farewell to the king of cats

My elderly cat passed away this week. He didn’t have any illness we could treat. He’d just begun to rapidly unwind after a few years of gradually slowing down, and I couldn’t put off the decision any longer. It’s been a sad week for my entire household, and it’s going to be a long time before I stop looking for him out of the corner of my eye. I wrote up a little thing on Twitter, which I’m now posting here.

LOVE YOU FOREVER, SWEET BOY.


Hades, Lord of the Underworld, was a garbage kitten found by my dad at a construction site with his sister (long departed), when I was 16. They were so tiny they still had to be bottle fed. My mom agreed to nurse them during the day, and I nursed them at night. For weeeeks.

Very tiny ball of black kitten

My sister took care of him while I was at college, but as soon as I got back he glommed back onto me. He’s a belly-rub-loving shoulder-goblin with no shame and a squinty pirate eye acquired in a possum fight. His best friend is a 20lb tabby cat slob named Professor Stormfury.

Hades splayed on his back next to my leg

Hades in a perfectly round void ball

Hades looking very tiny snuggled against an enormous gray tabby cat

He’s been with me for over 18 years, six homes, a marriage, two children, thousands of nights sleeping at my side (or practically on my face), and I am going to miss him. He is the greatest void that ever took cat form and stalked the kitchens of the land, begging for treats. 

Hades tucked onto an open kitchen shelf, peeking around the oven, presumably waiting for treats

Bye, baby.

 

staying connected while self-isolating

2020 sure isn’t pulling any punches, is it?

A lot of people are suddenly home who aren’t used to being home all the time. And while this situation is exceptional and scary and farther-reaching than anything I’ve experienced before–I realized this morning that I have already made 90% of the self-isolation transition, and maybe it’s worth describing how I’ve coped.

Everyone is going to have a different experience and set of circumstances, so here’s the context for me, personally, because this is all me, personally, and YMMV, and maybe some of this will help or all or none, etc etc, caveat, caveat:

I have always been a really outgoing introvert. There are fabulous people everywhere and I like to make friends!! But I also get overwhelmed from too much group activity, and I recharge best with long periods of quiet and introspection. So: lots of socializing followed by lots of recuperative quiet.

Wellllllll, then I had kids. And after Baby #2, I left my day job. Staying home with small children = constant vigilance and minimal adult conversation. Hoo boy. No socializing OR alone time! The perfect storm!!

I sharply whittled my VERY MANY activities down to a biweekly grocery trip, a monthly book club, and the occasional sibling hangout.

And now those are gone, too. But I got most of the way here 2 years ago, and I have dealt with these feelings before.

I’m not going to lie: isolation hit me with a pretty bad wave of depression. It’s rough! It’s disorienting! It’s literally isolating! And it is normal to go through some rollercoaster emotions. It is normal to feel a total disconnect from routine, because it’s kind of like the weekend? But the weekend never ends? And you still have responsibilities, whether work-from-home or the aforementioned children, or BOTH? And you never have to put your bra on or change out of those pajama pants, so you don’t, but that only increases the malaise? And you’re hungry at weird times and there are no external cues to shape your behavior and it’s hard to get started working on things but there’s also nobody telling you when it’s okay to stop, and and and…

And you realize you have lost your grip on the linear flow of time, much like the makers of this amazing poster I spotted in freshman year of college:

poster that says "stop the linear keeping of time!" with subheadings like "burn your calendars! smash your clocks! dechronologize yourself!" and more

It feels like life is simultaneously standing still and never pausing for breath. The weeks slip by too quickly and you feel like you’re not getting enough done for somebody who’s home all the time–but also the individual days can feel so slow when they’re not broken up into commute/work/break chunks. It’s just you and a couple of toddlers and 14 hours to fill before having that glass of wine and heading to bed.

It’s a whole mess.

