $7.7 million.

The top profiteers after 9/11 were the CEOs of United Technologies ($200 million), General Dynamics ($65 million), Lockheed Martin ($50 million), and Halliburton ($49 million). Other firms where CEO pay the last four years added up to $25 million to $45 million were Textron, Engineered Support Systems, Computer Sciences, Alliant Techsystems, Armor Holding, Boeing, Health Net, ITT Industries, Northrop Grumman, Oshkosh Truck, URS, and Raytheon.

While Army privates died overseas earning $25,000 a year, David Brooks, the disgraced former CEO of body-armor maker DHB, made $192 million in stock sales in 2004. He staged a reported $10 million bat mitzvah for his daughter. The 2005 pay package for Halliburton CEO David Lesar, head of the firm that most symbolizes the occupation's waste, overcharges, and ghost charges on no-bid contracts, was $26 million, according to the report's analysis of federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

It will take a special sort of spin talent to make such things appear with a positive slant. But Spin Doctors can work with anything. They can make cigarette smokers seem cool and alcoholics sexy. They can make otherwise sane people think that a little pill of a certain color will enable them to eat anything they want or become a geriatric Lothario. No doubt, there are those who are drooling to jump at the chance to spread their creative wings on this assignment...