Wednesday, June 29, 2005

And Now there are Two.

It's very quiet here. Yesterday, I buried Patches. At a ripe old age of 14 or 15, his health was rapidly going bad. It had been two days since I had last been able to feed him. Nothing told me more clearly that the time had come than seeing him unwilling to take a bite of that hot dog. He could barely walk, and he was getting weaker by the hour. Two or three weeks ago, about, after the vet saw him, the question of putting him down came up, but we gave it some time. Antibiotics helped a bit, until he could no longer keep down the food. He picked up for five or six days after I stopped the medicines, but then he weakened again.

But, for the past couple of weeks, he's had long lazy days. It's hot here, so he would walk down to the pond and wade into the water up to his shoulders, and then lie down in the grass. He would even tolerate the kitten when he came into the house. He would find a place on the carpet near where I was working, circle the spot a couple of times, and then settle down for a nap.

Today, the kitten was bouncy, chasing a housefly, trying to catch it. She had to entertain herself for most of the day, as I had to go into town to open the door for a plumber ( and yes, it took me from 7am to 3pm). However, Mary Ann's advertisements paid off, and someone was interested in the kitten. I drove her into Hutto and passed her over to her new family. They seemed to respond well to each other, and I'm glad she finally will have a stable home with more than an old dog and an old human to entertain her.

So back home, it's quiet. I fed the horse, and then Fluffy came to the door and looked in. He's the last dog standing, and I suspect he'll finally get more of the human attention he deserves. But, after wagging his tail at my attentions, he wondered off. I suspect he's still looking for Patches. In all this quiet, I think I am too.

Monday, June 27, 2005

How do Writers with Cats Write?


I'm trying hard, working on chapter 17 of my outline, visualizing the land around Angel Fire, New Mexico and doing my best to stay inside the head of Joe, but there's this kitten perched on my foot, trying her best to undo the double knotted shoe-laces. I've knocked her off too many times to count, but she keeps coming back.

Which brings me to my question. How to other writers cope with kittens? I've got two main options. Make her go away -- lock her up in the bathroom. Or, go away myself -- go out to the RV and work in the heat of the day. Neither is pleasant.

Anybody out there need a really cute kitten? Hey, I'm serious.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Mary Ann has her own Blog

Mary Ann just started her blog. Mary Ann's View People should also go look at her Photo oriented Site.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Spotlighting Changes

Are computer changes worth talking about in a blog like this? I guess so, sometimes.

Spotlight, the search enhancement in the latest version of Mac OSX "Tiger", is changing the way I use my computer. For those of you who aren't using it, let me give you a little example.

I have a smart folder named "RecentChanges" that dynamically shows all documents that have changed in the last week in my writing folders. It looks like any folder, with icons and names of the files. I can click to open them, just like a normal folder window. The difference comes in that I can end up with several identical looking Word documents with identical names. This is a real issue right now. I've spent the past few days re-working the 'hook' and the 'pitch' for my last five novels. Previously, there was a 'FallingBakward.doc' file in my 'opus/0093/Working' folder, a 'FallingBakward.doc' file in my 'Synopsis/Hook' folder, and still another one in 'Synopsis/Pitch'. It worked great before spotlight. Now, with the convenience of the 'RecentChanges' folder, it's too confusing, requiring an extra click to see the locations of each of the identical icons.

So, I've started adding more information into the filenames themselves. The novel manuscript is still 'FallingBakward.doc', but the hook is 'FallingBakward_Hook.doc'. I suspect that I will be doing much more of this; adding more descriptive terms into the filenames. I should no longer use the location path to describe the content of the file. It's additional work, but just a little. The benefits of dynamic smart folders more than make up for the effort.

As I get used to the process, I'll be adding many more smart folders. Another that's proving very handy is "RecentApps", a folder containing just the programs I've used in the last week. It's much easier to find a commonly used program in a list of 20-30, rather than in my main Applications folder, which contains 191 items, some of them folders.

Soon, most of my 'click through the nested folders' effort will go away. With Smart folders to consolidate the recent stuff, and using the spotlight search field to ask for hidden ones by name, I'll be able to put the details of my nested file storage out of my mind. I'll still organize things to keep them tidy, but I won't have to remember the details.

