Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday ULTRAMAN

On this Throwback Thursday, I would like to celebrate one of my early SF/F loves. Ultraman. I watched that show so much, that 30 years later, only hearing a voice, not only could I could identify the show Ultraman, I identified the voice as the lead character who turned into Ultraman.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 22)

When it comes to making a character a character, time is your friend. Time allows all sorts of tricks of character development that are otherwise impossible. Without time, your character is stuck in the eternal now, never changing, like Homer Simpson. Yet, too often as writers, we imagine all characters existing here and now, which isn’t true. Your characters always exist both in the past and the future.

Your lead characters have histories with many people and places. A normal person has parents, grandparents, friends, and schoolmates. Your lead characters have lived in many places. This is to say, your lead characters have a past. Likewise, your lead characters wants to go places, do things, and meet other people. Your lead characters’ actions point to this future that they imaging.

In short, don’t overlook the past and the future. These help define your character as much as today.

Past

The past contains stories. These stories illustrate your character better than essays. A character could talk about working in the coal mines, but is that different from a character remembering the smell of coal dust and sweaty men riding the elevator down. Even a pointless flashback can deliver information better information than an essay.
I met Pete Peterson when I worked for Big Coal, down in Tennessee. I ran front end loaders ten hours a day while Pete directed the explosives team. I got hired on right after some lumber company wrapped up the clearcutting. On weekends, when the bosses went golfing, we would chuck dynamite into the slurry pond just to watch the water plumes. One of those ponds burst one day. We blamed the contractor and that didn’t bother us. The contractor had cheated anyway. Later on, we heard about the fish die-off downstream. I always felt bad about those fish. They were more human than the people that I worked for.
In this description, we learn that the lead character can handle earthmoving equipment, used to live in Tennessee, and has some sort of conscience. This character has an emotional life, even if the character doesn’t normally show it. We also learn a little about Pete, who shows up later in the story.

The more real that we make a character’s past, the more real that the character becomes.

Because a character’s present situation can be so different from their past, you can set up contrasts within those differences. A man remembering his first kiss as he hides in a foxhole adds a layer of mercy just before he begins shooting his machine gun. A man fighting for a cause may remember a time when injustice touched him, informing the reader why he fights so strongly.

The past can be anything, but is only useful in so far as it is different than today. The purpose of the past is not only to inform about present circumstances, but to show our lead character in a different light or from a different angle. This is especially true in stories where lead characters are constricted in their thoughts and actions. The past allows us to break our current restrictions without actually breaking them.

You can imagine, for example, the story of a soulless killing cyborg that destroys everything without mercy interspersed with the story of a priest who risks his life saving innocents from the cyborg domination, only in the end to become that very same cyborg. In that story, the lead character cannot speak for himself, or even remember, but the past allows us to break that limitation and tell the character’s story.

Future

The future is unique because it contains something that your character wants, anticipates, or fears. You character reacts to this future. If the character wants to be President of the United States, he may choose to avoid opportunities in an effort to keep his reputation clean. If you character will soon run a marathon, he may avoid activities which risk injury, or spend lots of time training. If your character wants something enough, the risks that he takes may become worthwhile.

Changing a character’s future changes the character. If the character changes his aims and goals for the future, then naturally, where the character is headed will change as well.

For example, the priest from above acts because he sees a future in all the people that he rescues. His imagination tells him that there is a future worth saving, and he lives into that idea of a future world. That imagination lets him believe that his actions of saving people is worthwhile, and so he goes about his dangerous vocation.

Futures also acts as MacGuffins. There are many stories about people racing towards some goal because of the future reward that the goal offers. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, as long as the characters want it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 21)

Religion, Praying, Psychology, and Soul Baring

Soul baring is a mechanism whereby your character say almost any unsayable thing, and say it in his own words. This technique brings the character’s inside to the outside. It allow you to pit your character against some outside force that challenges the way that they rationalize and justify. It allows the development of viewpoint and idea where a character would otherwise be intransigent. It allows for the expression of character in a way that few other techniques allow.

