Doggie DNA

Molly with the letter DMy A-to-Z agenda shows it’s Willy-nilly Wednesday and the letter is D, so I figure everyone who’s previously visited my blog is betting I’m going to post about Dogs.  Wrong!  I’m posting about DNA.  Well… it’s actually about doggie DNA, so I guess you were right after all.  Your prize?  Adorable pictures of dogs!  And that’s not all… if you keep reading until the end, you have a chance to win an actual physical prize!

Each member of my family ‘owns’ a dog that was adopted from a shelter, so we have no idea what breeds make up their mutt-y cuteness (except for Lily – hers is kind of obvious).  With my animal-crazed family, this led to some surprisingly heated discussions as we each defended our dog’s dubious heritage.  “My dog’s a tougher breed than yours!”  “Who cares? Mine’s a smarter breed than yours!”  Yep, that’s how we roll.  We don’t actually care about the breeds, since we love them like crazy no matter what, it’s just a fun way to pick at each other.
 
In my wanderings around the interwebs, I discovered there are companies that will test your dog’s DNA to figure out the breeds.  So for Christmas two years ago, I decided that would be a fun gift for everyone and would finally put to rest whose dog is best (mine, of course).  I researched several companies, and some of them required a picture of the dog, which seemed like cheating to me (and we didn’t need to pay someone to guess the dogs’ breeds based on looks since that’s exactly what we were doing).  
 
In the end, Wisdom Panel Canine Genetic Analysis seemed to be the best bet – they had one of the biggest breed databases, didn’t ask for a picture, and broke the results into several categories.  The Significant category meant the dog had at least 50% of that breed, Intermediate meant at least 25%, and Minor meant at least 12.5%.
 
The presents were a huge success – everyone loved them… everyone except the dogs who hated having their inner lips scraped with the little brush-y things for their DNA samples.  They were not amused. 
 
We sent off the samples, and since we had to wait several weeks for the results, we made a game out of it.  Each of us wrote down the breeds we thought made up each of the five dogs, with the winner getting the bragging rights of Awesomest Doggie Breed Guesser Ever.  Now when I sat down to write this post, I fully intended to reveal the breeds of all five dogs.  But then I thought it would be more fun to have you play the breed guessing game, too.  
 
I’ve posted pictures of all five dogs below, and in the comments you can guess the breed(s) for each dog.  I will say that some of the breeds were very surprising, and that no dog had more than three breeds listed.  For the person who guesses the most breeds correctly, I will send him/her a DVD copy of my short film Saying Goodbye when it’s released in a few weeks.  It’s won awards at several film festivals, and you can find out more about it here.  
 
I’ll reveal the actual breeds and the winners next Wednesday (4/11).  Although you won’t increase your chances of winning by spreading the word, I’d really appreciate you letting others know about the contest. *bats eyelashes in a charming and beseeching manner*
 
Now here are the adorable Rish family dogs:
 
1. Bailey belongs to my brother, and she’s nine years old.
Bailey
 
2. Chloe belongs to my mom, and she’s seven years old.
Chloe
 
3. Freya is my dog, and she’s seven years old.
Freya
 
4. Lily belongs to my dad, and she’s eleven years old.
Lily
 
5. Molly belongs to my sister, and she’s eleven years old.
Molly
 
It’s weird that so many of my pictures with the dogs by themselves involve snow, since it hardly ever snows in South Carolina.  Oh, and Chloe didn’t really eat a book, it was a total frame job.  If you want to see the girls in action to get a better look at them, you can watch my ACBDog video.  Then enter your breed guesses for each dog in the comments.
 
Have you ever tried one of the doggie DNA kits?  What are your breed guesses for each dog?  How Delightful is Molly with her letter D?
 

Comma Confusion

Chloe with the letter CMy agenda tells me it’s Tips Tuesday, which means I’ll share a writing tip.  And since today is the letter C, I’m going to talk about commas.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to stir up a heated debate about the Oxford comma (for the record, I’m pro Oxford comma, and they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead, typing fingers).  My comma tip concerns commas and conjunctions.

When critiquing, one of the most common issues I notice is the misuse of the comma before a conjunction.  In many sentences, the comma is needed, but it seems to have gone on vacation.  In other sentences, the comma is not needed, yet it insists on sticking its nose where it’s not wanted.  So how do we remember whether to use a comma in front of a conjunction or not?

