Thursday, September 29, 2005

Surviving the Cat Tyrant (a mostly true story)

Back in January, Mara the Fat Butted Cat-- his butt had jowls-- went to that big sunny window ledge in the sky. (The picture is of him sleeping in the sun, not dead. Don't get yer panties in a bunch.)

While we were devastated to come home and find Mara dead on our bed, it wasn't long before our gallows sense of humor overcame our grief. On the way to the veterinarian with the cat corpse, the SO and I remembered all those little quirks that made Mara a total pain in the ass.

Once, I tried to stop enabling Mara's cheetos addiction. Two days later I woke up to find bird parts on the bed at my feet. As soon as the cheetos supply flowed, the dead critter offerings stopped. Those events might not be related, but I'm just sayin'...

We had to pay the vet by the pound to dispose of Mara's body. You can only imagine the tasteless jokefest that inspired on the drive home. Or maybe you can't. Trust me, we're going to burn in hell, even if we were crying between the fits of giggles.

We sobered up later in the evening, but when we went to sleep, we found that our dear departed cat left us a little extra something to remember him by. In his last moments of life, he peed all over the bed. *sniffle* Mara, we'll never forget you-- mostly because the stink of your piss still lingers faintly, no matter what we do to get rid of it.

Since my cat Skitters was still alive, and finally getting a chance at the food bowl, I was in no hurry to add to more pets to the house. However, the SO decided recently it was time to take on a new kitten.

The conversation went something like this:

SO: "I've been looking into cats."

Me: "Like opening their mouths and peering down their throats?'Cause the other direction is just wrong."

SO: Giving me one of his looks. "Come here and see this website I found. Ossicats! They're spotted!"

Me: *groan* Scrolling down to the pertinent info. Price per Ossicat? Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-cha-ching! "Wow. That's great. Spotted cats. Can we have one bred just for us?"

SO: cautiously. "Sure."

Me: "Good. Have his spots arranged in a portrait of the Virgin Mary. The furball can earn his keep. We'll open up a little shrine and let the faithful purchase genuine Hail Mary hairballs that he cacks up. We'll make a fortune. I'll order Pope bobblehead dolls for the gift shop, and a glow-in-the-dark baby Jesus butt plug!"

SO: "For the store?"

Me: "Oh, yeah, right. For the store...."

Several weeks later, I knew he was exchanging illicit e-mails with cat breeders behind my back. It wasn't just ossicats. He was into bangles too. Spotted cats on the brain. I knew I had to act quick.

The PETsMART near us doesn't sell cats or dogs, but they allow the local shelters and pet adoption groups to set up in the store. I figured that if I got a kitten, any kitten, into the SO's hands, he'd be so smitten that he'd forget about spotted cats. If that failed, I had a back-up plan designed to appeal to his better nature. (Because, unlike me, he has one.)

I drove over to the store to scope it out. The local shelter had the prime space up front.

"Looking for a pet?" the shelter guy asked.

"Yeah. A cat."

He had older ones in cages, but I could see kittens near the back of the store, offered for adoption by another group, so I tried to get away. He held on. He nodded towards the woman running the cat adoptions in the back. "Don't just go up and say that you want a cat. Hang over in the next aisle and listen for a while. I've been here the past six weekends. I have yet to see her adopt out a kitten. She's a cat nazi."

I sauntered over to the chew toys. Cat Tyrant was in the next row. She was a little taller than me, honeyed hair clipped short, khaki shorts, and a teal polo shirt. Her white Keds were suspiciously pristine.

The first person to walk up to her was a nine year-old boy. He held an orange and white stripped kitten. The kitten was purring so loud I could hear it. The boy's mother walked behind him, seemingly hesitant. His face radiated pure joy.

Cat Tyrant snatched a clipboard away from the mother. She frowned before she even looked down at the application. "So, you live off the Esplanade." (This story comes off better if you read Cat Tyrant's lines with a fake German accent.)

Mother and boy nodded. The kitten rubbed his head against the boy's chin.

"Do you rent or own your home?"

"We rent."

