Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm a Slack-Ass

My life has gone absolutely nuts. I've got a new job (which is good: lots more pay, lots less stress) that doesn't really allow for any reading during lunch (where I've gotten most of my reading accomplished). I'm the Oklahoma City National Novel Writing Month Municipal Liaison, and I've barely been able to keep up with my duties for that. I joined the local costumer's guild, and when I didn't show up for two meetings in a row, I was punished by being elected vice president. The strangest recent event, hands down? I've got a girlfriend. Seriously. An awesome, geeky, understanding, adorable gamer girlfriend who is totally tolerant of my own geeky proclivities and thinks I'm pretty, too.

Ridiculous. Whose life did I accidentally steal?

I actually have reviews from at least two books that I've needed to write for months, and I've been working my way through another folklore book. It's excellent, but it's a dense read, and there's not a lot of charging through it.

In the meantime, here's a picture of Rhapsody in her new pimp coat, Symphony chillin' out, Remy doing her thing, and myself, Rhapsody, and Symphony all hanging out.

Monday, June 8, 2009

#12--At the Bottom of the Garden, by Diane Purkiss

I love writing. I love the moments when all of the flotsam and jetsam in the back of my mind suddenly coalesces around the characters inhabiting the murky layers between my conscious and subconscious and a new story comes pouring out. Those ideas often send me tearing off on long research jags, because even if I write fantasy, there are still rules to follow. Everything might come out warped, but I've always found that the strongest fantasy is still grounded in reality.

The past couple of years, though, I haven't written much. I've barely even made stabs at editing older works, and my inspiration has been sadly lacking. And I think I've finally hit on why.

My brain works best when fed a steady diet of fairy tales, folklore, mythology, old wives' tales, and urban legends. And I've been neglecting to feed it. As a remedy, I'm going to alternate books covering just those subjects with my other reading. I've got a long list to go through, and I can't tell you how happy I was when I dove in at last.

I started with At the Bottom of the Garden, which professes itself to be "A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things." Diane Purkiss pushes the boundaries of what can be defined as a "fairy" nearly beyond the breaking point, starting with Lamia, nymphs, and djinn.

If you're already knowledgeable about fairies and other mythology, this could be an interesting read, but I would never recommend it to anyone new to the field. Diane Purkiss tried to reference modern books and movies, but couldn't always get the details right, including saying that the only Sith in the original Star Wars trilogy was Darth Vader, and made easily refutable errors, like claiming Disney based their Tinkerbell on Marilyn Monroe (although the truth couldn't easily be found on Snopes at the time, I'd still expect better).

As her history approaches modern incarnations of fairies, her tone grows increasingly derisive, and her superior tone (including occasional asides to make sure you know how smart, rational, and very cool she is) grows more and more difficult to ignore. On numerous occasions, she makes reference to modern fairies reflecting the older fairy tropes by accident, since it's obvious most people using fairies have never spared a moment for a scrap of research. But this is what pushed me over the edge:

The Irish fairies had a posterity too--a dignified one of folktale and careful, sceptical [sic] folkloric research, and a more dubious one of runaway post-Romantic pseudo-Celtic New Age posturing and calendar pictures. In fantasy writer Marion Bradley's fearsomely long Mists of Avalon, King Arthur's old enemy Morgan Le Fay, Morgaine the fairy, is reimagined as a radical feminist of the Seventies, battered, bruised, but always Very Strong, always in touch with her menstruating self. She meets from time to time with the Even Stronger Queen of the Fairies, who is even less embarrassed about her sexuality and fecundity. But somehow the whole thing never rises far above the ruck of sword and sorcery, a genre so utterly debased that little can be said for or even about it...

I don't have any problem with her disliking Mists of Avalon, though I do find trashing an author in your book to be immature and unprofessional, and I cannot respect anyone who will dismiss an entire genre. And I have to go back to Tasha Robinson's answer from the AV Club's Q&A about Pop Culture Sacred Cows:

But what I absolutely can't stand, and what puts me into a fighting mood faster than anything else, is people blanket-dismissing an entire genre or subculture or area of effort, especially with the always, always, always-uninformed "I'm not interested in that stuff because it's all the same." So here's my pop-culture sacred-cow statement: Every genre is deep, nuanced, complicated, and diverse to its knowledgeable fans. That doesn't mean every genre is for all tastes. You don't have to like industrial or classical or conscious rap or Chicago blues or Beat poetry or fantasy novels or reality TV or whatever else. You aren't even obligated to try them, much less to make the effort to immerse yourself in them enough to tell the classics and the keepers from the trash. Life is short, the world is big and full, and there's nothing wrong with walking away from things that don't speak to you. But people who get snotty or self-righteous about it, as though their personal tastes reflect some sort of immutable reality, steam the hell out of me. Ignorance isn't attractive, but saying "I've never really gotten into [Westerns, opera, FPS games, whatever], and I'm not really interested" isn't nearly as ignorant as lumping together every example of a genre as unnuanced and unworthy. People who do sound exactly like caricatures of '50s parents, squawking about how Elvis and The Beatles are all just stupid noise.

I've tried to say it better, but she took the words right out of my mouth. My annoyance would be equal if she had been bashing romance, rap, or even some subgenre I'd never encountered.

My poor impression of Ms. Purkiss deepened as I drew towards the end of the book, which I continually had to force myself to keep reading instead of hurling across the room. Her distaste for the modern version of fairies was obvious, and my willingness to accept her version of events faded quickly.

For example:

...many of us can only feel nausea when our daughters and goddaughters invest int he fairy image. At my son's Hallowe'en party, one five year old came dressed as a pretty fairy; her foamy pink skirts stood out like a wound among the ranks of matt-black ogres, vampires and Dark Lords of the Sith. The mothers hissed, 'Who's the little girl in pink?' No one actually said 'Urgh!', but everyone, like Tim, looked sick, and her own mother was apologetic. Any self-respecting North Oxford mummy would rather her daughter was a vampire than a fairy.

I can't help but wonder if the mother in question was only badgered into apologies when confronted with Ms. Purkiss's attitude. She also devoted an entire passage to the owner of a fairy shop in Australia who wouldn't allow her to take pictures inside her shop, and refused to bow down after the author whipped out her academic credentials. So, obviously, the professional thing for her to do was trash the woman in question in her book.

She finally wrapped it up by drawing parallels between aliens and fairies, and a lot of talk of the X-Files, even reproducing a little fanfic. She took one last shot at the speculative fiction genre with, "I do not think I can argue that these stories come from fairy sources; I would be greatly surprised if science-fiction writer...had made much of a study of European folklore."

By the end, I didn't feel her work deserved anymore respect than she was willing to give so many others, and I'm glad to be done with her book. I definitely won't be picking up anymore of her work.

Up next: Thirteenth Child

Friday, June 5, 2009

#11--Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrews

Urban fantasy, particularly any variety can that can be summed up by, "So-and-so is a kick-ass woman who's totally different from all those other kick-ass women because she's got this one cool power no one else has called yet has to solve a mystery/murder/other crime and probably fall in love along the way, or at least get laid," has become a sub-genre that I love to hate. Partially it's because the market is saturated right now. Partially it's because so many of them seem like retreads following the paths of Diana Tregarde and Anita Blake. Most of them take place in a world where the normal person doesn't know anything about magic for an assortment of reasons, and half the time when I see the cover or read the blurb on the back, I kind of quietly gag and slide the book back into place on the shelf.

So why do I keep reading books that fall under that description? Because about half the time, even if it isn't a great book, it's still a fun read, and the other half the time, I feel like whoever is in charge of writing those blurbs on the backs of the books needs their ass kicked. And occasionally I pick up a book that rises above the genre conventions to give me something I really, truly enjoy.

I came across the Kate Daniels books because I've made a habit out of scanning the shelves at the bookstores for new authors. I stumbled across Magic Bites not long after it first came out and picked it up. I'll give any new author at least two books to really hook me unless the first book is really terrible. Magic Bites left me keeping an eye out for Magic Burns, and that second book left me more than eager for this third one.

