Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gifts That Really Keep Giving

...and no, I don't mean the fruitcake that people keep passing around. Don't look so innocent. We know you're taking it to the gift exchange.

I mean gifts through Heifer International. Heifer International works to fight poverty and hunger all over the world by providing families "living loans" of livestock, crop seeds, and training. Those who receive livestock from Heifer agree to pass along one of that animal's offspring to another family, so the gifts quite literally multiply. Many of the gifts allow the families to send children to school when they normally wouldn't be able to afford it; there's a gift that's hard to put a price on.

I look forward to getting their catalog each year at holiday time to read the "Success stories" of past recipients and to look at it with my daughter to pick out what gift we should give this year. (She's twenty now, and still likes choosing "something that won't get eaten.")

Here are some examples of gifts you can give through Heifer:

- A llama to provide wool for a South American family to sell
- Honeybees that will make honey and double a farm's crops through pollination
- A water buffalo to plow a field and provide milk
- A flock of geese to provide a family with eggs for much-needed protein

You can see more gifts in Heifer's online gift catalog, and you can always buy a share of an animal if buying the whole thing is outside of your budget. Of course you can also make a monetary donation for Heifer to use where it's most needed. I saw that they have a new interactive section to show kids how the different animals they give will help families around the world.

And here's another way to give--borrowing an idea from Nathan Bransford, I'll start a new holiday tradition here by donating $2 per comment left on this post between now and midnight Christmas Eve. Let me know what your wish is for the new year!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Contest: Win a signed ARC of Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky!

One of the fun things about being in a author groups like The Class of 2k12 and The Apocalypsies is that I get a chance to read some of the other members' books before they're out. And just from the few I've read so far, I can tell you that 2012 is going to be an awesome year for books!

I was excited to receive Veronica Rossi's UNDER THE NEVER SKY in the mail from the Apocalypsies' ARC exchange because I'd already heard about how great it was and it sounded like just the kind of book I love to read. I think it was the same day or the next day I received a copy I'd won a copy in a Twitter contest from HarperCollins; I'd retweeted something to spread the word about their contest, but the retweet entered me in that contest and I was one of the lucky winners. Then I had this:

So that was a fun day. I mailed the Apocalypsies' copy on to the next person on the list, and kept the one from HarperCollins to read. And it's fabulous. And now I'll share it with one of you! Here's the description of the story from the book's Facebook page:

Exiled from her comfortable home in the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland--known as The Death Shop--are slim. In Reverie, she spent time with her friends roaming virtual environments called Realms. But in The Death Shop, even the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild--a savage. He's also her only hope for survival.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry sees Aria as sheltered and fragile--everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he also needs Aria’s help; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, they come together reluctantly, and embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by cannibals and wolves. Their unlikely alliance will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

Don't you want to read it now? Oh, and I got to meet Veronica at a conference, and besides being a fantastic writer, she's also super nice. And she signed the ARC for the giveaway!

Here's how you can win it: we'll do the pick-a-line contest like I did for my cover reveal. We had a lot of fun with that. Leave a comment and tell me a page number from 1 to 374, and I'll reply back with a line from that page. I'll keep the contest open till next Wednesday, December 14th at 11:59 PM Central time, then I'll pick a random winner. (U.S. addresses only, please.) Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so I can contact you if you win.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Writing, by The Simpsons

If you missed the hilarious episode of The Simpsons last week about writing children's books, you can watch it on Hulu now! Even if you did see it, it's worth watching again.

I caught most of it last week but missed the first few minutes, so I'd been waiting to see it from the beginning, when Lisa finds out that everything she's ever known about young adult literature is a lie. Of course the painful discovery involves a piece of fossilized dinosaur poop. Isn't that always the case?

Some people were upset about the implication that the Harry Potter series was also ghostwritten by a team of idiots, but I think readers are familiar enough with Harry Potter to know that J.K. Rowling wrote the books herself and isn't a front for a room full of pill-poppin' lit majors desperate for work.

I loved the whole episode, but here are a few favorite moments:

Lisa breaking the news to Marge about Betty Crocker: My own mom still insists that Betty Crocker is not an invention of "Twenties-era ad men," but a real person.

"Follow that dinosaur!" Homer's response to this request from Lisa is "I've waited my whole life to hear that!" Haven't we all, Homer. Haven't we all.