Dueling ideas is a wonderful conflict. That goes straight to the center of the psyche. Inside your characters head, his self-conception is at war with itself. The exact detailing of the conflict tells you a great deal about the character. Your hero might feel no remorse at killing countless opponents, but find great turmoil after killing a tied up dog. That may seem nonsensical, but his psychologist or priest helps him to explore why he feels the way that he does.

Internal conflict leads to external change. If we want a significant change in direction from our character, then we need to inform the audience of that change. We need a mechanism by which that change becomes understandable. Sometimes people really are struck by massive realization, like Paul of Damascus. On occasion, that might work. Most of the time, your character is just going to have to wrestle down her own demons.

Praying is also wonderful self-expressive technique. Praying allows a character to voice hopes and dreams. People pray for what they want to come to pass. They thank God for things that they find important. They voice concern for things that they find concerning. Even if this praying comes from someone else, the nature of the character’s religion sticks to them. Your character may not be devout, but did grow up in a Buddhist household. Ideas and conceptions of Buddhism will spill over onto your main character. Mom might be the one praying for her daughter to get a clue.

You see psychologists in stories where the character knows that they are troubled. This, in itself, is a major characterization point. You tell your reader, “this character has a significant conflict.” The mind, being funny about the way that it works, leads us into unusual ways to explore our characters. The mind also leads us to things which are painful and upsetting. By not charging into a subject, but instead trusting our characters to lead us there, we are able to walk our readers into truly terrifying areas.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Bane of Social Networking

As I've been learning how to up my book selling game, one thing has come to the forefront that I cannot deny: I must network.

For me, that's just the final joke at the end of a hard road. All my life, I have been a poor networker. I have struggled and I have failed.

In school, I had trouble as I brought negative social cred to any group that I was part of. By that, I mean that the group could immediately up its social cred by pushing me out. I wasn't just a wash on the whole social network, I was a drag, and generally perceived as an irredeemable one at that. In fact, I think it fair to say that in almost every group that I've interacted with, I've had a horrible time integrating.

Now I write books. Now I want to sell them. How to do that? How do I reach an audience? How do I reach reviewers? How do I get anybody to read anything that I've written? How got get anyone to lay down $$$?

According to expert wisdom, I should build a mail list so that I can announce my novels. That sounds terrific, but only in theory. Who would want to be on the mail list? If nobody is buying or taking what I have to give away, who would sign up for the list? All that I've really done is move my networking problem to a new node. There won't be folks signing up for a mailing list because another part of the circle isn't working. Walk a bit more around the circle again, and I find a new snag.

I suppose that I will eventually work through this circle enough times so that everything works, but it's damned frustrating getting there. You could call me a bitter loser jealous of everyone else's success if you want to, and I don't blame you, but in the end such flat sentiments do a disservice to both of us. You've created a binary instead of acknowledging the emotional difficulty in striving towards something difficult.

Meanwhile, in sports, you would accept "no pain, no gain." In sports, difficulties are just expected along the way and that in no way diminishes the athlete. Every athlete gets frustrated, wants to throw in the towel, hates the system, and screams in rage even as they stay in love with the game.

The same goes for a writing business.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 20)

I'm a day late, so I'll make it up by posting anyway.

Humans Are Human

Humans are complicated creatures. They do many suboptimal things. Consider these human traits when fleshing out your characters.

Humans Are Incorrect

Every character has some point of view which is wrong, unacceptable, or unfashionable. This creates points of tension within a story. These beliefs will certainly send them in wrong directions at times, or send them colliding with other characters. That’s what you want. If nothing else, these wrong views makes otherwise perfect characters more human.

Functionally, having a wrong character allows your story to progress less linearly, giving you twists and turns which entertain the reader. If the detective knew who the murderer was right away, the mystery would be awful short, wouldn’t it? If the protagonist in a thriller knew that he was walking into a precarious situation early on, he would likely avoid it. But he does walk in, and on that hangs a desperate story. The ignorance and mistakes of  your characters work in the story’s favor.

