Cat Post


It’s my blog, I don’t have to stay on topic. I can write about my cat if I want.

But it’s also a journal of sorts, so important things are going in here.

Pooka was the best cat I ever had, most cuddly cat most of my friends had ever met. Super outgoing. He played fetch, which baffled visitors who had never seen a cat promptly return and drop the toy they were chasing on their owner’s lap.IMAG0269

He was a Manx, with just a short tail, and even though he was born a barn cat, he took to the litter box the day we got him like it was the best thing in the world. We only ever had trouble with him if we changed the kind of litter we used. He wasn’t from the most reputable breeder perhaps, though, and he had some food allergies that would give him digestive issues if we fed him the wrong thing. But his personality made up for it.

When he was younger, before he gave up and got used to me leaving for work, he would try and stop me from leaving. He got to know the signs that I was going out, and chase me down the hallway towards the door, hooking his paw around my ankle, trying to hold me back.

He would be on my lap just all the time – I was so used to it, I wouldn’t even notice he was there. He met me at the door when I came home, and would come to snuggle in bed when I called him at night. As a kitten, he tried to sleep on my head. Toward the end, he would snuggle next to me with his head on my shoulder and one paw wrapped around my arm.


In addition to playing fetch, he was known as the infamous water thief, and would drink out of any water glass left undefended. We tried to use a spraybottle for discipline, but discovered he liked it, and we have video of him drinking water as we sprayed it into his mouth.

He chased a laser pointer once. We had him running in a circle for at least a half an hour before he collapsed panting, mouth open, on the floor and couldn’t get up. He wasn’t a stupid cat. He would never chase a laser pointer again after that.

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He never jumped on the counter, didn’t dig in the garbage, didn’t unravel the toilet paper, was good about having his claws trimmed, and only liked scratching things I gave home to scratch. He had a thing for sisal cord scratching posts.

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And he had the sweetest meows. Trilling and chirping mostly, but then their was the longer play-with-me meow when he was in the mood. At some point in his life we started hearing a very strange meow that we only heard when he was in another room. At first we though something was wrong, it was kind of a yowling, insistent meow, but when we came to check on him he was fine, just fondling his catnip pillow. Finally we figured out what it was when he prowled into the room still doing it. It was just his play-with-me meow, only he was doing it while carrying his toy around in his mouth.

Almost eleven years old, he started losing weight over the course of a few months, and when he stopped eating altogether one day two months ago, we got him to the vet. Vet did some tests, and while he was negative for the nasty FIV and feline leukemia, there was no easy way to rule out cancer. We crossed our fingers and gave him the antibiotics and steroids the vet prescribed and hoped it turned out to be just an infection or autoimmune disease.

He bounced back through Christmas. Nathan calls it our little Christmas miracle that we got him back healthy and happy through the holidays. We made the most of it, feeding him whatever he wanted since the vet was hopeful but never made us any promises.

After the holidays were over, he crashed again. We made another vet appointment.

The night before, I managed to get him to eat some baked chicken. He didn’t really want to, but he kept looking back at me like he knew I wanted him to eat, and he was only doing it for me.


Later I was petting him, and I felt his tummy. I could feel something. Lumps; masses. The vet confirmed it the next morning. Liver cancer. Nothing anyone could have done. On the vet’s recommendation, we had him put down.

It’s been a month, and at night in the dark, I’m still stepping cautiously around the spots he used to sleep so I don’t trip over him before I remember he’s gone. Every year, my mother-in-law buys our cats cat toys for christmas, and this year Nathan had forgot them in the bag brought home after family gatherings. We didn’t remember it until after, and now we have this little red stuffed dragonfly that was for him, and we never got to give it to him. And the other cat – Apollo cries at night, and wanders the apartment looking for his friend.

I never had any pet as long as I had him, and was never as close to one. My cats growing up, the first my mom sent away to a farm after a year, maybe, the second wandered off to live at the neighbors who were feeding her so that she was getting balloonishly fat, and the third I only had for a year or so before having to give him away. I never had to have one put down. The dog we had for a lot of years, but he belonged to my brother, my grandpa and my dad, so it was them that had that closeness with the dog.

