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The Final Countdown

People ask me these days "How's your cat?" The answer used to be "He's good, actually", but lately it's changed to "He's ok. He's still with us."
He's still with us. That's the important part.
It's been two months since my last update about him, and I write this knowing there will only be one more. I've watched my Rascalbear go from a "well, I'm not so great as I used to be, but I'm still a feisty little shit" to "can I get a lil help here, Mama?"  He's lost more than half his weight, doesn't get around so well (unless it's where HE wants to go!), and is becoming a rather 'leaky' little critter. I've come home to splotches and clotches of blood from nose and toes, the occasional results of upset tummy that chronic kidney failure can induce, and - most recently - pee in places it doesn't belong. He seems unperturbed. I am turbed.  Ok, yeah, I'm making my own words - again - and one day you'll be texting it, so hush.
Rascalbear's April Fools shenanigans.Since February, Rascalbear has taken over almost all of the house in his sickness that he could not do in his wellness. He began to shun the upstairs, so the living room became his home. His takeover of it was a stealth procedure that governments should take note of. It began with a preference for the center cushion of the couch over the bed, and turned into a full-blown hospice-house for the most spoiled cat in the world. He commandeered my brand new fuzzy red robe, two sets of food and water bowls, a quilt, a towel for a tent, and boxes to makes stairs. Where he got the hat and moustache for his April Fools Day shenanigans that were caught on the Rascalbearcam (a comforting technological addition to the mix), I have no idea. But he's always been a pretty resourceful cat when it comes to surprising me. Ha! So, my TV-watching spot is gone. My space in the bed is now under attack, as he's decided recently that the bedroom is once again where he'd rather be. But I cannot fight back. He needs every place he goes.
He's also continued his stealth attack on time. Visits to the vet, some for emergencies, have hijacked evenings and weekends. Medications have come and gone. Chemo has stopped. After his fourth treatment, it was decided the tumors were fighting back, and there is no other cancer-killer I can give him that won't knock out his kidneys as well. Interestingly, I discovered accidentally from an ER tech that in his file there was a note that the oncologist had given him a six week prognosis back in December. Contrary little fuzzhead that he is, he's made it to fifteen. So there!
Sunny Rascalbear.He also made it to something I'd been hoping for: a chance to sit in the sun. Spring comes late to Canada, so once the rays were actually hitting our patio long enough to encourage him to want to go out, I helped it along by shoveling a path to his little grass patch. Seeing him sit with the sun on his face made all the rest of the crap worth while. Nothing says "thank you, Mama" like this little picture.
He sat in the sun again today. Couldn't wait to get out in it once I carried him to the door and showed him what was going on. This is good, but it can't stave off the other signs I'm seeing that say he's almost there. Whether I want to be or not, he's figuring it out on his own. He will let me know. Soon. In the meantime, he still knows who I am, what "Eeeee!" means, and sleeps comfortably next to me every night. I cherish each hour. I think that's all we have. It's the final countdown.

Short Snippet Saturday: Jaiynder Makes a Pit Stop

In this short snippet, I'll reveal Jaiynder's nickname as he visits an old friend for help and, hopefully, information.


            Jaiynder rapped on the dirt-streaked door and fought back a grimace of pain. Sweat beaded his face and trickled beneath his clothing, the ventilation system in the decrepit building having long since ceased functioning. He flapped his coat, then wiped his brow and banged again. "Jibby? Jibby it's Bandy!"
            A vulgar request for silence echoed from somewhere down the musty hall.
            Jaiynder ignored it and thumped his fist once more. "C'mon, I know you're there. I saw your crummy craft below. Open up already will ya?"
            The door popped ajar, hinges squealing in protest. A wary eye peeked out.
            Jaiynder wedged his foot into the crack. "Jibby? Hey, it's me."
            "Bandy? What're you doing here?" The man rose onto his tiptoes, trying to see into the dark hallway.
            "Let me in, I'll explain."
            "I'm kinda busy."
            "And I'm kinda bleeding all over the place. Now let me in and fix it, or I'll fix you!"