A less linear book also means more words. By going in wrong directions, you add to your word count without padding the book. You can overdo that, of course. I’ve seen pros overdo it in vast chapters of pointlessness, so use the technique with restraint. Don’t go overboard.

Humans Make Bad Decisions

An effective character has both temptations and misjudgements. Temptations are those things which irrationally appeal to the character, while misjudgements are those decisions made without perfect information. While they seem different, the effects on the character is the same: both these aspects provide self-created woe to the character.

Temptations can provide especially powerful motivators. The story of the alcoholic, the drug addict, and the lovelorn still entertain audiences. The reader understand just how powerful temptations can drive a character.

Misjudgements are those places where we disagree with a character, yet we can see why a character made the choice. In an optimal world, we would always have all the time in the world to make perfect judgements, but they  we are rushed, frazzled, scared, or angry, humans say and do things that they regret later. Those mistakes lead to complications, and complications lead to more interesting stories.

Humans Lie

All humans lie. Sometimes we lie big, and often we lie small. That’s just what we do. Humans lie to get advantage, make themselves look good, to reduce conflict, and to regulate social interaction. General truthfulness is good, but absolute truthfulness is a comedy trope.

Lies add to stories by sending characters in the wrong direction, or setting up future conflicts when characters learn the truth. Lies beget such wonderful feelings as betrayal, anger, irritation, and alienation.

On Period Writing and Sexism

I've been doing some period writing lately, and just as much lately, I am running into sexism. That is, I am running into both the sexism of the period and the sexism in myself.

The sexism of a period shows up in three ways: genre sexism, trope sexism, and real-life sexism.

Genre sexism is part of the stories that you try to write. If you are going to write about men going on an adventure, then you have the problem that you have a novel full of men, and possibly some women. This sexism is not due to someone having a secret agenda, but merely because so many adventure books were written by men, for men. Just by writing in a genre and a time period, you gain that structure. That doesn't mean that the structure is inescapable, but by seeking to escape from the structure, you also lose something of the genre.

The next sort of sexism is Trope sexism. What should your women be like? What are their personalities? How should they act within the story? Not only are there modern tropes about what women should be like, there are period tropes as well. These are clearly sexist. You can forego these tropes, as many period stories did, but by skipping them, you lose more of the period feel. However, that doesn't escape you from all tropes. Your male characters are, most likely full of male trope, so it gets odd to have a properly fleshed out female character while the male characters are full of trope.

Finally, we have the kicker of real-life sexism of the period. This I am most uncomfortable removing, because that's like putting wallpaper over the past and pretending that it wasn't what it was. To me, that is the worst disservice possible. I could, of course, as many genres do. I could be very fair to everyone, but the price would be blandness. I can skip overt sexism where the entire point of the story is to assert the white male's dominion over the earth, but I can't skip the cultural norms sexism.

Add all these types up, and avoid all these types, and you can easily wind up with stories that don't feel like the correct era.

So, what do you do? That's where I scratch my head.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Blog Stat Update

So, I've been working on getting the blog viewing numbers up by posting more often, adding more original contents, and generally attempting to be a cooler geek than I already am.

Results?

None.

That is all.

So, whatever it is I'm not doing right about gaining viewership, I'm doing a bang-up job of it.

Remember folks, I am your object lesson. Don't do as I do.

Not All Men

So, the theme of "not all men" has come around to me. Yes, I have been one to utter such things, so I'll just admit it up front and we can all be done with it. When certain phrases are said, my kneejerk reaction is to say, "but not all men." I want to separate myself from that crowd.

The funny thing about "not all men" is that if a complaint is changed to "dicks", then something strange happens in my head. I'm no longer defense. In fact, I'm a bit  humbled. "Yeah," I say, "dicks are like that. And you know what else? I've been that dick, and I'm sorry for being that dick." Because, you know, most men know who butter their bread, even if they are teenagers.

