A truly Black Friday

I lost one of my BFFs today.

Sweet Josh, a.k.a. Big Sexy, passed away this afternoon at 19 years of age, due to kidney failure. He was my son’s childhood pet and one of the sweetest, coolest cats ever. He is sorely missed.

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We adopted Josh as a kitten when we lived in Nashville and my son was in first grade. Josh was the strong, silent type – he didn’t meow, rarely said anything, but his eyes and his body language spoke volumes, even when one of his eyes started to go bad. (His right eye – you can see in the photo at the top of this post that it doesn’t look right.)

Josh would beg at the table by standing on his hind legs and gently tapping my arm with his paw. Of course, I indulged him – as did my father when he came over to work on my house when we lived in Alabama. He would make a sandwich and share some of the sliced lunch meat with his “little lunch buddy.” After we moved away, sometimes when I spoke with him on the phone, he would ask, “How’s my little lunch buddy?” Josh also liked spaghetti and anything from Taco Bell.

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Josh was a trooper – he moved with us from Tennessee, to Alabama, to Florida, to Pennsylvania, without much complaint (unlike Morticia, who complains about nearly everything). He was such a sweet little guy. I hope he has been reunited with his old friend Rufus, who passed away in 2009.

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Farewell, sweet furry friend. I will hold you forever in my heart.

Muscle Squirrels of Philadelphia

“Muscle squirrels” was what a guy I dated long ago called squirrels that “come right up to you and demand to be fed.” I made my first visit ever to Philadelphia recently and encountered a park-full of these cute little guys in Washington Square. They would run up to you and, if you pointed your finger at them, they would stand up on their hind legs and beg! I hadn’t seen so many squirrels since I visited the Yale campus to do research for The Visconti Devils – and I live in Squirrel Hill, so I am used to seeing a lot of them, naturally!

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Philadelphia’s City Hall is truly impressive and looks like something you would expect to see in France, not Pennsylvania. For many years, no one was allowed to build anything that was taller than the statue of William Penn at the highest pinnacle, but they have scrapped that now.

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I had never seen a bison gargoyle until I saw this building. They don’t build ’em like this any more!

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We spent four hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and saw only the top floor. They have a lot of knight armour and weapons (have you noticed there is always at least one sword fight in all my novels?) and architectural pieces from churches and cathedrals in Europe, particularly France. No, I did not run up the steps a la Rocky – by the time we got there, we had been walking all day already – limping up the steps was more like it.

And I will never, ever, ever, even if I live to be 100, rent an Airbnb room again. I rented what was advertised as “an artist’s studio” in the old town – cute little 200-year-old house on a tiny alley – what the host did not mention was that his roommate(s) were going to be there, and they threw the loudest, most obnoxious party I have ever heard, blaring music and screaming non-stop for FIVE HOURS. No kidding – they burst in, probably fresh from a bar, at 11:00 p.m. and the screaming and blaring did not let up until after 4:00 a.m., when finally a neighbour complained. There was no lock on the door to the room where I was trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep, and at one point someone tried to come in and I yelled at them to get out. The rest of the night, I lay there, afraid that a couple of drunks would burst into my room and land on top of me as I lay in bed. Worst night I’ve had since I lived in Tallahassee and was awakened at 3:00 a.m. by a police shootout outside.

One of these days, I’ll have to visit Philadelphia again to see some more of what I missed, but no Airbnb for me, thank you very much.

Alice Hoffman at the Carnegie Library!

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I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Alice Hoffman speak at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh last night. Pittsburgh was the first stop on her book tour for her new novel, Faithful. I have been an Alice Hoffman fan for many years, having first found a copy of White Horses at the used bookstore where I worked an after-school job when I was in high school. Although the subject matter was actually rather disturbing, I fell in love with Ms. Hoffman’s writing and had to find more of her work. To this day, Practical Magic is still one of my favourite books (and, in my opinion, still better than the movie) – it is one of the books that always makes the cut whenever I move, which is fairly often. Much as I love books (naturally), they are heavy and I tend to accumulate a lot of them, so they are always one of the things that get culled when I move. Books that always manage to survive include Dracula, The Three Musketeers, all of Jane Austen’s novels and Practical Magic.

Ms. Hoffman spoke about how she started writing, about her creative process, about why she thinks stories are important and about being a survivor. I was amused by how she said that sometimes her characters just show up and they have names already, and that sometimes they run away with the story, which are experiences I also have frequently as a writer. She also revealed that she believes readers are only a step away from being writers, as we write the stories we want to read ourselves. That was certainly my experience in writing The Blood Waltz, which came about after reading Dracula and not being able to find another vampire novel that I liked, so I wrote it myself. A couple of times during Ms. Hoffman’s lecture, I found myself tearing up a little, as she spoke about love and survival. She also read a small excerpt from Faithful and revealed that she is at work on a prequel to Practical Magic – hooray!

On the way home, I remembered that I had written to Ms. Hoffman many years ago to tell her how much I loved her work and to ask her advice on getting published, and that she had responded. When I got home, I looked for the little card she sent me. It was in a metal Whitman’s Sampler box with Mucha artwork on the lid, amongst special birthday cards I have received over the years, postcards my brother had sent me from the Holy Land and programmes from my parents’ funerals. The artwork on one side of the card is at the top of this post and, on the other side, is the message below:

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Thank you, Ms. Hoffman. I wish you many, many more years of working your magic!