Dog Whistle

Dog whistle


Apparently I have a dog whistle. Pitched too high for normal and decent men, my dog whistle ensures that drug users, drug dealers, and losers of all breeds will inevitably ask me out. I don’t know when or where it was installed, but I believe it caused some brain damage. This damage causes me to take these losers up on their suggestions of “gettin’ together, namean, chillin’, buy you a drank, go chill at the crib, somethin’.” A translation for non-dog whisperers: “I want to take you on a cheap, casual date that requires little to no effort on my part, and I expect sex afterward. We’ll find a dive bar and I’ll fill you to the brim with well drinks and half-meant compliments.”

My mother offered the dog whistle theory late last night, after one of these dates devolved into a crime scene. For the second time this summer, a helpful bystander felt it necessary to call the police because a man was threatening me at the top of his lungs. I left before the police actually arrived and no charges were filed, but my perceptive parent knew I had been in a fight. I responded to her voice-mailed suggestion to “call no matter how late” and when she answered, my voice was trembling.

“What happened?” Mommy asked, her voice shrill with concern.

I feared Mommy more than I feared the most recent dog-date, so I told the truth.

I seem to go for the same breed of dog every time: tall and dark-skinned with big eyes. Puppy-dog eyes, come to think of it. I leashed this particular dog with the suggestion of walking by the river. He said he had been having a bad day and I wanted to make him forget about it.

Forgetting seemed impossible for Frederick, a probation violator who feared an upcoming drug test. He whined to a Wendy’s employee about the cost of bacon and told me that he wanted to save his money to buy food in jail. I guiltily ate my junior bacon cheeseburger while he sipped water and insulted the well-dressed church folk thronging Fountain Square during the National Baptist Convention. Jones seemed to lump these tourists with apparitions from his past, including his selfish mother, a “witch among witches” who had sacrificed him to the foster care system. I feigned sympathy. My grandmother helped raise 30 foster children before she retired, and none of them had the poor judgment to smoke marijuana while on probation. The judgmental part of my brain said, “Shannon, let’s go. This loser wants to play that deck of ‘society messed me up’ cards, and I don’t want to hear it.” The bleeding-heart liberal part of my brain said, “Well, Shay, society did mess him up! We can’t just abandon him!”

I will vote Democratic until I die, but never again will I let the liberal part of my brain accompany me on another date. I spent two hours listening to Fred systematically blame everyone but himself for his situation, and even let him malign me.

By this point, we had wandered to a riverfront concert. I don’t drink beer, and didn’t ask for any, but I still got an earful. “Why you bring me here? I don’t want to be here with all these fucking white people buying all this overpriced beer and shit!”

I whirled on him, losing one of my dangerous heels. Then the cover band started playing “Blister in the Sun.” The best bass line this side of 112’s “Only You”; it reminded me of better days and simply required me to sing along. I plucked my shoe from the soft dirt and lurched at top speed towards the stage.

The bass played so loudly that my glasses vibrated on my face. The Websters tore through covers of fifteen great sing-along songs. Bouncy girls stormed the stage, and when security rose to meet them, they got security into the dance. I was too shy for such participation, but stood in the thick of things, singing “Mr. Brightside” to a doctor from Children’s Hospital who used his cell phone as a microphone. I thought of making a move, but his date joined us on “Seven Nation Army,” carrying two beers and sporting a jawbreaker sized engagement ring. Still, she smiled at me and we all sang together. Well, they sang. I don’t know the words to “Seven Nation Army.” I was having fun, sans date and sans alcohol. The dog whistle apparently could not be heard over the music.

“Let’s hear it for pretzels, beer and…..luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuube!” screamed the lead singer, acknowledging the night’s sponsors and ending the show. The convivial crush of merrymakers streamed out of Sawyer Point and into downtown, finding their friends and negotiating designated driver arrangements. I headed straight up Broadway, intending to make a left on Fourth Street and catch the second to last 21 as it passed Tower Place mall.

Instead the dog whistle stymied me again. Fred waited behind a beer cart, and grabbed my hand. “You have fun?”


“Alright. Let me walk you to the bus stop. It’s dark out here.”

No shit, I thought but didn’t say. Fred’s route took us west along Pete Rose Way and then up Walnut Street, headed towards Government Square. As we approached Fourth and Walnut, the 21 turned past us and away. The next bus would not come for an hour.

“Man, why didn’t you run?” he groaned. “Now we gotta wait down here till midnight!”

“We ain’t gotta do a thing!” I shouted, yanking my hand from his. “I’m grown! I can wait by myself. Go the fuck away! You didn’t even want to hang out with me so why all the chivalry?”

My throat was already raw from singing at the concert, and I tore up my vocal cords cursing Fred. He told me that I was a fat bitch and he only went out with me because he felt sorry for me.

“Go suck a dick,” I suggested dismissively. “You went out with me because you thought you might get laid before you went to prison tomorrow, stupid. You talkin’ bout I shoulda ran, maybe you shoulda put the weed down, jailbird! Now you gotta worry about dropping the soap!”