My biggest worry will be how to get by when I have to do some task on Windows or one of my older computers that can't run Tiger. That's always the case when something new comes along.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Black Kitten has a Home

I nerved myself up to take the kittens over to the Petco store where I'd seen other people with animals to place. Such a public activity wasn't my thing, but the kittens really needed a permanent home (before ours was destroyed). No one had called in response to Mary Ann's advertisement. I put them in a large cardboard box and drove over to the store. I parked nearby, and then rather than camp out on the store's front porch as I'd seen others do, I elected to stay in the parking lot, under a nice shade tree. I gave myself a limit of two hours. If nothing happened by then, then I'd bring them back home.

It was hardly five minutes before a car drove up, full of kids. The father was looking for a male, and was happy to take the black and white one. They had at least one other cat, and although I couldn't persuade him to take both of them, it looks like he'll have a good home.

So I pulled the calico out of the box and held her until she started climbing. For a little less than an hour, I stood there in the shade, while dozens of people pointed at the cute cat. Still, no one felt the urge to come collect her.

Finally a pickup drove up onto the Petco's porch area and started putting up a pet adoption sign. I had checked the website before coming and knew that there was supposed to be one of the pet adoption agencies there today. The lady glared at me, and when the manager came out to greet her, I suspect she complained, because he came over to tell me that they had a policy that only the offical pet adoption agencies were allowed to set up there. Although I was in the common parking area for the shopping center, I didn't complain. It's not my way.

So I picked up the box and headed back to the Jeep. Little tiny claws were firmly attached to my shoulder so I didn't attempt to peel her off. We rode all the way back home with her tail in my ear. Once home, she mewed awhile, looking for her brother, but she's settled down.

Only, I think she's going to be a lot more attached to me than she was before. I hope someone will answer Mary Ann's advertisement soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just the Animals and Me

Mary Ann has gone to California to help daughter Debra pack up her things, now that she's graduated. Normally, I would have gone too, but due to a couple of factors I'm staying here.

Factor one, Patches, our elderly dog needs special attention for now. He may have cancer, and he is recovering from a very bad infection that had us expecting his death. Today was not his best, but not his worst either. He sleeps a lot, and moves slowly and unsteadily. On other trips we've had good luck with people caring for our animals, but not this time. If he does go rapidly worse, I need to be here.

Factor two is a pair of very cute kittens. I'm still not sure how Mary Ann let herself in for this. We've never had cats. She's allergic, and now that I've had a week in close quarters with them, I've discovered that I'm allergic too. We're just temporary caregivers. Mary Ann has a poster up, and I'll be setting up a free kittens stand at Petco this weekend if I don't hear from anyone. Take a look over at MaryAnnMelton.com for a look at the male. His sister has yellow patches. I'm fond of them, but I have to find a home for them. At least I've had this experience in cat ownership. I've had several instances of cat feet on the keyboard. One of Mary Ann's flower baskets is overturned in the fireplace ashes. The carpet is chewed. The table cloth is snagged and ripped. An antique vase has had a close call, and numerous items, including some of Mary Ann's camera equipment is covered in little ashen paw prints. They sure are fun to watch. Patches watches them too, although I'm not sure what he makes of them.

And of course, I've got the horse to feed, and our other dog, Fluffy is so laid-back he's no trouble at all, content with a few kind words and pat on the head.

Ouch. I've just had the b /.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Recovering from Writer's League of Texas Conference

This past weekend was taken up by a conference in the Omni hotel in downtown Austin. It was a strange event, for me. I've attended many science fiction conventions -- far more than I can remember. This was different. Take a large convention, chop off all the fans. Then chop off all the published novelists. End up with a couple of hundred aspiring writers, all with a manuscript ready and all unable to find an agent or a market. Now drop in fifteen real live agents and editors, all with the duty to be there and listen to the pitches. It was a stressful event. You could feel it in the air. Even though I have had modest luck getting my short stories and nonfiction computer works published, I've still got a large pile of finished novels that never seem to make a connection with an editor. I've also sent out fifty or so query letters to agents with no luck. An event like this could make a big difference in my writing career.

So, lots of potential, but also lots of people to meet. With everyone you meet just as hungry as you are. This wasn't a casual fun event.

