International Cat Day

Crowley

I’ve owned a lot of cats in my life. Socks, Whiskers (aka “Grizz”), Precious, Clotilde, Smudge, Armand (aka “Chook”), Tapette à Mousche (aka “Choo Choo”), Loki, Byron . . . That’s not even all of them. And I’ve loved every last one of them, but you know how these things go—some pets and people leave a deeper impression on you than others. You form a closer bond.

Currently we have two black cats, Crowley and Minerva. Crowley is two and Minnie is three, though we got Crowley first. He was rescued from under a bush, not properly weaned, and he still nurses on my arm, by which I mean he kneads and sucks on my bare forearms. Hurts like the dickens, but I’m unwilling to deprive him. That probably makes me a bad mama.

Crowley is named for the character in Good Omens, though when people hear his name they more often think of the television show Supernatural. Or so I’m told. I don’t watch it. (*gasp*)

Minerva

Minerva, meanwhile, is named for Professor Minerva McGonagall. We got her on Hallowe’en eve, so it seemed appropriate. She, too, was rescued from shrubbery, but she was already 6+ months old at that point. The people who’d found her couldn’t keep her because the wife was allergic, and they were worried the cat would get run over by a car. So we took her in.

Because Crowley was so young when we adopted him, he’s really never known any other life. Minnie, however, had been on her own for quite some time, and it was a difficult adjustment. She lived under my daughter’s bed for several months, only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. Eventually, she’d stay out longer. Emerge earlier. And now she’s quite comfortable being around us, though she will only allow my daughter to pick her up, and she still sleeps at night in my daughter’s room. I have to schedule Minnie’s vet appointments around my daughter’s schedule because she’s the only one who can get Min into a carrier.

Crowley is my cat. I call him, “my baby,” and have as deep an affection for him as any pet I’ve ever owned. And I’ve had a lot of pets in my life. I love Minerva, too, of course, but we haven’t bonded in quite so strong a way. Crowley brings me toys when he wants to play. He follows me upstairs when it’s bed time. Sleeps beside me. Minnie . . . tolerates me. She lets me pet her. She’ll accept treats and will sometimes play if I dangle a toy in her direction. But she’s closest to my daughter and husband. I’m a distant third.

Anyway, it being International Cat Day, I thought I’d share my two sweeties. Do you have cats or other pets? What are their stories?

Take Your Ball and Go Home

Someone I know on a social media site asked for advice. Someone he knows (and I suspect that someone might be me) keeps posting political stuff that he doesn’t agree with. The offender is “one share away from being unfollowed.” But of course, the person asking for advice feels the need to air his grievance prior to said unfollowing.

Look, you don’t have to agree with everything you see or hear or read. And it’s your right to unfollow people on social media or whatever. But I’d caution against the echo chamber of only surrounding yourself with people whose opinions agree with yours, whether online or in person.

Our society is fracturing. No one wants to give ground, and everyone is sure they and their side is correct. This unwillingness to even see or hear the other side is part of the problem.

I definitely don’t agree with everything I see from some of my friends and family who post in various places. I know they don’t agree with me either. But closing people off isn’t a useful way of building bridges and finding common ground.

And maybe no one is going to change their minds. Maybe we’ve hit that wall. Blocking off people who have a different perspective is tantamount to saying, “I refuse to consider you or your point of view. I refuse to engage in any kind of conversation. I dismiss you.”

Look, it’s not your inalienable right to not have to hear or see or deal with things that you don’t like. Sorry, but that’s how free speech works. But it seems we’ve come to the place where we’re shouting over each other and just trying to be louder than everyone else rather than be productive in any way, shape, or form.

The person asking for advice says he doesn’t understand why we can’t just avoid talking about politics at all. Well, while for some that’s a “solution,” some others of us can’t ignore what’s going on around us and feel the need to speak out.

