Edge of Black - Ode to a Muse

Edge of Black - Ode to a Muse

People always ask what was my favorite book to write. And I always reply, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the one I just finished. Which stands to reason, considering I've lived, breathed and slept the story for the previous four months to a year, depending.

EDGE OF BLACK, though, was the fastest book I've ever written, clouded by the severe illness and ultimate death of my writing companion, Jade, AKA Thrillercat.

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On Solitude

This essay appeared April 21, 2012 on Meanderings and Musings

We writers have voices in our heads. It’s just a fact of life. The voices speak to us, we write their words on the page, and people read the stories and are captivated, drawn into a land of make believe.

All right. Let’s be honest and call this what it really is. Controlled psychosis.

You laugh, but think about it. Where else in the world are you allowed to let the little voices in your head control your thoughts, your words, and your deeds? Hmmm?

Most writers are loners, happily spinning yarns with their imaginary friends day in and day out. Some of us are extroverts, getting a rush from interaction, gratified by teaching, or simply refilling the well on a night out with friends.

I’m one of those bizarre introverts who can unveil my personality at will, as necessary, for groups. The public me is a version of myself, the me I want to be. It’s like actors on the stage, playing a role. Or, for those of us who are terribly shy, it’s a bit like going to war.

You embellish yourself a bit. So you can make it through the night. You put on pretty clothes – armor. You do your makeup and your hair – helmet. You take a pill or have a glass – shield. And then, head to toe in metal and mail, you swan about, hoping you aren’t putting your foot into it too badly.

But that’s life, isn’t it? We all feel that momentary cringe when we think we’ve said something off, or insulting, or embarrassing. 99% of the time, no one takes your words the way you think they came out. As a matter of fact, everyone is so busy cringing that no one really hears what’s being said.

I hope.

Many of you know that Randy and I recently lost our beloved kitten, Jade, aka Thrillercat. Things have been very, very quiet around here. I’ve always seen myself as a quiet writer – I like the silence of being alone with my thoughts and my laptop – but it wasn’t until Jade passed away that I realized just how much I talked to her during the day. I ran bits of dialogue past her, or ideas, or questions. And she sat there, quiet as a mouse, and accepted all my thoughts. It is so bizarre not to have that sounding board anymore. And it’s been lonely.

I’m starting the tour for my newest novel, A DEEPER DARKNESS, April 17. I will be strapping on my armor and sallying forth into the world to talk about the book, and hopefully not put my foot in my mouth too many times. But this novel is about loss, and since I’ve been experiencing so much of my own lately, I’m girding myself to speak in public about that very issue.

It’s the commonalities that make each of us connect with a book. Even quiet, solitude-loving writers need to come out of their shells every once in a while and connect with people. I hope to see you on the road. And maybe we can make each other feel a little less alone. 

If you're in Nashville, join me tomorrow at Parnassus Books in Green Hills at 1pm for a reading and signing of A DEEPER DARKNESS! 

From Alley Cat to Galley Cat - Rest in Peace, Darling Jade


Last night we lost our darling Jade.

Many of you know her as Thrillercat, others as the poorly-trained cat from my bio. Some of you even had the privilege of meeting her in person. 

But to us, she was Jade. Or Jadie, or cookie monster, or bunny, or mouse, or puppy, or darling girl, or Her Silliness, pumpkin... I could go on and on and on, all names sufficient unto the day thereof, because each was another word for love.

She came to us as a replacement cat, after we suffered the loss of a our 19 year old Siamese, Jiblet. (All names in my family start with J - from parents to siblings to animals to husband.). When I first saw her at the pound, she was five weeks old, suffering from a bad cold. So bad that they were going to put her down. They can’t afford to have sick kittens in the cages; disease spreads too quickly among unloved animals.

They’d named her Tori. She had the most inquisitive, if rheumy, green eyes. I knew immediately I had to take her. I couldn’t let this poor thing get put down because she’d been weaned too early and struck out on her own, a little stripedy runaway. She had gumption, I could see that. Desires, dreams. She wanted a bigger world than the one she’d been dealt. She was a renegade. Perfect.

She was also a five-week-old kitten who was terribly sick. The vet around the corner took her in, nursed her back to health, and she came home with us. A yowling little ball of fur who was the most fiercely independent cat I’ve ever had.

