Writing Every Day: Why We Should Try!

There are several axioms of writing, trite sayings and ‘rules’ that we should all know by heart by now. Write what you know. Don’t use adverbs. Show, don’t tell.

There’s another one, too: write every day.

Several years ago, I wrote an entire blog post railing against this piece of writing advice. I said that sometimes, we simply don’t have the time; we don’t have the energy; sometimes we even need a break from that novel or story or essay we’re working on. This advice of writing every day is often paired with the adage that you should write even if it’s total garbage, because eventually the garbage will give way to the good stuff – but, I pointed out, what’s the point of writing garbage to begin with? It put too much pressure on new writers, I said, who are often told that they need complete X number of words or pages per day; that kind of pressure might induce some new writers to give up, convinced that if they can’t comply with this advice, they’ll never get anywhere. Like Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom, I thought this was a legend, a fable, a fantasy. Just as the sankara stones surely weren’t responsible for bringing life to that village, this ‘mandate’ couldn’t possibly be responsible for better writing.

I still maintain that I was right, to an extent. There are days when we do need to take a step back, for whatever reason. When we’ve had a totally sucky day and the work has piled on, maybe that’s the day we take a break from writing. When we sit down at the laptop and we re-read what we did yesterday, and the words won’t come and we just stare blankly at the screen, maybe that’s a day we take a break, knowing that tomorrow may be better. When we do write those 500 words or whatever, and nothing else is pouring forth, maybe that’s a day we take a break.


There is a lot of truth in this advice, too.

In her book Write Naked, author Jennifer Probst says, “. . . our work is different from other people’s work. We . . . try to create imaginary worlds strangers want to live in. We need to consistently discipline ourselves to begin writing each and every time we sit down. It’s exhausting to have to make a clear intention to write every single day.” Her advice? “Treat writing like a muscle.”

Liken it, she says, to working out at the gym (or running, if that’s your thing). We know that to stay fit, we have to work out X days a week. We have to stretch and warm up. We have to do the hard work. Sometimes, we do need to switch it up – weights one day, treadmill the next – or in writing speak, maybe we write one day, maybe we edit the next. But we’re still showing up. Editing or writing, we’re still working.

The novel I’m currently working on, this little romance novel (which I’m now glad couldn’t be submitted last year, because holy crap on a cracker, it would have been AWFUL!), takes up far more of my daily time than sometimes I’m comfortable admitting. But what I’ve discovered in the process is that writing every day is just plain necessary.

I mean yes, there are days when I sit down, I try to write, I edit a few paragraphs, and then . . . I walk away. But I make it a point to at least reread what I did the day before, to remind myself of where I was heading. Some days, I don’t write at all on my laptop – but later that night, something, some little kernel – a sentence, an idea for a scene – will occur to my tired mind, and I’ll open my iPad instead and use the Notes feature to write. Some days, I will draft an entire scene; other days, I tweak existing ones. This past week, I spent an hour jotting down a revelation about one of my characters, who, as it turns out, isn’t quite the heinous bitch I’d been trying to bring out on paper. (I’d been wondering why it was so hard to write the scenes with her in them! Turns out when you have a completely one-dimensional character, writing them IS hard!)

But it’s all still writing.

Writing every day, or as close to it as you can get, is necessary to keep you in the world you’re creating, and to keep you in touch with your characters. As Liz Gilbert says, the story wants to be told! The characters want to be heard! The work wants to be made! But you have to show up! Once we start to let the ‘real’ world interfere with our fictional worlds . . . they start to collapse. Slowly but surely, you lose the thread of the plot. You forget your characters’ problems. Your characters stop trusting you – this idiot can’t even show up? Why stick around? And soon, you’ve completely lost the story. You think Lin-Manuel Miranda took breaks from writing Hamilton? If he had, odds are I wouldn’t be seeing it for the fourth time live this coming weekend!

Don’t let that happen.

I know there are days when I don’t even open my laptop – yesterday was such a day. This past week has been horrible, and I was so busy last night that I simply didn’t have time to do anything like writing.

And I missed it.

I’m making up for it tonight, yes, but it took a bit to remember where I left off, where I was going, and what I needed to do today. At the moment, I’m in a place where I am reorganizing a few key scenes, which is requiring a lot of rewrites. I’ve also been cutting a lot of redundancy and tightening up the narrative, So it’s really important that I write every day – or almost every day – just to stay on top of all the changes. When I stop writing for the night, I leave myself notes that I can delete later – this is what’s coming up; this is where I should change X, we should move X scene to Y. That way, I’m not floundering the next day. And that’s especially important when I have to miss a day.

In that other blog post, I wrote this: Writing should be a joy, not a chore. It should be the place we go to express ourselves, to find an outlet for our creativity, to give our characters voices and lives and beating hearts. And I totally stand by that. That’s what it should be.

But even on days when it’s not . . . if we’re writing to be published, ‘joy’ is a luxury we don’t have.

If you’re writing just because you love to write, and you don’t have any expectations of being published right now – maybe the novel you’re working on now is destined to live in a desk drawer forever, as so many early novels do – then writing every day may not be totally necessary, but it’s still something to aspire to. When I was a teenager, I wrote almost every single day. I wrote longhand in a notebook specially set aside for whatever novel I was working on at the time. That notebook went with me to school; I could write during lunch, on the bus home, after a test, during study hall, and yes, even at night. When I got my first computer (no, I’m not telling you how old I am, but the fact that it was a Packard-Bell should clue you in) and my first job, I would often come home after closing at midnight, and write until 2 or 3am. None of those novels were really much good, and please God, never ever let anyone else read them!, but they let me practice the craft – and more importantly, I learned the art of writing every day. I did that mostly because a.) I was bored, and b.) I wanted to know what happened next, but still. The lesson holds.