So I’ll continue to speak out in the way I see fit. This person will unfollow me in any case, and that’s a little sad, but that’s on him. If he’s not open to discussion and can’t tolerate opposition . . . He can take his ball and go home.

Not Set In Stone

This morning on an online writing group someone asked for advice. He was halfway through writing his first chapter and wanted to make a change to his protagonist without having to go back and rewrite anything.

Oh, sweetie. I have some terrible news for you.

Most writing—good writing, anyway—is rewriting. Just because you wrote it or typed it doesn’t make it sacrosanct. If anything, having written it down is exactly what makes it malleable. Which is as it should be.

We’re a world of instant gratification. Rapid technology makes us increasingly impatient. We want to write the thing and be done. You can do that. You can write it and publish it and never look at it again. That’s the dubious wonder of self-publishing. But if you want to write the best possible book, you’re going to need to 1. take your time, and 2. rewrite, get feedback, revise, hire an editor . . . Basically, you need to work the book like you would work dough, pulling and pushing and folding and rolling until it’s right for baking. (There’s a reason some rushed books are called “half-baked” yeah?)

If I were writing something and realized halfway through the first chapter that I needed to tweak, well, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be so glad that I hadn’t gotten too far in before needing to rewrite that bit to pull it through the rest of the story. Better now, at the start, than to get halfway through writing your book before realizing you want to make a major change. Not that you can’t do that. I’ve dismantled and rewritten big chunks of books. I rewrote the entire first half of The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller and the entire back ends of Manifesting Destiny and Brynnde. They are all better books now than they were.

In short, you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be willing to expend the effort and the energy.

You have to be willing to rewrite.

Your words are not written in stone. Not yet. If you want them to be lasting and have impact, you must make your story the best it can be. And your first draft should never be your final draft.

The Sorrow of What Remains

Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.

I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.

First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.

No school.

???

I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.

Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.

Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.

Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.

And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.

It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.

There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.

Changing Behaviors

I’ve written about this topic before, if not here than definitely once on spooklights that I can recall. But it seems worth a revisit.

Yesterday my husband and I were walking over to the school to pick up the kids, and we were talking about how so many of the parents—the ones driving—use what’s known as the “back loop” for pickup, even though every email from the school principal has a reminder that the back loop is NOT open for pickup because it’s for handicap services only. Now, I could hypothesize that a few of those parents who are going against the rules don’t get email? And their kids also don’t bring home the printed notices? But not all of them.

Does it seem to you that more and more people are breaking rules or behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them? (I recommend reading F You Very Much by Danny Wallace, btw.)

I’m going to scale this down a bit and use an example I typically fall back on when discussing this subject, one that I think most of us can identify with: batteries.

We all know we’re not supposed to throw batteries away. There are community events where you bring your batteries and electronics to be disposed of, and there are sites you can bring these things to, and in our town we can even put our batteries in plastic baggies and tape them to the tops of our bins so the garbage collectors take them to dispose of them. How much easier can it get than that?

Or think about recycling in general. For years it was nearly impossible to get people to do it, but then cities began giving people special bins that they could use just like their garbage bins, no need even to separate the types of recycling, and then what? More people recycled!

There are two prongs to changing people’s behaviors, and (spoiler alert) repeated emails telling people not to do something is not one of them.

1. Convenience.

By making recycling as convenient as throwing away your garbage, cities were able to increase the number of people recycling. By putting recycling bins out next to trash bins in public spaces, again, more recycling. By making it possible for us to just tape our batteries to the tops of our trash bins, our town made us a lot less likely to throw batteries out. Because in our busy lives, no one wants to make an extra trip to Wherever to hand off dead batteries.

If and when you want people to do something, you have to make that something relatively easy. The minute you begin asking for extra effort, you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential buy-in.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell it from the point of view of trying to get reviews. Many readers aren’t used to writing reviews, and to do so requires time and effort they’d rather put into reading the next book in their stack. But authors who put a link in the backs of their ebooks tend to get more reviews than authors who don’t. Because just clicking on the link? That’s relatively easy. Write a few words while the reader is still high (or low) on what he or she just read? They’re way more likely to do so at that moment than to come back to it later. And that link makes it convenient.