Lenny turning down the offer to join the writing team: Homer and Bart go to Moe's bar to recruit Lenny, who can't join because he's "just adopted a Capuchin monkey and can't leave it alone during the bonding phase." I cannot wait to use this excuse.

The vampire genre has been sucked dry. Some of the titles on the library shelves during the team meeting: Vampire Cheerleaders, Southern Vampires, Vampire Frankensteins, Vampirates, Vampire Babysitters, Vampire Princesses.

Everything Neil Gaiman: Bart makes it clear from the beginning that Neil Gaiman's job is "to get lunch, and lose the British accent." Neil gets defensive later about his contribution to the book and points out, "That tuna didn't salad itself!" British Fonzie is right.

"After just two more games of online Boggle, I'll be ready to start writing." While Homer and Bart's team is busy finishing The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy, Lisa is organizing her CD collection, building a tower of pencils, cleaning windows, visiting a book fair, and watching cat videos. In other words, BEHAVING EXACTLY LIKE A REAL WRITER.

So, what did you think of the episode, and what were your favorite parts? I'll enjoy reading your comments while I sip this Mai Tai.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cover Reveal & Giveaway: So Happy I'm Flinging Poo

...And that's even more fun than it sounds.

A couple weeks ago I got to see the cover art for my midgrade novel CHAINED, which comes out next May, and I've been dying to share it with everyone. I mean really, everyone. I had to stop myself from running up to strangers at the gas station to show them the picture on my phone.

I was not-so-patiently waiting for word from the publisher that I could go ahead and show the cover, and then I got home Tuesday afternoon to find these guys on the front porch:

Well, hello there
Aren't they gorgeous? Until those advance copies arrived I didn't know what the tagline on the cover would be; if you can't see it in the picture, it reads "Deep in the jungle, a young elephant keeper plots an escape from a dangerous circus."

Here's a picture of the cover art itself--this is from before the tagline was added, but it shows the colors more clearly:

I might have hugged it a few times. The awesome people at MacMillan asked the super-talented Chris Sheban to do the cover illustration. When I first saw the many rough sketches Chris sent of his ideas for the cover, I knew I'd be thrilled with the result.

And here's the back!

Nice close-up of the elephant's sweet face. And the tagline there looked familiar--back when I was querying agents, the book description in the query letter ended with "...the two friends discover the bond that links them together is stronger than any shackle, lock, or chain."

Now for even more fun stuff. Before I had a cover, I made some business card bookmarks using card stock made from elephant poop.

Who knew elephant poop could be so adorable? And if you get some of these bookmarks and your friends don't believe you when you tell them what they're made of, well there it is, labeled on the back:

And as soon as I got the cover art I ordered some stickers and miniature business cards from Moo:

The Moo cards are about half the size of a business card & make cute little bookmarks

Also I made bookplates on Office Depot's website by uploading the book cover to one side of a blank mailing label:

Here's where I totally steal an idea from Sarah Prineas, because I loved the contest she did for Anne Nesbet's CABINET OF EARTHS cover reveal. So, if you'd like to win some of the stuff I've shown here, plus a a blank journal made of elephant poop paper or an advance copy of CHAINED, leave a comment and mention a page number from 3 to 242; I'll reply with a line from that page of the book. Include your email address too so I can notify you if you win. When the contest ends next Thursday, I'll randomly pick two winners. (U.S. addresses only).

Here's package 1, with two of the handmade elephant poop bookmarks, one elephant poop bookmark from Rainbow Gifts, three signed bookplates, two cover art stickers, two Moo cards, and a blank journal made of elephant poop paper from

The paper in the blank journal is a little rough for writing on (must be all that hay), but I think it'd make a great scrapbook. The silver square on the front is a metal elephant medallion. The handmade bookmarks might be different colors than those pictured here, but I have a wide variety of card stock, so I can probably make some using your favorite colors.

And pack 2, with one of the Rainbow Gifts bookmarks, three of the handmade bookmarks, two Moo cards, three signed bookplates, two cover art stickers, and a signed ARC of CHAINED:

Quick rules for entering again: leave a page number from 3-242 in the comments. Contest ends Thursday, November 3rd at 11:59 PM.