But if writing is your job – if you hope to be published – then you have to treat it like a job. I don’t always want to teach. There are days I drag myself into the classroom and almost can’t stand the idea of lecturing yet again. But it’s my job. So I do it, and I do it to the best of my ability. Writing is the same way. If it’s your job, or if you want it to be your job, then you have to show up and do it every day.

So while I once railed against the mandate of “write every day,” and while I still think there are exceptions to it, I see why it’s become a mandate. Like Indy and the sankara stone, I understand its power now.

Getting Back Into Writing

The past months have been a whirlwind for all of us. We’re getting back to normal, but it’s that ‘new’ normal we’ve been warned about for the past two years, where every cold is a reason for a COVID test and every sneeze is suspect. We have a new Congress, and God knows what that will bring. The rules are changing fast, and it’s pretty scary.

I love writing, but I honestly haven’t written much since the pandemic started. I’d try, but I’d look at those manuscripts that were so beat-up already, filled with edits and comments in purple and red ink . . . To be truthful, I didn’t even remember which copy was the last one I’d worked on. I didn’t want to write more about Erin and Kai, because there was no way to know if I’d ever get to travel to England to do locale research. I didn’t want to write about Nicky because, well, there are lots of reasons why. I know a lot of people found time and space during the pandemic to focus on creative endeavors, but I wasn’t one of them.

But this summer a couple of things happened. The first is that I finally admitted I had a problem, and sought help. It’s hard to write those words, honestly – it was scary to admit, and scary to try to find someone who would help. But I reached a point shortly after the fall of Roe where I couldn’t go on. I will be eternally grateful to the doctor who met me via Zoom on the Fourth of July. I’ve been on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications since, and those – along with a few other things – have cleared my mind tremendously. I’m not 100%, but in this world, who is? I’m better. And that’s what matters.

The other thing that happened, about two months after that, was that I started writing a new novel.

I watched an inordinate amount of the Hallmark Channel over the summer. And for some reason I ended up on their publisher’s webpage and saw that they were going to have open submissions in October. At that time, I had two months, and something lit up inside me. I could do that! I’d seen how many Hallmark movies in the past three months? I knew the formula! I knew they wanted sweet romance! I knew I could do it!

And so . . . I started.

A very long time ago, I drafted a novel which featured two protagonists that I’ve never let go of, not really. I loved them both, and though that novel will never see the light of day, those characters needed to. The basic premise of that novel could be tweaked, and a major storyline could be cut, and I had a feeling that they would work well in this new project.

Well, they’re not quite the same two characters I fell in love with. But that’s okay. And the novel’s not quite drafted, which is also okay because Hallmark Publishing pushed that open submission back to November, and then indefinitely suspended it. But it got me back to writing. I lifted probably 100 pages from the old novel to ‘tweak’ for this one, and ended up using almost none of it. There are a couple of scenes that are similar, but heavily rewritten. In truth, this is nothing like the original – and almost every word of it is brand-new.

But the most amazing part of this journey has been that heady rush, that all-encompassing, soul-lifting, head-in-the-clouds first love that you get when you start a new novel. I haven’t felt that in years! I found myself thinking about Alex and Dana all the time. I found myself imagining scenes at odd times, having to find envelopes and scraps of paper on which to write them down. I found myself listening to them, figuring out their new backstories, their family dynamics, the conflicts that will drive them apart in Act 3 so they can be back together for their Happily Ever After.

I had to do research. One small idea – is there a fountain in Central Park where you can make a wish? – became, in one night, the framework on which to hang the narrative. Reading about other towns on Virginia’s Eastern Shore gave more depth and shape to the fictional town I had created.

I am still writing – Act 3 is giving me fits, but mostly because I have to murder some darlings – but in the space of four months, I’ve gone from nothing to a 102,000 word sweet romance. Actually, the sweet romance part is a little hard for me; I like to write ‘closed door’ romances, and Alex and Dana kind of wish I would . . . But there’s something rather freeing about knowing how your novel has to end up.

Romances are formulaic. There are certain elements that must be included. One of those is the happily ever after, or the happily for now. Endings can be hard for us all, and knowing that your characters must end up together with the promise of a bright future is so nice. It gives you carte blanche to focus on the rest of the book. It gives you wide range for creating conflict, and then figuring out how to resolve it. In fact, the most difficult part of writing this book has been that Alex and Dana dislike cooperating with me on that conflict thing! Perhaps it’s because I’ve known them for so long. Perhaps my conflict isn’t deep enough. In fact, as I struggle with the bridge from Act 2 to Act 3, I’m convinced that’s exactly my problem. But I can fix that. And I will.

I’m just having fun with this one, for now. I’m not going to overthink it. I’m not going to over-complicate it. At least, I hope not! I just want to see what happens, and go from there. I already have an idea for a sequel, focusing on Alex’s great-grandmother.

Romance is a departure for me, and it’s not easy. In fact, there’s quite a challenge to it. But that’s also part of what I like. There are rules to follow, and if you follow them right, you might be rewarded with something people will love. That’s a radical departure for me; normally I write things that may never be finished because of subject matter or inability to do the research. But this? This has been a great way to get back into writing.

Vote No on Value Them Both

“Value Them Both” is a lie.

This amendment would give total control over abortion laws to the Kansas state legislature. It is not about saving lives, and it’s certainly not about valuing either women or babies. It does not value the lives of either the women who will be at the center of this debate, or the children who will result from it.

It’s clear that the driving force behind this amendment is the religious right. I see signs in church yards. I see signs in the yards of people I know are active in their churches. This is part of the First Amendment – the right to free speech.

