Saying Goodbye to Our “Puppy-Cat”

This morning, sometime just past 6 am, we buried our kitty, Commadus, better known as Comma. We called him the “puppy-cat”, because he was more like a happy, playful puppy than he was ever like a cat.

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He was somewhere near 16 years old. I adopted him and his brother, Maximus, as kittens while I was in college. Max passed from illness when he was only about 3 years old, but Comma has been with me ever since, and always did his best to coexist peacefully with our third cat, Little B (you can guess what the B stands for).

He was an exceptionally snugly cat who loved hugs and being carried. He was the perfect cat for a growing child; patient to a fault, and wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was our “buddy”.

He was always following Adrianna around, especially when she had food. He’d paw at Jason’s face to wake him up in the morning, and reach out to snatch my hands whenever I was trying to get ready in the washroom. He loved his cat laser, and would show his ferocious side whenever we sprayed a toy mouse with catnip. He was a wuss to the n’th degree; he’d sometimes come out on the back porch with us, but would get spooked and run inside if the wind blew the wrong way. He loved to curl up on top of any of us if we were sitting in the living room. Sometimes he’d try to sneak into our beds.

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He was Jason’s fuzzy buddy. He was my fur-baby. He was Adrianna’s best friend.

A few days ago he started acting strange; slower, less enthusiastic, and was eating very little. By Saturday night he wasn’t eating anything at all, and I suspected what was coming. By the time I’d left for work Sunday afternoon, he was curling up in hiding places – behind the couch, under our bed – and we were confident it was time. Jason pulled through by giving Adrianna a talk about what was happening. It had to be incredibly hard for him, but I’m glad he did it because I know I wouldn’t have been able to without breaking, and it was better that she had some kind of warning.

When I got home from work late last night, he was under the bottom edge of our bed. He wiggled out enough to let me pet him, but I could tell he had no energy and it was too much for him to even keep his head up for long. I laid with him for a while, and Jason sat with him for a while, but after a time he started slinking deeper under the bed, so Jason slid a blanket under for him, hoping he’d rest on that.

At around 5:30 am, Adrianna came into our room and snuggled under our blankets. I’d swear Comma was waiting for this moment for us to all be together, because no sooner did Adrianna start talking to me, than he began to yowl. We all jumped out of bed to check on him. He’d laid on the blanket Jason had left him, so we slid him out, and as he let out his last few breaths we all petted him and told him we loved him, and then he was gone.

I’d be lying if I said I was fine. I know that he was old, he had a good life, and he had to go sometime. And I’m grateful for the fact that he was able to hang on until we were all there together with him. But I also feel a hole inside knowing that he’s not going to peek in the shower at me, or sook me for literally everything I cook, or wake Jason up with swats to the face, or snuggle with Adrianna inside the laundry basket. For a little creature that took up less room than a pillow, the house feels ridiculously empty without him.

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We’ll miss you, puppy-cat. You’ve left a paw-shaped hole in our hearts, but we’ll never forget you.

NaNoWriMo Sparkless: An IWSG Post

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Here we are, right in the middle of the first week of October. This is one of my favorite times of the year for a lot of reasons. The temperature starts to dip back into that cozy one perfectly for snuggling in couch blankets. The air has that strange, lovely smell about it. Pumpkin spice and candy corn is everywhere. And, of course, there’s Halloween. I love Halloween.

But there’s something else about this time of year that gets my blood pressure working, even if it’s something that I do technically enjoy.

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

I love NaNoWriMo, I really do. I’ve participated it in every year since I first discovered it back in 2009. But I haven’t actually “won” since 2013.

And that’s when things started to change a bit, I think. It’s not that “winning” is necessarily the most important thing about NaNo, but there’s no doubt that “losing” so many years in a row is a bit of a downer, and bit by bit other things started to change too.

