The best person I know

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From Twitter, Friday night:

Peta Freestone ‏@PetaFreestone 15h
Who is the best person you know? Why are they the best person you know? #SeriousQuestion #EntirelySubjective

Christie Yant ‏@inkhaven 15h
@PetaFreestone My husband. Because he always assumes everyone is as good and motivated by kindness as he is. Often to his own detriment.

Peta Freestone ‏@PetaFreestone 14h
@inkhaven Thank-you. If I only get one answer to that question, I’m glad it’s this one.

Two years ago today, I got to marry the best person I know. I still can’t believe my sheer dumb luck.

Happy anniversary, John. I love you. <3

In which we learn that cat bites are not to be !@#$ed with.

Last month I adopted a new kitten. His name is Yoda. He came with that name, which naturally felt like destiny, since we already have a Chewbacca.

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Cute little thing, isn’t he? He’s had a rough life. He was removed from his original home twice for neglect, and has been sickly his whole life, in and out of cages at the shelter where he could be isolated while he recovered. He’s about a year old (so not really a kitten) but he’s maybe half the size of Maya, the smaller of our other cats.

Since we got him home he’s been very slow in getting comfortable, and has so far only let me pet him once. His digestive problems disappeared as soon as we got him on a specialized diet, which was a good sign. Here he is in his favorite hiding spot under my printer:

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He’s had the sniffles for a while, and it seemed to be getting worse. Last Wednesday he seemed to really be having trouble breathing, and I decided I could not wait any longer to get him to the vet. I got the cat carrier out. I put food at the back of it and waited. He went right inside to eat, so I started to shut the door. He bolted faster than I thought possible.

I had to start blocking his hiding places off. That took a while. Meanwhile, he completely panicked. He threw the books off my shelves trying to get behind them. He knocked the lamp off my desk trying to get out the window. Pretty much anything that could be knocked over or strewn around, was. He got to the window and promptly got his claws stuck in the screen, because he had never let me touch him so I could trim them. I carefully got him unhooked, and I thought we were home free, but then he saw the carrier again and this time jumped for the closed half of the window. I was able to retrieve him from there, and again thought it was about over–and then he transformed into a twisting, hissing, biting, scratching, fanged tornado of doom. He sank his teeth into me, and HARD. All I could think was Oh shit I need to get this cat off me.

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I managed to get him into the carrier at that point, and then the adrenaline let-down set in and I just shook as I rinsed my hand in the sink. I couldn’t really tell how bad it was at first. And in the picture it doesn’t look too bad, but those holes and that tear are deep. This happened at noon.

Brooke Bolander told me to go to the ER immediately. I didn’t listen. She warned me about cats’ native bacteria and the extremely high risk of infection. I still didn’t listen.

By nine o’clock that night, my hand was swelling and oozing pus. I promised Brooke I would go to Urgent Care first thing in the morning.

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By 6 o’clock the following morning, half my hand was swollen and it hurt like hell. I went to Urgent Care. This picture was taken 20 hours after the bite:

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They gave me an injection of Rociphen and an Rx for Augmentin, an antibiotic I’d never had before. That was Thursday. Friday morning I was back at Urgent Care, with my hand now looking like this. You can see where the doctor had marked the boundary of the infection the previous day:

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Another Rocephin injection. I was told to continue with the Augmentin, and was given an Rx for a pain killer. I had laid in a supply of yogurt and probiotic supplements, since I’d been told the Augmentin was high-test stuff.

Saturday I got up and my hand was noticeably better. But by noon, I was experiencing the side effects from the Augmentin where in the the documentation it says “stop taking Augmentin and call your doctor immediately. Do not take over the counter medications for the symptoms.” I called my doctor immediately. She did not call back.

By Saturday night I was so sick I was actually scared. I called our health insurance’s Nurse Healthline, and she told me I could either wait to go to Urgent Care first thing, or go to the ER now. Urgent Care didn’t open until noon on Sunday, which was thirteen hours away and also roughly when my daughter’s birthday party would start. So we went to the ER, where they switched the Augmentin to Doxycyline and told me it was fine to take OTC meds. (They did not help even a little.)

Sunday and Monday I could not eat without pain and having to immediately spend long periods of time in the bathroom. On Tuesday we added vomiting and nausea to the pain and extreme lower GI distress. I left work early and went back to Urgent Care, where I was cleared to quit the antibiotics since my hand was clearly now infection-free and the wounds were healing up nicely. Wednesday was more of the same, but by Thursday I was starting to feel a lot better. Today is Friday, and I feel pretty much normal apart from the sore hand. (That one on the knuckle really hurt!)

