Pointless controversy: renewable energy is mostly crap

California is asking people to prepare for the solar eclipse coming in August by, at that time, unplugging anything non-essential so their grid doesn’t barf all over itself when the heavily solar-powered state suddenly has no solar power for a short while during the day. Imagine if these people ever saw a cloud. They’d crap themselves.

Renewable energy irks me, not because I don’t believe it’s a good idea in principle but because it’s such a terrible idea in execution.

Solar power has its uses, and in places like California I think it has plenty more of them than where I live in the northeast. But it is not perfect. Efficiency of solar panels is still quite low, and will remain low until someone finds incredibly cheap materials and manufacturing methods that solve its problems while also being easily scaled to mass production. It should be added that maintenance isn’t a cost that can be ignored either. But the even bigger issue is that even at 100% efficiency, solar power doesn’t have the energy density to sustain modern living. If you actually look at the amount of power that covers a particular patch of land on Earth, it’s decent but it’s not staggering.

Nevertheless I do think well of solar in principle and think it’s certainly worth having for offsetting other sources, when it’s available. Using solar energy without top-class energy storage (which we’re still working on) and a strong backup solution (e.g., more conventional sources), however, is madness. And that’s where California is at right now. In August the sun will be covered for a little while, and their grid may not be able to cope. That’s a problem that should have been tackled clear-headedly instead of going all-in on solar.

Then there’s wind. Where do I even begin? Wind power is an absolute joke. It’s fickle and only works well in certain areas. Wind turbines are wildlife destroyers, dangerous to birds and bats and in some places even raising fears of endangering species. The turbines are expensive to maintain. Like solar it requires a lot of good storage to even out spikes in delivery, but even that isn’t really enough.

There used to be a TV show on either Discovery or the Science Channel—I forget which—where they did megaengineering projects as proof of concept. In one of them they tried a floating cylindrical turbine several hundred feet off the ground, where wind is more active. Ideally they wanted to get it 1,000 feet up where the wind is steadier but strong. This kind of thing might have some potential, and it would certainly be an interesting concept to try in large cities where you could attach these things to skyscrapers. Higher up you would avoid a lot of trouble with wildlife, and with stronger wind these things might actually earn their keep.

But for now, wind power is costly, unreliable, and dangerous. It’s stupid in anything like its current form.

Ultimately there are only two good options for supplying the power demands of the world: fossil fuels and nuclear power. Fossil fuels have a lot of obvious drawbacks, not the least of which is supply. But nuclear power is criminally undervalued, and feared for reasons that are no longer relevant to the modern world.

Whenever people think of nuclear power they tend to think of truckloads of waste being sent to Nevada or wherever else, to sit underground for thousands of years. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of our current-generation reactors produce a great deal of waste, but the main reason for that is that the government didn’t want to have many more-efficient breeder reactors around that created things like plutonium as by-products. That was then. These days, many newer designs are capable of using much, much more of the fuel they’re supplied with, resulting in a very clean process. In fact some can even burn existing waste, allowing us to clear out storage sites and avoid the need for any new ones.

Also, newer reactor designs are orders of magnitude safer than anything that came before. We think about disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, but not only were those rare cases, they’re not even possible with new types of reactors. In a molten salt reactor for instance, meltdown can’t happen. And with smaller sizes, these reactors are also exponentially less vulnerable to something as damaging as a tsunami, because they can be protected a lot more easily. Nuclear power has a pretty impressive safety record in the history it already has, with only one real worst-case scenario and a couple of less catastrophic failures (Fukushima was nowhere near that bad), and if new reactors are brought online with new designs, that track record will go way up.

And consider this: electric cars gotta get their energy from somewhere. In most cases that means coal. Coal actually produces more stray radiation than nuclear. I say that not to vilify coal, but to point out that nuclear really is that much cleaner—and in the future, the very near future if a lot of pointless red tape got cut, it can be cleaner and safer still. Nuclear power will never be fickle like the wind, nor subject to fear of clouds, or go out just because the moon sometimes gets in the way.

Even so, I still admire Elon Musk’s continuing investment in solar technology and have high hopes for it in the future. The main thing is, those hopes are not unlimited and as a realist I know we will always need a steady source. Solar power will be a heck of a lot better with a strong fallback.

