Tag Archives: relationships

RIP Blackie

Some eight or nine years ago, a long lean overgrown kitten insinuated himself into the lives of my neighborhood. Coal black, big sage green eyes, he had a princely air of privilege and ownership that belied his status as a stray. He plopped himself on my patio and began talking to my girls through the French doors. Christabel and Cindy Crawford were a bit flustered, being older divas and not used to young male admirers. But they seemed to tolerate him and almost look forward to his visits. They would slip around him at the door as he munched a handful of dry food, and soon all would be lounging around the patio, pleasantly absorbing the sun.

A natural charmer, Blackie became a regular visitor to houses for a three or four block radius. He developed a route through the subdivision. One morning, when I was leaving unusually early, my garage door went up and I saw him come to attention four houses away and race toward my house. He got his treat.

Generally good mannered, I had to take him to task a couple of times for walking in and taking a tour of my house. After that, he realized he would only be fed on the patio and was satisfied to wait for me there. Often when I let my cats out, he was already lying on the seat of my patio chair under the oak tree.

He came to know which yards were safe and who offered refuge. Another morning, I pulled out of my garage later than usual and discovered two bruisers of dogs trying to pin him down. He raced to the grill of my front entrance, but the mailman had pushed it inward and so the dogs were able to corner him. I came flying out of my car screaming, which distracted them long enough for Blackie to scoot past and along the back of my front hedge. But they quickly pinned him down at the gate between my house and my neighbor Maria’s. They would have snapped him in two in another minute. Perhaps foolishly, I rushed to his aid and was promptly knocked down in the skirmish. My strident yelling sent one dog running, as Blackie disappeared over my fence. The other Rottweiler-mix trotted a few steps, then turned to assess whether I was worth attacking, but finally raced away.

Shaken and upset, I left the car idling and hurried through the house to the backyard. Blackie cowered in a cleft between my tree and the back fence, covered in slobber but without visible wounds. While I went for a treat and a towel, he disappeared into Maria’s yard.

Returning that evening, I found the small pile of food I’d left untouched. I called to Blackie and heard a faint mew from over the fence. Knowing my neighbor was out of town and fearing the worst, I invaded her yard and discovered him huddled in the rafters of her tool shed, where he’d been all day. Coaxing him down and through the gap in my fence, he returned to the safety of my yard, where he stayed for a few days, until he recovered his bravado enough to resume his neighborhood rounds.

My neighbor Bonnie and I took Blackie to the vet to be fixed, and annually to get his shots. He didn’t hold it against us.

Then four years ago, a new couple moved in a few doors down. Blackie walked in the door to welcome them and decided to stay. Anna and Hector adopted and loved him. He became an indoor cat who occasionally went out to  greet his old friends, human and feline. He would still come and wind around my feet if I happened to be working in the yard.

A few months ago, Anna noticed that Blackie returned from his prowl limping. She thought he might have injured himself. On inspection she discovered a lump in the joint of his leg. After a lot of tests and general angst among his friends, Blackie went through surgery to remove his right front leg. He came back looking like a peg-leg pirate.

Miraculously, he seemed to recover his balance and his sense of humor and fun. He still managed to climb and loved sunning himself, but Anna kept him close to home. Then recently they discovered lumps over his kidneys. He became lethargic and Anna discovered blood in his urine, then his gums bled.

He was loved and cared for until it seemed his pain was inexcusable. I visited with him yesterday. petting his almost limp and emaciated body and sharing stories with Anna. A low rumble of a purr and a steady flick of the tail were his only response. His glazed eyes, once green were dark with a slim corona of blue, but seemed to focus briefly and I think he remembered me and enjoyed the slow and steady stroke of my hand. But the time came to leave, and later last night, Anna and Hector welcomed the pet Hospice people who came to end his pain and put him gently and quietly to sleep.

His sweet presence will be missed by many in the neighborhood, but most acutely by Anna and Hector. Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

The Family You Choose

Last November, in 2016, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote over 50,000 on a novel.  It was an exercise.  I wanted to see if I could discipline myself to putting out a certain number of words every day.  I also wanted to write a story with more action and complications than I normally write into my first drafts.

With that in mind, and a single image of a young woman unwrapping the contents of a parcel, removing the bubble wrap and tape from a funerary urn, I began.  I did write over 50,000 words, but I did not finish this novel. After many months, I’m picking it up again and taking another look.

I realize that I really like these characters and they each have a unique and somewhat colloquial voice. There are plenty of complications.  I only need an ending.

Having just finished working through my other two novels with my critique groups, I need something else to work on with them.  I took in the first chapter and they are very enthused.  So it looks at though this will be my writing project for the next few months at least.

Wish me luck and send good vibes.

