Gifts from an amazing friend

So, one of the wonderful things in life is getting to see people you love become awesome at something they truly enjoy. My friend Marina has become truly excellent at crochet in the last few years. She’s added works to the county and state fair, been commissioned to give them as gifts, and she has gifted me my absolute favorite blanket ever. But sometimes Marina gets inspired by crochet books or people she knows from Facebook and she likes to surprise people with her works of art.

I have not written enough aboutĀ The Last Unicorn on this blog, but believe me when I say it was probably my first or second fandom ever and has never given up that place in my heart. So when she showed up one random Thursday with this…

Reader, I cried.

No, I did. And wouldn’t set her down for hours.

You understand now why I had to share it???

Look at her! She’s glorious!

As if that isn’t mind-blowing enough, a few weeks later, Marina came over again with a large box. Something else I haven’t talked about much on this blog is my love for the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. The Harper Hall trilogy was kind of my gateway out of regular books and into fantasy as a genre. It was similarly beloved by Sarah who read every book she could get in every library in Ohio.

And Marina made her a personal fire lizard…

Sarah did *not* cry because that’s not Sarah’s way, but her feelings were just the same. We have them both set up next to our TV now, which basically means we can see them from anywhere in the living room or kitchen. And we both find ourselves staring at them sometimes.

In terms of citations:

Both can be found as individual patterns for sale on Etsy or Ravelry. The unicorn is also available as a pattern in this book.

Marina herself doesn’t have a link to promote; this is just something she does for love. And I am permanently grateful to receive that love and all the beautiful things that come with it!

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Still here!

Yep, haven’t gone anywhere. Honestly, I’ve been pretty sick lately. But I’m bouncing back!

I don’t have a lot right this minute to share because my world has mostly been limited to work being very hectic and me feeling very unwell.

In recompense, have some cat pictures!

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Night falls, the world goes still

I’m still here, and in spite of the lack of blogging, I’ve been busy.

First and foremost, I’m still working to finish the YA fantasy novel. I got to about the 70% mark and hit that point of doubt that so many other writers talk about. One of my favorites is this essay by Neil Gaiman. It is just so comforting to know that a master of the craft hits a point of “nobody will ever read or care about this and there’s nothing good about it” the way I do! It took a 2-hour rant to Sarah for me to figure out my issue.

Sometimes I just get stuck; I think all writers do that. For me, sometimes the stuck is mental/emotional fatigue and I just need to take a break from writing. Sometimes it is my own doubt throwing up a boulder in my way and I need to shove it aside so I can keep going. And sometimes that stuck is a sign that there is something wrong with my story and I have to stop to figure it out. I know other writers who just write and solve their problems as they go, but that’s rarely worked for me. I like an outline, a chapter-by-chapter sketch of my scenes and beats. And sometimes the outline I have isn’t the one I should be telling.

This time, it was very much that. And the only way I get loose is to sit down and talk it out. Out loud at Sarah, usually. She’s very patient. I begin at where I’ve stopped and work backwards, twisting and turning the story like a Rubik’s cube. I question my characters, their motivations, their plans. If I had been assuming X is a villain for Y reason, I extrapolate how the story changes if X isn’t a villain, or if their reason isn’t Y anymore. I leave nothing untouched, perfectly happy to rewrite everything not yet on screen and anything already in the text. And after 2 hours (and, for some reason, it is ALWAYS 2 hours), I find my way to the right twist that lines up all the blocks and the Rubik’s cube is complete — and so is my outline.

So, plus side, now I have a path to the end that I’m excited about, that does several things I really wanted to do and didn’t know how, that feels like the right conclusion for everyone while yet leaving plenty of threads open for sequels. Now I just have to write it all down.

Second, I’ve been querying. Sadly, nothing to report. But I’m not feeling discouraged. My list of agents to query is long and full of amazing people I would be thrilled and honored to work with on my journey. The rejections aren’t landing as painfully as they did on the last book I queried, and I think it’s because I’m in a better place for myself. Also, I have a better relationship with my writing vs with the business of publishing. I know this isn’t my only shot. I’ll keep writing books. There’s no deadline to finding my way here. The process does take up effort and spoons, but I’m okay expending them and I feel hopeful and excited still.

Third, work is a lot, but nobody comes here to read about that.

(Nobody comes here to read anyway, but I appreciate you if you find me someday!)

Fourth, we have been watching A LOT of hockey. With the Buffalo Sabres, the Minnesota Wild, and the Columbus Blue Jackets — and a subscription to ESPN+ — there is usually at least one game a night, and often two. They’re not all *good* mind; all three teams are struggling this year. But when they play well, even if they lose, they’re fun to watch. And with college football ramping down, having hockey is a constant source of excitement and fun.