When I consulted my friend Google, he gave me tons of links with rules mentioning independent clauses, dependent clauses, compound components, coordinating conjunctions – the types of boring phrases that made me tune out during elementary school grammar lessons.  If you want more technical explanations, you can check out Grammar Girl or university resources.  But when I’m writing/editing, instead of thinking about the whys and wherefores, it boils down to one simple test – can the parts before and after the conjunction stand on their own as separate sentences?

For these types of sentences, I like to think of the comma as a faux period... the substitute period... a placeholder period as the sentence decides to progress some more without a full stop.  

So when I’m writing and come up with a sentence like -
 
The adorable dog ran outside and chased a squirrel up a tree.
 
- I have to decide whether there should be a comma before the ‘and’.  If I think about the potential comma as a period, then I can see it doesn’t make sense to add a comma – ‘chased a squirrel up a tree’ does not stand on its own as a complete sentence.  
 
Now if the sentence were instead - 
 
The adorable dog ran outside, and she chased a squirrel up a tree.
 
- then you do need the comma because it’s two complete thoughts.  If you were to read that comma as a period, then both sentences easily stand on their own.  
 
I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to confuse the issue, but some experts state that from a stylistic standpoint you can omit the comma between two independent clauses if they are both short.  This is a judgment call, but make sure you understand the rule before you break it.  
 
In case you need a refresher, a conjunction is a connecting word, and you can use the mnemonic FANBOYS to remember them:
For 
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So
 
And remember, to decide whether you need a comma in front of one of these FANBOYS words or not, pretend like it would be a period if you put it there.  If both resulting sentences are complete sentences, then add the comma.  If they don’t make complete sentences, then skip the comma.
 
Does this help clear up potential comma confusion?  Do you have any comma tips? How Cute is Chloe with her letter C?

Baran’s the Man (well, not really)

Bailey with the letter BMy handy-dandy agenda tells me today is Movie Monday where I talk about a lesser-known Netflix Watch Instantly movie.  I’m always impressed with how well their recommendation algorithm predicts my movie preferences, but I still gave it the side-eye when it repeatedly recommended Baran.  Although I love reading, and I love movies, I don’t really love reading my movies, so I tend to avoid those with subtitles.  But after I read the description, I was sold:

When 17-year-old Latif (Hossein Abedini) loses his job at a Tehran, Iran, construction site to the illegally hired Afghan Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami), he begins playing cruel pranks on Rahmat. Soon, however, Latif discovers that Rahmat is actually a girl named Baran, and he begins helping shoulder her burden at the construction site. When officials demand that all illegal workers be fired, Latif must choose between safety and social standing, and his young love.

The sappy romantic in me really likes movies where the girl pretends to be a guy and the love interest falls in love with her anyway: Just One of the Guys, Mulan, Yentl, even that silly Amanda Bynes movie She’s the Man.  I think it’s because if a guy who identifies as straight falls in love with you even though he thinks you’re a dude, then he must REALLY love you – at that point it’s not about looks or other superficial things, it’s about truly loving who you are as a person.  Since Baran was available on Watch Instantly and I wouldn’t be “wasting” a DVD on it, I decided to watch.

*mild spoilers in this paragraph* The movie was set and filmed in Iran, so it gave me a window into a world I am woefully ignorant about.  While the conditions were heartbreaking, the cinematography was incredible and showed the beauty present in that harsh land.  The character of Baran never spoke a single word in the film, which helped protect her secret, but was also symbolic of the oppression of 

Baranwomen in that region.  The protagonist Latif starts as a brash, yet fearful boy, and by the end is on his way to becoming a brave and selfless man.  Since it’s not a Hollywood movie, there’s no Hollywood ending, which I admit was very unsatisfying to that previously mentioned romantic who lurks inside me, but it made the movie feel more real.  

Not everything worked – the pace was slow, and some of the acting was problematic – but it was an interesting way to spend an hour and a half.  It’s tough to say whether I’d recommend it or not – I’m glad I watched it, but I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  I appreciated the exposure to a different culture and unimaginable way of life; and as a writer, it was helpful to see storytelling very different from what I usually watch.  So thank you to Netflix for once again steering me in the direction of a movie I never would have picked on my own.

Have you seen Baran?  If so, what did you think?  What movies has Netflix recommended that you enjoyed but never would have picked on your own?  How Beautiful is Bailey with her letter B?

A to Z Agenda

A is for Agenda.
 
Wow, that’s a super exciting way to start my Blogging from A to Z Challenge adventures.  I’m sure it will bring new visitors zipping back to my blog each day absolutely drooling in anticipation.  Okay, how about this instead?
 
