Social, Civil, and Savvy: a new non-fiction book

So I’ve been working very hard, and I’ve dropped a few hints, and I’m finally ready to reveal it: I have a new training and behavior book coming out soon!

(Animal training and behavior is my day job, when I’m not letting my imaginary friends irritate each other for fun and profit.) Continue reading

Why We Train, a sort of guest post

Today’s post is shared from my training and behavior blog. It references a previous post here — I love it when my jobs work together — and so I thought I’d share it here.

We’ve posted several times on training for when life catches you off-guard, like when you forget to put the meat in the fridge instead of on the floor. I had one of those moments today.

Over the weekend I was offered a big mirror, salvaged from a dressing room in the type of expensive store where I don’t usually find myself. I took it, because I didn’t have a full-length mirror, and put it behind my bedroom door. It didn’t have hanging brackets yet, but it was pretty secure in its place and I figured I’d get brackets this week. The dogs had seen it, knew it wasn’t a window to a new playmate, and generally they ignored it behind the door.

Until today, when the bedroom door was closed, exposing the mirror, and for some reason Undómiel decided to desultorily paw it — just once, and not particularly strongly. I saw and called her, but it was already moving. What followed was one of the longest seconds of my life, as the mirror tipped forward over my puppy who was looking back at me and couldn’t see it coming. I was on the opposite side of the room on the bed, with my feet up and a computer on my lap, and there was no possible way for me to intervene in time. Continue reading

Goodbye to Mindy

This entry is part 3 of 16 in the series GDB & Route 66

sign: "Guide Dogs for the Blind National Headquarters"Today was the day. I delivered Mindy to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Mindy had done several kennel stays locally in the last two months, where I paid for extra playtime and stuffed Kongs and all the good things that would make her love staying in kennels, and indeed she was excited to enter the kennel lobby and trotted happily away with staff without ever looking back. This was important to me because I didn’t want her worrying about being left at GDB.

black Labrador Mindy smiling at camera

Just before turn-in.

It worked: today she sat for the GDB kennel worker to put on her leash, and then she went straight away with her, walking nicely, ears and tail up, sitting on cue. It was about as painless and stress-free as possible for her. (Me? I was doing fine until the GPS countdown hit single digits. Not gonna lie, I cried. But to be fair, I did more prep work for Mindy.) Continue reading

Amtrak Cascades & The Empire Builder

Red road sign: "Warning: vultures may cause damage to vehicles."

This photo has nothing to do with this particular trip — it was taken on New Year’s Day at Lake Monroe, IN — but I couldn’t not share it.

My gift to myself for surviving December and January was to take the Empire Builder back home from Portland.

January was a crazy month: I taught workshops in Michigan and New Jersey. While in Michigan, I was rear-ended at a stop light during a hard snow, and my car had to be towed. (It’s fine now.) Then I flew to Portland to speak at Clicker Expo, a training and behavior conference (and one of my favorite times of year). There my brand-new computer decided to overturn its discouragingly predictable existence by freezing up and dying during my presentation. Twice.

So I was glad I’d planned ahead and booked the Empire Builder home. The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s premier passenger line, a run all the way to Chicago. I had a sleeping compartment, one of the small roomettes. Continue reading

Mowing and Murder

A swath of wildflowers between a pond and old barn.

I left most of the wildflowers for butterflies and other pollinators.

Mowing is pretty boring, and I have a lot to mow. So sometimes I think about stories while I spend hours on the mower.

I’m also a sucker for the wildlife on my property. So my mowing/plotting sessions go a lot like this:

So what if she opens the door and finds a body? Maybe he’s been dead for a long — Move, little snake! Get away from the mower! — okay, so anyway, he was probably tortured before — hang on, lemme wait for this vole to get clear — so, tortured, and so there’s this traumatic issue with everything she imagines — oh, are you butterflies using these wildflowers? I guess they don’t have to be cut, after all.