Laurel Amberdine and Amanda Davis suggested that I accidentally adopted a juvenile manticore, which is how we’re now referring to him. (“Honey, did you feed the manticore?”)

All of this is to say: If you are bitten by a cat, RUN DON’T WALK to Urgent Care and get on prophylactic antibiotics immediately. Anywhere between 50% and 80% of cat bites become infected. As Brooke put it, “They’re like fluffy little komodo dragons. Closest thing to being venomous without the actual venom.” My doctors (all three of them) concur. I’ve had cats since I was a kid and I had no idea. I was talking to a friend who actually rescues feral cats, and she had no idea. My sister is an EMT, and while they covered wild animal bites in her training, nobody ever mentioned cat bites.

And it turns out that I was quite lucky. Brooke pointed me to this article about someone who ended up having to have surgery because the infection ravaged the sheaths of her tendons.

Meanwhile, Yoda spent the week in hiding. You’d think I bit him, the little monster. But yesterday he came out and played with some packing tape, and I think we’re back on the road to friendship. And I’ve even stopped having to remind myself that he’s cute.

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Achievement Unlocked: Analog Science Fiction & Fact

So a few weeks ago I was at the Nebula Awards weekend for the first time–which was amazing on so many levels and was definitely my favorite convention to date, and about which more some other time maybe. I spent Friday morning in the hotel room to get some writing done, and I came down to the restaurant feeling pretty good about things, as one does when one has just pounded out 3000+ words before getting out of bed. I went looking for John, and found him having lunch at a table in the corner with a woman and three men, none of whom I had met.

So I approach, and John introduces me around the table: Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, Gay Haldeman…!!! (Let’s just pause there for a moment, shall we? ::pause:: ::geekout:: Right. Moving on.) We come around to the last guy at the table–about John’s age, also bald, smiling. He shakes my hand and says, “Hey, I’m Trevor–we haven’t met yet, but we were just about to, because I’m accepting your story.”

I do my absolute best to keep my cool as I thank him and tell him that I look forward to his edits (“Actually, it was pretty clean…” *YAY*). We chat a bit about how they’re catching up on the slush &tc. as I try to act like a professional who is not completely shocked at having sold a story and inside is jumping up and down like a four-year-old because it’s my first sale to the Big Three and OMG ANALOG I never ever thought I’d write something that Analog would take and OMG.

Meanwhile Joe and Gay and Robert are all smiling across the table at us. I become acutely self-conscious, and apologize for derailing their lunch.

“No, no, this is great to see. I’m glad we were here for this,” says Joe Haldeman.

“I remember that feeling,” Robert Silverberg says. “And it’s a GOOD feeling.”

Yes. Yes it is. :D

Regarding people of faith in SFF, or “What’s water?” said the fish.

There was a post by Nancy Fulda that went up a few days ago that echoed some things I’ve been thinking about lately. I was going to respond to it sooner, but some of the responses I saw on Twitter and elsewhere made it clear that the fact that some of us know some of the specifics of her beliefs has created two different conversations. Keffy Kehrli has addressed one of them, and done it well. I’d like to address the other.

At a workshop I attended last year, one of the students was very clearly Catholic. They broadcast this in a way that I personally found impossible to miss: the Saint’s medallion and crucifixes that they wore, even the content of their novel. Maybe not everyone is keyed into that sort of thing the way that I am, but I was aware of it from the moment I met them. In this group, atheism was assumed to be the defacto world view. This was constantly reinforced through offhand, derisive comments about Christianity, references to anti-Christian or anti-Catholic comedy and media; I can’t remember all of the specifics, but I do remember cringing every time it happened. It went on all weekend, people tossing out bumpersticker jokes and references that demonstrated a real contempt for faith in general.

Mostly the student didn’t seem to notice, but they also didn’t really interact with us much. And then on the very last night of the workshop this very obviously shy, deeply religious student finally found the courage to come hang out with all of the drinking, swearing atheists. They hadn’t been in the room two minutes before someone told a joke that began, “A priest and a nun walk into the bar…” and ended with the nun referring to her price for a blow-job. The student left the room visibly upset, and didn’t return.