I'm actually hesitant to describe much of the plot simply because boiling it down into a few quick sentences cannot do it justice. Anything I can write will probably leave anyone--fan of the genre or hater of the genre--rolling their eyes. The problem is, on reading, this book rises above the stereotypes with excellent characters, a tight, engaging plot, and an enjoyably unique world. Ilona Andrews knows her folklore and mythology. She does her research, and she does an admirable job of weaving it into the fabric of her world and her characters without disrupting them to show off how smart she is.

If you're looking for an engaging read, I definitely recommend these books. Each stands alone very well, but it's worth starting from the beginning. If the first book doesn't impress you overmuch, give it through the second, because I've found them to grow in depth, breadth, and craft.

I'm going to look forward to the 4th book in this series, and Ilona Andrews has a new series starting soon. I know I'm going to be snapping that up as soon as it's out, too.

Coming up next: At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things

One More About the Animals

Remy is my girl. Considering how the last month has gone, I feel like I should mention now that she is very much alive and well.

I adopted her a little more than three years ago when she was about 12 weeks old. She's always been a little aloof, preferring to go about her business and come to me when she wants pets or attention. She's more vocal than Keegan ever was, though, always willing to let me know when she wants food, wants love, or wants me to open the bathroom do so she can do something disgusting like drink out of the toilet.

She'll hop into my lap occasionally, but rarely settles down, and she'll come sit on the bed with me, but her all-time record for time was about fifteen minutes.

She and Keegan kept their distance from each other, though Keegan would sometimes pin her to the ground so he could lick her head, and she'd purr and lick him back until someone took it too far and they ended up wrestling. Mostly, they kept to themselves.

So it took me a little while to realize that she wasn't taking Keegan's disappearance well. She started searching for him and mourning him while he was still at the vet's and I was still convincing myself that he'd be coming home safe soon. I didn't connect the way she cried in the hall or sat on my bed and yowled with worry for Keegan. I didn't quite realize that she was coming to me for more attention than ever because she was lonely.

Honestly, I relished the attention and was happy to give her all the love she wanted. She patiently sat with me while I cried, and I failed for almost two weeks to realize how much she was suffering.

It dawned on me bit by bit, and I started wondering what I should do about it.

Then, on Saturday, I had one hell of a dream. Someone's cat died, and they carried it out of the vet's and just dumped it by the side of the road. I was walking by, saw the sad little body, and gathered it up to...I don't know. It made sense at the time, like anything in a dream does.

This cat was an orange tabby calico, and when I picked it up, it came back to life. I immediately rushed it into the vet, which looked like no vet's office I've ever seen, and the people inside expressed surprise about the now living cat that they'd just sent out with its owner to bury. My response? "I have no idea what you're talking about. This is my cat...Symphony. did this other cat die? And can we make sure that doesn't happen to this cat?"

I woke up on Sunday with a vaguely urgent feeling, like there was this cat that needed me. Remy still wasn't doing terribly well. She was eating and drinking, but not much. She wasn't losing weight yet, but I was getting worried about my girl.

I had to go to PetsMart to get Remy more food, so I stopped to look at the adoptable kitties just out of curiosity. No orange calico tabbies. Just as well. The idea of a new kitten made my eyes tear up.

But there was one who drew my eye. She reached through the bars to grab my fingers, but didn't use claws. She just pulled me close, and she walked back and forth to be petted. She purred and meowed at me. I made myself look at the other kittens, and while they were lovely and adorable, that one kept drawing my attention.

I left the adoption area to pick up the cat food, and almost paid for it and walked out. But I stopped and asked if there was someone who could unlock one of the cages and let me meet a couple of the kittens.

The one I was looking at had a sister who was admittedly prettier than her. Prettier and more psychotic. When the sister was lifted to see the other kittens, she growled and struck at them, then remained agitated, even clawing the poor girl in the face. The one I was looking at, however, growled a little when presented with the kittens, but then nestled into my arms and played with a little black kitten from the next cage over without a protest.

She came home with me, and I named her Symphony, for the cat in my dream. She immediately knew that was her name.

She's part Siamese, part ragdoll. When I brought her into the house, Remy came up to sniff at the box, and didn't even bat an eye when the box meowed. They sniffed noses though the holes in the box, and when I left Symphony out to see her new home, Remy only kept a close eye on her.

When Symphony got too close, Remy growled or hissed, but never made a move at the new baby. Symphony backed down immediately during every non-confrontation, and now they're pausing to sniff at each other, and Symphony is trying hard to convince Remy to play with her.

Remy no longer paces the house crying. She's eating well again, and she's gone back to being her old self. I sort of miss the Remy who wanted lots of affection from me, but if this means she's happier, then I'm definitely happy.

Symphony loves to be petted and get attention. She adores being held, and she follows me to bed every night to curl up beside me. When she plays, she doesn't use her claws, though she loves to chew on my fingers, which I'm having to discourage. She loves Itzl, the other dog, and plays with the puppy we're fostering.

She's fit into the family smoothly and perfectly. And her markings aren't orange tabby calico, but she is sort of pale brown/grey calico.

My heart is still bleeding over Shika, and I don't know if I'll ever really stop hurting over losing my Keegan. Remy still searches for him, even though she's much happier now. There are holes where Keegan and Shika belong, but Symphony has found her own special place here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Don't Wanna Sleep

I'm sitting awake right now, doing stupid things to avoid something I really don't want to do: going to bed for the first time knowing Keegan isn't going to be there.

It was hard enough without Shika and her ever-cheerful presence, but I had my Keegan right there, snuggled up against my side. I made it through those first hard nights by wrapping an arm around him and resting a cheek against his fur. He loved the attention, nestling up close and purring.

I haven't had him for three nights, but this is the first one where I can't drift off telling myself he's going to get better and I'm going to get to bring him home soon. He's gone forever, and I'm going to have to having a queen-sized bed to myself.

Remy, my other cat, has been nothing but a doll. She's always been more aloof than Keegan, which was a good thing. How could I possibly provide two cats that clingy with the amount of love and affection they'd need? She's still her usual self, coming to me for attention and meowing to let me know she wants to be petted, but then going on her way. She doesn't really settle down in my lap or curl up on the bed, though she'd done more of both than usual last night and today. I think she knows how badly I need her right now, and she's providing as much of it as her feline dignity will allow. Thank God she's a healthy cat, and thank God she isn't the type to pine after her lost friend. She and Keegan were never close, and honestly, I think she likes being the only cat in the house.

Remy is my Remy-doll, my Baby-doll, and my Darling-girl. She likes to keep her distance, but she also likes to keep tabs on me all the time. She's not always visible, but she's always close. I picked her out as a kitten because when I reached out to pet her, she immediately started to purr. I figured she'd outgrow it, but it's been three years, and she'll still purr anytime I pet her.

I don't know what I'm going to do now, without Keegan to greet me when I get home or to take possession of my lap. There's no Shika to try to steal my lap from him, either, or to try to share it. He won't be there crying at the door when I take too long to get in.

When I took him to the vet on Tuesday, I let him roam around the examining room, and he'd still walk over any time he saw my hand and throw himself into rubbing his cheek against my knuckles.

He's not going to be there to cry at me anytime I open a can, either.

For some reason, I always kind of had it in my head that Keegan would live to be about twelve years old, and that anything after that twelve would be a bonus. It was only seven, and I feel cheated out of five years with him. I had started making plans about having to make that terrible final decision for him, and I thought I'd go see him this morning, and if I hadn't gotten the miracle I kept hoping for, maybe after I visited with him after work, I'd stop trying to force him to make it through something he obviously couldn't survive. I feel cheated out of my last two visits. I feel horrible for not being there with him when it ended.

I miss him so much, and every time I start to think that I'm done crying now, I find some reason to start up again. My boss is so wonderful and understanding. I tried to go to work today, but she sent me home. Being home alone, feeling the emptiness of the house without Keegan or Shika in it, was kind of terrible, but maybe something I needed to do, too.

I went out and bought a pint of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla and Strawberries ice cream. They make versions of it on a stick, and I bought a box of them some time ago. I'd gotten into the habit of just keeping my computer in my room (wireless is a wonderful thing), and I'd get home from work, grab a bar, and go stretch out on the bed to do my usual after work internet stuff. Keegan always loved the hell out of ice cream, but he'd usually be pretty polite about waiting until I was done. Not with those bars. I had to be careful to keep him from reaching out and snagging some, and I always let him lick the stick clean, and he'd purr the whole time. I know it's silly, but I buried my boy with a whole pint of the stuff just for him. I buried Shika two weeks ago with bacon. I hope they enjoyed it.