Fifth, it’s holiday season, so there’s a lot to do. I hosted Thanksgiving for 9, watched the parade (of course!), and basked in the afternoon of good food and better company. Sarah and I even got our gift shopping done already! We have a million things to wrap and send, but at least we don’t have to figure out any more presents. Are we going to bake this year? Make cookies or something special for Christmas Day with friends? Who knows! Not me, anyway. It depends how we feel about it next week, probably. But maybe!

Lastly, it’s the part of the year where it gets dark early and stays dark long into the morning. Every part of my body thinks I should be hibernating right now, and naps are common. I also find that I’m more introspective and less outgoing as the darkness descends. I like this time of year, the cold, the quiet, the stillness. I like the night of the soul leading to the solstice and the celebration of Yule when the light returns. There’s a peace in the solitude of the late nights lit only by our electric fireplace and my laptop. It’s restful, and restorative, but not very productive.

If you want to find me being active these days, visit me on BlueSky. It has replaced the bird site for me, and while I’m not much more prolific there than I ever was on Twitter, I’m making some attempt to have a presence. Of course I’m still here, too, but I don’t really post memes here and such. I figure if you want the silly, it’s going to be on the spur-of-the-moment site. This is the long-form me, and I am inherently less amusing at length.

Anyway. I’m here, I’m writing, I’m doing okay. I’m busy, and my attention is going many directions at once, but I’m centered and grounded where it matters. And although we’re not quite to the point of looking ahead to 2024, the view from here has some light on the horizon.

As this is a season where there are almost no songs written for me and my spiritual affiliation (I do not do Christmas carols), I thought I would share this one instead. This is a wonderfully entertaining meditation on that space between traditional religious music.

I give you “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin:

Stay safe, all!

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Happy Halloween!

I’ve written before about what Halloween means to me, but it is also a time of great stress because it corresponds with one of my busiest weeks at work out of the whole year. Oct 31st itself tends to be a day I’m working until 10pm at night.

So, given that kind of day, I wanted to at least have a little bit of fun. Thanks to an amazing creator on Etsy, I was able to be a unicorn for the day!

It was surprisingly comfortable, not at all annoying, and will DEFINITELY be making an appearance in my cosplay for CONvergence 2024!

Me with a unicorn horn apparently sprouting from my forehead. The horn spirals up from my forehead to a point, about 4 inches long in total, and a sparkly starlight color. My hair is down and curling and I am grinning widely

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Tadashi’s annoying adventure

(I meant to write this up closer to when it actually happened, but then other things happened, so… Anyway, now I’m backdating it to approximately when I would have posted it had things not gone so sideways.)

It was the last Thursday of September. I had taken the day off work to recharge and was intending to sleep in. Kiba and Tadashi were doing their usual dawn romp, chasing one another, tackling, yowling, and climbing up and down the big cat tree in the bedroom. As daily rituals go, it is one of their louder habits, and it’s not how I want to greet the dawn most days, but at least they have fun.

Since I’m a light sleeper, I often openĀ  my eyes to see what exactly they’re doing, just in case. I’m always worried about them jumping on my dresser and causing more destructive chaos. Which is how I happened to be watching at the critical moment.

I will never be able to say for sure if Kiba hip-checked Tadashi or if he straight up yeeted him, but either way, Tadashi went violently off the top of the cat tower in an uncontrolled fashion. And he landed awkwardly, crashing into a nearby chair.

And I knew instantly that something was wrong, even before I saw the blood.

Tadashi got up and limped towards me as I got out of bed. His paw was already red with blood.

For a wiggly puppy-wannabe, he was calm as I picked him up to examine his foot. It only took seconds to identify that the blood was coming from one of his middle toes where his claw had been nearly ripped from his foot. It was actually sticking up like a bloody flagpole.

Our vet opens early so I only had to wait 10 minutes to call them for an emergency appointment. Then I threw on clothes and packed Tadashi into his carrier backpack.

(As an aside, it is SO MUCH EASIER to carry a squirmy cat in a backpack than a box. The backpack is a little more enclosed and there’s no tipping back and forth like a see-saw. And with Kiba who weighed an epic 17 pounds at last vet visit, it is a relief to put that weight on my shoulders instead of one arm. If you have cats, I cannot recommend the pet backpack enough. There are kinds. All of them are better than a box.)

