Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On cats

On cats:

As many of you know, tomorrow I lose an old friend, a cat. This is sad and inevitable. So for the moment, let's talk about the joy cats have brought into my life.

Phoebe was my first cat. In 1997 I was managing the Waldenbooks at the Eastfield Mall in East Springfield. A young women came in one day to buy a magazine. She had the folds of her coat a tiny tabby kitten. She put the kitten, no bigger than my fist, onto the counter and I fell immediately and irrevocably in love. "That's the most beautiful cat I've ever seen," I said.

The girl said, "Do you want her?"

Phoebe was taken from her mother too soon, I think. She tried to nurse at my beard. She was the sweetest thing. She talked the whole ride back to Northampton, and I talked with her.

In 2000 I sensed that Phoebe needed something, a companion more her size. I decided to get a second cat. A woman at work had a cat who'd just had a litter of kittens. I went to London that year, in May, and when I got back she had a tiny little greasy spindly dude waiting for me. He was black with three white spots: belly, chest, neck. Like a Chocodile. I'd observed the large number of Nigels and Simons I'd met in London, so I went with the former for a name. Phoebe was deeply aggrieved, and would not allow anyone to touch her for more than a month. Eventually, they found their way around one another and all was well.

In 2004 I met Katie. In 2005 we moved in together. She had two cats. Mehitabel she got from a friend. She's white and grey, skinny but healthy. Then there's Poop. The name has nothing to do with anything unsavory*. Initially his name was Livy. Then on TV Katie heard someone say, "You're getting fat, Pupkin." He also was getting fat. The name stuck, then was abbreviated. He is black and white, with a stub for a tail and white markings on his nose and chin.

We transitioned Poop from indoor/outdoor to indoor-only. He was having none of it. One day in October of 2005 he got out. He was gone more than 5 weeks. In our grief, we went and picked out a kitten. Sneech was his name, though now he answers to Peach Pie**. Within a few days, Poop came home. I was leaving for work and saw him dart under the porch. I got Katie and we snatched him up and brought him inside. (He'd do the same thing again a year later, four weeks gone that time; I found him by spotting his description in the paper - cat found, medium sized, black and white, half tail.)

That is us, our five, my Pride. Someone said that each cat has so many qualities unique to that cat that there aren't a lot of qualities one can say applies to all cats.

This is true.
Nigel is social, agreeable, affectionate, chatty, something of a brat, and crazy for food.
Mehitabel is a bit aloof. She sits on the radiator when it's cold. You can drape her over your neck like a stole. She takes whatever the vet does without the slightest complaint - a vet's dream, truly.
Phoebe is the most loving cat I've ever met and also the craziest. She's as old as Poop and she still bounces around the room like a superball. Not just anyone can pet or hold her. I have the most privileges. Katie has slightly fewer.
Peach Pie loves all cats, even the ones who growl at his approach. He's playful, silly, a goofball, a troublemaker, and an unexpected mouser. He and Poop curl up together, sometimes forehead to forehead.
Poop exudes a kind of stoic wisdom. My wife's sister says that it's like having another person in the room. He is an excellent old gentleman, an avid snuggler, and a calming presence.

Tomorrow we have to let him go. I'm not ready, and I'm sure Katie's not ready. But we will do right by him. I'm not going to replace every cat we lose, but we are going to get a kitten. Peach Pie will need a distraction. Us too.

*That doesn't mean we're not childish. I remember very distinctly saying "I spent a half hour trying to get Poop back inside last night."

**There are other names. Sneech the Peach McGeech from Geechy Gulch comes to mind.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Good morning. Dispensing with 2014, as wonderful as it was for me, here is a list of the books I read in order.

