Win a copy of my anthology on Goodreads

To celebrate being selected as finalists for the EPIC Award for best anthology, Dark Quest Books and I are giving away three copies of ‘River’ on Goodread here
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RIVER

It begins. Somewhere. An insignificant trickle of water. And it changes.And it grows up, and gathers a history, and finds its way into atlases and maps, until it finally reaches the sea, and vanishes into its vastness.

You might think it of no importance. That it does not matter. But you follow where it leads…

Rivers have always been very important to humankind. They’ve been explored. They’ve been navigated. They’ve been called gods. They’ve been blessed and cursed and venerated and used and enjoyed and exploited and polluted since the beginning of recorded history. They’ve been sung about and dreamed about and followed on epic journeys of discovery. The capitals of empires have risen on the banks of rivers – and so have a thousand fishing villages, and river landings, and water mills.

There is only one River. Really. And it’s all of them. Every river is different – and yet they’re all the same, vast and full of life and death and mystery and history and adventure and quiet dreams. Full of life. Full of mystery. Full of stories.

With stories by: Mary Victoria, Tiffany Trent, Jay Lake, Deb Taylor, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Jacey Bedford, Joshua Palmatier, Brenda Cooper, Seanan McGuire, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Nisi Shawl, Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Unbidden, unrehearsed, we supplied the next lines

 Years ago, on Opening Day of the then-new glass-and-steel Library in downtown Seattle, my husband and I happened to be on the scene together with literally THOUSANDS of enthusiastic people who were thronging the street outside the edifice (and my writer’s heart was gladdened to see so many readers who couldn’t wait to pour through the front doors…) We got inside, with the rest of them, and we wandered around and inspected the place, and then we sat down to rest a moment, together with a bunch of other people who were all strangers to one another, on a chair which was part of a grouping of seats in the foyer.

One of the other people there was a young parent with a small child, and the child was having a picture book read to it, out loud. It might have been any picture book, but the words were familiar, familiar, familiar – and not just to me. So while the kid listened, rapt, those strangers at the group of seats began to smile and their heads began to swivel.

And the picture book came to,

If the area window was found ajar
And the basement looked like field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls.

And some six or seven of us, unbidden, unrehearsed, supplied the next two lines in a Greek chorus:

Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie-or Rumpleteazer!”- And most of the time they left it at that.

That kid’s eyes, as they lifted off the book and onto us, were wide and awed. We made a lifelong convert to the world of books that day, probably – because it was utter magic, how these people who didn’t know HER and apparently didn’t know ONE ANOTHER all knew how the next line went. And the grown-ups all smiled and nodded at each other across the space between the seats. Readers, all. THank you, Old Possum and all the Practical Cats.

And there’s more where that came from.

Jellicle cats are black and white
Jellicle cats are rather small…

It’s been a week since my Jellicle left me. I lost my Mungojerrie, and Rumpleteaser, the cat I have left out of my matched pair of black-and-whites, is lost and bereft and cries piteously at midnight when the humans go to bed and she feels keenly the loss of her feline companion.

And I… I’ve also been crying on and off for the whole week. There’s a hole in my life where Boboko used to live. I miss him, so badly – his goofiness, his playfulness, his loving nature, his imperious demands.

From now on… in this house… it is ONLY Rumpleteaser. Mungojerrie has gone to wreak his gentle Jellicle havoc someplace else while he waits for us all wherever it is (at the Jellicle Ball?) that loved souls wait for those with whom they shared their earthly lives. And in time, maybe, I will learn to leave it at that.

But I still miss him. Bleakly. With unutterable loss.

Good bye, my Christmas kitten.

It was just after winter was beginning lose its grip on the Pacific Northwest, sometime in mid-February of 2004, that I walked into the local Petco on adoption day and first saw you – the tiny ball of fluff with four preposterous oversized fluffy feet and a stub of a tail and that sweet high hypersonic kitten meow which you were employing, in consternation, as I held you and you tracked the movements of a large dog (also an wannabe adoptee that day) on the ground such a long way below you.

I lost my heart at once, and completely; I told the people manning the adoption booth not to let you go to anyone else on any account, I went haring out to where my husband (who did NOT come out here thinking about getting a new cat) was waiting in the car, and dragged him back inside to meet you.

