The Cats who Came for Christmas.
1999 — A week before Christmas and all through the house, a creature was stirring – it wasn’t a mouse.
A small, fluffy tortoiseshell cat, perhaps 6 months old had taken residence in my mother’s bottom garden. Shortly thereafter, two tiny kittens – a ginger and a tortie emerged from the shrubbery. My mother fed them, christening the mother cat Blaze. Blaze allowed my Mum to touch her, but the kittens were wild. On Boxing night I was sitting outside with my mother and Blaze was roaming around the yard. We went inside. A few minutes later Blaze was at the door yowling and crying. I opened the door and Blaze stepped inside. She sat by the door and called her kittens. Slowly, reluctantly, they answered her call, tentatively coming through the door, while Mum and I hid behind the sofa. Once the kittens were inside I snuck around and closed the door. Terrified, the kittens raced around the room, over furniture, up curtains, narrowly missing the chimney (which I had blocked up with cushions taken from the sofa – I’d rescued wild cats before and knew they went into a frenzy when cornered). Blaze ran from kitten to kitten, screaming, trying to calm them down. Eventually, Mum and I managed to get hold of the kittens, to try to comfort them. They were so fragile when we held them in our cupped palms.
For the next few days, they acclimatised living in the laundry of my Mum’s home. When it was time to find homes for them, I told my Mum: – “No way am I breaking up the family, they’re coming home with me.” I brought two cat cages and put Blaze inside one, the kittens in another. The desperately sad look on Blaze’s face, her head hanging in defeat, tore at my heart – obviously she knew what a cage was, and had trusted her former human to put her in it—she had been dumped with her kittens from a cage! I will never forget Blaze’s look. I wished I could tell her that she and her kittens were going to their forever home and not to be dumped again!
Once at my home, I put them in the spare room attached to my office by a sliding door. They stayed in there for a week or so getting used to their new surroundings. I went in there many times each day to get them used to me; the kittens would always run and hide behind the cupboard. I looked down over the top of the cupboard to be greeted by hisses and posturing from furballs little bigger than my hand. I named the tortoiseshell “Katie” and the ginger “Peter”. Katie befriended me within days. I began to leave the door to my office open and would look around as I worked at the computer to see the kittens peering at me from around the corner of the cupboard. Katie and Blaze settled in, but Peter remained elusive. One day as I was at the computer I saw Peter inching forward to sit by the door watching me. A few minutes later I put my hand down and she touched my fingers with her nose. She had decided I was no longer a threat. Perhaps curiosity overcame caution – what was the funny human doing?
Blaze, Peter and Katie had arrived. When I took them to the vet for neutering, I discovered that Peter was in fact female, much to the amusement of the vet and his staff. (It’s rare for a ginger cat to be female, so I heard. I had always believed that all gingers were male). Peter became “Peta”.
When I opted for a “tree change”, my other cats as well as Blaze, Peta and Katie made the transition from the city to rural living, and enjoyed the new palatial cat run attached to my house. Seven years later, Peta became ill. The vet discovered she had a congenital kidney defect which ordinarily would have killed her at aged 3 – but the vet said that because I look after my cats so well, Peta survived with the defect for so long. Blaze died in late 2013, and Katie is still with me. Katie is my “welcome wagon”. Whenever a new rescuee cat is introduced to the family it is she who sticks her nose under the door to my “integration” room (where I let new cats settle in before moving out into the house). And then once the new cat is out in the house, she will be the one to meet and greet—whether the new arrival wants it or not. Katie doesn’t take no for an answer and extends her paw in friendship.
So, whenever I look at Katie, I remember that last Christmas with my mum, (Mum died the following year), and the arrival of Blaze and her kittens, and a new life for me in the country. Little did I know that there would be more cats finding their way to me—some at Christmas, others at various times of the year.
My cats give me inspiration to write my books—especially if I have a cat shifter hero. Gyng, the irrepressible Monsters inK mascot is modelled after Zak who was dumped on my property as a 6 week old kitten. I lured him into my garage after 7 days, closed the door and fed him under my car. He took up residence on the wheel rim of my car, so I had to borrow a friend’s car when I wanted to go shopping, or have local businesses deliver groceries, etc. since “the cat borrowed my car”. Zak soon decided that he wanted out of the garage and howled at the door leading from the garage to my home. I took him to the integration room. Within 3 hours he was out of there—and strutting around the house as if he owned it.
Sadly, a few weeks after writing this, Katie succumbed to cancer and crossed over to Rainbow Bridge.
As an author (and reader), I have to say that the reader is always right, even when they’re wrong. A reader reads from their perspective and can see (or miss) the layers in the story they are reading, or even see something in a story that the author has not consciously included–the meaning IS in the eye of the beholder.
But what if a reader is offended by an author’s work and tells the author so? Should an author respond?
