How to Tell if You are Really a Cat Person

Kittens on lap

My new writing helpers for Timber Howligan Book 2, junior secret agents Roddy and Sasha

Timber Howligan Secret Agent Cat is a book about saving animals, and I have celebrated that in many ways. When I finished my first draft, I went to the local animal shelter and adopted two cats. They were on sale, real cheap-$1 each! Since then I’ve paid thousands of dollars in vet bills for them, so the lesson here might be “you get what you pay for.” One came with the equivalent of “cat herpes virus,” which he spread to the other in the form of corneal ulcerations—now they get medicine every day in their wet food. They other has bladder stones and low-motility, so he has a special diet and is an all-around special needs kitties. But, you know, they’re great cats—very cuddly!

When I published Timber Howligan, I dedicated all the proceeds to the animal rescue organization Alley Cat Allies, and have been able to donate over $100 this year. Then, possibly because I needed motivation on Timber Howligan Book 2, possibly because I really am a Crazy Cat Lady, or possibly because my daughter asked me to, I decided we could foster kittens.

What better way to save lots of animals, I thought?

We’ve got a great home for it. We have an extra bedroom where we can quarantine new kittens. We have kids and cats and dogs so we can attest that the animals get along with EVERYONE. And we understand that foster cats are only here temporarily, until they find their forever homes.

Right? Right?

The first pair of foster cats came and went. I staged a photo shoot. I wrote GREAT copy. Man, can I sell kittens. They were in and out within two weeks. Barely time to notice that Binx had a rash—no problem, he came with it, his owner said it was getting better, right?

Then another pair came into our lives, and everything fell apart. Because these were the BEST kittens in the world. They like to play. They like to snuggle. They like people, cats, and dogs. They almost had a home…and then the guy found out he had to pay for them. So we came back from Christmas break, and joy joy, the kittens are still here, still as cute as can be, and my husband says, “Wow, if I’d met these kittens first, I’d be a cat person.” And I swear he starts to think… “We’re inevitably going to end up adopting some of these cats, and these sure are better than the cats we already have.”

And I’m thinking, that’s not how fostering works.

But I got over-ruled, because these are the best kittens in the world.

So we adopt the kittens, and I’m thinking we can just foster the next pair and I can sell THOSE. Because I really like selling kittens. It’s kind of fun.

Then I find out I have ringworm. Remember Binx’s rash?

Fact: Ringworm is not fun. Fact: Ringworm is very contagious.

So my quarantine bedroom is now taken over by my special needs kitty, because he got ringworm, probably from me. And if you read about how to disinfect a house after a ringworm infestation, the take-home message is, you might as well use Napalm. Either that or bathe your cats twice a week, bleach every surface, vacuum, and then throw out your vacuum cleaner.

I like the website that say “this is a minor skin infection, here’s this cream” better, but which one do you believe?

Fact: I will most often pick the option that does not involve bathing cats.

In the mean time, the rest of us are healthy (so far), and I’m getting lots of inspiration from my new writing routine, which involves letting the junior secret agent cats sit in my lap while I work on the sequel. We have five cats. Six litter boxes. And an entire room quarantined due to fungal infection.

I may….MAY….have carried this cat thing a bit too far.

But when I finish the sequel, I’ll just have to start volunteering AT the shelter. That’s the solution….

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I HAVE MADE IT AS AN AUTHOR

You can’t tell by book sales. I’m not on the best-seller lists. I’m still able to safely walk through airports without being flagged for autographs.

But the other day I walked into my eight-year old daughter’s class (I was there to volunteer as a writing coach), and I had to wait. I was happy to wait, because Read-Aloud had gone late, and no one wants to interrupt Read-Aloud. Especially WHEN THEY ARE READING YOUR BOOK.

Can Stephen King say that? Has he ever walked into an elementary classroom and watched a whole room of children laugh at his words? Has he waited breathlessly while they try to guess whether Cleo is helping Timber or leading him into a trap, as one child so astutely summarized? (Wise students of literature, these third graders are.) I think not.

I have arrived.