A Rogue By Any Other Name

This past week I had to make a momentous decision about my WIP, Fate's Apology. It wasn't changing the plot or figuring out how to even begin to get it published when it's done. It wasn't the elimination of a character or the introduction of a new one. It wasn't the killing of any 'darlings', of which I'm sure I'll find one or two more that need to be put out of their misery. Nope, it was something even more stressful. Something that just about ripped my little heart out. Something that made me go "Noooooo! Not that!"
I had to change a major character's name.
If there's one thing I'm proud of in this story, it is my character names. Some of them popped into my head perfectly suitable right from the start, while others took weeks to come to me. Some have necessarily changed completely since I ripped the story from the Star Wars universe and threw it out into the cosmos as a stand-alone creation. And I have made some slight changes in spelling here and there to alleviate confusion about pronunciation. That didn't bother me too much, and the biggest one was actually a terrific improvement. The current change I'm making is like that, but not because there was any worry of pronunciation confusion. Oh no, this is much worse. His name actually exists as a given name.
Jaiynder BanduconThis really bothers me. Because my story is based in scifi, I tried my damndest to come up with names that are original and otherworldly. I know that's often impossible, and I did let my standards slide on a few, especially the nicknames I simply couldn't avoid using. 'Sid' and 'Rey', for instance. I don't like it, but I'm not changing them. Sid is a secondary character, and Rey, well, there can be no other nickname for him, it's as simple as that. But his antagonist has an interesting and fun name. One that went *poof* out of the blue, into my pen, and onto the paper in that very first scribbling. One that rolls off the tongue like a carnival of syllables. One that suits the characters. One that I just love to bits. That name is 'Jainder Banducon'.
I'd made it a point long ago to Google my made-up words and names of people and things to make sure I could reasonably call them mine. Several of them I changed right away. Some I did not, if what I found was so minor it simply didn't matter. But, believe it or not, until last week I never thought to search for my main characters on Facebook. Lo and behold, 'Jainder' is a popular Indian name. My jaw dropped when I saw it listed next to well over two dozen profile pictures of men who are are decidedly not the raven-haired rogue whom I've grown to love almost more than my handsome, tormented Rey. My heart broke as I realized I just couldn't handle him sharing an appellation with so many others.

What to do, what to do??

I entertained the idea of changing his name completely, but promptly banished the thought. Maybe tweak it a bit to be different but sound the same? How about Jaider? Or maybe Jayder? Ugh. No. The only option left was a spelling change. But unlike changing 'Vame' to 'Vaim', I was afraid it would not hold up in print. I typed it out in the Facebook search bar. Jaynder. I hit 'search'.

Eight results. Damn. I tried different spellings. Jeinder. Jeynder. Still results. In desperation, I moved to similar-sounding names: Zainder. Zaynder. Shainder. Shaynder. All of them returned results. I moved to the second half of the name. Jaindar. Jayndar. Still results. Jayndir. No results, but it was now rhyming with 'reindeer', which is completely unacceptable. I pounded the desk in frustration. Then, I simply added a letter. Jaiynder.
No results. I Googled it. Nothing.
It seemed a little clunky. I wrote it on paper. I wrote it again. I typed it over and over in a document. Jaiynder, Jaiynder, Jaiynder. Jaiynder Banducon. Does it work? Hmm. I took a chapter, changed it everywhere he appeared, and reread it.
Jaiynder BanduconLo and behold, by the time I got to the end it was starting to grow on me. It even looks Valoshain, the world and culture from which he hails, as do Rey and Sid. My sadness has abated, and I think the change is a positive one. Jaiynder Banducon is original, exotic, rolls off the tongue like a carnival of syllables, and is still thoroughly suitable for my short-tempered, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, just-a-tad-on-the-crazy-side mercenary. And it doesn't even interfere with his nickname, which was never based on his first name anyway. I must say, he and I are both happy about that. The last thing I need is best friends whose names are 'Rey and Jaiy'. Ugh. No.
So, Jaiynder Banducon it is. Now that that's settled and we're both happy with it, I can get back to letting him stir up trouble, torment his best friend, exasperate his sidekick, share vicious barbs with Vaim, and try to keep his sadistic butt out of hot water at every turn. Sooo much fun!
Right, Jaiynder?