The First Amendment also guarantees us freedom of religion. But freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. The Founding Fathers were clear:  they did not want religion to be part of government. If they had, they would have established a state church. But they didn’t. And they made freedom of – and from – religion part of the First Amendment for a reason:  to them, the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the freedom to choose and practice a religion were the most important rights that Americans could grant themselves.

The Amendments were submitted by the states, before the Constitution could be ratified. Every single state submitted something that echoed the First Amendment. No one wanted government to corrupt faith – or vice versa.

Yet here we are, 225 years later, and we have a religious minority that wants to dictate to the rest of us how we should act, feel, and behave. What women can and cannot do with their own bodies. This is the very reason why the First Amendment exists – to protect us from religion. Anyone is free to believe as they want. You can believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But you can’t force anyone else to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can’t force anyone to worship and believe as you do.

But the religious right is trying to do exactly that – force their beliefs upon everyone in the state.

These people will tell you they are trying to “save the unborn” – conveniently forgetting that abortion bans condemn women. Condemn women who medically need an abortion, but may not be able to get one due to all the red tape and double-speak they must jump through to get one. Abortion bans condemn women to live with abusers, to live in poverty, to forego education. To have children they don’t want, or cannot afford.

To quote Benjamin Franklin:  “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” It is time for all of us who value the lives of women to stand up – no matter our religion, our political views, our race or ethnicity. If we want to remain in a free and democratic nation, this is where we make our first stand – by Voting No on this “Value Them Both” amendment.

“Value Them Both” is a Lie. Here’s why.

“Value Them Both” is a lie.

The “Value Them Both” amendment, to be decided on August 2, removes abortion from the protection of the Kansas state constitution, giving the Kansas state legislature total control over passing laws restricting – or outright banning – abortions. It’s not about valuing women or babies – it’s only about controlling women and taking away their rights and choices.

“Value Them Both” is a lie because it does not value the lives of either the women who will be at the center of this debate, or the children who will result from it.

If this amendment truly valued women and children, it would mandate that the legislature fully fund our schools, and foster care; require them to pass laws ensuring abuse prevention and intervention; and invest in Head Start-type programs, and more food and rental assistance. But it doesn’t, because that’s not what this amendment is about. It’s about forcing women to give birth, and forcing those children and women to live precarious lives.

Women make up nearly half of the workforce – half of the economy – in the United States. But they aren’t equal, as you can see from these statistics:   

  • Between 60% – 75% of single-parent households are headed by a woman.
  • Of those, about 37% live in poverty (defined as $27,750 per year for a family of 4), as opposed to about 5% of two-parent households.
  • On the average, women still earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man makes.
  • And more than 60% of single-mother households are on food assistance.

In short:  single mothers are much more likely to live in poverty than single fathers or two-parent households. They generally cannot afford college. They may have to choose between working and paying for child care, or not working because they can’t afford child care. Those not employed, or employed in low-paying jobs, pay less in taxes and contribute less to the economy – and are more likely to need public assistance. They have to choose every day, every week, what bills to pay, what groceries they can afford, whether to put gas in their car or buy medicine for their child.

Poverty is a cycle. Once in it, it’s nearly impossible in our society to break out of it. Poverty rates among single mothers are even higher for women of color. And poverty often goes hand in hand with domestic violence – for both women and children.

Women need the ability to break the poverty cycle. They need the ability to escape abusive marriages or relationships. And sometimes, sadly, that way may require an abortion. It’s not for us to judge. We have no right to allow our state legislature to pass laws that will strip women of that safety.

If the “Value Them Both” amendment really did value women and children, it would force legislators to address these issues as well. To provide funding for intervention, expanded food programs. But it doesn’t, because again – “Value Them Both” is a lie.

“Value Them Both” Is A Lie.

The “Value Them Both” campaign is a lie.

No doubt you’ve seen the ads, the yard signs. You probably already know that the “Value Them Both” amendment, which the Kansas people will decide on August 2, removes abortion from the protection of the Kansas state constitution. It instead will give the Kansas state legislature total control over passing laws restricting – or outright banning – abortions. It is not about saving lives, and it’s certainly not about valuing either women or babies.

I know that anti-abortion activists will tell you that this amendment is about ‘saving lives.’ But what they won’t tell you is that Kansas already has fairly restrictive abortion laws on the books.

So what are the Kansas laws? Let’s take a look:

  1. Abortions after 22 weeks are banned. These are what are termed “late term” abortions. None have been performed in Kansas since 2019. So the ads claiming that Kansas is a “destination for late term abortions” is a lie, pure and simple. We are not.
  2. If a fetus is viable – meaning that it can survive outside the womb – it cannot be aborted UNLESS two physicians agree that the woman’s life is in danger, or the fetus has a life-threatening abnormality that is incompatible with life. Even then, the family may choose to continue the pregnancy. It is up to them, as it should be.
  3. Abortions pills via telemedicine are illegal.
  4. If a girl under 18 seeks an abortion, she must have parental consent.
  5. Women seeking an abortion must, under Kansas law, receive “mandatory, state-written materials” to “educate” them on this decision. After receiving this material, a woman still must wait 24 hours before the procedure can be performed.
  6. A woman must consent to an ultrasound before the abortion is performed.
  7. AND, there are insurance restrictions! In many cases, a woman must pay for the procedure herself.

Abortion is not easily accessible in Kansas. It is a medical necessity for many women. Currently, the Kansas Supreme Court has found that the Kansas state constitution provides “bodily autonomy” to all Kansas citizens. This is an important aspect of our Constitution, and one that deserves protection. But if Kansas votes to add this so-called “Value Them Both” amendment to our Constitution, that guarantee is gone. Bodily autonomy is no longer guaranteed to anyone. If a woman has no say over her own body, what does she have? Nothing.

