NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 13: Don’t Try This At Home

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So I haven’t updated this in ten days because I’ve been laser focused on trying to keep my novel updated but also trying to keep other projects going at the same time and let me tell you it’s not my favorite thing in the world, this arrangement.

The “other projects” tab has varied, but at this exact second I am writing one book, editing another (as in, my editor sent me comments and I am responding to them), and dealing with a proof that should be simple but isn’t because of a Scrivener issue from seven years ago from the first time this book came out with a different publisher and yet somehow is still there in the text making italics vanish and me bananas. Also both my personal professional emails are at constant critical max, not just in volume of unread but in people finding other ways to contact me and say, “Did you get X?” and sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t respond because I got distracted, sometimes I never saw it, and sometimes I didn’t even see the alternate communication means.

Also, I”m hosting Thanksgiving here next week for ten people, and my kid is in music All-State this weekend and ten people are coming to meet here before that and the easiest thing is for me to have dinner for them so I’m doing that.

JUST a touch of stress happening here. But I got drafted into the hydration squad on Twitter today, so that’s good. Plus I got myself a salt lamp yesterday, which I honestly thought would just be a pretty glow but there is legit something going on with it because I find myself walking away from it and wanting to go back, and when I sit next to it and get frustrated with my writing, I start touching it. Basically, I’m this cat.

I am making progress on the book, though. Passed 25k last night to much jubilation. Kidding: I closed the document and opened the edit and worked until I had to stop because I hated the world. The edit is actually book two in the same series and I’m writing book three, so it’s not too much of a head toss, but it’s rough to edit and draft at the same time, because now I have Editing Head in my Writing Head, which is very much chocolate in my peanut butter but not in a good way. More like salmon filet in my peanut butter. Especially as I go back and forth, I find myself having difficulty getting into an acute focus for editing and when I draft I’m hyper critical of overwriting and meandering prose, which would be helpful if this weren’t very much a discovery draft. All this means I’m editing slowly and writing slower and so the whole thing is taking forever and I’m cranky as hell.

I don’t regret this, though, because I’ll still finish the edit by the end of this week, and by the end of this month I will absolutely not have a finished book but will have a meaty hunk of stuff that I can gut and turn into the book I actually need. Right now I keep writing and think, frequently, “This is seriously a fucking mess,” which in my experience with one exception is how my NaNoWriMo novels turn out. I absolutely do NOT do well writing every single day. I do NOT do well pushing through when I need to stop and regroup, and my novels, right around the 20-30k mark, show me where the real story is and I usually stop to fix it and go forward. Sometimes though I first don’t think about it for a while and then come back.

Sometimes “for a while” with me is a year or more. Antisocial was two years, I’m pretty sure, and I poked at it several times before it took off. A lot of that was because Skylar stymied the hell out of me until I could peel him all the way back. Honestly if I had my way that book would have waited another year or two to come out but it had to happen when it did because it was the only book I could put out after the Samhain mess that I had started and wasn’t connected to any other books. Rebel Heart, the next Love Lessons book, has been in my head for over two years and has over 20k in it, but when I tried to rush it all that happened was I ended up in the basement playing my kid’s video games. Sometimes the book isn’t ready.

My NaNoWriMo book is contracted, though, so it’s going to have to get ready by deadline, muses ready or not. I’m using this month as a chance for my intuitive brain to play around and just make a godawful mess of things because that makes it so happy, but the whole time I’m noting what feels like it’s clanging and what feels like it’s humming.

This trilogy has been a little tough too because it’s hit the year my body went sideways enough I had to fold a nerve drug into my repertoire that helps a ton but also slows my writing down. I’ve adapted to it, but it cuts my processing and production time by two-thirds, which his how books that were supposed to be done by March are still not done in November. Well, that and I made them almost double as thick and intense as they were meant to be, but the only one complaining about that is me. (Even my publisher said, “That’s wonderful, go ahead.”)

I don’t know that I’ll do the write every day for thirty days thing all the time, and next time I’ll for sure stop when there’s an edit. Except maybe not. If I were to stop writing this now and do the edit, I’d come back to it and feel like it was too messy to continue for sure. So perhaps it’s good to keep pushing on to fifty or sixty thousand, whatever I get.

All I know is I have to go to the chiropractor today, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is waiting for me once I hit par on my wordcount. Probably not going to get in anything more on the edit, and I kind of despair for the proofing at the moment, I’ll be honest.

This is where I’m at. Onward we go.

NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 3

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I didn’t get a diary update in yesterday because I was busy writing and preparing to go to my region’s Write All Night event. Prep involved baking brownies, travel to a Des Moines area library (I live in Ames), and because it’s me, assembling portable support gear. I literally rolled in with a suitcase and one of my RWA totes over my shoulder carrying seat cushions, mini tempurpedic pillows, braces, wrist supports, and of course all my pain patches and creams. Also my travel teapot, because I cannot write without tea.

I did remember the brownies.

Write All Night at Johnston Public Library

You get a tiny peek of my draft here, if you’re desperate to see it

We’re a large region with a broad spectrum of experience and ages, full of longstanding traditions, and this Write All Night is one of the favorites. It’s changed a bit since I last participated, but the core is the same. Bring food and your laptop (and some power cords) and write as many words as you can in a group setting. I wrote Randy Jansen’s confessional therapy scene in Double Blind during a Write All Night, and I don’t think I could have gotten through it the same without the companionship of the group. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed, then stopping to look up, feeling the comfort of my surroundings, then carrying on.

I wrote almost six thousand words yesterday, most of them at home before I went to the event, where I added two thousand to my total. Right now this book has 7500 words from two days of writing. It’s definitely more than if I wasn’t pushing myself to work on it. Today I won’t add as many as it’s a weekend and there’s a lot to do around the house (my weekends always feel more stressful than my weekdays), but I’m two thousand over par right now.

At the moment, NaNoWriMo is giving me exactly what I wanted it to: a boost on the book and a set of mental bumper bars so I don’t feel I’m crashing while I work. All I want is a draft, something I can fix later. I feel like I can get at least a huge start on it.

How do I feel about the book so far? I think the beginning of the book isn’t right at all. I think it’s missing several things, but I don’t know what they are yet, so I keep writing forward. This book has been good so far about showing me what it’s about as I write it, and it’s standard practice for me to fix beginnings after I finish.

Now, I also got an edit back to me in the middle of this event, which means I now have double work next week, in addition to some other projects I didn’t want to let fall completely on the wayside. This is the moment where, if I didn’t have the focus of “well, you said you were going to get 50k of this book this month” I’d probably drop the draft. Instead, I’ll make sure I at least stay at or above par.

My right shoulder and wrist and supremely unhappy, and I’m several days delinquent on my EDS exercises, so I have that to settle today as well. But first I’m going to put in at least one thousand words. I can do that at least.

I do want to attend another write in. I’m already thinking ahead to when I can next attend one. I always say I like my solitude, but I think I need to be better about airing myself out.

I also wouldn’t mind writing with a buffet and tea/coffee service behind me the entire time. But probably in the long run it’s better I don’t have that after all…

NaNoWriMo Diaries, Intro/Day 1

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I’m starting up NaNoWriMo this year after a long hiatus from the event, and I’m going to blog through my efforts for my own process, for the curious, and in case this helps someone else.

To give a quick background, writing cold in case someone comes here from a tag; I’ve written regularly since I was twelve, attempted publication since 1999, achieved publication in 2009 (my third book was a NaNoWriMo novel), and since my first published book I’ve written and published over thirty novels which have sold collectively over 100,000 copies and have been translated into four languages and counting. I’ve been with five publishers and have also self-published, and my books have received multiple awards and recognitions.

I list all the credits there because I want you to have full context when I say this year has been really rough on me; I’m tired, worn out, and while I’m not precisely in a slump, I’m having a much more difficult time than I would like.

I can pin a lot of this on a publisher closing and tossing thirteen books back into my lap, causing a lot of financial and career chaos, but I also like a lot of authors have been dragged down by world events and have difficulty crafting HEA when so much about the world feels gross. I also have only one child and she’s in her junior year, so I’m torn between wanting to spend all my time helping her with her final high school years and having some advance mourning because soon she won’t be living with me all the time, and the thought makes me sad. Writing is literally my job, so I have to find my mojo to do my part to pay the bills. I’m blessed to have the support of readers and patrons and many author friends, but at the end of the day it’s still me in front of the computer.

I joined NaNoWriMo18 because I have a contracted book due, the third in a series (books one and two aren’t out yet, they’re all coming in 2019, so don’t go thinking you missed something) and I was hoping the camaraderie and focused attention of daily goals would help me get closer to completing the assignment. I’m actually also working on three other things at the same time, book four in the Love Lessons series, something I’m writing entirely for fun, and a book that sort of hit me out of nowhere that I really like and would be happy to throw everything else aside for but I need to work on these other books first. This is the other reason I joined NaNoWriMo: I really need to finish this third series book, and I have a lot of distractions. I thought this might help give me some insurance I don’t wander off because something else is shinier.

I have mixed luck with NaNoWriMo books. It’s often far too fast for me, though the first book I wrote for under the setup is probably my favorite novel. In general, my writing pattern is a burst to get the first 20,000 words, then a pause as I sort out what the book’s frame is, another burst to 50-60k, some fretting because I still don’t understand, a slow fuss to 70k, serious panic unless I got lucky and figured the whole book out by then, and then I stop and wrestle the book until I can see it properly, often going back and rewriting slightly until I can get to the end without feeling lost. Then, once finished, I go back and usually rewrite the beginning immediately and also find two or three places in the middle where critical scenes are missing. At this point it goes to my editor, who might well tell me to rewrite the opening again, or sometimes change whole elements of the plot. So I don’t get too attached to anything since I know she might tell me to change it. In fact I’m currently waiting for an edit to come back from here where she’d asked me to substantially change a secondary plot element. Really hoping I did it right this time.

So I’m nervous about this whole writing straight through thing, and I might jump ship and write in another book for a bit if I feel like I get stuck. I’m also not going to focus on finishing the novel so much as getting a seriously huge chunk of it down. In past NaNoWriMos I got obsessed with finishing, but the books were often a mess, and I can tell you the ones I wrote and sold from NaNo excepting that first one, didn’t do well.

It’s really important that you honor your process when you write, and if you’re using NaNoWriMo, you use it for your own ends. If your’e just starting out, it’s completely worth trying to see if it fits you, because it might. If you find it doesn’t quite, analyze why. This is the trickiest thing about writing, backing up and looking at what you’re doing and deciding what is and isn’t working and not taking it personally. When my books don’t work, it makes me frustrated, and I definitely have to sit there and freak out for a day or so and think, “my career is over, I’ve lost my touch, everything is death and destruction when I touch it,” and then I get over myself and work because nothing will get solved until I do. I’ll tell you a secret: I have the same problems after thirty books that I did in my first books, but I solve them faster and am less clumsy about it, and I don’t waste time angsting as long because I walk in assuming I can do the job, and I just do it.

