About Liesa Malik

Liesa is a freelance writer working out of Littleton, CO. Her first novel, a cozy mystery, was published July 2013. Look for "Faith on the Rocks" in a library near you.

A Tail’s End

It all started with the discovery of small bits of blood on my walls.

Hmm. How did that get there? Guess somebody in our house had an ow-ie. For once we had no drama to go with it. I counted my lucky stars, wiped up the dots, and went on with life.

Then came a little chewing. Prophet has always chews on himself–guess that’s entertaining for a dog riddled with allergies. We’ll be watching television and he starts in–chew, chew, chew, lick, lick, lick. That sound–the click, click of teeth on fur, and slurpy, desperate noises as his tongue laps up his shedding–that sound is indelibly burned into my memory banks. Hollywood should come record my dog doing this. Add a few dog licking sounds to any torture scene and you have real entertainment–rated Y for yucky.

“Stop that!” I shouted with all the love in my heart. Prophet got up and walked away. More dots. Hmm.

Finally, I caught him in the act. Proph was actually chewing the tip of his tail! And, he managed to make it bleed. Oh happy day. Add a trip to the vet before sending him off to PetSmart so my good guy and I could enjoy a weekend away. I took him in.

Sure enough, a hundred and some dollars and a funky looking band-aid later, we had a dog with an infection on his tail and a scramble for a pet-sitter for the weekend. Petsmart doesn’t take in pets with band aids. Who knew?

A week or two later, and all the antibiotics used up, we went back to the vet for the bandage removal. The dog made more fuss getting the thing off than on.

“I’m not sure this is a good sign,” said the vet. “He shouldn’t be in pain any more.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I love my dog, but he’s a bit of a drama queen. Perhaps the vet tech didn’t say pretty please when she took his tail in hand?”

We did an X-ray. Two or three bones up there was a little crack. Hairline. I could hardly see it. Back on went the band-aid. I wasn’t going to even consider amputating the tail as she suggested.  People heal pretty quickly from broken bones to arms and legs. Surely, Proph’s tail should be better in no time.

Guess the healing angels didn’t hear me. With the anti-biotic used up, Prophet became more and more aware of his broken tail, and he ripped off the second band-aid. Back to the vet for a new one–$37 for an empty syringe and self-adhesive ace wrap.

We had company that night. Prophet was so excited. Our friends brought their dog along. No matter how that other dog tried to set a good example–sitting quietly, staring at his owner with a please-can-we-go-home-now look, laying on his bed with the resignation only a dog can project–Prophet wasn’t buying it.

As the volume of Proph’s barking increased and picking up of shoes and other inappropriate objects became a hopeless invitation to play, I kept wondering where my well-behaved middle-aged dog had gone, and who was this exuberant little kid before me? Into the kennel he had to go. At last he settled down and we could enjoy our company.

A dog's band aid

Remnants of a tail wrap, number four–or was that five?

Later, we let Proph out, but the band-aid stayed behind. Goodness! No way were we going to go to an emergency vet to have the thing put back on. Home remedy time. We wrapped up the tail–two, three, four more times in the next day or two.

At last my guy got out the ever-powerful duct tape and wrapped that tail so that it would take a nuclear explosion to get it off. Proph slouched and sagged around a lot, but the band-aid stayed on.

A couple of days later we took the wrap off to change it. But the happy little tail end had turned purple. I cleaned it and the dog didn’t flinch, but he licked open a wound with just one or two swipes of the tongue. Back to the vet.

The tail end comes off

A little shorter, but still a cute tail, don’t you think?

“It’s dead,” she said. “No, it’s hard to wrap a tail too tight. You’ve done what you could.”

Times like these, I think of all the Reader’s Digest articles I’ve read where homeowners perform miracles with creatures that no vet will touch. Love, band aids and voila! Healthy pets and wild critters emerge from these times.  Not so with poor Proph.

We took him

in one more time. Snip, snip and five inches of tail were gone. But gone is the chewing as well. He’s smiling again, even from within the “collar of shame.”

Prophet in the collar of shame

Peek-a-boo! I’ll be busting outta this contraption any day. Watch out, tail!

Oh! That collar? It’s on because when the vet took the operation band-aid off, Prophet managed to lick off two stitches  while we were in the reception area making the next appointment!  His tail had been healing nicely. It’s back in a band-aid. Maybe next week we’ll get back to normal.