I may not be a big dick, but there sometimes go I, and I do think that there are few men out there who've never been a dick at all. If nothing else, teenager = dick. We've all been teenagers.

By the way, this is not to excuse such behavior or to say "boys will be boys." That' more to say, teenagers = dicks, so don't hold back, beat them down with sticks and put the fear of God in them. As far as I am concerned, the behavior front is part of a continuing skirmish that just never going to end because life is always producing more dicks.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Wrap Draft #1 on All The Saints Are Dead

I've wrapped draft #1 for All The Saints Are Dead. Now I need to go through the damned thing and make sure it reads coherently.

I will never be a one draft author. When I am in creating mode, my brain jumps and makes noise, producing garbled text at points. I need to rewrite those pieces.

I don't just rewrite, I rewrite with a plan:
  • Remove sections that greatly dissatisfy me.
  • Make the opening actually work.
  • Make rewrite the end until it works.
  • Look for jumps in logic.
  • Fill out sparse areas.
  • Add foreshadowing and track through themes.
  • Rewrite confusing parts.

Mind you, this is the best first draft that I've ever done. I'm not kicking it to the curb, but I know what I need to do.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 19)

Watch Their Language (Part 19)

We can add a great deal of personality to a character simply by manipulating their speech patterns. Every aspect of speech is a tool for creating characters. Sentence length, word choice, pauses, sentence complexity, vocabulary, accent, slang, foreign language, passive voice, lexical mistakes, repetitiveness, incoherence, beauty, foul language, turns of phrase, and rhythm are all part of a character’s speech pattern. By giving a character just one or two language traits, the character’s dialog becomes unique.

For example, Bob might prefer short sentences dominated by single-syllable words. He’ll also throw in insults just as a habit. “Put that thing there, idiot. Now. Do it.”

Bob’s girlfriend, on the other hand, is the gabby type. “Did you see what she did to him right then? What did you think of that? I think that she’s full of it. Why did she do that? Because she’s terrible for him, that’s why. He really should dump her. She’s bad for him. What do you think? Should he dump him? I’ll bet yes.”

The reader will soon be able to match the speech pattern to the character.

Your goal in speech patterns is to make dialog un-substitutable. If you give Bob his girlfriend’s dialog lines, the results should read absurdly as speech patterns entwine deeply with character. Speech works best when it comes from the inner psychology of a character.

As you cannot see most characters, like you can in a film, the only clothing that they wear is their speech pattern. Speech is a costume because that is what the reader sees.

The fun thing about speech patterns is that once you assign them to a character, they begin driving the characterization of the character. There is huge power there.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Life with a Somali Cat

Part 1: In Which Squirrel Seduces a Redhead

Squirrel is our cat and we are his humans. We came to this particular arrangement through Robyn, our friend who lived down in DC, and she came into this arrangement, partly by chance, but mostly by being a sucker.

One night in autumn, as Robyn walked home to her downtown apartment, she noticed a cat approaching everyone who walked by on the street. On closer observations, he was eating bread. Robyn, being the bright bulb that she is, realized that this cat was clueless at living on K street. If that was not a clue, his eating bread was. Obviously, the cat once belong to someone and he was hungry. So Robyn spent a little time with the cat, decided that he was quite charming, then reluctantly left him and went home.

Then, being a sucker, Robyn decided to rescue the cat. She returned with a cat carrier and her usual overload of chutzpah. She scooped up the fluffy-tailed guy and took him home. In her words, the cat won the kitty Lotto. He was going to get a good home and not die on the streets.

Once home, Robyn put the rescued fellow in her bathroom and closed the door. She now had a new cat in her bathroom, and an old cat in the living room who was no fan of new cats in the bathroom. She dubbed the new guy "Squirrel" for his fluffy tail.

Part 2: In which Squirrel Comes to Live with Jenny and Doug

Robyn immediately began searching for a better living arrangement for Squirrel. Her search turned up two suckers: one being a couple and one being my wife.