A is for Awesome Agenda Allowing Amazing Adventures!1!1!1!
 
Yep, that’s obviously much better.  I know this because it has rainbow colors. 
 
This boring start is no April Fools’ joke; it’s because April 1st is the odd man out – the only Sunday in the bunch – so it doesn’t follow my planned agenda.  But since agenda actually starts with A, it made sense to use this random Sunday to outline my plan of attack.
 
For the past month, I dithered back and forth about whether to go with a theme or not (just one of my many patented procrastination methods).  I was worried about losing focus without a theme, but I worried about getting burned out or bored if I did have one.  So as a compromise, I’ve decided to go with themed days of the week, which will give me both structure and variety.  And since I always love alliteration, I used it to  guide my theme picks.
 
Here’s the plan for the rest of the month:
 
Movie Monday – I’ll talk about the lesser-known movies I've found on Netflix Watch Instantly because of their spookily accurate recommendation ratings.  
 
Tips Tuesday – I’ll share some tips about grammar and writing.
 
Willy-nilly Wednesday – This is my random day to have fun with whatever inspires me.
 
Television Thursday – I’ll wax poetic about television shows I’ve enjoyed.
 
Film Friday – I’ll present a few short films.  And since I’m usually so focused on words, these will be animated films that don’t use a single word of dialog to tell their stories.
 
Short Story Saturday – I’ll write a piece of flash fiction where the genre and other items in the story fit the letter of the day.
 
Now if you saw my ABCDogs video for the A to Z video challenge, you might be wondering how this plan fits with my promise of a daily dose of adorable doggies. Well, the five Rish family dogs graciously agreed (after being bribed with tons of treats) to pose with each letter of the day.  So even if a post ends up being boring (I’m looking at you, A for Agenda), then you’ll still have a cute canine to add a smile to your day.  
 
Freya with the letter A
 
This is my first A to Z challenge, and I’m really excited about this month of insane blogging and meeting new blogger friends.  
 
Do you have a theme or are you going random?  How did you decide?  Any thoughts on my theme days?  How Adorable is Freya with her letter A?   

Tweet Tales Tuesday Week 12

15 Minute Tweet TalesIf you follow the #15tt hashtag on Twitter, you will have noticed I’m not the only one using it now.  Two new Twitter peeps have joined me in this daily writing challenge.  A few Twitter friends have participated in the past when a particular word caught their eye, but Steve (@shyrewode) and Alex (@tomo4242) appear to be making it a habit.  I’m thrilled to have other writers playing along, and their clever tweet tales are fun to read.
 
Here are my 15 Minute Tweet Tales for this past week:
 
3/21 - Mom got that basilisk look on her face, so we scattered to our rooms and prayed Dad got home before she found the belt we’d hidden.
 
3/22 - My dad says I should join the Army to prove my mettle. I think banging his mistress for the past six months substantiates my manhood.
 
3/23 - Her overweening confidence in her looks made guys bypass her for her plainer friends. She ended up a bitter, but beautiful, old maid.
 
3/24 - Mary offered a litany of reasons they were doomed. Jim agreed with every word, but then again when had love ever made a lick of sense? #15tt
 
3/25 – The homely contestant won The Bachelorette’s “heart” in a Garrison finish since the other two men were more interested in each other. #15tt
 
3/26 – He thought he was having a clandestine affair w/ a hot babe. In fact his wife hired the escort so she could watch trashy TV in peace. #15tt
 
3/27 – No one ever paid him any attention, so Stan hired a kid from the high school band to play a tucket as he walked into work on Monday. #15tt
 
Garrison finish was another one of those tough ones because it ate up so many characters, but it’s a fun term I’m happy to add to my vocabulary.
 
Play along and write tweet tales for the above words.  If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them below in the comments because I’d love to read them.  Any thoughts about this week's tweet tales?

ABNA Excitement

Amazon Breakthrough Novel AwardIt seems that ABNA only likes me on even-numbered years, so thank goodness it’s 2012!  If you’re interested, you can read about my roller-caster ride with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in this post.  Suffice it to say, I’ve already passed “third time’s a charm” with this contest.  But it’s a great opportunity for feedback, so I entered again.  

I was especially nervous about the pitch round this year, since I’d modified my old query with some “quirky” changes.  Last month when they announced the writers who were advancing to the next round based on the pitches, I was so relieved and excited to find my name on the list.  It gives me a boost of confidence in the new version of my query.  