Cussing Characters

When I first literally put pen to paper and launched Fate's Apology, it was intended only to be a fun Star Wars fanfic; one that was taking place long before the days of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It's a universe with which I am familiar and dearly love, so when that first scene burst into my brain, it was only obvious that the story's seedling be planted in that fertile little piece of scifi soil. But as the tale grew longer and the characters made themselves known to me, I realized they could not remain in this often violent but otherwise squeaky-clean environment.

Well, one of the reasons is that no one in the Star Wars universe swears.
Cuss buttonSince I began writing, I've read several articles about the use of profanity in literature. Usually, the advice is against it. Personally, I believe that using it wisely can help bring a story to life. It just depends on the type of story, which characters are using it, and why. For a while I toyed with the idea of creating my own obscenities, especially when I found it difficult to drop religion-based blasphemies without leaving myself short of expletives. But not only is doing this very tricky, it's also been done before. Sometimes fraking well, and sometimes frelling miserably, at least in my opinion. I did create some slang and an ethnic slur, but cussing is much more complicated, so I didn't go there.

It would be easy to say that only my villains swear, but that's actually not true. On one hand, not all of them do, and on the other hand, one of my protagonists is fully capable of using colorful language. However, I've discovered he's not crude without reason, so when he curses, you know he means business. For the most part though, only a few characters indulge. And if you met them in real life, it would not surprise you to hear them do so. That's who they are, and while I do limit their propensity for dropping all but the occasional F-bomb - some of which may still get the axe later on - I don't limit their cussing to the point where they sound like frustrated four-year-olds. In the Fate's Apology universe, "geez", "darn", and "oh my goodness" just don't cut it.
While some readers may not care for this bit of gritty reality, I wouldn't be being honest with myself or my characters, and I wouldn't be writing the "kind of story I want to read" if I muzzle my foul-mouthed fiends in order to appeal to a wider audience. Swearing, like the exclamation point (another no-no, or so I'm told), has its place. So, if the character is pissed and cussing is something he does when experiencing that emotion, then by all means, let him or her rip!

Short Snippet Saturday: Getting to Know You

Building the relationship between my two protagonists is a complicated matter, but one of the most fun parts about writing Fate's Apology. Too nice, and it's not believable. Too antagonistic, and it's difficult to care. They spend much of the first third of the story vacillating somewhere between the two extremes, learning to do the one thing they must do before anything else can happen: respect one another.


            The screen went black and Rey hustled Nala from the com station. They walked several paces, then wedged themselves into a narrow doorway that smelled of neglect.
            "This 'Sid'," Nala began. "He did not seem overjoyed with your story."
            "Sid knows too much about my past. I can't blame him for making assumptions."
            "Kweranton is the intoxicant of fools. I have seen people die for those poisoned dice."
            Rey nodded knowingly. "It's nearly brought me to ruin more than once. I was lucky to finally break free from its grasp."
            Nala appraised him. Shadows encircled his haunted eyes, and his red curls were matted with blood and sweat. He stared out at the skylane as though willing their ride to appear.
            "You have strength where it does not show," she said.
            A half-smile tilted his mouth. "Well then, I guess we have something in common."

He's not called "His Royal Hineyness" for nothing!