This is the sort of thing that I want to acknowledge about the content of Nancy’s post. In the vast USian social, political, and cultural arena, we as atheists, agnostics, Jews, pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’ist, Wiccans, B’Nai Noach, Sikhs, etc. often feel excluded and as if the majority were living in a completely different world than we are. For an atheist, everything from stores closing on Sundays to “In God We Trust” on our money and in our civic buildings, to the assumption when we are bereaved that “our loved ones are in a better place” is a comforting thought, to our children being informed by their classmates that they’re going to Hell, we are surrounded constantly by an undercurrent of Christian influence on our lives. It’s the old fishbowl allegory: One fish says to the other, “Isn’t the water lovely today?” and the second fish says, “What’s water?” The Christian fish doesn’t even notice it. Meanwhile, we air-breathing atheists and others are drowning.

And then we find SFF, and the majority is like us. Or at least, not Christian. It is a tremendous relief–we can breathe. Suddenly we are surrounded by people with a shared empirical world view.* We start to let our hair down. We gleefully talk about our favorite moments of the Tim Minchin concert we attended, or what we read on Pharyngula. We forget that while we know three of the people at the table pretty well, and they all just laughed at our joke, we just met that fourth one and huh, she wasn’t really laughing. We forget that there are people among us with deeply held religious views, who believe in a higher authority and in mysteries that don’t require proof. We start to talk about religious people as if they are stupid (they are not). We don’t understand why or how anyone could think the way that they do. We openly mock their beliefs in our conversation, our shared popular culture. The undercurrent at SFF conventions, in our Twitter feeds, our Tumblrs, our forums and blogs–the water in our fishbowl–is not religious neutrality, it is open contempt for Christianity.

Jasmine, I thought, put it best on Twitter the other day:

Jasmine ‏@snazel 5 Jun
Does anyone else in my twitter feed feel that the mention of their religion will a) offend people b) cause their perceived IQ to drop?

That’s the part that I want to be aware of. People are afraid to mention that they went to church, or that they pray, because they are afraid that they will be derided and treated with contempt. They have good reason to feel that way. I know exactly how that feels, and I should know better than to do it someone else.

I saw some comments on Twitter saying that the specifics of a believer’s faith were required before it could be properly tolerated. I consider that derailing. When I identify as an atheist, that is not an invitation for anyone else to grill me on the specifics of my politics, my morals, or where my money goes. A person could make plenty of assumptions about me because I don’t believe in the existence of any gods–and they do, such as the notion that atheism automatically implies Satanic hedonism, that I “just don’t want to follow any rules,” that without a God as an authority I cannot possibly know right from wrong, that I’m “just mad at God,” that there is no meaning in my life and must live a state of constant fear and despair.

And I, perhaps, could assume that someone who goes to church on a regular basis is sex-negative, thinks that I deserve to be tortured forever for my lack of faith, believes that the universe was created in seven days, and that the Earth is only six thousand years old. That would be a bad set of assumptions as applied to most of the Christians I know.

But the fact that I don’t know exactly what they believe doesn’t warrant an interrogation of the specifics of their faith. Even with faiths that I think I know a lot about, I don’t assume that an individual necessarily agrees with every aspect of their church’s doctrine (and am often shocked when I learn that they do agree). There are Catholics who use birth control and Mormons who support marriage equality and Jews who oppose circumcision. If a person wants to mention their position on such things, then by all means, now they’ve put it out there to engage with, and I will go right ahead and argue and oppose and thwart as my conscience dictates, and expect them to do the same. But I do not think that I am entitled to reserve my tolerance until they satisfy my curiosity about their position on the things that are personally important to me.

Back to that workshop I attended: To the greater credit of the Catholic student, the following morning they told the group at large how they had felt. Most everyone took the problem very seriously and took responsibility for their part in the hurt they had caused. I like to believe that everyone came out of that situation wiser and more compassionate.