Going back to the pickup situation at our local school: Why might parents feel the need to break the rules and use the back loop? My guess is it’s because the current system for drop-off and pickup isn’t efficient and doesn’t suit their needs. Well, and they’re impatient and don’t want to wait their turn. There’s a streak of entitlement there—the notion that their needs are greater than anyone else’s.

Which brings us to

2. Consequences.

Another reason these parents have no problem using the back loop when they’re not supposed to? No one stops them. There’s never a police officer waiting there, or even a school official. In short, they do it because they can get away with it. There are no consequences for breaking the rule.

We want to believe people are mostly good, but don’t we all sometimes speed when we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught? “What’s the harm?” we think. Until the day we’re pulled over or, worse, in an accident. I see it every day at the school, people doing well over the 25 mph limit—unless there’s a police car parked nearby.

Why do some people throw batteries in the trash when they know they shouldn’t? Because the benefits (not having to go to any extra effort) outweigh the disadvantages. These people know they won’t get caught, won’t be fined or jailed or anything. So why not do the easy thing rather than the right one? (We as a species are pretty terrible at thinking ahead to greater consequences down the road—Exhibit A: climate change.)

Until the cons outweigh the pros, people will continue to disregard the rules.

How many people do you see driving in the HOV lane when they’re the only ones in the car? Where I live, it’s quite a few. Recently, I read a statistic that only 1 in 40 would be pulled over for it. That’s less than 3%, so the odds are in the favor of those disobeying the law. Clearly a number of people feel it’s worth the risk of (at least here) a very high fine. However, if the numbers were to change—if, say, 60% of people were caught and fined—behaviors would likely change. (My guess is, at 50% these drivers would still play the odds. Hell, even at 60% they might. But if they were statistically more likely to get pulled over and fined than not, they’d probably think twice.)

Why do people in power do things they shouldn’t? Because no one will hold them accountable. There are no consequences. Look at the sexual harassment scandals making waves through Hollywood and beyond. Only now, as people are starting to hold abusers responsible, are behaviors beginning to change.

And change is not instantaneous. It’s slow. To get people to do things, or stop doing them, is like turning a massive cruise ship. It takes time, and some people are going to feel queasy about it.

To summarize: in order to get people to change their behaviors, you must (1) make it easy for them to change, and (2) provide strict and immediate consequences for not changing. We’re creatures of habit, after all. We can be taught, but not easily. We’re like tigers in a circus: crack the whip over us, sure, but also give us treats when we do well. Eventually we’ll be trained.

Fiddling

I’m wandering into the weeds today and exploring some characters who are not my own.

Years ago, I began writing a fanfic that has since been lost to time. Basically it was a Tokyo Babylon / X / Cardcaptor Sakura crossover. Touya had a creature inside him similar to Yue—the opposite of Yue, really, as this alter ego was the power of the New Moon, the byproduct of Clow having created Yue. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Unlike the sun, the moon is inconstant [visually; obviously it’s always there regardless of our ability to see it]. Touya’s alter ego was named Xiwan (or Xi-Wan? something like that). I don’t remember where I got this name, but I do remember readers sending me fan art of the character. I still have it . . . somewhere . . .

I don’t remember much about the fic except that Seishiroh hits Touya with his car. This was the inciting incident, I think? And it was done on purpose as I recall because Sei needed Xiwan, or needed to eliminate Xiwan for some reason. Might have had to do with the Dragons of Heaven.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this here and now except that with the return of Cardcaptor Sakura I find myself thinking more and more about the dynamic between Yukito and Touya. I always want more of their story, really. Mulling it over, I think about how Yuki admits to Sakura that he has feelings for Touya but isn’t sure how Touya feels. How must Yuki have felt, then, when Kaho came back to Tomoeda? When I go back and re-read the scenes in which Yuki gently probes Touya about Kaho’s return, it feels different in light of knowing Yuki loves Touya but is uncertain if that love is reciprocated. Yuki wants Touya to be happy, of course, but part of him must be in knots over wondering whether Touya still has feelings for Kaho, what their relationship was like, etc. And Touya is not particularly forthcoming; he doesn’t do much to ease Yuki’s anxiety.