I came home the other night and had totally planned to work out. You know,  because I've been doing so well on my resolution and all, although the jeans don't seem too impressed. Nevertheless, I was gung-ho adamant that before I started making that spaghetti dinner I would spend at least a half-hour on the excercise bike. I had my shoes and my water in hand.
Rascalbear's big blue eyes.And then it happened. Rascalbear came downstairs to greet me.
He squawked and paced, and looked up at me with those big blue crossed eyes. And I sat on the stairs and let him show me his belly, and I rubbed his little head, and listened his big, sloppy, motor-boat purr, and I knew the bike would have to live without me.
Because Rascalbear cannot.
It's been almost two months since I got the diagnoses: cancer, with a poor prognosis. Rascalbear had his third chemo treatment nearly two weeks ago. This time we tried a new drug - Carboplatin - because after two doses of Mitoxantrone, not only did his three tumors not shrink, he picked up a fourth (a little subcutaneous bump on the side of his nose). It's too soon to know if this one is slowing the spread, but for sure it's doing a number on his appetite and energy. Enter a new drug - Mirtazapine - to stimulate his appetite. Wow. And I thought his pain-killer - Tramadol - made him a wackadoodle. Ok, I exaggerate, but in reality that's what both these drugs do: exaggerate his normal gregarious and noisy personality. That was fine with me. It's not right to have a Siamese cat that doesn't demand attention and vocalize every thought inside his furry little head! And the drugs do seem to have helped. The food disappears out of the bowl, and I celebrate every morning upon seeing poos and pees in the litter box. This is a good thing!
The bad thing is watching him age before my eyes, despite my best efforts to keep him healthy and happy. Oh, he still has a good quality of life. I'm the one going "Be careful, slow down!" when he tries to barrel down the stairs like his fat old self. But I see it creeping in: that point of no return. He's never going to gain back an ounce of weight, no matter how much he eats. He's never going to run the length of the house again. Soon, he'll likely not even trot it, like he can still do when he's 'in a mood' and full of beans.
Rascalbear's Mama's Day card 2012.Because of being hyper-sensative to his condition due to the constant monitoring, strange things have started happening with me. I often see him out of the corner of my eye, and freeze when I hear his squawk. Then I check, and he's fast asleep. I've already - due to a power outage at work on the same day as his biopsy vet visit - come home to a house devoid of his presence, and it felt like cold, ghostly fingers of the future clawing at me. There was an eerie silence in the house, a silence that is usually there during the day, but I knew, KNEW, it wasn't because he was napping, but because he wasn't there at all. And I didn't like it. Not one bit.
So, whenever His Royal Hineyness asks, he gets me, one-hundred percent, every time. He's doing it right now. He's having a not-so-great day, I think, and just wants to be close, so he's commandeered my lap, making it difficult to sit comfortably and write. But that's ok. It has to be. Every moment counts when every moment is being counted, hoping they continue as long as possible. How long will that be? I don't know, but I'd really like to get another Mama's Day card from my cat. Yes, we do that here. And I love them dearly. The thought of not getting one this year makes my throat close up, but I know hoping for it is a long shot.
So from now on, for Rascalbear, every day is Mama's Day. And for me, every day is his, even if it means putting aside the other things I need/want/love to do. They'll still be there for me long after he's gone. He's only here right now. And really, who wants to work out anyway? Feh.

Rascalbear in the sock pile.

Short Snippet Saturday: Oh, Really??

Having characters who share a twisted backstory (that never actually gets info-dumped onto the reader) gives lots of opportunities to pepper Fate's Apology with lively and sometimes eyebrow-raising banter. The things that spout from their mouths often take even me by surprise!


            The woman bit her lip, then drew an inverted triangle and looked hopefully at Vaim.
            Vaim shook her head and grabbed the woman by the shoulder, pushing her to her knees as she pinched. "That letter is in two of the three worlds' names and isn't the first letter of any of them," she growled. "Stop playing with me and show me the name of the destination world!"
            The woman gritted her teeth and reached for the coat. She drew an oval with a straight line bisecting one side. "That's all I remember!"
            "Could be Gamanarr," Jaiynder said, scrutinizing the scrawl.
            "Could be Kirn, too. Try again!" She squeezed harder.
            "I don't remember!" the woman cried, panic setting in. "You're hurting me!"
            "Let her go," Jaiynder said. "Now you're just being nasty for fun."
            Vaim released the woman and cocked her head at him, a wicked glint in her hazel eyes. "You used to like when that was the case."