  1. The Black Spider - Gotthelf
  2. Going Clear - Wright
  3. Autobiography - Morrissey
  4. The Accursed - Joyce Carol Oates
  5. Seven Footprints to Satan - A. Merritt 
  6. Night Magic - Thomas Tryon
  7. Harvest Home - Thomas Tryon
  8. Mindfuckers - Felton, Green, Dalton
  9. The Model - Robert Aickman 
  10. Now You See It - Richard Matheson
  11. The Scarf - Robert Bloch
  12. Anarchaos - Curt Clark
  13. The Businessman - Thomas M. Disch
  14. Some of Your Blood - Theodore Sturgeon
  15. The Third Reich - Roberto Bolaño
  16. Excavation - Steve Rasnic Tem
  17. A Call for the Dead - John Le Carre
  18. More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon 
  19. The Three Impostors - Arthur Machen
  20. Nazi Literature in America - Roberto Bolaño 
  21. The Spectral Link - Thomas Ligotti
  22. A Heart So White - Javier Marias
  23. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
  24. Conjure Wife - Fritz Leiber
  25. The Pilgrim Hawk - Glenway Wescott
  26. Woodcutters - Thomas Bernhard
  27. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
  28. A Murder of Quality - John Le Carre
  29. The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
  30. All Souls - Javier Marías
  31. Burnt Black Suns - Simon Strantzas
  32. Autumn in the Abyss - John Claude Smith
  33. North American Lake Monsters - Nathan Ballingrud
  34. Ana Kai Tangata - Scott Nicolay
  35. Every House is Haunted - Ian Rogers
  36. Gardinel's Real Estate - Orrin Grey and M.S. Corley
  37. Revival - Stephen King
  38. Secret Things - Stacey Longo
  39. Desolation - Tim Lebbon
  40. When the Stars are Right - Scott R. Jones
  41. The Nickronomicon - Nick Mamatas
  42. The Sea of Ash - Scott Thomas
  43. Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle
  44. Devourer of Souls - Kevin Lucia
In addition, I read stories by Lovecraft, Ligotti, and Aickman, as I tend to do.

I'm sorry to hear that 2014 was not a good year for many of you. My demon year was 2013. Even now I flip the furious bird at that year. Sometimes I argue in the shower with people who went out of their way to make my life difficult that year. In my head, I mean. I wouldn't invite any of those bastards into my yard, never mind my shower. Except for the little oasis at Necronomicon and a few lovely excursions with friends, it was a year of worry and quotidian fears.

2015, as I've said, will see some of my stories hitting anthologies for the first time. I'm so excited about this I'm tempted to alienate everyone on Facebook by bringing it up every day. I also have a few stories out for consideration, one of which I may restore to novella length soon. I have works in progress too, of course, and ideas, ideas, ideas.

As far as books, the next thing will be a DIY chapbook which I'm having a lot of fun writing. That will necessarily be a limited thing, as I'm doing it all myself, or paying a local copy shop to do it. Obviously there will be no eBook version. Signed and numbered because why not. After that will be "The Witch-Cult of Western Massachusetts." The illustrator has sent me five of the thirteen illustrations and they're so damned good it's a daily temptation to share them.

As for reading, I've recently bought a large number of books with Christmas money. If I didn't buy another (ha!), I'd have more than enough to read this year. Also, new books are due to be released from Nathan Ballingrud, Simon Strantzas, Mike Griffin, and others, and I'll be spending some dough on those. I'm straddling the years reading "The White Hands and Other Weird Tales" by Mark Samuels now, and finding the stories terrific.

Here at the Bartlett-Saulnier stronghold, we wound down 2014 with sundaes and Star Trek. We began 2015 with jowl bacon and fried eggs and strong coffee. Soon we will enjoy brunch with some friends. I always find New Year's Day to be a dreary affair. I feel adrift and vaguely depressed. This new tradition of getting together with a few good people alleviates that quite nicely.

If 2014 was your demon year, I hope things come together for you better this year. I anticipate facing some powerful losses soon, but my support system is strong and sturdy-hearted and kind.  I hope to see my old friends and meet my new friends for the first time. I look forward to making new friends at conventions and online. I may even try to get less fat by the time Necronomicon rolls around.

May 2015 treat you well.