Yes. My responses are written and then sent to… my draft folder where they remain until they are forever deleted. It is unprofessional (and unethical) to castigate a reader for their cherished beliefs, however much an author (as creator) is tempted. I write speculative fiction, and/or sensual material which may often cross boundaries that a reader cannot. As a writer of “speculative” fiction (and I include paranormal in this definition), I often present different realities to the world in which we live. I faced this issue some years ago with a reader response to my latest book. Starlight, on first glance, is a work linked by many high sensual scenes with a story (evil villain/alien invasion) threaded through that intensifies as the characters develop. The characters are a mix of human and “felinus” (cat shape-shifters) who interact with their world and others most often through their sexuality, so there is a lot of “docking manoeuvre”, in all its infinite diversity. But within the obvious is the “unobvious”: the layers and depth that are there for the reader IF they choose to look.
A underlying theme of all my writing is the question: “what is human”? And I ask this question of my human, non-human and Artificial Intelligence characters. In Starlight, I asked this question through the point of view of my human heroine, who must also question her “humanity” and how she interacts with the “non-humans”.
In my latest releases I have stories dealing with vampires, wizards, cat shifters and humans–all of whom are confronted by the meaning of their life and the world in which they live. I know that some readers have been confronted by the stories, especially when they discover the male/male aspects of romance.
A book can be read on many levels. So, regardless of whether a reader sees (or decides not to see) the themes, layers and depths within a work, they are right–the work is interpreted by them, based on their own world view.
I believe an author has the “right” to tackle big picture issues, but in so doing, must expect that some readers will not empathise and their reaction is “right”, too.
An author sends a book out into the world and if it pushes boundaries, then it is to be expected that it may confront readers who may feel obliged to challenge the author.
The irony, for me, with Starlight was that while one reader missed my intent, others picked up on it immediately, saying how much they loved the characters and their devotion to one another–so it is in the eye of the beholder and the reader is right, as is the author.
My futuristic romance, Crystal Dreams (published by Devine Destinies) deals with the a clash of cultures. Readers found this book posed questions that made them re-think their relationships to others who appeared “different”. Not all readers enjoyed the alpha male hero, but Connal was “right” for this world.
The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.
I have a reader (aged 88) who has been with me ever since I started my writing journey. Occasionally, a character or a book so inspires her that she writes poetry for me. In Starlight she was very taken with the shifter with the purple tentacles!, as well as ‘Harimal’. She doesn’t write much now, due to her arthritic hands, but when she does manage to produce a poem, or a short comment, it is (for me) the highest compliment. By her work, she is reincarnating my work, in her own image. Again, her eye beholds what I have created, and she re-works it.
The author “dies” frequently. When a book is completed and sent in manuscript form to the publisher, that book is dead in its original incarnation. It is re-born as a printed volume, with a cover–again, a new creator/reader has presented an interpretation of the work through art. Having worked on a book for months, or years, an author often has a profound sense of loss when the book is finished, because these creations have become part of the author’s life. When the book is completed, the characters “die”, only to be re-born when the book is published and new sets of eyes (the readers) see the story. The author faces the symbolic death of self in that work, because the story is part of the author. But the author is also re-born (as is the work) when the book is read by others.
After an absence of many months, I re-read Starlight. In that time, I had, as a person, undergone some experiences that ensured I was not the person I was when I wrote the story. I read Starlight with new eyes and discovered layers and depth I had not noticed (or intended when writing). I’ll discuss this conscious/sub-conscious relationship in another writing tip.
Perhaps this sounds odd–as the author of the work, surely I must know what is in the story? Not necessarily. The characters tell the story and there are often moments in the writing process where what I write comes from “without”–from somewhere beyond the author and characters.
So, the author presents a work which readers read, based on their own reality. There is no right or wrong interpretation. As in writing, there are layers and depth. Perhaps if anyone is more “right”, then it would have to be the characters whose voice and actions tell the story.
Starlight and the Monsters inK series are published by extasy books. www.extasybooks.com
Writing Tip # 2 The Serendipity of Publishing
Isn’t the path to publication a carefully devised plan?
Yes, but we all know about ‘best laid plans…’
Like many authors I have ‘The Plan’ – capital P – Plan! Not to mention carefully defined goals with steps to achieve each one.
Hidden within these goals is the author’s ‘wish list’ and dreams – rarely written down, but lurking in the subconscious. C’mon! We all want to hit the New York Times bestseller list; we all want to stand up and get that Ditmar or Hugo, or Aurelias. We all want that seven-figure offer and a series contract… The list is endless, as are the hurdles to attain them, it seems.
However, some of the biggest breaks in my career have not occurred through these meticulously laid Plans. Many opportunities have arrived through serendipity. ‘You’re just lucky!’ is often remarked to me.
But what is luck? Luck is a four-letter word hiding a lot of hard work. We make our own ‘luck’.
To illustrate, here are three examples, drawn from my own career. I could give you more.