When I first started NaNo, for example, there was a huge sense of community about it. I spent as much time chatting with people in the forums as I did actually writing. I participated in word sprints, did a tea exchange with a lovely lady I met in the All-Ages forum, and competed with the other Nova Scotia writers for the highest word counts per day. But slowly, surely, I started to drift away from all that. By the time NaNo came around in 2017 I felt completely alienated somehow. The forums began to feel like a solid wall of strangers whom I didn’t have the energy to converse with. Word sprints felt like organized chaos that I couldn’t fit into my life. The community in general seemed as though it had been driven away from me, even though the truth is that I drove myself away from it.

Now NaNo feels a lot different. I still look forward to it, because it still affords me that little push of motivation to write more than usual, ignore my inner editor, and just GET STUFF DONE. But the real excitement doesn’t seem to be there anymore. The fun doesn’t seem to be there anymore.

A lot has changed in my life since NaNoWriMo 2017, so it’s just possible that the spark my be reignited this year, but I’m not holding my breath. I suspect that something has been lost that will never be found again and that is, as you may expect, rather sad.

I’m still going to participate. I’m still going to do my best to “win”, even though it’s been years since I was able to find the time and effort to do so. And I’m going to really try to rejoin the community and see if I can’t relocate that spark. But I’m also going to do my best not to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

Wish me luck. And if you’re participating, look me up, username: Toreshi. Maybe we can create a new spark together. 🙂

Stories to Steal

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, and I thought I would bounce it off some people, because it’s something that would require a bit of time and organization, but I also think it could be really interesting…

So we all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. One of my strengths (at least, I like to think so) is being able to visualize a particular scene as if it’s happening in my head, just like it’s my own memory, which can make emotional scenes much easier to write. One of my weaknesses, however, is that oftentimes these scenes are things that pop into my brain out of nowhere, and then fail to go anywhere else. I’ll get ideas from dreams, other books, movies, video games, whatever, and I’ll have this great scene playing out in my head, and I’ll often write it down in one form or another…but I haven’t actually got a story. Just a scene, sitting there all on its lonesome, with no book to snuggle around it.

Every so often I will, in fact, return to one of these scenes and think of something to do with it, but more often than not it ends up languishing in my “Random Stuff” Scrivener file, likely to sit there until the end of time because I just have no real use for it.

So then I had this idea for a book…

I got the idea from the NaNoWriMo forums, in which every year there’s a thread where writers drop random ideas with the expressed purpose that other writers who are struggling with their stories can wander in and steal them. What then, I thought, if I wrote an entire book of these “stories to steal”, using all the little homeless scenes I’ve compiled over the years?

A book of ideas of things to write isn’t a new idea – I have a few of them on my shelf upstairs right now – but this wouldn’t be a book simply of ideas. It would be a book of actual written scenes, with character names and all. The writer who reads the book could steal the scene verbatim if they wanted, or change it as they desire, and build their own story around it in the way that I wasn’t able to.

So the question is, what do you think? Is it an idea worth pursuing? The main issues in my path are that I’d have to flesh out my cache of scenes, as I’m not sure I have enough of them to fill an entire book, and also I’d have to work out how to format the book, as it obviously wouldn’t work with just paragraph after paragraph on the pages like a standard novel. But I’d be willing to put in the time and effort to combat those issues if I thought it was a genuinely good idea that people might be willing to purchase.

So let me know! Is it a good idea, and why or why not? Do you have any suggestions that could make it a better idea? Ideas for how I could approach the formatting issue? Please let me know!

5 Pieces of Writing Advice That are Total BS

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I’m going to preface this post by stating the obvious:

I probably have no right to be claiming that any kind of writing advice – especially the kind that comes from successful, well-established authors – is equivalent to a bull’s fecal matter. I am, after all, not much more than an amateur novelist, with two self-published books and a meager number of sales to my name. How, then, can I claim to really know what is and isn’t “good” writing advice, right?

Well that’s the first bit of BS right there. Just because I’m not a runaway success, boasting hundreds of thousands of books sold, doesn’t mean I don’t know crap advice when I see it. So screw anyone who says otherwise! I’m going to share with you, right now, five pieces of writing advice that say are total BS.

1. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. 

Let’s start with simple one. Many “expert” authors will attempt to convince you that words such as “shouted”, “cried”, “sighed”, and “groaned” are somehow intrusive, and that they have no place in describing lines of dialogue. These writers will tell you that “said” is the only word that should ever be used to follow a character speaking.

“Blah blah,” she said. “Blah blah blah,” he said.

How goddamn boring is that?

I honestly have no idea where the logic behind this particular bit of advice comes from. I can agree that the use of certain, overly-pretentious words can be distracting to a reader and should absolutely be avoided. Saying “he aforementioned”, for instance, leaves the average reader thinking, “What in the seven hells does ‘aforementioned’ mean?” and takes them out of the story. But what in those same seven hells is so “intrusive” about saying “she cried”?

To further my point, I’ll point out that the giver of this particular piece of advice clearly doesn’t write creative fiction with any sort of emotion to it. Be honest now, young readers and writers: if you’ve got a character who’s just been beaten to the ground and is reaching out in agony as a shadowy stranger strides off into the darkness carrying her baby…are you going to be expecting her to “say” something or to “scream” something? If you’ve got a pair of characters who are making hot, passionate love to one another, is it going to keep you in the mood if one of them “says” something, or would you be more apt to hear them “moan” something?

Using “said” for every single line of dialogue is ridiculously restrictive and demolishes an author’s ability to create mood and emotion within the conversation. Convince me otherwise, I dare you. Write a heart-wrenching, terrifying, or action-packed scene jammed with dialogue that only uses the word “said”, and try to make it anything less than boring. If you can pull that off, you are a king among peasants within the writing world.

2. Never use prologues or dream sequences, ever. 

This one, I believe, comes from an era of writers who believe that anything that makes storytelling a little easier is some kind of cop-out, like a kid cheating on a test. These are the writers who believe that a piece of writing cannot be good unless the author has suffered in order to write it.

BS.

I’m definitely not saying that we should all be taking the easy way out whenever possible, but flat-out denying the use of any particular method of storytelling is defeatist foolishness. For certain, a prologue for the sake of just having a prologue is pointless, and a dream sequence designed with no other purpose than to easily reveal information that the author would rather not have to think too much about is lazy. But that doesn’t mean that a well-written prologue that delicately eases a reader into the world of the story can’t be well-received. And it doesn’t mean that a dream sequence that gives a bit of an insider look into the psyche of a character can’t work wonders for building a reader’s affection of that character. Every tool has a place and can be used well if the writer knows what they’re doing with it. To discount such tools with a scoff and a pretentious wave of the hand is foolishness of the highest order.

And while we’re at, there’s nothing write with adverbs, when used properly and sparingly!

3. Ignore your internal editor because every first draft is crap and editing shouldn’t even be on the plate until you have a complete first draft. 

Let’s clear something up right away with this one: every writer has their own method. Some people plan every scene and write detailed character sheets before they even consider writing the first line of a story. Others just start writing without half an idea as to what they intend to accomplish. Some people write from start to finish, taking a rod-straight line right through their work. Others bounce from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, and everything in between, as the inspiration hits them.

And while some people close their eyes, bite their tongues, ignore every plot hole and grievous typo, and just slam out that first draft without a second thought to what it will look like when it’s finished, other people can’t move forward without fixing the problems that pop up as they come.

I’ll admit that the best way to slam out as many words as possible in a short amount of time (such as when one is participating in National Novel Writing Month) is to throttle that internal editor and throw him/her in a dark closet until that first draft is complete. However, some people just can’t work that way. It gnaws at them, niggles in the back of their minds, and drives them mad, making the writing process insufferable, and if the process is insufferable, we’re much more likely to give up on it all together.

In conclusion: everyone has their own methods, and as long as that method ultimately results in a book, who cares if it’s the “proper” method?

4. Write what you know.

No one ever expanded their mind by sticking to only what they already know. This advice is right up there with “never try anything new and you’ll never get hurt/embarrassed/etc”.

