Woodsen 101, p.2

You probably know this by now: I’m reorganizing this site. Moving stuff around. Modifying it. Might look different from one day to the next. In case you didn’t know ….

My first steady writing gig began circa 1998. My job: to write articles destined for tony dog breeders’ magazines. My topic? The genetics of canine retinal diseases and how DNA testing predicts which dogs were genetically wired to go blind long before you wanted them to. For breeders of golden labs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, briards, Portuguese water dogs—breeds you’ve heard of, breeds you haven’t—this was crucial information. Because it wasn’t just about knowing that their classy mutt would go blind. It told them how to safely breed that dog. The test was a game changer, because it allowed careful breeders to retain and even expand genetic diversity in their breeds.

It was a trip. I mean, I had to be conversant in genetics, right? Lucky for me they (that would be the good people at Optigen LLC) didn’t want a scientist writing these articles. Honestly, the best I could remember about anything remotely related to DNA—from grade school, I think—was smooth peas and wrinkled peas. Which is about heredity, not genetics, though granted they’re in the same ballpark. They (the Optigen crew) handed me The Cartoon Guide to Genetics which helped, sort of. And they possessed a remarkable amount of patience, walking me through every piece of the puzzle. But boy, what a slog.

I can’t remember how much I got per word. Fifteen cents for starters? Sounds about right. I swear, though, that my per hour take averaged, oh, maybe five hair-tearing cents, considering the time each article took. Wouldn’t surprise me if it was true, at least for the first half-dozen stories I wrote. I vaguely remember trying to do the mental arithmetic but hadn’t tracked my hours; I was too damn busy; the kids were still at home. Didn’t matter anyway. I was determined to write.

More than 15 years after I wrote my last Optigen story, I went online and was slack-jawed to see how many breeds (135 and counting) Optigen offers tests for—including breeds you, I, and virtually everyone else on the planet have never heard of. But I was also surprised to find a handful of my stories online. A random click took me to Dog Tired?, an article on narcolepsy and genetics that I’ve no recollection of writing and can’t find in my files. (You’ll have to scroll down a tad to find it.) Would that I could edit it now. Writer’s rules: spell out numbers nine and under; write out “percent”—that sort of thing.

Who knows what-all else I’d want to correct. I don’t plan to find out, either. Another random click took me to a dog breeder’s blog I’d never have chanced on otherwise, but I so like her voice I couldn’t help myself. I’m a follower now, “along with 2082 other amazing people.” Hot dog! And now that I’ve taken that a breather, I’ve gone back to that inscrutable-bordering-on-bizarre “thrasher kills reptile.” Started nosing around some more. Found more folders, more files, more stories I barely remember—only these aren’t hobbled by corrupted Word files dating from the last millennium. Stuff I won’t embarrass myself (mostly) by putting online. So. I shall.

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