Cat Tyrant raised her voice so that other shoppers could hear the humiliation. "How can you possibly make a commitment to a pet when you can't even commit to real estate?" She ripped the kitten from the boy's hands. "I don't think so." She shoved the piteously meowing kitten into a small cage with five others. "Next!"



The mom and boy slinked away.

No one said that there'd be a test! I was about to leave, but I saw the blue banner draped over the card table behind Cat Tyrant. Adoptions were $19.00. Hell, for a nineteen dollar cat, I'd play her stupid game.

I listened in on a few more unfortunates. That woman would sieze any excuse to turn down someone.

"I love animals. I own several," one poor deluded guy offered.

"Own?" Cat Tyrant shrieked. "Animals are not slaves!" She went off on a tirade, foaming at the corners of her lips, eyes glazed over.

I watched crazy Cat Tyrant for a couple hours. Crimes that made people unfit to adopt were: picking a cat for the color of its fur, never having a pet before, and having put an animal to sleep. Apparently, letting the cat suffer from a tumor was Cat Tyrant's idea of humane treatment.

I called the SO. "Okay," I whispered, "here's the deal. I have a line on a cat--."

"An ossicat?"

I made a face at the phone. "It's just that this poor little fella was abandoned by his mother, and this lady has been raising him, but she can't keep him. He's really cute. But never mind that. If she gives him to the pound, it's probably the gas chamber for him, no matter how incredibly cute he his, poor little fella. But don't worry about that. I'm sure that the death will be painless. He's soooo cute. But don't let that keep you up nights, just because you let an innocent, cute little kitty be gassed. We'll have a kitten bred just for you. Never mind that there are a million unwanted pets being put to death every day, and their only crime is that--."

"All right! Enough. I give. Geeze."

"Okay - here's the deal. Wear canvas shoes. No belt. No leather. If you can come in eating tofu, you get extra points. You will absolutely not mention the following things to this lady. One..." I went through the entire list of disqualifiers.

"Is that all?" he sighed. "This better be one fucking amazing cat," he said before he hung up.

I rubbed my hands together in miserly glee. "Excellent."

Shelter Guy sauntered over to watch SO work his magic on Cat Tyrant. "I've never seen anyone make it this far in their quest," Shelter Guy said in obvious awe.

"The bullshit is strong with this one," I whispered.

Shelter Guy did Yoda ears with his thumbs. "Difficult, this test is. There is no try. There is only do. Hmmm."

We peered around the stacks of hamsterchow.

The questions were getting incredibly esoteric.

"What would you do if your cat clawed the furniture?"

SO shrugged.

"Did your other cat--."

"Mara," SO sniffled a little, working it.

Oh, bravo darling, good show! But I could see that he was about at the end of his temper with Cat Tyrant. His shoulders were taut and his answers were clipped.

"Did Mara ever claw the furniture?"

"Mara was declawed." SO stroked the kitten he held as it climbed up his denim jacket.

My heart sank.

"Declawed?" Cat Tyrant's face went white and then red. "Declawed? You mutilated a cat?"

"No, I adopted a cat that had been declawed by his previous pet parent. What was I supposed to do, reject him because he'd been declawed? Mara needed a home, I wanted a cat. Simple."

Cat Tyrant was so far gone in indignation that she didn't hear him. "Are you aware that it's illegal in seven countries to declaw a cat?" she screamed, spraying SO's face with spittle.

SO went oh so gently over the border from amused into totally pissed off mode. "Yeah, but it's legal to eat them in all the others."

Cat Tyrant sputtered. She lunged forward to grab at the kitten SO held. The kitten tried desperately to stay with SO. "You're a barbarian."

I came out of hiding. SO wasn't a violent person, but he had a mean tongue. I didn't want to protect Cat Tyrant though. I wanted to join in the lashing. Wonder Twin powers activate!

SO drew closer to Cat Tyrant, and his voice got real quiet. "You know, I could go across the street to the other petshop and buy a hundred dollar kitten right now. And if I told the clerk I was going to sacrifice it to Satan tonight, do you know what he'd say? Cash, or charge?"