"Fortunately, she was the kind of lady who liked to go first. She hopped in and nipped at a string attached to a single bulb. The pathetic incandescence did little to reassure Timber, especially when he could now see spiders crawling the walls. And . . ."

“Fortunately, she was the kind of lady who liked to go first. She hopped in and nipped at a string attached to a single bulb. The pathetic incandescence did little to reassure Timber, especially when he could now see spiders crawling the walls. And . . .”

Timber Howligan First Month Update: Success!

Self-publishing is a business, so here’s the accounting: I promised to donate any proceeds to charity, the animal rescue organization Alley Cat Allies.

Here’s what Timber earned in his first month out in the world:

$4.07 from CreateSpace (11 copies)

$11.87 from Draft2Digital (5 copies)

$85.70 from paperbacks I sold directly (28 copies, including 12 to my mother, who made an extra $20 donation. This might have been out of the goodness of her heart or a math error and knowing her, could have been either…I’ll assume the best. Thanks, Mom!)

That makes just over $100 to donate! Not bad for a cat who only recently learned how to use an iPad.

Screenshot 2015-07-03 15.07.11

They are not kidding about the “wealth of information” part…beware becoming part of their email list. Good thing I REALLY like cats.

I’m not going to get much into the nitty-gritty business details, except to say that you might notice I made less royalties on CreateSpace (paperback sales, mostly) than Draft2Digital. However, if I’d raised the paperback price to $12 or $13, the royalties might be more—it’s all about how you price your books in the self-publishing world. So I still think CreateSpace is a pretty good deal, I just didn’t take full advantage of it by raising my price. Not that I don’t think authors deserve to make every cent they manage to earn on their hard won literary sweat and tears, and not that I don’t think my book is awesome, but I’m not bold enough to put my first offering out there at the same price as something by someone who’s been doing this professionally for thirty years.

Some might not call a first month’s tally of less than 50 books sold a “success,” but I’m actually very happy. First, I’m DONE. Getting this book ready for publication happened to coincide with my children’s last few weeks of school—what the eff was I thinking? So while I was pulling together class projects, class gifts, and generally overdoing things in my usual style, I was trying to figure out how to put together an ebook with illustrations (Note To Self: do NOT leave this until the last minute), maniacally fix every last typo, and still put dinner on the table every night.

Some things slipped through the cracks. I did not win a lot of “warm fuzzy spouse” points during those last hectic days. My husband did not put it so gently.

But he DID read the book, and he laughed his…butt off. So that is the SECOND reason I call this release a success: I have fans! Not all of them are related to me. At least two friends have texted me to let me know their kids were engrossed in the book, and one was already asking for a sequel. That’s kind of cool.

The most important reason Timber Howligan is a success is that feeling you get when you know you’ve finished something big, something that will last. This is a book that will be on my children’s shelves for years. You can drive your kids to school every day, feed them dinner every night, and they will forget it by morning. But write them a book, and they will remember it forever—forever! Ha! Parenting subterfuge at its finest!

One Bite at a Time

“I can’t wait until June.” My son’s friend came up to me at lunch today and spoke these words, rousing me from the Good Part of my book. I was supervising the class of fourth graders, who usually talked amongst themselves, played cards, or otherwise stayed occupied with age-appropriate activities. It was an easy gig.

I raised my head, expecting her to say something about the end of school—still eight weeks away. If I were a kid, that’s what I’d be looking forward to. “Hmm? Why’s that?”

“That’s when Timber Howligan comes out!”

Instant panic! I’m only half way through edits, and still have a cover to design. I’m researching the American Humane Society. I’m at least a month behind on blog posts. I’ve been trying really hard not to think about that looming deadline. The last thing I want is to be reminded about all the work I have to do. And at the same time—“That’s really sweet,” I told her. Because it was.

“Have you been working on it?”

“Yes! Yes, of course I have.” I hoped I sounded confident. I didn’t want to turn off one of my only fans. “I’ll keep you posted.”

She bounced off toward her friends, satisfied.