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Memorial Day weekend 2017

Following the release and promo last week, I had a family commitment: a weekend trip to my late uncle’s property near Columbus, for a family reunion/memorial. It was a good time, getting to see lots of cousins again—including some I rarely get to see—and getting to know their families better. My wife had to stay home, and so did my sister’s husband, so the road trip there and back was a lot like old family vacations but with a lot less bickering.

My uncle, who passed away back on Halloween after battling cancer on and off a dozen times for the past 20 years or so, would have appreciated that we all had a get-together in his honor, because he loved big family gatherings like that. We hadn’t really all been together since we last went there in 2010, although at that time my wife and my brother-in-law were both able to make it, and so was one of my cousins who couldn’t be there this time (but his wife and kids made the trip, and boy did nobody envy her the task of rounding them all up) because he’s currently deployed.

Over the weekend of course I obsessively checked Amazon for figures to see how Below was doing, and to see if a review had popped up yet. After the free promo there were a couple of sales here and there, but nothing spectacular, although borrows started shooting up because the book is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. The most interesting stuff with the book happened after the weekend.

Last Wednesday, another author on Kboards shared a very interesting link about fonts, and I thought it’d be a great link to share with my favorite blog Dubious Quality. The owner of that blog likes to post all kinds of interesting reader-submitted links on Fridays. Since the free promo was going on, and I know he’s into gaming including stuff like Dwarf Fortress (which is actually how I discovered his blog in the first place), I thought he’d appreciate the book too, so I told him it was going to be free for another day because hey, free book.

I came home from the trip on Sunday, and then Memorial Day rolled around. Oddly I noticed a spike in sales. Later in the day I went to check up on my usual links to see what was going on in the world, and I found that Dubious Quality had an article about my book. And it said wonderful things. Sleep did not come easy that night, because I was far too excited about the fact that someone had nice things to say about my book.

Last night the first Amazon review came in. It said some nice things as well, so I’m pretty happy with that too.

So that’s been my past week in brief. Preparing for trip, long car ride, watching Amazon, lots of family, long car ride, watching Amazon, first reviews. I’m still trying to get back into a normal rhythm, but it’s very difficult. Yesterday we had to cut the day short for a birthday celebration, and this morning I had to drop off Jack at the vet for a dental cleaning and as a result I’m punchy and find it impossible to focus on my real work which requires concentration and intelligence. Heck, I think I’ve had two decent nights’ sleep this entire past week. (Much as I didn’t mind having a king bed to myself in the hotel for two nights, gads that was a firm mattress.)

I feel like very soon I should do a cooking post, because my uncle loved those. Any time I posted on Facebook about things I had made, or was planning to make while in Bad Idea Mode, he had enthusiastically supportive things to say. Understand that this side of the family is Italian, and my uncle carried on the tradition of frequently making sausage with our family recipe, so cooking was never far from his heart, either. It seems only fitting to keep up those posts.

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The promo, day 1

No, this isn’t going to be a series of posts.

Thanks to Freebooksy, Below it the ground running today on its first free promo day. As of right now, it has over 1600 downloads, has broken into the top 100 free Kindle books on Amazon, and for most of the day it’s been sitting at #1 and #2 in the free categories for fantasy action adventure and sword & sorcery, respectively. It probably won’t stay in the overall top 100 tomorrow, but I expect it to hang around in the categories pretty well for a while. (Also today it’s been around #3-4 in general fantasy, #7 in overall sci fi & fantasy, and #9 in action and adventure, so it’s doing well even in the broader categories.)

I’m positively stoked. Having never run a free promo at all before, let alone one with advertising, I had no idea what to expect. Obviously I won’t see a penny in royalties for the free buys, but the book is getting out there and right now that’s what I really care about.

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Bad blurb advice

It’s been quite a while since I last did a post about book blurbs, and this one is way overdue. It also coincides with another of my favorite pastimes, because it’s a rant.