I had named you already. You were Boboko. You were mine. And I belonged to you. That much was obvious right from the start.

We took you, and we took your sister, too, a wary regal tuxedo catling. She was all CAT, a true daughter of Bast. You, however, you were a stuffed toy who had come to life overnight, by magic. You were a “honey-I-shrunk-the-Maine-Coon” beast, with hair coming out of every place anyone could imagine and then some. You were the first cat I ever saw who had fur growing between the pads of your feet.

You weighed just about a pound, tiny and perfect and imperious; your very first nickname was Fluffy Prince. You were with me and on me and around me constantly. We were each other’s. We were in love.

Oh, the things that you did.

The time you switched off stuff at the extension cord plugs, because of the pretty red button which you simply had to push (and had me calling the cable company to whine about my internet not being on when it was simply you switching off the router of our network at the source…). You speed dialed someone on our phone at midnight by walking precisely and perfectly across all the right buttons on the phone in the correct order. You switched off the kitchen light and left a cat-sitter thinking a fuse had blown, and blundering about in the dark knocking things over. Your second nickname was Cybercat.

You fell off EVERYTHING. Chairs. Cat cradles in windows. The stairs. The FLOOR. You were superklutz. Maybe it was the furry feet that gave you no purchase on things. But you were an entertainment all by yourself.

You turned out to be the biggest catnip addict I have ever seen in the feline kingdom. You demanded your kitty crack and you once shoved a paw into the plastic container in which it came and you upended most of it all over the floor – I picked it up as best I could but there was still residue and you spent the rest of the day face first into the carpet in that corner stoned out of your coconut. You loved chicken. And salmon. And canned food (the imperious “NNNNNoooooW!” into which your meow turned when a can came into view was legendary).

You had an industrial-sized purr (someone one asked me, from the other side of a phone line, “What IS that?” and it was only you purring in my lap.

You loved to curl up underneath my big old red sweater and go to sleep there. I could carry you around wrapped in that sweater like a baby.

If you had to be encouraged to be somewhere other than where you were – if you got in the way, or were sleeping in a chair that someone else wanted – I was called in, because I could do anything with you at any time and you didn’t mind. I could scoop you up like a little sleeping ball of cat and often you would barely wake up as I transferred you somewhere else. All you ever did was purr.

You licked my hands and my feet every time they came near you. When I was sick you kept me company on the bed, beside me for hours, quiet, content.

You could have killed your mice faster instead of playing with them like you liked to do, but you were an extraordinary mouser.

You had your places – your couch, your chair, your cradle, the old suitcase which sat at the foot of my bed and which you commandeered as your own favourite sleeping place. You were technically black and white but in the sunlight your true colours came out – you weren’t black, you were just a deep luscious shade of bitter chocolate, and your white snout and paws and belly gleamed in the light. You had fur the texture of silk, long and deep, and you smelled of baby poweder. You always looked larger than you were because there was a lot less cat underneath all that fur than anybody realized. Your vet called you Stringbean when you were little because she could stretch you out like one. When we took you to the vet, you checked out on us – you simply assumed an attitude of “lights on, nobody home” and if you could you burrowed somewhere into me – into my lap, or stuffing your head into my armpit, somewhere and anywhere that you could be in physical contact with me and therefore be safe from all harm.

You owned this house, and everybody in it. And you know you have always had me, all of me, anything you wanted you got, toys, food, catnip, hugs, games, more attention than you knew what to do with. I adored you.

And then – at least that’s what we think happened – the hot water cylinder in our downstairs bathroom broke, and flooded. The water reached under a wall and into the laundry area, where your litterbox was. And after that… everything went wrong.

Maybe it was because of the heater disaster. Maybe not. I will never know. But after a while I began to smell something funny in the downstairs rooms, and then in our bedroom, too. I couldn’t pin it down. Until Mom took a closer look and realized that the cushions on the day bed downstairs, and then the day bed itself, and then the couch in the library and then the armchair in the library and then the futon in the spare bedroom and then the other couch and then the living room armchairs and then the plushes piled up on the linen chest which you had never interfered with before and then the rug in the library and then your bed in our bedroom and then the curtains in the bedroom and then and then and then… they had all been peed on, and continued to be peed on, and we caught you at it and tried to stop you and I bought copious quantities of Nature’s Miracle “do not respray” cleaners and sprayed everything until I was starting to become allergic to the smell of the things. You peed on the bathroom floor, and the bathroom mat (in both bathrooms). You continued to pee on the soft toys, and the cushions, and the quilts, and the armchairs. I became a little crazy, going around the house smelling things, knowing you had been there, knowing that bad things had happened. And Mom and I washed this, and cleaned up that, and then did it again, and again, and again.