At the vet, the diagnosis was clear — Tadashi had indeed ripped his claw nearly off his foot, nearly declawing himself on that toe. The vet finished extracting it (and showed it to me, but I did not want to keep it, thanks though) and cleaned him up as best she could. Tadashi was much praised for being chill, not fighting the vet or the tech and giving head bumps.

He’s a very good boy.

However, given the way he ripped the claw off, he had a very open and very vulnerable wound which the vet did not want to stitch for…I dunno, vet reasons. Probably because it would heal better on its own. But anyway, that means Tadashi was subjected to a hefty bandage on his foot….

And the dreaded cone of shame.

He did not appreciate either.

A cat with his right front paw wrapped in gauze and wearing a plastic cone of shame looks at the camera, both reproachful and regretting multiple life decisions

This was taken after I got him home. If you look, you can see that the bandage on his foot was already coming off at this point — it’s like he’s wearing a sock that’s been partly tugged off.

All in all, it took Tadashi under 30 minutes to shake that bandage off completely.

So I called the vet and asked what to do about it.

“Well, you can bring him back and we can bandage it again,” they offered.

And he will get it off again in less time than it takes me to drive home, I thought.

“Or you can just cover it with something like a sock and try to keep it dry and clean of litter.”

“Okay,” I said. “What about the cone?”

“Oh, he needs to keep the cone on. Ideally he’d have the cone and the bandage for fully two weeks to recover completely.”

Fucking no chance of that, but okay.

The sock thing took a couple of tries. Obviously you can’t just put a sock on a cat and expect it to stay more than 15 seconds. So I sewed/pinned an ankle sock to a long piece of fleece and tied it around his chest like a weird scarf. It was…function. That’s the best I can say about it.

The same cat now wearing a piece of fabric around his chest with a sock awkwardly pinned to it. His foot is visibly attempting to escape the sock. He is not making eye contact as he works on escape.

I should also note that Kiba was NOT AT ALL chill about what was happening to his adopted little brother. He spent that whole afternoon kind of looking at Tadashi and then me like “What did you do to him and what is that thing on his neck?”

Same cat, still in the cone, with his foot wrapped. Another cat, much larger, hovers over his shoulder looking very skeptical about these proceedings

I thought we were in okay shape, though. The sock thing didn’t seem to bother Tadashi too much and between it and the cone he couldn’t really lick his foot. And he was eating and drinking water and cuddling as normal, in spite of it all, so everything seemed like it would be fine. Awkward for two weeks, but fine.

At 6am, I woke up to the usual cat fighting noises again and I thought to myself how nice that things are returning to normal. I opened my eyes to watch.

And therefore was witness to Tadashi figuring out how to get out of his cone with Kiba’s assistance.

I wish I had video of it.

We’ve always known they’re both smart as hell. Cats are supposed to be about as smart as human toddlers, I’ve read, and these two are bright even for that (and in comparison to a few previous cats I could name…). Opening doors, getting at things put in places I reasonably assumed they couldn’t reach, communicating their wants to us as clear as day — these cats are smart.

But Tadashi is on a whole other level.

He figured out — SOMEHOW — that when he stood upright on his back legs to bat at Kiba, his neck stretched out and thinned more than when he was walking normally. And combine that with leaning on a low table so he could stand up and balance without his front legs…

And he hooked his non-socked front foot in the strip of material tying the cone on him and pulled it over his head like yanking off a bow-tie.

What. The Fuck. Am I supposed to do. With THAT?

Honestly, I was too impressed to judge.

It being 6am and me not being in a place to do more than the most basic of fixes, I made sure his sock was tied on firmly and went back to bed to solve it at a better hour.

We decided that there was no putting Tadashi back in the cone. He HATED it. And we hated it. He kept hitting me in the face with it when he came in for cuddles. He bounced off walls and doorways. Honestly, I don’t blame the guy for wanting it gone. So we resolved to make do with what we had.

The final fix I’m still quite proud of. I took a larger piece of fleece and cut two holes, one for each of his front legs. Then I cut a new sock which I lined with many layers of both material and gauze. The fleece went on him like a vest tied in the back, and the sock was thick enough that even some grooming wouldn’t get through to his wound.

It also made him look vaguely like a butterfly.

Cat is walking towards the camera, no cone, wearing a fuzzy purple vest which stretches down his leg in an argyle sock which bulges around his foot from all the padding. He seems very relaxed about this state of affairs. The way the vest is tied on resembles having floppy wings on his back.

Tadashi was actually not that bothered by this solution. The thing he hated the most wasn’t the sock at all, but the vest because he likes to groom himself fastidiously multiple times a day and apparently does not like being unable to get his chest and back clean. So we made sure to take it off at least once every day so he could bathe and we could inspect his healing toe.