Cat Tyrant clutched the kitten close to her flat chest. It yowled.

"How many kittens did you adopt out today?"

"None," I answered for her.

"You have seventeen animals here, and no one was good enough to adopt them? Is this some kind of cruel sick-fuck game you play with people?"

Cat Tyrant was speechless.

SO opened one of the cages stuffed with kittens, reached in, and took one out. "I'm taking this one home."

"You can't do that!"

"Why not? They're not your property. Animals shouldn't have owners, right?"

SO and I walked out with the cat.

Skitters - the gray one - is extremely happy with her new friend Loki. She sure as hell looks content, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Can Erotica be more?

I have nothing against a good wank story. I love to read them, hope to write them. A debate rages among erotica writers about "literary" versus "non-literary" erotica and the value of it. I'm not sure exactly what non-literary erotica is. Porn? Whatever. I refuse to get pulled into the quality debate. It's too subjective. With the exception on non-consensual sex (anything with minors, rape, non-sentient beings, etc.), I support all erotic writing as valid creative work and as an expression of human sexuality. (Not to mention First Amendment rights, which are under seige.)

That being said, I've been striving for a bit more in my stories. Part of it is my internal debate over the validity of erotica as a separate genre. Sometimes I feel as if erotica writers raised the walls of our own ghetto, and then lamented that we were stuck inside. WE call it erotica. What if we didn't? Topping From Below was a mystery/thriller. Lofting and Raw Silk, it could be argued, were stories about women questing for Self. Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake stories are shelved as horror. So why should I limit my stories by labeling them erotica?

My story Kells is an attempt to push the boundaries of erotica into the world of literary works. Don't call this a vampire story. The characters are vampires, but the story isn't about being a vampire. It's about that moment where you realize your first crush is a complete loser. Intense infatuation turns on a dime.

Tell me how well I did. Is it literature? Wank? Horror porn? Or do me a real favor--drop the label and simply tell me if you liked it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Following Up On Destiny

If there's one thing I've learned from the Intelligent Design debate, it's that no pseudo-scientific test would be complete without follow-up crackpot analysis.

So here goes.

Looking at my weekend prediction, I forecast that I'd come up with an incredible story for a lesbian science-fiction anthology, the person reading my novel would e-mail me with a "I couldn't put it down, you're the greatest writer ever" message, my lotto ticket would be the sole winner of a huge jackpot, and when I walked through my front door that night, my SO would be safe at home - between the sheets.

How did I do?

No story for the anthology.

I did get feedback on my novel. Not exactly "best novel ever," but very encouraging.

I didn't win the lotto.

My SO was safe at home.

I'm thinking that's batting 1000.

Whoa, you might be thinking. Even being generous and giving you two out of the four, that's only 500.

Okay, you godless liberal heathen, I'll show you how faith based statistics work.

First - I might not have written a story, but who knows what fermented in my brain over the weekend that might, in the future, result in a story?

Second - I didn't win the lotto, but I didn't buy a ticket either. A person of deep spirituality like myself would never stoop to empirical tests of faith. If it's good enough for me to believe that if I'd bought a ticket, I would have won, then that delusion should be good enough for you too.

Third - the reader didn't hate my novel. I choose to take absence of proof as proof to the contrary. If the reader didn't hate it, then, through biblical interpretation, they loved it. See how that works?

Fourth - when I got home, the SO was eyeball deep in TIVO'd Rome episodes. After that primed the pump, so to speak, "between the sheets" was a given.

Looking back at my astonishing success rate, I'm thinking that I may take up this horoscope thing full time. The problem before was that I made it too specific. According to the Intelligent Design playbook, facts are to be shunned like Hester Prynne, and all debate should center on personal attacks (notice that I already called you a godless liberal), willful misinterpretations, opinion disguised as reason, and a lot of pseudo-scientific gibberish.

So here's my new prediction, good for all signs of the zodiac - "Today, something might happen, and you may respond negatively or positively." Oh, and by the way, just by reading horoscopes, you've condemned your soul to the fires of hell for all eternity.

Have a nice day!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Seize Destiny

I've put about 10 seconds of thought into this and I've decided to write my own horoscope for today.