There is absolutely something to be said for writing what you know. Imbuing your own knowledge, experience, and emotion into a novel can be the spark that truly gives it life. If you’ve experienced loss, you’re going to know how it feels when it comes down to writing about a character’s loss. If you’ve actually been rock climbing you’re going to have a much easier time describing the ins and outs when your character is doing it. If you’ve watched hundreds of horror movies you’re going to have a much easier time writing a story about devils and demons than someone who only ever watches action flicks.

But if you only ever write what you know, you’re putting yourself in a box, unable to grow, unable to expand, unable to flesh out your stories in new and exciting ways. If you’ve never researched a topic that you knew absolutely nil about so that you could incorporate that topic into a story, you’ve delegated yourself to living in a five mile radius when there are hundreds of thousands of miles of unexplored terrain splayed out before you in every direction.

Writing what you know is easy and makes for realistic storytelling. Writing what you don’t know is hard and time-consuming, and it makes you a better writer in the long run.

5. Write every day.

Here we are at the big one. The mother of all writing advice.

Write. Every. Day.

This one actually seems, on the surface, like excellent advice. Writers have to write! They have to write a lot! Therefore, they should write every day! It only makes sense!

Yet…

Again we find ourselves looking at that fact that advice-givers love to ignore: Every. Person. Is. Different.

As much as we would like to imagine our writers as these dedicated souls who wake up in the morning, plunk themselves down at their desk, and compose from dawn til’ dusk, that is simply not the case for the overwhelming majority. Most writers, no matter how dedicated they are, no matter how determined, can’t simply sit down and spend all day every day plucking out words on a keyboard or scribbling in a notebook. There was once a time when the novelist would be akin to a hermit, sequestering himself away in a room, day after day, until the work was complete, but that simply isn’t the way of things anymore.

Writers are adults with day jobs and responsibilities. Writers are children still struggling away in school. Writers are single mothers with half a dozen kids, and they’re fathers working two jobs just to pay the bills. Writers are plying their craft in the middle of war zones, and they’re struggling to write in a language that is not their first.

Writers are not simply writers. They’re people, with lives that entail a million and one other things that aren’t writing. To some “classic” writers this is blasphemy, but from one 21st century writer to the next: we aren’t playing by those rules any more, and we cannot and will not beat ourselves up if we’re unwilling or unable to force ourselves to WRITE EVERY DAY.

So I’m officially re-writing this particular bit of advice and making it work for the present-day writer who is constantly beating themselves up for every day that passes without words hitting paper.

WRITE WHENEVER YOU CAN.

Writers have to write. We know this. So write whatever you can, whenever you can, and work as hard as you can without destroying the rest of your life in the process.

That’s MY advice. Feel free to call it BS if you like. ^_~

International (Geeky) Women’s Day 2018

The first time I ever heard about this thing called “International Women’s Day” I was working on the Kearl Lake facility outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was alerted to its existence when I was invited by a random HR person I didn’t know to come up to the main control room and have a piece of cake, which was inscribed with the number of women who were working on the site in various roles. At the time, I’ll be honest, it seemed like one of the stupidest concepts I’d ever heard. For one thing, the number of women working on the site at that time compared to the number of men was not all that impressive. I can’t recall the exact numbers, but it was something like 1000 women compared to 7000 men, and a chunk of those women didn’t even actually work on the site (they were in offices, off site, doing things like booking flights). For another thing, it just seemed like an odd thing to be celebrating to me. Yay to Kearl for hiring a bunch of women who’d applied to the jobs and earned them because they were the most suited for the available positions at the time? Go team?

That was more than six years ago, meaning I was still in my twenties, and I may have been more than a little jaded and self-righteous, I’ll admit it. I was the only women on my technical commissioning team of several hundred and I’d never personally experienced any issues, so I may have been a little biased against the plight of women who had. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

These days I’m no longer outright “this is dumb” in my opinions, but I’m still a little wary about special days that celebrate a specific group of people. In my opinion it’s one thing to use special days in order to bring awareness to serious world issues, but there’s something about singling out specific denominations that never sits well with me. It just seems a little…anti-equality, I guess. I figure, personally, how can we truly fight for equality among all people when we keep purposely bringing attention to the fact that we’re different?

Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but if I’m being totally honest, those are my feelings about it. Not to mention, let’s be honest: when you create a day to celebrate a certain group, inevitably there will be members of that group who use it as a way to act like an ass and get away with it. No matter how many women are out there who have good reasons to celebrate this day, there will always be the few (who are always the loudest) who use it as a way to bash men, act high-and-mighty, and start a bunch of crap in the name of “feminism”. That’s why I made this tweet first thing this morning when I realized what day it is:

“It’s , so let’s take a moment to think about how we can make the world a better place, not only by refusing to PUT UP with shit, but also by not STARTING shit. We can all – men AND women – be better people, so let’s keep that in mind. ^_~

Fair enough? I personally thought so. 🙂

And now, because I don’t want this post to be too overly serious…

I went on to celebrate International Women’s Day the way only a total geek with an enormous attachment to fictional characters can do. I asked my Basement Geeks to share a picture or gif of a female character they love, and then I took pics of some of my toys and shared four female characters I grew up idolizing for their brains, beauty, ability to kick ass, and ability to have major crazy fun.

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Sailor Mercury was one of the first characters I can remember truly wanting to be like. She was a superhero who was also sweet, pretty, and exceptionally intelligent, and her intelligence was often a driving point in the show that helped save the team. As a total nerd who got teased for doing so well in school, I absolutely loved Ami Mizuno for this reason. To me, she proved that the “nerd” could be the hero too, and that focusing on the more mental side of things didn’t mean you had to sacrifice in other areas of life.

The Pink Power Ranger struck a chord with me not only because she was also a superhero with an awesome costume and a goddamn Pterodactyl mech, but also because she was a “popular” girl who wasn’t a total bitch. I loved that Kimberly Ann Hart was fun and friendly even though she was also the kind of girl who would be the lead cheerleader and get all the boys. I didn’t see much of that combination in real life, but even seeing it on the small screen gave me hope that there were actually girls like that out there, and that maybe I could even be one of them.

Batman the Animated Series was an enormous part of my childhood, and I always loved Harley Quinn to death. She might not be the world’s best role model, given a laundry list of issues including, you know…being a completely psychotic villain. But I loved her for how fun she was. She was loud and confident and seemed able to have a blast no matter what was going on around her, which was pretty much the exact opposite of shy, quiet, self-depreciating me when I was young.

And then, of course, there was Princess Leia, the first lady of the Star Wars universe, played by the amazingly wonderful late Carrie Fisher. Watching A New Hope for the first time, I found myself faced with one of the most amazing female characters I’d ever seen at that point in my life. She was the leader of a rebellion, risking her life to change the whole galaxy. She saved the male characters as often as they saved her, and she did so while looking amazing and popping off one-liners like a pro. Plus she was a goddamn princess. I fell in love with her from the moment she stood up to Darth Vader in the opening scenes of the original trilogy.

For the record, I didn’t have a figure I could take a pic of for my all-time most idolized character, who is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I grew up with Buffy, and to this day I still adore how her character is powerful, yet vulnerable, talented, yet flawed, is able to save the world, but also makes horrible mistakes. She made me laugh like a fool, she made me bawl my eyes out like a total baby. I cheered for her, feared for her, and felt her losses like a knife in my own heart. She’s one of the most genuinely human characters I’ve ever known, relatable at the same time as being untouchable, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever grow out of wanting to be just like her.

So now I pass the question off to you. Let’s take this day and make ourselves smile with it. Which female characters did you look up to as a child? Which ones do you still look up to? Which ones changed your life? Which ones do you think you’ll never be able to let go of? Share with me, and remember that whether you’re a woman, a man, or any denomination on this planet Earth, we can all be better people and make the world a better place if we’re willing to.