Did we make it all the way to 2 weeks? No, no we did not. We made it to 8 days and we were all sick of it. But by then it was mostly healed, hadn’t bled in days, and all the swelling had gone down. So we took the whole apparatus off him and just checked his foot every time we had him in our laps or up in our arms.

Even then, he never really worried at it or licked it much. Really, he just wanted to be able to take his bath.

The claw may never grow back, or if it does, it may be weird. But we’ve learned so many useful things from this experience:

Tadashi is smart enough to get out of anything if he is motivated enough to do so.

Homemade sock casts do work in a pinch.

Cones of shame are ANNOYING AS FUCK for all involved.

Tadashi is very cute in costumes and may be tolerant enough to wear them. This…may be relevant information for another day.

Here’s Tadashi looking all better after his ordeal, in case you need any more cute for the day:

Cat is lying on a blanket, tummy towards the camera. Feet are up and there are so many toe beans! Looks very cuddly and friendly as if caught mid-stretch

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Writing thoughts in the wee hours

I was talking to my coach a few days ago about writing and where I’m struggling versus where I’m succeeding, and we started making kind of a list of things I either wish I had known earlier in my writing journey or that I need to remind myself about when times are rough. I figured I’d share them here, at least the ones I can remember at 2am.

In no particular order:

1.) There is no being “as good as” or “better than” other authors. In the end, my voice, my style, my choices, my pacing, they’re as unique to me as a fingerprint. There are lessons to be learned from other authors, and when reading their works I may feel like mine is nothing more than a paper doll held up before a wedding dress in comparison. But it’s not the right way to think about it. What’s mine is mine and it has value even if I don’t feel its magic the same way. Just as I look at others in awe, others may look at me and feel those same things. Writing is not a race run against other people. It is only a race run against myself.

2.) The people who love me may not always be my readers, even if I want them to be. No matter how much I want to share my writing, it may not always be a fit for the people around me. And that is not a judgment on me or them. Don’t take it personally when others bow out. A story written to appeal to literally everyone appeals to no one. Let people self-select so they read the things that excite them and let the rest go. The people who love me still love me just the same whether or not they read my books.

3.) The only easy part of the writing process is the having of an idea. Inspiration is easy. Literally everything else is work and sweat and stress and discipline and happy accidents and frustrating effort and sleepless nights and deadlines. And that’s okay. It has been like that for every author in history. It has been like that for every single book I’ve completed. The fact that it gets hard is not reason to stop or give up. The work, in the end, will reflect the effort put into it. So put in the effort, and see what grows out of it.

4.) Writing and publishing are different. Writing is about expression, art, emotion. Writing comes from the soul and the imagination. Writing is like taking one photo of my mind and heart and crystalizing it in time. Publishing is a business. Publishing is about producing and selling a product, and it doesn’t really care how I feel about it. Sitting quietly in the dark and writing is my time with myself, to commune, to feel, to seek — but that will never be what nets a book deal. Publishing comes from marketing and querying and pitching. I am a writer. I am an author. Nothing can change or take that away from me. What happens on the publishing journey can and will be scary and stressful and sad sometimes, but it does not invalidate me or my art or my writing, no matter how it ends.

5.) When in doubt, make the bold choice. If I am at a crossroads in the middle of a work and hesitant to move forward, it is likely because one path feels “safe” and the other “risky.” One path aligns with my original ideas or my outline, while the other is a flash of inspiration that hit along the way. One path keeps the story chugging along on its neat little track; the other leaps the track and heads off into the field of flowers. And the risky choice is always the better one. It is always the more exciting one. It is always the one that elevates the story and everything in it. Don’t get bogged down in the rules of an outline or expectations from the start. Let the story breathe, and when it decides to sing instead, pick up an instrument and play along.

6.) Deadlines help — until they don’t. Having a goal and a deadline is a great driver for me, and it helps me stay focused and disciplined. But there comes a point with a looming deadline that it starts to stress me out and I find myself writing *less* because I’m afraid I’m going to miss it. At that point, I need to take a breath. For as long as I’m not under a contract with a deadline that impacts other people, it’s okay if I push mine out a week. For as long as it’s just me and my story, there is no harm to giving myself an extra week to breathe. My high standards are good at pushing me, but when they push too hard, I need to relax them. It’s not a failure to rest. It’s not a failure to take a break and get back to writing tomorrow. It may even be for the best if today’s writing would be blah but tomorrow’s will be zing.