I've mentioned before that I'm fascinated by religion, but I'm fascinated by train wrecks too, and I don't plan to get involved in either one any time soon. It's not that I don't want to believe, it's just that I'm so hard-core practical that my brain won't shut off and let me. I've always been that way. My parents claim that on Christmas Eve the year before I turned 3, I came up to them and said, "Let's get this straight, there's no Santa." Mom said all she could tell me was, "You're right honey, but please don't tell your older sisters. You'll ruin their Christmas." When Mom tells that story, I remind her that no 2 year old talks like that. She swears I did.

So I was a child prodigy at cynicism.

I don't believe in horoscopes any more than I believe in fortune cookies, but that doesn't take the fun out of willfully misinterpreting their contents. The trick, as everyone knows, is to add "between the sheets" to your fortune cookie saying.

Someone writes horoscopes, and I've decided that it might as well be me. After all, who has a better grip on what I need to hear? I thought about warning myself to beware of low-flying butterflies, or even chaos theory type butterflies flapping their wings in Asia and causing hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, but I want a practical, no-nonsense good fortune.

Therefore, for Capricorns like me, the outlook for today is that I will come up with an incredible story for a lesbian science fiction anthology, the person reading my novel will e-mail me with a "I couldn't put it down, you're the greatest writer ever" message, my lotto ticket will be the sole winner of a huge jackpot (I'm not greedy. 37 million should cover my needs), and when I walk through my front door tonight, my SO will be safe at home - between the sheets.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Life Away from the Computer

Monkey? Alien? Trollish editor? Or maybe it's a writer who didn't ever leave her computer. We found this amazing eight foot long, two and a half foot tall section of old aqueduct or something while hiking through a botanical garden.

The current rule seems to be that you can't simply write a great book and then slink off to the woods ala JD Salinger. Sound bites are in. Curmudgeon is out. Which is really too bad, because I have that whole anti-social writer thing down to a science.

When I'm typing, you better be on fire or bleeding profusely if you plan to interrupt. If you're not, it can be arranged.

Yet I love talking to other writers.

An ERWA lister needed a place to crash for the night while visiting LA. In exchange for my couch, I got to talk to her into the wee hours of the morning about writing. I love the lists I'm on and the conversations we have, but nothing compares to a real live person. To paraphrase Kate Dominic, but not by much, "Sometimes erotica writers just need to get together and talk about blowjobs."

A couple months ago I held a writer's salon at my place. I didn't have a huge turn-out, but again, it was a great experience. The information and ideas were flying around the room. I'm still thinking back to that wide-ranging conversation.

Since I enjoy talking about writing so much, I'm thrilled to be working at the writer's workshops at Conjecture 4 (October 7-9 in San Diego.) Being edited by Marcy Sheiner was the best writing class I ever took. She changed the way I approached my stories and the way I thought about them. I hope my critiques help the writers at Conjecture the way Marcy helped me.

In other writing news, I submitted my first non-erotic story today. It's science fiction, so it isn't entirely out of my genre, but I'm so conditioned to using sex to reveal my characters that it was a challenge to rely on dialog and action outside the bedroom (men's room, elevators, picnic tables...) to tell the story. Since I like to write near-future speculative fiction, one of the biggest problems I had was that science caught up to my story while I was writing it. I thought I was imaging something fairly out there, and then some brilliant scientist announced he'd done it. There goes the "fiction" part of it.

Speaking of that submission, Richard Labonte deserves good editor karma for acknowledging my e-mail submission. I like it so much when people extend that courtesy. Whether he accepts or rejects my story, I will thank him for his manners.

On the other end of the spectrum (the yin and yang of editors), word has it that one editor of a erotica anthology only notified writers that were accepted. The rest are simply supposed to guess that they're free to submit their stories elsewhere. Not content to rely on gossip, I e-mailed the editor asking for clarification. If it's true, I would love to hear the editor's reason for such unprofessional behavior, not that any excuse would be acceptable. If I were that editor, I'd rethink my policy. Writing rejection letters is part of the job description. Unpleasant, but necessary. Running from it doesn't make you any friends. Quality submissions are going to be harder to find next time around, because writers have long memories, and we talk about editors as much as editors discuss writers. Maybe more.