There are many other reasons why this amendment is a horrendous breach of our rights:  it’s discriminatory; it will affect women of color and women of low economic status unfairly; it is a threat to women’s rights and the rights of everyone in Kansas; and it will have an economic impact across the state. It is an erosion of a woman’s right to choose her life for herself, for a family to determine what is best for it.

But for now, make an informed choice. For yourself, for your sisters and daughters, for your friends and neighbors, for your body and your rights, register to vote before July 12 at your local county election office, or online at https://www.kdor.ks.gov/apps/voterreg/home/index (if you’re not already registered) and vote NO on August 2.

“What you don’t know and need to find out . . .” Research and Writing

A lot of people think fiction writers have it easy. Pick a plot, have a set of characters, go for it.

Having written fiction, I know better. But somehow, people do think it’s easier to write fiction than nonfiction. Having written nonfiction, I think so, too.

I’ve written before about my obsession with the disappearance of George Kimmel (see past posts ad nauseum; I’ll post links at the end of this one), but in the past few months, I’ve actually started drafting some chapters. It’s not that I’m done with the research; not by a long shot. Never, in fact, probably, will I be done with the research. But it’s because of something historical writer David McCullough said in the introduction to his book The Johnstown Flood.

He said: “At the beginning of the work, I had thought the best procedure would be to do all the research necessary, then write the book. Quite soon I had come to realize that, for me at least, it was best not to put off the writing, but rather to begin sooner than later, because it is then, in the writing, that you begin to see more clearly what you don’t know and need to find out.”

Also in his introduction, McCullough discusses his research, noting that it’s a dangerous downhill slope sometimes. “The more you know, the more you want to know. So the research went on right to the end.”

After reading this, I suddenly realized that I had two shelves full of research – and that’s what I had printed out; that didn’t include what I still had on my computer, or the newspaper.com articles I had yet to print, and the hundreds I had yet to even look for – and every time I put this project down and picked it back up again, I was retreading the same territory over and over.

It was time to start writing.

So I started. The first chapter, as it turned out, wasn’t even about Kimmel; it was about another banker, a guy named Stevenson from Nebraska, who disappeared about a decade before George did. Because the similarities were so striking – a bank president who takes out insurance on his life, then disappears – I wanted to follow it, especially since it was cited by the insurance companies in their arguments. Like George, Stevenson was never found. So I spent abut a month researching and drafting that chapter. It turned out well, so I turned next to the chapter that most fascinated me, the one about John Boone Swinney and his fantastic tale of gold and murder along the Oregon coast. That one isn’t done yet – it’s based on Swinney’s deposition, and since he also gave testimony in court, I want to be sure to add things from those articles – but it is drafted.

Then, I drafted another chapter, and . . .

Now, there’s about 40 pages that didn’t exist eight or nine months ago.

Of course, I’m starting with the easy things. As I explained to a friend last night, I had to start with the things that I didn’t have a ton of research for. For the early chapters about Arkansas City and George Kimmel’s life here, there just wasn’t that much information. I had a limited number of newspaper articles that detailed a little about his movements (a buggy wreck; starting a new grain elevator; Masonic gatherings), and bits from depositions and affidavits from his friends and family that talked about his life here. Pulling together that information into a coherent chapter was tedious, but not that difficult. It would obviously be better if I had more sources. It would obviously be fantastic if I had letters from George to his family, for example. But as I don’t, I have to make do with what I have. If the universe decides to be kind and let me find them one day, I will certainly add them in!

It’s the later chapters that will be the toughest ones, but I am not thinking about them quite yet.

But as McCullough said, you don’t know what you don’t know until you start writing. For example, today I wrote about the Midland Hotel in Kansas City, which was the hotel George always stayed in while in Kansas City, and the hotel from which he disappeared. I wanted to describe it. There are very few photographs of the Midland available online (as it was in 1898), so I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. I found an article about its design and building. I found a huge article from the Kansas City Times detailing every single amazing thing about the hotel, from when it first opened. Do I need all of that? No. But I can pick and choose my details now. I can talk about the pure white marble columns and floor that would have greeted George every time he walked into the front lobby. I can talk about the shops that occupied part of the first floor (including the Palace Diamond Parlor, which sold diamonds that cost “from $10 to $5,000”). If I pick the right ones, readers should figure out quickly that this hotel was not just expensive; it was exclusive. Now. I spent so much time researching that today that very little writing got done. But. Again, like McCullough said, you don’t know what you don’t know until you start writing.

Fiction writers need to do this, too. Some novelists think they need to have all their research done before they start writing. WRONG. Sure, there are some novelists out there who can probably do that – the ones who write from formulas, the ones who know from the time they first put fingers to keyboard what will happen on every single page. For the rest of us, figuring out what we may need to research ahead of time is difficult, if not impossible.

Start writing.

Will it be good? Well, maybe not all of it, not at first. That’s what rewrites are for. And you may put things in those drafts that are erroneous. You may think one thing is correct, then find out later it isn’t. Been there, done that. But you can fix it later.

The one bit of advice I have is to be sure to cite everything in that draft! Don’t think you’ll remember where that quote or information is from. You won’t. Cite it in the text (or if you prefer, in end notes or footnotes), but don’t leave a single paragraph without citations. Believe me, you will not magically recall where you got it from later! If you have a lot of different sources, you can create shorthand for them (NYvR is New York v Rankin 1908, for example, so a shorthand citation for me might look like this: (NYvR MH testimony 83). That tells me it came from Margie Hunt’s testimony, in that case, on page 83. Don’t stray too far from MLA or Chicago (or AP) formats; know what you’re talking about.