Good luck! Hope you all love the cover as much as I do.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Use Twitter In A Way That Won't Get You Kicked in the Face

Earlier this year I posted a Twitter tutorial on the Will Write For Cake blog, so some of what's here is a reposting of that information, but there are updates and additions here too. I shall not rest until all those who use Twitter in annoying ways repent!

Is that too lofty a goal? Ok, if I can just save one person from tweeting incessantly about their own book...

First I'll start out with how to start using Twitter if you're not even on yet, or if you're on but are still flailing around, unsure of what to do. If you've already been using Twitter and feel comfortable with it, you can skip ahead. It's ok, I won't be offended. Catch you on the flip side.

If you don’t have an account yet, go to and click the yellow “Sign Up” button. Fill out the form on the next page. You can choose whatever user name you want as long as it isn’t too long (over 20 characters) and isn’t taken, but it’s best to choose something close to your real name (or the name you use as a writer), so people will recognize you. Sure, I could use my stripper name @BubblesSunnyleather, but since most people I interact with are book people, I want to use my writer name.

Kristen Lamb has written about the importance of using your own name, like in this post; bookmark the blog while you're at it so you can go back and read everything else there later.

It’s okay to use an underscore mark, like JimBob_Writer, but don’t use any other special characters or spaces. (Some people don't like names with underscores, though, since it takes more effort to type in if they're tweeting from their phones). Twitter will walk you through a set up for selecting some followers and writing you bio. Fill in a short bio and upload a small picture. Having a bio and a picture lets people know you’re a real person they might like to follow. To edit your profile later, click your user name at the top of the page, then “Settings,” then “Profile.”

Once you have your account, you can start tweeting by typing something (up to 140 characters) in the box at the top of the page, then click “Tweet” to send it. This will show up on your followers’ pages, and anyone who visits your profile will be able to see your tweets. This is kind of like a status update on Facebook--let your followers know what you’re doing, mention a book you just read, ask a question, etc.

Retweets (RTs)
Retweeting is a way to copy what someone else said while still giving credit for it. If you see a tweet that’s funny or interesting, you may want to retweet it for your followers or for anyone who didn’t see it before. Suppose my imaginary friend @HoustonAuthor tweeted this:

Just got a 6-figure book deal! And Disney bought the movie rights! Yay!

So I want to share the good news with my followers who may not know @HoustonAuthor yet, or with those who missed it when this was tweeted hours ago. I could do this automatically by clicking the “Retweet” button just below the tweet:

That will copy the exact tweet from @HoustonAuthor, but with the RT symbol and my user name:  by LynneKelly to let my followers know this is something I've retweeted.

Or I might want to add something to it. In that case, I'll copy and paste the tweet by hand, then type my own message and an “RT” before @HoustonAuthor’s name. Then my tweet would look like this:

So now I’ve added my congratulations, and my followers know that everything after the RT refers to what @HoustonAuthor said. Also, they’ll be able to click on @HoustonAuthor’s name to see her Twitter feed if they’d like to.

An @reply is a way of saying something to a specific person, although it isn’t private. People who follow both you and the person you’re talking to will see it, as will anyone who visits your page. You can @reply someone by:
- typing @ in front of their user name
- clicking "reply" on one of their tweets
- selecting "Mention" from the tool icon in their profile

Example: @MyPretendDog You’re not sleeping on the bed, are you?

Because @ is the first character there, only people who follow both me and @mypretenddog will see that on their home pages. If I start with any other character, all my followers can see it:

.@MyPretendDog is the best dog ever.

I sure hope @MyPretendDog isn’t chewing on the couch.

Any of my followers can see that, because I didn’t start with the @. And @MyPretendDog will notice it when she checks her replies.

So don't do something like this:

@MyPretendDog is awesome and you should all follow her!

'Cause who's going to see that? People already following you and @MyPretendDog, because I started with the @. Put some other character in front of the @, or put the @username later in the sentence.

I could do this too as a way of passing along @HoustonAuthor’s good news. Instead of RTing her book deal tweet, I could write:

Congratulations to @HoustonAuthor on her awesome new book deal!

Interacting with other people is the best part of Twitter, so you want to know if people are talking to you or about you so you can reply back. You don’t want to ignore people, do you?
 At the top of the page is this bar:

By clicking on the “@Mentions” tab, you’ll see the tweets of people who mentioned you. [Update: the "Mentions" tab is not called "@Connect," but it works the same way.] When @MyPretendDog checks her replies, she’ll see the tweets that include her user name, like this one:

I sure hope @MyPretendDog isn’t chewing on the couch.