YA Reads for January

This month for the SCBWI meeting, I’m reviewing three really engaging and well-written Young Adult books. They have a number of things in common besides their reading group.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart – This National Book Award Finalist (nominated the same year as Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath) is a YA novel set in an upscale boarding school. Frankie is a legacy. She is privileged, smart, and ambitious. Previously a bit of a geek, she blossomed over the summer and comes to the attention of the charming, handsome, and somewhat self-effacing leader of the inner circle at school. As Matthew’s girlfriend she gains entre to the seniors’ table. Matthew is leader by default of wealth and position, and because the more exotic Alpha was expelled the previous year. Frankie recognizes Alpha from an encounter at the beach. But perhaps because she is with Matthew, he pretends not to know her. Nevertheless, the two have more in common than she has with Matthew. He is born to privilege, whereas she and Alpha are outsiders.

Frankie quickly discovers the guys are co-leaders of the secret society known as the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, ‘known mostly for silly pranks and a history of male-only membership’. Frankie is aware of the Bassets because her father and his friends were members, teasingly referring to it but never revealing its secrets. Frankie, intellectually their equal if not their superior, becomes fixated on the fact that she can never be included. While Alpha is away, she creates an email address. Posing as him, she sends out detailed instructions for a Basset Hound prank. It is so successful that upon his return, Alpha takes the credit.

Matthew fails to confide in her. This only pushes her to bigger and riskier pranks, manipulating the boys of the group until she almost gets Alpha expelled. When she steps forward and takes responsibility to save him, Matthew drops her and freezes her out of the inner circle. She pays the price, but is triumphant rather than apologetic. She will never settle for being the leader’s girlfriend.

This book is well-written with multi-layered characters and relationships. It uses stereotypical personas at times to challenge the status quo. The threat of her own disgrace and expulsion is introduced at the beginning and the rest of the book is a flashback, with that danger ever present.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher—This 2007 international bestselling YA novel is an emotional rollercoaster. The two main POV characters of this book, Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen are teenagers in the same high school. Hannah, the victim of a series of seemingly unrelated slights, snubs, cruel lies, vicious gossip, bullying and rape has committed suicide. But she has left a series of audio tapes that accuse her tormenters and explain the events that drove her to take her own life. Thirteen people will receive the tapes and spend a tortured evening listening to the criminal behavior and thoughtless cruelty perpetrated on their classmate—and recognize their part in it. As each finishes, he/she must forward the tapes to the next person on the list or risk another set of tapes being sent to the newspaper.

Popular Clay Jensen liked Hannah very much, but allowed rumors of promiscuity to prevent him from acknowledging his feelings until a fateful party shortly before her death. Quietly mourning her, he is uncertain why he’s received the tapes or how he fits into the story, but he follows the map and listens to the painful details of Hannah’s account only to discover the girl he fantasized about was half in love with him. At the end of the night, Hannah is still dead and Clay will never be the same. He must forward the tapes and go back to school, seeing some of his classmates in a whole new light.

Masterfully written and gut-wrenching, this book will keep you up all night, just as the tapes keep Clay wandering the streets of his town into the pre-dawn hours.

Getting Over Garrett Delaney, by Abby McDonald—Published 2012, this novel follows young Sadie through a love crisis. At fifteen she met Garret Delaney, a new kid in town, and she was mesmerized by his good looks, easy charm and intellectual take on all things artistic and literary. Over the last two years she has lost contact with her previous BFF and become a permanent appendage to the dazzling young man she considers her soul mate and best friend. Supporting him in all things and propping him up every time he thinks he’s fallen in and out of love—she keeps hoping against all odds that he will wake up and fall in love with her. Think Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts in the John Hughes film Some Kind of Wonderful.

Scheduled to go to writer’s summer camp together, Sadie hopes a summer in the country, living the literary life will seal their fate as lovers. But her mother started her in school a year late and although seventeen, as a sophomore going into her junior year she is rejected at the last minute. Garrett blithely goes off to camp and leaves Abby to pine.

Forced to look for a summer job by her life counselor mother, Abby falls into a job at her favorite coffee house. There she meets new friends who are older and more experienced, if not necessarily wiser. She very nearly loses the job she loves after a public melt-down precipitated by a call from the blissfully ignorant Garrett. Her humiliation was witnessed not only by her co-workers but by her former friend, Kayla. Instead of abandoning her to her misery, they help her take a leaf from her mother’s playbook and devise a project plan to ‘get over’ her obsession for Garrett Delaney and discover who she is without him over the summer. It’s cold-turkey withdrawal of all things Garrett, but it forces her to try new experiences, haircuts, and clothes. She explores other options in an effort to find out what she thinks, feels and likes, uncolored by Garrett’s rather snobbish viewpoint.

It’s a struggle but she succeeds admirably in discovering herself, until Garrett returns early. He seems ready to fall for her now that she no longer needs him. She is sorely tested and momentarily weakens. But from her new perspective, Sadie becomes painfully aware of Garrett’s self-absorption, condescension, and arrogance. Not only does she manage to save herself from more years of abject servitude to a mythical Garrett, but her journey helps her friends to recognize their own weaknesses and pursue their dreams as well.

All three of these novels are engaging, well-written and have characters of a similar age, social group, who need to be loved or admired for themselves. Each deals with peer pressure to some extent and the unspoken social structure in high schools, whether public or private. They are all about self-realization, the perception of others, and how our relationships define us. I would recommend each of them.