When he'd try to steal my ice cream or sneak into my lap when it was full of other things or worm between me and the computer or me and a book, he'd always move really slow, head down, and purr really, really loudly, like maybe that would make me let him get away with it. He probably never stopped that because more often than not, I would let him.

He'd also do this thing when he wanted to be petted where he'd sort of drop his head to one side, eventually rolling onto his shoulder and flopping on that side. One time, in one of my past apartments, he was doing that on the bathroom sink while I was otherwise occupied. He dropped over to the wrong side and rolled into the sink, landing on his back with all of his feet sticking in the air. He was so fat he filled the whole thing up and almost couldn't get out on his own.

He also used to like to hop into the bathtub while I was in the bathroom for any reason so he could look for any fresh drips of water. One very cold winter morning, my mother called on her way to work to ask if I could turn the water in the tub onto a drip before I left to work so the pipes wouldn't freeze. I did so and failed to notice that the plug had fallen in the tub.

Well after I got home from work, so maybe ten or eleven hours after I'd turned the water on, I went into the bathroom and Keegan followed. The shower curtain was drawn, and he just hopped into the tub without looking and splooshed into the surprisingly deep water. Apparently ten or eleven hours of dripping equals a pretty full tub of icy water. He hit the curtain with all four paws, then fell back in, and I jumped over and pulled the curtain to the side (being certain to stand aside so that he'd miss me when he flew out of the tub. And fly out he did, liberally splashing all four walls and the ceiling of the bathroom. He then walked around the house, shaking each wet paw miserably and flicking his sodden tail, looking pathetic as only a cold, wet cat can.

He never did dare jump into the tub again.

I was a little surprised, since his first encounter with water in the tub didn't turn him off. He was still a kitten, and he'd finally gotten strong enough to jump up onto the edge of the tub in my apartment, which was actually quite a feat. It was one of those old, very deep tubs, and one of the few good features of the apartment (especially since it came without shower curtain rod or even faucet--you turned the knobs and the water just poured out of a pipe that stuck out of a hole in the wall. No shower, either). I was taking a bath, and he jumped up to check it out. I was sitting in the water with my legs drawn up, so my knees were sticking out. Keegan decided he needed in my lap, and he carefully stepped out onto my knees. Very, very slowly, I lowered my legs, so his feet were gradually engulfed in water. When he noticed, he fled as fast as he could, giving me all of the deep scratches I so richly deserved. That didn't stop me from laughing my ass off.

Keegan did always have a funny relationship with water. I mentioned before that he wasn't weaned when I found him, and after I got him onto solid food, he hadn't really conquered drinking water out of a bowl. I took him with me on the weekends to visit my mom so Eris couldn't kill him while I was gone, and he was sniffing curiously at a bowl of water, wondering what to do with it. One of our ferrets at the time, Sami, walked by and did what any ferret would do: she immediately dunked her face in it, then walked away.

I could see the light bulb go on in his head. That's what you did with the stuff! He plopped his face right into the water, then jerked back, shaking his head and snorting. But when he licked his lips, he finally discovered water, and he liked it. He started out just lowering his head until he dunked his nose, then pulling back to drink. Later, he learned to reach out and gently dip his paw in the water to figure out where it started. He still almost always dipped his nose before he could start drinking.

Shika's loss and the subsequent hole in my life both took me by surprise. I was perfectly aware of what a hole Keegan's loss would tear into my life, but I hadn't dreamed it would be so soon. Even when he seemed so bad at the vet's, I kept telling myself: it has to get worse before it can get better. Maybe he's just about to get better, and he'll get to come home tonight or tomorrow. I was trying to prepare myself for the worst, but that preparation didn't stop how hard it hit when my late night call from the vet wasn't to tell me about the miraculous improvement I'd been hoping for. It didn't make it break my heart less to go and pick him up so I could bring him home to bury, and to see him so still and cold, and feel his very soft fur without any life left.

My Remy is proving to be unbelievably sweet. My always aloof girl has been stretched out beside me, not quite touching, but occasionally reaching out with one paw to brush my leg and remind me she's there, and murring softly to get my attention so I'll scratch her ears. I think as soon as I start moving, she's going to be gone, but I appreciate the extra companionship she's offering now. I know a lot of people don't think animals are smart enough for this sort of thing, but I think she knows I'm upset and lost. Maybe all she wants is to use it for some extra affection, but I don't care. She's so precious to me.

But I started to move, and just like always, she's taken off. I've got to eventually face this first empty night. I've got a big stuffed orange cat that a friend gave me because it reminded her of Keegan. It's a poor substitute, and probably not something healthy for me to cling to. But it's a little bit of comfort, and right now, I'll take what I can get.

In Memorium

I found Keegan when he was maybe four weeks old. He was tiny, very hungry, and his back legs had already been broken and healed in his brief life. He walked on his back knuckles, and had for long enough for the fur to have been rubbed off and callouses to build up.

He fit snugly in the palm of my hand, and his eyes were still blue. I tried to give him some canned cat food that I already had sitting around, and he didn't know what to do with it. At the time, I was in college, living very close to campus, and I didn't have or need a car. Except when I suddenly very badly needed supplies to care for a kitten far too young to have left his mother.

I signed online in hopes of seeing someone I knew who lived in town. I was greeted instead with a desolate buddy list...not even the people I knew only on the internet who lived in other countries were online. I was cursing and wondering what to do when my best friend signed on, and when I asked if she'd come over right away, of course she did.

We went to Wal-Mart, because in Norman, Oklahoma, your options are very limited on grocery stores. I took the tiny kitten with me, and he kept crying. People came up to ask about him and talk about how adorable he was while a manager shadowed us, wanting badly to throw us out, but not daring for fear the crowd would lynch him or something. He finally asked if it was a one time thing, and I told him it was an emergency.

I grabbed kitten chow, canned kitten food, and cat formula, as well as a bottle. I was going to have to pay for it with loose change, but the lady in the check out line behind us had the cashier add her few purchases to mine. When I tried to protest, she told me, "I've rescued kittens before. Trust me, this is the cheap part. Just take care of him."

I tried to get him to drink from the bottle, and he'd have none of it. He wouldn't have any of it out of a bowl, either. He would, however, lap it up out of the palm of my hand.

At the time, I had another cat. Her name was Eris, and I learned all kinds of hard lessons about naming a pet after a goddess of chaos. She hated all living things besides me. I have many friends who have the scars to prove it. Hell, I have scars to prove it. I loved her, and for me (and me alone), she was a really great cat. I didn't think she'd tolerate the new kitten, but I figured I could get away with having him until I'd found a good home for him.

That first night, I was afraid to let him wander around on his own. He was tiny, my apartment at the time was treacherous for me, let alone a baby, and I was genuinely afraid Eris would kill him. So I found a big box, and I put in a blanket, a makeshift litter box, and little bowls of food and water. During the night, he woke me up because he was crying. At a loss for how to comfort him, I dropped a hand into the box. He stood up, weaving a little because he really wasn't steady on his feet, and he threw his entire body into rubbing his cheek against my hand. And I was so in love at that moment that I knew I'd never be able to give him away.

Eris tolerated him fairly well, but she was never very stable. It sounds funny, but I truly think she had some kind of chemical imbalance, like the feline version of paranoid schizophrenia. Something we can barely diagnose or treat in people, never mind animals that cant talk to us and tell us what's wrong.

When Keegan was about six months old, Eris completely flipped her lid one day. I was walking out of the kitchen, and she suddenly hit the back of my legs, ripping them open. She whirled on me, and I managed to grab a broom, which I literally had to use to beat her off of me. She kept coming after me, making the most horrible noise (recordings of it should be used in horror movies). I was trying to round her into the bathroom, because it was the only room in my apartment with a door. Eris was crouched down, getting ready to come at me again, when Keegan suddenly came charging out of nowhere and leaped on her to try to save me.