Just start writing. Until you do, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Histoplasmosis in Cats: A Personal Story

I remember it clearly: I was standing in the exam room at my vet’s office. Across the table stood my vet, and between us sat Mick, the cat who had deviled us for the past six months. She was now just a shell of her former Psycho Demon Cat self – and I had just learned she’d lost even more weight in the past week, taking her to a scant 4.8lbs. We’d tried everything. She’d been seen by top internalists at Oklahoma State University. She’d been scoped, prodded, stuck, injected, treated, tested. And nothing was working. I could feel her spine and ribs through her short fur. I looked down at her and realized this was probably the end of the line, and even opened my mouth to ask the vet if that was the case – at the same moment he said, “I want to try one more thing.”

A week later, in my kitchen, I got the phone call. “I have good news and bad news,” the vet said, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. “The good news is, it’s histoplasmosis. The bad news is, it’s histoplasmosis.”

“There is no bad news,” I said.

My vet said he’d already ordered the antifungal drugs, and within 48 hours of being on them, Mick was eating normally and acting more like her Psycho Demon Cat self.

Anyone who owns animals – dogs, cats, snakes (blech!), whatever – knows the utter frustration and fear that comes with knowing your pet isn’t well – but you have NO idea why. You take them to the vet, who will examine them and do diagnostics – blood work, temperature check, etc. Sometimes you get an idea of what’s wrong right away. Sometimes past issues get in the way (one time, my cat Rascal wasn’t feeling well, and given his history of bladder issues, that’s what the vet jumped to – until I went to pick up Rascal and discovered he had a huge abscess on his chest). And sometimes, the vet just doesn’t know.

And sometimes, you get lucky. Because you’ve seen the symptoms before.

Nigel (left) with Hammie (remember him? So itty-bitty in June and now he’s the biggest kitty in the house!

That’s was the case a few months ago when one of my barn cats, Nigel, started to drop weight inexplicably. Because it was getting colder, I let him come inside. I also took him to the vet immediately. He had no underlying issues, no real medical past, so we assumed perhaps it was worms (though he’d been wormed just a few months earlier) and he came home. But he kept losing weight. And then he got picky about his food, only licking the gravy from his canned and refusing most things.

And suddenly, I knew what it was. Because I’d seen this before with Mick.

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection, carried by birds. If a cat ingests it or breathes in the spores, they can’t shed it – it takes root in the body, settling in various areas, including the kidneys, bone marrow, and lungs. There’s some debate about where it’s endemic – it’s actually endemic in the Ohio Valley region – but having had two cats with it, I can tell you that it IS in Kansas, and elsewhere through the Midwest. If there are birds, histoplasmosis is a possibility.

Every cat presents slightly differently, but for me, the major symptoms were:

Weight loss – It’s an insidious weight loss – not sudden, but slow enough that you look at your cat one day and think “Wow, when did you get so skinny?” Because they start to become anorexic (technical term for ‘not eating’) they lose more and more weight. It took Mick about six months to go from a health 10lbs to about 4.8lbs; it took Nigel about three months.

Picky about food – for both Mick and Nigel, the tell-tale sign was this one, and it’s very specific. The cat loses interest in ALL food, but will lick gravy from canned food. You may go through 20 types of canned food to find something they’ll eat once or twice, then abandon. My vet has seen 11 or 12 histo cats in the past ten years, and all of them had this symptom. They eat barely enough to stay alive, and sometimes, not even that much.

Weird blood work results – Mick’s histo settled in her bone marrow and kidneys .Every time we did blood work, the results led us down a different path. Once, her potassium levels were wonky. Another time, it was something else. Every few weeks, it was always something else. With Nigel, we never saw that, but I think that’s because we figured out right away what it was we were dealing with. We didn’t run blood work on him like we had to with Mick while we were trying to diagnose her.

Respiratory issues – with Nigel, the histo settled into his lungs and sinus cavities. He sounded like he had pneumonia, and it affected his sense of smell as well.

Depression – cats with histo feel like hell, all the time. They’re not interested in doing anything. In fact, even when we had Nigel on medicine and I was syringe-feeding him, there were days when I thought we would lose him just to his depression.

I was lucky with both of my cats. I was blessed with a vet who was committed to finding out what was wrong with Mick – she was his first case of histoplasmosis, and it took us about 6 months to diagnose it, from her first symptom of weight loss to the final diagnosis. There’s only one lab in the country that tests for it. Without my vet, I would have lost Mick – and without Mick, I couldn’t have diagnosed Nigel.

It was clear immediately, once I saw Nigel licking gravy and not eating, what we were dealing with, and I instantly called my vet to schedule the histo test. The results came back as I was battling COVID-19. But unlike Mick, Nigel didn’t respond to the usual medication. It made him extremely ill – he became anorexic (more than usual, and I didn’t think that was possible), more depressed, and nauseated. It took a while to figure out that we needed to switch him over to an inject-able antifungal instead. By that time, he was being syringe-fed (a wonderful product from Canada called Critical Care Carnivore saved his life) and weighed just 5.8lbs. There were definitely days when I wondered what I was doing, and it was always in the back of my mind that just because you diagnose something doesn’t mean you can cure it.

Today, almost four months after his first symptoms, Nigel is clear of histoplasmosis. He’s back up to 7.5lbs. He still won’t eat canned food – I think it made him nauseous when he was already ill, and he associates it with that – but he does have a specific dry food he loves. He probably will never again be an outside cat (he won’t drink anything but water from my Brita pitcher now), but he’s happy and healthy, and that’s what matters.

I wanted to share this story because I know there must be dozens – maybe hundreds – of cat owners out there who are struggling, or have struggled, with these symptoms and had no way to know what was causing them. Taken apart, they’re so indistinct that they could indicate almost anything – we tested Mick for FIV, FeLV, even scoped her for ulcers and GI issues and tested her for lymphoma. And unless your vet is familiar with histoplasmosis, they probably won’t even think to test for it. It’s not recognized as endemic in most of the Midwest, after all. Your vet might even point that out. Insist on the test anyway. As I said, only one lab in the country does the test. But a positive result is a POSITIVE result – there are no false positives with this test. And once you know, you can start the treatment. If your cat has a bad reaction to the antifungal, like Nigel did, insist on switching to the injections. They have to be given in subQ fluids – Nigel was on a three-day-a-week schedule – but it’s worth it.