Jenny came home from work one day and asked if we could have a cat. Her co-worker had a girlfriend who had found a cat. Could we have it? I was quite unsure of saying yes at the time. We talked it over for a few days, and I accepted the cat on these terms: the cat was HERS, and she was responsible for him.

By the time that we replied to Robyn, the Other Couple had already claimed him. However, they could not take him immediately. Meanwhile, Robyn’s new cat and old cat disagreed with each other to no small extent. To help restore sanity to Robyn's apartment, we agreed to host Squirrel for a few weeks until the Other Couple could get their situation sorted out. We drove down to downtown, put the little guy in the back seat, and drove home.

The poor fellow chirped the whole way home.

We let the little guy out in the living room and let him explore for a bit before repeatedly introducing him to the kitty-litter box. Some cats will hide, but not Squirrel. He instantly accepted to the new surrounding, poking his head into every nook and cranny that he could find. That first night, he ran around like a maniac on speed finally freed from his bathroom prison. He ran over the bed so often that we had to shut the door. Freed from the bathroom, he had room to run around. We did not yet know what that meant.

Shutting the door also caused Squirrel to go bug-nuts. He slammed himself against the door, reached under, and did everything that he could do to open the door. We were rather surprised that he did not give himself a concussion. It was a few years before Squirrel could accept a closed door without having a fit.

Squirrel did his best to endear himself to us. When Jenny worked at home, he would hop up onto her lap and put his paws on her shoulder. When she reached her arm around reflexively, the cat then settled into her arm and purred his way into her heart. After enough days of this, Jenny really wanted to keep our gray fluffster.

Several weeks later, the Other Couple announced that they were bowing out. They could not afford any vet bills. Squirrel was now ours. Yay?

Part 3: In Which Squirrel Plays With String

Squirrel himself had several distinct features. First, he was gray, but not entirely gray, with browns and whites mixed in there, but he was mostly gray. He had the fluffiest tail that any of us had ever seen. He had this medium-haired coat, softer than any cat that I had ever petted, but which also was a bit spiky, or ticked. His body was long, much longer than most cats. His neck and body both seemed extra long. Around his neck, he had a fluffy mane around his throat.

With Squirrel’s distinct look came a distinct personality, one so extreme that even Jenny, who had grown up with multiple cats, had no idea what to make of the fellow. He behaved like no cat that she had ever known. This was a cat that knew what he wanted and had no trouble expressing that want. We came to call him the “demando commando.”

Jenny often noted how un-catlike Squirrel was. “He doesn’t have much cattitude,” Jen would say. Imagine that said about a cat with a personality turned up to eleven.

To say that Squirrel was demanding misses the point. This is a cat that wanted play and wanted play now. If he was on Broadway, he would be sliding across the stage and singing, “Gotta Hunt!” like Gene Kelly singing, “Gotta Dance.”

My day went as thus: I woke up and played with the cat while eating breakfast, went to work, came home and played with the cat, visited the wife, played with the cat some more, tried to do things on the computer only to get a cat in my lap, and played with the cat more. Squirrel was was a string killing machine who always wanted to hunt more string and had no trouble getting between you and any keyboard.

Squirrel liked hunting string so much that he found every shoe lace tying back every curtain in the house and hunted it off the curtains.

Squirrel and I developed some specific games. Once I knew Squirrel’s structural language, I could tell what he wanted. If he went behind something, that signaled that he wanted to play the “leap from the blind”  hunting game. If he looked at the floor, he wanted to play with the laser pointed.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s in here that Squirrel became my cat, or I should say, I became his human. I became his #1 person in the whole, wide world. One reason was all that playing with him, and the other reason is that I was the warmest person on the house. When it came to sleeping, I was the best location in the house.

Squirrel’s way of saying please was to rub against your legs. His way of saying extra-pretty please was to stand on his hind legs and rub his head into you.