I fall in and out of heavy writing/publishing mode, but when I’m especially active in those communities I like to help people who are looking for help with their blurbs. Writing your own blurbs is hard, and a great many people have trouble writing any blurb at all because it’s such a foreign format compared to the prose within their book. So it irks me no end when That Guy shows up on just about every thread to derail any positive developments by offering spectacularly bad advice. Knowing absolutely nothing about the subject, his advice is always the same: Just do all the things trad-pub does, especially the bad clichés that result in such bland cookie-cutter blurbs, because those guys are selling lots of books and obviously that means their blurbs are awesome. Pretty sure I’ve touched on that before, but he’s wrong, and I’m gonna go into more detail.

Now first let’s talk credentials. I jokingly call myself an unlicensed blurb doctor, because I’m self-taught; but in truth, so is everyone else who does blurb doctoring. But if you’ve read my other posts on the subject, I hope one thing is obvious: I’ve studied blurbs. I’ve put a lot of effort into training myself not to use the easy clichés, learning about structure, figuring out what parts make one blurb strong (in my opinion) and another one turn me way off. And that study has paid off, because in passing that info along and working on others’ blurbs, I’ve had a lot of fantastic feedback. So I feel confident in saying that even though there’s no licensing board, I’m as close to a licensed blurb doctor as anyone else who has a claim on that title, and That Guy is the equivalent of that one guy who always comes out of the woodwork who insists that the patient ignore sound medical advice in favor of some long-debunked quackery.

What I’m saying is That Guy is an asshole. He goes out of his way to shout down good advice on this subject wherever he can find it—anyone’s, mind you—and always encourages people to stick with the same tired, even off-putting, banal crap you’ll find everywhere else. I’m going to explain why he’s wrong.

Fallacy 1: The giant is so strong because he has a man bun

First of all, let’s talk about sales. Yes, any idiot can see that although trad-pub is hurting, it’s still the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. Books whose blurbs carry a lot of bad habits—massive clichés, a dozen kinds of reader-talk, and good gads the questions—sell thousands of copies. Clearly, That Guy says, these guys are doing something right!

Yes they are doing something right: reach, marketing, and covers. (Covers and blurbs are both forms of marketing, but for the purpose of this discussion I’m separating them out.) Trad-pub has many advantages that the indie writer does not, and one of them is reach. Simply put, they can get their books on shelves at most of the brick-and-mortar retailers who still exist; and the A-listers can even reach grocery stores and Walmart. These titles are marketed in advance to various interest publications, book reviewers, etc. to get the word out; even when the extent of that marketing isn’t much for a particular book, it can still be a big deal as far as making sure the book his the ground running. And finally trad-pub is, as a general rule, very very good at developing book covers—the first thing a prospective reader will see.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: trad-pub sells well in spite of its blurbs, not because of them. In truth, blurbs are one of the smallest factors in what sells a book, because next to reviews and/or sample text they’re usually the last thing the reader sees. I put so much emphasis on blurbs only because they’re something that we as writers can easily control. Although it’s a different skill set from writing prose, it’s not so different as to be completely alien.

Fallacy 2: That man bun was tied by an expert

Here’s where That Guy’s “logic” really pisses me off: He assumes that there’s such a thing as a professional blurbist in the industry at all. There isn’t.

If you spend any time actually learning about how the publishing industry handles the behind-the-scenes stuff of getting books ready for publication, you’ve probably heard rumors that quite a lot of that stuff gets foisted off onto grunts and interns. If you’ve ever spent time in the real world, you know that all kinds of big companies operate that way, and could have guessed as much on your own.

The plain fact is I’ve outright been told by people who used to work in the industry, doing the actual job of writing blurbs, that this is true. Publishers don’t put a lot of thought into blurbs at all, and ascribe them little enough importance that they give the task to people who are low on the totem pole and given no prior training. Congrats, Sally, you’ve graduated from coffee-fetching detail and now we’re gonna throw you in the deep end of this pool we don’t care that much about. We just need you to churn out something to roughly these word count specifications; got it?

The professionals are not experts, and often enough not even professionals. (Interns don’t count.) In fact I’d go so far as to say most of them know way less about blurbs than a typical blurb doctor, because they’ve done nothing to study blurbs beyond simply looking at what the people before them did, and aping that. This has been going on for decades. Want to know why so many blurbs look alike? That’s why!