So. My tips for coping, if you are an outgoing introvert suddenly stuck at home, lonely and yet never alone:

1) GET THEE TO SOME GROUP CHATS. I mean it. This is my #1 piece of advice and my friends do not even know the degree to which they have saved my sanity over the past two years. All day, every day, I message my book club, my sisters, and my writer friends. My phone’s got FB Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, and Slack, because everyone’s on something different, dammit. And in the more private chats I talk about personal things, sure, but I’m mostly there for company, for laughs, for daily water cooler talk. For memes!! Nothing like a good laugh to break you out of a funk.

2) Learn to love phone calls again. It’s really easy to go hours and hours without speaking, and then realize your voice is a croak. Also, my constant written chat does NOT keep my conversation skills sharp! I open my mouth and feel like I have forgotten what a normal volume is or what my cue is to respond. I get giddy and interrupt too much. I’m a disaster, is what I’m saying!! So I call my mom or my brother or a friend and I chatter a bit. Now that my book club can’t meet in person for a while, we’re gonna move to a group video chat so we can love on each other’s drunk, bored-ass faces.

3) Don’t be silent all the time. I love some calm, soothing silence, as I mentioned, but too much silence for too long and I sink very far into my thoughts. Time starts slipping by at a weird pace and I’m completely zoned out, susceptible to negative thought spirals. With the kids, there are cartoons and video games breaking up the monotony, but otherwise I use music. I pop on Pandora and jam.

4) Related item: dance party!!! I rope the kids into dance parties when they’ve been zonking on the games too long, but honestly these are just as much for my benefit as theirs. I have to stand up! And move my body! And it’s silly and we look ridiculous and I laugh.

5) Genuine alone time. Yup, this is the opposite of everything else on the list and it’s because of the introvert bit. I’m isolating with roommates here–the kids 24/7, my spouse evenings and weekends. I need that little bit of unwind every week to center myself, and so I schedule it in. Once a week I go lock myself away in a separate room, and for a few hours I write, and listen to soothing music, or stare dreamily out of a window–anything I feel like really, I’m just alone and quiet and nobody wants anything from me.

So, those are usually enough for me to manage, but the current situation is aaaaall of that plus an unending stream of personal and international stress, so here are a few more:

6) For the love of god, take breaks from social media!! It is really tempting to stay plugged in all day, especially since you are stuck at home and hardly seeing anyone, and it feels like conversation, doesn’t it? A steady, never-ending conversation, whether you’re actually leaving comments or just endlessly scrolling the feed. If it’s funny memes you’re checking, it’s good times. But if it’s an endless spiral of bad news, it’ll get in your head, amp your anxiety, make everything feel worse and more immediate. Not to mention the excessive screen time messing with your eyeballs. Take! Breaks!!

7) Like, try to exercise? If that’s your thing? I didn’t realize how much I moved around until I left my day job and atrophied up. I’ve got a combo exercise bike/elliptical at home, and a couple pairs of weights. For small spaces, there are portable mini-ellipticals for sale for about a hundred bucks, or I know folks who pull up yoga videos, youtube step aerobics routines, things like that. Or, you know…. dance parties!!!!

And…

8) Cry when you need to. Really. Take a moment by yourself or take turns with a loved one. My feelings build up and they don’t subside unless I get a good cathartic cry out. The weirdest things set me off. I’m good all day and then I read a tweet about somebody doing something very nice, or I hear some song lyrics out of context, or I let my thoughts wander too far into the future (when will my children get to play with other children again?) and I’m a faucet. Just let it out.

Signing off with some happy cats who are loving the extra lap time. ❤ ❤

black and gray cats sitting on sam's lap

2019 reading roundup!

It is nearly the end of January 2020 and I am still frantically catching up on my 2019 reading! Here is my (still growing) list of favorites, grouped by length in case you’re the award-nominating sort.

Novels:

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney. Beautiful and strange, in the way I always want faerie stories to be beautiful and strange. I wish it had been longer.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. A timey-wimey military scifi. The end comes together so satisfyingly I literally did a finger kiss.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s on everyone’s list AND WITH REASON. Come for the skeleton memes, stay for the surprisingly emotional character arcs and well-fleshed cast (pun intended).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. A late nineteenth century portal fantasy, and story about stories, and story about family, and colonialism!

Novellas:

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather. It’s about an order of nuns in space and it holds SO much heart, just read it, all right??