Not that Yuki ever shows it. He puts a smile on for everything and everyone. It’s easy to read or watch CCS and take Yukito at (no pun intended) face value. But I’m a character person, and I like depth. I like to think that Yuki, sitting home alone night after night, wrestles with these thoughts and feelings. Touya is friendly, yes, but in a somewhat unapproachable way. Even for his best friend.

When you toss Yue into this, Jesus . . . Here is a creature who is as aloof as Touya, but we also know he has deep feelings for his creator Clow Reed. Which means he’s capable of love. Kero gets to be himself all the time, whether in small form or large, but Yue must swap his personality out with this non-person . . . It’s so complicated it makes my head spin. Yue has a sense of duty to Sakura, though his heart appears to remain with Clow. He has very little agency in “life” (if that’s what you call it). He knows Yuki’s thoughts and feelings but doesn’t seem to share them; he’s merely required to carry the burden of them. If he’s lonely, he refuses to admit it. You get the sense he’d prefer to disappear entirely now that Clow is gone. But he feels chained by his loyalty to Clow to continue to care for his new master. All that lies before him is a long trudge without the one person who means the most to him. Think about that for a while.

Love triangles may be cliché but damn does this have the potential to be a fun one. In the fanfic I wrote, Touya is in the hospital and Yuki refuses to leave his bedside. At one point Sakura comes in and discovers Yue there instead. She is alarmed, of course—Yue shouldn’t be seen by anyone, and what if a nurse or doctor or even Mr. Kinomoto were to enter? Yue tells her that he could not bear Yuki’s broken heart and needed to put him out of his misery for a while.

When I look at my book Manifesting Destiny, I realize I probably subconsciously adopted some of the dynamics of the Touya/Yuki/Yue situation when I developed the Cee/Marcus/Diodoric triangle. After all, Diodoric is Marcus’ alter ego. Of course, there is a fourth player in my story: Cee’s alter ego Livian. Not that he’s romantically interested in anyone, but Cee still has to navigate life with him as part of her.

Again, I don’t have a particular reason for bringing this up at the moment. Just something I was thinking about. When, really, I should be worrying about my WIP! So off I go to do some “real” work . . .

An Unreasonable Heart

You guys, I really want a Corgi. Like, really. I’ve reached out to local Corgi rescue and adoption groups, but so far there has been nothing. It’s breaking my heart a little.

I grew up with dogs. In fact, I can’t remember a time as a kid when we didn’t have at least one dog and usually a few cats, too. (I have two cats now. You can see pics and video of them on my Facebook page.) But I haven’t had a dog in my life since leaving for college. And while there are many up sides to not having to care for a dog . . . It’s a head versus heart kind of thing for me. My head says I have plenty enough without one more thing, one more dependent. But my heart says, “CORGI!”

Ugh.

The decision will likely be made for me. I don’t want to pay a breeder, and actual Corgis don’t seem to be in need of rescue or adoption. I see many dogs listed as “Corgi mix” on sites, but . . . Even though I know I shouldn’t fixate, and that these other dogs also need loving homes, as Prince Lir says in The Last Unicorn, “I love whom I love.” Or as Blaise Pascal put it: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

For now I have a Pinterest board filled with Corgi pictures. That’s probably only making things worse though. I should distract myself with, you know, writing and other work. Does the heart ever give up? Maybe mine will exhaust itself like a nagging child and eventually fall asleep.