The other thing I want to talk about is writing with a disability.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, hypermobility type, which I’m not going to go into in depth here, but the bottom line is I have to be ultra careful about how I sit and how long I sit, how I hold my hands, what my keyboard and chair are like, what kind of mouse I use. I need to take not only frequent breaks but monitor how many hours I’ve been using my hands and how many hours I’ve been sitting in a particular position. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and have a disability, I want to give you an extra boost and high five and encourage you that you can do this, but to also remind you to take care of yourself and not hurt your body for word count.

I’ve collected a million things to help make my work station more ergonomic over the years, and I’ll share some of them here in case they help. You can ship a lot of them quickly if you want them for NaNoWriMo.

I can’t function without my Kinesis Freestyle Blue split keyboard. I use the 20″ variation, and I have the VIP3 accessory (essential in my opinion) which gives you wrist support and tilts the keyboard. Looks like this in use.
split keyboard(Can you tell I’m having a flare up day? Lord I didn’t realize I was this puffy/swollen until I took a pic.)

Mice are absolutely a personal preference. A lot of people love vertical mice, and I’ve considered them, but I use a three mouse combination. My main mouse is the Kensington Expert Wireless Trackball, and I use the wrist rest. I had to duct tape it on because it always fell off, but this is hands-down my favorite. For big scrolling, though, I use the Apple Magic Trackpad, and for when my Bluetooth is stupid, I have a Logitech trackball, whose scrolling I dislike but whose connection is USB and saves me frequently when I have some kind of connectivity issue with the others.

My office chair is this expensive number I got at a furniture store, and when the base broke I had my husband’s friend and my FIL rebuild the base with a plywood bottom and new gas lift, base, and wheel parts, and now I’m set for another ten years, I think. I have a Purple cushion that basically gives me another five hours a day to sit, though I’d love to find a Tempurpedic version. I also, at my PT’s suggestion, put bed pillows behind my back and neck, and I often put a roll pillow or sometimes straight up foam roller behind my neck. When my arms are stupid (a frequent issue, I put folded hand towels under them to achieve the height that relieves tension that day.

I also customize where my keyboard and mice sit depending on the day. In the photo above you’ll see the keyboard is on a blanket; I pull that blanket into my lap so my arms are in the most natural position possible, and I have enough blankets under there to make the height exactly right. There are days I feel like I want it higher or lower, and I adjust. I also have my mice on a TV tray beside me, then propped on books to achieve perfect height and accessibility. I can shift the books (the bottom ones are huge) to get the mice in the best position possible to avoid strain on my shoulder.

mouse position

 

I also have a Varidesk, which I use when I can’t sit any longer; I stand then on a Wurfboard, or my travel Tempurpedic bed, and I make sure to wear knee and pelvic braces so I don’t cause myself more problems. Sometimes, though, my body just is not having it at all, and I have to sit in a reclined position or lie in bed to write, at which point I use my Laptop Laidback. Ice packs are also my friend, especially the migraine hat when my neck has pinched nerves to the point I can’t think straight.

For braces, I’m in love with Bauerfiend. I can’t survive without their Sacroloc, elbow brace, and I covet their knee braces. I have various techniques for wrist support, my favorite being a simple compression sleeve my PT made me, but I also use KT tape, Ace bandages, and sometimes a carpal tunnel support because I like the hard wrist piece underneath to keep me from hyperextending. I have a lot of difficulty with my pinky hyperextending too, but I haven’t yet figured out a good way to stop that. I’ve seen some great custom EDS braces, but none that address what I need yet. Mostly I keep up my exercises and go to my various therapists.

This might seem like an incredible list of stuff needed to write, but my point is, I use all this and have quite a limiting condition and have a solid writing career. It’s not really my physical condition keeping me from writing right now, though the Nortriptaline isn’t doing me any favors (makes me really dopey). So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo or considering writing in general and you have a disability, the point is, you can modify everything however you need to in order to get to your goal, if you’re patient and clever.

Anyway. I’m going to go back to clawing at my words in my ergonomic environment. I have about 350 so far and I’ve been at it all morning. It’s the first scene and those are always hell for me, worse when it’s a sequel because I feel the weight of everything that came before. This one has the benefit that only a handful have read books one and two, but sequels still have pressure in them, to keep everything straight. Trying to remind myself right now I just need words so I can fix them later.

It doesn’t help that the words I’m getting have a character who wasn’t supposed to be there showing up and doing things not in the plan. This, alas, is typical for me. Heidi Cullinan, characters going off plan since 1989.

I wish everyone who’s writing this month many words, productive writing times, and comfortable chairs. I don’t know if I’ll update this diary every day, but I’ll update it at least semi-regularly as a kind of writer-in-slump mental health check.

Oh, burying the lede: here’s my NaNoWriMo page, so you can check up me.

Now I really am off. More soon.

RWA Nationals 2018: Yes, I was revitalized and renewed, and it was the best RWA nationals I’ve ever attended.

I wanted to write this post a week ago, but as things go with me, especially this past year, it took a bit of time. So forgive me as I am incredibly late to the RWA national conference recap party.

I had an incredible time.

Quite possibly that is the most understated statement I’ve ever made, but I must begin somewhere, so we’ll start there. I had an incredible time. The theme was rethink, revitalize, renew, and they hit a homerun with me. For anyone to understand what a watershed that is, however, I have to tell you a story.

So here we go.

As many of you know, I’ve had quite a tumultuous past eighteen months. When Samhain Publishing announced it was closing, my career and whole life went into a tailspin from which I’m still recovering. Thirteen books caught in a subrights and release struggle, self-publish titles put on hold because they were tied to Samhain books, income frozen and then dropped off for over a year as I tried to rebuild titles under a rapidly-built self-published arm (which I had to pay for). I did it, with a lot of support from my friends and especially my amazing patrons, but as the worst of the storm subsided, I was left with the gruesome aftermath and all the emotional processing I’d put off, as well as still needing to push forward and write books to try to regenerate the income that still wasn’t where it used to be. All this with a teenager approaching college and a political world that if I paid even the slightest attention to it made me not want to write at all, but if I ignored it made me feel as if I were an entitled monster betraying everything I believed in.

And at my core, I was so tired and wrung-out, and demoralized. My therapist kept trying to get me to take a break, but breaks were simply more opportunity to think about how awful that time was and how much work I still had to do, how difficult it was to do it. At one point I went into hysterics with my editor, who if she’d been anyone else I think would have dropped me, but because we’ve been through hell together and over fifteen books (maybe it’s twenty? I’ve lost count), she patiently talked me out of my tree and told me I had to slow down and breathe or I couldn’t write properly.

Cover image of Heidi Cullinan's novel, Shelter the Sea: White background with a man in silhouette in the center, his image filled in by an ocean sunset, calm with some beach at the bottom. Blue and some brown at the bottom.I wasn’t going to go to nationals. Taking my editor and therapist’s advice, I was going to take a vacation with my family instead of attending the conference, because I felt like all my energy went into work and not them, and I felt bad that I wasn’t connecting with those closest to me as I should. I made a joke to my therapist. “Now watch, I’ll final in the RITAs.”

The next week, I did. I’d completely forgotten when the announcements were. I wasn’t paying any attention. I hadn’t even remembered what books I’d entered. When Damon called me, I thought he wanted to talk about a workshop we were teaching together. He launched into the “you’re a finalist” speech, and I told him to shut up, because I honestly thought he was teasing me.

After talking to my family, particularly my daughter who loves Shelter the Sea, the book that finaled, we decided to go to the convention. We’d make a vacation before the con, and then Dan and Anna would do things together in Denver. Anna was excited to wear a dress she’d worn in a friend’s wedding to the RITAs. Dan had been to a ceremony before, when I finaled for Fever Pitch, and he told Anna maybe there would be chocolate RITAs again. I said even if there weren’t, there would be good desserts. She was all in.

We did the vacation, and it was wonderful. I had a lot of work left undone, and I did a copy edit on the drive through South Dakota, but we had no cell service in the mountains, and it was impossible to work when driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. Plus I’d been dreaming of reading books for so long that I couldn’t resist. I was finally on vacation, and I was supposedto relax. So I read books. I slept in the shade by the hot tub pool in Glenwood Springs. I ate so much ahi tuna and sushi I was surprised I wasn’t a fish. I stared out the car window and thought about nothing except how beautiful Colorado was. I enjoyed how my body feels in high altitude (less pressure on joints, less pain).

When we got to Denver, at first I was anxious and on edge. My brain just associates book world with stress at this point, plus I had a full schedule before I even arrived. For

Heidi and her family standing at a railing before a mountain backdrop. The three are standing close, Heidi and Anna leaning into Dan in the center, everyone smiling. Heidi is wearing a T-shirt that says "Diversity over division." Anna is wearing a green zipper coat (bright green) and Dan is wearing a grey driver cap. It's a cloudy day and the mountains are in silhouette behind us.

My family at Rocky Mountain National Park

someone who wasn’t going to go, I had an amazingly packed convention. Some of it was that when you’re a finalist there are events you go to and things you do, but a lot of it was that I’m on several committees, and being at the convention means you help out and work. Which I was happy to do—but then people I hadn’t seen wanted to catch up, and then I needed to meet with my publisher and some other industry people. So much of being at conventions is “oh good, we can see each other’s faces,” so that’s what you do. But with my days already slammed, my brain became anxious before we began.

Except then I experienced the actualconference, and all my anxieties melted away.

As someone who has been attending RWA national conventions since 2003, I’m here to tell you that I truly love this new schedule, and as someone who has been a RITA finalist under the old schedule and the new one, I so much prefer the new one. I love that the signing is the capstone now, an open event turning the focus back to readers. I love that being a finalist is celebrated more, highlighted all week with events and markers and ways to network with other authors and industry professionals—it’s wonderful to win, and there’s an extra polish for those authors, yes, but I in no way felt that I was less for being “only a finalist,” because I was so celebrated. I also loved that the pressure of that was released at the beginning, not dragged through. Whether or not I won meant so much to otherpeople, but remember, I couldn’t even remember what book I’d entered or when the announcements were. I was honored and happy to be present at all, and that I “lost” to Kristin Higgins, who was so lovely to me before I arrived, welcomed my family and charmed my daughter—my daughter to whom the book of mine that finaled was so important—all this meant so much to me, so much more than a statue and standing on a stage.

I loved the speakers, the award winners, the workshop leaders. Even those I didn’t have a chance to hear speak because my schedule was so packed stood out to me. Yes, I noticed that there was diversity in these lineups, that the people of color and the queer people weren’t only leading diversity panels. Yes, I was one of the first people on her feet during Suzanne Brockmann’s speech. How could I not be? I have felt the same slaps in the face and still feel them. I wept to the point I nearly sobbed during Sonali Dev’s librarian’s luncheon keynote. How could I not? She was asking for a call to action I have been yearning for, asking for in less eloquent and powerful ways. I ached during Robin Covington’s speech and Xio Axelrod’s speech, even as I swelled with pride.