My last thought on this, for now anyway, is that I am coming from a place of having once been an extremely devout member of an unpopular Christian sect (hint: there was a lot of walking around neighborhoods and references to what may have been a Jimi Hendrix song; and yes, they are Christian, despite what you’ve heard). Changing one’s world view is an incredibly painful process, and it doesn’t happen over night. For me it took decades of trying to find some seed of truth in what I had been told was The Truth, because I just could not accept that nothing about the world was as I thought it was. I didn’t suddenly get smarter the day I became an atheist. I’m not even sure there was a day that I became one. I had to interrogate my own beliefs, every single one of them, every nuance, on my own, in order to get here. And it hurt. I think it can sometimes be hard for some people who have never believed in an Ultimate Authority (such as a God, or a spokesman thereof) to understand how much it dictates everything else. People of faith do not lack human empathy–on the contrary, they have loads of it, and spend a lot of time worrying about people like me because of it–and sometimes they do have to somehow find a way to reconcile that empathy with what they honestly believe is the one, single, ultimate source of Truth (hence phrases that can strike the atheist ear as peculiar and dissonant, like “love the sinner but hate the sin”).

The reason that I personally wanted to address this aspect of Nancy’s post–of us, as atheists and other religious or philosophical minorities, being aware of the ways in which we let our privileged position of Majority in SFF make others feel afraid, unwanted, and disrespected–is because I know that I have played a part in that. I am probably not the person you want to engage with regarding specific tenets, because those conversations generally devolve into “This is Right/Good and that is Wrong/Bad and you’re Wrong/Bad because of it,” and everyone involved ends up feeling judged and abused. I think we’re all mostly smart enough to know when it gets into political/personal territory, and when it does, believe you me, I have Opinions, and you will hear about them. But I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t mention the interesting thing they heard in church last week, or that they dislike the visiting deacon/prayer leader/monk, or that their new prayer and meditation ritual has really helped them with their creativity and stress. I don’t want them to worry that I’m going to judge them when they tell me they have six kids. I don’t want them afraid that I’m going to roll my eyes when they tell me about an experience they had that they think of as spiritual. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to choke on that part of who they are around me, or in our community.

So I apologize to those I have made to feel that way, and there are probably a lot of you. I’ve become aware of it, and I will try very hard to do better in the future. Thank you for your courage, patience, and tolerance as I go through my growing pains.

<3 *This line has been edited because it was brought to my attention that the language I used definitely demonstrated my own bias. Thanks, Laurel.

Three things make 60% of a post

1. I got to contribute to this week’s SFSignal Mind Meld, in which I mention the work of Catherynne M. Valente, Dan Simmons, and Robert Jackson Bennett, practically in one breath. I was stoked to see that my friend Sandra Wickham is also in this Mind Meld! (Go, Inkpunks!)

2. Taos Toolbox is still accepting applications for the 2013 session. I cannot recommend this workshop highly enough. Do not be intimidated by the label of “Master Class”–if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years it’s that we are the worst judges of our own skill. Just apply. It won’t stay open forever, so quit dicking around on the internet and get your application in. Yes, they want paper. Suck it up and print it out. It builds character.

3. This is pretty fun.

 

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Office archaeology

I pity the person who tries to make sense of my notes in the future. I have up to five notebooks going at once, and make notes on whatever is on my mind in whichever one is closest to hand, and if one isn’t nearby I’ll write on whatever is. Anyway, it makes for some fun excavation at times.

I just came across a little Moleskine I kept in my purse in 2009.  And in it I found this:

Notebook Page

Two things are very cool about this to me:

1. I remember that Twitter conversation with Tobias Buckell. It made a huge difference at a time when I was feeling really low and that awesome writerly self-loathing that we’re all so good at had set in. (My friend Adam wrote eloquently about that at Inkpunks today–go look.) I didn’t know Toby at all at the time–since then we’ve met at conventions a couple of times and have a number of mutual friends, but at the time he was a professional author who took the time to give a pep talk to a despondent and unpublished stranger, and I was (and remain) deeply grateful. I’m really glad I have this reminder. I hope I can do the same for someone else some day.

2. This is the first note I ever made on Blight*, and I love that I just found this, because my friend Jeffrey Scott Petersen and I turned Blight into a pretty cool story just last fall, and we sold it a couple of weeks ago to Zombie Sky Press for an upcoming anthology.

Regarding that self-loathing and stuff–Adam’s Inkpunks post really nails it, I think, in that these kinds of blocks are all about fear. I know that I am personally terrified of falling flat on my face with this novel, and it keeps me from working on it. But not this weekend! This weekend I’m off to a retreat with a few other ladies and we are going to WORK IT. So if I’m scarce for a few days, that’s why: I’m in the desert with friends, facing my creative fears. :)

* [ETA: I think it is, but who knows, there may be another notebook floating around somewhere.]