Here’s some good resources and references on histoplasmosis:


https://news.okstate.edu/articles/communications/2019/recognizing_histoplasmosis_in_pet_dogs_and_cats.html – this is a 2019 article from Oklahoma State University. Good to see them recognizing it as endemic now!

https://www.dvm360.com/view/canine-and-feline-histoplasmosis-review-widespread-fungus – a bit older, but still good information.

This is the Carnivore Critical Care that I put Nigel on. You can find it on Amazon. Some cats will eat it just fine; I had to syringe-feed Nigel, but I am convinced this is what bought us enough time for the antifungal meds to start working.

Postscript: I have had so many reactions to this post, but I do need to add a postscript, and a warning.

We lost Nigel last fall to kidney failure. As with Mick, the histo had settled into his kidneys, though we didn’t catch it at the time because we were more focused on his lungs. It’s really important to run those blood panels, and if the kidney levels are even a little indicative of kidney disease, to put them on a kidney diet immediately, and check again in a few months to see if they are improving. Mick had a full recovery; she has been in remission for years with no issues. Nigel was not that lucky, and as cats are wont to do, he showed no real symptoms of kidney failure until he was already at Stage 4, with no chance of recovery. I was heartbroken to have brought him through one life-threatening disease, only to lose him to another in just a few short months. Please run the blood panels.

‘Endings Are Hard’

Sometimes, on Facebook, there’s a question: Name the character whose death you’ll never get over.

For me, the answers have always been the standards: Henry Blake, Will Herondale, Dobby.

Now, I have to add Sam and Dean Winchester to that list, and twenty-four hours later, even typing those words makes me cry.

Isn’t that what we all want, as writers? To create characters that are so real, so beloved, that our readers/fans bawl their eyes out if something happens to them? In retrospect, I should have just said, you know what? I love the ending of the penultimate episode. They defeated Chuck. Jack has his destiny. Sam and Dean are finally free to live their lives. But no. I had to watch the series finale. Damn it.

It was my mom who got me hooked on Supernatural. Fifteen years ago, she started watching this little show about two brothers – who, I had to admit, were pretty cute – who ‘saved people and hunted things.’ But this was three years after the end of The X-Files, and believe it or not, I was still in mourning – and frankly, still pretty pissed off at Chris Carter for ending it that way, with no resolution, nothing. I had vowed I would never become that invested in a TV show again.

Not worth it, I said. Try it, she said. But I just couldn’t. I kept waiting for it to end. It seemed like it would, after all – it was fun, smart, with a great cast and a great premise. All those kinds of shows end up getting the axe. Moonlight did. Why not this one?

But it didn’t. And Sam and Dean won me over, with their cuteness and sarcasm and courage, their loyalty and resourcefulness, their amazing bond and the penchant they had for running pell-mell into danger – not because they didn’t recognize the danger, but because they felt they had no choice. This was their job. Their calling. And I liked that about them. I’ve always liked those kinds of stories, the ones where the characters know there’s a chance they’ll die (and Sam and Dean did die, several times!) but it’s not important. What’s important is fixing what’s wrong. Solving the problem. Whatever that problem might be. A ghost A vampire nest. The Apocalypse. Bringing their brother back from the dead. The usual.

For fifteen years, I’ve remained faithful, as characters came and went, as characters sacrificed themselves for the greater good (Crowley, Charlie, Rowena . . . Ellen and Jo . . . John Winchester . . . and our dear sweet Castiel, among many), as over and over, Sam and Dean defied the odds with nothing more than courage, a stubborn streak, and faith in each other.

“Endings are hard,” Chuck said in the episode Swan Song, which saw Lucifer taking over Sam so he could fight Michael in the final epic battle of good and evil – and Dean, unwilling to give up on his brother, driving to the showdown and interrupting two archangels intent on the Apocalypse. (This episode also features my favorite five second of all time: Castiel’s “Hey! Assbutt!”) At that time, we just thought Chuck was a prophet, and what he said was true of all writers. Endings suck. But what made this ending, this series finale, worse, I think, is that it was one of the last things I still shared with my mom. She died some time ago. She didn’t get to see this ending. I wasn’t conscious of that link to her, really, not until last night when I started crying and suddenly realized my tears and my grief ran deeper than watching Dean say his goodbyes to Sam, or seeing them reunited with that smile, and that “Hey, Sammy” – a line I’ve heard a thousand times over fifteen years, the line I said with him because I knew he’d say it.

Supernatural was first and foremost about family. That was clear in every episode. To Dean, nothing was more important. Never give up on family. Whether that family was his brother and dad, or whether it was the extended, adopted family they created – Charlie, Castiel, Jodi, Jack – family was first and foremost, and my mom was really the last of mine. I have siblings, but we don’t talk and after a lifetime of their treatment, that’s fine. But you knew, always, that Sam and Dean would do anything for each other – making a deal with a crossroads demon, whatever it took. It felt like not just the end of one of my favorite series, but it felt like that last tiny link I still had with my mom was suddenly severed.

So to me, this show about two brothers ‘saving people, hunting things’ was far more than that. It was inspiration and comfort. It was an hour of believing in the good in people again. It was a last bit of connection to my mom. It was hope. I know that sounds corny, but really, that’s what it was. The writers took big risks – making angels into douchebags?! Who would have done that?! But it was brilliant! You never knew what would happen next – but whatever it was, you knew one thing: Sam and Dean would survive it, together. They were an inspiration for how to live life, to never give up, which was the basis of the mental health initiatives that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki have sponsored and supported.