But what stood out the most to me at this convention was not what was overtly said or arranged. It was something organic that takes years to nurture and a community to foster. At this convention I wasn’t simply restored. I was enveloped, and I belongedin a way I have never felt at any other convention. I belonged as a queer author. As a self-published author. As an author published at a small press. As an author from the Midwest. As an author who doesn’t do well with people for too long but had a busy schedule. As a woman with health problems who needs a little extra TLC at times. As someone who can’t drink because of a medication. As someone who can’t remember names well and whose drugs make her foggy and sometimes she can’t remember nouns either. As a very tired author who has had an incredibly rough last year and a half, who is more anxious than she wants to be—I was accepted as that too, and for that especially, I was embraced and healed, particularly by total strangers. By published and pre-published authors. By everyone I met.

What I loved at this convention most was not one time did someone see my badge with the word PAN and the sea of past con pins and cower as if they shouldn’t talk to me (this has happened in the past several times) but instead they smiled and asked questions. What I loved was I never felt like there was a wall between pre and published authors, except at the PAN keynote where I was a door monitor and had to turn people away with an apology as they came to the wrong room or just wanted to hear. I would say I was looking for this kind of convention so this was what I found, except I wasn’t looking for anything. I came completely spent, empty, slightly nervous. I left tired in a different way, filled with hope, energy, and a sense of calm and centering I honestly didn’t know I could find again.

Thank you.

The background is the RITA stage, which is a checkerboard of white and black that at the moment reads purple and black because of the lighting. A screen has the convention logo on it with mountains. Kristin is on the far left wearing a red sleeveless dress and has a tuft of blond bangs in her dark hair. She has a cheeky smile. I'm next to her with dark hair, red glasses, and a navy blue pin-striped suit. Anna is next in a blue lace dress with a bolero. Dan is on the end wearing a pink shirt with a plaid tie. Everyone is holding shoulders and smiling.

The Cullinans and Kristin Higgins at the RITA ceremony

Thank you to the convention and workshop organizers, to the RITA ceremony committee. Thank you to the board of RWA, to the staff of RWA.  Thank you to everyone who attended the convention, whether or not I was able to connect with you, for contributing to that energy. Thank you again to Kristin Higgins, and congratulations on your RITA. I’m so glad this time your husband was able to share your joy in person.

I love being a part of RWA. We have our ups and our downs, our tempests and our trials. I have not always gone to conventions and felt welcomed. I have not always felt this connection. But I have always believed it can be there and that it should be there, and I have always found people and places where it is. Thank you, though, for this time and this moment for embracing me completely as I needed to be embraced. For reminding me that it’s through action and service that I’m renewed, through networking and connection. For nudging me into the knowledge I already had, that being alone with my struggles isn’t good for me or my work. Above all, though, thank you for a week that was simply wonderful. It was exactly what I needed. You have inspired me to look harder for ways I can give that feeling back to others.

Now I have to get back to this book on deadline—with a light heart and renewed spirit, and a determination that I will make more space for connection with my support systems from here on out. Thank you for reminding me I had one around me all along.

The Marvelous, Fantastical, Incredible Chronicles of Walter the Great

Walter Cullinan, AKA Walty, AKA Super Walter, June 2001-January 11,2018


I have written some tough cat eulogies in my day. I have written plenty of cat eulogies in my day, all of them chronicled here. None of them are easy, and all of them are sad. But writing a eulogy for Walter is a sorrow I have been dreading. I knew it would hit us like a train, and it hit us like seven bullet trains, express. We feel his loss. The other cats feel his loss. Our friends and our family feel his loss. You, my reader, without realizing it feel his loss. Walter was a character like no other. Our longest-lived cat who defied not one, not two, but three death sentences at once to live more than six months past what the most celebrated veterinarians in the state predicted. He was the last surviving cat from our previous residence, the last cat from our early marriage. He is the cat who grew up in congruence with our daughter. He charmed delivery men and repairmen and all friends and family who came to see us, greeting them usually at the door. He spawned one of my most-loved characters. He scared rottweilers away, pinning them in the corner of our porch with nothing more than the force of his stare. He lost is best friend and made another. He was a viral video. He was legend.

Let me tell you his story.

Walter came into our life in August, 2001, shortly after the unexpected death of my cat Gulliver, while I was seven months pregnant with Anna. We took a walk down to see my mother, and when we came back he was screaming and unable to walk. Two days later he was dead of a thromboembolism. Gulliver was my baby, my constant companion–we had two other cats, but Gulliver was my heart, and I was utterly destroyed that he’d been taken from me the way he had. Neither of the remaining cats remotely filled the hole he left. Pregnant, hormonal as hell, and not thinking the most clearly, I dragged Dan to the local shelter to look for a new cat.

I fell in love with Bingley, a beautiful white and tan spotted cat who pawed at me through his cage and gazed at me with sweet eyes. Across the room, Dan had already sold his soul to a tiny black and white bean who hadn’t even been processed, barely large enough to fit in his hand, though he was already three months old. When Dan held him too long, the kitten peed on him. That’s when Dan says he lost his heart.

 

Fools that we were (and still are), we took home both kittens. A few months later we would stand in the middle of our tiny house with a newborn, two rambunctious kittens, and two dubious older cats and wonder what in the world we had done to ourselves.

Bingley and Walter weren’t litter mates, but they might as well have been. They were instant best friends and were never seen one without the other the entirety of their time together. Unfortunately, we lost Bingley quickly and unexpectedly to lung cancer in 2011, right after first Mia and then Blair died in quick succession of one another to unrelated cancers.

We were so in shock and wrecked by so many cat deaths, and Bingley was so sweet and quiet, I’m afraid he doesn’t have much of a eulogy here except to show how sad we were. Walter took Bingley’s death hard as well, and for a time we thought we’d lose him too, to grief. Thanks to love, catnip, and the power of ham, he decided to stick around.

Walter had a long, wonderful period of life with Bingley, though, and during that era he and his brother tormented Blair, their cranky alpha, and got into trouble with Mia, their adopted mother. For a few months after they arrived they were the babies, and then they were the fur babies next to the human baby, Anna.

Blair (black cat), Walter, Bingley, and Mia (orange tabby) hang out in the to-be baby’s room

Walter got into all kinds of trouble, most of it fairly innocent. Anna’s godmother and Heidi’s former teaching partner, Mary, always wanted to steal Walter and take him home in her purse, the joke being that he totally would have fit.

Walter got along with everyone, even cats who didn’t want to get along. Blair, our notorious bastard cat who despised all living things except Anna, Dan, and I, loved Walter. Walter just had this way of worming his way up to the cranky Blair, somehow knowing the anger was only there to hide a sensitive side.

Technically Walter had small man syndrome; he was never a large cat, and he lived most of his life with Blair and Sidney, who were tanks, but he never seemed to mind. He had charm to spare.

Literally everyone loved Walter, in and out of the house. For the past year as he has been known to be terminally ill, it has been a parade of visitors wanting to pet him “one last time,” and when they visited to find he was still with us, they were overjoyed to find they had yet another chance. “He’s going to live forever,” everyone said, even though we all knew it was impossible. Walter was the kind of guy who made you believe.

Walter sure did love his creature comforts, though, especially food. He would beg for (and receive) any and all table scraps, preferring meat but accepting bread, rice, and anything that wasn’t a vegetable (though those sometimes came along for the ride).

The cats circling at feeding time

His favorite food above all was ham, and he did what we called the “ham dance,” standing on his hind legs and begging if you got out the bag of shaved ham to make a sandwich or carved up a ham on a holiday. You were expected to share, and if you didn’t, he stood near you, staring with intent, until you did.

He also loved it when we made a fire in what was first the TV room and now is my office, curling up in a cat bed strategically placed, or simply lying on the rug in front of it. Above all, though, Walter loved to snuggle. People’s laps were preferred, but if he couldn’t find a human, any other cat would do. Often the other cat in question didn’t want to snuggle, but he simply kept advancing until they accepted his affections. When I went to gather photos of him for his memorial, it was a veritable parade of Walter snuggling with various family members, guests, and animals over the years.

Walter and Daisy

Walter did even snuggle Glinda, though they’re most famous for their cat standoff on YouTube (Walter wins). They made us a tidy fee in licensing, so sometimes fighting does pay.

What he liked above all was a huge snuggle pile of cats: it’s difficult to tell, but this is a (recent) photo of Walter with Sam, Mitch, and Sasha, tucked into various places on my lap while I stay up too late watching Kdramas. This is Walter’s (and my) idea of heaven.

But speaking of Sasha.

Sasha is our youngest cat, the cat we didn’t mean to adopt but somehow did. He came into our life as a three week old abandoned kitten; Anna bottle fed him until he was weaned, and then we couldn’t bear to pass him on to my sister, who had planned to take him. All the other cats adopted Sasha in their own way, Mitch carting him around like a mother cat when he was a baby, but as soon as he was old enough, Sasha started snuggling Walter, and a new love affair was born.

Walter and Sasha begging when Sasha was a kitten

 

Adult Sasha and Walter begging for food at the table

Sasha and Walter had a crazy bond from word go. They quickly figured out they could get away with murder if they planned it together, but since the only real goal either one of them had was food, they stuck to begging for scraps. Their favorite ploy was sitting on a chair and looking pathetic, a strategy they used from day one to the end, but they also sat on the far end of the table when they could, Sasha just out of reach being polite, Walter going in for the kill. They always managed to get away with a heavy haul, usually handed right to them.

Mostly, though, they snuggled. It broke my heart to see how many photos we have of Sasha and Walter snuggled together. They weren’t as inseparable as Walter was with Bingley, but in their own way, they had a deep bond, and it’s no wonder Sasha seems extra quiet now. He’s especially confused in the morning, trying to find Walter so he can stand guard to let him out once he’s done eating his special food. Mitch seems to have taken up the snuggle baton, but the truth is, it’s going to be hard to beat his Walter.

Sasha isn’t the only baby in the house who’s going to miss Walter, though Anna’s going to take serious umbrage with my using that term to describe her. It’s true, she’s not a baby. She’s sixteen, the same age as Walter. That’s just the point, though. Walter famously slept in her pack-and-play more than she did. Walter grew up with her. Walter has always been there, everywhere, being the most Walter of Walters.

Anna sitting with Blair and Walter after a bad day getting some cat therapy

Because of the age of our cats as she was born, and some bad luck with some others’ health, she experienced a mass cat die-off at the time of Bingley’s death, with Sidney’s to come a few years after. Walter, however, remained the eternal constant.

