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Friday, November 30, 2012

In Which I Get All Dickensish


Today's post is a story (written by yours truly) about a homeless kid with a dream and a cat, or maybe a cat and a dream? 

For These Times: A Very Short Story About A Boy and His Cat, Gnomeo 

In a city not too far away from you, but on a street you've probably never visited, sits a grubby looking kid. He has a backpack and a cat. You would never know he was anything but a really devoted hipster if he wasn't so obviously toting a big piece of cardboard around with him. You, if you are that kind of person, could think he was doing some kind of ironic retro break dancing thing except he has written the words "home sweet home" on the front of what you now see is a carefully folded cardboard box.

"Hey, lady, can you spare a fiver?" 

Okay, you have $5, but you're dying for a latte and the coffeehouse you frequent doesn't take credit cards. Someone else will probably give the kid money and, really, what will he do with $5 anyway? He should just get a job like other kids his age. What's with kids these days?

Still, even though you know it's silly, you're embarrassed and start to walk a little faster. Then, and maybe it's because you're a bit foggy from lack of latte, you stop; it seems wrong to walk on by without saying something. You flash a rueful smile and say the first thing that comes into your head.

"I don't have any money, but I sure hope someone gives you some." You hitch up your pocketbook and hurry off to the coffeehouse.

The kid has seen your kind before; he doesn't hold a grudge. Maybe you really don't have money and at least you didn't spit on him, right? There are plenty of people walking around- one of them is bound to have a few bucks to spare. He forgets about you five seconds after your $500 silk skirt floats out of sight.

But the night gets colder and the people walking by become fewer and fewer. Each one that passes is less magnanimous than the one before. The kid gets a little more creative with his pitch- he's really hungry. Someone who looks a lot like you walks by. He stands up straight and reaches out his grubby little hand.

 "Hey lady, can you spare a fiver so I can buy my cat a cheeseburger?"

She says, "Show me your cat." Okay, good deal. She wants to see the cat. He has a cat. It's all good.

"Here you go, this is my cat, Gnomeo," He says as he holds up the slightly ratty, stripey stray that's been noming his cheeseburgers for a while now. He isn't lying. Gnomeo is, for all intents and purposes, the kid's cat. It isn't a bad looking cat either; the kid takes as good care of it as he can by brushing it and stuff like that.

"He looks pretty good," she says as she squints at him through the murky light where the kid tends to feel most comfortable. "Here, let me hold him for a minute so I can check him under the light."

"Sure, okay." 

The kid really needs to feed the cat- it has started looking at him like he's food and it's freaking him out a bit. If the lady wants to see the cat, the lady can see the cat. The kid kind of smooths down the cat's hair and hands him over.

Damned if she doesn't walk off with the cat! 

The kid worries a little- what if she hurts the cat? She doesn't look like a cat hurter, but the kid is well educated in the ways of strangers and knows that cat hurting tendencies turn up in the most surprising people. Then again, maybe she just likes cats. Maybe she's looking for a new pet to spoil and call pookey, or whatever people who collect cats do- the concept is well out of his realm of experience and he lets the thought morph into something he can understand.

Maybe she'll give him $5, or even $10, for his trouble. Then again, maybe she just wants to make sure the cat is real before she gives the kid $5. The kid has learned that people are often very strange, especially when it comes to cats, and more especially when it comes to money. Whatever.

It's all good. The kid is fond of the cat and, even if it does get a bit whiffy sometimes, he'd be happy to keep him. Fond feelings aside, he quickly comes to terms with the idea that the lady really wants to keep the cat. He's a little sad, and knows he'll miss the kitty, but there are plenty of other cats on the street that will be happy to share his cheeseburgers. 

The kid halfheartedly asks a few more people for money, but he's pretty sure he's going to eat tonight; he isn't as desperate as he should be. Hope rises in his hollow little chest like an unfamiliar but welcome flame until he sees the lady round the corner. His heart, and that big warm swell of hope, sinks. She's holding the cat by the scruff of his neck and looks pissed.

"I'm sorry, but this cat is not what I was expecting at all. He stinks and he has too much exposition in the beginning  he's just an alley cat. I thought I saw better markings under that dim light of yours. Why did you try to deceive me?"

"I just asked for $5, lady. You're the one who wanted to see the cat," he says.  His feelings are kind of hurt- did he ever suggest his cat was some kind of purebred? No he did not. She isn't devoid of sensitivity and can see that he is disappointed. She tries to console the kid.

"No, no, that's okay. Here's your cat back. I'm sure it's a fine cat and the cat buying public can be very subjective. I don't want him, but that doesn't mean he's unsaleable  I hope you have good luck finding someone to buy your cat." She wipes her hands on a lacy handkerchief and takes herself off to wherever people like that go at night. Probably, the kid thinks unkindly, to harass another homeless kid's cat. 

Damn.

The night gets colder and the kid and the cat are really hungry. And cold. He wasted a lot of time and energy hoping that the cat lady would give him money for cheeseburgers. The kid is actually worse off than he was before she showed up and walked off with the cat. Now he's hungry, cold, and his cat is defective.

The kid survives, but he doesn't sleep well. The cat spends the night roaming the streets looking for food and comes back with blood on his fur and two tiny pigeon feathers stuck to his chin. The kid wipes the blood off the cat with the hem of a Romney 2012 tee shirt (some guy gave him a stack of the things after the election and they're the one thing he has more than enough of.) The cat rewards his kindness by raking its claws across his hand. The kid doesn't notice; all he can think about is the fact that his cat isn't good enough.