# 1: the cold pitch.
I decided that I would ring the top UKpublisher of my genre. I believed my story was ‘over the top’ and was reluctant to spend so much time writing something for a specific imprint if the story-line was too bizarre. Pacing back and forth, wearing a hole in my carpet, anxiously eyeing the demon phone, before courage again failed me, I snatched up the receiver, dialled the number, expecting to get through to the editorial assistant (as usually occurs when I ring America). Nope. I got through to the Editor-in-Chief. Who was more shocked: Me, for speaking to the Boss, or she for hearing an Aussie voice? With heart hammering, knees knocking and sick to the stomach, I gave her my cold pitch. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘We’ve just taken on a story similar to yours.’ (special effect: Big sigh reverberating around the world). ‘Oh, thank you,’ I replied. ‘But,’ she hastened to add, ‘I’ve just this minute walked in from a board meeting. We’ve decided to produce an anthology. Would you like to submit something to it?’
I would. I did.
Three weeks later, at7 p.m.on a Thursday, my fax machine went off. Inspecting the document, I discovered that it was a contract for my story.
Now that 5000 word story has been reprinted in the USA, and Europe and earned me a tidy sum in royalties. My story was one of a few in that anthology selected by a reviewer to mention. Seeing one’s name in an industry magazine is good for the ego, especially if someone is saying something ‘nice’ about one’s work!
# 2: getting noticed.
Many years before e-zines and internet writing communities, I organised the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Romance Writers’ group inAustralia. I published the bi-monthly newsletter and wrote articles for various writing groups. I came to the attention of Romance Writers of Australia (among others) who asked me if I would like to present two FF&P workshops at their next national conference.
I would. I did.
My first presentation was well-received. The next day there was standing room only in that room and more chairs had to be brought in for those who had not booked, but wanted a piece of the FF&P action.
As I was setting up my projector and handing out my giveaways, I noticed, sitting in the far corner at the back of the room, one of the Publishers who had been speaking and promoting her booklist at the conference. Oh man! Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to attend my workshop. Nerves – doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt at that moment. However, I soon forgot The Presence and successfully completed my final workshop. She remained seated while everyone left. As I was packing up, she came up to me and handed me her card. ‘I really enjoyed your presentation. Would you like to submit some of your FF&P stories to me?’
I would. I did.
Our working relationship developed over several years and many anthologies, some of which featured in the Dymocks’ Adelaidebest-seller list. One antho. reached the # 1 spot – competing against the mainstream big guy authors. The Publisher acknowledged my promo efforts nationally – saying that we got to the # 1 spot ‘due to Astrid’s hard work.’ Aw shucks! The publisher trusted me to deliver and gave me opportunities. The company ceased trading some years later, but I owe this publisher a great deal and have never forgotten the moment of the handing over the business card.
# 3: Can you help?
I received a desperate call from one of my Publishers. The list of work to be published in the first week of December was short by one 5000 word ‘shortie’. Knowing that I can write fast and clean (most of the time!), she asked if I would be interested in writing something for her?
I would. I did.
It was released and the front cover was immediately nominated in the Preditors and Editors ‘best cover’ category. This short story started off a chain reaction that is still reverberating as I write this article.
I did not know it – neither did the Publisher – that this was one of the greatest serendipity moments of my career. The Starlight series was born. (Starlight: sexy space opera – think Casanova meets Star trek). The characters, the scenarios, the plot just flowed. It was an amazing roller-coaster ride of pushing deadlines, software glitches, and other spanners thrown in the works to ‘test’ my resolve. In the writing, I allowed my imagination free rein; without inhibition, I explored scenarios and the meaning of life, sex and death amid exotic worlds and evil villains… I had fun. So did the readers. I received fan mail, and one wrote poetry about her favourite character. ‘Please write more!’ and ‘Will you write about Harimal?’ (a Starlight character) and ‘Please give us the HEA!’ (Happily Ever After ending).
That one 5000 word story has created a monster. Spin off series are planned, contracts negotiated.
I am still reeling from the effects. The books regularly get five-star ratings from readers and reviewers. The books hit best-seller lists overseas.
I have also had other ‘please help’ requests from other publishers and writing groups, sometimes at the last minute, because (quite simply and I say this humbly), I’ve managed to prove over the years that when the chips are down I can and will deliver… It’s all about working hard, and ‘being out there’ – that’s my ‘luck’: the result of 10 years’ work.
What all this means is – have the Plan, goals, steps to achieve all these and other moments in your career, but also be aware that fate/karma/the universe, or luck, might have other ideas. Be aware of opportunities, take risks, take what is offered with both hands. Run with it! Sometimes it won’t work out, but sometimes it will and these moments – believe me – are the moments we authors most savour.
Serendipity – thankyou!
Welcome to my blog spot.
My tastes are many, but animal rescue, gardening, reading and writing and craftwork, including costuming are my favourite interests. I’m a published author and have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I also edit manuscripts professionally as well as work as creative consultant. Sometimes, there are never enough hours in the day!
I will be posting writing tips regularly– from “simple” how-to bits, to more complex discussions (such as writing tip#1 posted to this blog on April 1st); I will try and answer any writing or book-related questions anyone sends to me (deadlines for contracted books take precedence). I also have a FaceBook page, so if you want to be informed of new “tips” posted, please “friend” me. A link to FB can be found at my website. http://www.astridcooper.com
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