A wild punch whizzed past my nose. “Hell no!” squealed some totally random bystander. A muscular teenage boy rushed Frederick, challenging him to fight a man instead of a chick. The boy’s sister called 911. I fled the scene, feverish from unused adrenaline and rising shame.

Some thirty minutes later, the last 21 of the night chugged up to my spot in front of Tower Place Mall. I flashed my UC ID and sat at the very back of the bus. The lights at front of the bus were off to help the driver see. I sniffed up tears, produced a notebook, and wrote down everything that I could remember. I had a personal narrative paper due in the morning, and I knew that what I had just put myself through probably had a lot more meaning than the ‘face your fears’ message of my other paper.

At home on the phone, my mother encouraged me to keep dating, and I wrote that down too. I was on to something, but what the hell was it?

Mommy giggled at one of her own jokes. “What you say?” I asked. “I was writing.”

“You always writing,” she said. “You need to publish something, get an advance. Then you can go to the doctor and have him yank that dog whistle out of you.”

“Dog whistle? What’s a dog whistle?” If I had heard the term before, I couldn’t remember it at one in the morning.

“A dog whistle is a whistle that’s too high for people to hear, but every time dogs hear it they start howling and come running. You have a dog whistle, baby. Losers come at you like bugs come at a porch light.”

We laughed together, and I scrawled Dog Whistle across the top of the page. My mother wished me a good night and said she hoped my Thursday would be better than my Wednesday had been. I hung up the phone, closed the notebook, and started getting ready for bed. I wasn’t asleep for an hour when the urge to write hit me harder than Fred could ever hope to.

“A dog whistle,” I scrawled, “will only work if I blow it.”


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6 ways for freelance writers to get

by Loren Pritchett

The difference between a successful freelance writer and an unsuccessful one usually boils down to how well you run your business. As an independent contractor, it’s as important to keep those checks coming in as it is to deliver clear, compelling content on deadline. Unfortunately, collecting what you’re owed can be a tough task, especially amid an economic downturn, when many companies delay their cash outlays, including payments to suppliers. The good news: You can protect your bottom line by being organized, professional, and assertive with your clients. Here are half a dozen tips that’ll help you avoid hassles–and getting stiffed.

1. Negotiate a clear contract.

Erik Sherman, a Massachusetts-based freelance journalist, recommends researching your potential new client before entering into any sort of binding contract. “Find out if they have the funds to pay you. Check with writers they’ve worked with in the past, look up their financial statements, and run credit checks,” he said. “Check their cash on hand versus their debts and see if they are paying people.” By conducting a proper background check, you can avoid clients who have a bad history of paying debts. If you need help, agencies like Dun & Bradstreet can assist you in checking a company’s credit report (for a fee), whether you’re working with an established publication or a new one.

Be wary of start-ups because their funding can dry up at a moment’s notice and your payment might go along with it, urges Kelly Bastone, a freelancer based in Colorado. Before entering into a contract, ask your client where the company gets its funding and what its payment policies are. If it’s a large or long-term job, ask whether you may bill them in increments. That way, you’ll have some leverage (i.e., you can stop working on a project) if a payment is past due.

Once you are confident your client is able to pay and you’ve agreed to do the work, read the contract closely. Make sure that the terms (your rate, payment due date, kill fee for non-use, etc.) accurately reflect your verbal agreement. If you don’t have a formal contract, send an email outlining your expectations. Tell your client when you plan to submit invoices and what methods of payment you accept. “Send an invoice with the story whether the agreement is pay-on-delivery or pay-on-publication,” Sherman said. “There is no way for the editor to ignore it if the invoice is attached with the story.”

If any problems arise after the project is completed, you can refer the client to your contract and/or to the email trail to prompt proper compensation.

2. Clearly organize your invoice and billing system.

It is important to have a foolproof billing system in place, so that your clients don’t have any questions–or reasons for delay–when it’s time to pay up. Start by building a simple, coherent invoice. You can find free invoice templates in Microsoft Word and online through Billing Manager and FreshBooks, or you can use a spreadsheet like Excel to make your own. (Sometimes your client may provide one.)

In general, an invoice should feature your name, your company name, mailing address, email address, and phone and fax numbers. The invoice should also include space for itemizing services and expenses, your taxpayer I.D., the date the invoice is due, to whom checks should be made payable, and acceptable payment methods. Once you have created an invoice template, decide your payment terms. Some companies give their clients 30 days to pay an invoice, while others allow up to 60 days.

Be fair to yourself, but also set a reasonable deadline for your clients. Consider establishing a penalty for late payments. Be upfront with your policies from the beginning, and state them clearly on your invoices. By eliminating guesswork, you can cut down on the time it takes to receive payment.

3. Find out who pays the bills–and when.

“Make friends with the accounting people,” Sherman said. “Often they get blamed for everything because they know the information, but they share it with you because they don’t want all the grief falling on them. It is usually not their fault, so treat them respectfully.”