He has sat with her through her homework, been the subject of her Snaps and Instagram posts as she has worked out the finer points of crafting her meme style. Then he befriended the baby she raised, playing grandpa to Sasha.

Walter was my constant companion throughout his life. In his youth I was a stay-at-home mother, then as time went on, I became a stay-at-home author. I have written many a novel with him on my lap, near my desk, or batting at my face for whatever I was eating. I cried a lot Thursday because the last few times he had the strength to climb the desk recently I chased him away because he kept stepping on my trackpad, plus I was on deadline. I had a hard time eating at my desk because he would always badger me for his half of whatever I was having, and honestly I don’t know if I can ever eat there again because he won’t be badgering me. He was always underfoot in the kitchen while I cooked or sometimes if I simply walked through it. He liked to sit at the heat vent beside the fridge to watch and give me stern looks as if to say, “Where the hell is mine,” and honestly I don’t want to cook yet because he’s not going to be there, ever again. It’s hard to write, it’s hard to be in the house, and it’s most hell to come downstairs, because he’s never coming out again to ask me to feed him his special breakfast before settling in beside me to see if I’ll name a character after him again.

I’ve told the story several times now, but to be proper about it in the eulogy: Walter the cat is so extra he has a fictional character named after him. No joke, I was setting up the heroes for Love Lessons, looked to my right, saw Walter, and thought, “Yes, actually, dude, you’d make a great hero.” Walter Davidson (neé Lucas) is about as close to a human version of Walter the cat as you can get, down to the personality so intense he accidentally spawned a series that is still going instead of being a one off book like I’d planned.

Walter also kept me company late at night when I couldn’t sleep over the past year due to anxiety/PTSD, or when pain has kept me from sleeping. I don’t know how he felt about anime or Asian dramas, but I really appreciated having him with me. It got rough at the end, his tumor making it uncomfortable for him, and I knew it was over when for the last few days he didn’t come at all. A Walter who didn’t snuggle wasn’t Walter at all.

If there is anyone in our house who has the greatest hole right now, though, it’s Dan. Much as I love Walter, much as I’m the one who sees him the most, it’s Dan who picked Walter at the shelter, Dan who claimed Walter as his cat, and Dan who loved this cat above all cats, except possibly Blair, who he loved in a different way. Blair was also Dan’s cat, but Blair was a neurotic mess and difficult to love. Walter was so incredibly easy to love, and he healed Dan every time he climbed onto him and declared, “I’m sitting on you now, just make peace with it.”

Walter’s aggression was good for Dan, a healing force he often sorely needed. Dan is open about his struggles with depression and anxiety; Walter was walking Prozac that settled into your lap, on your chest, shoulder, leg, whatever he felt like.

It was his calm invasion of your space that made Dan the happiest, the way Walter somehow always seemed to know just when to come see him.

We called Walter in his youth “Sir Walter Scott,” though that nickname soon fell away. Occasionally he was “Super Walter,” though mostly he was “Walter” and “Walty.” He knew his name and came to it. He expected you’d give him food or love, preferably both. We truly thought we might get to keep him for twenty years, maybe longer. We wanted him forever.

The first sign of trouble was that he had a hyper thyroid. We’d been to that rodeo–meds every day, which was what started the food in the bathroom trick, his special meal, because that was where we snuck them. Eventually we had to give them manually in a syringe, which at first had him peeing every time we did it, which meant we had to do it on a puppy pad. Eventually he gave that up.

Walter enjoys a cat heating pad

His second strike was kidney disease, minor at first but always dangerous in cats. He didn’t care for his renal diet, and it’s hell to get him to stick to it when there are so many cats, plus when he’s a scrap hog. He did like that he could bug me for food at any time in the kitchen and receive wet food, warmed up. But at the same time as all of this, he had a strange growth in his abdomen, a tumor which first read benign (much to the suspicion of ISU vets) and then this past week in the ER began to show signs of cancer.

Whatever the tumor was, it was the tumor that took him. At first it gave us a long, free ride: the vet gave us a few weeks last summer, but he made it through another Christmas and into a new year. He was incredible at Christmas, getting in everyone’s face, even climbing the stairs for the first time in a year. A few days before his ER visit, though, things began to slide, and this past Monday, he walked out of the litter box looking like he was about to delivery kittens, he had so much fluid on his belly. We were late to Anna’s horn lesson rushing him to the ICU–so spoiled to have our primary vet also be the state ER doctors of most advanced critical care–where we learned his kidney disease was much worse and his tumor was almost assuredly cancerous, and spreading.

This week was desperate rush for one more time, one more last chance with Walter. We knew it was the end, but we wanted one last dance. We tried draining the fluid. We tried steroids. But ultimately he was so weak he could barely stand, incontinent, and on Thursday, yowling in pain. Dan rushed home from work, and in a blizzard we climbed into the car, trying to clear the window enough to drive the mile and a half to ISU vet. We weren’t out of the drive before Walter yowled, vomited blood, and sighed against Dan’s chest. He was alive for a few more minutes, but before we reached the hospital doors, he died in Dan’s arms, closing out the way he came in.

He even urinated again, Dan says, just for good measure.

ISU is a large vet hospital, full of staff and students, but they all knew Walter and loved him like we did, and they were as sad as we were to see him pass. They took such good care of him, and us, before and after his death, doing everything possible to make his final days the most comfortable possible. The front desk knew me by the sound of my voice, and when we changed appointments because of emergencies, they quietly dropped the scheduled ones without being asked.

They have the body that housed Walter the Great now, leaving us with three tufts of fur in sealed bags. In a week we’ll receive his ashes to join the other cats who have left us. We will always have our memories, and the light that he gave us. There will, however, never

be another Walter, and we will miss him until we’re the ones crossing over, where we assume he will be waiting for some seriously overdue ham.

This eulogy is late firstly because on the day of his death I was so sad I could barely move. I wrote the bulk of this post the day after, but it was delayed further because we had so many photos I wasn’t posting it until I could make a memorial video of him as well. I don’t know of how much interest it is to the general readers of this blog. However, to the vast and passionate Walter fan club, I know it will be priceless and not nearly long enough. It will be included at the bottom of this post.

For those of you who didn’t know Walter but are my readers, fear not. That will soon change.

My patrons, who bore first my initial sorrow upon realizing his time had come and then my grief at the time of his desk, already know about this surprise, an indulgence perhaps others may or may not like but I personally do not care, because I do this for myself. Walter Lucas Davidson was named for Walter the Cat, but Walter the Cat is gone. I hate that, and so I’m going to make sure Walter the Cat lives forever. I couldn’t think of anywhere better for Walter to take up residence than the White House, and so in Rebel Heart, which now has 700 words started, Walter the cat will appear as himself. You may read the snippet I shared in rough form on my Patreon.

Now the time has come, at last, for this eulogy to end. The goodbye for now, but the goodbye in this lifetime. Oh, Walter, I hate that you’re gone. People say you’re a cat, but you and I and so many others damn well knew better. We will miss you so much. Every single day. I really am sorry I didn’t let you get on my desk. I know you didn’t care and were just going to get up anyway, but I’m sorry I was angry. I’m glad you went the way you wanted to go, in Dan’s arms. I’m sorry you had so much pain in the last few days. I’m sorry if you wish I would have made it go away sooner.

You have earned your rest, mighty king. Slayer of Dogs, Eater of Ham, Snuggler of All. Walter the Great, by my pen, my mouth, and my heart, you will live forever.

Until we meet again.

 

(Here’s the video.)

 

Announcement on my attendance at GRL

I’ve made this announcement to the organizers and on the Facebook loops where I think most people will see updates, but for anyone who might not follow there and was hoping to see me in Denver in a few weeks; it is with regret I must report I will be unable to attend this year’s GRL in Denver. While I would love to see everyone and being with readers, developments in my family have made it clear to me that right now my place is here at home. I’m not going into details further than that, though I will also say that no one should worry.

I will also probably be stepping back a bit from social media for the rest of September and October, though I’ll still pop in from time to time. I’m still writing, and I’m going to conquer my email someday. But if your DMs fall on deaf ears or there don’t seem to be any tweets or posts, just know I’m probably off doing family stuff or trying to get more book in. The one online exception will be my patrons, because they are my personal support network and I’m not sure I can function anymore without them. Some of those posts are public, so if you really want to peek at me, you can hunt me down there.

I’m sorry again I won’t be in Denver and that I’m pulling out at the last minute. If you’re a member of the GRL FB group, I did say there that I would allow GRL paperback orders shipped direct to attendees (at their homes), something usually only reserved for patrons, as an apology for my withdrawal. If you’re a GRL attendee and wish to partake in this, please fill out the form posted in the group by October 4.

Thank you, and I’ll see you all soon.

Recap/Rewatch, Yuri on Ice Episode 12: Gotta Super-Super-Supercharge it! Grand Prix Final Free Skate

First off, I have an announcement to make: we have a winner for the Rafflecopter that has been running alongside these recaps: Maedhrosussandol, who won by answering the poll asking with whom would they pair skate…and the partner who led her to gold was, no surprise, Victor Nikiforov. Congrats, Maedhrosussandol! I will be emailing you shortly to talk to you about how to get you your prize!

Victor dips Yuri during the pair skate

Thanks to everyone who played along. If you can believe it, you are EVENLY pair-skating with Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov. Seriously. Well played, guys. Well played.

All right, we still have one episode left to recap, so let’s not waste any time. Let’s dig right in.

Remember this is the episode so chock full they stripped out the opening AND closing credits, playing the opening theme behind Stéphan Lambiel’s announcements. That’s how much this should have been episode 12 and 13, but they didn’t get that luxury, so here we are. Before we get to the free skates, though, first we have to sit with the whammy Yuri threw at us at the end of the previous episode, his “let’s end this” after the final. Now that we’re not just having a cliffhanger, we get Victor’s reaction, which is basically ours: what the hell, man. Shock.

Victor regards Yuri's announcement of retirement with shock

Except Yuri is not trying to shock Victor. He’s quite serious. He speaks carefully, having thought this through and prepared his speech, and after declaring Victor has done more than enough for him, Yuri thanks him for being the reason he was able to give his all to his last season. He bows, formally, and thanks Victor in what I’m sure Yuri feels is a proper acknowledgment and goodbye.

And then as his head is bowed, he sees Victor’s tears hitting his feet.

Victor closeup crying

We’ve seen Victor cry once before in this series, though it was subtle—the night he arrived and Yuri rejected him in every way possible, not even allowing him to sleep on the floor of his room for companionship, he cried himself to sleep, in private. Otherwise while we assume Yuri and Victor have become close enough to spar with each other—and we saw some of it in the shopping episode—we have not seen Victor cry in front of anyone, and Yuri’s reaction makes me think he has never seen Victor cry, either. Victor cries too as if he cannot help it, as if these tears are simply flowing out of him, unbidden, unstoppable. There are no tears in his voice, and he keeps speaking as if he’s attempting to grasp control of the conversation, but his tears tell another story.