I’ve heard some people say they’re disturbed by things written by people they know, like they can’t believe someone they know could imagine such things. But writing violence or horror doesn’t really predict violent or horrible behavior. I’ll eviscerate a fictional character, but when I saw a rabbit running into the field I was mowing instead of away from it, I deduced a nest of bunnies hidden somewhere and didn’t mow there for another two weeks. Most writers I know are like that — ruthless in fiction, but in reality such softies. Continue reading

Recap: Retreat, When Words Collide, Gen Con!

a hawk feather lying in the grassSo you might have noticed I’ve been off the blog. I was doing writerly things, I promise! (Well, most of the time.) In short, I signed up back-to-back for a writers retreat, the When Words Collide literary festival, and Gen Con. Continue reading

I’m Back

Sorry for the quiet around here.

Laura and new Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy

Laura and new Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy

It started when I was blindsided earlier this month, and I kind of lost the Muse for a while. Then I went to speak at ClickerExpo, which is really fantastically awesome but kind of required all my energy. And then, I brought someone home from ClickerExpo with me.

So I’m recovering and I have good writing and editing ideas again, but I’m dividing attention and priorities, because this is some really important work and it’s not just for one team but a whole project. And she’s distracting, especially during this critical development period which I really need to take behavioral advantage of.

If you want to follow her adventures and career, you can join us over at my behavior blog. But never fear, I am working again over here. Even got a draft of Con Job done and revisions in progress on a fantasy novella. More to come!

A Behaviorial Look at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

photo by clickthing.blogspot.com/2008/10/tennish-anyone.html

So right now a lot of writing friends and I are stocking up on coffee, candy, and Prozac, building our bunkers for National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo). Only I don’t like coffee, so I make up for it with chocolate. To each her own.

NaNoWriMo is a blitz to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. (Of course, no, one isn’t writing a publishable book in 30 days, nor is 50,000 words a complete novel in nearly any genre. But that’s not exactly the point, either, so work with us here.)

Considering that at my sugar-and-caffeine-induced perfect zone, I peak at about 1000 words per hour, and that’s not really sustainable — I know a lot of professionals who are quite pleased with 250 words per hour — and considering that normal life doesn’t actually suspend for most of us, you can see the challenge here. So motivation and discipline are big concepts for the NaNo community.

There are lots of ways NaNo writers motivate themselves, but it boils down to several commonly-used terms — small incentives, big incentives, anti-incentives, and rituals.

Let’s look at them from a professional behavior perspective. Continue reading

Alpha Males & Fiction

English: Samson, alpha male (leader) gorilla i...

Samson, alpha male gorilla in Givskud Zoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had an interesting Twitter conversation a while back when World Weaver Press tweeted a link to an article about hot alpha males (“dangerous,” “possessive,” “dominating,” etc.) in paranormal romance. Being a total behavior nerd, I replied that most of these “alpha males” were actually displaying lower-ranking behavior – real alphas don’t posture, act aggressive or defensive, etc. — and we chatted briefly about the implications for fiction and PNR in particular.

Don’t confuse the “alpha male” and the “bad boy.” They’re different things. It’s a common myth, the posturing alpha male, but it’s a myth. Simply put, if you’ve got it, you don’t have to flaunt it. Only those worried about their position waste time, energy, and other resources in reminding others of their position. Continue reading

Writing emotions. No, not ABOUT emotions.

The problem with writing is that it’s wholly subjective. Qualitative. No hard data.

ClickStats, my clicker-training data-keeping app

ClickStats, my clicker-training data-keeping app

Where we can do quantitative analysis, we can make reasonable judgments even when our emotions aren’t in alignment. “I felt great about this today, but we actually had only a 70% success rate.” Or, “Oh, man, today has been a total downer and I hated this session, but we nailed it with a 90% success ratio.”

That’s very nice for behavior analysis and free throws. Not so useful with writing.
Continue reading