Until then, lick, lick, lick will be ever in my brain next to the wree, wree, wree of the shower scene from Psycho.

Active Reading–A New Adventure

Have you ever stumbled across a treasure? I mean something that gets you really excited? Maybe you saw a twenty-dollar bill laying on the ground, just like a friend of mine. Or perhaps you found that treasured necklace you thought had been lost forever. Whatever it was, you probably felt a burst of euphoric energy that kept you smiling from time to time throughout your day.

I had a similar experience. As part of my investigation into illiteracy in Colorado, I’ve had to review my own reading habits, which, to be honest, aren’t impressive at all. I am a word-by-word reader, and very slow. Added to that, I no longer remember most of what I read, and quoting from a favorite book (other than Dr. Seuss of course) seems impossible.

Reading And Notes

Capture what you read.

Then, the other day, I stumbled across my daughter’s old copy of The Little, Brown Handbook by H.Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron. Treasure found! My daughter used this book in high school, and left it behind when I showed enthusiasm for it so long ago. Since then, I’ve dipped into its 836 pages when I’ve had a specific grammar or punctuation question, but little else.

Last week I began to read the Introduction thinking that if I dove into a few pages a day, I could finish the obligation in, say, a year. But a funny thing happened. The intro referred me to thoughts on writing while reading–taking notes.  So I flipped to pages 7-8 and pages 37-38 for ideas on how to take notes.  From there I skipped to a book called “The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists”by Andrew McAleer, with advice from several published authors on a variety of subjects. I took my new-found note taking skills out for a test drive.

Since, I’ve flipped back and forth, not truly reading from page one to the end, yet getting more out of the experience than ever before. I have ideas for promoting my books mixing with ways to read better, more critically (which means, according to the Little Brown Handbook, “skeptical,””exacting,””creative”), and deeply. Speed reading doesn’t seem so important when reading to have stronger critical skills. Words are becoming a joy again. In short I love it, mixing reading with writing at the same time.

You’re probably wondering where I was throughout college.  Kids there take notes while reading all the time. I remember doing so too. The thing was, I’d last been taught how to take notes while reading in grammar school, so note-taking in college was a chore instead of a helpful tool. And for me, any chore worth naming is one worth avoiding, procrastinating about or otherwise neglecting to do.

Forgive me if this post on taking notes while reading seems too elemental for you. I’m just very excited about it. I have started a reading journal, and may transfer some of the notes I take into a Word document at some point, but for now, I love the physical aspect of taking notes.

So, how does this note taking method work?  I simply draw a line down the middle of a page. On the left, I can paraphrase what the author says, or quote directly. On the right side I put down anything that comes to mind. Questions, skepticism, personal experiences that relate, or even other conclusions. It’s that simple.  In the past I have tried to use the outline method of note taking, getting halfway through only to start scribbling in margins and at angles because I missed a direct connection. I’ve also used mind-mapping, but have struggled to find enough room to write whole paragraphs of thought. I like the two columns because there is space for “the experts,” and there is a lot of room for me. I ignore the lines on the right side and just draw arrows to the thoughts that I’m reflecting upon.

Will this method of learning work forever? Maybe, maybe not. I continue to try to outline when I can. And mind-mapping has its place. But taking notes while I read? I like this two column way well.

Another thing. I underline a lot in my books.  Just never thought to write a lot of notes in the margins of good books. Now, I know I can jot a few words to question and explore a work like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 without having to think of myself as a criminal of book publishing.  I can take those notes and underlines and put them into my reading journal to put next to other quotes and question how they compare, which I like better, which words I’d defend in debate and why.

This active reading is so exciting to me.  It reminds me why I buy some books instead of always checking them out of the library.  But it shows me that books I cannot mark up can be captured in a short way by using a reading journal. And at last, I know how to keep a reading journal so that thoughts and experiences in reading aren’t lost in my foggy old brain.

What about you? How do you interact with your reading beyond ingesting the words of books, magazines, and news media? If you see a particularly fascinating Facebook post, how do you make it a part of who you are? How will you remember it five years from now?

Writing As Work

Writing As Work

Time and organization make money

I’m late this morning. There is no excuse, but I was enjoying a bit of a sleep in and goof off morning.  I’m normally at my desk by 6:00 am at the latest.  There is so much to do and I love my work!  Writing is my work.  How wonderful to be able to do what you want and make a living at it as well.