He swears and says he didn’t know Yuri could be this selfish. Yuri replies that yes, he made this selfish decision on his own—whether he’s being deliberately obtuse or still failing to understand his partner is unclear. But when Yuri says he’s retiring, Victor’s tears spill faster, as if this is the true pain for him.

It’s interesting that there’s no mention that they must separate from one another, that they can’t still be a couple if Yuri doesn’t compete. But of course, unless Yuri follows him around, or Victor remains retired as well, it would be difficult to stay together. Also it’s clear, this scene driving it home, that their skating is such a huge part of their relationship, both coaching and skating itself, and Victor and Yuri both acknowledge this. What Victor is reacting to is that Yuri seems to be saying, despite Victor thinking he was proposed to, that there was in fact no proposal at all, that this was only ever a momentary thing and that all they had built was for a moment and nothing more. Victor is not ready to let this go, and he is hurt, deeply, that Yuri has decided to do this without consulting him.

 

Yuri looks at Victor in confusion

Yuri, meanwhile, is genuinely baffled that Victor is so upset, that he has been reduced to tears. He seems both stunned and fascinated and lifts Victor’s hair to get a better look at his tears—this doesn’t go over well. Now Victor is angry. And the, so is Yuri. “You’re the one who said it was only until the Grand Prix Final,” he points out, and Victor counters, “I thought you needed my help more.”

Yuri zeroes in on the elephant in the hotel room. “Aren’t you going to make a comeback?” Victor, furious now, asks how Yuri can tell him to return to the ice while saying he’s retiring. And in that exchange, you have everything about this episode.

Yuri is fixated on the fact that he knows Victor must return to the ice, that he cannot, must not remain only a coach.

Victor cannot bear the idea either of having Yuri retire at his peak of glory nor can he conceive of continuing to skate without Yuri on the ice with him. They are, it seems, at an impasse.

The real issue, though, is that they aren’t communicating, but I don’t know that they’re able to say anything more with words. So they agree to discuss this after the GPF is over—and now, somehow, they are supposed to get through Yuri’s skate. We introduce everyone and their standings, Stéphan interviews Victor…and notes that he’s not looking great. Which is the truth. Victor is not looking his usual shiny self. He’s tired, he’s not as put-together, and he appears worried.

First skater is JJ. Basically he starts to flub and then gets his shit together and recovers enough to get a decent score. Points to family and girlfriend for being way supportive, and love the South Park nod with baby JJ. Other than this, mostly my reaction here is, why in the hell does he have to beat Otabek? What’s the narrative purpose here? Because he recovered? I dunno. I think he should have settled on fourth and Otabek should have had bronze. Better podium family.

Phichit and his friends perform an ice show in his imagination

We do get some nice commentary from the others as JJ skates, there and at home, and then it’s Phichit’s turn. His skate was always going to miss the podium, but we get the perfectly wonderful peek into his dream of Phichit on Ice, his Thai ice show, and we are all here for it, Phichit. Let’s do this.

Now it’s time for Yuri’s free skate. Strap in.

Yuri and Victor are still awkward with one another, not really talking, remembering old conversations and basically not having the pinnacle moment they should. Rinkside Victor makes one last gasp, telling Yuri don’t worry, he can do it, believe in himself, and Yuri says, screw that, don’t start acting like a model coach now. He wants to smile for the last time on the ice.

Victor whispers to Yuri at the ringside

I always feel like this next part would resonate better if I knew Japanese, but maybe not. What we get from the visual and the Japanese translation is this: Victor grasps Yuri’s hand—ring glinting—and says, “Yuri, listen to me. I debated whether I should tell you this now, but…I took a break after becoming the five-time world champion to coach you, so how is it possible you still haven’t won a single gold medal? How much longer are you going to stay in warm-up mode? I really want to kiss the gold medal.” Then he hugs him, and though they draw back, they stay in close and regard each other—and Yuri laughs, closes his eyes, and hugs Victor again. In fact they tremble as they embrace each other tightly, and the announcer remarks that Yuri looks as if he might be crying.

Then they draw back, clasp their hands bearing their rings together, and Yuri’s voice over says, “I’ve already made up my mind about my goal.” As their hands pull apart—more to the point as Yuri pulls apart, Victor’s grip lingers as Yuri goes to the ice.

So what does this mean? What did they actually say to each other? What made Yuri cry?

First off, Victor says here he took a break to be a coach, implying he too has already made up his mind, that he already knows he’s going back, either because Yuri pushed him or because he was going to all along. Yuri says he’s made up his mind too—and from the way he monologs during this skate, it’s clear that goal is that he is done, that this is his final skate, no looking back, no future.  Victor, though, clearly is saying, give this skate your all, get the gold, give me something to kiss, but don’t stay in warm-up mode. He’s giving him a lecture, not at the kiss and cry but at the gate.

It’s actually the same commentary from the beach: you’re not weak, Yuri.

So Yuri goes out to the ice, knowing this is goodbye—to Victor, to skating, to everything—and he has decided to make it the best damn goodbye he can.

His monolog echoes the opening of the show, saying he’s nothing special (very Japanese), and off he goes. As he skates, we see his performance layered over Victor’s own, from his youth in particular, but also his adulthood, and Yuri thanks him for taking him all the way here, for everything he’s given him. He acknowledges it’s not only Victor he has to thank, that it’s also Yurio, and a flash to Minako. He tells us he’s changed the difficulty to be the same level of Victor’s—without letting Victor know—as a present to him, an acknowledgement to him. He acknowledges as he skates that he doesn’t want it to end, but if he does, it means slowly killing Victor as a competitive skater, and he can’t do that. And so he’s saying, look at the Victor who lives on inside of me. This wasn’t a waste of your time. Once again, he says he’s the only one who can show this to Victor—you see, as the viewer, that this whole program, this whole journey has ever been for Victor. Yuri is skating in front of an international audience and an arena full of people, but the only person who matters is the person in the kiss and cry, who came to Hasetsu to bring him back to the ice, and who he is bringing to the ice again now.

Victor beckons to Yuri in episode one

Yuri points at Victor in the same way Victor pointed at him when he arrived at Hasetsu

We find out that Yuri has cracked Victor’s record, the same as Yurio has with the short program—both Victor’s records are gone now. Victor congratulates Yuri as his coach and acknowledges it stings as a competitor. Excited, Yuri asks if that means he’s decided he’s coming back. Victor doesn’t say anything, but the answer is yes, he is.

They enjoy a lovely moment in the kiss and cry, hugging and mugging for photos, distracting Chris from his free skate. Victor asks for a commemorative photo—ha—on his phone. Chris doesn’t do well, and we don’t need to say much more here.

Otabek skates now, and he’s basically a backdrop as Yurio gets ready and Victor finds Yakov to say he’s officially coming back to the ice and Yurio freaks out, saying, “Wait, what, does this mean Yuri’s retiring?” Victor says he’ll make his own decision, then basically grips Yuri in this intense hug.

Victor hugs Yurio in a tight embrace while Yurio looks stricken

It’s worth notice we have not see Victor hug Yurio before, ever. And he doesn’t give him a “good luck” looking hug. This hug looks like desperation. And Yurio looks like someone has hit him with a brick. During this whole skate too, Otabek is telling everyone in his mental monolog to find your own path and skate your own dream.

Meanwhile, Yuri is looking for Victor, and instead finds Yurio going out to the ice right after Otabek is robbed of his place on the podium. And now we get Yurio’s free skate, and his amazing monolog.

Essentially in Yurio’s free skate we learn he has always admired Yuri and wanted to see him do well, but he has also been frustrated by Yuri’s inability to skate without mistakes. He’s captivated by his step sequences and can sense his potential, but when he saw him letting his defeat get to him, he was angry. Also remember, Yurio has demonstrated over and over again he’s basically unsocialized (his first friend was Otabek, made ten minutes ago) and has obvious anger and communication issues. He’s easily hurt, and he’s just been told Yuri is leaving the sport. Congrats, he’s getting Victor back—except Yuri doesn’t just want Victor in the sport again. He wants them both. He’s shocked, hurt, and pissed. And he intends to make this skate his message to Yuri: don’t you dare think you get to leave.

Yuri watches Yurio's FS and is overwhelmed

Now, he makes some mistakes in this skate, possibly because he’s skating in anger, but he also does some amazing recovery, and the main point is, he does what he intends to: he reaches Yuri. He isn’t Victor, he has never been Victor, but remember how Yakov saw his short program and whispered, “Vitya”? Well, it seems Yuri is watching this and seeing something that calls to him as well. Yurio spends himself dry in this skate, edges over Yuri to win gold—and nabs something even greater: he keeps Yuri from retirement.

Victor asks Yuri what will excite him

When Yuri presents his silver medal to Victor, Victor declares he won’t kiss it unless it’s gold, then teases Yuri saying he really had wanted to kiss Yuri’s gold medal, and does Yuri have any suggestions, an idea of something else that would excite Victor? He’s backed Yuri over the rail, and you think for a minute Victor’s going to kiss him.

Yuri panics, then pushes Victor to the ground, tossing his medal aside as he sits astride him and says, with passionate conviction, “Please be stay with me in competitive skating for one more year! This time, I’ll win gold for sure!”

Victor implores Yuri to stay in skating for more than one year, with Yuri on his lap

Victor, melting with excitement, tells him not to stop there. Picking up the silver medal to place it around Yuri’s neck, he says, “Even I’m worried about making a full comeback if I’m also staying on as your coach. In exchange, I’ll need you to become a five-time world champion, at least.”

Think about that statement for a second. Victor is saying, in addition to acknowledging it’s going to be hard to keep his title as best in skating if he’s also coaching, that if he has to choose between that title and Yuri having a shot at going for the same, he wants to support Yuri. Remember the beginning of the episode, where Yuri couldn’t bear the thought of Victor not returning to the sport and Victor unwilling to do so without Yuri? This is the compromise, and Victor is underlining it. “I will no longer be the champion,” he’s telling Yuri. “You will have to be. And you will not be allowed to retire anytime soon.”

Nodding, and weeping, Yuri cries and embraces him again. They remain this way together long after the arena has cleared out.

Now we have the end of the episode, the very, very end, which is Yuri’s exhibition skate. He would have skated this anytime he placed at a competition—so he would have at the Cup of China but not at Rostelecom. Normally he skates “Stay Close to Me” solo, but tonight, this time, he skates with Victor, a surprise for the audience, in a pair skate.

This pair skate is one of my favorite things about the show. On the BluRay you can watch it without the credits, and I do, often. It is so breathtaking, not only the song and the composition but the meaning it has. The journey these two have undertaken. The image of two men skating like this, so clearly in love, swapping roles in the dance. That moment when they stroke each others’ faces and the camera slows down to let us see, the lights full up, the colors saturated. The bookending of “Duetto” and “Stammi Vicino,” letting us see Victor first empty and Yuri desperate/lost and then the two of them joined and happy together.