Books I Miss No Longer - Part One

Back in August, I posted a blog about books I'd loved in the past but was either unable to check out of the library anymore or had given away. Well, guess what? With a little help from someone who has a lot more patience and much better internet-searching skills, I now own two of the three books, and have figured out what the missing third one is!
The first book was the story of Hans and his dream of riding the famed Lipizzaner horses. It never crossed my mind to look up well-known authors of horse stories. But it should have, because I would have discovered it a lot sooner. The White Stallion of Lipizzabook is called "White Stallion of Lippiza", by Marguerite Henry and illustrated by Wesley Dennis. I haven't heard those names in a very long time, but if I had, I still probably would not have associated them with this book. Marguerite Henry is the author of a very well-known horse story called "Misty of Chincoteague", a book I tried to read as a child - more than once, I believe - and failed. My memory of what I disliked about it was that it was more about the people than the horse, and, as a horse fanatic, I wanted to read about, well, horses!
Oddly enough though, that didn't stop me from enjoying "White Stallion of Lippiza", which is about Hans, not Borina the Lippizan. (And no, it wasn't a mare, it was - duh - a stallion. So much for my great childhood memory!) I have yet to re-read this book, but upon flipping through it I think the difference was that 1) Hans had to overcome a lot in his life to pursue his dream, and 2) Lippizans! My neighbors down the road owned fat, shaggy little pinto ponies like Misty. I'd even ridden them. Yawn. But Lippizans? They're beautiful dream horses, the likes of which I'd never seen in real life: big, and white, and they can do amazing tricks, the names of which I memorized and drew my own pictures of. And I think that was part of the fun. I could take the story and run with it - literally, on all fours as I often did back then! - and be inspired. Isn't that what a book is supposed to do?
Handy horse!Interestingly, in my research of books by Marguerite Henry, I discovered that while Misty, Stormy, and Pony Penning Day left me bored, she wrote several other horse stories that did not. The story about the race horse in the Kentucky Derby? It was a colt named Black Gold, and the book "Black Gold" is based on his true story. It's not told in first-person from the horse's point of view (I must still be thinking of another book), but everything else about it rings true to memory. Black Gold really did injure his leg in a race, and finished on three legs. That part I remember, as it's the most nail-biting part of the story. This is the book I was thinking of. Found!
Oh, and that pencil drawing of the horse with hands instead of hooves in "White Stallion of Lippiza"? Yep, it's in there. Almost exactly as I remember, and nope, it's not a play on the name "Hans". Nevertheless, it's still a very spooky representation from a dream sequence. Is there any wonder this would stick with an eight-year-old kid? For that matter, it's probably a lot of the reason I never forgot the book. And now you won't either!