So thank you to the cast and crew, the writers and directors and producers, for giving us fifteen years of an amazing show. Hopefully, I can find it in myself to start living my life with that kind of courage and conviction.

The sarcasm, I already have. 🙂

To Undecided Republican Voters

A recent poll I read stated that 90% of voters in America already know who they’re going to vote for, and nothing will change their minds. So this is directed at the 10% of you who still haven’t decided between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Here’s the thing: America is fragile. America hangs together by a lick and a promise, as the old saying goes – a promise that we all make, because we’re citizens of the greatest country on earth, to uphold our democracy, to stand up for one another, to maintain our Constitution. Our Constitution, as I’ve come to believe in the past year, is only viable so long as we believe in it – and only so long as those who have power for the moment are willing to uphold it. It requires vigilance. It requires honor. It requires diligence.

“. . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” Words you might remember from studying the Declaration of Independence at some point in school. This is the last line of the document that officially severed our ties with Great Britain, and cast us into a war for independence. The men who signed it did so knowing they were now traitors to the crown. Knowing that if we lost, they were going to be drawn and quartered. Every single man who signed it knew that – and signed it anyway. They believed enough in the promise of America and its people that they were willing to risk their lives in the effort to see it come into existence.

We have never had consensus about our government. There has always been contention about the size of government, about whether we’re a country or a confederacy of states, about taxes, about industry vs. agriculture, about expansion, colonialism, voting rights – you name it, we’ve argued about it. But in all of America’s history, we’ve never faced a moment like this. We’ve never been this close to losing everything we grew up knowing and believing in.

The Constitution is an amazing document. The pinnacle of the Enlightenment, the product of thousands of years of government experiments, forged in the years after the Revolutionary War when we weren’t sure what we were going to be yet, and written by men who were flawed and knew it. They created a document that could guide us, that could be amended as America changed. And we have amended it. We have interpreted it. And for 231 years, it has guided us and governed us. But it depends on us for its survival.

If you’re a Republican, and you’re wavering, torn about what to do because you’ve always voted Republican, because being Republican is part of who you are – and yet, there is a part of you that hesitates – know you’re not alone. And please know this: the Republican party of today is not the Republican party you knew. Did Reagan, or George Bush, or George W. Bush, advocate racism? White supremacy? Did any of them actively seek to divide the nation, or to destroy it from the inside out? No. They sought to strengthen American, to make us an economic powerhouse, to further our foreign influence, to keep us a world leader.

Trump has done none of those things. Every day, it becomes more clear that he has ties to foreign entities FAR beyond what a president should have. Jimmy Carter famously gave up his farm when he became President, so that there could never be any conflict of interest, no hint of wrongdoing. Trump has, at every opportunity, used the office to his own ends. He has used it to enrich himself by putting up dignitaries at his own hotels, then overcharging the government for it. He’s used it as leverage to further his own business interests. And it’s now clear that not only is he massively in debt, but those debts are to foreign countries. China. Russia. Saudi Arabia. Our two biggest enemies, and one nation that could be an enemy, if the winds blow the wrong direction. Is this what we want? Is this what the Republican party is now about? Selling us out?

Further, Trump has weakened America’s stance in the world. The world no longer looks to us as a leader. That honor has now gone to the trifecta of France, Germany, and Canada. Great countries, all of them – but ever since the Spanish-American War, America’s influence upon the world has been unquestioned. This nation, which won two world wars, put down Nazism, has dedicated itself to fighting dictators and tyrannies since our conception – this nation, our nation, now stands poised to lose it all, for at the moment we have authoritarians, not statesmen.

I’m a liberal Independent. I never liked George W. Bush. I disagreed with many of his policies and positions. But on 9/11, when it mattered most, he was not a Republican president; he was our president. He was our rock. He was our leader. He shared our grief and he rose to the occasion, and when he spoke, we knew that he stood with us all.

Can you imagine, now, Donald Trump in that moment? Can you imagine him standing at Ground Zero, with the fires still raging, the dead still not found, the families still searching, and being what George W. Bush was for us that night? Because I cannot. I can imagine him bellowing and raging at who to blame and who to kill, and how he great he is. That’s all. I can’t imagine him rallying us as a nation to stand together, unified in a national tragedy. Why? Because he’s had that chance, and he’s failed every single time.

Trump has made a mockery of the Constitution. He’s made a mockery of the most sacred office in our land. And he’s brought the GOP down with him. Ask yourself: do you recognize your own party anymore? I have Republican friends (yes, I do!), and one of them voted, for the first time ever, a straight Democrat ticket this year because the Republican party of today is no longer aligned with his values.

Every single person elected for office swears an oath to uphold the Constitution. What can you say about a party that used to care about this, but is now led by people who see the Constitution as little more than a speed bump on the road to authoritarianism? The Republican leadership has enabled a man who dishonors not only Christianity, but also the Constitution that took so many years to draft and has served us so well. The Constitution is an extraordinary document, unique in history. Trump has brought in people to enable him to circumvent – and in some cases outright defy – the Constitution. Miller, Barr – these people have no loyalty to the Constitution or to America, but only to Trump. They swore to uphold the Constitution, but Trump has hijacked that and made it about loyalty to him. And Trump is NOT equal to the Constitution. It’s not about loyalty to the office of the President; it’s about loyalty to him. And that is authoritarianism.

Those are the things I cannot stand for, and cannot forgive. We, the people, have elected people who care not about America, but about power. The Republicans have had leadership – very good leaders, men like Eisenhower, and George W. Bush. Men who were real men. Men who served in the armed forces, who understood honor, who fought for us and would have died for our country if necessary. Men who loved America and did their best to leave it a better place (even if some of those efforts were misguided). It is now up to us – ALL of us – to stand up for America.

