My First Writer’s Conference! ShowMe Writers Masterclass

I’ve tried to write this post a couple of times in the last two weeks, but with a big rejection, the election, and losing my job a couple of days afterward, it’s been a little tense around here.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

Image:  Rex Features / telegraph.co.uk

So, the weekend of November 5 and 6, I went to my first writing conference ever, the ShowMe Writers MasterClass.  Put on by the Columbia chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild and Mizzou Publishing, it took place at the University of Missouri.

It wasn’t Worldcon or anything, but I live within driving distance, so I went for it.  (And got lost — thank the universe I allowed extra travel time!)

The conference attendees ranged from college-aged folks all the way through senior citizens (for some reason, I noticed a LOT of seniors).  Some were published, either self or small press; many were not.  Everyone I spoke to was very nice–each of us had the same goal, to improve our work and get it published.

The dream.

The dream.

Image:  blurppy.com

About the Masterclass

Featured speakers included Chuck Sambuchino, freelance editor, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents and the blog of the same name, and author of the humor book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will).  Chuck spoke on various topics including social media marketing, getting an agent, and publishing itself.

Chuck is funny, knowledgeable, and confident.  He knows how to keep a Q&A session moving.  If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he doesn’t bullshit you; he says so.  You got it wrong?  He’ll let you know bluntly but respectfully.  He talks very fast, so you have to pay attention.  And trust me, you don’t want to miss a thing.

He’ll probably kill me for posting this, but he also moves fast, so it was hard to catch a better pic of him.

chuck-s-at-writers-masterclass

Like shooting wildlife.  BAM!

Photo: Elizabeth West

Listening to Chuck talk about traditional publishing, I realized I’m on track to get there eventually (I hope).  That was a good feeling.

Mary Buckham, a fantasy author who also has a couple of books out on writing, gave a talk and taught some craft sessions on setting and hooks.  She is hilarious and cool and I loved her.  I bought her book A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings.  I’m considering taking Tunerville’s characters a little bit out of their time and space.   Judging by all the great information she presented in that session, I felt it would be a worthwhile investment.   I haven’t read any of her fiction.  This must be remedied ASAP.

Mary is also a delightful person and she loves helping other writers. She peppered her talks and lessons with a sharp humor; we laughed as much as we learned.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Recently, an agent I queried re Tunerville requested a full manuscript and sadly, they rejected it.  BUT–I received a critique, which is the gold standard of rejections.  Agents have so much to read they rarely bother to tell you why you were rejected, but this one was very specific regarding what worked and what didn’t.  It was so nice and kind that I sent a thank-you email.

Mary told me that if I’m getting those kinds of rejections, I’m very close to publication.  I hope she’s right; I don’t want to give up on Tunerville just yet.  It pains me to move on from a book when I have expansive plans for sequels, etc.

However, we writers know it’s best to keep working.  When that call comes, the question will arise:  “What else are you working on?” And we need to have an answer ready!

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Image:  mhpbooks.com

The conference broke writers into tracks inspired by famous Missouri writers:

  • Mark Twain (fiction)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (creative non-fiction)
  • Maya Angelou (poetry)
  • Tennessee Williams (play/screenplay writing)

Each track had sessions pertaining to marketing, craft, and mentoring so we got the most relevant information for our categories.  As much as it pained me to miss the screenwriting stuff (a thing in which I have interest), limited time and concurrent scheduling kept me from it.

I also would have liked to attend the visual storytelling session, led by presenter Cole Closser, a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominee whose art has a really cool 1940s vintage vibe.  Because a story is a story–but again, I had to pick between him and something else.  Eeny meeny miney mo.

Ain't nobody catching ME by the toe.

Ain’t nobody catching ME by the toe.

Image:  Brian Gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons

The mentoring sessions with some of their featured experts were set up as either one-on-one, which cost extra, or in small groups of the first six people to arrive.  During the character building session, which comprised an analysis of character elements in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I think I hit on ways to fix Tunerville.  That was probably one of the most valuable bits of the conference for me.  Thanks to Gordon Sauer for lending his expertise.

You can also use these gatherings to network with other writers or even agents.  ShowMe Writers Masterclass also offered a pitchfest, which is an activity where writers can actually spend a few minutes with a real, live agent and tell him/her about their book (pitching it–this is like a mini-query, but in person).  See the link for more information.