Wants vs. Reality

A lot of people I follow on Twitter have recently posted their goals for 2013. The lists were long and ambitious, and made me feel lazy just for having the audacity to spend my free time reading them. How they will find the time to complete half the goals that were listed, I don't know. But I do know that it made me decide to post my own list. With a twist.
I normally don't like announcing what I 'will' do; only what I'm already making progress on. That's because once other people know by what yardstick I'm measuring myself, I feel pressure to live up to it for their sake rather than my own. I know, right? But there it is. So I'm not going to go all kinds of super-humanoid crazy and make a list I know I can't accomplish even if the Ambition Fairy herself came down and dumped a truckload of "make it happen" on me. Instead I'm going to list the few that came to mind in their initial state, and then in my ever-pragmatic reassessment.
What I want to do:
Finish this draft of Fate's Apology.
What I think I can actually accomplish:
Finish part two. Yes, I've been working on this story for forever, or at least it seems like it. So it would be nice to get to the end. To be fair, the first two years it was just for fun as a Star Wars fanfic, and having never written anything else before, it was a huge learning experience and did lay the groundwork for the main characters. So I forgive myself that bit of "wasted" time. But once I got serious, it really became hard work, and not being a pro, combined with having a physically taxing day job, I simply cannot crank out thousands of words a day no matter how enthused I am. It's coming, little by little, and I'm not going to rush it and end up in a dead end wondering again how I got there. The middle of part two is as far as I've ever gotten, and I'm currently only a few chapters away from that point right now. This time it will be with part three falling neatly into place, and if I actually make it into part three, so much the better. Hey, at least I know I have plenty of time ahead of me with these characters I love so much, so there's an upside!
What I want to do:
Become a more proficient bassist. (Oh, did you miss the part where I joined a band? Yeah, probably, because I was too busy getting my chops back up to blog about it. Just check out our YouTube account and you'll be all back up to speed.)
What I think I can actually accomplish:
Not losing the gains I've made since I dusted the darn thing off after 14 years of hiatus. This is because I've run up against a roadblock: carpal tunnel syndrome. It's like "Ooh, so you want to play in a band again? Nope, not without a price. Take THAT!" Well, grrrrr. Jamming never disabled me before. Now, I don't mind not being able to twirl around without falling down, like I could as a kid, or doing a split like I could when it was part of my job description many moons ago, but I really DO mind not being able to play the guitar without having a painfully useless left hand for the next two days. I already wear a brace at night, and I'll be commencing some physiotherapy soon. So we'll see if that helps. In the meantime, I decided to put away my beloved Rickenbacker *sniff* and get the Ibanez back out because it's got a smaller neck that's easier on my hand. Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices in order to not lose everything.
What I want to do:
Blog once a week, plus post one short snippet every two weeks.
What I think I can actually accomplish:
Write up several blogs at a time whenever the inspiration hits, and hope I don't hate them later as I spread them out for posting every two weeks, so I don't run out too soon. And one short snippet per month, so I don't run out as I continue to write. I comfort myself with the fact that it's not like I have a ton of readership, and as it is I have to figure out how to re-enable comments without getting 100+ email notifications a day telling me I have comments to approve but which are really spammers in China and the Ukraine trying to sell Viagra, Ugg boots, and fake Gucci bags. Yeah, like I have time for that nonsense. Anyway, this place was mainly an alternative to MySpace anyway; my own little corner of the internet where I can hang my hat and where my dashboard wouldn’t be redesigned every couple months, leaving me wondering how to navigate my own page. So unless/until I think I need it for any kind of major promotion, I'm not going to stress out trying to emulate people who have far more interesting lives, better ideas, a bigger following, and superior computer smarts. You folks rock. I'm happy just to pebble. For now. :)
What I want to do:
Last but not least - the weight resolution. Yes, it's a common goal, and many do it and often fail, but I'd like to lose 20 pounds this year. I've been heavier, but I was almost at an ideal weight a few years ago, then the lard slowly crept up on me again ever since I got involved in a play, and then a band, and my evenings started being parceled out to other activities besides working out. I don't regret that, but even though I've long since gotten back into my work out, somehow I haven't been able to put the brakes on the gain no matter how much I pedal that exercise bike. I'm probably one of the few women in the world who is not happy that she can once again fit into her wedding dress. Meh.
What I think I can actually accomplish:
Lose 10 of it, which is the actual amount that's piled on since the play and is keeping me out of my best jeans and summer shorts. How? Not sure yet, but there must be a way. It starts with probably making some ouchy dietary adjustments, as well as pedaling the damn bike even longer no matter how tired I am after work, and also sticking to it on weekends when I actually have more time but tend to blow it off because I'm not tired and would like to spend my precious, non-fuzzy-brained free time doing other stuff, like, you know, writing? Or playing my piano? Or learning a new song on the bass? Yeah. Either way, I'm not buying new jeans. The ones I have will see the light of day again, one way or another.
And that's it! Four things. I'd like it to be eight, or ten, or fourteen, but for me it's better to focus on a few things that I can do and come back in a year and go "Yes! Missions accomplished!" rather than go overboard and read this again in a year with a big FAIL sign flashing over my head. And if I can add an "Oh yeah, I also accomplished this!" paragraph next year, then what a w00t that'll be. Yes, I agree we should set the bar high. But I won't set mine so high that I kill myself trying to get over it. Four goals are good. Four goals are doable. Four goals for the 2013 win!

Short Snippet Saturday: A Disturbing Discovery

Today it's time for another protagonist snippet. The situation that this snippet showcases is a new addition to my current draft of Fate's Apology. I found it not only added more chaos to Rey and Nala's immediate situation, but also opened up an opportunity to create more conflict between them within an important theme of the story.


            Together they sprinted to the Hanora, dodging migs fleeing in the opposite direction. Lights strobed and the grinding of mechanisms deep within the walls rumbled around them.
            Entering the hold, Nala flipped the magnelifts to Rey. He lifted the heavy panel. Nala crouched at the edge of the dark pit, then recoiled as it exhaled a reek of sweat and urine.
             "What's wrong?" Rey asked, anxiously watching the loading ramp for unwanted company.
             "There are people in there!" she sputtered. She peered into the pit. Eyes gazed at her from mouthless faces. She looked closer and noted dusky skin, hand-woven fabric, and thick braids tied with leather thongs. "Tendarans!" she cried, realizing the mouthless appearance was caused by swatches of tape crisscrossing their lips.
            Rey flung the magnelifts down the ramp, then moved around to the open end of the panel and looked inside. "Oh, no," he said. A door slammed, jerking his attention to the hatch. Footsteps approached from within the craft, the noise doubled by a similar march in the docking bay. "Get in there!" he hissed.
            "Nala, it's now or never!"
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