Right now, party labels are not important. What’s important is that we are all, first and foremost, Americans.

Vote for America. Vote for democracy. Vote for our Constitution.

Vote for Joe Biden. Not because you’re a Democrat or a liberal or any other label, but simply because you are an American, and you give a damn about the continuance of our democracy.

We’ll figure out the rest later.

For a list of prominent Republicans who are crossing party lines to support Joe Biden, see this article: https://www.newsweek.com/nearly-350-prominent-republicans-voting-joe-biden-1540611 And if I may quote former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, this election “isn’t about a Republican or Democrat. It’s about a person: a person decent enough, stable enough, strong enough to get our economy back on track.”

Is America a Democracy? Only if you vote.

Here we sit. One month away from the moment where the American experiment continues, or whether we go down in a blaze of fascism led by a an orange toddler too stupid to take a pandemic seriously.

I know a lot of people out there – maybe yourself included – find this doomsday scenario farfetched. I am not alone, however. Our system is not just flawed at the moment; it’s almost irretrievably broken.

A democracy is literally the power of the people. WE decide. WE vote. WE elect. WE determine. WE direct. But it’s not that way anymore, is it? Nope, I hear you – we still have elections, you idiot. Of course we still have the power to elect. Stop with the doomsday stuff already, liberal.* Well, here’s the thing. In a true democracy, everyone with the right to vote should have the means and opportunity to vote. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy. And that’s not the case in America anymore.

Take, for example, this week’s action by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Like all states, Texas provides for absentee ballots. However, Abbot issued an order this week limiting the number of drop-off boxes for absentee ballots to one per county. That’s it. Now, let me explain why that’s a bad idea. There are 254 counties in Texas. The largest is Brewster County, which covers more than 500 square miles. (That’s three times the size of Delaware, BTW.) Although the county seat, Alpine, is the only true ‘city,’ the county is broken down into four major school districts and has three ‘census-designated areas’. In other words, it’s a large, extremely rural area where most people have to travel a long ways to buy groceries. Now. In this county alone, how is it possible to have ONE absentee ballot box? How far will people need to travel to drop it off? And – which is Abbott’s point in all this – will they? He’s hoping they won’t.

This is just the latest example of the erosion of voter rights that has been going on for some time – at least 30 years – and is only now manifesting itself. All erosions are unconstitutional. All of them violate the 14th and 15th Amendments, and usually the 19th Amendment, and all of them violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

No, voter suppression is not a new thing, you’re right. It’s been ongoing since just after the Civil War, when the white supremacist South couldn’t stand the idea of black men being equal to them, so the utilized every dirty trick in the book – and some they had to invent – to keep them from voting. Everything from literacy laws (‘read this paragraph of the Constitution to me, and you can vote’), to the infamous ‘grandfather clause’ (if your grandfather could vote in 1860, you could vote), to poll taxes, to out-and-out intimidation, usually by having Klan members in full bedsheets standing outside the voting booths on election day. Today, it’s a lot more subtle; they take pains to make it seem legal. Like Abbott’s declaration, or Florida’s new law stating that nonviolent ex-felons can’t vote unless all fines and fees are paid – thus disenfranchising over 1 million people, most of whom are people of color and/or of low economic status. Some will argue that this is fine. Others will argue that this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act – in essence, a poll tax. Either way, it’s preventing these people from voting. (Michael Bloomberg did raise funds – over $16 million – to pay fees for some of those disenfranchised voters, BTW.)

No. It’s clear the system is broken. And it’s clear that this is a long con – something that’s been in the works for decades, as Republicans slowly erode our rights away. In fact, I’d argue that we stand on the brink – if we’re not there already – of being neither a democracy nor a republic, but an oligarchy. Because partisan courts have turned a blind eye to their tricks, like gerrymandering (which is unconstitutional), or purposely kicking people of color off the voting rolls (Georgia), the people no longer have the power – which is the very meaning of democracy.

Can we get it back? Yes, but it will take some luck, belief, and a long-term, sustained effort – and, to quote Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance! We can’t for one second take the eye off the ball. And there are things we can do to mitigate circumstances so that we don’t end up back here again – or at least, so we don’t end up back here again soon – but it will take a real conversation about our democracy, our history, and our future. It will take a real commitment not to power or prestige, but to patriotism. It will take a commitment not to party or partisan politics, but to people. It will take a commitment to America itself.

We can save it. Our first step has to be to vote on November 3. Or to vote by mail. To request an absentee ballot. To VOTE, period. If you’re not yet registered to vote, go register! Every state has a different deadline to register, so check here – https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/ – to find out your state’s deadline, or check out your state’s election office (usually part of the Secretary of State’s office).

Let me make a special plea to the 18-24 year olds out there – you will hear your elders, maybe even your parents, tell you you shouldn’t vote because you don’t know the candidates, don’t know how government works, don’t know the issues. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. You can become informed. Today, it’s easier than ever. You can make your voice heard. You can determine the kind of nation YOU want to live in. Here. Now. This is your moment. And you Millennials – those of you between 23 – 38? You outnumber the Baby Boomers now. Go register. Go vote. My students can’t wait to get to vote. They’re ready. We are still a democracy, damn it, and your vote does matter.

And if we win in a month, then we have a lot of work to do, a lot of changes to make, to ensure we are never standing here again, on the line between democracy and fascism.

* Also, there are a lot of countries, like China and Russia, which have elections, but those elections are meaningless because there’s only one party, and only one person to vote for. Elections in and of themselves don’t make a democracy; the right of voters to choose, to determine the path forward, is what makes a democracy.