This also cost extra, and none of the featured agents represented my work, so I skipped it.  But I did get to chat a bit with one of them at their table and took the agency’s business card, because who knows?

Things I Learned from the Masterclass

Aside from the craft and marketing stuff.

  1. You should know your preferred category of writing before you go. You should really know your category anyway.
  1. The website said to dress with comfort in mind, but don’t be a slob. If you’re meeting with an agent during a pitchfest, you’ll need to convey a professional image–no ratty shirts and holey jeans.  You will cover some ground during these things, so WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
  1. Take notes! Lots of them!  Don’t rely on your memory.  Our programs had a space for this–I used the handouts and a notebook.  I intended to use my computer, but lugging it around the first day sucked, so I just wrote them.
  1. Register early, as you can often get a discount on lodging through the conference. I had to wait to book a hotel and ended up at Howard Johnson’s, which wasn’t too bad and economical.
  1. Don’t be afraid to engage with presenters and instructors. Talk to them at their tables.  Give them some love!  Ask lots of questions–your purpose here is to learn as much as you can.

I had a great weekend, despite the driving.  Bonus; a chat room friend lives close by, so we got together for dinner and went to see Doctor Strange with her friends and her husband (it was awesome! Go see it!).

If you’ve never attended a event like this, I highly recommend it.  Google writing conferences in your area; you’re bound to find some.  Get out of your cave and mix and mingle.

Critical Thinking More Important than Ever in the Time of Trump

I read this really good Vox article about American authoritarianism and the rise of the Cheeto today instead of cleaning the house.  Because the internet is infinitely more interesting than chasing dust bunnies and hanging up wet clothes, y’all.

TL;DR–Authoritarianism is driving the bigotry we’re seeing–it’s inherently prejudicial, because it stems from a rhetoric-driven fear of the “other” and a fear of change.

Dumb version:  someone tells you you should be afraid of X, and so you freak out and look for hard-line solutions to protect you from X.

This is fascinating from a psychological standpoint.   However, it actually illustrates a huge problem:  people stop thinking at hearing about X and don’t look deeper to see whether it’s actually a threat to them.  A good example is the vaccination scare–one incredibly flawed and eventually discredited study created a panic.  As a result, people (children!) got sick from preventable diseases because everybody freaked out and stopped vaccinating their kids.

Understandably, the study’s conclusion alarmed other scientists, and they took a good hard look at the data.  They found a whole lot of junk, poor procedures, and nothing to support the study’s conclusions.

The vaccines were not the threat–the panic was.

Same thing here.  One incredibly flawed and repeatedly discredited person (Trump) played on a latent fear of change and has fed a new, destructive, and frightening political demographic. Not created, mind you; it’s been there, lurking, and that’s even more scary.

It remains small and ineffective (we hope) at this time, but now more than ever, our future as a free nation depends on our willingness to embrace change.  I’m worried about this election.  I probably won’t be able to relax until it’s over, and if it goes all pear-shaped, I’m not sure I can or want to stay here.  Because as a writer, I know that words have power–and if his can, mine can.  My voice would join those of other dissidents and we would be in danger for speaking the truth.  Our veracity would have little sway over people who cannot or will not use their critical thinking power and who hold such a vital skill in little regard.  And it’s more important to me that I could continue speaking out than remain silent.  If I have to seek asylum elsewhere to do it, I will.

So what can you do?   Listen to the words you hear.  Think about them.  Dig deeper.  Do so with an open mind, not one attuned to unrelated nuggets you can use to support your position.  Hear all positions.  That’s what we’re supposed to do during an election.  So do it.

———-

This article, though aimed at college students, can help you exercise these vital processes.

7 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills 

Happy Banned Books Week 2016! September 25 – October 1

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Happy Banned Books Week!  The American Library Association celebrates knowledge and access once again by encouraging everyone to read a book that has been banned, challenged, or has otherwise sustained an attempt at censorship.

I’ve already gone into my reasons why censorship sucks and the reasons books get banned in previous posts (see links).  Today, I shall choose a few of my favorite books from the list and discuss them.

1984 (1949) by George Orwell

Image:  British first edition cover / Wikipedia.org

What better way to start this list than with a book in which thought control is a major plot point?  1984 shows a dystopian, totalitarian society of the future in which the government has total authority over everything the population does, from what they eat to how they think.  Individualism is criminalized and persecuted.