Then @MyPretendDog will probably want to answer me back:

Even if I’m not on Twitter at the moment to see it on my main page, I’ll see it whenever I check my replies. But remember, it’s not private--anyone following both of us can see that conversation. Suppose I had a cat who followed @MyPretendDog and me. @ThePretendCat noticed our conversation, and tweeted this:

@LynneKelly Hey, @MyPretendDog is sleeping on your bed. Shall I bite her for you?

Both @MyPretendDog and I will see that on our pages and under our Mentions tab, since both our user names are there.

I see quite a few Twitter feeds of people who never interact with anyone. That's ignoring the "social" part of "social media." Would you stand around at a cocktail party just talking about yourself, while ignoring people who are talking to you? No. So don't be a pinhead by doing it on Twitter.

Check your retweets now and then too--if people RT you automatically by just clicking the “Retweet” button under your tweet, you may not see that in your replies. It’s good to thank people who’ve shared one of your tweets, and checking your RTs will show you who’s done that. Click the “Retweets” tab, then “Your tweets, retweeted."

That will bring up a list of your tweets that someone else RTed. Click on the arrow on the right side of the tweet to see who RTed that. Then you can click on each of their names and send them a message if you want. @HoustonAuthor may write something like:

Thanks for the RTs about the book deal! @LynneKelly @Mydog @OtherHoustonAuthor

But what if you want to say something to a person but don’t want the whole world to see it? That’s when you use the direct message, or DM.
Again, there’s more than one way to do this. You can type by hand:

But it’s easier to click the “Message” tab on a follower’s profile:

Once you're on your Messages page, click “New Message.” Type who you want to send a DM to, then type your message in the window.

More and more lately I'm seeing people use DMs to thank people for following them, often with a link to their website or Facebook fan page. Usually it's an automatic thing they've set up to send a message to new followers. I don't know anyone who isn't annoyed by that. Don't do it.

On your Twitter page you’ll see the tweets of people you’re following. Now you know how to tweet, RT, DM, and reply, but if you’re not following anyone your page will be blank. So how do you get followers, and who do you follow? 
If you know someone’s user name, you can go to their profile by adding it to the Twitter address in the address bar, like this: From there you'll click on the green "Follow" button.

For suggestions, click the “Who to Follow” tab at the top of the page. Twitter will suggest people you might like to follow, based on who you’ve followed so far. There will also be a “Who to Follow” section on the side of your page that Twitter will update with suggestions. You can also search for someone by typing a name in the search box at the top of the page.

Another good way to find people is by checking out others’ “Following” and “Followers” lists. Find out who they like to follow and who’s following them. Once you follow someone, they may decide to follow you back. You'll do the same for your new followers--check your list now and then and see if you'd like to follow back the people who are following you. If you're not interested in following them back, you don't have to do anything, but if they're so creepy you don't even want them following you, hit "Block."

For an easy way to find editors and agents to follow, go to my profile at then click "Lists," and select the Editors-Agents list. You'll see the recent tweets from the people on that list, but on the right side of the page, click "Following" to see everyone I've added to it. (A lot of other writers or publishing people you will have similar lists.) Then check who those people are following--you'll find more people you want to follow.

It's not okay to pitch your novel or query an agent or editor via Twitter, but following them is a great way to find out what's going on in the publishing industry and with their own work; they might tweet "Finally getting to my January queries" or "I wish someone would send me a good mermaid erotica manuscript," for example. And if an agent tweets, "If I get one more manuscript about woodland creatures or wizards I'm going to throw my computer out the window," then you know to send your novel about a squirrel who goes to wizard school to someone else. Of course they also tweet about things that aren't work-related, like what's going on with their kids or pets or where they like to shop. They start to seem like real people, almost.

Look for businesses you like and follow them, too--they may tweet about specials or coupons, and a lot of companies are using Twitter as one more way to provide customer service. Check out the feeds of or Zappo's, for example. Notice how often they're responding to customers. They're watching for people who mention them, offering help to those who complain and saying thanks to those who compliment them.