Even so, I want to give these people credit where it’s due. In a previous post I pointed to an article by Beth Bacon where she wrote about what she thought was a good blurb formula. While there were a lot of flaws in the example blurb she provided, the tautness of the writing was not one of them. Even while these industry cogs use the same shoddy old toolbox of bad habits, they also have a pretty good poetic toolbox to draw from. I don’t doubt many of them come from educational backgrounds where they’re enamored of the written word, have large vocabularies, and understand how to achieve an emotional context with great economy of words. That skill is worth studying.

Fallacy 3: The science is settled!

Not to be swayed by mere logic, That Guy then tries to pull out the big guns and throw logic right back. Because BookBub, you see, did actual A/B testing on blurbs and found out that all these horrible clichés and reader-talk and all that sort of garbage actually works wonders. They’ll tell you all about it themselves, and it’s worth a read—but not because it can teach you anything about blurbs. Read it with the critical eye of the skeptic and the problems become apparent.

That’s right. I’m a blurb science denier.

More to the point, I deny that BookBub used good methodology or that their results have any relevance to blurbs at all. If we’re going to talk science, then the standards of good science apply. All possible biases should be weighed and removed from the experiment to whatever extent they can be, the experiment should measure what it actually sets out to measure, and the results should be interpreted based on what the experiment measured and not what the person reading about it wants to think it meant.

I’m not here to crap all over BookBub; they meant well. And to be fair to them, I think they did measure what they set out to measure—it just wasn’t about blurbs. The problem is they, like so many other people, conflated the word “blurb” with something else. What they’re actually talking about aren’t blurbs at all, even though they keep using that word. The entire article, and the testing they did, was all about short pitches for ad copy. Those are typically much shorter than blurbs and live in a different environment. (More on that in a bit.)

What BookBub did was take a number of short pitches and run A/B testing on them, which is to say they randomly showed two different versions of the same not-really-a-blurb, one of which had a minor change like telling a reader why they’ll like the book or talking about reviews or making an author boast or comparing to other works or whatnot. For quite a lot of those tests the A version would basically be shorter, with the B version adding an extra bit of information. And right there, you have an implicit source of bias: more detail vs. less, more words vs. fewer, will tend to win when information is at a premium.

And again this is copy for an ad; it’s not a blurb. A book blurb is exactly the same as a back-cover or jacket description. In an ad, this text is right up front and it’s in a tightly confined space where brevity is a hundred times more important. In a proper role as a description, it’s what readers see on Amazon after they click the cover, or in a bookstore it’s what readers see after the cover/spine has grabbed their interest and they want to see more. BookBub did their testing, and drew their conclusions, on a different animal.

For that reason it’s not too surprising either that some things that are horrendous in blurbs—like comparing to other books, telling the reader what to think, etc.—work here. Aside from the fact that they were compared to copy that was identical but for the addition of that line (again, bias would tend to favor more length), this is an ad. An ad is meant to be a little louder; people understand it in that context and even treat it with the appropriate skepticism. A blurb on the other hand is more about seduction, drawing the reader into an emotional connection to the story.

And even though these are ads and not blurbs, their results still include some hilarious affirmations of things I’ve been saying all along. For instance, that article mentions that posing the book as a question doesn’t work. In another article where they did some subtler testing, more specificity on factual items (number of recipes, aristocratic titles, name of award) always won, while more specificity on author boasts (“insightful and accessible” vs. “insightful”) always lost. These are results I would have predicted from what they do to blurbs, but it’s funny that they apply to short ad pitches too. In an ad format an author boast may work better than nothing at all, but a longer author boast apparently flops.

As I’ve said before, a real A/B test has never been done, can never be done, on blurbs. Even if Amazon were set up to handle A/B testing for you, you’d need a large sample size (and therefore considerable success already as an author, skewing the results) to even make sense of the data. You’d need to compare a solidly constructed blurb to one that makes one minor change in favor of a cliché or other junk; ideally you’d need to compare dozens of very similar versions. It simply isn’t possible to do this in any scientifically meaningful way. BookBub can at least attempt meaningful testing because while they’re not testing blurbs, their ad copy is put in front of people first thing—it lives in a different place—and whether it gets a click or not does not necessarily mean it will get a buy.