Our hero, Winston Smith, does the unthinkable–he begins to question this existence and even falls in love with a Julia, a fellow worker in the let’s-revise-all-the-history-of-the-world department of the Ministry of Truth (a rather ironic name at that).  The proles, working-class members of this society, have at least the appearance of freedom–they’re allowed to hook up, fight, sing, worship, etc.  But their lives are deeply controlled by restricted access to jobs, education, and forms of entertainment not fed to them by the Ministry.  Moles report and eliminate any attempts by proles to rise above their station.

1984 has delivered several choice words and phrases to the lexicon from the book’s Newspeak language.  Among these:

Big Brother – the titular figurehead of the government in the book.  The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” means you are being observed and your insubordination noted.

Thought Police (Thinkpol) – secret law enforcement of Oceania’s government, who seek out subversives by using surveillance through the telescreens in every party member’s house and psychological manipulation.  Refers to suppression of contrasting ideology in repressive societies such as Iran, Russia, etc.  Many also believe this is happening in the U.S. as religion-backed legislators enact faith-based laws in direct defiance of its Constitution’s establishment clause.

The novel contains themes of nationalism, censorship, and the growing awareness of surveillance.  Reasons ranging from sexual content to pro-communism make 1984 an oft-challenged book.

The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) by J.R.R. Tolkien

Image:  Cover art first single volume edition, HarperCollins / Wikipedia.org

Fantasy as a genre often stirs people up–some folks associate magic, etc. with Satanism and sacrilege.  They forget that 1) magic isn’t really real, and 2) though Tolkien was quite religious himself (he was a devout Catholic), there is no mention anywhere in any of the books about Satan, God, Jesus, etc., certainly in no disparaging way.  Also, the hobbits, Strider, and Gandalf all smoke.  Well, they are adults, and I somehow don’t expect a bit of Old Toby from the Shire is going to hurt any of them.

Much has been made of Frodo as a Christ allegory, but Tolkien insisted LOTR has no such subtext, and we have to take his word on that.  However, through the use of literary doubling, Tolkien does present a dichotomy between light and dark (a much older concept that pre-dates any form of Christianity).  One might argue a somewhat Modernist take on industrialization vs. nature, after Tolkien experienced the horrors of World War I in comparison with a pastoral childhood.

Whether you agree or not, this epic fantasy set a standard for the genre and remains one of the most beloved classics of its kind.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) by Ken Kesey

Image:  First edition cover / Wikipedia.org

The main figure of the 1960s pro-psychedelic group The Merry Pranksters, Kesey used to work in a mental institution.  It was during this period he had opportunity to make close observations of the institutional system, which was being challenged at the time.

The novel presents themes of authority and control, both through individual coercion–Nurse Ratched’s subtle psychological manipulations–and the cultural and internal shame of anyone who is “different,” as a closeted Dale Harding describes himself.  It also touches on a larger, mechanistic view of society (Chief Bromden’s references to the Combine) in general.

It’s a fish-out-of-water story, in the person of loud and boisterous con man McMurphy, but one where the fish disrupts the status quo in long-lasting and profound ways.  Kesey also used the trope of an unreliable narrator to great effect here.  Chief Bromden’s feigned deafness allows him to suss out what’s really going on in the ward, but his observations are interspersed with obvious hallucinations due to his illness.

The 1975 film adaptation directed by Milos Forman, which was pretty damn good, won all five major Academy Awards (Best Director, Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, and Actress).   The novel has been challenged for being pornographic, violent, and corrupting.

Read it anyway!

The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) by Katherine Paterson

Image:  Cover art / Wikipedia.org

This was one of my favorite books as a child.  I still read it occasionally, having purchased a used copy at a library sale (I kept all my childhood books and added to them over the years).  The funny, poignant tale of a defiant foster child, this book earned a place on the ALA list due to mild profanity, Gilly’s racism toward her teacher, and her resistance to her foster parent’s deep faith.

It’s well worth a read for lively characters, good handling of a sensitive topic (foster care and how children in it close themselves off), and just all-around great writing.  Paterson also wrote Bridge to Terabithia, another frequently challenged book.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred D Taylor

Image:  Jerry Pinkney / Wikipedia.org

See that medal on the front of the book cover?  That’s a Newbery award, given to distinguished contributions to literature for young American readers.