If I get a reply, I'll post it here. Maybe I should evoke the curse of the monkey on trollish editors.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In the Eye of the Beholder

Do you remember that Twilght Zone episode titled "In the Eye of the Beholder?"

A woman clings to the desperate hope that her doctors have transformed her from hideous to normal. She wants only to blend in with everyone else. They peel away the bandages. To us, she's the 1950's standard WASP beauty. But she looks in the mirror and cries. The nurses and doctors shake their heads in pity. They turn to the camera, and we see pig faces, their standard of beauty.

New Orleans and Biloxi are the patients this time around. Already, people are whispering about the opportunity to remake those cities. Forgive me, but my eyelid is twitching, because the standard of beauty in the United States right now for architecture is the equivalent of a pig face.

The uglification of America has got to stop. Blanding everything down for middle-America's taste isn't an improvement.

Some people understand this. Regional differences are beautiful. I've heard that billboards in Austin, Texas urge people to keep Austin Funky. Amen. Stop the onslaught of vanilla before it destroys us.

Be afraid, New Orleans. Be very afraid. They're going to sanitize you. They're going to McMall every inch they can grab. The government is going to immanent domain wide swaths "for the good of the people," and murder your communities.

The Mayor of New Orleans is sitting on top of a huge wave of approval right now. This is his moment to show what he's made of. I think that he truly loves his city. If he uses the power of public opinion to fight to keep it unique and funky, it will probably always love him back. I hope that he's got the balls to ignore the pressure to Disnify New Orleans.

What should happen is that community by community, planners sit down and discuss with the residents what they need to hold on to and what they'd like to see change. Then the government should adapt plans to fit those needs. There shouldn't be one grand vision for all of the city, because one size doesn't fit all.

Cities and communities are about people. Not megastores, not freeways, not cookie-cutter solutions. When people think about their neighborhood, they remember getting on their bike and riding down to the corner market for a snowcone on a sweltering July day. They think about a stripped cat hunting under the wide leaves of Mrs. Watkin's hydrangea bush. They remember the smell of hickory smoke as their uncles slow cooked a pork shoulder in the backyard, and the feel of the wooden steps to the back porch as they sat there sipping their cold beers. And that's what they'll be looking for when they come back. Comfort. Connection. Home.

I hope they find it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sanity Break

I'm guessing that they mean something entirely different from what I'm thinking.

Then again, maybe not.

It means EXIT. Of course. Where else does a fahrt come from?

Okay. I'll stop now.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

New on My Bookshelf

Seven days stuck in paradise. No access to my computer. Three anthology deadlines looming like great looming things. (Thank you Messrs Curtis and Elton.) What else could I do but pace and read?

In spiritual support of New Orleans writers, I began my vacation by binging on Greg Herren's work and ended it by indulging in Poppy Z. Brite.

Murder in the Rue Dauphine and Murder in the Rue St. Ann feature Greg's detective Chanse MacLeod. The writing in Rue Dauphine was a little rough, but improved a lot by Rue St. Ann. I was ready to strangle Greg by the end of St. Ann, but that's a good thing. He sucked me into his characters and it pissed me off when things went terribly wrong.

I had a great conversation about Greg's Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz at a bookstore. All I had to say was "undercover go-go boy" and "stoner parents," and the Border's employee added these books to his personal reading list. These stories are lighter in tone than the Chanse MacLeod stories. The main character, Scotty, is too damn fun. I loved being inside his head.

All four of these books are worth picking up. However, if I had to choose, I think I'd read the Chanse MacLeod novels simply because I like a hard-boiled detective, and this character shows all the signs of heading down a dark path.

My original reading list for the trip was: Stephen King's On Writing, Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Blood Lust, an anthology of erotic vampire tales edited by M. Christian and Todd Gregory, and Bite Club by Hal Bodner.