Then, of course, finally we cut to Yuri in St. Petersburg, running across the bridge with Makkachin, we presume on the way to training, or something, and he’s meeting Victor and Yurio. Yuri’s hair has grown; time has passed. He’s hurrying to Victor, he’s eager to meet him, and when Victor sees him coming, he smiles, bright and full of life, and he calls, “Yuri!” and the episode ends.

See you next level, the screen taunts, and so we wait for that now. The movie first, and hopefully then season two, whenever each will happen.

Every time I finish watching the series I feel joy and hope and a tinge of sadness, hating that its over, warm and safe and satisfied because it ended well and because I know there is more. Of course, there is so much more online, in fandom and fanfiction and community in general, and more official story to come.

I have met so many incredible people because of this show, all over the world. I’ve gained readers for my own work, different readers than I ever would have made. I’ve watched other anime I never would have considered. Above all, though, this show gave me back hope. Hope in so many things, but mostly hope, period, and these days however we can get hope, that’s a good thing.

Here’s to Yuri on Ice, whatever it means to you, whatever it has brought you so far and whatever it brings you in the future. I will remain here, carrying on about it, until they kill the internet or I am dead, and even then I think I will still manage it.

Thank you to everyone who has read through this recap adventure! There will be more anime and manga reports to come in the future, so watch this space, and more giveaways too. See you next level, indeed.


Cover art of Heidi Cullinan's novel, Antisocial. Manga style cover with two young men standing in a manga panel, looking up through cherry blossoms. One is in a suit, no tie, the other in a plaid shirt. The cover is pink and very soft.

A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

Buy links

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

 

 

Recap/Rewatch, Yuri on Ice — Episode 11 Gotta Super-Supercharge it! Grand Prix Final Short Program

Of all the episodes in the series, this one is my least favorite for several reasons. It doesn’t really have much of an arc, because it’ can’t: the whole purpose is to watch the six finalists skate and to set up the last episode, the latter which should really be two, or better yet three episodes. Even this episode would have been better as two with the skates spread out and some plot put in. There’s zero plot: it’s just, “here is skating, please watch.” Then JJ’s dive, and the total depression post-credits.

I guess we get a subtle plot thread, and I’ll follow it here. But it’s weak, man. Very weak tea. Anyway, let’s dive in.

We get an announcer overview of everyone, beginning with Yuri, and his clips include his lip-licking at Victor and Victor kissing him on the ice. Everyone else gets a pretty normal intro, and basically we’re all psyched for the event to start, yay! Following this we get the fancy opening with extra colors and the finalists superimposed over the background. This is the last time we get either the opening or end credits, honestly, because episode twelve eats everything so they can make time. I think (we’ll check next time) we get a tiny bit of the opening in the background while people are introduced, but that’s it.

The actual show goes right into the programs, and it’s Yuri skating first, with Victor kissing his ring and everyone getting excited for him. Victor’s not wearing gloves so as to better show off his ring. Yuri is psyched and ready to do his best, knowing he hasn’t landed this jump but determined to do so. We get a little flashback where he and Victor discuss this, and also a super cute GIF where Victor jumps into his arms as Yuri taunts him with the image of him succeeding at making it.

You have to love how relaxed they are together there, how in sync they are.

So now Yuri’s trying to bring the magic, to land this quad flip in the Eros program and beat JJ. Victor is nervous for him, so into it that he does the flip with him in the stands. Which is also an adorable moment.

Except Yuri doesn’t quite execute the move. He would have had a higher score if he’d have just killed it like he had in Russia. If he’d have been jealous and upset. Of course he wouldn’t have beat Yuri or Otabek, but he would have fared better. He wasn’t into it, though—he went backward, too focused on execution, everything Victor warned him in episode five not to do. Yuri is upset, and Victor is upset with him, not knowing how to console him.

I really empathize with Yuri here, and I think all artists can. I feel this is what creating art is a good 90% of the time, maybe more. You have a dream for what something is, you try to push it into that place, and maybe you do okay, you have some success, but you rarely execute your project in the way you want it to land. Something always goes wrong. You attempt to push one aspect and inadvertently fuck another. You get one part right and something else goes haywire that you didn’t anticipate. Sometimes the mess up is beyond your control. Sometimes it’s someone else fucking you up. Sometimes you’re your own enemy. It’s always so frustrating, though, because all you want is to delivery this art, which in your mind is so pure and right, and you know if you could just get it out there it would be a good thing—and when it fails to land, all you can think is, if that art had been handed to someone else to pass out, maybe it would have worked out.

Dejected Yuri rests head on ice

Art is so hard. Skating is art too. I feel for Yuri in that moment, when he collapses on the ice in frustration.

Anyway, after Yuri is Phichit, and he’s gorgeous and happy and just pleased to have made it to the GPF. His score comes in under Yuri and it becomes pretty clear he’s not winning gold, but he doesn’t mind. He’s already won his prize. We also get some of his backstory, how he ended up in skating, which I love. I also just straight up love Phichit.

Now we have Yurio’s skate—and he absolutely nails his Agape, finally. It’s beautiful, breathtaking, both in skill and emotion. He’s not fighting anything anymore. He’s found everything he needs to be in this skate, and he’s grown an athlete, an artist, and a human. It shows in his performance. Yakov, watching, sees glimpses of Victor.

Victor, watching, sees something, but we don’t know what. Longing, for sure. For his past, for the days of skating, for his youth—what exactly isn’t told, and I don’t think it needs to be. I’m sure it was complicated, that moment. Even if he were competing, that would have been tough to watch, because Yurio is too much like him (even as he’s also nothing like him). But Yuri sees Victor in this moment too…and makes some dangerous inferences that align with his own plans.

Chris skates, Victor watches and has more nostalgia—which Yuri also sees and notes, packing away into his decision.

Yuri watches Victor watching Yurio

This, by the way is another red flag of someone with anxiety. Anxiety and depression both like to whisper things to the person who has the condition, and unless actively resisted, that person can end up believing an alternate reality. My husband has clinical anxiety (and is open about it) and I cannot tell you the number of times our arguments have been centered on unpacking something he believes I think, which I do not think, but he has decided based on something his anxiety built up around some subtle movement, a word, an action. So the idea that Yuri has been cataloging gestures and smiles and silences from Victor and deciding this means he wants to/should go back to skating? Oh yes. I buy that all the way as something he would do. He doesn’t mean anything malicious by it, either. In his mind, he’s being helpful. Never mind this isn’t at all what Victor actually wants, that listening to this nag from anxiety over unpacking Victor’s own yearning and need for connection is cruel. The man so clearly has decided he cannot function without Yuri, will be an empty shell without him and that yes, he wants to skate but would rather die than lose Yuri—but Yuri can’t see this. He can only see himself and the projections he has made of Victor, at least in this matter. Because this is his anxiety over his failure rearing its head, wrapping around him, warping reality. He isn’t aware he’s doing it. He is eating his own happiness without understanding that’s what he’s doing.

Everyone outscores Yuri—Chris, Otabek—Otabek kills it, honestly, and Yurio is there to cheer him on from the stands. Everyone is impressed with Otabek, and we get his backstory too, of how he clawed his way here and made himself into what he is now.

And then, to my joy, we get JJ and his total choke.

I already wrote up why I love JJ’s choke so I won’t do it again: why the section (and JJ) are present in the plot are to show him falling and give Yuri a chance (which he doesn’t take) to understand that failure is part of performance. That everyone, no matter how great, will have moments where they break, especially if they cling to the idea of not failing. In many ways JJ and Yuri are the same; JJ is arrogant and obnoxious, but think of how Yuri behaved with Minami in episode four when Victor scolded him. He was cold and unconnected. JJ isn’t cold, he’s cruel and sharp, but he’s unconnected.

JJ mental image of falling away from his competitors from a cliff

Earlier in the episode Victor talked about how he used to think he had to win on his own, but now he knows that’s wrong. Even Victor has grown through this season, this time by not skating but by helping Yuri, by being unable to skate and only help others. He realizes everyone needs that help, that they must take it. Yuri doesn’t see that yet, but when he watches JJ he at least acknowledges that everyone falls, that he and JJ are one and the same. They both came to the GPF and crashed. Yuri had been arrogant enough to think he was special, that only he could do such a thing. Now he understands everyone can—though in truth it’s most likely that unconnected people like he and JJ can, people who put themselves on pedestals of either idolatry or isolation. The name of the pedestal is irrelevant. The point is, you stand on it alone.

JJ’s family and fans rally him through his skate, but he gets a shit score and is in last place now. The score rank has Yuiro first, Otabek second, Chris third, Yuri fourth, Phichit fifth, and JJ sixth. This is how we end the official section of the show, and now we hear the closing credits for the last time, so enjoy them.

And now it’s time to be depressed as hell.

Victor damp in a fluffy towel

After the credits we get the announcer giving the rankings and we see everyone going to bed in Japan and people going out to celebrate in Spain, mostly via Yuri’s social media feed. Yuri and Victor are in their hotel room, Victor looking sexy as he towels off after a shower. They chat a bit, looking happy and soft. Then Victor says, “Oh by the way, what did you want to talk to me about?” Yuri gathers his courage, clenches his fists and says, “After the Final, let’s end this.”

And then the damn episode ends.

The difference between the opening of this episode and the end was the starkest ever. Still high from ep 10, as we sat down to watch we were bouncy and happy, ready for more awesome. When this episode finished, you could have heard a pin drop. My daughter and her friend didn’t speak for a long time, and we all wandered around depressed. The people who had made me their advance watcher shepherd had to be told not to watch, and a whole bunch of people panicked that the end wouldn’t be happy, that they would in fact split up.

I doubted this. I had faith in them, even though I couldn’t say why. The narrative was there. It didn’t feel like it as angling toward destruction. It felt as if they were soaring toward hope, not hell, so I kept the faith, though I did have a bit of worry, which isn’t all bad when consuming story. I wouldn’t have minded knowing it was a romance genre and therefore the HEA was guaranteed, but I did know this was the dark moment that had to happen and it was right on schedule.

And as I said, it fit, utterly. It was right on par with Yuri and his deciding what the reality was and what Victor needed. Despite his generally being very good for Victor, this is his flaw, his inability to see, and he cannot see Victor here because this is his blindness, his worry over his own failure. He is about to would Victor deeply…and this is what people in love do to one another. Hurt them, because no one else is close enough to do this so well.

But they will fix it, and it will be glorious. And we are almost to the end of this! Sigh.

I will do the last episode Monday, as I’m out of town tomorrow and tonight. The Rafflecopter as of right now has about 34 hours (as of the time I’m typing this) so don’t mess around if you want to enter. I’ll announce the winner during my final post.

Thanks to everyone who came on this journey with me! And yay for Yuri on Ice.