This novel is about racism in a small Southern community during the Great Depression.  It was followed by multiple sequels —Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), The Well: David’s Story (1995), and The Land (2001).  I haven’t read the last two but they’re on my list.

Taylor gives us the Logans, a black family in the unique position of owning their land, which is constantly under challenge by a wealthy white man who wants to take it away from them.  They deal with systemic and overt prejudice in myriad ways.

The Logan family has become one of my literary favorites.  They’re tough, they work hard and love even harder, and they withstand everything life throws at them.  They stick together no matter what and stand up for friends and neighbors, even though it’s difficult and heartbreaking at times.  And I find the character of Cassie Logan quite relatable–she feels the injustice keenly as she grows up and is extremely frustrated by her inability to speak out against it (because it’s dangerous to do so).  We’re angry right along with her.

Reading this series is painful, because we still haven’t resolved our ridiculous and deep-seated bias in this country.  For this reason alone, it should be required reading everywhere.  Reasons for challenging it have included racial slurs, violence, and inappropriateness.

The Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling

Image:  Cover UK edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Wikipedia.org

Oh, my my my.  You surely know all about this one.  The U.S. has no moratorium on Potterhate; this article in the U.K. paper The Telegraph will show you that.

For non-link clickers, some reasons this book series has been challenged include:

  • Promotion of witchcraft (and subsequently Satanism and the occult)
  • Dark themes (too scary)
  • Bad behavior (kids at Hogwarts routinely break rules and defy authority)

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) provides a toolkit for schools facing such challenges, as well as individuals and authors.  Quite a few schools have tried to remain sensitive to the issue by offering alternative assignments to kids who aren’t allowed to read Potter or other fantasy works.  As long as the basic requirements of an assignment are fulfilled, I see no problem with this solution.  But as the NCAC points out on the linked page:

In many cases, parents’ concerns can be addressed by requesting an alternative assignment. While this is an attractive option, alternative assignment policies can be abused to the point of wreaking havoc upon the curriculum, which cannot be tailored to every student. (Source: http://ncac.org/resource/book-censorship-toolkit)

Whatever your stance on Harry Potter, Anne Frank’s diary, or other frequently challenged reading material, it falls to all of us to ensure that everyone has access to materials that discuss difficult subjects.  Without it, we will go backward in our development; the future will not belong to us.

Urge your Congress critter to support the free exchange of ideas and information.  Use your vote to support lawmakers who do.  Spread the word on social media.  And let people see you reading a banned book!

If you like, please share in comments what banned book you’ve enjoyed and why.

5 Myths about Writers That Will Get You Smacked with a Book

I love being a writer.  I love talking about writing and its sometimes maddening accoutrements.  But I’ve discovered that you have to be careful with whom you discuss certain aspects of this most excellent and odd activity.

Odd? What a strange adjective. How could typing page after page of hallucinations for hours at a time be considered odd?

So many people subscribe to common myths about writing that I often find myself patiently (or not so patiently) debunking them, when I really want to knock them right out of people’s heads with a dictionary.  Common beliefs about writers include the following.

That we’re all drunks

Many, many, many people consume alcohol or use other substances for recreation, inspiration, or escape.  Why is this so persistent when people talk about writers?

Being an artist of any kind means you will spend most of your free time putting your innermost thoughts, dreams, ideas, and visions in tangible form for others to consume.  It has a personal element.  Rejection can hurt.  Self-doubt is rampant.  But a lot of us cope just fine with these issues and don’t need to self-medicate.

Except maybe with a little retail therapy.

Except maybe with a little retail therapy now and then.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says, “Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak.  They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do.  Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what?  We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

Well said, Mr. King.

That we’re crazy

Anyone who thinks outside the box or who has an imagination, or who is even slightly different from the accepted norm of whatever society or clique you’re talking about, is often branded with this label.  Okay yes, we enjoy looking up stuff like what sound it makes when you hit someone in the head with a hammer, but it’s research.

True mental illness is nothing to joke about.  There have been famous writers who suffered from various ailments.  But there also exist great works produced by artists with no discernible pathology.  Despite the Lord Byron quote at the end of the linked article, we’re not all crazy.

And as Chuck Wendig points out in this post, our lifestyle can make us look (and act) a little bit unusual.

That we have or will earn lots of money

Laughing Batman

Image:  knowyourmeme.com

Even Batman thinks that’s hilarious.