 

In Case of Apocalypse: The story of a story

In Case of Apocalypse

Shimmer #16 was just released, which includes my story “The Revelation of Morgan Stern.”

I promise that what follows is relevant.

John and I started dating in the spring of 2010.  We were mutually smitten, thoroughly geeked out, and very, very happy, except for one problem: He lived in New Jersey, and I lived in California. 3000 miles apart. Thank the gods for Skype, is what I’m saying.

Zombie Preparedness and Apocalypse Plans are kind of a staple topic when you’re dating a guy who edits zombie stories for a living, and it was only a matter of time before we came up with our own.  The nearby prison might be a good bet, counter-examples from the Walking Dead not withstanding. The Air Force base was just a stone’s throw away. It’s an agricultural community, produce would be plentiful for a while. And the local Mission was already set up for a no-tech lifestyle, complete with mill, forge, and looms. Perfect for rebuilding society when the crisis passed.

Food, shelter, weapons, future restoration–check. But those 3000 miles presented an additional problem. What if the apocalypse occurred while we were apart? When the cell networks went down, how would we find each other? Clearly we needed an additional contingency plan.

So employing the magic of Google and Google Maps, we made one. It turned out that Wichita, Kansas was almost exactly equidistant from his home in New Jersey and mine in California. Wichita. Huh. Who knew?

Summer arrived. John’s birthday was approaching, and because of our schedules it was looking like we were going to spend it apart. That made me super-sad, and I wanted to do something special for him, something that would give him a sense of my presence even though I couldn’t be there.

It took me a few weeks to assemble. Originally the plan was to have it arrive in New Jersey on his birthday–at the last minute his plans changed and he ended up spending it here (yay!), so I gave it to him in person.

Inside
Contents of Apocalypse Box:

  • Postcard (Photoshopped and trimmed with craft scissors) of our agreed-upon meeting place
  • Heavily weathered AAA map (I left it outside for a few nights; the fog and dogs did the rest) with my route marked
  • Compass Contents
  • Waterproof matches
  • Space blanket
  • Multi-tool
  • All-weather notebook
  • Pencil
  • Sharpie
  • Mini Maglite
  • US Army Survival Guide
  • Small, heavily weathered  memo book (more fog and critters), filled with writing and two pictures of us

Notebook

It’s the notebook that was scariest. Because I was the neo-est of neo-pros, and I was dating an editor, and I wrote him a story for his birthday. It felt like an incredibly brave thing to do at the time.

The notebook was part diary, part on-going love letter from an alternate-Christie to an alternate-John. It began on the day the world ended, which was also his birthday, and documented her journey to Wichita, where she hoped that he would be alive and waiting for her.*

And now it’s been published in Shimmer.

Story

 

* There are no zombies in the story.

The Year In Yant, or What I Published in 2012

Hello! 2012 is almost over and it’s time to look back on the year and reflect on the smargle blotchits num goliator ag mehew.

Right. Not feeling too reflective right now, really. That will probably come later.

This year I published six stories, which is three times as many as I’d published in my only other year of having things published at all. I feel good about that. Four of them are fantasy and two are science fiction. I was paid actual money for them, which was a thrill, and as near as I can tell all of them are eligible to be nominated in Short Story categories of the major awards of our field (though the two SF ones of course shouldn’t be considered for the World Fantasy Award). If you would like to read any of them–or in a couple of cases, listen to them–they are:

The Three Feats of Agani” – Fantasy, 4900 words. Appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, July 2012.
Also available as a podcast at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Transfer of Ownership” – Science Fiction, 1900 words. Appeared in Armored, published by Baen, February 2012.
Also available as a podcast from the Drabblecast.

My Mother’s Body” – Science Fiction, 1200 words. Appeared in Daily Science Fiction, October 2012.

This Rough Magic” – Fantasy, 1250 words. Appeared in Daily Science Fiction, April 2012.

“Office Demons” – Fantasy, 5000 words. Appeared in Stupefying Stories, November 2012.

Temperance” – Fantasy/Science Fiction (time travel, you choose) 4400 words. Appeared in Fireside Magazine, 2012.

I’ll get back to the reflecting on things after I get this infernal novel synopsis done, and these files copied for work, and any number of other things that need attending to.

Meanwhile I thank you for your support and friendship, camaraderie and cheer–I hope you’ve had a happy and safe holiday season, and I wish you all good things in the coming new year.

Peace out.