She took up residence on the pillow at the corner of the L-shaped couch and pretty much stayed there for the next several months. She was a sweet, lovely little thing who didn’t like people food, wanted her chin scritchies on her terms, and determinedly made a friend out on my husband, who wasn’t what we like to call a cat person.

She never let us forget how much she appreciated the fact that we picked her. Saved her life. Cats are supposed to have nine-well, by the time she came home with us, she'd already used up three. And proceeded to lose a couple of more when she was vaccinated the first time, and went into anaphylactic shock. Only a race back to the vets and several rounds of epinephrine saved her.

We went to special lengths for this cat. When we travelled, she had her own personal babysitter who came over and stayed with her, watching television and reading books to her. She absolutely couldn't be boarded, she turned into a neurotic, shaking mess around other animals. She was afraid, afraid!  of other animals – so scared that when my parents come to visit, she would take up residence under my bed, hissing and growling at everyone who dared come near. It was also amusing, especially since she was a regular hussy with anyone else who showed up on our doorstep. It was only my parents, who arrived bearing their own cat and a little dog, that sent her into paroxysms of kitty terror.

What must she have seen in those five weeks before we made her our own? What terrors haunted her days and nights? I’ll never know.

So last year, Miss Jade--our fiercely independent, won’t allow herself to be picked up, I am my own cat, thank you very much-suddenly turned into a lap cat.

Which was a problem on numerous levels.

First, I use a laptop. Operative word – lap. I’ve been spreading a bit as I age, but I’m not to the point where I can accommodate a cat and a computer. And she wouldn't take no for an answer – she was going to get in my lap whether I want her to or not.

We'd do battle for several hours in the morning. She'd curl up while I went through my RSS feeds, then jump off. Rinse and repeat times about ten. The teakettle would be whistling, but Miss Nonchalant couldn't care less, she was comfortable. Happy. Safe.

And I never had the heart to kick her off. It’s nice to have a furball in your lap, warm and purring and gazing at me adoringly when I scratched her ears.

Yes, yes, I know. She played into my ego. I’m enamored of the idea that this cat, who I chose, had also chosen me.

Jade is in my bio because she's the one who set me along the path to becoming a writer. I worked for the vet who patched her up for three days (I thought I’d be working the desk, but he wanted me as a tech in the back. Bad. Bad. Bad. After my first neutering, I was done.) I was quitting on Friday, and on Wednesday I picked up a large golden and herniated a disc in my back. That led to surgery, and recovery time, and library books, where I discovered John Sandford. The rest, as they say, is history.

Eleven books later, about to finish a twelfth, I am still shaking my head at the serendipity there. Jade's paws (and most of the rest of her body) touched every physical manuscript I've ever written. She'd often park herself on the manuscripts as I was editing, which earned her the very apt nickname galley cat. The fact that she won't sit on this one breaks me, but she had a large part in its creation nonetheless. 

Jade Editing A Deeper Darkness

In October of 2011, Jade stopped eating, and took to a small camp she'd made in our guest room, a tent built with pillows that received the warmth of the sun but also provided quiet, peaceful privacy. By Thanksgiving we'd received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. There were things we could do to make her more comfortable, including an experimental (for felines) drug that had luck shrinking tumors called Piroxicam. We expected to lose her any time.

Instead, the little fighter fought. She fought hard, for three months. Three months! We didn't expect her to live out the week when she was diagnosed, and yet she gave us that gift, to allow us to be ready when the time finally came. She even took her first plane ride over Christmas. We weren't about to let her out of our sight, because we knew each day, each moment, could be her last. 

But you're never really ready. There is no good time. You just have to pray that you catch it on the fine line between they still want to live and the pain is too formidable.

Jade's pain became formidable yesterday. We made the heart-rending decision to take her in this morning. But she had other plans. At ten last night, she made it clear she was ready. And we bustled her off to the emergency vet, and she faced her final challenge like the champion kitten she was, fearless, graceful and loving. A little past midnight, she was gone.

We are heartbroken today. But that warm, soft weight who went to sleep in my arms as peacefully as if she were taking a nap, slipping the surly bonds of earth, finally out of pain, allowed her spirit to come home with us. I feel her presence in the house, and its giving me comfort today. 

Thank you for all your support on this journey. Your thoughts, prayers, card and emails have meant the absolute world to us. 

Rest now, little one, and know that you were adored.