None of them were animals that I shared the kind of relationship I had with Pooka. Pooka, I’m not even sure I know how to describe how in sync the two of us were. I think the best I can do is say, in the dark, at night, I could put my hand out and call him, and in a few moments, his head would be pressed under my hand.

The new kitten will have big paw prints to fill when it comes home.


“99% of Readers Won’t Know Better”

I was reading a story someone had posted online for feedback once, and pointed out to the author that Pawnees and Shawnees are already names of existing aircraft, and they are not the aircraft that he was describing in his story. The author, responded by telling me his audience wasn’t going to know better.

To an extent, he may be right about the majority of his audience.

But think about it. How many times have you heard horse lovers rant about how horse books and horse shows get horses all wrong? Or doctors face-palming when they see doctors on TV pull out the defibrillators.

And then think about your potential audience. Do you really think that if you’re writing a book with aeroplanes in it, where the main character is a pilot, that a reader who’s a pilot isn’t going to be the number one most likely person to zero in on the aeroplane on the cover of your book and yank that puppy off the shelf? That reader is also the number one most likely person to return for more and become a devoted reader because they love the thing you’re writing about, and there aren’t that many people writing about their specific interest.

I’ve read from some successful writers, the key to making a living as a writer is to develop a dedicated following of faithful readers who will buy everything you write, not to rely on the random whims of readers browsing shelves. That if you can get a few thousand dedicated readers, your income can be stable, and your sales numbers predictable, rather than all over the place.

Do you want that reader to be the one who’s most disappointed by your lack of research The one who’s most likely to be forgiving of other flaws in your book because it contains their particular brand of crack? Do you want the reader who’s most passionate about the topic you’re writing about to be the one who throws your book against the wall because you mixed up an engine stall with an aerodynamic stall?

I’m speaking more as a reader, here, than as a writer when I say for the love of whatever god you worship, have respect for your readers and don’t assume they’re ignorant.

Book Review: Updraft by Fran Wilde

Spoiler alert: I freakin’ loved this book. Secondary world fantasy is my go-to subgenre, and anything to do with flying, even if it’s not explicitly aeroplanes will capture my interest, so I was already interested. When a friend read it and said it was amazing, I bumped it to the top of my reading list, and do not regret it.

It’s a fantastically imaginative world – there are towers that rise above the clouds that people live on, made of bone, and to move about, people fly on wings made of silk and bone. The clouds, as far as I can tell, never disperse, and no one flies below them on purpose – in fact, their methods of exacting capital punishment is to strip someone of their wings and drop them into the clouds. Their mythology is all about how they rose above the clouds and how terrible it was before that, and their religion uses the threat of stopping a tower from growing taller to keep it above the clouds to keep it’s people in line.

I’m a sucker for imaginative worlbuilding, so all of this drew me in. The main character is also dark skinned, so POC representation there. The original cover didn’t show the main character’s skin colour so much, but the newer cover that I got did, and I like that cover a lot better.

Plot wise, character wise – everything was great. I was thoroughly enthralled by the world, the characters, everything.

The other thing I wanted to mention is I have a sneaking suspicion that the author has at least some little bit of aviation experience. I can’t tell how much, and I haven’t been able to find anything in any of her bios that mentions aviation involvement. But there was little things – the sort of things that creep into my own writing because I can’t stop it, having the background in aviation that I do. The one that stands out was a mention of the rules of right-of-way being part of the flight training. But the whole idea of flight testing that comes up in the opening made me feel like even though the flight testing in the book doesn’t go the way flight testing does in aviation, the worldbuilding might have been guided or inspired by some knowledge of it.

But anyway, it was fantastic, I loved it, and you should definitely read it, and I’m really excited to start the next book.

