The Sharpest Claw

My latest book, The Sharpest Claw: A Talking Cat Fantasy, is now available on Amazon. It is the second book of the Cats of the Afterlife series. Here’s the blurb:

Kittens are evil.

At least that's what Jem, a calico cat, thought. And she had proof. In the afterlife, she had watched kittens take over what used to be her home on earth, claiming her people and her cat companion, her best friend ever.

It wasn't right. In fact it was dangerous. These kittens were two-faced, violent, manipulative, and cunning. They had fooled everyone else into believing they were adorable. Only Jem knew the truth. But how could she convince the others? How could she make sure these kittens got their rightful comeuppance?

Witness the epic battle of wills between a calico cat and a pair of kittens in Book 2 of the Cats of the Afterlife series.

You can find more information information about this book and others that I wrote here.

Inside My Writing Head

Today's writing session was an exercise in frustration.

First, the overview, I'm working on the first draft of Book 3 of the Cats of the Afterlife series, The Deepest Growl. Book 2, The Sharpest Claw, will be out this month (September 2019). I have The Deepest Growl, planned out in accordance to Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I work in Scrivener, using the corkboard option. The first act came out easily. The second act has had been bumpy, with false starts, but this morning, it felt I had a handle on it. I was working at a good clip, when I thought I would just take a tiny break to do a tidy-up that should have just taken a moment. It's part of the process, I reasoned. I just needed to copy a portion of the text that no longer fit, place it in another document, and keep it in my “don't think I'll need it but I'll save it just in case” stash. After that, I would carry on. But I hit some button, and my work view changed. I no longer had my lovely corkboard in front of me with my chapter cards and notecards. I just had the text view of this card that I would probably no longer need.

For a moment, I thought I had lost everything. I had the opportunity to experience full-fledged panic. But I searched for some key words from my chapters. They were all there. But I could only see my work in text form. I couldn't see my beloved chapter cards all in a row.

I felt time tick by. I heard a voice in my head say, “Who cares about the view? You have Chapter 3. Keep going.” And then another voice who sounded much younger and just about to cry, “But that's not the way I work! That's not the way I've written books. I want to see my cards in front of me.”

“This is ridiculous,” the first voice responded crossly. “You're allowing yourself to be distracted by trivialities. Proceed.”

And I tried to obey that voice. I did go back to the text. But I was so annoyed. It was hard to focus again on talking cats in the afterlife and magic rooms and unlikely neighbors. The clock ticked until time was up.

“But you reached your word count,” another voice piped up. It didn't matter. None of us were happy.

“Just learn the program,” a sensible voice said. “Take the time to learn the features of the new update.”

That seemed practical. Maybe I will go down that path.

But another voice retorted, “Do you really think that's the way to write this book?” She let out quite a convincing cackle.

In this process I often hear a voice angry about the need to change. Today, she declared, “In the old version of Scrivener, there was a button right in front of me, in clear view, and I could just click it, and it would show me what I wanted to see.”

I wondered if I could add that button. After all, in a saner moment, when I first encountered this update I had added the Targets and Color button to my Scrivener dashboard. But in my current frazzled state, I couldn't figure out how to do that. I'm sure there's a way. I just can't see it.

So that was it. My writing session was over for the day. It was time to write my blog post.

“Are you kidding me?” a voice demanded.

“You'll feel better once it's done,” another told me.

I could relate to both voices.

“I know it's the last thing in the world we want to do right now,” I told Voice 1. “But if we don't do it, we'll be left with lingering, low-level frustration following us around. I've been there. It's not fun.”

I looked at my list of ideas that I had jotted down. At this moment, none of them rang my bells.

“Fine. I will write about this frustration,” I thought.

And I picked up a pen to write about it in a notebook, and then had to set it down, and get my green notebook because that was my pink notebook, just for this draft. The green one is for my blog posts. And then it seemed a good idea to readjust my birthday blanket, so soft and beautiful, a writing blanket, I had decided, something I needed to have on me while I sat in my writing bed with Cookie, the perfect reading pillow, but for me it's a writing pillow, named after the Cookie Monster, bright blue and huge. Or maybe it was because the other pillow that needs to be on my pillow, the one that says “Just One More Pillow” was askew, so I couldn't properly read it from where I was. Or maybe it was because there weren't cats to keep my company. Or maybe it was another superstition or quirk or object I just needed to have in order to write that flashed in my brain after this session of aggravation. I don't know.