 

Rafflecopter giveaway: signed paperback of Antisocial, 11 x 17 poster of cover art, Natsuko Yuri!!! fan book, Eros Yuri Nendoroid

Rafflecopter link for the giveway accompanying this set of reviews/recaps. (Full explanation post, pic link as reminder of stuff on offer.)


A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

Buy links


Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

 

Recap/Rewatch, Yuri on Ice — Episode 10, Gotta Supercharge it! Pre-Grand Prix Final Special!

Obviously I have been nothing but excited, waiting for this episode. Not a lot new jumped out at me while I watched it, but there’s just so much loveliness it’s not like I’m going to have any difficulty talking about it for thousands and thousands of words. So let’s dig right in, shall we?

We shall.

Victor floats in a pool thinking about life and love

So of course this is the episode which, after having nothing but competitions since episode five, we pause to not only have a slice of life, we also get, for the first and only time, an exclusive look at the story from Victor’s POV. He tells us, now famously, he’s been neglecting his life and love for twenty years. He’s swimming in the rooftop pool, but it’s cold up there, and only Chris is fool enough to swim with him, which he does. They goof around and take photos of each other, tease one another.

Victor also gives us some nice monolog about Chris, how he’s sexy on and off the ice but he used to be a sweet little Swiss boy when they first met, how he couldn’t imagine a season without him. We switch over to Yurio as he arrives, gives lip to Yakov, tries to swear his fans but Lilia is all I don’t think so, child and he poses for pictures instead while Victor does voiceover and tells us about Yurio, about how he finaled right off at his senior debut, talks about his visit to Japan, his nickname, his fan group. Then in real time Yurio throws down with JJ and his girlfriend, the latter who is being a catty bitch and has it coming. Victor follows up with monolog about how JJ is some Canadian skater, he thinks, who is performing well but nobody seems to connect with.

Phichit and Guang-Hong taking an excellent close up selfie together

He intros Otabek too, and we get Otabek and Yurio’s hotel lobby meet cute, which doesn’t seem to go well here but we now know was just a misunderstanding. Then of course Phichit is adorable AS EVER and goes off for sightseeing, and then Victor talks about how he’s Yuri’s friend and great at selfies.

This takes us, finally, to Victor talking about Yuri, who he calls his sleeping beauty. He relates how they’ve spent the time since Russia practicing, and he also talks about how much he’s enjoyed spending time with Makkachin, indulging in the baths, eating katsudon, and learning about life and love with Yuri. Yuri has shown him a world he’s never known before.

The characterization 180 this episode does never ceases to amaze me. It’s actually all there, laid out in plain sight, but we all buy the red herrings and see what we want to see in the pretty boy, playboy setup because it suits what we want to believe. And it’s like only Yuri ever knew who Victor was, maybe even from that hair flip on the ice when he was young. Yuri didn’t fall in love with his hot body or even his skating. He fell for Victor. For all of it. For the up, down and sideways. The rest of us were blown away when this episode peeled away our preconceptions and made us see that, actually, Victor didn’t get out much. Playboy who? Who was he playing with? The only night on the town he had the whole show was when he went out for ramen after Yuri said his eros was katsudon. He’s not jumping Yuri’s bones, ever—he’s patient, solicitous…huggy, but gentlemanly. He’s not shy, but he definitely puts up a false front to hide his true self. He’s kind of a geek, really.

Chris and Victor leaping wet onto Yuri in bed

Yuri wakes up from his nap while everyone else is out running around and checks in to verify this on his phone. He then descends into anxiety about the GPF, calls out for Victor, and as if summoned he appears—wet from the pool—with Chris. They leap onto him in the bed to warm up, and he’s certainly not worried now, not about finagling. He’s more concerned with being surrounded by wet, cold men.

Then we’re at the rink, where everyone is finishing up practice, and Victor recommends rest but Yuri says hell no, bitch, take me SIGHTSEEING. I do have the BluRay and so can see the new edit where he winks at him when he says this, but for these I’ve been watching Crunchyroll for subs, so no wink for me this round, alas. I absolutely adore watching the lightning round of their day around Barcelona—night around? Anyway, I love all their poses and shouts. They’re cute as hell. And then Victor spinning because he’s so happy shopping? And his internal monolog worrying about Yuri because this isn’t like him, noting that this is clearly some kind of nervous reaction? Then deciding he would buy him a suit for his birthday, obviously to distract him? Rushing off hopping, holding his hand?

This fucking episode does nothing but one-up itself in adorableness. And then it just blows itself up. I believe I’ve written about this already, but when we watched it the first time, my husband came into the room twice to ask why the hell were we yelling so much. We told him to either watch with us or go away.

While Yuri and Victor are competing in the cute Olympics, Yurio is being chased by some seriously creepy fans, and he’s rescued by Otabek on a motorcycle and taken to a famous sightseeing place (the name of which I cannot remember and am too lazy to look up) where Otabek confesses he’s been wanting to connect with Yurio because they actually trained in the same place before, and Otabek has long admired him. They become friends, and Yurio’s really excited about it because it’s his first one. Seriously. WHAT do they do to these Russian skaters?

And now. Back to Yuri and Victor and that moment.

First we have Yuri freaking out because he can’t find the nuts, Victor tries to calm him down—fake smile alert—and Yuri gets pissed and then Victor stops fake smiling and is just like, chill, babe. They take a walk to do just that, and then they both keep trying small talk to get the mood back, both kind of misfiring but they’re also clearly trying to reconnect too. And then. Then Yuri sees the jewelry store and goes to buy the onamori. The omamori which are also a pair of matching wedding bands.

Yuri buys onamori at a jewelry shop while Victor looks on, shocked

The look on Victor’s face—on the first watch through we hadn’t seen the credits to this episode yet, but the second you know that score, you’re in on the know that this man has been in love with Yuri for over a year and now Yuri is buying him a wedding band. Call it a charm, call it whatever—Victor has spent the episode relishing in life and love that Yuri has given him and now it is getting fucking sealed. Yuri doesn’t just present it to him in the store, or on the street. He takes him to the cathederal and makes it a proposal. Blushing and all. Victor just looks stunned as Yuri puts it on him. But then he rallies when Yuri stumbles and gives him what he needs. Because that’s what they do for each other. And then they are practically wrapped up in each other like octopi as they walk away.

But I love, love how we come back from the food break and Mari is screaming. Every time I see it I’m just like SAME, MARI. FUCKING SAME. Anyway. Mari and Minako are literally pressing their faces to the window outside the restaurant where Otabek and Yruio are having a nice quiet dinner, and they beg Victor and Yuri to take them in and make them part of the conversation, which leads to the huge table full of skaters plus those two weeping quietly in joy. Which, face it, would be any of us but replace skaters with YOI creators.

And now we come to…the banquet reveal.

Everyone is eating and chatting, and Yuri is marveling about how different everything is this year, since last year he couldn’t even talk to anyone at the banquet, espcieally Victor. Then Victor spits his drink, and everyone else laughs, and reveals how Yuri in fact got drunk off his ass, challenged everyone to a dance battle, and pole danced half naked. They produce video, which as Yuri tries to suppress, shows off his rings, which Chris notices, and when Yuri tries to supriess that, Victor shows his off too. “They’re a pair,” he boasts. Phichit is STUNNED, calls a spade a spade and congratuatdes them—loudly, to the room—on their marriage. Everyone claps, Yuri freaks out, and then we get my favorite shot of the damn anime. If I weren’t so in love with my Yuri avi I’d make this my avi.

Victor whips out his ring, declares it to be an engagement ring, not a wedding ring, and announces they’ll get married after Yuri wins a gold medal. Yuri is like, the fuck, Victor, and everyone else gets their back up over the idea of Yuri winning and not them, and then JJ comes in all chotto matta, I’m gonna win, and suddenly everyone has to call it a night because nobody wants to be with JJ.

Like I’ve been saying.

Victor admires his ring on the beach

Now Yuri’s sleeping again, but this time with bling on his finger, and Victor’s on the beach admiring his ring against the sun when Yurio comes up and kicks the shit out of his back and declares him to be dead.  Victor is like, “you wanted to compete against me?” He’s smug at first, but then Yurio starts getting really bratty and insulting and it starts pissing him off and he grabs his face. And then his monolog starts back up and he acknowledges if he’d stayed in Russia, Yurio wouldn’t be motivated to fight…and neither would he. And he says Yuri has given life and love to more than just him.

Then we do the wind up before the actual GPF, everyone lining up and sitting down and setting up their livestreams, Guang-Hong with his awesome pink curtains, and then, finally…we get the closing credits with a peek inside everyone’s phones and the record of what actually went down at that infamous banquet.

Honestly the first time I watched this ep by the time we got here I was so dizzy and what the hell I could barely breathe, and then they throw this at us. At first you’re like, holy shit, Katsuki, you had this in you? I mean, it’s one thing to be a little more lively when drunk, but it’s when he’s arching through those spins with Yurio and standing on Chris while pole dancing that you’re like, shit. But the most intense are those dances with Victor. How sweet, how playful, how tender they both are. You’re watching both of them fall right there—or rather you’re watching Victor fall and you’re seeing the love Yuri has had for him all along unhindered. They mesh so well, blend so flawlessly. You think, aw, wow. What a pefect way to end the show. Yuri, how could you forget this!

AND THEN. Then you get the fucking coda. Drunk Yuri, pantless, tie on his head, wiggling his hips and begging Yuri in Japanese to come see him in Hastesu, and then in English to come be his coach. And Victor’s eyes widen, and he makes that little gasp. The same look we watched Yuri have when he fell in love all those years ago.

This episode is one of the greatest gifts on earth. I had been in such a depression until I found this show, but when this episode landed, this is when I feel like my life burst open again. I will love it forever. For. Ever.


Rafflecopter link for the giveway accompanying this set of reviews/recaps. (Full explanation post, pic link as reminder of stuff on offer.)

Rafflecopter giveaway: signed paperback of Antisocial, 11 x 17 poster of cover art, Natsuko Yuri!!! fan book, Eros Yuri Nendoroid

A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

Buy links


Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

Yuri on Ice Review/Rewatch — Episode 9, Yuri vs Yuri! The Horror!! Rostelecom Cup, Free Skate

Well here we are at episode nine. As has been tradition during this journey, I have seen and discovered new things and thought new thoughts.

This time my wayback machine reminded me as this episode opened how, when we were having the eternal wait between 8 and 9, first how I became Great Shepherd Heidi of the lambs (the ones who read my blog/were my readers) who had watched the show because of me or knew I watched it and was recapping it live and heard it was intense and basically were using me as a barometer as to when they could begin watching again, as in, they would wait to watch eight until they could move through to a happier pause. Which was fine, but it was at that point I began to realize With Great Blog Came Great Responsibility, or at least with blog people were paying some attention to maybe you should stop just shooting your mouth off and slow your roll and think before you speak (words to live by and yet which, I will likely die not being able to put into practice). I also remember being convinced there was no way Victor really would go to Japan for a damn dog (I know, I’m sorry, the sacrilege of my thoughts) and that Yakov would laugh in Victor’s face (please do not throw me out of the fandom), and basically I was wrong in every way.