When Research Isn’t Enough

Okay, first of all, don’t research aviation the way I did, it’s really expensive.*

But sometimes book research isn’t enough. I was writing a scene where characters were uncoupling a train once, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how the Janney coupling system worked from all the pictures and descriptions I found online. I trotted off to the local train museum and when I told them what my main mission for the visit was, they were kind enough to let me past the ropes  to get a good close look at one from all angles. They’re actually rather ingenious, incidentally – it’s no wonder they’ve been using them for over a hundred years.

So anyway, I was writing about aeroplanes and if you’ve been following for any length of time, that research resulted in me getting a commercial pilot licence.

But obviously it’s not practical for every author to either restrict their writing to topics they’re intimately familiar with. Neither is it practical for every author who wants to write about a profession to spend thousands of dollars on a professional level of training on the subject.

Recently I picked up a book because it had a plane on the front, because that’ll totally sell me a novel. I got to the flying parts, and I could tell the author had done *some* research on aviation, but it was also obvious that the author was not a pilot.**

There was some talk about crosswinds, and such, it was going fairly decent, and I was willing to overlook the comment about three hundred feet being really high. There was terminology, and it was being used mostly correctly. The fact that he wasn’t going into too much detail, calling it gas instead of fuel, being an idiot who didn’t plan the flight ahead of time, I could chalk all that up to the author not wanting to bore the reader with technical details, and the main character being an inexperienced pilot.

But then the main character was taking off, and halfway through the takeoff roll, he was worried about not having enough runway left. So the character gives it more gas.

And this is just one of those little mistakes that a non-pilot will never pick up on, and an author might not ever even think to look up. It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations. How many people who aren’t pilots would even think to look up how much power to use on take-off?

And yet, this is something covered in the first flight lesson – there’s never any reason to ever initiate a take-off roll with less than full power.

And then the plane became more and more heavily featured toward the end of the book, and the aviation elements took a turn for the worse. The location of the fuel tanks became relevant to the plot, and it became clear that the author had no idea the fuel tanks in a metal skinned aircraft are typically inside the wings, and had the main character specifically states that the fuel tanks in a small GA Cessna are in the tail section. At one point the main character used full power and stick back to counter a spiral dive, which is literally the opposite of what you do in a spiral dive.

The pinnacle of it all was when they were doing a pass “low and slow” and the narrative described how dangerous it was to fly near stall speed at low altitude. Which it is. And it’s great that the author threw in the mention of stall speed at an appropriate time. But then the narrative explained why it was so dangerous – close to the ground, he wouldn’t have time to attempt to restart the engine if they stalled.

Yep; author is conflating an engine stall with an aerodynamic stall, and thinks when you get close to stall speed, the engine quits.

And the rest of the book was mostly good, and that’s the most frustrating thing. None of it was so bad that the plot didn’t work if it were revised for accuracy. If the author had got a pilot to read it over, none of this would have got past a pilot. It would have been so easy to fix.

And again, I wouldn’t say that authors shouldn’t write about topics they’re not experts in. But it’s things like this that show how important it is to have expert beta readers. Not just consultants, because instances like this show that something can slip in so easily without the author realizing it’s a mistake and thinking to ask about it.

There’s a lot of resources out there – some places you may even be able to find expert beta readers in forums or such deigned specifically to match up experts with authors who need them. Don’t be afraid to write about interesting and exciting things and professions, but if you do, do it right, and do it justice.

*Just kidding, do it and if you love it, go for it!
** I’m not going to name the book because I hate being mean and writing negative reviews, I just want to use some of the content as an example.

Different Types Of Critique Groups

There’s a lot of different ways of conducting a critique group. The standard format seems to be that members show up and read a piece of their work no longer than X. Once they’re done, the other members take turns delivering critiques verbally. Usually there are rules about no one being allowed to interrupt a person delivering a critique.

Often after my group’s meetings there may be a flurry of “Okay, now that I’ve had time to think about it,” emails. Also, like I said in a previous post, our group hasn’t needed to be strict about the no-interrupting rule, but only because we’re all friends and the interruptions are generally constructive.