Writers can make a decent living if they keep more than one iron in the fire.  If you’re lucky enough to go viral, speaking fees or workshops can be quite lucrative.  Freelancers can work as independent contractors for corporations.  They can write for publications, do copywriting, grants, white papers, and proposals.

Creative writers, especially novelists, have it a bit harder.  Traditional publishing doesn’t pay very well, and most new writers don’t get million-dollar advances.  Indie authors can make more money overall these days (see this blog post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch for an illustrative breakdown of numbers), but it still takes a long time and a lot of work.  Almost every writer I know who has published one way or the other has a day job.

Acting is a good analogy.  Out of all the working actors in the entertainment business, the big moneymakers only comprise the tip of the pyramid.  And like writing, acting isn’t a steady job.  It’s freelance work.  Fame doesn’t last for most people, so you’re better off grabbing what you can get while you can get it.

It’s not easy being fabulous.

It’s not easy being fabulous.

So if you want to make money writing, diversify your income.

That we welcome advice from non-writers

Okay, here’s where I get bitchy (thanks, Vivien).  I figure skated for fifteen years.  I met tons of people during that time who had never been on the ice.  They came mostly from two camps:

  1. People who were really impressed that I skated, even though I wasn’t great at it, and who said things like, “I think it’s terrific that you do/did something so cool.”
  2. People who don’t skate but think they can coach you anyway.

Writers get number 2 a LOT.  If there is any phrase in the English language that will make me grind my teeth to nubs, it’s You know what you should do is….

Writing is a craft and it takes time to do it well.  Publishing is a complicated business.  I don’t know everything about it.  But I’ve tried to do my homework, and it chaps my britches when people who know next to nothing about it think I couldn’t possibly understand what I’m talking about.

Or that I’m being NEGATIVE when I say that a positive response to a query does not mean I’ll be able to fly first class to Europe next spring.  That’s not being negative; that’s being realistic.

If the advice is coming from someone in the actual field, then bring it on.  But someone whose aunt self-published, does not know what the word query means, or who has never written anything beyond an email is not qualified to tell you how to run your career.

I know what’s best for you, dear.  Let me handle it.

I know what’s best for you, dear.  Let me handle it.

 Image:  americanprofile.com

Family, friends, and even coworkers speak to you from a place of caring.  They want to help and show support.  Some of them cannot do this without trying to fix things or offer suggestions.  But remember, communication is a two-way street.  If you just want to vent, let them know this.  Say, “I’m not looking for advice; I just need to unload.  Can I have an ear?”

That writing isn’t work because we enjoy it

Writing a book is like doing the same homework assignment for six months.  It’s exhausting mentally because it requires intense concentration.  And physically because you’re sitting still and using your hands to perform a dexterous task (typing).

Sometimes writers have to work instead of come to the pub quiz or the girls’ night.  Sometimes they have to disappear for a few hours over the weekend or a holiday because they have a deadline or a client request or they just don’t want to lose momentum.

Yes, we love it.  We also hate it.  We want to have a drink and come eat birthday cake with you and wash dishes while drinking wine after the turkey or ham has been decimated (okay, no I don’t want to wash dishes, though I’ll take the wine).  But we have to work.

Writing

I could go on, but this post would never end and I’m sure you have things to do.  When you talk to writers about writing, ask questions.  We love to discuss what we do.  Listen to what we tell you.  If you’ve read our work, let us know you appreciate it and enjoy it.

And yes, if you’re so inclined and we are too, buy us a drink.

A Farewell to Skating

I need to make a small announcement.

Relax, buddy; I'm not dying or moving to Mars or anything.

Relax, buddy; I’m not dying or moving to Mars or anything.

Image:  earthporm.com

After fifteen years of figure skating at my local rink, I’ve decided to take a break from the sport.  It has nothing to do with anyone there, with the city I live in–my dislike of it is separate from how I feel about skating–or anything related to the rink itself.  I’m just getting burnt out. I was going to wait until after the Christmas show this year to quit, but I think I need to take a step back from it now.

Skating has done a lot for me–it’s given me something constructive to do, it really is fun, and I learned to sew with really difficult materials (stretch velvet, anyone!?). But lately, I’ve found my focus shifting to other things, and showing up at the rink every week has become more an obligation than something I look forward to

It’s not just a weekend thing–my workouts have to take it into consideration, there is the clothing aspect, music, etc.  Anyone who skates knows that it’s not just a sport; it’s kind of a lifestyle and a mindset.