Conclusion: That Guy can suck it

There is no such thing as a blurb doctor who is always right. I’ve seen other blurb doctors take very different approaches to reach solid results, including some who are masters of the one-paragraph blurb which I am not. But there is such a thing as an intrusive twit who seeks out every opportunity he can find to steer you wrong.

The publishing industry doesn’t care about blurbs—not enough to sink real time and money into them and to study new ways of making them pop. Hence why their blurbs always look like the same mediocre drivel. They do however put enough effort and money into other aspects of marketing as to overshadow this job completely, and the people they’re hiring/exploiting to do it have enough skill with words to somewhat make up for shortcomings of form. Meanwhile the only science that’s been done on blurbs wasn’t done on blurbs at all, and wasn’t done scientifically enough.

Don’t take my advice on blurbs as gospel. But whatever you do, don’t take the advice of someone who tells you the industry must be doing something right because sales, you guys! and insists you’re better off making a blurb that looks like everybody else’s. His refusal to acknowledge that the industry has a lot more cards in their hand and that’s what leads to better sales is a refusal of reality. Make your blurb better than theirs; it’s very doable, it’s worth it, and as an indie writer you need every advantage you can get.

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Release day is coming

This is not a cooking post after all.

Since my last post I’ve gotten further along in the release process for Below, and this is a brief update. My goal was to do an instafree promo, where the book would be free for the first few days starting with the launch. However, I found out a little too late in the process that you can’t actually do that; Kindle Direct Publishing won’t let you do a free promo until a day after the book has been released. Apparently instafree isn’t really a thing; the people who do it fake it by soft-releasing a day early, and then going with the free promo. So that’s what I’ll be doing.

On top of that, further research has shown that Friday and Saturday are not wonderful days for promos to begin with. The book is slated for release Friday. I currently still have the option of moving that up to Thursday, but now I’m questioning (and I have only a short time left to decide) if I want to push it back to at least Saturday, or just leave it as-is. Either way, I don’t plan to start the free promo until Sunday.

The info I’m getting suggests that Amazon has its biggest traffic on Sunday and Monday, with Tuesday also being a great day for promos because of trad-pub releases. As a result of that, my new plan is to run a promo from Sunday through Thursday next week.

So as it stands now, it looks like the book will be up for two days prior to the promo unless I shorten it to one. The reason I might not is to give me time to get the paperback up on CreateSpace, which I intend to do once the Kindle release is live, and hopefully Amazon will link them together properly before Sunday.

Below is available for pre-order now, but if you want to wait till it’s free I won’t be offended. If you like it, please leave a nice review. The paperback won’t be free of course, but I did set things up so that, in theory and once Amazon and Createspace link their info together, anyone who buys the paperback should be able to get the Kindle edition for free. I do highly recommend the paperback, because the cover art came out terrific (thanks, Lorena!).

So here’s the schedule:

May 19: Kindle edition released (full price), and paperback released.
May 21-25: Kindle edition available for free!

Somewhere in there, I’m going to get the second edition of the Affix up for the Kindle, and in the meantime I’ll be getting its CreateSpace paperback ready. I’m really pleased with the interior formatting for the Affix, so I’ll be thrilled to have a proof copy of that in my hands.

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Revving up the book machine

Now that I finally got the inevitable out of the way—holy crap was that hard to write—it’s time to get back to blog basics. Which on this blog is usually writing and cooking, just because those are some of the things I do that are more interesting to blog about. Let’s talk about writing—or rather, about books and formatting.

But first, a brief aside. I’ve mentioned often that my mother and I like to have a zoo day on the first nice spring day that falls during the week and (this is important) isn’t a Monday. That hasn’t happened yet this year, because the weather has been freaking awful. Seriously, we had a frost advisory the other night. We’re a third of the way through May and nature is finally toying with the idea of throwing us a 70° day. Still waiting. Ulgh.