And it was a question of, it will stop. He will stop. He will quit.

The vet checked you out and you were physically fine – no urinary issues. But we bought you expensive special food anyway. And you ate it, with apparent relish. But you didn’t stop what you were doing.

One after another the rooms in this house which used to be your own began to be closed to you. You were denied access to this room and to that one and then the next one because you could no longer be trusted. You peed on my desk once, in the office, and that meant that you could no longer be allowed in there when I was not there with you – which meant sometimes waking you up from a dead sleep where you, as usual, were my shadow and kept me company in the other office chair for hours, and hauling you bodily out of there so that I could shut the door and be sure that you would not do something that we would both regret. I began to be obsessed with keeping you in sight – where you were, what you were doing, trying to stop you if I saw you Assume The Position and I knew that you were about to do it again.

They said you might be stressed (stressed? You? The adored petted spoiled rotten little monster that you were? ) so they put you on kitty Prozac… which promptly gave you seizures. You scared me to death when I saw you fall over on your side, all four feet straight out like four wooden legs and your tail pointing at the ceiling. So you went off kitty Prozac. And we tried to muddle through. I kept on coming downstairs in the mornings in a state of dread, and cleaning up puddles I found here and there. Going out, once routine, if only just for groceries never mind movies or dinner or anything like that, became an occasion of equal dread because I never knew what I would find coming home. And you were no longer the pampered pet of the house with me as your fetch-and-carry minion, I was your jailor now, checking that doors were closed, that you could not get HERE or THERE – and yet there was always something, and the armchair which used to be mine in the living room began to permanently smell bad to me no matter what I did to it, and downstairs was wrapped more and more into plastic and foil to stop you from doing things you shouldn’t, and if you had no cause to be stressed about anything before you sure as hell did now, and I was losing my mind.

But I could cling to this, to you, to life, to your existence, even though you broke the covenant that we had – right until the moment when you climbed up onto our bed for your nightly fuss, as usual, and peed on the bed right in front of me.

This was the line that I could not go beyond. I could not wrap my bed into tarpaulins and sleep under plastic. I had to be able to trust you to know where it was frowned on for you to “go”, and after this… I could not any longer. I had crying jags that lasted for hours. And then I’d leap up when you got out of my sight, and go, “Where is he? What is he doing?” And every time I saw you, it was “What are you doing?” And more doors closed, and it was killing me, and I could see that you were confused and unhappy and bewildered – you were never the brightest knife in any drawer, my darling, but you were always the sweetest, gentlest, most loving of cats, and I was losing that, fast.

I saw you pee on the armchair, again, in my sight.

This could not go on. This was not the life we had contracted together.

I held out and cleaned up and forgave you and bore with it and watched you like a hawk and every day more pieces of my heart crumbled and flaked off like sawdust as it became obvious that this was not heading in a direction which would have a happy end.

And we got there, finally.

In order to save my life and my career and my livelihood and my sanity, I cannot spend every waking hour watching you and making sure that you are not up to mischief, I cannot not sleep at night, lying in bed strung tighter than a violin string with my eyes wide open and my ears strained for where you are and what you are doing. I need to know that you are following the rules, and instead I know for a fact that you are not, and that if I DID relax my vigilance you would be doing worse. And it’s bad enough.

I already live in a sort of terror of you now. I do not want to end up hating you. Every time you do your old sweet things – come crawling into my lap, insist I pay attention to you instead to a book I am reading, purr at me, meow at me demanding my adoration or catnip, lick my finger or lick my bare foot, headbutt me or gaze at me out of those great green eyes – you break my heart a little more . Because it is clear to me that the time has come to part.