Since I’ve been testing out a new “chill” attitude this go round (ha – yeah, right!), I tried not to think about the contest until the next round results were announced.  When the email popped into my inbox on Tuesday saying the results were posted, my stomach danced a fancy little jig despite my determination to stay calm.  So with a trembling hand, I clicked on the list and scrolled down... and there was my name!  Hooray, I’m a quarterfinalist again!  The two reviews from the Vine Reviewers (the judges for this excerpt stage) had some really happy-grin-inducing things to say about my first two chapters.  One even compared it to Christopher Pike, which had me doing backflips.    

Now the wait is on while people from Publishers Weekly read and review the entire novel.  SCARY!  This is where I was cut two years ago, and since I haven’t changed the manuscript, I’m not expecting to progress any further.  But you never know, so I will be biting my fingernails to nubs while I pretend I’m totally calm.  

In the meantime, Amazon has made the excerpts of all the quarterfinalists available for reading, rating, and reviewing.  It’s only the first two chapters of my novel, but if you’ve wanted a sneak peek at what I’m working on, it’s there for you to read.  The ratings and reviews don’t affect the judging or impact the contest in any way, but it’s always nice to hear what people think – what works and what doesn’t work.  

So if you’re interested in reading my excerpt for The Drama Queen Who Cried Wolf (previously known as The Hunt), click here.  ABNA had some ugly formatting issues when they first posted everything.  I think they’ve now fixed everyone’s excerpts, but most of the pitches still have problems (missing paragraph breaks, dashes, and apostrophes), so don’t worry about my Product Description/pitch seeming off – I promise I usually punctuate correctly.  To read the excerpt, you can use a Kindle, or if you don't have one then either use one of the Kindle apps for your computer or phone (which are free downloads) or the Kindle Cloud Reader option which works through you browser.  To download it, click the Buy now with 1-Click button (don’t worry, it’s FREE!)  It will ask which reader option you use, so pick the one you want and start reading.  

Like I mentioned, at this point reviews and ratings don’t help or hurt me, so I’m not launching a campaign begging people to read and review.  I just wanted to let anyone who might be interested know it’s available.  And if you do decide to leave a review – I really appreciate your time and effort!  

Do you have any experience with the ABNA competition?  Do you think you might enter in the future?  Is it okay to look like a silly fool while doing my happy dance?

You are My Sunshine

Sunshine AwardEarlier this week, Kathy Collier passed the Sunshine Award to me.  I met Kathy through the Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign, and I'm honored and thank her very much (although my family would fall off their chairs laughing thinking of me getting something called the Sunshine Award.  Storm Cloud Award?  Much more likely!).

So here are the official rules: 
• Thank the person who gave you the award and provide a link.
• Write a post about it
• Answer the questions below.
• Pass it on to 10 bloggers who you think really deserve it and let them know
 
And my answers are....
 
Favorite color:  Pretty much anything from the “cool” end of the spectrum – greens, blues, purples.  But if I had to nail it down to one, it’d be Duke blue – Let’s go, Devils!
 
Favorite animal: Another toughie, since I’m a bleeding heart for all animals.  If forced to choose, I’d probably say dolphin; but if you’ve spent time on my blog, you also know I loooooove my dogs.
 
Favorite number:  I really don’t have one, but I’ll say 13 because it’s creepy, and creepy is good.
 
Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Coke – I’ve got to have at least one a day.
 
Facebook or Twitter: I like both for different reasons.
 
My passion:  Stories – reading them, watching them, writing them.
 
Getting or giving presents: I’d much rather give – it’s fun trying to find the perfect gift to light up someone’s face.
 
Favorite pattern: Not sure I understand this one, but I’ll pick polka dots because it’s fun to say.
 
Favorite day of the week: Saturday.  It’s the one day you can sleep late AND stay up late without repercussions.    
 
Favorite flower: The azaleas are going crazy right now turning the town into a colorful canvas, so I’ll go with those.
 
Now comes the time when I’m supposed to tag ten people, but I always go rogue with these things, so I’m not going to pick anyone specific.  But if you’d like to be tagged, then consider yourself an official recipient of the Sunshine Award and leave me a comment with the link where you answered the ten questions so I can learn more about you.
 
And if you’ve already been tagged and answered these, leave me a link in the comments – it’s fun learning these random things about blogging friends.
 