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Another one that’s everywhere with good reason. Two agents on opposing sides of a time war…fall in loooorve.

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh. Very quiet and sweet. The Wild Man of Greenhollow has to reckon with his past when the land’s new owner arrives.

Novelettes:

“Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark” by Aimee Ogden. A scientist in a fantasy world intent on eradicating death goes to extreme lengths for her next discovery. In Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Short Stories:

“We Are Here to Be Held” by Eugenia Triantafyllou. All I have to say is: “The first time your mother swallows you whole you don’t really see it coming.” In Strange Horizons.

“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo. In which the owner of an inn that serves the living and the dead is trying to get rid of a difficult customer. In Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien. A super cute superhero story AND ALSO an entertaining unreliable narrator story. In Fireside Magazine.

“The Lie Misses You” by John Wiswell. A story about a family secret, told from the point-of-view of the Lie itself. YEAH I CRIED. In Cast of Wonders.

“The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir” by Christine Tyler. In a village where every girl chooses her own death from the blossoms of an Ævilok tree, Helga finds nothing but horrible options. In PodCastle.

the 2019 christmas card!

It’s that time again!! Every year I photoshop my family’s heads onto some ridiculous bodies, print out 30-40 copies at CostCo, and make Christmas cards.

Previous years:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016
2017
2018

Much of my December was taken up with the recently-mentioned toothpocalypse. I scaled back my usual holiday activities (no mountain of cookies this year, alas), but I was determined not to miss the annual Christmas card!

It took me a solid week to make and ship these things. I’d have a good hour in which two kinds of pain meds overlapped, during which I worked some photoshop. Then bedridden. Then another good stretch where I’d cut things out. Then bedridden.

ANYWAY. I DID IT. IT’S DONE.

The plot this year? Well, Rudolph is leading his team back through another storm, intent on reaching the Island of Misfit Toys, but… alas. They go astray.

Photo of Santa and reindeer with text: Another year, another snowy squall. But Rudolph insisted he knew the way. "There!" he cried. "The Island of Misfit Toys!" The clouds parted. The reindeer gasped--

Text: Alas. Wrong Island. Photo: Skull Island with Sam's kids as King Kong and T-Rex, Sam tied to sacrificial post, husband running away, and cats as boat captains.

I know, I know, my pics of the cards are lacking. Here is the photo insert in all its glory:

Skull Island, with Sam's kids as King Kong and T-Rex, Sam tied to sacrificial post, husband running away, and cats as boat captains.

And that’s it for Samtastic Books in 2019! I’ll be back next month trying to finish some short stories, start edits on a book for my agent (yep!! still love saying that!!!), and post some recommended reading, because the toothpocalypse definitely put me behind schedule in that arena.

Till next year! Enjoy these Christmas cats.

teeth teeth TEETH TEETH

Do you remember when I said that November was a cursed month for productivity? Well, the god of November heard my complaint, took offense, and convinced December to team up for an earthly reckoning.

Or maybe it was my own fool fault for thinking I could schedule dental work on December 5th and then spring effortlessly back into my holiday To Do List.

WHO CAN SAY?

Alas, what’s done is done. The reason: I’ve had two wisdom teeth sticking halfway out for years, perfectly situated to collect food particles but hard to clean. My dentist recommended pulling them before they became cavity-stricken bone shards.

One came out cleanly. The second was a fight. And the second promptly developed dry socket.

*clears throat*

*lifts megaphone*

THIS WAS THE SECOND MOST PAINFUL AND PROLONGED RECOVERY EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE!!!

haggard Sam with hot pack pressed to jaw

the author, in distress

The only thing that beats it was my c-section, during which one of my organs was literally pulled from my body, pushed back in, and stapled shut!! For ten days I did nothing but keep my children alive and monitor my jaw pain. My pain meds would wear off every 1.5 hours, followed by a horrendous debilitating gap till I could take more, 24 hours a day! I… did not sleep much.

I went back to the dentist twice, and he said he didn’t see any inflammation, but the pain and pressure worsened, so after another few days of zero progress I dragged my tylenol-addled body to urgent care and got some antibiotics.