Off-Topic

(c) CLAMP/Dark Horse – a picture I took from my English translation of “Cardcaptor Sakura”

As long-time readers of my site know, I am fond of Cardcaptor Sakura, and in particular of Touya and Yukito, who are probably my favorite fictional couple. After almost twenty years, CCS is back in a new series called “Clear Card.” The above shot of Yue (Yukito’s alter ego) and Touya aired this past weekend. It was a lovely scene, but I did have one problem with it. Touya tells Yue that Yuki told him Yue’s name. But in the manga (and, I thought, also in the original animated series—though I could be misremembering), Yue tells Touya his name when they first meet. So someone failed to check the continuity.

That aside, it’s a lovely, tense scene. Though I’m not sure why Touya is being so cagey about his new powers. Is he worried Yue will want them, too?

Romanticizing Darcy

So I read this article today about how Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy is a less worthy hero than Bhaer from Little Women. I’ll admit here and now that I love Jane Austen and never could get into Louisa May Alcott, so I’m probably biased from the get go. But I also am not the type to enjoy “bad boy” stories, alpha male romantic interests, etc. And so I think this article misses the mark.

One of the fundamental assumptions of the article is that Mr. Darcy changes personality over the course of the novel—Lizzie changes him. I agree that in fiction I find the woman-makes-him-a-better-man thing annoying and problematic. But I’ve never read P&P that way. To me, Darcy doesn’t change. He’s always himself. He just has a really hard shell and a gooey center. Lizzie doesn’t change him, she cracks him open in a way only those close to him have ever been able to do.

Take it from Darcy’s side. Here is a man who (a) must fend off women on a regular basis, and (b) also has a young sister to worry about. He has many responsibilities and a lot on his mind. One can hardly blame him for knowing Mrs. Bennet for who and what she really is—a grasping mama. He’s surely dealt with his share of them before coming to Netherfield. He’s learned to be wary, and he’s put up necessary defences that make him standoffish and seemingly rude. But that’s a matter of self-preservation, really.

I’m probably making excuses because I so adore the book, but I still believe my argument is valid. On the flip side, I do prefer nice men to dominant alphas, which is why there are scads of books I don’t read. I don’t find the alpha male trope hot or romantic. Which is why you won’t find them in anything I write, either. And yes, I think it’s possible to write a nice guy character that is still interesting. (Well, they’re interesting to me, anyway. But maybe I’m alone in that.)

What do you think? Darcy: yea or nay? Is he just a Georgian-era bad boy? Who are your favorite romantic heroes?

We Need the Media

I’ve heard a lot of chatter about “the media” lately, mostly aimed at the news outlets as they attempt to cover the new presidency. Yes, the news can be biased. But it also acts as a kind of filter, an interpreter for the masses. And we need that.

Imagine you’re deaf. Someone is saying something really important, and you need to know what it is and perhaps also what it means. An interpreter steps forward and begins to sign. Relief! Sometimes the signs they choose are a little off from what’s being said because there is more than one way to sign something—it’s all about context and connotation. Sometimes the interpreter signs something in a way that makes you think, Huh. I would have used this sign instead, but I get what they mean. Better to have an interpreter than no one at all.

“But I can read lips!” you say. Okay, good for you. But how fast can you read them? And can you understand everything that is being said?

I suppose if I wanted to devote the time and energy, I could do a ton of research and slowly learn to interpret everything the president and Congress does for myself. Just like if I wanted to get a degree in theology I could interpret holy texts for myself and disregard the millennia of knowledge of others. But in the process of getting that degree, I would have to take all that knowledge into account anyway. That would actually be part of the learning process. There is no unfiltered, unbiased, raw data. It doesn’t exist.

We don’t all of us have time to hunt down every fact, every historical precedent, etc. That’s what journalists are for. The things the White House and Congress might hope we’ll overlook—the media won’t, and they’ll let us know what’s happening. And yeah, they may “spin” it, but better to know what is happening than not. We can see through spin, but we can’t see through the obfuscating smoke that the government is attempting to cloud things with.