Showing posts with label pets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pets. Show all posts

20 April 2012

Kitten Cosies

We’ve been a little under the weather, lately, here at the Hill homestead. And, it seems to me some of my fellow SleuthSayers are feeling a bit down too.

So, this week, I’m skipping explosives, and starting the weekend off on a happier note:


My daughter’s cat, Frisky, recently had kittens. So . . . here are a few pictures . . . presented in hopes you can start your weekend with a bit of a smile!

Kittens in a basket, going for a ride.

I have no idea who the kitten in the middle is surrendering to. Perhaps it's my son.

My 9-year-old son, learning why it's not smart to let kittens ride around on your head.

Milk is good. Kittens are messy.On the left is my daughter's cat, Frisky -- the mother cat. She's wearing a hat my daughter likes (which my wife made). I'll let you be the arbiter of what Frisky thinks of the hat.

“What have kittens got to do with sleuthing?”
Well, I’m glad you asked (even if you didn’t). Because, kittens grow up to be adult cats — such as Koko and Yum Yum, the two Siamese cats of the late Lilian Jackson Braun’s wonderful 29-book series: “The Cat Who …” mysteries.

The series is a soft, character-driven, almost cozy — in which the protagonist, Jim Qwilleran, solves mysteries (often murders) with the aid of his trusty male Siamese “Koko” (more formally named: Kao K'o-Kung). And many little life lessons for writers are contained within the method employed by Lilian Jackson Braun, when she wrote the series.

For instance:

After writing the third book in the series, she quit.
That’s right; she quit. Her editor insisted she add graphic violence and sex to her books, or they just wouldn’t sell – because sex and violence is what the public wants! — and unless those changes were made, he wouldn’t publish any more “Cat Who …” books. Since Ms. Braun didn’t feel such changes would result in books she wanted to write, she quit writing them. For eighteen years!

At the end of that time, she retired from her position at the Detroit Free Press, and her husband encouraged her to try the series again. The result? A collection of 29 mystery novels and two short story collections.

The lesson: Trust yourself enough to know what you can and can’t (or don’t want to) write.

Braun spent much of her time in South Carolina. And, frankly, having spent time in the Carolinas — during the years when I lived at the whim of my uncle, and home was wherever I hung my barracks bag — I’ve come to the conclusion that many of her more colorful or zany characters were based on folks she knew down there. Braun, however, placed her stories in the far northern reaches of the lower 48, somewhere around the Great Lakes region. This setting provided plenty of woods and sea shore-like beaches, for bootlegging and smuggling stories, which probably had their roots in rumors she’d heard around the inland waterway. In this manner, she could lift the Carolina coast and put it down somewhere far from its actual location, while still maintaining its natural habitat.

The lesson? Feel free to use local color and characters, but give real people the protection of what, in Special Forces, we would have called, “Good cover for status and action.”

But . . .

What’s a guy who’s supposed to be all hard-boiled doing writing about the Cat Who … series? Well, I first ran across one of them after a taxing deployment. I felt wrung out, used up and exhausted. Upon my return, I discovered that the utilities in my Fayetteville apartment had all been turned off during my absence of several months. This wasn’t unusual, since it’s rather hard to get your electric bill when you’re running around in the jungle somewhere. And, it was often difficult to make prior arrangements; I’d get a call to come into the Team Room, where we’d be promptly locked into “Isolation” for planning our new mission — no contact with the outside world permitted until our return. Thankfully, my apartment complex manager understood my situation. So, my apartment was always left alone, and I simply paid my back rent when everything was over.

But, none of that helps much on a Friday night when your lights and phone don’t work. So, as was my custom, I hit a hotel near the local shopping mall. The women at the front desk knew me, and welcomed me back, understanding that I’d be there until I could get my utilities turned back on the following Monday.

On that particular Friday night, the woman on the desk had just finished reading one of the Cat Who … books. She looked at me as I stood there in filthy BDU’s that probably smelled as if I’d worn them for a week (A day or two in the jungle is all it takes to make a uniform smell like that!) and the como I hadn’t managed to completely wash off my face and hands. “Here,” she said, handing me the book. “You look like you could use this.”

And she was right. I finished it the next morning. And bought a couple more at the bookstore in the mall, then spent the rest of the day reading them as I smoked cigars and drank beer while sitting in a hot bath.

The lesson?? Even steely-eyed snake eatin’ killers, who run around in Girl Scout hats, sometimes need a break from the daily grind.

Hope this post gave you a bit of a break, too!


21 February 2012

Animal Instinct

My last posting concerned the grey hinterland of human mind control and was extremely taxing to write, so I often found myself contemplating the family's fifteen year old corgi as a means of  mental relaxation.  She seldom appeared to have a lot on her own mind, but napped in apparent comfort as I labored away.  Occasionally, she might stir herself to stretch and shift positions, or sit up to peer out the window onto our street.  This last would only happen if something truly important roused her, such as a UPS truck going by (she hates UPS...don't ask me why, as I've always equated the truck with Christmas gifts and happy times).  She, on the other hand, has held a grudge against Big Brown since she was a pup many moons ago.  By people years she is 105 and, apparently, has a long memory when it comes to grievances, real or imagined.  She holds the vacuum cleaner (any model) in the same contempt, and just as inexplicably.

A good corgi--not Silke
In case you don't know, a Welsh corgi is an ancient breed of cattle dog.  I found this idea laughable, at first, as Silke (that's her name--she was christened by my offspring who also found her) has short little legs and I couldn't imagine her herding cows, or even sheep, for that matter.  But then, I am a low and ignorant knave.  Corgi means dwarf in Welsh (hence the short leggies) and this allowed them to nip easily at the ankles of their wards while avoiding being kicked--being so low to the ground they can drop quickly beneath the damaging arc of the cow's hoof.  The official book on these furry devils warns, "Not for first-time owners".  That's right; that's what it says.  Care to guess what we were?

