My Best Friend with Fur

Jackson Kenard Jensen

October 2003-July 2020

Two weeks before we planned to travel to Australia for a month, my husband brought home an ugly little kitten one of his colleagues had found in a box between her building and the next. He was a scrappy little thing with an abnormally large, elongated nose and skinny head. I thought he was ugly. I also thought my husband was crazy for wanting to adopt a kitten right before we went away.

Long story short, a friend kept him for that month, and when we got home, Jack, named after one of our favourite Sims (The Sims) bullied his way into our lives and our hearts. He became my best friend with fur.

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Silent Communication

Have you happened across two cats sitting together—maybe facing each other, maybe just side on—and had the feeling you intruded on a private conversation? There is something about their posture, as if they had just broken off mid-sentence or are purposely ignoring one another. Either way, there is an overwhelming sense they are communicating, yet they haven’t uttered a sound. People do this too. We tend not to stay silent for very long, though.

You know that saying: nature abhors a vacuum? One of my favourite applications of this is in the mystery/thriller/detective novel when the interviewer provides enough space for the interviewee to feel compelled to fill the silence. Generally, a clue or confession drops into the resulting babble. But just as important is that moment of quiet. We communicate a lot without words. I’m not crafting any new theories, here. Body language is a well explored field. When it comes to writing fiction, however, it’s often difficult to know how much to include.

Dialogue is important in a story, if not only to break up great chunks of telling. A reader doesn’t want to sit in on story time, they want to feel they are a part of the novel and dialogue helps with that. Dialogue tends to read faster, particularly when it’s well done. But just as too little dialogue can slow down a story, too much can be distracting. I don’t know if that’s a personal preference? I’m not an expert on the art of writing, but I read a lot, and I have opinions about what I read. If a conversation goes on for too long, or edges toward an exchange of banter that might be fun for half a page, but is still dragging on two pages later, I get bored. I tune out. I want to know what’s up next.

Sometimes a conversation has to be meander, though. One character isn’t ready to talk, but the other is. Or we have that interviewer/interviewee situation where it’s time for facts to be laid out, or not. This is when body language becomes important. But as one of all of my editors keep telling me, less is more. A shrug can be really telling when used at the right moment, but if the subject has been shrugging all through the scene, it means nothing. He or she is just a shrugger. It could be a nervous twitch, but too many repetitive gestures can be distracting.

So how do we write an effective scene that includes believable pauses, gestures and dialogue? Practice. I haven’t mastered it yet, but I recognize a good scene when I’m reading. Of course, readers all have different attention spans, so what works for me might not work for you. But there is a middle ground. A scene that generally works. I find reading my own scenes aloud helps me gauge the pace and authenticity of the dialogue versus gestures. Of course, my ear is generally attuned to what I want to hear—what I want to get out of a scene, so even that method isn’t perfect.

Body language is deceptively difficult to write. Ever sat down and tried to put into words two cats sitting side by side not talking? I have, and I found myself relying on a lot of cat clichés, or generally accepted knowledge about cats to communicate the scene. It wasn’t until I stripped away what the reader might expect to see and started to put down words describing what I saw that the magic started to happen. The exercise reminded me of one of my first art classes. For six months we used only pencil, charcoal and black ink. For half a year, we interpreted the world in varying shades of grey.

Okay, time for me to get back to stripping all the excess nods and grunts from my current WIP—and trying to replace them with something more subtle, less stock, if they need replacing at all. If you have an exercise, or some insight regarding writing authentic body language, please share!

Featured image is from tumblr. I was unable to track down the original source. I love the idea these two cats are planning a caper, however!

Double Trouble

For some reason that will forever remain unexplained, we decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by adopting another cat. Okay, maybe pressing myself to the glass in the pet store had something to do with it. I adore black cats! And Shadow had such a regal manner about her. She was beautiful.

So we made enquiries…and brought home not one, but two new cats, both of them black.