Did the lady say something about markings? What does that mean? He tries to figure it out and decides that, if he can bum a marker off somebody, maybe he can fix the markings. That warm hope feeling didn't really disappear;  it just condensed and reformed as an atomic fireball of obsession in his cheeseburger starved brain. If he is able to make the cat attractive to people like the cat lady he's convinced he can make enough money off the cat to move into an actual building where he has running water and a permanent place to set up his cardboard box.

The cat is now this kid's life because somehow this cat (or maybe another cat) is going to fix everything. His life has gone from looking for $5 to feed his cat to fixing up the cat so he can sell it.

He starts buying raw meat instead of cheeseburgers for the cat. He ups his cat brushing from a few minutes a day to an hour or so, then a couple hours. He finds a toothbrush, and a pair of leather gloves, so he can brush the cat's teeth. Some kind soul gives him a bag of silky ribbons to tie around the cat's neck to sort of round out the look.

The cat looks pretty freaking good- the kid? Not so much. He knows the cat isn't exactly what the cat lady is looking for because he hasn't found a way to change the markings (marker does not work and the cat hates it) but he figures another cat lady will come along and be impressed enough by his efforts to offer both him and the cat some kind of job. Maybe a contract? Anything is possible if you believe in possibilities, right?

And this is where the story has to stop. The kid is still out there brushing his cat and waiting for some kind cat lady to take notice of his hard work and dedication. Sure he gets the odd $5 here and there, but that isn't going to pay the cat food bills. Sad stories abound in a world where cats are everywhere and cat people are scarce. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is. It's every kid for himself out there. 

M.B.



Friday, November 9, 2012

Stats for the Statless

Hey blogpeople!

It has, in fact, been a while. Last week was stressful and miserable from a writing progress point of view. Like really, I was not okay. Sooooo far from okay. I rudely pelted a real, working, fiction writer with questions about the efficacy of query letters- not very melike at all. 

Why was I in such a state? After a couple of weeks of waiting for responses to the 16 queries I sent out only three people responded. One was a no response (but she'd respond in 48 hours if interested) so I took  it as a no. That's four not for me, thanks and a lot of nothing. I sent out another batch this week but haven't heard from anyone. 

My query goal for this book is about 40 before I move on to another plan. I individualize each query letter anyway but I also make changes to the form part of the letter (the summary and stuff). It really is a lot of work and the lack of feedback is frustrating. Each query takes about an hour to prepare because I thoroughly research each agent and agency- if I've never heard of the agent before it takes me longer. Sadly I'm an old hat at this query stuff  but it does save me a bit of time in the long run. 

Last time I was filled with hope and the rejections hurt- I received about 40 actual rejections. This time I barely notice the rejections- so far they've been pure form letters except for one who said my premise was cute. I hate the word cute but appreciated that she took the time to tell me *anything* about the query. She is a top notch agent and I'm sad that I didn't suit. 

So I've been grumpy and no fun to be around and decided that was a terrible way to live (uh, the people around me made it very clear too) and this week I made the time to put it all in perspective.

I am a writer. I write fiction and, you know what? I do a pretty good job of it too. I will eventually reach my goal of being published and it's naive to believe that it will come easily. Sure, it has essentially been ten years (or more) and sure, I work hard every day in order to make my work better. And okay, I read a lot of books in my genre that are really awful and it just seems unfair that these writers get paid to write awful books. But. I also read books that are so beautifully written that I feel privileged just to be able to visit the author's fictional world for a while. I am a good writer but I have a long way to go.

My ultimate goal shouldn't hinge on the opinion of other people. My goal should be to reach the highest level of greatness I can possibly reach. This will take years- I've read everything these great authors have ever published. They didn't necessarily start out great but they never let their degree of financial success dictate their need to improve. 

I'm not going to let my lack of financial success do that either.

This writing thing is an art and a craft. It takes practice and perseverance and patience. I have to put my ego aside, my need to make money, my frustration at any visible progress in the agent hunt, and continue to improve.

I am a better writer than I was with book 1. Readers have read the new book in its roughest draft form and have enjoyed the experience- that's awesome! And the sad reality of agent hunting is that ultimately I can only do what I can do and leave it to other people to decide if that is what they're looking for. They are judging me and the marketability of my book on fewer than 400 words. 

Even 400 spectacularly put together words will not make my book interesting to agents with full client lists and no real interest in my premise. Agents have become really picky about query letters too- often they are picky about completely opposite things. The agents who write blogs are clear about the stuff they hate and sometimes that stuff is what other agents love. I, as a query writer, have decided to just do my best and hope that it's enough. Really, it's all I can do. 

And those are the stats. I've sent out 20 queries to date. I've had four actual rejections (one came in this week) and one assumed rejection so there are 15 possibilities out there. On Monday I'll send another batch and send out a few throughout the week. I'll keep working on my Q-letter and I'll keep sending the things out there. Meanwhile I'm having a marvelous time writing about a time traveling monkey.K is a little worried about the direction my work is taking but I might as well have fun while I'm waiting. Not every story has to be published (or even publishable) y'know. And hello- time traveling monkey. How could a writer go wrong with a character like that?

Have a wonderful week blogfriends. I'll let you know if anything interesting happens. Until that time I'm

Yours,
MB