I don’t want to start hating it. I don’t want to go to the rink and feel like I don’t want to be there. I’m not ruling it out of my life completely. As long as I can physically and safely do it, I can return to it later, even as a senior.  Check out this skater if you don’t believe me!

Right now, there are a few things I want more than I want to skate. And in order to get them, I can’t divide my attention any longer.  Plus, skating costs money–and I want to spend that money on leaving this place because there’s nothing here for me.  With Pig gone (RIP little kitty), I don’t need to worry about finding a place that would suit her.

Recently, I received a request for pages from an agent, which was kind of a wake-up call—I had gotten into a rut of thinking I would never publish anything and nothing would change.  But hey, someone asked!  Even if they reject it, another might not, or they might not reject the next book. (When) that happens, I want to be totally ready to do whatever I need to do.

I have books I want to write.  I need to focus on coming up with good ideas and getting them down on the page.  I’m trying to stay creative–I’m teaching myself to draw.  And I’ll still be working out to stay healthy.

The skating program at my rink has grown a LOT since I started.  We now have more organization, we have other adult skaters–for a long time, I was the only one.  I wish them all the best and hope all their dreams will come true.

It’s time for mine to come true.

The white tree and the rainbow have decreed that it will happen--or maybe I'll just get wet.

The white tree and the rainbow have decreed that it will happen–or maybe I’ll just get wet.

 Photo:  Elizabeth West

Vocabulary: X-actly What You Needed on a Lazy Sunday

It’s time for another fun vocabulary post!  Today’s letter is x.  It marks the spot, denotes a signature, and looks like someone making a snow angel.

Wheeee!

Image:  Kerys / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Because of the letter’s rarity in English, many words that begin with x have Greek origins.  You pronounce the x at the beginning with a z sound.  I’ve included pronunciation for some of the less familiar ones.

X axis – The horizontal line on a graph.  It’s math; don’t ask me.  Ask these people who think math is fun (it’s not).

Xanthophyll (ZAN-thu-fill) – This word tripped up Laura (Ingalls) in Little Town on the Prairie during a town-wide spelling bee.  It’s a yellowish or brown pigment that causes colors in autumn leaves.

If you haven’t read the Little House books because you think they’re for kids, go back and reevaluate your life.  Then read them.  They’re much, much better than the television series, which I loved as a child but find completely unwatchable now (except for certain select episodes, most having to do with Alison Arngrim’s delightfully wicked Nellie Oleson).

How could you not love this?!

How could you not love this?!

Image:  @iamnellieoleson / Twitter.com

Xerophyte –  A plant that can survive with very little water.  You often see xeriscapes, or gardens made up of such plants, in arid regions.

Xerotic – No, it doesn’t have anything to do with porn actors doing the nasty on top of a Xerox machine.  Get your mind out of the gutter, you dirty thing.  (Or not; I like that in a person.)

Medical folks refer to abnormal dryness of the skin, mucous membranes, or conjunctiva (in the eye) as xerotic.  Anybody with eczema (like me) probably has a touch of xerosis.

Xenophobia – An intense fear of strangers, or of that which is foreign to one.

“Doctor, maybe we shouldn’t go near those aliens,” Clara whispered nervously.  “They look rather fierce.”

“Nonsense!” the Doctor said. “One unfortunate trait of humans is a predilection for irrational xenophobia.  You’ll see what I mean when Earth gets to the 2016 elections in the U.S.  Let’s go say hello.”

–RAWWRRR!!!–

“On second thought, a little xenophobia can be a very healthy thing.  Run!” 

Xhosa (HO-sa) – a South African ethnic group who comprise 8 million members made up of several tribes.  Their titular language is the second most widely spoken after Zulu.  Read more about them at Wikipedia.

Beautiful kids!

Image:  Zakysant / Wikipedia.com / CC BY-SA 3.0

Xilinous (ZY-li-nuss) – Pertaining to cotton.

“I believe that this xilinous material will burn,” said the Doctor.

“G-good,” Sarah Jane replied through chattering teeth, “because this b-bloody planet’s like ice.  Let’s get a fire going, Doctor.”

Xiphoid (say it like typhoid with a z) – Sword-shaped.