Anyway, lately I’ve been getting back to book stuff. When I got my new computer this December it threw my life all out of whack, so for months I’d been putting off making a change to the print version of Below to fix an error I spotted (my fault) in the proof copy. It was bothering me that I wasn’t getting to it, because I want to get the book out and also I promised to send a copy to the cover artist (which is now in transit, having arrived in Spain today). I finally got around to all of that, and now I’m planning to release very very soon. Like next week soon. The book is going to start out free for a few days on Kindle to get the word out, and I’m planning to promote it on freebook.sy. The book has a page on Goodreads, if you want to check that out and add it to your want-to-reads.

For lovers of physical books, I highly recommend that if you’re interested in Below, you pick up the paperback when it’s out. Mostly that’s just to enjoy the gorgeous cover art, because even with text on the back cover there’s a great deal of detail to see there. And if I do say so myself, I did a nice job on the interior formatting. I threw in a couple of homemade Celtic knots and a decorative scene break for visual flair as well.

But I didn’t stop there. It’s time to fix up the Affix for a second edition, and get it out in print. So I made some changes and got the book ready for print formatting. This time I’m going with a 5″x8″ book instead of the usual 6″x9″—basically because the word count is lower and I want the spine to have some substance—and I haven’t decided whether I’m going to go for a matte finish on the cover this time or stick with glossy.

One of the first things I had to do, and one of the major reasons I never released the book in print the first time around, was to re-render the cover so it could do a full wraparound. This allowed me a chance to also fix up the image of the stone, which actually didn’t look its best (I’ll update the cover on this blog soon enough), and also to fix up the spots on the all-2 die because I didn’t like the way they lined up on the back faces.

The blurb has been updated (that too will go live on the blog later) to change up the last paragraph, which I always felt was a bit lacking.

For interior formatting for the Affix, I had a lot more fun this time around. Although I stuck with Cardo 11pt for the body font, I decided to play with some other fonts for chapter headings and the header. I’ve also grown enamored of something William Gibson’s books have been doing for a long time, which is to align chapter headings to the outer margin instead of always center, left, or right. OpenOffice has no option for outside alignment, which isn’t surprising because most word processors don’t either; but because I’m already using macros to do final cleanup, I came up with a cheat that let me do it in the cleanup stage. (And I’m all the happier that it looks a little like a Gibson book inside because it has such a frantic current-day sci-fi sort of energy to it.)

Of course in the midst of all this excitement I’ve hit a few annoyances as well. To start with, I used to write in Microsoft Word but now that I use OpenOffice exclusively, it changed the way I prep documents for ebook conversion. Word had a nice option to save as filtered HTML, and although the output was flawed it was mostly good enough. OpenOffice’s facility for saving a document as HTML was apparently mostly written in the late ’90s by a 12-year-old Geocities enthusiast, and never updated since; the code it outputs is so bad as to be unusable, by inlining all styles instead of using a stylesheet and many other problems besides. I had to work around this with the Writer2xhtml plugin, which… also sucks, but not in the same ways. The output from Writer2html doesn’t think to output basic tags like <b> and <i> and whatnot, preferring <span> with a style attribute which is stupid stupid stupid, but at least it does use a stylesheet for actual paragraph styles.

For finalizing cover art I also upgraded Photoshop Elements. I was using the badly outdated version 3 before, and now I use 15. Here I ran into another problem: With spine text, I often want to use the same styles on the text that I do on the front cover text, but rotated. As it turns out, somewhere a few versions back Adobe decided to remove the “Use global light” checkbox from their style options—which means I can’t just copy the same styles and use a different light source for a bevel effect, for instance. It’s kind of an obnoxious Microsofty move.

So that’s where things stand with books right now in a nutshell. Below is very close to release, and I’m going to release a second Kindle edition of the Affix along with a first print edition. Exciting times!

Next up on the writing schedule is to get beta readers looking at the first book of the Merchantman Halflight series, and working out cover art along with typography. I’m still working on the third book in the series, having hit a bit of a snag where I’m not sure the adaptation is working quite right in the spot I’m at. I’ll figure it out eventually.

The next post will probably be about cooking, because I’m a creature of habit.

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The story of Mouse

All right, I think enough time has passed that I may be able to finally get through this. This is the story of Mouse.