Sometimes groups will have a deadline to submit material, so that it can be distributed to other members and be read before the meeting. This is great if everyone can actually get the reading done, and everyone can submit something beforehand. I’d love to do this, but our group is full of people with busy day lives and, we didn’t want the less prolific or less serious writers to stop participating due to it being too much fuss. We do still have a dropbox folder where we share copies of our work and we can post it ahead of time, but reading ahead is not required.

Another thing I’ve seen done with more serious groups is a format where they would focus on longer submissions – parts of a novel, several chapters at least, distribute them to be read before a meeting, and only be reading one member’s work for each meeting. They would take turns from one meeting to the next being the writer who’s work up to be read.

Another major variation is membership and attendance. Most groups meet on a specific day of the month, or every X number of weeks, and whoever can make it comes. Of it’s a little more formal, there might be emails sent out to confirm who’s attending, so that no one ends up showing up and being the only one there. My group has a fairly small number of members so we try to make sure we have everyone for each meeting, so we email back and forth our available days each month to figure out a day when we can all be there.

Membership wise, some groups have an online space where people can discover the group and join to find out when meetings will be, and membership is immensely casual. I’ve also been to some groups who weren’t so hungry for members that I learned about through word of mouth, where I showed up unexpectedly because it was a public place, convinced them I wasn’t an asshat, and they let me stay.

One the one hand, the openness can attract new members more easily. On the other hand, one group I was in eventually had to ask one member to stop coming because he was disruptive. I’ve also stopped going to others when a disruptive member was not managed. It was with this in mind that we’ve kept my current group membership by invitation only, and our meeting locations are discussed in private emails.

Another huge advantage of the membership being more private, is if you know there’s not going to be strangers show up, the meeting doesn’t need to be held in a public place. We have held meetings in members’ apartments at times. For a long time, one of our members who lived in a retirement home had a lovely library she would book for us.

Next in the Critique Group series: how to put together your own critique group.

Trying On Clothes: A Metaphor For Rewrites

I sit in my critiquing meeting as my best friend furiously draws huge X’s through entire pages of my manuscript. I laugh because I know she means well, and she may very well be right – the entire scene may need to go. It may need to be rewritten, or split into pieces, or placed elsewhere in the story.

I’m an outliner, and I am writing to an outline, but as I tell anyone who tries to feed me the bullshit line “Outlining takes all the fun out of things, there’s no surprises!”, no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. If I agonized over what order scenes were going to go in, and whether or no every single scene needs to be there, I would freeze up and never get anything done.

So even though I have an outline, stuff doesn’t always flow out onto the page smoothly. But you can revise what you haven’t written, so this bunch of scenes, I just went ahead and banged them out. There’s some repetitiveness in them, because there’s a couple of different ways I could reveal plot points, and I ended up writing more than one version.

It’s like if you need a dress for an event, and you have a pretty decent idea of what you want – you have a picture in your head. You have a favourite colour, a style, maybe you know you hate princess bodices (princess bodices look terrible on me) and you like lace but not sequins, chiffon is great, etc.

But you don’t show up at the store, grab a dress off the shelf that has all the right stuff and take it to the counter. You try it on, because sometimes the way a dress fits, it may be made to flatter one body type and not another. Sometimes it turns out that’s not your colour. Or you have these fantastic shoes you want to wear, but they don’t match the dress, and you find a good dress, but you have to choose between the dress and the shoes – the two don’t go together.

And writing is just like that. I always tell newer authors starting revisions not to be afraid of rewrites because sometimes you don’t know a dress is going to look awful on you until you try it on. Sometimes that scene both needs to be written, and needs to be cut. Sometimes you have to bang it all out onto the page and piece the fragments together later. Sometimes there’s a plot twist that could be executed three different ways, and you have to write them all before you know which one works best.