Now we have four roaming the house. Four. And I’m still wondering why. But, confusion aside, I’m enjoying our new guests. Sisi and Shadow had bonded at the store and separating them would have been upsetting for all involved. Shadow is the more shy of the pair and I really believe Sisi helped her adapt to her new home. She already had one friend. They’re very sweet cats and after only a handful of days, they’ve made friends with our other two, Jack and Java.

Sisi and Shadow are one and a half and two, and Jack and Java are ten and thirteen, so we have a bit of an age gap to bridge. I thought Jack and Java were playful, for their age, but after exhausting myself dragging the feather stick around for Sisi and Shadow, I’ve come to appreciate how settled the older two have actually become. Jack and Java take regular naps. I can set my clock by them. And they most often sleep all night—Jack most notably at my side where he employs his anti-gravity generator in order to become the heaviest object in the universe.

They do play, fitfully, but often abandon the action once they figure out the source. Once they see you moving the laser pointer, they lose interest in the little red dot. They love their catnip toys. When the house is empty (but for me and the cats), I often hear one of them sucking it. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty gross, but those of us who live with cats know that’s about the least of it. Between the litter boxes and fur balls, cats are not the tidy creatures they’re made out to be.

Sisi and Shadow want to play ALL the time. They want to play at 5:30 am when I’m trying not to trip over four cats, they want to play at 8:00 pm when I’ve already decided that horizontal is the best position I’ve assumed all day, and they want to play somewhere between 1:00 am and 3:00 am when I’m stumbling toward the kitchen for another antihistamine. (After a week or so, I’ll get used to the new fur.) Luckily, I have a twelve year old daughter who is happy to entertain them. Might sound kind of sappy, but listening to her giggle while she waves the feather stick around makes me smile. I like to know all my children are happy.

Four cats feels like a bit of a herd, but unlike a herd, they rarely all head in the same direction at the same, unless I’m shaking the treat bag. Encouraging them to do so otherwise is absolutely futile. I’ve been living with cats for forty years, I should know this, but I spent an hour this afternoon trying to group them together for a photo. Yeah, I really did. I went through a lot of treats for the couple of blurry shots I got. Later, I did manage to get two of them in one reasonable shot and the two others separately. I’m going to share those. Then I’m going to go and take a nap. All that galloping and trilling between invitations to play is wearing me out.

Shadow and Jack are wondering where Spring is.

Java, our old lady. I think the “kittens” are wearing her out, too.

Anyone for a game of chess? Sisi will play black, of course.

Story: Lost Socks

Andy, or Ser Andrew Banvard, is a character I play at Warden’s Vigil. I write a lot of short stories for Andy. He’s one of the most insistent voices in my head and such a patient little fellow. I enjoy writing him and I enjoy sharing his adventures.

In the following story, Andy has returned home after a shift with the guard. He is supposed to be looking after a cat for his friend, Iain. His wife, Blythe (Bit), is next door with her sister, Evelyn, helping Evelyn pack for a trip overseas. Andy is in a bit of a broody mood. He’s just seen Iain off on a quest, his wife is due to give birth any day and his dear friend, Evelyn, will be leaving soon after. Losing Iain’s cat will make a trying day even less memorable and Andy would prefer not to let down a friend.

((29 Bloomingtide, Evening. Highever))

The house had a foreboding look. Pausing at the gate, Andy frowned at the darkened windows and shadowed doorway. From the street, his house appeared unoccupied. From the perspective of an active imagination, his house might be haunted. Lips twisting in a pensive manner, Andy attempted to talk himself down; yes, haunted houses existed outside of stories and, yes, he had been taunting himself with the idea a rift in the Fade wandered Highever, ready to part at whim, spewing demons and the shade of every fish, rabbit and chicken he’d ever eaten onto the cobblestoned streets. But, to imagine the convergence of three such fantasies in one place…

That took talent.

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