7.) With all possible self-affirmation, STOP GETTING DISTRACTED. I know, I KNOW my brain will be in the middle of a dialogue and suddenly I’ll get a song in my head and just NEED to go watch the YouTube that I associate with it. I have interrupted my writing time with everything from blog posts (ha) to beefing up my already-robust collection of cool digital art to watching multiple full episodes of a show because my brain went down a rabbit hole and ooooooh look at that shiny other thing that’s not writing. Yes, my brain is a distractable little toddler sometimes. But I can do better, and my wife who would like me to be asleep now would appreciate if I saved my “I’ll just download one more picture” until daylight.

8.) Don’t try writing anything more complicated than a blog post with a migraine. And maybe not that, either. Yes, wordcount can be forced out through the pain, but it is like pushing a dried out wedge of garlic through a garlic press — and with about the same results. Writing through feelings is one thing, and often a positive one; even stress or grief improve with writing. But physical illness is not the same thing. I need to give my damn body a rest and write tomorrow when it doesn’t hurt to move. (No, this wouldn’t possibly be true today…or yesterday…right?)

9.) Mayyyybe start trying to write earlier than 1am. Just a thought. I know I write best when the work of the day is truly behind me and the thoughts of dishes or laundry can be put completely aside. I know I write best when I don’t feel like I’m missing out on time with Sarah or friends, when the visits have ended and Sarah no longer wants to watch the show or play the game with me. But there is a vast margin between when people go home and Sarah settles down with her own book and my 1am spot. Quit messing around online and just get to work. Yes, I can do absolutely excellent work at 1am, but even I annoy myself when I get tired before I want to be done. Even if it feels like “taking time away” from Sarah, it isn’t. She says so. Trust her and take the gift she’s giving of time to write at 10.

10.) My stories deserve to be told. Keep that negative self-talk out and focus on this one. My imagination deserves to be given voice. Whatever the doubts of the day, whatever the fears, don’t back down. My words don’t have to be revolutionary to have worth. They don’t have to change the world to have a place in it. Maybe only 100 people will read them, but maybe just one of those people will be better for them. And that is worth everything. One life made better by reading my story is worth every minute of writing. And somewhere there is that one person. My stories deserve to be told for that one person. No fear or doubt can ever be as important as that.

You know, the more I become aware of and exercise control over my negative self-talk, the happier I am as a person. The less I stress about my writing, about publishing, about all of it. So much of that fear and hurt was coming from me. And I have miles and miles to go as I get better with instituting the positive self-talk in its place, but it’s an improvement and a powerful one.

The me of five years ago couldn’t have found peace with so much of this list. But here I am. And if all that work I’ve put in has gotten me this far, I can only imagine what the me of five years from now will be able to say about herself.

Good job, past me. Keep going, current me. And hi, future me — I hope it’s nice there!

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A newsletter?

On the recommendation of an expert, I have added the option to sign up for a newsletter to my site. I don’t yet *have* a newsletter, but if enough people ever sign up, I can definitely make it happen. I am not at this time making aaaaaaany promises about frequency of updates or quality of content. Just so we’re clear.

But now I have the mechanism for those who might want it. It also necessitated me doing a lot of reading about how to add a privacy policy of some kind to this site since, you know, if you’re trusting me with your email, you deserve to know I’m going to keep it private. I’m no lawyer, but thankfully the internet is full of lawyers who write templates for blogs. If there’s anything in the privacy policy (available on the Contact Me page or under the signup for the newsletter) that you think can or should be improved, let me know.

Website maintenance is not really my strong suit, and I spent the better part of 2 hours fighting with the newsletter plugin, the sidebar and its various options, the top menu, and making the landing page for the newsletter signup not look like garbage. For a while there, literally every part of the site was wrong. But the good thing is that google exists and WordPress is pretty simple once you know how to search for what you need online.

Like the query process, and like everything that comes between a successful query and a manuscript out in the world, it’s the kind of work that reminds you publishing is a business. It’s writing that’s the art. And I may be far more passionate about and invested in the art, but if I want to be part of the business, I gotta put in the work.

Enjoy the shiny new website and the newsletter sign up!

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Clouds roll over the hills

There’s a weird sense of added responsibility working through this YA project of mine. I’ve been writing for ages, and much of that writing has been shared. But never before have I had this sense of “what story do I need to tell for the people who need it most?” like this.