Before I could write anymore, I found myself back in Scrivener, trying new things, and there was my old view again. I was so happy to see it. I swear it twinkled at me. It made me wonder. Do other writers care about these things? Do they go this process? Do they have brains that long for strange comforts that should be disposable but seem to absolutely need to be here?

I have this theory that in order to write I have to embrace the weird. I have to listen to all my voices and do my best to respect them although oftentimes they are at odds with one another. It's an incredibly imperfect process, but I keep trying. I will show up tomorrow and see if I hang out with those cats in that hallway and see what they have to show me, see if I can hear them in all of their glory. Writing often isn't pretty. It's messy and strange and circuitous. It's a place I want to be.



Cat Challenges

It's been a hard week for our cats.

If you're not familiar with our cat family, let me introduce you: Scooter is our elder cat. He is a formerly feral cat. My husband has looked after Scooter since he was a tiny kitten. Scooter looks like a Norwegian forest cat with that luxuriant coat, beautiful big eyes, and white ruff. We also live with two young cats, a bonded pair, brother and sister, two years old, black and white. Indiana Jones looks like he's wearing a tuxedo, and Samantha Bee has a black beauty mark by her lip like Cindy Crawford. We've had these two since they were eight weeks old. We have pictures of Sam sitting inside a bowl, and Indy sleeping in a hat.

All of them are shy. They didn't see many people when they were growing up, and now when friends come over, they all hide. This past weekend, my husband and I went away. The cat sitter visited the cats every day. Usually on Facebook, she posts pictures of the pets she takes care of. With our cats, the picture was of bumps under a bedspread.

A few days after we returned home, we hired a mobile pet groomer to take care of Scooter's coat. He had a lot of mats, and Mike and I had tried to take care of them, but Scooter flinched and cried and growled at our amateur efforts. We needed a professional. Fortunately, we had a sedative left over from when the cats moved. (Scooter does not like to be picked up by strangers. He does not like to be in his carrier. He does not like any sort of procedure being done to him.) But everything went well. Scooter got his buzzcut without complaint. He is a much happier cat although he does look like he stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book. The young cats have been fascinated by his look. For some reason, they've really had to do some intense butt sniffing when they saw Scooter with his buzz cut. I think Scooter's coat now feel likes velvet. And it should be grow back in two months.

This weekend, more friends came over. The young boy who loves cats lifted up the bedspread to take a look at Samantha. She went into high-gear scramble, and for a while, I couldn't find her anywhere, but I knew she was just taking care of herself.

When our guests left, I thought thing would return to normal. We would resume our quiet, everyday life. But this morning, as I was looking out my window, I saw a black cat scamper down our driveway. I've seen this cat run down our driveway before. Then two weeks ago, while I was walking, I met her on the road. She let me pet her. She let me rub her belly. She nuzzled me as she made a figure eight around my legs. She's a small cat, all black with a white star on her chest. I'd been looking to see her again ever since.

Today, when I saw her, I was in the middle of writing, but I didn't care. I only had socks on. So what? It was that cat. I ran outside, and she started to run away and then slowed her pace. I knelt down and held my hand out. She came back to me, and I sat down on the side of the road with her and talked to her and petted her.

“They're watching you,” my husband called out from the window, and I looked up to see our two young cats sitting side by side in the window, their eyes locked on me. I sighed and told the black cat I had to go. I went inside, washed my hands, and tried to pet the young cats. They skittered around me, this caretaker traitor who was now proven to like cats in the outside.

Later, the black cat came running down our driveway again. She looked up at me in the window, but I did not go out. Instead I called my husband.

“She's back! You have to meet her.”

“But I'm in the middle of something,” he protested, but he didn't put up too much of a fight. Moments later, he was out there, clucking to the cat, who made his acquaintance. Our young cats didn't see that. I imagine they'll soon know.






Developmental Editing

I thought I would write today on developmental editing. For me, developmental editing occurs after my beta readers have looked at my draft, and I have reviewed their feedback and revised until, once again, I can't “see” my draft any more. Then it's time for me to send it off to my developmental editor.