Of course, not all of this was play. There was some coziness, too. The cat liked to join us for dinner and sit on a chair, keeping us company. At bedtime, he usually slept on my side of the bed, often stretching out his very long body and using me as the ultimate warm water bottle.
Climbing was another thing that Squirrel did. He kept figuring out how to climb higher and higher among the shelves. He was soon getting to places that even we were sure that he couldn’t go. At one point, he ran at and up some bookcases, allowing him to make eight feet off the ground.

At this point, I was certain that Squirrel had been thrown out of the house and not let back in. He had so much energy that the owners couldn’t handle him any more. I felt sorry for the little guy. His previous owners had responded poorly to him, so Squirrel had developed some bad habits. Those habits took lots of years and trust to work out of him, but some remain.

There was one thing that I always knew was true: Squirrel was an outdoor cat.

Part 4, In Which Doug Opens the Door to Outdoors

Jenny wanted Squirrel to be an indoor cat. By the time that spring had arrived, I firmly disagreed. This cat had been found on the street. He knew what outside was. He had too much energy. I could see that Squirrel wanted outside, so I let him out because that’s what I decided to do.

When Jenny came home, I fessed up.

From then on, we let the cat out, and from then on, we had a new cat. What won Jenny over was the change in Squirrel’s disposition. He went from high-maintenance cat to easygoing cat. As I said, this cat had to hunt, and not being able to hunt was the worst thing for this free-roaming charmer.

Our first lesson in hunting came the hard way. I had left the door open in the springtime so that Squirrel could go in and out. One night, we hear the tiniest screams of utter terror that you never want to hear. The cat had cornered a mouse in my office, just behind the bookcase. Yes, mice scream and can feel the terror. In hindsight, Squirrel must have brought the live mouse in the play with, then lost his toy.

The next day, I had to get rid of that mouse, so I pulled books until it came out, and then Squirrel chased it under the bed. As I pulled out boxes, that cat wound around the bed, ready for his opportunity. I eventually found the mouse in a box, then removed the whole box to outside. Squirrel was right there, eager and oh-so enthusiastic. When that mouse escaped, he chased after it.

Squirrel wasn’t a good hunter right away. If he saw something, he chased. This is how I learned that squirrels scream as well. The cat was at the bottom of a fir while a squirrel took refuge in the branches, screaming out in fury at the cat. That was one pissed-off squirrel. After that, I don’t think that Squirrel took down a squirrel for a few years. When he finally did, I was a proud cat-daddy. Squirrel tends to not eat what he catches, but fortunately he does eat both squirrels and baby bunnies, so that much makes me somewhat happy. We occasionally found a decapitated bunny head in the yard.

I’ve seen Squirrel chase birds. As a bird is flying off, Squirrel can keep up with it. When he’s sprinting, he is death. He’s got this two-paw grab that should bring a bird down.

His grayish coat helps Squirrel hide in the dark. The camouflage of his coat is so good that I can watch him walk away from the house, and three feet late, he has already slipped into the darkness and I’ve completely lost track of him.

Climbing is another thing that Squirrel does. He runs at a tree, then runs up it. He can get ten feet of the ground that way. I’ve seen him as high as forty feet off the ground.

If Squirrel catches a bird, he’ll keep that bird as a prize and won’t kill it. In fact, he’ll poke it with his paw until it tries to get away, then he’ll run it down and catch it again. He has no idea of death and torture. As far as he is concerned, this is his toy to play with. It’s hard for us as pet owners to stand by and watch the abuse, so I go inside. I would rather deal with a dead bird.

In the springtime, Squirrel learned that we have the windows opened, so he started to climb on top of the shed and giving his little chirpy “meow” at us until we woke up. Did I say that this cat was smart? This cat is far too smart. It took him just one day to figure out that we opened the window and that we could hear. He got down from that shed by sliding down the side a little ways, then leaping over the fence in front of him.

Where the cat doesn’t do so well is in paying attention. Fortunately, he’s a street cat, so he usually does pretty good at staying away from cars, but that doesn’t keep him from grooming himself in the middle of the street. I was positive that he would get run over, but somehow that hasn’t happened yet.

