Friday, April 1, 2011

Behind Every Good Writer Stands a Dog (who wants to go out)…

By Lecia Cornwall

Ah, pets—Does anyone understand writer’s angst better than a cat? Who makes a better muse than a dog?

I share my life with four cats and a chocolate Labrador retriever. Many of the lessons I’ve learned about being a successful writer come from watching my pets.

Frank, my alpha cat, teaches the lessons of devotion and independence. He’s informed, knows everything, yet maintains a dignified distance from underlings. He’s involved with every aspect of life in his domain, from disciplining dogs and subordinates, and checking visitors at the door, to keeping watch over anyone who uses the bathroom. Frank is the one by my side when I write, as encouraging and enigmatic as any writer’s muse.

Kipper, my chocolate Labrador retriever, represents the pure joy and possibility in every single day. Just a ball, that’s all he needs, like an idea he can play with, make into something new, something he can catch, fetch, dig or chew. Even half an idea—or half a ball— has endless potential. Our long afternoon walks are when I do most of my thinking and plotting and work out story problems. It’s incredible how much can be done away from the computer, and paper, and cell phones. Kipper enjoys each and every ‘aha’ moment I find, and takes delight in his own.

Ted was a feral kitten, brought home as a foster cat for a cat adoption group in Ottawa. He’s big, and well, homely. No one wanted him but me, so he stayed. Ted is beautiful on the inside. He loves classical music, and poetry. He’s diabetic, and getting old, but he greets every day with determined routine, enjoying the perfect order of his life. A writer needs a routine like that to stay on track, and Ted reminds me my characters have to have hidden depths and inner beauty.

Like every good romance writer, Alphonse is a dichotomy. He’s the sweetest-natured cat I’ve ever known in the house. Outside, he is the neighborhood serial killer, specializing in voles. Every now and then he surprises me with a gift, either live or dead, laying it at my feet with feline pride glowing in his eyes (My muse does the same thing, sometimes bringing me her ideas like dim-sum offerings, sometimes giving me a dead vole.) Aren’t writers a lot like Alphonse? A multitude of personalities course through our brains. We think up the most diabolical ways to kill our villains, torment our heroes and heroines, and still create the kind of tender love scenes that make our readers purr with delight.

Now what could Missy the Siamese represent, besides persistence of song, and the joy of a little pampering now and then? Siamese cats are never quiet. They tell endless stories (loudly) to anyone who’ll listen. She has a heated basket of her very own, lined with the finest fake fur, and she reclines in incredible comfort. She’s an odd duck among the other cats, like a writer amid engineers, or lawyers, or accountants. Missy reminds me that busy writers need someone to listen to our latest story ideas and a little pampering now and then—a glass of wine, a snuggly blanket and thou, perhaps? Oh, and a good book!

My pets might drive me crazy at times, interrupting the flow of creative thought with demands for attention, food, or constant in and out privileges, but I couldn’t live without their inspiration, companionship and the reminder that love isn’t just confined to the pages of our books. It’s in the way we live between the pages. Each day must have a balance of sleep, work, play, purring, barking and treats. There are days when we feel as if we’ve been locked out in the rain, and days when the sun shines on us, and we bask. There is catnip and Milk Bones to look forward to, and hairballs, too. There’s time to be silly, time to be affectionate, and time to be ruthless. In the end, if we’re lucky, inspired, dedicated, and pampered, it all works out, and the ideas flow when they’re supposed to, and the stories fall onto the page.

Thanks for the inspiration! When I’m done with this life as a writer, I think I’ll come back as a pet, and return the favor.

Lecia Cornwall is the author of Secrets of A Proper Countess, now available from Avon.


Sophie Littlefield said...

Hi Lecia! your post today reminds me of a long-ago time when my husband was in grad school and for some reason I thought we needed a second pet, and brought home a kitten. He was not at all happy, especially when that cat decided that it merited all-day-long attention. Before long, though, he was studying with a cat across the keyboard. I suspect she became a critical part of his process. :)

Lecia Cornwall said...

yes, they become true family members, and awful literary critics! Frank sits in the old armchair in my office and watches me work every day. I got a box on my books in the mail yesterday and he sat in it. Still, he listens when I proofread out loud, and curls up in my lap at the end of the day, rewarding himself (and me) for a job well done.

Rachael Herron said...

I think it's a great idea to come back as a beloved pet. My animals live the happy life and grumble when their food is delayed and throw fits when they don't get the kind they like (and then I cave, and they do). Spoiled things. I could get used to that.
Thanks for playing with us today!

Lecia Cornwall said...

Why is it people talk more about their pets than their children or their work? Do they go out to the hydrant and gossip about us?

Unknown said...

Lecia--Welcome to the Pens! My old cat Holly used to lie across my hard copy edits...while I was working :)

Lecia Cornwall said...

They're very insistent when they want your attention, aren't they. It's not that they're the author's cat. It's that you're the cat's author!

Gigi Pandian said...

What fun inspiration! I never seem to be able to concentrate at home, but you've got the perfect way to have that covered :)

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