Eris was about twice his size, and not just angry, but crazy. He courageous attempt to save me was cut very short when she handed him his ass, and he wisely beat it. I'll still never forget that he charged in to save me.

As he aged, Keegan's back feet straightened out so that he did walk more or less properly. He never walked really well, and I teased him that he was the perfect cat because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get on the kitchen counter. He never did have feeling in his back toes. He never got a lot of exercise, and for a while I called him my basketball. Someone did once ask me if my cat was pregnant. Nope, just fat.

A friend of mine from Chicago came to stay with me for a couple of weeks once. She was terrified of bugs, and Norman always had a cricket problem while I was there. She slept on a spare mattress on the floor, and one morning, she woke up to a huge specimen crawling right alongside her mattress. Just as she was starting to freak out, Keegan walked into the room, and I said, "Get it, Keegan!" He immediately walked over, picked up the cricket, and walked back out of the room.

He loved sitting in my lap. But he wouldn't just hop in or climb in. No, he'd walk across my legs, then just stand there, waiting. I'd have to wrap my arms around him, and he'd drop all of his weight on my arms. I'd lower him into my lap, and he'd reach up, resting his paw on my chest and sometimes even wrapping his tail around my wrist.

And oh, Keegan's tail. It was like in order to make up for his gimpy back legs, he got an extra prehensile and mobile tail. We used to joke that it was a separate living organism, and like a shark, it would die if it stopped moving.

I think I became 'mommy' to him pretty quickly. I gradually let him have more and more freedom as he grew and got stronger and I got more certain Eris wasn't going to do him harm. My apartment was set up kind of funny, in part because it was actually one of four apartments carved out of this big old house. There was this extra room between the living room and the bathroom that I called the dressing room, and it was actually the one room with a door. Keegan had gotten certain enough to do his wandering without me watching all the time, and I was working on some homework when I started hearing the most piteous, frightened little meows. I got up and followed the cries into the bathroom. Keegan had made it out of the living room, though the dressing room, and into the bathroom, where he had gotten lost behind the toilet, and like all children with a flair for the dramatic, he had decided he was lost forever and was going to die alone. I turned on the light, and he saw me and immediately made this sound that has to be the kitty equivalent of either, "Mommy!" or "Thank God!" He ran to me, and for the rest of his life, he rarely spent much time in a separate room from me.

Not long after that, we were having a party. We'd decided to take over one of the lounges on campus, but I was doing the cooking and decorating. There were going to be balloons, and I took one out to find out how hard they'd be to blow up. Not too hard, I'd do 'em myself. Really hard, and I'd make everyone else do it. I blew up this big blue one, and blue was Keegan's favorite color, so he was immediately fascinated. He walked over and very delicately picked it up by the knot and trotted off with it. Keep in mind that at this time, he was still very young, and the balloon was considerably bigger than him. He got it all of the way over to the front door while I sat at my desk on the other side of the room. He was being so gentle that I figured it would be ok--and just as I decided I didn't need to confiscate it, he took a swipe at it with one paw and it blew right in his face.

He bolted across the room as fast as he could go, threw himself under my chair, then saw there with his tail wrapped around his legs, shivering.

When my friend from Chicago came to visit a year later, she happened to come during a two week span where my birthday would fall. She got up before I did and decorated my apartment and blew up a bunch of balloons. Keegan walked out of my room with me and discovered the decorations at the same moment I did. As soon as he laid eyes on all of the balloons, his tail puffed up and he ran as fast as he could into the kitchen, where he yanked open the door to the cabinet under the sink, then ran in to hide.

He calmed down after a while, and my friend took me out for dinner. She was an extremely picky eater, and wouldn't tolerate most of my usual haunts. We finally settled on Applebee's because she'd actually eat there, and the joke ended up on her. When she told the waitress it was my birthday and she wanted me to be really embarrassed, the waitress apologized and said they didn't have any birthday things, but she could give me some balloons. I didn't have to have a bunch of waiters and waitresses sing at me (and I'm sure anyone who has to do that stuff likes it about as much as the people being sung at), and I got balloons? Score!

When I walked into the apartment with helium balloons, Keegan took one look at that and you could just see his thoughts all over his face: "Shit, they can come from the sky, too?" I tied them onto a cauldron so they wouldn't hit the ceiling and set the cauldron on a table. Keegan crouched by the table to keep an eye on his mortal enemies, and every time the air conditioning kicked on, the balloons would bump against each other, and he'd cringe.

He hid in my room with me that night, and he'd more or less come to terms with them until we got up the next morning. Most of the helium had leaked out, and they were floating just above the floor, and he had another heart attack.

For a while there, I had this kitty fishing pole, and it had a green ostrich feather on the end of the string. Keegan absolutely loved that toy, and he would chase it back and forth and even do flips through the air. When he caught the feather, he'd crouched on top of it with his tail flipping back and forth.

I know cats are supposed to be color blind, and I believe Eris was, and that my other cat, Remy, is. But I swear Keegan saw color. His absolute favorites? Blue and green. If he had a choice of sitting on something blue or green, he'd take it even if it wasn't the most comfortable option. He didn't mind red, though it didn't get the same kind of preferential treatment.

He loved my little brother for reasons no one could ever figure out. When he wanted to be petted, he'd meow (or rather, squeak. He was a very quiet cat, and he made this little tiny sounds instead of full on meows), whip his tail back and forth, and head-butt your legs to get your attention. If you held a hand down for him then, he'd do the same thing he did as a kitten, throwing his whole body into scrubbing his cheek against your hand. He was standing on the far side of the back of the couch once when my brother had just gotten home from Iraq. He was standing on the other side of the couch talking, and Keegan kept squeaking at him for attention. He ignored him, and Keegan finally lowered his head and trotted across the couch to deliver a head-butt. He apparently got enough time to achieve ramming speed, because he hit so hard it made all of his fat quiver, and my brother let out a yelp. But he then gave the cat the attention he wanted.

He always loved to sleep on me, and he was so thrilled when I got a queen-sized bed. There were mornings when I'd have Keegan against my side, Shika under the blanket on the other side, Itzl on top of the blanket right where Shika was, and Remy lurking at the foot of the bed.

He really preferred to be on my left side. If I was on my back, he'd curl up beside me so I could wrap my arm around him, and he'd rest his chin on my stomach and purr. If I rolled over, he'd get up and stretch out against my side, unless I had my arm around my pillow, in which case he'd want to sleep in the circle of my arm on top of my pillow. Even if that meant pressing his back against my face so I couldn't breath. Some mornings, I'd be on my back, and he'd curl up on my pillow so he was sort of resting against my shoulder, and he'd have his cheek against mine, and he'd just purr so loud...those were my favorite mornings.

It was a little hard to sleep without Shika sharing the bed. I don't know how long it's going to take before it'll feel ok without Keegan there. I think Remy knew how badly I needed her last night after I got the call about Keegan. She's normally a little distant--she likes to be in the same room, but she minds her own business and prefers if I do the same. But last night, she came onto the bed and laid down beside me for maybe half an hour.

I'll try to get this blog back on track, but I'm not going to promise I won't post more stories about Keegan as I think of them. And pictures.

Not Enough Time

Keegan died just before midnight.

He was never a very healthy cat, and I always kind of knew I wouldn't have him nearly as long as I wanted.

But this was far, far too soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

No Good News

Keegan made a turn today, but it was unfortunately in the wrong direction.

When I went to see him this evening, he was listless, weak, and obviously in pain. Seeing him like that was horrible. Hearing that the plan was "keep doing what obviously hasn't been working without actually making any extra effort to find out what's actually wrong" both broke my heart and pissed me off.

We really, really need some good news tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Still Not Out of the Woods

Keegan is still not well, but he's doing better now than he was yesterday. That damned lump is still there, but it's moved, which hopefully means it's a bowel obstruction and not a tumor or something worse. The stupid ultrasound is so broken that they're getting a new one, which won't arrive for days--and hopefully, this will be resolved and Keegan will be home before it gets here.

After being on fluids for more than 24 hours, Keegan is back up to fighting weight. His skin isn't hanging loose, and his eyes are looking better. His poor nose is so dry that it cracked, though.