Have I ever mentioned that I'm a hermit by inclination? I can be cheerful and pleasant with large numbers of people, when the event calls for it, but I'm never comfortable.

For three days, there were breakout sessions with talks on where the market is going, and how to write your query letters. Those were useful. I'll be re-engineering all my queries after I absorb all I've learned. The money to attent was worth it just for those sessions.

There were also a number of mingle times. The Agents and Editors had light blue name tags. All us wolves had white name tags, so the crowd consisted of clumps of whities circled around an isolated bluie. Of course, most of us 'wolves' were actually timid puppies, and some never got up the nerve to edge their way into the pack. I surveyed the page of bio's and selected my targets based on their professed interests, and I talked to some of them. Or rather, listened. Sometimes I can't make the push to inject my words into the conversations. I have a couple of agents who will receive my re-engineered query.

There was also the ten minute consultation. Each conference participant was scheduled a ten minute visit with the editor or agent of choice. Here was the moment for your practiced pitch. Here was the time you made your sale, or impressed your potential agent.

I flubbed mine. It was horrible. I'd never done a 'pitch' before, and although I'd heard the stories and knew what I was supposed to do, when it came down to talking to the lady, I just followed her leading questions, and never actually talked about what made 'Falling Bakward' such a good novel, nor why a publishing house would be lucky to have me as an author. The ten minutes vanished quickly, and her only comments just highlighed how badly I had expressed myself. She was left with a totally wrong impression. I was left with only a vague memory of what I'd actually said, and a severe loss of confidence.

Ah, well. I've known my faults for some time. I think deeply, but not quickly. A one-on-one, high stakes, encounter is my personal quicksand. Nobody will ever get much from me in ten minutes. This is one reason I became a writer. It is my only chance to actually express my thoughts and feelings with any clarity.

So now, I've got to regain my composure. I've got to take what I've learned and make better queries.

And maybe sometime, I'll try the 'pitch' again. But only after I've recovered.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Lightning

My morning alarm was a lightning strike. 3AM, and the rain was rattling the metal roof and both Mary Ann and I were shaken out of a deep sleep. "Henry ... is the Jeep?" I already had that same thought. "It's already too late." I wasn't about to run out into a raging thunderstorm to put in the driver's side window. It was probably already drenched. What would be the point?

Mary Ann was quiet for ten seconds, and then began struggling with the covers. I shoved them back over her. "You stay put." Okay, lightning strikes or not. I had to do this.

I found my sandals. I'd risk the lightning, but not walking on the gravel in my bare feet. On the back porch, Patches, our elderly dog joined me. We went out into the rain and I rushed to extract the upper door from the back seat and slip it into it's sockets. It went quickly, but I was soaked. I went back inside, but Patches, who has always been frightened of loud noises, lightning particularly, didn't follow me in. Oh, well. The back porch was protected enough, and I was wet and cold and didn't feel like coaxing a wet smelly dog in if he didn't feel like it. A couple of minutes later I was dried off and back in bed, if a bit chilly.

And I couldn't get back to sleep, and I needed the rest. I had an appointment early in the morning all the way across Austin to get the aged and ragged ( and very wet) soft top on my Jeep Wrangler replaced. I kept my eyes closed and my body still. That's one of Mary Ann's suggestions. Pretend you're asleep and maybe you will be.

But instead, I began blocking out this blog entry.

Scratch. Scratch. Oh, the tell tale sounds of a dog scratching at the door to be let in. But there were only a couple of them. Patches has been known to be very persistent when he want's in. I had to replace the back door metal doorknob because it had been dented and mangled by one of his previous attempts to get indoors.

A moment later Mary Ann whispered, "Is Patches in the house?"
"He was on the back porch."
She got up and opened the door from the bedroom to the back porch. "Patches! Patches!" But he had found alternative shelter, and wasn't coming.

But of course, now Mary Ann was wide awake, so she went into her office.

Maybe I dozed off, but shortly, there was a click, and the door opened. Patches had found a weakness in the door latch and opened it. He does that a lot.

Dawn. Mary Ann had come back to bed sometime while I was asleep. I rushed to take care of the minor chores before I could leave -- get the trash out, take my morning pills.

Patches was asleep in Mary Ann's office, wrapped in a towel. Ah, the dog's life.