The job of the developmental editor is to make sure that your story and characters are solid. The developmental editor does not work on your grammar or use of language. That's the job of the copy editor further down the road. When I send a draft to my developmental editor, I attach questions. I may ask about things that the beta readers brought up, where I would like to receive another opinion. I always ask if I landed the plane. I tend to rush my endings. I generally ask her about titles. She often doesn't like my titles. That's all right. I don't want someone who necessarily agrees with me. I want her to tell me what she thinks and why.

I have had experience with my developmental editor where she has basically told me that I needed to start over, and she was right. Fortunately, that was my second book, and I was far enough along in my writing process to have begun to develop some grit. I thanked her, told her I planned to send her a new draft by the fall (this was spring) or the beginning of the next year (that's what happened), and I set out to work. That time, I needed to get some more real world experience. I volunteered at a summer horse camp, and after that time, I was able to write the book.

For my upcoming book, The Sharpest Claw, I knew something was seriously wrong, but I couldn't figure it out. My developmental editor solved the mystery. I had too many stories in one book. She identified each story, listed them in order of preference, and also told me of one storyline that she didn't like. In this case, I need to say that I knew that I was going to have do a dramatic revisioning. I thought that it might be another “back to the drawing board” experience, and to fortify myself before I heard what she had to say, I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel and took extensive notes. When I read my developmental editor's appraisal, I thought she was right, and I felt armed with knowledge to pick one of the stories and make that the book. I now had a map of “beats” to help guide me along the way. For this book, since the revisions were extensive, I did ask for a second edit. This time, my developmental editor gave me the thumbs up. When I sent her the draft back, I said that I had kept in a storyline that she hadn't liked, but this time she did.

For me, the developmental edit is one of the most important parts of the writing journey. Once I've passed that test, I feel like I have a solid book. Perhaps if you have great plot skills, you don't need this step. But for me, it's an essential part of the writing process.

Catwalk

I struggle with research. When I set out on this work, my inner voices invariably ask me the following questions: “But aren't you just procrastinating? I could understand it if you were writing nonfiction tomes, but you're writing talking cat fantasies! Shouldn't you be writing chapters or at least brainstorming an outline? How much of this material, if any, is going to make it into the book?”

I always try to answer these voices. If I don't, they just get louder. So these are my standard responses: “Maybe. My books will be better if I know more about cats. All in due time. Perhaps very little. But I believe that even a fact or two here or there will make my book more interesting, more fun for me and the reader.”

So last night I watched Catwalk, a documentary currently streaming on Netflix, all about the cat show world. And I did think of a way it might show up in one of my talking cat fantasies at some point. There's a character, Roxanne, who first appears in The Sharpest Claw (Book 2 of the Cats of the Afterlife series) who may have been a show cat in her last life on earth. In fact, I think she was, and I hope to fit that into Book 3 in some way. I can imagine her in this setting. In Catwalk, these cats fly all over the world for competitions. If they win, they are lifted up by the judge, shown off to everyone, while the judge proclaims, “For me, this is the best cat.” Roxanne would have basked in this attention.

Now I think our three cats are the best cats on earth, but they could never be show cats. In terms of physical criteria, Scooter is a silver fox, but he's nineteen years old with arthritis in his hips. And Indy is jaunty, and I'd say his tuxedo fit him perfectly, but the judges would ding him for extra poundage. Sam would probably be our best candidate. She is petite, muscular, athletic. She has dramatic black-and-white coloring with a Cindy Crawford beauty mark on the left side of her nose. But she would fight back, claws out, with any stranger who tried to pick her up. We are happy when she doesn't struggle with us, and we're her people.

Actually none of our cats would “behave appropriately” in this setting. Scooter hates cages. By show time, he would have lost his voice from yowling constantly to express his dissatisfaction with being confined. Our young cats, Samantha and Indy, bonded siblings, two years old, are known for hiding under the covers if they even hear a delivery man outside. The UPS guy will say, “I have a package for you,” hand it to my husband, and these cats will have hidden themselves away by the third word. Even though that is the end of the transaction and the delivery person is long gone, Sam and Indy will stay under the covers for at least an hour. But the cats in the documentary seemed comfortable and happy. They apparently have the temperament and the looks to live in this world. We occupy a different planet, but it's nice to check in for an hour and take a glimpse of that culture. And I do think it could very well be a part of Roxanne's story later on in the series. Research is worthwhile.