He was drooling, and he threw up on me while I was holding him. The vet said it was because he was nauseated, and they're going to try some new medication that maybe won't make him so miserable. He kept wiggling and trying to get out of my lap, and I kept telling him he couldn't do that. He finally gave up and peed in my lap. Showed me.

The plus side to that, of course, is that his kidneys are fine.

They're going to check his blood work again tomorrow, and hopefully his liver will be looking better. They've been giving the poor boy enemas, so here's hoping that'll be all he'll need to get better.

I stayed home from work today because I was terrified of being too far away. I'm going to go back to sit with him tonight, and again tomorrow as soon as I get off of work.

Today I took my current book with me to read, and I'll take it tonight, too. It helps me stay for longer, and I think it gives Keegan more of a sense of normalcy. If he isn't trying to sit between me and my computer, he's coming between me and a book.

If you've been lighting a candle/saying a prayer/keeping him in your thoughts, he still needs whatever positive energy or thoughts you can send him, and I can't express how deeply I appreciate it. Sphynx, Anna, Bohemian Empress, anyone else...thank you so very much.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Word

The stupid ultrasound was down all day, so I still don't know what's wrong with Keegan.

My poor boy is so scared. We have a really wonderful vet that actually has a special area for people to visit with ICU patients. I sat with Keegan for more than two hours, and once he'd settled down, he just worked on burrowing behind me. He'd calm down and relax for a little while, but whenever someone walked by, he'd tense up and try to get further behind me.

I really, really hope that tomorrow, I'm going to get to bring him home and somehow make all of this up to him. My poor boy.

If you're reading this before my next update, please light a candle, say a prayer, keep him in your thoughts...whatever your particular brand of good thoughts/well wishes/begging for favors from deities baby boy could use it.

I Can't Do This Again

I have two cats. The older one is Keegan, a fat orange tabby who I've had since he was barely a month old. He's got deformed back legs, and he's an affectionate, loving cat.

Right now, he's at the vet, waiting for an ultrasound.

He hasn't been eating or drinking, he started hiding from me, and last night, he urinated on my bed. In seven years, he's never, ever peed on my bed or my clothes. He's lost a lot of weight, and when I took him in at 7 o'clock this morning, the vet said he was badly dehydrated, jaundiced, and there's a mass in his abdomen. There might be something wrong with his kidneys.

He's been taken away from me and put on fluids. When he's a little more stable, they're going to ultrasound him to find out more about the mass.

I'm really, really hoping for some good news right now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

#10 Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I have Pajiba to thank for originally drawing my attention to Let the Right one In, though it, like World War Z, was one of those things that just kept popping up in too many places to ignore.

I have a weekly movie night with a friend, and on the day Let the Right One In was released on DVD in America, I showed her the trailer. She immediately agreed to see it, and I figured it would take a while before it would be available on Netflix. When I checked, it was available immediately, which I guess made another sharp reminder that internet buzz does not equal interest in the rest of the population.

We watched it, made fun of the dialogue, but agreed that it was still very good. It didn't take long before I started coming across the shitstorm in a teapot/internet regarding the dumbed down translation. I shared with my friend, and she was relieved. Since the book promised to be a much better translation, I ordered a copy.

The movie was very good, sweet and unsettling and just...still difficult to describe.

The book is also very good, though it's also profoundly uncomfortable. The movie was a faithful reproduction of the novel, but by necessity, it left out a number of details and events. The movie was sweeping and beautiful and chilling. The novel unflinchingly drowns you in the details better skimmed in the movie.

Lindqvist plops you into the head of an awkward, bullied, budding serial killer and asks you to invest in him as your primary sympathetic character.

And he is. Oskar is the pudgy victim, an outsider with no real hope of worming his way in. At the outset of the novel, he's not only being bullied, but sneaking off to check his pissball, a thing he's constructed to wear in his pants in an attempt to keep anyone from learning about his incontinence. He slinks home to collect news clippings about murders, fantasizes in brutal detail about killing the bullies who torment him, and spends his evenings watching television with his mother.

You also get to spend a lot of time with Hakaan, Eli's protector. His pedophilia was only hinted at in the movie, but when you're reading the book, you get every cringe-worthy detail of his desires. You also get to spend time in the heads of teenage delinquents and drunkards and even a little time with Eli. There's also a cop, and I'm not sure I've fully formed an opinion of him, except that he seems like most likely the most decent man in the book, and I kind of hated him anyway. I'm not sure if that says more about the book or about me.

The explanation of vampirism was somewhat unique, and I haven't totally gelled how I feel about it. Some people probably do need the at least borderline scientific explanation. I don't, not always. I'm ok with vampires, werewolves, and zombies being magic or just having no reason at all for being. Maybe that's because most of the explanations that come up end up being really retarded the more you look at them.

The book was everything from the movie and more. Subtle, willing to take its time unwinding the details that lead to a richer, deeper story, filled with characters that never quite gave in to stereotypes...I enjoyed the reading of it, and I'd recommend it.

One More

Shika was really, truly upset when we took her away from home and went somewhere like a hotel. As a result, when we went out of town for a convention, my dad offered to babysit her.

She liked it at his house. He said that he hadn't heard anything from her in a while, and since she usually just had to be in the same room as you (failing actually being in your arms or lap), he got up to make sure everything was ok, and he was greeted with this sight.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I know that this is a place for reviewing the books I've read. I've actually got a finished review to post, and I've finished off another book that needs a review of its own. I'm halfway through yet another, too. I'll get on that soon. I just...

Losing Shika hit me so much harder than I ever would have expected. I needed somewhere to put down my thoughts, and even though I know it isn't healthy, I've come back several times just to look at some of my favorite pictures of her. I really ought to be asleep right now, since tomorrow is an early morning, but I have a little more to get out.

I never admitted while she was alive that Shika was my dog. She was a foundling, and Itzl's best friend. She was sort of a family dog, and when I moved away, she was going to stay behind, so she couldn't be mine. But she followed me to bed most nights. Sometimes I'd toss her in before I'd crawl in myself, and sometimes I'd get in and then lean down and help her up. Rarely, she'd find a way up by herself, and she'd be so proud. She'd scramble up to me, crawling on her belly, and she'd pound her paws and lick me so quick and just look so completely, thoroughly pleased with herself.

She greeted me every day when I got home from work. Most days, my mom would open the door, and both dogs would rush out to meet me. Itzl would often hop right into the car, but Shika would stand up with her little feet on the side, wagging her tail, and I'd reach down and pet her, and she'd half-close her eyes and look completely happy with the world.

She was my dog, and I'm so, so sorry I never admitted it while she was around to know about it. Then again, I guess she made that decision for me. She knew, and I loved her so much, even if I didn't say she was mine.

She wasn't perfect at all. She wasn't well housebroken. She peed on my bed more times than I recall. I have a foam mattress pad on it not for comfort, but because the pad doesn't absorb liquids. She'd pee on the bed, and I'd be able to strip off the sheet and treat it with enzyme cleaner before washing it, and I could mop up the mess and clean the pad, whereas my mattress just would have gotten nasty. Twice she peed on my pillow, and I had to throw it away and buy a new one. She was serious hell on the carpets around here.

I'm not going to miss that part, but it was a small price to pay for everything else.

Whoever had her before us taught her very firmly that dogs were not allowed on the furniture. We immediately started teaching her bad habits, and she finally knew that dogs weren't just allowed on the furniture, it was pretty much their God-given right to be on it when they wanted, and to take possession of any laps they found.

And oh, did Shika love laps.

She adored and lavished in whatever attention she could get, and she'd charge into a lap as soon as she noticed it. Even if she was already in a different lap. There were lots of times where she'd be sitting on me or on my mother, and whoever didn't have her would talk, and she'd suddenly realize there was an unoccupied lap and dive for it.

One time, my best friend was visiting. We were watching the Dark Knight, actually. She and I were snuggled up on the couch, and Shika came over and managed to go to sleep sprawled over both of our laps. I think that was her idea of heaven.

No matter what was happening, she was excited. Especially if I'd ask her, "Are you excited?" Say it in a high-pitched, breathless voice, and she'd start dancing.

Sometimes, she'd get really excited while she was sleeping and start barking. She wouldn't open her mouth, though, and her cheeks would puff out in perfect circles.

