This is Flynn, and he is a sweet-tempered cat who came to us from the SPCA. We think he was abused because he is terrified of being picked up, and he has a peculiar gate. For a cat, he walks like a horse. Flynn is not very bright. he’s been known to run into walls and chase his tail until he’s exhausted. He gets high on catnip. He has claws but never uses them unless he has to go into the cat carrier for the annual trip to the vet.
I adopted Flynn because I lost Sam, my darling, neurotic baby, whose ashes I still keep in a box in my office. (I know it’s a little gruesome.) Sam was my cat. He waited for me to come home. He slept with me. He talked to me. People say cats don’t feel affection for people the way dogs do, but they’re wrong. Any cat lover can tell you that.
Flynn looks a little like Sam, but he’s smaller and really prefers my youngest daughter’s company to mine. I don’t mind. The woman at the SPCA told me that black cats are much more likely to be abused than any other color of cat. People are afraid of them because of old superstitions. Not me. I love black cats. Like the Romans I believe they bring good luck.
I tell myself that Flynn is my last baby, but I expect if and when he goes, I’ll find myself back at the SPCA looking for another black cat.
Lately I’ve been going through the grind of querying agents only to get the standard rejection letter, when the agent bothers to reply at all. In an effort to divert myself I’ve turned to flash fiction, just to try a new genre and return to the short story form I studied in college long ago. It’s been hard to boil my stories down to the bones, yet leave enough meat to make them resound meaning, if only to me. But it’s also an excellent way to hone your writing. I’ve also begun working on a novel in a totally new genre for me: fantasy. It involves building a totally new world, and because I am a visual person I have to draw the characters and map out the world before I even begin. Still, there have been many times I’ve felt Iike Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. Yet, I have also been very fortunate to have a teenage daughter who also wants to write (and is more than halfway through her first novel). She is relentless, pushy, and and the worst taskmaster I’ve ever met. I adore her. Last night after receiving a spate of rejections she wrote me a letter (Mary has always written me little handwritten notes usually to get herself out of trouble). It wasn’t epic. It was tough love. In essence she said, “Don’t give up. You’d tell me to fight for what I want. So you have to set the example. Don’t wimp out. I love you.” Today I sent out ten more letters. What else can a writer do?
We hate government, right? No one has the right to tell us what to eat or drink? The Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so the state shouldn’t interfere. Yet people seem to mix up state, local and federal government all the time. The failed ban on big gulps and the intact ban on foie gras was a local issue. Bans on gay marriage and increasing restrictions on abortions are, for the most part, state issues. Gun laws vary from state to state. The federal government enacts legislation that is approved by congress (when and if congress gets its act together) and it is either signed or vetoed by the president. The states and local governments can alter that legislation, but face legal challenges by doing so. It wasn’t Washington that imposed the big gulp ban. That was a New York thing. You can agree with it or not. You can certainly argue that government shouldn’t be involved in our personal lives. For instance, how do I explain to my daughters that it’s okay for the government to tell them what to do with their bodies while these same men refuse to even consider background checks for people who buy guns? I don’t worry about the government sending in black helicopters and storm troopers to take away our guns and occupy our towns. I do worry more and more that the high cost of getting elected at all levels is funneling power upward into the hands of the very rich and powerful. I’m no longer sure legislators at any level represent the interests of the majority of the people they are supposed to serve. However, before we say there’s no room for government, remember who comes in with troops and aid when hurricanes strike and floods occur and wildfires burn out of control. We don’t like big government until we need it.
When I was in college I believed I was going to write the great American novel. I was an English major at a top liberal arts school, and I had taken creative writing classes. I had great dreams and notebooks filled with short stories. I sent them out religiously and watched the rejection slips mount up.
Undeterred, I got a job at a non-profit where I was able to write grants and public relations materials and eventually moved onto politics where I wrote speeches and direct mail. It was an exciting time. I met my husband, got married and had three kids while continuing to write scripts for videos and brochures. Still, as I watched my toddlers grow into school children then teenagers, I felt that urge to return to writing.
I went back to my old stories and read them with horror. After concluding I was not going to become the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, I thought perhaps another genre would be more suitable. This time I started writing about what I knew and what I had learned over the course of twenty some years: politics and intrigue, the city where I lived. I wrote a first draft, then a second, third, and forth. I went to writers’ workshops and joined a writer’s group. I listened and learned a lot from other writers who were struggling through their own first and second and tenth drafts.
It’s taken a few years, but I finally have a draft I’m proud of. It’s not the great American novel I dreamed of in college. It’s a very dark thriller called Inferno, and it’s set in Philadelphia. I’ve started sending it out and have gotten rejections, but my friends and family keep encouraging me. My writing buddies give me advice. They say it will happen. So every morning I get up and write a few more queries. I look for writers’ conferences. I am slowly starting to figure out the social media with the help of my terrific kids. I believe I’ll get an agent, but if I don’t, I’m not giving up. There’s always Amazon.