I think it’s because I’m so cognizant of how much I was impacted, changed, inspired by the books I read when I started delving into the YA shelves. To be fair, the biggest changes in me probably came in the MG category, especially anything and everything written by Bruce Coville. But YA stories have a way of building out a blueprint for how a person finds their place in the world. It’s an explicit part of the genre for a reason — those who are on the cusp of stepping out from what is known (childhood home, middle/high school) look ahead to a new world (maybe college, a job, living independently).

For me, Middle Grade was formative in the sense of “who” — who will I become? What choices will I make that are true to myself? Who do I want to live with inside my head? And YA was more about “how” — how do I take who and what I am and walk into the world with them? How do I balance all the fears ahead of me against the inevitability of facing them?

So actually sitting with a YA project and trying to bring it to life, I keep thinking about me when I was reading YA and what I needed. I know a good portion of YA is also read by adults, and if anything, that makes it even more important that I get those core themes right. If I have one chance to demonstrate a path, it needs to be one that is full of courage and integrity. If I ever get the chance for my book to land in the hands of a teenager, I want that person to gain something of themself that they can carry forward.

A theme that keeps coming out in this one is that we become the hero we wanted to save us once. And I am, have always been, the writer telling the stories I needed once before, too.

It doesn’t really change the meat of what I’m writing — the characters are the same, the plot continues on — but it makes me quite self-conscious about those meta pieces while I’m figuring out how to structure a scene. It’s an added layer of complexity. And it’s a good challenge, but also a slightly intimidating one.

But, I guess, if I let writing intimidate me, I’d never have gotten this far in the first place.

A friend send this song to me. It’s Bastille’s “Pompeii” but reimagined by composer Hans Zimmer. I liked the original song just fine, but this really changed it for me. Somehow, it brings tears to my eyes. There’s something that hits differently with those lines about the city we love and how it feels that nothing has changed — even though it has. The song was always nostalgic for me, and now it triggers thoughts of different days in different places and the life I lived then in a new way.

Also, it being Hans Zimmer, the whole thing sounds like it belongs at the emotional climax of a movie, so there’s that.

As I work on my YA chapters tonight, I’m going to carry this feeling. This deep memory of the books I read and how they changed me. This cognizance of the guideline my story might be to someone someday. This story told for the me that once was, and the me that hasn’t changed very much after all.

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Today we had a cat adventure

And it wasn’t even my cat!

The condo is typically pretty quiet, with only the rare sound leaking from any unit to our own. The exception is the hallway — the doors are pretty thin so anything that happens in the hall is fair game for everyone to listen to. Mostly it’s just doors opening and closing or the occasional conversation.

But today, as Sarah and I were hanging out and messing around in BOTW, we heard a kitty crying.

That’s not too unusual. There’s at least a couple of other cats on the floor besides Kiba and Tadashi, and sometimes we get sounds. There’s a couple of dogs, too, who only bark if you knock on their doors. We’ve heard this particular kitty before, but figured he or she was doing what Kiba does — singing the song of the cats at whatever hour strikes their fancy.

But they kept crying…and it sounded kind of closer than usual.

Also, Tadashi was staring at the door and his body language was unusual. I know all his tells for “there’s someone in the hall” and “I don’t like this sound” and this was neither.

So I got up and opened the door.

And this guy ran right to me, meowing plaintively.

A hairless cat with bright green eyes is lunging towards the camera with an interested expression

Now, rescuing cats who need help is not new to me. My first cat, the cat who chose me and who I love forever and ever came out of the woods when I was 4 and sniffed my toes and thus chose me as his human for life. I’ve rescued other stray cats before when they came running for help (instead of being feral and backing away). And I worked for several years at an animal shelter helping strays find forever homes. I’ve seen lots of fearful kitty behavior and lots of reasonable wariness around a new human.

This cat? Pah. This cat came right up to me, wanted pets, and started to purr.

He (fully intact, very obviously male) was alone in the hallway, clearly having escaped from his unit, and needed help. So I did what I hope anybody would do in that situation. First, I knocked on every door on the floor to see if he belonged anywhere, but no one answered. Then I called the office downstairs to let them know so they could reach out to people directly.

And then we took little hairless buddy in, set him up in our spare bathroom with water and a litter box and toys, and I proceeded to bond with him over the course of a few hours.

I also learned more about hairless cats than I ever expected. I learned they can have really significant allergies and sensitivities to foods, so we opted only to give him about a teaspoon of tuna (the good kind with no preservatives) and water to start. I learned that they do look *really* weird, but actually petting them is pretty nice. They’re warm and smooth and kind of fuzzy, but not like petting someone who’s just gotten a buzz cut. I always thought it would feel gross, but it just felt nice.