At night, when we got into bed, sometimes she'd crawl under my blanket by my feet, but sometimes, she'd come up to the head of the bed, and I'd have to hold the blanket up by my shoulder. She'd crawl in from there, and find a good spot right against my side to settle down. She was so small that she'd curl up and I could rest my hand on her back, and it would cover almost her whole back.

I thought I'd be doing better by today, but I kept tearing up at work. I'd flash on her horrible, horrible death--so much blood, I didn't think there could be so much from such a tiny body. I never thought it would be so thick. Who knew the karo syrup in horror movies was so accurate looking? It's never as bright, though. There's a stain on the pavement outside of the house, and after some painful thought, I decided to wash and keep the nightgown she bled all over, because that same gown is in some of those pictures of her I love so much. I'm not sure yet if I'm glad or sorry that all the stains came out so easy. I teared up realizing that she wouldn't greet me when I came home from work. Teared up again remembering that she wasn't there to watch me go when I left.

I really thought I was doing better when I climbed into bed, stretched out over the blanket. There was a big fold under my legs, and I swear to God, it felt like it twitched just like it would when Shika was under there sleeping and I'd squished her, and now I'm crying again.

Her greatest fear, as near as we could tell, was that we were going to give her away. If we took her anywhere with too many strangers, she'd cling so tightly to either of us that would hold her. She liked to visit my grandparents, though, and my dad sat her a few times, and she liked his house, too. She's go with me to visit friends occasionally, too.

Once, I took her to my grandparents for Christmas. It's about a hundred mile trip. There's a town midway between where they live and where I do that's got a huge Christmas light display, and I'd been chatting with someone online about possibly meeting in person and dating. She and I decided to meet for the light show--it was free, we both wanted to see it, and it was nice and public. So we decided to meet when I was on my way home from visiting the grandparents.

Shika was terrified when I stopped in a strange town, and parked in a strange place. Worse, a strange woman drove up, and I GOT IN HER CAR! She didn't want to walk on her leash at all. She desperately wanted me to carry her, and she dug all of her little toes into my arm as hard as she could, clinging with all her might so I wouldn't let her go.

I didn't. She got to come home. And now she'd buried by the rose bush, and she'll never, ever have to leave.

I'm still not very ok. I know I will be, but I miss her so bad. She's left a hole in my life much bigger than such a small creature should be able to make.

It'll be business as usual around here soon, I promise.

I just wanted to remember a little more of the good, a little more of the bad, and just purge a little bit before I could accidentally poison myself.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Shika was the happiest dog in the world.

I've met a lot of them, lived with no few, and I'm very confident when I say that.

No matter what was happening, she was happy. If she walked out of a room and you walked out right behind her, she was thrilled to see you. When you got home, she was so ecstatic she could barely contain herself. If you were petting her, all was right in the world.

We never really knew how old she was. After my Oma passed away, my mother went down to Texas every weekend to help with the estate. She and my aunt were almost finished with it, and my mom was in the garage, sweeping it out one day when her chihuahua, Itzl, ran up to her, jumped up and tapped her leg, then ran, top speed, down the driveway. He did this several more times until she got the message and went to see what was going on.

At the end of the driveway, she found a tiny chihuahua. She was short-haired, brown and white, and in pitiful shape. She was more than half-starved, and she had bite marks on her head and her tail had very recently been bitten, torn, or cut off. This tiny little dog was huddled up and looked up at my mom, just hoping she wouldn't get hurt again.

My aunt tried to keep her, but she didn't get along with my aunt's dachshund. Attempts to find her former owner failed, even though she'd obviously been bred, and was still young enough to have more puppies. She was sweet and affectionate, if a little nervous--not shaky nervous like the typical chihuahua, but the kind of nervous you get in dogs who have had a rough time.

She and Itzl had gotten along very well, so my aunt met us halfway to Texas and we picked her up. Eventually, we named her Shika, which is Japanese for 'deerlike', and fit her extremely well. See?

Over time, there were lots of other things that I called her, and I can't explain most of them. Just the nonsense that slowly happens as names evolve. Shika-pika. Pika-pie. Porky. Porky-pie. Ok, I can explain the Porky thing. She made a real pig out of herself sometimes. And when she begged for food, she'd actually suck her tummy in to try to look skinnier and hungrier.

She was a wonderful dog. She wasn't at all like the typical chihuahua. She didn't shake much, she was very sweet and affectionate, she loved making new friends, and she was absolutely fearless.

We have an outside dog named Dogmatyx. He's half beagle, half Irish wolfhound. He's a big boy. She once charged out into the back yard and leaped off of the ground to snatch a treat right out of his mouth. That might be how she lost her tail.

She had this thing she'd do, where she'd walk and stretch, all long and just above the ground, lifting one paw, then the other, as high as they would go. It was hard to describe, but absolutely one of the most adorable things I've ever seen.

She would also do little spins and flips when she was running around and she was really, really excited about something. And she'd charge into your lap, body held low to the ground, just as fast as she could go so you wouldn't have a chance to stop her. If she wanted to be petted, she'd pat at you with one of her paws, and then if you were petting her and she wanted more, more, more, she'd start patting at your chest with both paws.

She had this look she'd get when she was being petted and she was really happy, with her little eyes mostly closed and her ears kind of lowered, and you knew that if she was cat, she'd be purring.

Sometimes, if I was sitting on the couch and kind of leaning over my lap, she'd come up and worm her way under my arm, forcing her way over to exactly where she wanted to be, just like this:

She was the only dog I've ever known who could smile. I mean, she'd pull up the corners of her mouth and for real smile at you, just like a person. She learned it after she'd come to live with us.

She slept most nights with me. She couldn't jump up into the bed by herself--there was something wrong with her hips. We think she'd been bred too young or too often before we got her, and her body was somehow damaged. So she'd follow me into my room, and I'd pick her up and toss her on the bed, and she'd run all around and rub up against me like a cat and be so very happy to be there. Or she'd come in after I'd gone to bed, and I'd wake up to the sound of her little feet scrambling at the side of the bed, and I'd sit up and peak over, and she'd be sitting there, wiggling all over with excitement. So I'd hold a hand against her back, and she'd sort of climb up all by herself. She'd crawl under the blankets or she'd run up by my head and want to crawl under by my shoulder. She'd curl up and sleep by my feet, where I'd accidentally kick her or squish her when I got up to go pee, or she'd sleep right beside me, stretched out between me and one of my body pillows, or with her little butt up against my side, stretched out across the pillow. A lot of the time, Keegan, my big orange cat, would step on her, and she'd growl at him.

When I showered in the evenings, I'd take off my clothes and drop them in a pile on the bathroom floor, and she'd curl up in them while I was showering. I'd have to chase her out so I could pick them up and toss them in the laundry in my room.

When she wanted to bark at something--and she really didn't bark very much--she'd run over or under anything in her way, including the cat. Keegan never really knew what to make of that.

She never learned how to play with toys, and never had any she really liked. Itzl, by sheer force of will, did teach her how to play. She would snarl and growl and look so fierce, and he'd pull on her ears or bite her legs and pull on them. She'd spin around in circles, and she had this weird way of running when she was playing, with her butt kind of curled under and her ears back, and she'd just look so absolutely happy.

When you reached down to pet her, she'd never really meet you. She'd flatten herself out like she was genuflecting. When when you lifted your hand, she'd wiggle all over hand slap her little feet on the ground just like when she'd pat your chest to ask for pets.

If at all possible, she loved to sit in laps, and she'd curl up so tiny, you'd hardly know she was there.

When we got her, her fur was so coarse and wiry, but after a while with us, she was so amazingly soft.

She loved food, like any dog that's had to starve before. She'd eat anything at all, including french fries, pickles, and olives. I never knew a dog before who liked olives. She really loved bacon.

Once, while she was outside, she snuck into a neighbor's yard and found a half a chocolate chip muffin. It was taken away, since chocolate is supposed to be bad for dogs, and she was bitter about that ever since. Sometimes, she'd still go to that spot, hoping it would spawn a new muffin for her.