You don’t have to use lists, but they’re a good way to organize your followers, especially if you’re following a lot of people. When you’re on someone’s page, click on the little arrow button to add them to a list you’ve made:

That way, you can quickly check the tweets only of the people on a certain list, like "My favorite funny people,” "Authors I like," "Friends from prison," or whatever you want to make a list for. Click on a list to weed out everybody else on the page. For more about using lists, see "How to Follow a Buttload of People If You Want to."

By typing a hashtag (#) in front of a word or phrase, people can click on that word or phrase to follow a conversation about that topic, or see what others are saying about it. Good examples are the Tuesday evening #kidlitchat and Wednesday evening #YAlitchat. People interested in children’s and young adult literature discuss that night’s topic by adding #kidlitchat or #YAlitchat to their tweets. When you click on a hashtag like #kidlitchat, a page comes up showing all the tweets with that hashtag, whether you’re following the participants or not. Even if you can’t participate in real-time, you can bring it up later to read the conversation. Either click on the hashtag in someone’s tweet or type it in the search box at the top of the page.

A popular hashtag on Fridays is #FF, for "Follow Friday," used for suggesting other users to follow. Check out the follow recommendations from people you like following, and you may find some new ones to add to your follow list.

Under "trending topics" on the right side of your home page, Twitter lists the popular topics people are talking about, and those are often hashtag phrases.

A Bit About Marketing
There were some questions about using Twitter to market yourself, but really, the best way to market yourself is to NOT actively market yourself, if that makes sense. Or at least not to look like you are. It's not interesting to follow people who tweet about their own book (or themselves in general) over and over.

Back to the cocktail party example: If someone were standing around saying, "Visit my website. Check out my book. I wrote a book; here's where you can find it. Hi, have you seen my website? Check out my book," would you be interested in looking for their book? No, you'd be interested in stabbing them with an olive fork. So don't do that on Twitter. It's a way to get quickly unfollowed and possibly reported for spam, if you're sending unsolicited @replies to people to tell them about your book.

Users who have a lot of followers are those who interact with others and are funny, helpful, supportive, entertaining, or otherwise interesting. For users who tweet about all kinds of stuff and interact with their followers, I celebrate with them when they tweet, "Hey, I just got a book deal!" because I feel like I already know them. And I'll probably look for that book when it comes out. I'll give a couple popular authors on Twitter as examples (please share your favorites in the comments--there are so many great authors on Twitter.

Look how many followers Maureen Johnson has. She didn't get many by talking about her books. Notice how many of her tweets show her interacting with those followers. (When she has a phrase in quotes with someone's user name, that's her way of RTing a question or comment to her, then she'll type her answer after that.) Whenever she does mention a new release or other good news about her books, it doesn't bother anyone because that's not what her twitter feed is about. It's about her being herself and having fun talking to people about whatever's going on with her (or her weird neighbors). I'm not saying you have to tweet as much as she does--she's obviously a vampire who needs no sleep, or she has a well-trained army of monkeys to do her work for her. Tweet as little or as much as you're comfortable with, but remember to be yourself and get to know people.

Libba Bray is another great example of a funny/interesting/nice/wacky person to follow. You'll notice she too has a good balance of tweets, retweets, and replies in her feed. (She'd probably say that she's not well-balanced otherwise.)

Follow Cynthia Leitich Smith because she knows everyone and everything. Great links to author/agent/editor interviews and articles about the publishing industry, and she's super-supportive of other authors.

The Writer's Digest article listed below goes more in depth into social networking and book sales.

You can do everything on Twitter straight from the web page, but there are applications you can download to make it easier to organize and follow. Tweetdeck, for example (downloaded from organizes your lists, replies, and hashtags you’re following into columns, automatically shortens web page addresses, and makes it easy to add pictures to your tweets.

See these excellent articles for more information:

Nathan Bransford's post about how to use Twitter
Twitter Tips For Writers
Mom, This Is How Twitter Works (Not Just For Moms!)
Don't Tweet That: How Not To Be A Twitter Dork (includes easy fixes)
Jay Kristoff's Ten Reasons You Can Follow THIS

Still have questions? Send me an @reply on Twitter. Like this:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Organization For the Organizationally-Challenged

If you're like me and have the opposite of whatever OCD is, you'll want to check out Bookavore's five-part series from last week about getting organized; it's helped me
a lot already, and the advice is so simple, people who are naturally organized will wonder why we weren't doing this all along.