Before I met my wife, she ran a hospice of sorts for cats with feline leukemia. No one else would adopt them, so she would take them in. This started when she adopted a stray who turned out to have it, and didn’t realize he had it, but he needed badly company when she was at work. Once she found out he had feline leukemia, all her new cats she adopted had it. Feline leukemia is not very contagious to vaccinated adults (and sometimes unvaccinated) but is highly so for kittens. 80% of cats who have it don’t live past three years from the diagnosis. The odds-beaters were Sammy, the original stray; Archie, a feral cat on death’s door whom she adopted just after we started dating and eventually (because he healed and flourished) came to live with us when we were married; and Mouse who was ultimately not the outlier we thought she was.

She adopted Mouse back when she was married to her first husband, before we met. This was back in early 2001. Mouse was found in a box of young cats outside the Spaghetti Warehouse, ironically not very far from where I lived at the time, and was about eight months old. But for whatever reason, Mouse was brought up to the Watertown ASPCA instead of Syracuse—Watertown is like 90 minutes north—and there she was diagnosed with feline leukemia. They knew my wife (then someone else’s wife) was taking in leukemia cats, so they said she needed to come up that day to get her or they were going to put the cat down.

Mouse was gray and white, with a face that never lost kitten cuteness. She had some of the softest fur of any cat I’ve ever known. She was spayed and declawed, although we didn’t know who spayed her (until recently) and I’m not sure who did the declawing, whether my wife had it done or someone else. (And to all the judgy pricks out there, declawing wasn’t seen as so horrifying then, and frankly the shock over it is still way overrated. So don’t give me any crap.) She had an almost goat-like meow, maybe halfway between cat and goat, a way of bleating when she was excited—for food, play, or petting—that was incredibly endearing. When she was happiest from receiving lots of loving attention her purrs turned high-pitched; we called them “chirpy purrs”.

Early in our marriage and often before, Mouse liked to snuggle with my wife at night “cheek-to-cheek” with her head resting beside her and a paw on either side of her neck; I got that treatment only twice, very briefly. Later Mouse preferred to lick, which was a lot less restful. She didn’t mind being picked up—which is no longer true for any of our remaining cats, sadly—and loved to get kissed on the head; in fact if you said “head kisses” she’d tilt her head back to be kissed. Laps? Yes laps, and often. She was always an aggressive snuggler, often jumping into one of our laps even during meal times if there wasn’t food to be had.

And when there was food to be had, she was an absolute fiend for chicken of any kind and turkey cold cuts, but she also liked steak, hamburger, hot dog, ham, and bacon. Her favorite words were “treat”—which meant wet food—and “crunchies” for the crunchy kind. If you said either of those, even quietly, her head would whip around.

When I first met Mouse she was probably just shy of four years old. She was the cat who greeted me most warmly when I went up to my wife’s house for the first time while we were dating. Mouse loved to chase fur mice, especially if you could bounce them on the floor in front of her so they’d sail over her head.

After we got married, Mouse and Archie came to live with us in the house, while my own three cats stayed behind for the time being with my parents so they could continue vaccinations against leukemia—with the goal of eventually bringing them with us. We also had a cat living in our garage: Puff, a feral scion of a stray mother who had a litter at my wife’s old house. (Puff has a story of her own that’s worth telling, but that’s another post. Suffice it to say for now she was feral but tamed down, had to come live with us because she wasn’t independent, and she had to be in the garage for a while to build up leukemia immunity. She got lots of attention though, and now she’s inside with us.)

Mouse was a medical mystery cat. For as long as I knew her she was on prednisone, which kept a lot of itching at bay. She also had a huge problem with sneezing, both before the move and for the first few years afterward, which was very difficult to keep in check; I swear that cat’s head could hold a gallon of snot. Sure it was disgusting, but we loved her anyway. She lost a few teeth every couple of years. While my wife was still in Pulaski, Mouse had some cloudiness in her eyes that was diagnosed as a disease that basically only dogs get. And the whole time we had Mouse, we were constantly changing up medications. Mouse got pills twice a day, but she usually took them like a trooper, enjoying pill pockets and getting a treat or crunchies afterward.

She had a habit of claiming a couple of “spots” that were hers, one of which would vary with considerable frequency (every few days) and the other less often. For several years, her long-term spot was the bathroom sink. This was not fun, but we put up with it because it was hard to say no to Mouse. Near the end of her life, her long-term spot was my side of the living room couch. If I needed to use that spot, she was usually just as happy to lie on my lap; although she’d complain when I picked her up she would typically settle right back down.

