Today I said goodbye to a furbaby. Tears are still rolling down my face as I say that.
She was a good cat. She was loving, affectionate, and never hurt anyone. She would greet visitors and ask for pats, and she would follow the kids around outside while they were playing, on the off-chance they would pat her too.
I had 12 years with her. She came to me as a dumped cat, probably because she was in heat and having already had a litter of kittens previously. I took her in, half-starved and so needy, and she gifted me with three kittens. Then another five before I could get her sterilised (hey – I thought I had another two months until spring!) She was a loving, caring, brilliant mother, and once sterilised, she looked at me and said, “I’m done. I’m going to lay on this bed for the rest of my life and that’s it.”
And that was what she did. She’d been through a lot, and she deserved it.
After nearly starving to death, she decided to eat until she popped, so I had to put her on a strict diet. She never blamed me.
She wasn’t lonely. Two of her sons kept her company, and after teaching them to hunt mice when they were little, they always had to bring her their presents. I frequently found all three of my cats curled up around my legs on my bed, or in a ball together when the weather was cold.
Did she enrich my life? Undoubtedly. Will I miss her? Absolutely. For the first time in 12 years I will only have two cats to feed tonight. [Still crying here].
But it’s those sorts of emotions that make us better writers. The decisions we make in life. The loss we suffer. The experiences we have.
As an author, I find I shelve many observations for the “one day I need it.” I enjoy talking to people about their lives, because I can take their experiences and put them in a character. I watch a lot and see different things. I feel many things, and remember so that they are there when I need it. For when a character needs it.
Many authors get very attached to their books. I’ve heard of authors who refuse to change a single word during editing. I’ve heard of authors who get upset with less than 5 stars. Why are we so attached? In part, it’s because it's our creation, but also because there is a piece of us in every book. By critiquing the book, you could (in the author’s mind) be doubting their experience.
I recently caught a one star review on one of my books. I wanted to torture myself and find out why the person gave me one star, so I read it. (Not recommended, but I’m a rebel). They started off by saying that they didn’t know why they decided to try to read another book by me, because they hated the first, and then went on to say that they didn’t think that I was Australian because my characters don’t speak like any Australian they’ve ever met. Immediately I could see the problem. This person was reviewing my book The Shearing Gun. My character tends to speak “ocker” as we call it here – a type of bush lingo that perhaps you don’t find in the city. I was fortunate enough to be able to shrug off the one star review, but I can see where other authors wouldn’t. The ocker the characters were speaking is pretty much the way they do in country Western Australia. The reviewer however was not from WA and probably (I’m guessing) lived in the city. Their experience is different from my experience.
Does that make the reviewer wrong? No. If they didn’t like the story, they didn’t like the story. It perhaps makes them a little less open minded than others if they couldn’t accept that bit, but not wrong.
Assuming that their experience is the only way could be hurtful to the author, especially if it is something close to their heart. At one extreme I’m thinking about stories such as those dealing with the loss of a parent, child or partner. At the other extreme I’m thinking about sexual relationships. How many reviews have I caught where someone says, “That’s not how gay men have sex.” I guess that unless it’s anatomically impossible, then that reviewer has been present at every single coupling of gay men? How one has sex is very intimate. One person’s experience is intimate too, and we shouldn’t doubt the validity of the sex on page. Perhaps that is the author’s experience?
Loss is also such a personal thing. How someone deals with the loss is personal too. My father died after a long illness, and seeing how differently we all reacted to the loss was eye-opening. One sister visits his grave every birthday, anniversary, Christmas, and special occasion. Another sister hasn’t been able to visit his grave at all, despite it being 3 years now. We deal in different ways.
As a teen, I learned a lot through reading of books. How to grieve was one of them. Preparing yourself for the time when you needed it was something that was golden.
So, perhaps in one of my books, one day, we will go through the grief and the agony of losing a parent. I will open that storage box in my author’s mind and let it all out. There will be tears from me while I write. It will rip my heart out. But I do it for two reasons. One, for the reader to experience. Entertainment (despite the sad theme) and experience is what the reader wants. They don’t want a bland story. And two, it helps me. Explaining the grief helps me heal, and knowing that it may somewhere, help someone with theirs, is a wonderful feeling.
So I’d better wrap up this blog before the funeral we’re about to perform. I’m sad, and will probably burst into tears [like right now] at odd times over the next week/month/year, but I will never forget the cat that gifted me by choosing me as her new owner. She could’ve chosen another house, another person, another life, but she chose me.
I’ll see you heaven, baby.
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