Which was super fun, because I’m almost never wrong with stuff like this.

The first few times I watched this ep, though, it was hella painful, because this was mostly the episode where they were separated and I sat there angsting waiting for them to reunite. Having watched this…lots of times now (dude, we’re not going to count. It’s been legion, okay?), it doesn’t give me the nervous feels that much, but it’s still not my favorite episode. I mean obviously the last bit with the airport is fab, but it’s no episode ten.

Before we go much further here, I have to acknowledge the timely introduction of this Tumblr post, which says a lot more than this and you should read it, but the pertinent bit for this discussion is that it posits that Victor is quite likely depressed and then unpacks all the ways he has been mischaracterized by people early on in the show. The latter part I knew, and it was my headspin after episode ten, but the part about him being depressed really rang with me. Whether or not he has clinical depression is hard to say, especially since he has so little POV in the show, but there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that interpretation in the matieral and there’s no reason someone can’t make that reading. Absolutely I agree with the characterization argument, and I’ve always had a difficult time with Victor as the playboy and the sweeping, leading man. One of the joys, at least for me, of writing fanfic is playing with characterization and turning the same characters over and over in your hand in different ways, and yet I find I keep basically holding to the same archetype, which if you want to know how that will end in my unfinished fics, read the finished one.

Anyway. I bring that up now mostly because I stumbled on it today, and because I feel like there are some relevant points to be made in this ep, though we will discuss that more in the next episode. And oh Christ I already have 900 words and I haven’t even started in on the show. Damn.

Victor hugs Yuri goodbye as he goes back to Japan

So Victor leaves, looking stressed and worn out, and he basically says, “you can do it you’ll be fine, hug Yakov bye” and takes off. And then the very next thing we have is confirmation that Yuri and Yakov aren’t interacting, that Yuri is doing this on his own.

I don’t know that I blame Yakov here. I doubt he took much initiative, but who can blame the guy, and Yuri was probably trying not to be a bother and also falling back into old habits, and in the end you get him…well, falling back into old habits. He says he’s fine, that he’ll do what he always does with Victor, but we know this is not going to go well.

Yurio, meanwhile, grumbling about why did Yakov even agree to this, goes to meet his grandfather, who has come even though he doesn’t feel well—his back hurts, because a certain fifteen-year-old jumped him at the airport—but he made Yurio some special katsudon piroshkies, and he wishes him well in his free skate.

Emil is skating his cyberpunk skate, and while that’s going down Sara tells Mickey she’s not coming to cheer him on, he doesn’t need to do that for her either, because they need to stand on their own, and by the way she’s going to date.  He flips out, but she won’t let him cling. She grabs his chin and tells him, basically, to man up. I feel like this moment is both very Japanese (from what I’ve experienced, anyway) and also Italian. It’s kind of an interesting moment. It felt very Moonstruck but also very Seven Samurai. Maybe the point here is tough women are universal.

Sara Tells Mickey to get it together

However you slice it, Mickey is gutted, Sara leaves him to it, and Mickey watches Emil’s last half of his skate as he runs out of steam and crashes and burns. Not an accident, that timing. That would be the kickass direction of Yamamoto-sensei. I truly love both of these women equally. Kubo brought the heart and Yamamoto brought the spine. Both are required for a great story.

Emil is officially out now, unless everyone crashes and burns too (they will not), and Mickey is up to skate. He gives a brilliant performance, which would have been incredible if we weren’t also being creeped out by how much he is thinking of his sister in a way that feels…well, creepy. But we were all over that last episode: the point here is, he’s letting go. He knows he must, and so he says goodbye. It really is goodbye too, because he won’t final.

Mila sitting next to Sara, the YOI lesbian ship of dreams

What I would like to draw your attention to, though, is Mila sitting next to Sara, the seating arrangement that launched one hell of a ship. I captain this ship. Please, senseis. Give us Mila-Sara in the movie.

Mickey’s goodbye to his sister, his success because of their separation, is that foil business set up again. They do well without each other, because while they’re siblings, they’re not soul mates. They aren’t our main characters. “We’re better apart after all.” They’re there to make you think, gosh, is that the fate of Yuri and Victor? Obviously not, but it makes you worry. Which is the point. Worry is conflict, conflict is good.

Poor Seung-Gil, though. His whole role in these two eps was to be the wooden guy who fucked up.

Yurio gets ready to perform his free skate

Now we have Yurio, who comes out to kick serious ass, and he does. The grit and determination, the power and skill on display is intense. They poured a lot into this animation too, and it’s great to watch. But Yurio pours all of this into his skate, so much that he all but collapses after…and because we are not watching this for the first time, we already know…it will not be enough. Yurio is not at the end of his arc yet. He doesn’t have all of his pieces. He’s not skating for the right reasons. He’s skating to beat people, to stand on them to be on top. He’s immature, he’s unfinished. If he were to win this way, he would become a monster. The only way to maintain himself would be to keep beating people. Not simply being better but beating them, and ruining himself.

Notice he doesn’t even look to his grandfather here, though—he wants Yuri to see. But Yuri is already on the ice—and he really isn’t even there, either.

Yuri looking not well before he begins his free skate

I feel like this skate is the most painful thing to watch, because it’s the second to last time he’ll skate it, but it’s the worst skating we see from Yuri the whole series…because Victor isn’t there. We see here, I think into a window of what Yuri was like before Victor. Inconsistent. Unsteady. Full of doubt. Drowning in his own thoughts with no anchor. And he’s probably still better here than he ever was before Victor too, because at least here he’s able to anchor to memories of Victor. But what we witness here is the polar opposite of Mickey and Sara: Yuri is not better without Victor. Yuri without Victor is heartbreaking. He rallies a little here and there, but he can’t maintain it.

As Mila says, “It makes you wish you could see it if Victor were here.” Because everyone is in on the game now. Yuri needs Victor.

Yurio tries to cheer Yuri but asshat JJ stops him

During the skate, Yurio sees this too, though he doesn’t recognize it at first. He simply tries to egg Yuri on, upset that Yuri is pancaking, but of course he’s cut off by JJ. I think it’s that moment that I am pretty much ready to slice the Canadian at the neck, because he interrupts that encouragement, because he’s so clueless, because he’s that self-involved on top of everything else. I know people soften for him because he chokes later, but unless and until he starts carrying water for Yuri and Yurio, a changed man, he’s just an asshole who had a breakdown to me.

JJ skates, he’s arrogant, he’s a fuckhead, he wins, I’m over it.

Yuri squeaks into the GPF, which is what matters, and after everything is over, after zombie hugging everyone, he stands at a bridge thinking about how he really wants to win gold now and how he has a lot to talk to Victor about. He also affirms in his internal monolog how he’s going to let Victor go afterward no matter what. He hinted as much to Yakov in the kiss and cry, but he says it again here. Yuri has clearly been thinking about this for some time. It makes you wonder when he really made that decision—was it that he’d decided this earlier (he had mentioned it) and never wavered, or did he too notice Victor’s longing and wanted to give it to him? Did he always mean that he could never keep his idol from the ice and Victor’s naked yearning only confirmed it?

Hard to say for sure. In any event, his musings are interrupted (with a kick) by Yurio, who tells him not to be moody and gives him the katsudon piroshkies for his birthday—and a beautiful smile. This the first real overture of friendship we have seen Yurio make to Yuri…except the last episode will reveal to us Yurio has been an admirer of Yuri all this time, it’s just that he never learned how to treat people as friends. (What in the world ARE they doing to these Russian skaters?) Yuri, being Yuri, eagerly accepts the offer of friendship (and the food) and we all feel warm and fuzzy.

Yuri and Yuri share a cutlet piroshki

But we’re about to feel fuzzier.

Yuri goes home to Japan, and as he gets off at the airport, he’s thinking again about everything he has to say to Victor. This is the same airport he got off at before, the one where, after a five year absence, no one met him and the only person to greet him was Minako at the train station, the next leg of the stop. Not this time. He’s not even to the doors and he hears Makkachin bark. He looks up, sees Victor…and well, you know.

 

Does anybody get tired of watching these two run along the glass to one another? Does anyone’s heart not melt? And HOW ABOUT when Yuri does that impatient side step as he waits for the doors to open? And then the way he leaps into Victor’s open arms?

So much happiness.

We spoke a lot during Yuri’s free skate about how Yuri clearly couldn’t function without Victor. This wasn’t exactly a surprise. What we saw here at the airport was our first confirmation that Victor couldn’t function without Yuri. Let’s run through the facts. Victor left Russia, a major finals competition, to be with his sick dog. The fact that his dog is now healthy should mean he is over the moon with happiness here. You would think he would be waiting at Hasetsu for Yuri. Certainly if Yuri’s own family didn’t come and meet him after five years Victor could wait at the resort for less than five days.

No. You get the sense here that even if Makkachin were unwell at the house, Victor would have come anyway. But he did come, with the dog—and yet he hasn’t bothered to comb his hair. He looks as if he has barely slept—and you don’t get the idea it’s because Makka has been demanding. Victor has been unwell because he too has been unable to function. He has not had his Yuri with him.

Gone are all of his artifices now. His fake smiles. His real ones. His winks, his flirtations—he is nothing but his need and his yearning as he runs for Yuri and opens his arms.

Rough looking Victor

He speaks first too, and he tells Yuri he’s been thinking about what he can do as his coach from now on. We’ll never know what he was thinking—if he was feeling inadequate, if he was going to apologize for not being there for him, if he was doubling down, or what, because Yuri interrupts him and does the very formal, “Please be my coach until I retire.” Which we all know Yuri means to be until the end of the GPF, and we also know Victor wants to be forever, which is exactly what he tells Yuri as he kisses his hand and looks like the princess who just got asked to the ball by the prince.

Yuri asks Victor to stay by his side

Yuri must have thought he was being facetious or something. But no, Victor was dead-ass serious. I mean, he’s already talking about marriage proposals.

Which, speaking of. REMEMBER WHEN we first saw that preview at the end of ep 9 and they said “something round and golden” and everybody wistfully wished they meant wedding rings and we all said, “guys, chill, they mean medals” and then it was fucking wedding rings and we all about died?

Episode ten, as my teenager says, is going to be lit.

Lord I am far too old to say that sentence. Sumimasen. I will not do it again.


Rafflecopter link for the giveway accompanying this set of reviews/recaps. (Full explanation post, pic link as reminder of stuff on offer.)

Rafflecopter giveaway: signed paperback of Antisocial, 11 x 17 poster of cover art, Natsuko Yuri!!! fan book, Eros Yuri Nendoroid

A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

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Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.