You have always trusted me absolutely. You have offered me your throat and your belly, without reservation and without fear, to be fussed and scritched, your back to be roughhoused with pushing your fur up and then back down again. You’ve tail-hugged me with that silly stubby little tail, and you’ve wrapped yourself around my slipper, and you’ve gone to sleep in my lap. You have always known the one simple truth that lay between us – that I loved you, without stay or reservation, unconditionally and unreservedly, and that I would have done anything to prevent you from being hurt. And that trust didn’t evaporate when I picked you up for the last time and put you in your carrier, even though I could barely see either you or the carrier through the tears.

But this time the journey would end differently, would end with my stroking your fuzzy little ears and your big fluffy feet and telling you all about the things that you already knew – that I loved you so much, that you were the heart of my heart, that you were the best cat and that there would never be another like you – until the green eyes close, and the last lick of that rough little tongue stopped moving against my finger, and that valiant, confused, loving, amazing, sweet little heart slowed and stopped and beat no more.

And I would come back to the house which you will haunt forever more, in whose every shadow you will live, and I know that you – being you – will even forgive me. But I won’t, I can’t, forgive myself. Because I failed – I failed you, I could not make it right, I could not make it stop, I could not make it go back to the way it used to be when we were all happy together, and I could not cope with the consequences of the things I could not make stop. It is my fault, my beloved. Not yours. I don’t know what the matter was but I am sorry, I am so sorry, that I could not understand, that I could not fix it, that I could not make it better, that I could not make it right.

But this was no life, my lovely. For either of us. Not any longer. This was already ashes on the day that I had to deny you the cuddles on my bed because I could no longer trust you on it.

I love you, Boboko. I always will. I will never forget you. But I neither have the strength to cope with the consequences of your actions any longer, or to continue “waiting it out” in the hope that it might stop, like magic. In a few days. Or a week. Or a month. Or a year.

We had a last summer together and that was doable – it was summer, and the house was open, and aired, and the things that needed washing were washed and laid out on the deck to dry, and we could manage things. Somehow. But then October came, and the rains, and the cold, and I knew that it was over.

I will still be crying, when you no longer pad around these hallways, when you are no longer sleeping in “your” spots where I will be looking for you constantly. I will miss you, heart of my heart, like I have missed no creature before. I will always love you, always; and in my mind’s eye the silly or the sweet or the weird things you did will live forever. But I cannot trust you again, not any more, and I will not turn either of our lives into a cage. Our covenant was love – let it remain that. Before it turns and sours into something that I will not be able to change or control. I never want to stop loving you.

Goodbye, my Christmas kitten. Wait for me at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge, if you can. I will be listening out for your purr, watching for your big feet and your fluffy ears and the great green eyes of love.

What can I tell you? You were the best cat. I was yours right from the start, and you were mine. We belonged together and we both knew it. I love you. I will never be free from the guilt of this act that I am taking, and I feel like I am bitterly betraying that sweet trust you have always had in me. But I can’t do it, my love. I cannot do it any longer. There is a crack in my heart and it gets wider every time I think about you and about the things that you have done.

I love you. I love you. I have to let you go.

Goodbye, Boboko. Goodbye, my Christmas kitten. Forgive me.

BOBOKO – Christmas 2003 – October 2012

Interview, review and giveaway

Jean Vallesteros interviewed me at JeanBookNerd.com and asked a very perceptive question: Why is storytelling so important for all of us?

I told her and her avid readers this in response:

In a way stories are like a faith – you need to believe in something, and stories give you a place to stand. It’s been said that life doesn’t always have to make sense but fiction DOES, and in an arcane manner that sense of order is what draws us in.

There are truths that need to be spoken and internalized and understood which would be hurtful, even agonizing, if administered unadulterated. Wrap them in a layer of story, though, and they will slide down easier – and the truths they contain will be no less important for all that. Stories awe us, entertain us, teach us, make us laugh, make us cry, make us believe in six impossible things before breakfast. Stories take us to Narnia, and to Panem, and to worlds that might look a lot like the one we glimpse when we look out of the window but is somehow… somehow… different. Stories free the imagination and the mind. They make us stay up all night to finish a good book; they make our toddlers go to sleep.

Stories are quite simply the closest thing that the human race has ever come to something resembling real magic.

She included a review of my ‘2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens’ which included this: “is a fabulous fantasy and time-altering story. Equipped with beautiful writing and compelling characters, it will certainly hook readers from the very first page.”

You have a chance to win a free copy of the book by entering Jean’s giveaway here