It seems this invaluable breed of canine tend to be bossy and are prone to nipping.  Thanks, kids.  I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone who knew what they were bred for--being bossy to a bunch of cows and nipping their hooves.  But I had no idea what the kids were getting us into.  Corgis are highly resistant to Mind Control.  This last is my own admonition as, believe me, I have tried.  But Silke remains serenely impervious to all attempts at training or discipline.  I gave up years ago--Pavlov did not use Welsh corgis in his famous experiment .  This shouldn't have surprised me, really, as my own progeny have also resisted my every effort at mind control.  It makes perfect sense that they should somehow, while on a trip to Virginia, manage to find just this dog in a pet store.  The shop owners claimed that they had no idea what kind of mutt it was...sure they didn't.

Though resistant to all discipline imposed upon them, corgis happily impose their own special brand of rules on everyone else.  For instance, running, and other erratic movements, are greatly discouraged, as are overt signs of physical affection, unless those affectionate overtures are directed at the corgi.  Try cuddling up to your loved one and soon the thick, furry body of the Adversary inserts itself betwixt the two of you like a mobile chastity pillow.  As for games of chase when the kids were younger...this was strictly forbidden!  Silke would fly into action by rapidly circling the offending parties in ever-tightening spirals until all motion was halted.  I cannot recall how many times I have tripped over this beastie.  I suspect that this latter trait is why corgis are so favored by the Queen of England--the herding instinct insures that all in the royal party will move about in a decorous manner; assume a stately progress.  The alternative is to be either tripped or bitten.  I have read that many of her guests (and family) despise the little beggars.

Did I mention that Silke hates all other canines?  With a passion.  She admits of no other dog being an ally or kindred spirit.  She recognizes no kinship.  I don't know if this applies to her own breed, as they are somewhat rare this side of the pond, but I suspect she would be just as unforgiving with them as any other.

Well, of course, those same children who had to have this creature, grew up and went away to college and thence to their own lives.  Silke and me are still here.  She thinks Robin, my wife, is just swell, though I am the one left mostly in charge of her...did I say, "in charge"?  Well, you get the picture.  I do the walks, the feedings, and now, the insulin injections.  Mostly, anyway.  Yes, she has diabetes and has had for the past four years.  The vet gave her a year at most after diagnosing her--if  we gave her the insulin.  I came from a background that was less than sentimental about pets, being descended from farm folk who routinely slaughtered barnyard animals and hunted game.  There were no pets, as such.  Yet, Silke has prevailed even against my notoriously budget-minded ways.  We buy the hideously expensive insulin.  She yet lives.

She has also appeared in a number of my stories.  She has played the protagonist, victim, and villain with equal aplomb.  I get a kick out of working her into my efforts from time to time.  Because the truth be told, her completely uncompromising nature, besides being infuriating, also charms and intrigues me.  Animals have always had this effect on me, and probably a third, or better, of everything I've ever written involves animals and nature in various roles both great and small--by my count, fourteen out of thirty stories.

Sometimes they just provide a bit of atmospheric background, such as the clutch of neighborhood turkey vultures in "The Vengeance of Kali".  In other stories they provide warnings, or are harbingers of something terrible coming--a small dog (possibly a corgi) in "Spooky"; a lizard in "Tap-Tap", while in some they are the victims, as a cat and corgi each in "The Mole" and "Whistle".  But, in the interest of fair-handedness, animals are sometimes the victimizers as well: a cougar and spider in "Natural Causes", a zoo tiger in "Copy Cat", a corgi in "Little Things" and in "The Wisdom Of Serpents"...yep, serpents. 

I didn't start out to write about animals so frequently; it just happened.  In fact, for the first ten years of my taking up the pen, I was unaware that I was doing so.  It was only after I had built up a small body of work that I gradually became cognizant of the recurrent nature of...well, nature, in my stories.

It's not that I write animal stories, as such, it's just that they figure in so often.  I'm not alone in this, oh no; in fact, several Big Shot Writers in the mystery and suspense field have gotten there long before me--E.A. Poe and H.H. Munro of past renown, as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Doug Allyn of more recent note.  I stumble along in the paths of others.  But, I wouldn't be able to exclude wee beasties, and great, even if I wanted to.  They are all around us and figure into our lives though we dwell in suburbs or great cities. 

Just this morning, I was beckoned by a sparrow to open the door to my garage and free her.  This was not an isolated incident.  For some time now, whenever the weather is rough with rain or heavy winds, a sparrow hides herself (or himself) I'll never know which, within our attached garage as we pull the car in.  Come the morning, she begins to sing...loudly.    This is our cue to open the damn garage door and release her from her voluntary confinement.  This is accomplished on a regular basis.  At first, I thought it was just a case of the sparrow having inadvertently entered the garage and become trapped when we shut the door.  But repeated experience has shown me differently.  Is it the same bird, each time?  I will never be sure, but it is always a sparrow.  Additionally, there is no nest in the garage.  And it never happens when the weather is nice.  Also, she never sings while in the garage until daylight comes and the weather has cleared.  Gives the pejorative 'bird-brained' a slightly different slant, doesn't it?  But it does make me think, and whenever I do that I start to have ideas that sometime become stories, and when I write stories I become a happier person.  So, my little sparrow may not be the bluebird of happiness, and my dog may not be Lassie, but they both do me a world of good.