And would you look at that, I immediately went on the mend! It’s almost like I should have been on antibiotics the week before. X(

ALAS. It was a terrible couple of weeks, and my December goals turned straight to ash–they didn’t even catch fire first, they just went insta-dust. But it’s over. Fingers crossed!!

And hey, I now have some excellent fodder for future tactile details in my writing. If I ever dive into the realm of grimdark torture, I’ll just have my villain pull out somebody’s teeth. Done and dusted! He’s a monster and that poor character will never be the same again. SUCH REALISM, SUCH HORROR, HOW DOES SHE COME UP WITH IT?

I’ll just wink. Imagination, I guess.

the silence of the hams

It’s that time of year again! The weather begins to cool, the holiday ads begin pouring into inboxes, and I enthusiastically decorate my house for Thanksgiving.

Previous years have included:
Itsa Me, Thanksgiving!
The Adventures of Young Ham Solo
Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks
THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice
And the tradition’s humble beginning, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turkeys.

So what did we go with this year? You’ve seen the blog title already! It’s…

The Silence of the Hams

Obviously, we had to turn one corner of the living room into a prison cell:

hand truck with lecter mask and homemade strait jacket

A warning to misbehaving children

sam wearing lecter mask and strait jacket

…or  misbehaving adults

I, uh, might have ordered two $7 sweatshirts off Amazon and cut the sleeves off one to stitch onto the other. Super effective!

Despite the title, it was a more general horror theme. So I re-purposed some of my Halloween decorations and a bunch of Amazon package packing material to turn my bedroom hallway into a haunted cemetery!

butcher paper tree with witch decoration in front of hallway

Beware the cemetery witch!

hallway wall with paper trees, ghosts, and grave stones

proooobably shouldn’t have buried all these people in one spot

husband in Friday the 13th ski mask in front of hallway decorations

This is what I was afraid would happen!!

Good food, good fun! And afterwards, a grand Mario Party competition (on GameCube, OBVIOUSLY) and the traditional family roasting, in the form of giving only insulting answers during Loaded Questions.

Truly, the holidays are a magical time that bring us all together.

loaded questions game board with toys for playing pieces

Watch out, Finn! You’ll be caught by Toilet Duck!

Now time to go plan a Christmas party!

Samtastic News!

colorful banner with words "samtastic news with mr. and mrs. cat"

I’ve finally started a mailing list!

You can sign up at samtasticbooks.substack.com and get all my bloggy content, reading recommendations, and writing news straight to your inbox. I’ll be posting on an as-needed basis for now, which won’t be more than once-per-month. You can either check here for my usual blog posts as they come up, or wait for the emailed digest version. There’s something for everyone!

And I do have news!

photo of New Voices of Science Fiction anthology next to Mr. and Mrs. Cat

My proud parents. :’)

This month marked the release of the anthology The New Voices of Science Fiction, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman. Spoiler: I’m in it!!

Description from Tachyon Publications: In this daring anthology of cutting-edge short stories, new science fiction luminaries including Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, and Sam J. Miller, are showcased with the rising stars that are transforming their genre. Discover exciting writers who are already out of this world, in this space-age sequel to the 2018 World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy.

I’m among the …AND MORE! 😀 “Strange Waters” was originally published in Strange Horizons in April 2018, was reprinted with the Podcastle treatment in August 2019, and now has a gorgeous paperback home with fantastic company. Go, little story, go!

And in even more spectacular news (I’ve definitely buried the lede here, I know):

🎉🎉🎉I’ve just signed with a literary agent! 🎉🎉 🎉

I’m now one of the supremely pleased clients of Lisa Rodgers at Jabberwocky Literary Agency. That’s right! To actually try to sell some of my samtastic books! Will my blog title finally become a reality? Well… stay tuned here or sign up for my mailing list to find out. XD

All that said, the blog will be fairly quiet on book news until there is book news to share. This part of the journey can be just as long as the whole rest of it, and I’ve got some strategizing and prepping and editing to do, but… woo! It sure is exciting to reach the next step.

Till next time!