On Writing has been pimped so heavily on all my writing lists that I expected it to be a waste of time. It wasn't. I bent down many pages as I read through it to mark passages I wanted to revisit. If you write and want insights from someone who isn't a literary snob, this is your book.

I wish I could say the same for Zen in the Art of Writing. I enjoy the ideas in Bradbury's stories, but not his style. This book pretty much made me swear off his work forever. It is a collection of different drafts of one incoherent essay. Save your money.

I always thought Tales of the City was set in New York. If I'd known it wasn't, I might have read this book ten years ago. A lot of the Seventies stuff went right over my head, but I'm not curious enough to track down what EST is, or was. I'm sure that at the time this was written it was groundbreaking stuff. But nowadays, simply being queer isn't enough of a characterization to carry a story. Maybe it's not fair to judge a book out of its time. The characters were never more than names to me, and I had to flip back to the beginning chapters to remind myself who they were. Halfway through I stopped doing that, because I simply didn't care enough to backtrack again. I know - ouch, way ouch.

Blood Lust. This anthology had a lot going for it. I'm a fan of M Christian's work. His collection The Bachelor Machine is incredible. I've read Patrick Califia's Mortal Companion, so I was familiar with his character Ulric. Thomas Roche has a traditional hetero vampire tale in another anthology, Blood Surrender, that I also contributed to, but I like his Visitations in this book a lot more.

As with any anthology, there were stories I liked more than others. The Ward by Lukas Scott made good use of a hospital setting. Jeff Mann's Hemlock Lake was written in absolutely beautiful language. Mischief Night by Max Reynolds was strongly written and hot. Call me old fashioned, but I like my porn to show explicit sex. The glossary of Haitian terms was unnecessary, I thought, to enjoy Paul Crumrine's Bicycle Baka. Starlight by Jordan Castillo Price was a great pairing of predators.

Bite Club was the weakest book of those I read. Not recommended.

Poppy Z. Brite's novel Liquor was the other bookend to my week. Poppy started in horror and built quite a following. I've heard a lot of good about her work, but I'm not a big fan of horror, so I always passed her by. Last year at Conjecture III, a San Diego Science Fiction convention, writer Allison Lonsdale told me that Poppy switched to literature. So I decided to finally give Poppy a try. (By the way, I will be speaking at Conjecture 4 on October 7- 9, 2005 so if you're in San Diego, stop by and say hi. I'll say howdy back, and then you may buy me a drink.)

Liqour tells you a lot about the kitchen side of a restaurant, but not so much that it gets in the way. It's great to read about New Orleans outside of the French Quarter. There were a lot of loose ends in this book, so I wasn't surprised to see that Prime follows the same characters. I'll definitely pick it up. I may even read one of her horror novels. I suggest you do the same.

Sorry this was such a short list, but I only had seven days. I never got a chance to read through my past two issues of Other Magazine that I keep meaning to enjoy. (Sorry Charlie - and after all my bitching about not getting the latest issue!)

What are you reading?

New Orleans wrap up

Hurricane Katrina wasn't a single disaster. It was over a million individual armageddons.

I've given the idea of support a lot of thought and decided on a two-pronged effort.

This isn't a subject I like to bring up, because the highest form of giving is when the donor is unknown and unrecognized. I hate to deliberately set myself back on the path to enlightenment -- I do it often enough by accident-- but this subject matters more than karmic brownie points.

I've been reading dismaying reports about how our government actively discriminates against same-sex couples when dishing out the disaster $$, and big charities are playing along with that mind-set. So I thought I'd donate to NOAids Task Force, but their site is down. It stands to reason. They had to flee the city too. It must be breaking their hearts that they can't help their clients. If you're inclined to donate, you might want to look here.

I'm still mulling this over, but I will make a decision soon on where to channel my donation.

My other idea was to support New Orleans writers. See my next posting for books I read while on vacation.

As for K - we finally heard from him. He, his partner, and their cats, got out of the city. (And went to Key West, of all places.) His sister tells me that he was surprised as hell that we were all so concerned. She told me, "When I see K, I'm gonna slug him and then hug him, the little shit." That pretty much sums up my feelings.