Xoanon (zo-annon) – A wooden cult image from ancient Greece.  None have survived except where reproduced in other materials such as stone.

Give me some of that xilinous material. It’s cold in here.

Image: User Mountain / Wikipedia.com

Xù (Vietnamese) –  A South Vietnamese coin that was the equivalent of a cent (one one-hundreth of a dông, which I guess was like a dollar).  Click the links to hear some native speakers pronounce the words.

Xylorimba – A musical instrument like a xylophone with an extended range–it covers many of the sounds a marimba and a standard xylophone can make.

Check out this man demonstrating one on YouTube.

Xylograph – An engraving in wood used for printing.  You see these prints a lot in medieval illustrations, where they’re often called woodcuts.

That’s all for today, kids.  See you next post!

Cat Bites are Dangerous! or, It’s not Pig’s fault her mouth was a steaming cesspool of filth

We will resume our regular flippant writing content after this post.

I need to divert from talking about writing to discuss something important.  You may have seen my previous posts—Psycho Kitty (aka Pig) died on July 7.  When I caught her for transport to the vet, she bit me quite hard on both hands (poor little baby; it wasn’t her fault).

We got to the vet, but there was nothing he could do for her.  From the symptoms I described, he thought she might have had a heart problem.  I took her home and buried her in the backyard, near her favorite bush, her favorite toys with her.

Within three hours of the actual bite, my hand looked like this:

My gross cartoon hand

Photo:  Elizabeth West

It hurt like I’d been shot.  Since it was after eight o’clock and the urgent care closes then, I went to the emergency room with an infection called cellulitis.  They gave me a small bag of IV antibiotic, a tetanus shot, an ultrasound, and a prescription for oral antibiotics, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the infection.

The next night, I was back in the ER–it got worse.

More IV dope, and they popped me in the hospital for two days.  I must have had five or six bags of the stuff altogether–four hours on the drip, then a couple hours off, then four more hours, etc.  Round the clock.  They took an x-ray to check for bone involvement.  Fortunately, my bones were good to go.

Finally, they discharged me and sent me home.  I’m still taking the oral antibiotics, and though my cartoonish hand has resumed normal proportions, my finger is still swollen and painful with limited range of motion.  I’ve been assured by a hand surgeon that it will heal, and I have a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician in the morning.

I don’t blame my kitty.  She was very ill and she had never bitten me like that before.  I don’t know if she even realized it was her mummy trying to stuff her into a carrier.

Her little gravestone.  <3

Her little gravestone.  <3

Photo:  Elizabeth West

I’ve been telling everybody who will listen to please, PLEASE take animal bites, especially on your hands, and any signs of infection from any wound seriously.   Cat bites in particular are very dangerous–their teeth are like little needles that poke the germs right in there.  And your joints have lovely sacs of synovial fluid, which bacteria just LOVE.

It’s warm, it’s dark, it’s anaerobic….bring on the mai-tais!

It’s warm, it’s dark, it’s anaerobic….bring on the mai-tais!

Image:  cuteimage / freedigitalphotos.net

Watch yourself, everyone.  You don’t want to go through this.  I was lucky it didn’t get worse.  And I miss my kitty.

In Memoriam: Psycho Kitty (aka Pig)

UPDATE:  

I DO NOT EVEN BELIEVE IT. Not FIVE minutes after I posted that blog post, Pig showed up on the patio.

She still will not eat.
She will not come to me.
I cannot leave food out, because two seconds after I put something under the bush for her, the monster strays were in the yard.

This is almost worse than if she were dead. I have to watch her slowly go feral and die.

I cannot get rid of these cats and if I don’t, she WILL die. I don’t know what to do.  I guess I will call the shelter and the vet in the morning and see if there is anyone who can help me either get rid of these cats NOW, or catch her.

Being single and alone sucks big time.

————

Psycho Kitty has disappeared.

She was harassed out of her yard by strays–a mother cat and kittens who took up residence in my neighbor’s crawlspace.  When last I saw her, she was hiding in the culvert pipe and would not eat, nor would she come out.  I checked again Sunday afternoon, and she was gone.

I have called her Psycho Kitty as a pseudonym, but I will share her real name with you.  She was called Pig (prior owner called her Miss Piggy, but I shortened it).  I often called her Piggy, Baby Girl, Bawlbaby, and Piggins.