Although you are dealing with an editor directly, he or she may not be the person who ultimately handles your payment. Be sure to ask where to send your invoice and who needs to receive a copy. Make a note of this contact information for future reference; your editor may also prefer that you direct any follow-up questions to accounts payable. Some clients will prefer an electronic copy of your invoice, followed by a printout sent through the mail. It is also helpful to know when your clients pay out. Some companies only cut checks on the 1st or 15th of the month. By knowing these dates, you can easily check the status of an invoice if a payment is overdue. Copy your editor on all inquiries.

4. Establish a standard collection procedure.

To eliminate extra work for yourself, set up a system for monitoring outstanding invoices and recording when they’ve been paid. This will help you at tax time, too. Keep a log, electronic or otherwise, of whom you’ve billed and when payments are due.

Bastone uses a simple paper ledger to track her outgoing invoices and incoming payments. She notes various details of each article, including its deadline, the date she invoiced the client, and whether she’s been paid. She says her system helps her recognize holes when she does her bookkeeping. “It’s a low-tech system,” she said. “But it serves as a visual trigger that lets me know who hasn’t sent payment.”

Whether you use a handwritten tracking sheet or a color-coded Excel document, having a visual reminder of overdue invoices will help you realize when it’s time to follow up with your client. When a payment is a week past its due date (sufficient time for a check to have arrived if it was cut on the last day), shoot your client a friendly e-mail reminder or give them a call to make sure the invoice has been processed. Express your willingness to resolve any issues that may be delaying payment, particularly if you’re working with a new client. Remember to thank them for allowing you to work on that particular project, ask when you can expect a check, and save a copy of all correspondence.

If you do not receive a check by the date promised, resubmit your invoice indicating the payment is overdue. Be sure to keep a copy for your records.

5. Write a formal letter.

If a client fails to respond to your resubmitted invoice within 30 days, send it again–this time in the form of a letter, via certified mail, requesting immediate payment for the services provided. (If you are working on a subsequent job, you also might try to use that as leverage, saying that you are unable to finish until you are paid for prior work.) Attach a copy of the original invoice. You will be notified when the letter has been delivered, which will help prevent the client from claiming that it was never received. This should resolve the problem. But, if you still aren’t paid within 30 days, it is clear your client either has no intention of paying or lacks the funds to do so.

6. Cut your losses.

After several attempts to collect, it is time to cut your losses or consider the next steps. If you are unwilling to end your quest for compensation, you may want to complain to the Better Business Bureau or a government watchdog or take the issue to small-claims court or a collection agency. It will be paramount to consider how much the client owes you compared with how much money you’ll spend in court fees and how much time you’ll spend filing a claim, waiting for a hearing, and appearing in court. Small-claims filing fees vary by state and can range from $20 to $200. The maximum claim amount is $5,000 and can be as low as $1,000 in some states. You can research your state’s small-claims court procedures online. If you’d rather stay out of court, consider hiring a collection agency.

Bastone successfully collected payment from a delinquent client at no cost. “It was quite a lot of work and phone calls to get the payment,” she said. “But the collection agency was able to collect my money, and the client had to pay their fee.” Again, make sure your potential losses outweigh how much you stand to get paid.

However you go about collecting overdue funds, always remain professional. Bad-mouthing a client or using uncivil means of collection is bound to backfire, damaging future prospects and possibly your reputation. Think twice before firing off angry emails or using abusive language on the phone. Whether you receive payment or not, the big payoff here is learning whom to work with again–or whom to avoid–and how to improve your invoicing system.

“Don’t feel squeamish about getting paid,” Bastone advised. “Don’t approach your clients with your hat in your hand–you’ve entered a professional exchange that you’ve both agreed on, so don’t be apologetic.”

You’re free to do so, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: offers insights and inspiration for freelance writers. Sign up for our biweekly newsletter at to learn how to create wealth and enjoy the writing life.

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How I Became A Ghostwriter

I’m so nervous. I’m on a new adventure. I’ve written for friends, classmates, but now I’m looking for new clients.

I left school in my junior year to stay home with my daughter. I couldn’t deal with the scheduling. Unfortunately, the colleges that do offer flexible scheduling are the for-profit schools. Their reputation precedes them. I’ve decided not to go back until Sugar is a little older.

Still, I love to read. I love to analyze information, and synthesize it with what I already know. That’s something I miss about college. The light bulb feeling when concepts come together.

When a friend asked me to edit a paper, she only wanted me to edit. I write romances, and she figured I knew my way around a sentence. I returned a paper to her that was three pages longer than before. She got an A. She bought my daughter an outfit in gratitude.

I bragged about it on twitter, and another friend asked me for help. I reviewed the assignment and gave him a quote. He agreed. I was surprised. I got paid. He got an A.

My next post will show their reviews. I want you to believe me, but of course, their professors would be pretty mad if they knew. I feel like an academic mistress (the romance novelist in me just flared up, sorry). So I have to redact names and black box certain details. Like a Wikileak!

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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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