We made Indian tacos once, and for about a week after, I would notice that she'd spend a lot of time under the couch (which is actually a futon, so there's a lot of space under it). If the cats tried to go under there, she'd growl and bark and chase them out. I finally discovered that she'd managed to steal a frybread. It had been a week, and it was almost petrified, but she was going under there at night and working on eating the whole thing, and she was mortified when I took it away.

She always had plenty of food, but she'd always take more, too.

Just this weekend, I went out to Taco Bueno. I got more food than I needed, and had an entire taco left over. I broke it in half and dropped it and the wrapper on the floor so she could have some, then went to clean up the rest of the mess. When I got back, she'd eaten all it it by the lettuce--even the shell! She was only a four pound dog, and I have no idea how she could fit that much food into herself.

After her tail had healed, which took a couple of months, she started using it a lot. Even though she'd lost all but maybe an inch of it, she was amazingly expressive with her little stub. She didn't wag it like other dogs without tails--she didn't wag her little butt or the back of her body with it. Just that little stub would motor around, wiggling so fast when she was excited, and curled up high when she was happy, and down over her little butt when she was worried or upset or scared.

Not that she was scared very much.

She was terrified of being picked up, but she loved to be held. Just this morning, when I came out of my room, she ran up, and she'd actually stand up on her back legs as you picked her up to help you out. Then she leaned against my chest with her little head tucked under my chin.

She had this thing she'd do, where she'd sit on her butt with her little back feet sticking up in the air. It's hard to describe adequately, but it never failed to make me laugh.

She had terrible food manners. She'd snatch anything she could, anytime she could. She'd reach out and lick food on your plate, or steal bits right out of your hand. I said that she'd probably take a bite off of the end of your hotdog while you were distracted taking a bite off of the other side.

And gods, how she licked. Any exposed skin, any time. She'd get you so fast you wouldn't even realize it until you felt the wet on your arm or hand. She'd get your face, or your legs. If I was wearing a low cut shirt and picked her up, she'd placidly lick my chest until I'd make her stop. It drove my dad nuts when he came over to visit, and he'd always threaten to tape her snout shut. Of course he never followed through.

My mom asked me this morning if I wanted Indian tacos. I said sure, and she went out to buy the necessary ingredients. Shika and Itzl stretched out on the shelf in front of the window, on their red pillow, and watched all the cars going by, waiting for her to get home.

When she got home, they were so excited to see her that I went and let them out. I failed to notice right at first that she wasn't out of the car yet. I thought about calling them back, but decided against it.

I should have.

My mom got out, and she saw Itzl, but not Shika. She slammed the car door closed, and Shika tried to jump into the car at just the wrong moment. The door slammed on her head.

I heard my mom yell, "Shika! Oh god!" I ran out to see her on the road with blood pouring out of her ears, twitching. I screamed that we had to get her to the vet, my mom said it would be too late. We both yelled, completely uselessly, and I ran back inside to get a towel.

When I got back, my mom had scooped her into a box. There was so much blood on the ground. I've never seen that much of it, and I never knew it was so thick. There was so much of it in the box--Itzl was tossed into his car seat in the front, I sat in the back with the box, keeping one hand on Shika the whole time. She was so still, and she wasn't breathing, and I wasn't crying yet. I was just sure we'd get to the vet in time, and it would be ok. I think I felt it the last time her heart beat.

I ended up in the vet's, barefoot, wearing a nightgown with blood smeared all over it, with my hair unwashed and unbrushed. No purse, no wallet, no way to pay for it if there was a miracle and she was going to be ok. My mom and I stood outside of the room, watching through the glass, waiting for good news.

There wasn't any.

Shika probably died the moment her head was slammed in the door.

It's been less than two hours, and I just wanted to write this as fast as I could, trying to remember as much as I could.

Right now, I'm not ok.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#9--Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

Ah, the Dresden Files. I owe my enjoyment of this series to my father, whose book recommendations I should really listen to more often.

I'll admit I didn't pick up the Dresden Files until really late in the game expressly because the Anita Blake series burned me badly enough to turn me off of urban fantasy. But my dad pushed a copy of Dead Beat off on me a couple of years ago, and I finally read it, even though it took place late in the series.

Then I bought every single book available up until that point and devoured them. I had Turn Coat pre-ordered months ago, and when I received it on Friday, I sat down and started reading, and finished it on Saturday. I so very much appreciate that this series is up to book 11, and rather than turning to shit or devolving into porn, the groundwork for an overarching plot laid out from the very first book is building up and turning extremely rewarding.

For the uninitiated, Harry Dresden is a wizard. Seriously. And he's a professional and everything--he advertises in the phone book and works primarily out of Chicago. Each book more or less follows one of his cases, and they are all written in a way that you could pick up any single one and read it as a standalone without missing out on anything important. I still recommend you start from the first one and work your way up, just because you'll get more out of each one if you have the groundwork from what came before.

Besides, after reading Dead Beat, I spent the whole damned series waiting for Mouse, Thomas, and Butters only to have them appear a book or two before the one I'd started with.

For most of his life, Harry has been persecuted by Morgan, a warden (a wizard cop, so to speak) for some misbehavior from his youth. There's been nothing Morgan would have loved more than to chop off Harry's head (in a very literal sense). He's a stick-up-the-ass, rules following asshole with no room for compromise in his moral code, and Harry totally chaps his ass.

So one day Harry gets a knock on the door, and there's Morgan, bleeding to death and begging for help. He's been framed for the murder of a White Counsel member, and the other wardens are on his ass.

Since Harry's gotten a taste of what it's like to be wrongly accused and almost executed for crimes he didn't commit, and because he suspects there's something a whole lot bigger at play inside the White Counsel, he takes the case.

And it make for a really fun, quick read.

It's not perfect, of course. Harry's chauvinist pig attitude at times makes me want to kick him, and he keeps refusing to learn important lessons that have been taught to him more than once (like keeping your friends in the dark about important things can and will get them killed). And his long asides sometimes remind me of something mentioned in the Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction:

Expository lump. A chunk of exposition that, whether or not relevant to the plot, is insufficiently integrated into the story being told. As such, is seems to come from left field, as if a page from an encyclopedia accidentally got shuffled in. Asimov is famous for these. A subheading, known as "I've Suffered For My Art (And Now It's Your Turn)" occurs when the author, having done masses of boring research, proves this by unloading them on the stunned reader.

Sometimes they're amusing, sometimes they make me want to shake either Harry or Jim Butcher and beg them to just get back to the damned story already.

Still, it was more than enjoyable enough, and I'll be looking forward to book 12.

Up next: Let the Right One In

#8--The Host, by Selina Rosen

I'm a total worthless shit, and I misspelled Selina's name not once, but twice. I know how to spell her name, and have for years, but something switched off in my brain and not only did I get it wrong, I didn't catch it to fix it until several days later. No excuse. In penance, I'm going to buy a few extra books next time I see the Yard Dog folks.

Also, if you're interested in the Yard Dog Press books, you can get their ordering information here. You can find copies of the Host on Amazon here, but if you go that route, order a new copy.

And if you really need an explanation for why you should always buy books new from small presses, micro presses, and new authors regardless of how big the house is that published them, I don't think we can be friends.


I really, really wanted to like this book. And I arguably gave it more of a chance than I should have, even after I continued past several points that made me want to hurl the thing across the room. Part of that may be that I'm using the cannonball read as an impetus to finish all of the books I start.

I like Selina Rosen. I love, love, love what she's done with Yard Dog Press. Every time I see them at a con, I pick up a few more books, and some of them have been real gems. So naturally, I was excited when I decided to pick up her Host series, especially with the promise that the vampires were seriously evil and the good guys weren't stupid.

Awesome, right?

And the thing is, I think all the potential for that awesome was right there in this trim little book. It's just...

It was like reading a NaNovel that had been edited once (poorly) for spelling and grammar. The plot was there, the idea was good, the characters at least had the potential to be likable or despicable, depending...

And yet this was missing so very much.

A lot of the writing felt rushed, like she had this great idea and wanted it out as fast as possible so she wouldn't miss anything. Which is a fine way to write a novel. But it seems like she never went back to flesh it out, smooth out the rough edges, and round out the characters. I also wanted to take a red pen to the thing and mark up every time I found a typo, a quotation that hadn't been either opened or closed, or the wrong word in the wrong place.