I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor of the bathroom with him. He’s young, probably 6-10 months old at the most, so he was very playful and not always careful with those intact claws. But when he bit a little too hard and I said “no” he let go at once. I also almost taught him to fetch with one of our unused catnip toys. Like Tadashi at that age, he vacillated quickly between wanting cuddles and wanting to pounce on something — sometimes at the same time. But he was alert and friendly and he purred as loud as the loudest cats I’ve ever known.

Surprising nobody, I kind of loved him right away. I’m like that with animals and most especially any animal that comes to me for help. Little hairless buddy asked me to take care of him, so I Florence Nightingaled my way into caring about him at once. Enough to have been perfectly happy keeping him, honestly. Even though I never want another cat as young as Tadashi again. He’d be worth it.

But, thankfully, it turned out his real home was next door. So he was only my hairless buddy for maybe 3 hours before I brought him home (with a few of his toys as well).

In case anybody’s worried, we did all the right things not knowing his medical history — we washed every time we pet him, we kept any soft materials in bags to be laundered before they go back into circulation, we didn’t let Tadashi and Kiba near any water he drank, etc. I’ve also raised FLV cats and know the risks. The worst he seemed to have was either a buildup in his ears or maybe mites — thus the precautions with the blanket. Generally he was a happy, healthy, well-socialized, curious, playful cat.

And unlike Kiba, had clearly never known anything but humans being kind and friendly and loving. Little hairless buddy didn’t have any fear behaviors at all, just reasonable “I’m in a new place” uncertainty. Which tells me everything I could ever need to know about my neighbors (not that I didn’t know they were cool to start with).

I’m happy he went home even if I’m sad I don’t get to learn more about him or pet him. I don’t even know his name. We don’t talk much to those neighbors and they’re kind of on opposite schedules from us, but if I get the chance I would absolutely kitty-sit him if needed. He’s back home where he’s happy and loved and cared for and that’s what matters — but I still miss him a little bit.

Even I don’t know how many cats I’ve fallen in love with over the years, but it is probably literally dozens if not hundreds. Cats, like most people, I find easy to love.

What surprised me most about the whole adventure was how Kiba and Tadashi took it. Since the cat lives on our floor and we’ve heard him before, they know his sounds and scents. Once he was in our bathroom, they were curious about the door, nervous, Tadashi doing his “there is someone in my space and I am not liking it” slink, but neither was aggressive or territorial about it. But, then, Kiba was in a foster situation before he came home with us and knows about cats coming and going in close proximity. And Tadashi is just…once he decides you’re okay, he likes everyone. If we’d had to keep little hairless buddy for longer, I think they would have taken to him just fine in time.

Afterwards, Kiba and Tadashi came for their usual nightly pets and snuggles and, for them, it’s like nothing ever happened. And the bathroom is back to normal, too, with just a little extra laundry to do.

But I had a day with a new friend and got a good picture of him, and that’s enough for me.

I also got this picture of Tadashi tonight when he couldn’t decide if he wanted pets or play and kind of fell asleep in the middle because he’s a goof like that.

I love my little hairless buddy a little, but I love my actual boys so, so very much.

Tadashi, a fluffy black and white tuxedo cat, lying on his back facing up with his tummy exposed. His paws are loose to the sides and his eyes are half-open like he just woke up from a nap. He's lying on a knitted afghan looking very, very cute and photogenic.

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Me and my weird stats

So, for as long as I’ve put serious effort into writing, I’ve been tracking everything I begin and everything I finish. I mostly only celebrate what I finish, but today is going to be different. However, to do that, you have to understand when and how a story becomes — or doesn’t become — complete.

Since I started this tracking all the way back in 2004, I’ve developed basically a 3-stage writing process.

Stage 1 is the idea dump. I have a running document of ideas that I just gush out when they arrive, no censoring or editing. They’re numbered, and as time passes I either develop them into stories or decide the idea wasn’t worth saving and move it off the page. At present, that document is 27 pages long with 47 entries on it. (I probably need to thin it out again, honestly.) Stage 1 is where ideas get recorded so they’re not forgotten, and far more make it to reality than get discarded overall.

Stage 2 is the baby steps. I open a blank doc and start the story in some way. Maybe I only write a couple of lines of actual story and spend the rest of the page elaborating on my original idea with notes and outline info. Maybe I write the scene that came to me in full color and sound and try to work out what story goes around it. Either way, Stage 2 is my middle ground. Some stories, especially shorter works or stories that don’t need much in-depth outlining, get finished in Stage 2. I go from a doc of notes and bits to a whole completed work all in the same file.