This is a picture of her on her thirteenth birthday, 5 May 2016.  That is her purple British mouse, one of a packet I bought her at my auntie’s vet office in London.  It may have been her last birthday.

Aww Pig 2016

Photo:  Elizabeth West

This is not a feral animal (or rather, she wasn’t; if she is still alive, she may be now).  Pig has had two owners–me and a former neighbor.  The previous owners took care of her shots and fed her, but they didn’t bother to socialize her. She has always been timid as a mouse.  They dumped her on me when they didn’t want to care for her any longer.

I didn’t want a cat at that time, but I realized no one would likely take her because she was so scared, and she was strictly an outside cat.  So I adopted her.  After a great deal of coaxing and love, I had a sweet little baby who would come when I called.  She would demand attention from me.  She played with toys I bought.  She loved being brushed.  She even let me put her on my lap and pet her.

She loved me, and I loved her.  She could be very annoying, and it cost money to have her taken care of when I traveled, but I found a good pet sitter and took her to the vet regularly.  I bought her special food.  She has been well cared for.

PIg distracted from the squirrels

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Pig’s previous owner had her spayed.  I had no worries about unwanted kittens.  Unfortunately, other people have no such concerns.

The feral cats next door have starved and driven my cat out of her yard.  They drove my neighbor’s cat indoors (lucky him, to have a cat who likes being inside).  It has been a nightmare akin to having wharf rats move in.  I’d actually prefer the rats, because at least a pest control company will take care of those.

In her memory, I make this plea to you, interspersed with a few cat facts:

  1. Please, please, PLEASE spay and neuter your pets when they are young. (Dogs too.) Cats can start to reproduce as young as 4 to 6 months, and they will.  It’s a biological drive.  Neutered animals may still have loud kitty sex outside your window at 2 a.m., but they won’t be able to infest your yard with kittens.  According to this website (http://www.knowyourcat.info/info/reproduction.htm), “It has been estimated that in a 12-year lifespan, without human intervention, a single female cat could be responsible for as many as 3500 descendants.”

There is no good reason for pet cats to reproduce.  They don’t long for babies the way humans do, and it is not against God or nature to neuter them.  Unless you are a reputable, licensed breeder, I beg you–spay and neuter.

  1. Please do NOT feed strays. Do not leave food out for your animals–cats don’t need to snack all day, and I guarantee you they won’t eat it.  The strays will.  Also, don’t feed in one place hoping to distract them from another (in desperation, this was tried and it does not work).  If you leave food out, you will also attract skunks, raccoons, and possums, all which probably live in your city.  (If you’re in London, it would be foxes.)

Pig was fed twice a day and given only what she would eat. There were no leftovers, and until these cats moved in, we had few problems.

  1. If you see a neighbor feeding strays, please talk to them and try to convince them not to do this. Please realize that feral cats are not cute.  They are, in effect, wild animals.  Cats are very close to their wild origins, much more so than domestic dogs.

a.  They do not need you to survive.

b.  They carry various diseases that can infect other animals, including feline distemper and rabies (which can also infect you and has a 99% fatality rate).

c.  The lifespan of a feral cat is usually only about 2 or 3 years, and it’s not the best life.

If you don’t spay and neuter and / or if you foolishly abandon animals you grow tired of, then you cannot call yourself an animal lover.  Cats who are well cared for can live up to 15-18 years. If you’re not prepared to make that kind of financial and emotional commitment, then you should not have one.

Only known video of Pig playing with toys

 My sweet, timid kitty is either running wild and scared, or she is lying dead somewhere and I can never find her or say goodbye to her.  I may have lost her forever, and these horrible awful animals who drove her away are still frolicking through my yard until they’re weaned and gone.  Pig did not deserve to have to starve alone away from her loving home.

Dear Pig, Momma loves you.

I miss seeing you at the gate when I pull up after work.

I miss you coming to meet me at the car like a dog.

I miss your bawling at the kitchen window for me to come out and then running around like a crazy thing when I tried to play with you.

I miss you setting the belly trap and I know you were laughing when I fell for it (ouch).

I miss you yelling at me in the car after we went to the vet’s office (and you were a good girl while you were there–they all thought so).

I miss your excitement when you got a can of Fancy Feast or a little broth envelope.

I miss giving you a treatie at night before you went to bed.

I miss you.

Godspeed, little girl.

Even this one, fat and mouthy as she is.

Photo:  Elizabeth West