I don't know, we just weren't. We don't have answers for such things. Now go alphabetize your spice rack.

It boils down to writing everything down. I've always been someone who writes a to-do list and then loses the list, but I have been better about that this year after getting a cute little notebook specifically for to-do lists. Actually, I got a couple of things at the beginning of the year that helped me get better organized:

Aren't they pretty? I found both of those Moleskines at a Barnes & Noble several months ago, 75% off because it was February already.

The colorful book-looking thing has a planner for each month:

These I've been using to keep track of information I'll need at tax time. In years past I'd start out really well, updating an Excel document each day, but by February I quit doing it, then end up the following April trying to re-create last year's life by going through my entire calendar. Since I don't work in the same place every day and I pimp myself out to contract with about five different places, that gets messy. Now, at the end of each day I jot down where I went, anything I donated, and anything I bought or paid for that's tax-deductible:

The small green book is what I started using for to-do lists; it's meant to be a daily planner so there's a page for each day:

So that worked out okay, but I wasn't writing down everything, and I wasn't specific enough. Some things seemed too small to bother writing down, but then I'd end up holding too many of those little things in my head, and of course I'd forget them. And there's nothing to remind me of the stuff I do write down, so if I'm not looking at the list it's easy to let things slide. It's just too much for the hamsters who run on wheels in my brain to keep up with.

Now, using the program Remember the Milk, I have tabs for different lists, like "Personal," "Work," "Writing," "Blog posts," etc. I fill in the things I need to do under each list. Whereas before I would write a note to myself to "Catch up on Apocalypsies stuff," I now have specific tasks under an "Apocalypsies business" tab:

Much more specific than "catching up on stuff."

For things I need to do every day but tend to forget about, like "take vitamins," I set those up as a recurring task. As soon as I check it off as "Complete" for today, the program adds it as a new task for tomorrow. You probably don't have to write down routine things like "eat lunch," or "put on pants," but do what you need to do. I won't pretend I haven't flaked out and forgotten to go to work once or four times, so no judgement here.

You can set up reminders about tasks that are due. Just this morning I got an email from a nice employer saying, "Hey, do you want to send in your time sheet, so we can pay you?" Yikes, I usually think about that during the week and put a sticky note on the computer screen to remind myself to do that. So now it's set up as a weekly task on Remember the Milk, and I'll get an email every Sunday as a reminder. I can access my lists from my computer or my phone, so I can always add a task when I think of it and check of completed tasks even if I'm away from home.

Unfinished tasks that are overdue are underlined on the list. A new version of the program might include a rabid squirrel that shows up at your house and bites you until you complete all of your tasks. But for now, the stern disapproval of the underlining will have to do.

Even though I do like writing things down, storing things on the computer helps me keep track of everything-- address book on a Google doc, daily schedule on Google calendar, for example, and now the to-do lists. I'm sure there are other good online programs or apps for planning and organization, and you do a lot with a smart phone calendar too. Recovering messy people, what have you found that helps you keep it all together?

Okay, now I can check "Do blog post about organization" off the list. Next task: Find pants.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That's What (S)he said: Weekly Round-Up

I didn't get around to posting a weekly round-up last weekend, because I was out doing some awesome things. In real life! Away from the computer! I know, it's weird. I thought my skin would burst into flames from the shock of the sunlight hitting it.

I was hanging out with this little guy:

And on Saturday I went to the Brazos Writers workshop on "The Art and Science of Investigation." How often have you been at a workshop and said, "No, keep talking! Lunch will wait!" Never, right? Four speakers, and I could've listened to each one all day long. Do forensic entomologists have groupies? 'Cause that might be my new hobby. And I was inspired to try my hand at forensic artistry in the creation of the shot-up nutria picture shown in my invasive species post. (It would be inappropriate to show his "morgue photo," you know.) Seriously, I think I missed my calling.

Back in computerland, here are some favorite things from this week:

Bookavore posted a fabulous five-part series about organization for the disorganized-- really simple, easy-to-follow stuff. Here's part one about how the plan got started, and you'll want to follow through with the whole series. It's helped me a lot already, and my brain is made of hamsters running on those squeaky metal wheels, so it's hard for me to keep track of stuff. I'll do a post next week about things that have helped me be better organized. (And yes, that task is on my list!)