But more and more frequently, as I get more serious, more focused, and as my outlining (and plotting) gets more complex, I advance to Stage 3. That’s where The Spreadsheet comes in.

Stage 3 is where I create a spreadsheet with a minimum of 3 tabs on it. Tab 1 is where I track my daily writing. Any day I work on the project, I record how many words it has at the end and compare to where it started. And I do nerdy things like check my average wordcounts, my min and max, etc. Tab 2 is my chapters tab where I put my outline, but broken up by chapter. I note all the beats and scenes I know are coming and update as I go with the ones I didn’t find until I got there. And I track how many words are in each chapter, what the chapter title is, etc.

From there, The Spreadsheet expands as fits the need of the project. For my Urban Fantasy, for example, I had a tab of all my characters and their info, a tab of “big notes” which was 2/3rds worldbuilding reminders for myself and 1/3rd links to useful resources, a tab showing the parallel plots with crossovers called out, and a tab tracking feedback from my beta readers. (I also have a whooooole spreadsheet for the query process, but that’s a different thing altogether.)

The Spreadsheet is my way of organizing my thoughts but also keeping myself accountable. If I’m not averaging at least 1,000 words every time I sit down to write, it helps me work harder. If I’m sensing a problem in the pacing, playing with my chapters in an outline list helps me spot where I need to adjust. And, frankly, most things I write are heavily dependent on information from elsewhere — maps, bits of history or science, reference pictures — and it’s easier for me to have it all in one place.

Stage 3 is where I have clearly declared that I’m taking a story seriously. I can’t say I’ve never gotten all the way to that level of planning and abandoned a work, but it’s rare. Stage 1 is a paper airplane, just a dream taking flight. Stage 2 is a hanglider — you can get around that way, but you can’t go far and you can’t weather a storm. Stage 3 is a proper airplane that will carry you across an ocean or above a hurricane.

Anyway. I told you all that so I could tell you this.

Since 2004, this process has worked wonders for me. I’ve spent close to 20 years tracking all my works from the shortest of short stories to the longest of novels. I’ve tracked when I’ve done character backgrounds or worldbuilding in TTRPGs as well as creative writing that will never see the light of day even on the internet. And I’ve also tracked when I advanced every project out of Stage 1. Maybe it’s 90% notes and only 10% story, or maybe it got to Stage 3 and has a spreadsheet before I put it aside for good, but I’ve tracked them all.

Last night, as I was organizing my spreadsheet for my YA that is fully in Stage 3, I got curious about those abandoned works.

Guess what I found?

Here is my writing tracker as it stands right now. This is completed works only, original, fic, TTRPG. But these are stories that are done only, no notes or outlines included:

A spreadsheet showing my writing totals by length of work (novel, novella, short story, etc). The overall count is 190 works totalling 3.6 million words.

Then I added up the wordcount for everything that has ever been started but discarded. I wasn’t careful with recording those — if the doc is 90% notes and 10% story, I still took the full wordcount of the doc rather than figuring out which bits were me talking to myself and which were narrative. Which means this figure is inflated.

Do you want to know the wordcount of stories I’ve begun in any way since 2004 but never finished?

52 individual works for a total of 329,901 words

Which means, in essence, of the 3,890,763 total words I’ve written since 2004, only a maximum of 8.5% has gone unfinished.

(And a lot of it doesn’t count. There’s fully 40,000 words of those discarded works which were folded into the Urban Fantasy story nearly wholesale. A lot of notes are counted in that 329,901, too, which I would never count in my finished works. So it’s inflated no matter how you look at it.)

Put another way…apparently once I advance a story from Stage 1 to Stage 2, I finish it 91.5% of the time if you go by wordcount. Going by count of works instead, it’s still a success rate of 78.5%. Either way, the vast majority of the time, if I begin, I finish.

Maybe it’s because I’m selective with my projects, with what I even consider putting any effort into. Maybe it’s because my process helps me stay focused and disciplined. Maybe it’s just because I’m damn stubborn about my writing.

But still. It’s a badass stat and I’m proud of it as a writer. I’m proud that I have come so far and can complete so much. I’m proud that every single work I have ever written is better than what came before it, even now. I’m proud of getting this far and I’m excited to get farther.

Sometimes when I’m struggling to be creative, it helps me to do a little analytical magic on my own accomplishments. It gives me a little scorecard, and that gives me a boost. And while I may still be learning, I think I’m a pretty good student getting pretty good grades here.

Time to go make progress on that YA that I’ve begun and get it to the finish line too. I’ve got a pattern to uphold here!

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