Tweet Tales Tuesday Week 11

15 Minute Tweet TaleThis was a pretty average week in tweet tale land - no outrageously long and/or tough words to complicate things.  Even though I never made it an official challenge, I always planned to use the word ‘green’ in my tweet tale on St. Patrick’s Day.  Luckily the word-a-day for the 17th was skirl (having to do with bagpipe music), so that helped add flavor to the St Paddy’s Day tweet.  Enjoy that Irish-tinged 15 Minute Tweet Tale along with the others from this past week:

3/14 – Tired of her snubs, he draws upon his arcana to create a spell to make her fall in love with him… or possibly turn her into a frog. 
 
3/15 – As the students pecked at their phones instead of chatting, their teacher thought this latest youthquake the most destructive yet.
 
3/16 – To enervate the leading candidate, a dead hooker was placed in his trunk. In these dark times, it just made the people love him more. 
 
3/17 – As the bagpipers skirled, no one in the green crowd heard his wife scream. He smiled at the leprechaun, contemplating his next wish. 
 
3/18 – Who’d drawn on the wall with permanent markers? It was a cognizable offense with Mom in the role of judge, jury, and spank-ecutioner. 
 
3/19 – I eat @ that flyblown diner every day due to the hot waitress. Now my skin’s turned green-hope it’s finally super powers, not disease. 
 
3/20 – They wore crowns woven from withies to symbolize their everlasting love; then jumped from the cliff to prove their love was eternal. 
 
Play along and write tweet tales for the above words.  If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them below in the comments because I’d love to read them.

Tweet Tales Tue- uh Wednesday Week 10

15 Minute Tweet TalesAs you can tell by the title of today’s post, I messed up yesterday.  I completely forgot to post the Tweet Tales Tuesday roundup.  Whoops!  I’m going to go ahead and blame it on the time change.  Losing that hour made my time sensors go all wonky, and therefore I had no idea what day of the week it was.  Yeah, that’s what happened.

So although they are a day late, here are the 15 Minute Tweet Tales for the past week:

3/7 – Emma earnestly disavowed eating the cookie with the crumbs still on her lips. Her dad started saving money for her law school tuition. 
 
3/8 – Young Neil promised the man in the moon he’d come visit some day. Years later he stepped across the mare that formed the man’s eye. 
 
3/9 – Her charming travel vignettes enchanted him. After they married, he stumbled across a travel blog and realized it was all stolen lies. 
 
3/10 – After she tied up her rapist she realized her conundrum: the knife would be more painful, but the gun less likely to get blood on her. 
 
3/11 – Frank’s an internet firebrand, playing devil’s advocate on forums no matter the topic. Meanwhile his mom still picks his daily outfit. 
 
3/12 – Their prenup was more like a tome than a document, but she found a loophole. Given what she discovered in his bed, he got off cheap. 
 
3/13 – She lionized every word out of her teacher’s mouth, making it easy for him to convince the 14 year old what they were doing was right. 
 
I actually knew most of the words this past week, so that nice surprise made it easier to craft the tales.  
 
Play along and write tweet tales for the above words.  If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them below in the comments because I’d love to read them.
 

A to Z Video Challenge

When I signed up for the A to Z Challenge, I noticed they were also having an A to Z video challenge to help spread the word about the blogging challenge taking place in April.  The video entries are due tonight, and since I wait until the last minute for everything, I finished mine this evening.  

Regular blog visitors know I’m crazy about my dog, which is a trait I share with the rest of my family; so when I was trying to think of ideas for the A to Z challenges, I knew they had to be dog related.  For the video challenge, I gathered clips from my brother, sister, and parents of their adorable dogs in action.  Some of the footage is not great quality, but I think y’all will agree that the canine cuteness more than makes up for it. 

I now proudly present… ABCDogs
 

I’d like to thank my sister Joanna for creating the doggie version of the ABC song for me.  I’d also like to thank my brother Brian for helping me with the editing.  I sat with him while we edited our two short films, but he always drove Final Cut while I watched, so this was my big chance to try out what I'd learned.  It was fun!  And I was unreasonably proud of what I was able to do on my own.  I only had to get his help with a few of the things.  Thanks again, siblings!
 
I hope you enjoyed my canine commercial for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  If you haven’t sign up for it yet, think about giving it a try.  This will be my first year, and I’m really looking forward to it. 
 
Voting for the video challenge is now open, so if you thought my dogs were cute, you can vote for us here.
 
Are you entering the A to Z Blogging Challenge?  If you participated in the past, any tips for us newbies?  Aren’t the Rish family dogs adorable?