For some great advice about how to promote yourself without being an annoying jerk, see these posts by Nathan Bransford and Livia Blackburne.

Need some motivation to get off the couch and start exercising? How about adding zombies to your run?

This is the largest audience these musicians have had. Who cares that they're cows, just look at how rapt with attention they are:

But is there anything cuter than an orphaned baby elephant wearing a raincoat?

Speaking of elephants, here's an update on my Elephants: The New Vampires post. Look what was waiting on my front porch for me when I got home from work on Tuesday, from Susan The Lovely Assistant Editor:

Isn't it pretty? It's such a fun read, too. How can you not love a book about a boy who's raised by an elephant?

And I saw a newly-released elephant picture book I didn't know about before:

Wendy Henrichs' WHEN ANJU LOVED BEING AN ELEPHANT (Sleeping Bear Press) is about an elephant who's taken from the wild in Sumatra and sold to a circus, then a zoo. Now she's riding on a truck to someplace new, after fifty years of captivity. And I love the name-- CHAINED has a backstory about a circus elephant named Anju!

Writerly types, be sure stop by the Read For Relief auction if you haven't yet. Lots of items like critiques from authors, editors, and agents, signed books, and other fun things up for bid to benefit The Red Cross. Bidding on items posted on Friday will end Sunday, and new items will be announced on Monday.

Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Invasive Animals That Most Deserve a Punch In the Face

Last week I wrote a little about a new law to help deal with the feral hog problem in Texas. But there are plenty of other invasive species running around like unruly leash kids who've broken free of their harnesses. Here are just a few that are especially annoying:

1. Nutria
Nutria are huge rodents from South America that have invaded wetlands in the U.S. and eaten all the plants in sight.

Here's what a nutria looks like, in case you haven't had the pleasure of meeting one:

Hey, you gonna eat that?
With their voracious appetites, rat-like tails, and sharp Cheetos-like teeth, they're like beavers, only hideous-looking and jobless.

One day my brother Mike and his family came home to see their dog in a fight with a nutria. They tried to pull their dog away, but the nutria kept running after it again. They hadn't seen one before and didn't know what it was, but my nephew Luke said, "Hey, that's a nutria! It's an invasive species from South America!" Then he ran and got his science textbook to show his parents a picture. My brother had a less academic approach--he ran to his car, drove up to the canine/giant rodent smackdown, "took steady aim at the teeth that shone like beacons of evil, or Cheetos," and shot the nutria twice in the head. (Do not try this at home. Unless you're a really, really good shot.) He didn't get a picture, because it was "shot in the head and kinda bug-eyed lookin' when it was all over," but here's a crappy artist's* rendering:

It's just a flesh wound! Get back here! I'll bite your leg off!
So in this case, the animal did get a punch in the face, but it was with a couple of .40 caliber bullets instead of a fist.

*"crappy artist" = me

2. Snakehead fish
Thanks a pantload, Evolution
...and any other fish who eats everything in a lake, then gets out and walks to another lake to eat everything over there. Look, you guys need to slow it down a bit. If there's nothing good in the fridge, I don't run around pillaging my neighbor's kitchens. They hate that. I know someone released you in a strange lake, but just hang out, pace yourself, and stay in the water like the fish you're supposed to be. Yeah, we're impressed--you can walk. Very cool. Now give it a rest and quit showing off.

3. The brown tree snake of Guam

This is a snake that probably hitched a ride on a plane from Australia back in the 1940s, on a flight that unfortunately didn't have Samuel L. Jackson as a passenger.

About every three days there's a power outage somewhere on Guam, caused by snakes who thought it might be fun to play with electrical wires. Thankfully they aren't highly venomous, but their bites do cause a lot of ER visits.

Before the brown tree snake barged in, the only other snake on Guam was the blind snake. You know what it eats? Termites. Which makes the blind snake really cool.

Not so cool: ridding the island of birds and small mammals. The birds of Guam weren't used to predators, so didn't know they should fly away from something with sharp teeth opening its mouth
to eat them. They were just sitting there, minding their own business on a branch next to the newly-arrived brown tree snake, saying, "Oh, hi, I don't think we've met. Um, why am I in your mouth?" You'd think the next birds would've flown away then, but no, they just looked into the snake's mouth going, "Hey, where'd our friend go? Can we play?"