I can forgive a few typos here and there, especially coming out of a small or micro press, and most particularly when the work I'm reading is good enough to suck me back in.

Also, I hated that so many of the characters had names that started with the same letter. It's something really stupid, but when they're as thinly drawn as this, it makes it that much harder to keep Burt, Bill, Devon, Davil, and Damon all straight.

And for the love of God, if you're really wanting to show that your good guys aren't stupid, please show me. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT actually have one of your characters utter the words, "Good isn't stupid." And really, really try to refrain from doing it twice.

Finally, I thought that all of the not-entirely-subtle "look at how awesome Judaism is, wouldn't you like to be part of it" stuff was kind of weird. Mind you, as an outsider to all of the world's major religions, you could substitute Judaism for Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or whatever and I'd have exactly the same reaction. I guess it's hard to avoid some kind of discussion of faith in a vampire novel, especially when your main character is a Rabbi, but it got a little heavy-handed and obnoxious. I also got kind of annoyed by the trashing on other religions, including Christianity and one character turned into all of the worst parts of paganism in one cliched asshole.

Now that I've shit all over it, I'd like to say again: the idea here was pretty great. I liked the new vampire mythology (or rather, another take on the psychic vampire as opposed to the blood sucking variety). I liked the idea of the host presented in the story, and I did like Tracy, and I got a real kick out of disposing of the vampires by running them through an industrial chipper/shredder and working them into customer's gardens. Ha.

There are two more books in this series so far, and although this one let me down, I'm still going to pick up the next one at the next convention I attend. I'm hoping the second will be better because the first was there to get the origins nonsense out of the way so the real fun could start. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed, and I'm also going to pick up a few more books from some of the other authors, because far more often than not, I find the Yard Dog books to be well worth my money and time.

Up next: Turn Coat

Monday, April 13, 2009

#7--Maledicte, by Lane Robins

I found Maledicte by chance while browsing through the new books at the book store, keeping an eye out for new authors. I picked up a copy, got it home, and more or less forgot about it.

Months later, I unearthed it and read most of the first chapter, then forgot about it again.

This is often to kiss of death for a novel with me. Once I've picked it up and started it once, I have a lot of trouble ever making myself start over. When I do get around to it, I very often find myself richly rewarded, as when I made myself pick up Harriet the Spy again, or when I finally sat down and read all of Dracula or Puck of Pook's Hill.

There honestly wasn't much to recommend the book when I did pick it up: a novel of love and vengeance. A girl pretending to be a boy to maneuver through court politics in a decadent kingdom. Gods meddling in human affairs. All well and good, but...yawn. We've all been there and done that, right?

This novel definitely has its flaws, with many earmarks of a new author. While reading it, you're often reminded of details that have been many times discussed, just in case you've forgotten since it was last mentioned earlier on the page. While the story unwinds itself through tragedy, betrayal, love...there's nothing here you don't sort of expect.

And yet...

And yet, I really loved this book.

I loved the world, with the tumbling, god-ravaged Relicts to the glittering, festering court. I liked Miranda, who became Maledicte after stumbling upon a dead goddess who wasn't quite so dead, and very ready for a new foothold in a land deserted by its gods. It was a pleasure following the twists and turns of the story, and if the path was maybe a little familiar, it was so in the way of the best fairy tales--it isn't so much that you know how it's going to end, or even maybe how it will get there. The pleasure is in the players, and how skillfully the game is laid out before them.

Despite its flaws, or maybe in part because of them, I was absorbed in this book. It's the first one I've had in a long time that stayed with me, nibbling at me until I could pick it up and read further. When I was close to the end, I stayed up late into the night, and only gave it up before I hit the final page because I needed to get to work the next day.

And who each of the characters was at the beginning was not who they were by the end--and their journey there was convincing as I read through each step, through each little change that brought them to the endgame, and finally to an ending that thoroughly satisfied me in an almost guilty way.

Is this great literature? Not particularly.

Do I care? Not in the least. I pre-ordered the second in this series, Kings and Assassins, which is due out in late April. And this time, I won't put it down after reading only a couple of pages.

Up next: The Host

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

#6--Blood Noir, by Laurell K Hamilton

This book opened with one brief chapter of talking/whining/angsting, and immediately moved on to three straight chapters of sex.

I don't care how many people are involved, how many different positions they go through, and whether or not they're drinking blood and/or shifting into different animals: there is never, ever an excuse for a description of fucking to go on longer than a chapter.

So, why did I read this dreck?

Because once upon a time, the Anita Blake series did not suck.

No, seriously.

I started reading around the time the third book, Circus of the Damned, was released, and I still maintain that the second book, The Laughing Corpse, was the best of the series. Laurel Hamilton had found her voice, and the editors were still willing to do their damned jobs, Anita was still adamant that she didn't date monsters, she killed them, and it produced a really enjoyable mystery/action story with plenty of literal monsters of the human and inhuman kind. If you like the Dresden Files, you'll probably really enjoy the early Anita Blake books.

However, if you haven't started on them, all I can say is: Don't! Save yourself now!

Holy flying, fucking werewolves, did these books ever start to suck.

Why am I still reading? Because I was duped into caring about the characters back when they didn't suck. This is, however, the very first series to go from books I'd check out from the library to books I'd purchase as soon as they were released to books I'll eventually read when I pick up a used copy on the cheap at the local Friends of the Library book sale.

Which is exactly how I ended up with my copy of Blood Noir, and if it weren't for the fact that my $2 went to support my favorite library system, I'd be whining about being ripped off.

This particular time around, Anita finds out that Jason (werewolf, friend, occasional fuck buddy, and Jean Claude's regular food) has to go home to see his dying son of a bitch father (because there is not a single character in this entire series who has a good relationship with their family, as though Mrs. Hamilton has somehow determined that you can't be interesting unless you've got the appropriate tragic back story to go along with it). There is much whining from all the other men in her life, but she still packs up and flies off to meet the family.

Blah, blah, confrontations with family, blah, more sex, blah, lots of whining and personality deconstructing, blah, blah, lots more sex we at least don't have to read about, blah, blah, the plot finally shows up and people die.

There was actually considerably less sex in this book than in the last few, and we're at least blessedly spared the two day fucking marathon (which, had it been described in the usual manner, would have made the book at least four times as long and sixteen times more unbearable).

I'm so sick of this series, and I'm not sure why I'm still compelled to pick them up. Anita Blake is a detestable woman--she's selfish to an absolute fault, even when it's come to her attention that she's somehow hurting someone she'd have you believe she cares about. She'll only act to fix the problem when and if she decides she can 'handle' it, and she's obsessed with having the moral high ground, even when she's lying on her living room floor in the sticky leavings from her most recent round of sex with a minimum of two men. which is always accidental. How many times can you accidentally fuck multiple men before it's not really an accident anymore? I swear to God, this woman can no longer cross a room without tripping and landing on a dick. And the men surrounding her are their own special breed of pussy whipped (a phrase I find contemptible, but highly appropriate in this one case).

And the sex is mind-bogglingly boring. Or maybe I just have an abnormally high tolerance for violent vampire and lycanthrope group sex. Have you seen what's lurking in the depths of Forget the furries. Once you've read Dumbledore topping Hagrid, you can handle anything.

Also, I absolutely love psychoanalyzing my characters. I totally corner hapless friends into discussions involving characters they've somehow been involved with, and it does help me work out all kinds of issues and smooth out personalities and all the ticks and quirks that go along with them. But all of that needs to happen in the background, where it's reflected on the page in actions, words, and deeds, not agonizingly poured over by the characters themselves.

I wanted to say that with a competent editor wielding a machete, this could possibly have been chopped into shape, but I'm not sure that would be true. This could maybe pass as a novella or a short story, and I think there were all kinds of details that fell by the wayside that could have better served the story itself (Jason only saw his dad twice? Really? There was a possible war between vampire masters of cities, and it was barely mentioned? Spoiler--a master of a city freakin' died and it barely gets a mention in the final wrap up? What the fuck? Endeth Spoiler).

At this point, Anita Blake can go fuck a duck (she's already doing a swan, so it's not too far out of point).

I need a drink and a good book.

Next up: Maledicte.