Wait a minute. Hang on.  Did I say “do what you want?” That’s a bit of a stretch. As a professional writer, yes I love my work. But I’m not sure I always get to “do what I want” in the process.

Each day, I have to get up same as everyone else, and while I can dress so business-casually you wouldn’t be able to detect the least bit of business in my wardrobe, I still have to get up and get to the phone, the keyboard, and the research.  I sit in meetings and I worry and work. Yes. Real work.  Even though a lot of this work is writing, sometimes I have to “get inspired” even when there doesn’t seem anything new to get inspired over. That’s what being a pro is all about.

I currently write for four blogs with another one on the way.  I also ghost-write articles for a different client, as well as working on my fiction writing. Sometimes I can play with Daisy and her friends, but mostly I work on telling people about dentistry or decks, cold calling or coyotes.  These are great topics. Don’t let me lead you to believe I don’t like learning about these industries and writing about my experiences with them.  But please don’t think writing is “so easy” that “anyone can do it.”

The point to all of this is that while I love my work, it is still that.  The challenge is that everyone thinks they can write. Everyone has a good story to tell.  Everyone has engaged in the fine art of persuasive speaking.  So, many people don’t think paying someone well to write is silly.

But writing takes organization both in thinking and in production.  Recently I reset my schedule to accommodate another client. This means adding research time and interview time and writing time.  There is no time for “creative daydreaming” or “sitting at your favorite cafe and soak in the atmosphere.” Those images belong in movies, which are mostly fiction, right?

And writing takes multiple focuses. If I write a press release, it is going to be worded a lot differently from a blog post.  A brochure needs to be persuasive, while a story needs to engage emotions in a different way. Third person text is harder to sound engaging than first person, but third person is often used in business writing.

Now, we’ve all heard of the authors who make kazillions of dollars with their novels. James Patterson, Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling to name a few. And celebrity authors are bound to add to their incredible riches because by being a celebrity they must have something important going on and worth reading about, right?

But I have found that celebrity authors are a few and far between as the people in weight-loss ads that claim “I lost 300 pounds in 30 days!”  Someone may have done it, but most of us struggle to lose 1 pound in the same amount of time.  Here’s the scoop: I do what I love and I make a living, but fame and fortune are still far away.

I write because in my heart I will always be an artist of sorts; someone with a creative bent so strong that people are only being polite when they say “creative.”  Mostly, I’m just weird and people are too nice to say otherwise. The challenge is that artists, almost by definition, are “starving.” They don’t tend to quit their day jobs, with good reason.

I received my first royalty check a few days ago. “Impressive” isn’t exactly the word to use in describing the figures. I read the statement and saw that Faith on the Rocks didn’t exactly shoot to stardom in book sales.  And on the tail of that piece of news, I found out that I didn’t make the finals in a writing competition I’d entered. Sigh.

And that’s just it.  A small sigh is all I’m going to allow myself. I’m a pro, and even Tiger Woods loses a golf game here and there. Then I’m going to remind ol’ Liesa-the-Creative, that work life is full of ups and downs. I need to make more of an effort to do my work better, stronger, faster, just like anyone else in business.

Thing is, writing sounds romantic. Wait around for the Muse to pay a social visit. Jot a little something on paper or computer screen, submit to editors and agents who will be thrilled to have your work because they are not inundated with 300 more pieces just like yours each week. Then, let the money roll in. Okay, now we’re talking real fiction, aren’t we?

Here’s what a real pro does:

  • Write! Every day. For hours on end.
  • Keep an idea file so that down times don’t find you with the dreaded “writer’s block”
  • Remind yourself you’re a pro and keep writing even when you don’t think there’s anything left to write about
  • Thank your lucky stars that you’re working in a profession of your choosing, and that there are plenty of others willing and able to take your place if you decide to quit
  • Enjoy your writing life – the lack of dress code, the hours you set yourself, the thrill of seeing your work in print or on a blog, finding out new things in industries you never imagined yourself visiting, making friendships without the narrowness of being stuck in one industry
  • Understand that writing is work and you need to keep moving ahead or fall behind.

I think writers really are the same as everyone else. We may have a different vision, and certain joi de vivre with our word play, but the business of writing is to write, to make a client satisfied and to write some more.

The dream still awaits.