And I get it--when you're at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you want to get your money's worth. But you know what happens when you eat all the birds, Brownie? ALL THE BIRDS ARE EATEN. Kind of screwed yourself over there, didn't you? Enjoy the lizards, jerk.

I don't need to put in a disclaimer, do I? Then again, we need warnings on lawn mowers so people will know not to trim their hedges with them. Sigh. Okay, then.

People: It's not the animals' fault that they're in the wrong place. They're just doing what they know, after being plunked in a ridiculously inconvenient place. DO NOT GO AROUND PUNCHING ANIMALS IN THE FACE. It's not nice, and some of them are bitey.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see what my neighbors have in the pantry. I've run out of Cheetos.

Friday, September 9, 2011

5 Lessons From Toddlers & Tiaras

Toddlers and Tiaras is one of those shows I watch that simultaneously horrifies and fascinates me. I'm cringing the whole time, but I can't look away.

You can learn a lot by watching the show, and I'm talking about more than the creative spellings of the name Michaela. (Mikayla, Makayla, Micaylah, Mikaila, Mukayluh, Mikado, etc.) It's the pageant version of Gaddafi.

Mostly what I've learned has to do with how much I got wrong as a parent. I thought I did all right, but I had no idea what I was doing. So, as a service to you all, here are just a few of the lessons I've learned:

1. If your child is sleepy, give her Pixy Sticks and energy drinks.

And there was the six-year-old who drank Red Bull from a bottomless sippy cup. They bleeped out the brand name, but it was clear what she was saying:

"I want my Red Bull!"

"I'm on my fifth Red Bull!"

"Where'd all those spiders come from?!"

So, they're learning early that if you need a pick-me-up, grab a drink or a white powdery substance. This can't possibly turn out badly.

2. Children cry and throw themselves to the floor to show enjoyment.

Pageant detractors complain that parents are living vicariously through their children, and that the way they're raising their kids is borderline abusive. But over and over again we hear the parents argue, "We're doing this for her" and "She loves pageants."

Witness the joy:

3. Dress as a prostitute to be rewarded with jewelry and money.

I don't mean that they're just wearing skimpy outfits; I mean a contestant on this week's episode was dressed as Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman. You know, when she played a hooker. I wish I were making this up.

And it worked. This contestant went on to win the Grand Supreme title. Even more disturbing was her trophy for "Most likely to shack up with Richard Gere."

Say it with me, kids: "Big mistake. Huge."

4. I know nothing about investing.

Pageants give cash prizes! $1,000 sometimes! Yes, the dresses cost a few thousand, and there are coaches, entry fees, hair extensions, makeup artists, hairdressers, and custom made "flippers" to hide the hideous gaps created when kids dare to lose their baby teeth, but if it all comes together in a glittery harmonic convergence and your child wins the pageant, it was all worth it.

5. Babies should be tan.

Just look at this picture from when my daughter was a toddler:

I'm sorry, I should have warned you how terrifying that would be. I mean, look how pale she is. And that outfit does nothing for her figure. But I didn't know any better. I never took her to a tanning salon. It was a long time ago, and I feel comfortable telling you people now.

Here's what I should have been doing:

It's too late for me, but I speak out now to save the spray tans of the future. If I can save just one toddler from walking around with embarrassingly pasty-white skin, then my journey here has meant something.

And if my time here has been worthless, I have my Pixy Sticks and Red Bull to keep me company.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Collective Nouns That Aren't Real But Should Be

You've probably heard of a murder of crows and a pod of whales, but maybe you didn't know about a huddle of penguins or a congress of baboons. And unless you were playing along with #collectivenouns this week on Twitter, there are even more obscure group names you didn't know. Here's a recap with some favorites:

You might call them a "herd of hippos," but that's wrong:

In the wild you might see a "colony of rabbits," but under your couch...

There were some literary submissions:

And speaking of homonyms:

Writing is a lonely profession, but if you find yourself in a group:

And here are the group names for a few other professions (including one of my own contributions):

There were a couple of squees:

And of course zombie groups:

There were a lot more, of course, but it's still not an exhaustive list. What are some of your favorite collective nouns-- real or made up?

"An unproductivity of people who sit around thinking of collective nouns," for example.