Now and then Mouse came to see me upstairs while I worked, although it was a rare and special thing. She’d come upstairs to sleep plenty of times of course, and especially she loved the spring when we had windows open and she could look out. But she was of course “Mommy’s” cat, as is Puff, and often sought out my wife for snuggles. One time just after we got married, when both of us were on our computers (my wife’s computer is on the other side of the house upstairs, where we have an open floor plan), Mouse came up the stairs and looked at me quizzically. I said in jest “Mouse, Mommy wants to snuggle” and she gave me a startled look that said “Really?!” and ran right over. My wife actually didn’t want to snuggle at the time, being busy with a game, and was not amused; but that story still cracks me up.

Over the years we got Mouse’s sneezing under control, although we have no idea how. Cats shuffled. My mom got fed up with Hobbes and sent him to live with us, so at that same time we brought in Puff. Archie had to have all his teeth pulled due to major dental pain (it made him a much happier cat), but a year later passed away from cancer in his intestines, a complication of the feline leukemia—but boy did he beat the odds. Jack came to live with us next, and eventually Dust Bunny who I’ve mentioned before; she passed away in late 2015. Mouse was always queen of the house, though; the other cats often gave her a wide berth, and if she got it in her head that one of them needed a smack, they’d back down more often than not.

In late 2013 Mouse developed a hematoma in her left ear, which puffed up like a balloon. It had to have surgery to repair the ear, which was never the same after that, and she had to have a collar on for weeks; so that Christmas was difficult. Then the following year—again in December—she got a bad eye infection in her left eye. That ultimately had to be removed, and she spent even more time in a cone. At that same time her left nostril had somehow gotten blocked up and had to be reopened—but it closed back up again—and she lost the last of her teeth. In spite of losing an eye, our “zombie kitty” acted almost kittenish again after it was out, and had renewed vigor.

Last year, my wife decided to have Mouse retested for feline leukemia, suspecting maybe the initial diagnosis was a false positive. To our amazement that turned out to be correct; Mouse had not beaten the odds after all, but instead had simply never contracted leukemia. This was wonderful  news, because it meant there was no longer this cloud hanging over our head that she could go at any time. But still, she was 16.

Unfortunately that news came less than a year before the end. A few months ago the vet noticed Mouse had started losing weight, and she was diagnosed with diabetes. We switched to diabetic food at first, until we realized the carby dry stuff was just no good even in diabetic formulations, and went all-wet. (Jack was not happy. We had to supplement by giving him dry food. Weirdo.) Also we tried to feed her extra food whenever possible. After one vet visit Mouse adopted the carrier as her new spot, so we just left that in the living room. I gave her extra feedings from leftover wet cat food three times a day: before lunch, after lunch, and late at night before I went to bed. It was an exhausting routine, but we wanted to try to get her back up to a good weight.

March 28 came. The night before, Mouse hadn’t eaten a late treat; that had happened before and wasn’t so unexpected, but in the morning she wouldn’t eat either. My wife was very worried and scheduled an emergency vet visit for the afternoon. Mouse obviously did not feel well. Just before the appointment she did lick a little treat from a bowl, but her heart wasn’t in it. We suspected when we brought her to the vet it would be the last time, and sadly we were right. My wife held her the whole way, not even bringing the carrier. When they weighed Mouse, she had lost even more weight and we knew that the dietary change wasn’t working; whatever was going on had started even before the diabetes diagnosis; it was probably cancer. And there was no point denying the truth any longer.

I’ve managed to get through mot of this post without crying, but that’s not so much true now. I’m typing mostly blind now. That’s a hard day to remember, those awful hours before, during, and after our goodbyes. Mouse was a special cat, more so than many, and we will not see her like again. I miss her bleating meow, and her lap snuggles, the head kisses, the chirpy purrs, and the way her tongue would dart in and out when petting the fur under her neck above her belly. The grief has slowly abated, but it still stings at times like this, remembering every detail about her.

Goodbye, Mouse. We will always love you.

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