Outlining can help, but it doesn’t eliminate all rewrites. Unpredictable things happen as words flow onto the page and your story takes on a life of it’s own, and outlining doesn’t stop that from happening. And just because something comes out crap the first time you write it doesn’t mean you’re a shit writer, it’s often just part of the process. So go fearlessly write crap, and when you think you’ll just be cutting it later, don’t let it paralyze you. But don’t let it stop you from cutting it later either.

Writing a novel is a lot of work, don’t try to cut corners or let your novel be less than the best it can be just because you don’t want to rewrite something that needs rewriting!

4 Things Not To Do On The NaNoWriMo Reference Desk

I’ll get back to critique groups, but the NaNoWriMo site has rebooted and of course that means there’s a slough of new posts on the reference desk forum.

Which also means, all those annoying people who post annoying things are back.

So, here’s a few of the things that drive your fellow knowledgeable writers nuts:

Vague Post Titles: So you go to post a question and it won’t let you hit post without putting something in the title. Do you A) title it something descriptive so people who might have an answer can tell by looking at the post title without having to click on the post and read it – or B) title it “Question”.

*squinty eyes*

Yeah, I have some specialized knowledge about some specific stuff, namely aviation, bees, autism, African violets, and maybe a few other scattered things. I’m not going to click through to every frelling post that has no indication of what it’s about in order to see if maybe it’s one of those things that I know stuff about. If you do this, don’t be surprised that you have next to no replies.

Questions You Could Too Easily Research Yourself: Sometimes people post questions and you look at them and think, “Did they even try?” Like, I’ve taken some people’s questions and copy-pasted them into google and the first result gives them their answer.

I’ll pick on one recent one – someone asked how and when the United States acquired Alaska. Like, this is the easiest thing in the world to google, and find trustworthy sources, but you’d rather try your luck with randos on a forum who are literally just googling it for you.

Questions Too Broad To Answer At All: “Tell me everything you know about _______.” People will post this, and it won’t be something like “Tell me everything you know about the mating habits of swallowtail butterflies.” It’s “Tell me everything you know about Russia.” That’s an actual one I remember.

I just wonder what these people are thinking. Like, what kind of answers are they expecting? Do they not know that there are actual Russians out there, reading this forum and going “What…what do they want to know?”

I got nothin.

Questions That Assume Everyone Who Could Be Reading The Question Lives In The Same Country As The Person Posting It: Americans are the worst offenders here. Someone posts a question where the answer will be vastly different depending on where the story is set, but the questioner assumes everyone knows they’re talking about the USA, because where else would it be. This is common with questions about adoption, laws governing this or that, police procedure, school related things.

I run into it a lot when trying to answer aviation related questions, because air laws are similar but different between the US and here in Canada, and some of the hugest differences are due to how much more radar coverage there is in America compared to Canada.

Replies I Could Have Googled Myself: Okay, so when I post a question myself, I’ve usually googled it pretty thoroughly. Like, my google-fu is pretty damned good, so if I’m asking a question on a forum, I need an actual expert on the subject.

And yet, even when I end my post with “Please don’t just google the topic and post your search results, I’ve already googled the topic extensively, and I need someone who actually knows what they’re talking about”, I still get dudes doing this. Like they think I’m stupid, even though I’ve explicitly worded my question, and none of their search results or answers composed based on their search answered the question I was asking.

And these people can get arrogant and authoritative on their googling. There was once I saw a question about bees and beekeeping, and pointed out the fact that beekeepers wear white because bright colours excite the bees, and dark colours trigger them to become defensive and sting. This guy insisted that I was wrong, colours had no effect on bee behavior. Why? Because even though my dad has been a beekeeper all his life and I’ve worked with him with the bees and among beekeepers this is common knowledge, this guy couldn’t find anything confirming it in his googling, therefore I had to be wrong.

When I pointed out that google wasn’t the end-all authority of beekeeping, especially since beekeepers tend to be a bunch of old guys who can’t be bothered with the internet, his reply was “As a matter of fact, my google-fu is exceptional.”


So yeah, don’t be those people. Happy Wrimoing.