Part 5, Time Goes By

In time, the entire neighborhood got to know Squirrel. He had no hesitation poking his head everywhere. The local bus stop kits loved to come and pet him as he sat on the stoop. The neighbors would say, “Oh, you’re his owner!” Yes, our cat had met everyone in his neighborhood, holding fealty over each. As far as he was concerned, every adult human would feed him, although the smaller ones were scary because they liked chasing him.

The vacuum was never a welcome part of the week. We joked that the vacuum was the “evil sucking thing of doom that evilly sucks all cats to their doom.”

The cat had a good window seat, and he loved being there. He definitely needed to see outside. He loved his high spots. He also loved laying down in the middle of the living room during a party. Surprisingly, he never got stepped on.

We eventually learned that Squirrel needed a better diet and better cat food, but finding food that he liked proved rather challenging. He had a tendency to lick the broth and eat none of the filling meat. We eventually got him to eat that, but still, he proved to be an astonishingly picky eater.

Squirrel loves butter. Sometimes we feel like the cat’s drug dealer. He comes along wanting butter, complete with his special “butter” meow, and like a good dealer, I tell him, “First hit’s free, man.”

Squirrel’s routine changed with the season. During the winter, he slept at my feet, and then he woke me up near morning to feed him then let him out. He’d come back in when I left for work. During the summer, he preferred staying out all night and sleeping in during the day. When I got home from work, he would almost always be there to greet me. He even knew my car apart from all the other cars, so he’d walk out to greet me.

When he got frustrated in getting his need mets, Squirrel resorts to attacking feet. That was as annoying and painful as you think it is.

Squirrel is now nine years old and still very strong. For the most part, he’s gotten along well with my daughter, both after birth and later, but he never trusted her. The cat couldn’t figure out what to make of her until she began walking, and then I saw his brain click. “She’s just a human kitten!” he realized. After that, he treated her like a person rather than the scary floor crawler that she had been.

Sometimes me and the baby would go for a walk and the cat would walk along with us. He escorted us because we really don’t belong out there and he needs to keep up safe. In fact, he often kept watch for me when I was in the yard. He liked hanging about, but as I kept pulling out noisy things, he learned that hanging out with me wasn’t always fun.

The cat sometimes often can’t figure out what we humans can really do. He’ll look outside at the snow and give me a look. “Okay, you stupid humans. You really broke outside. Fix it. Make it stop snowing/raining/whatever.” We had hands, and that made us pretty amazing by his standard.

Part 6, In Which I Try to Figure Out Squirrel’s Breed

So, what exactly was Squirrel’s breed? I tried to answer this for years. The only cats that I could find for many years were maine coons, forest cats, and siberians. Although he shared many traits with these breeds, there were too many differences to ignore. In the end, I accepted that he was a siberian and left it at that.

Recently, I ran into Somali cats and I had to change my mind. Squirrel matched Somalis far better than any breed so far, even matching on those unusual features that made him so distinct. Somalis have those fluffy tails that Squirrel wraps across his feet, those long necks, medium ticked coats, and their very distinct personalities. I can’t tell you that he’s a pure breed, because I just don't know, but based on looks, he sure seems like it.

Following that, I began looking for first-hand accounts of owning a Somali and found very little. I thought most of the cat descriptions were stale and uninformative, written in that pet-doublespeak where you can’t say anything bad about the breed or anything terribly solid either. “This is a challenging cat with an exuberant sense of play,” meaning, “It’ll scratch your eyes out.”

I also found forums where people asked, “Should I get a somali?” and some discussions around the subject which added something to anyone’s knowledge.

I went looking for a magazine to publish this story in, but pet magazines want stories in the 500-1000 word range for us Americans with short attention spans, and you can’t really do somalis justice is so few words. I tried cutting the story down, but the cuts just didn’t work.

So here you go. This is what it was/is actually like to live with a Somali, although your ownership experience may vary.