Lately it’s been hard to get back into a writing routine, but that’s one reason I gave myself a deadline—and announced it. When I picked June as the publication date, back in December, it sounded so far away. Plenty of time! Over the past month, as the weather’s gotten warmer and summer has seemed suddenly closer, I’ve done absolutely nothing.

I know a writer writes. I know nothing is supposed to get between me and my craft, or my Muse will stomp off in a huff. I know anything I say is just an excuse. But we took a two week vacation with my family, and you know what? I needed that vacation. So did my family—and my kids needed me. I brought my laptop, I wrote some almost every day, but finding protected time to edit and revise my novel? Nope, that didn’t happen at the beach.

Then we got home, and my cat died. Not in an all of a sudden, over and done with kind of way. More a prolonged kitty hospice kind of thing. It is unbelievable how much time nursing a geriatric, terminally ill cat takes. Not everyone could afford to make that choice, but I did—with a lot of help from her vet—and we made her last week very comfortable.

By the time I picked up my novel again, I felt like another person. I’ve read at least a dozen books since I last worked on it. I’ve stared death in the eyes, watched it come in the middle of the night, breath by breath, and leave nothing behind at the end but a peaceful sigh.

I’m learning not to rush. Deadlines are good—they make things happen. But taking time off to renew myself was good, too. It’s important to write, but it’s also important to have something to write about.

Now I’m back, and I have to remind myself that everything will get done eventually. My husband calls it “eating the elephant,” usually in regards to his big work projects. You can’t possibly eat a giant pachyderm all at once, you have to do it a bite at a time. The same is true for writing a novel, especially if you then decide to take the leap and self-publish it. In the past week, I edited seven chapters and finished a blog post—that’s at least an ear, maybe half a trunk, don’t you think?

Timber Howligan–The art is here!

The interior illustrations for Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat are done! Always trying to support local artists, I hired Wendy H. Wilkins, who is also a children’s writer. Here’s a sneak peek!

Timber, Lester, and Pfizz in Horgan's office

Timber, Lester, and Pfizz in Horgan’s office

Cleo Patter Paws and Timber Howligan

Cleo Patter Paws and Timber Howligan

Every spy cat needs a grappling hook!

Every spy cat needs a grappling hook!

Why I Write

I’m bad at taking vitamins, keeping track of my glasses, and returning library books on time. My cats probably wish I would change the litter box more often. If it weren’t for my husband waking up thirty minutes early each morning and doing all the hard work—making the kids’ lunches, being my alarm clock, turning on the coffee maker—I’d be a deadbeat mom. A morning person I am not, especially since chronic headaches invaded my life three years ago.

But I’m pretty good at writing. Sometimes. I try to do it every day, although I’ve reached the stage where I now think everything I wrote two years ago is crap. I believe this is progress.

What I’m really not good at? Putting myself out there.

Whether it’s posting regular blog entries (Me? have anything to say that people would want to read?), or submitting my short stories (Is it good enough? Is it worth sending if they’ll just reject it anyway?), I fall short of the last essential stage required to BE A WRITER:

Letting my work be read.

I mean, I’m really not writing just for me. I say that, to justify the hundred thousand words I’ve written in the past year. I say that to my disability company, because truthfully, I’m not fit for gainful employment (and certainly not capable of performing the duties of a pediatric anesthesiologist sixty hours a week—yikes). Staring at a screen for more than a couple hours quite predictably gives me a headache, which I wake up with every day to begin with. So why do I write?

Writing is its own kind of therapy. It keeps me from going crazy. It is a substitute for the intense mental hoops I used to jump through, juggling the anesthetic management of up to fourteen children a day, supervising residents, conducting trials, taking classes, and writing research papers. I never wanted to leave my career at the age of 38. I dearly miss my job. Writing gives me something to do each day. So would yoga.

Don’t get me wrong—I like yoga. But even in the middle of the one class I’ve found that’s mellow enough for me to get through, I’ll find myself zoning out, revising my latest story in my head. (Especially during the ten minutes of sitting and breathing. I know it’s meditative. It’s probably great for my headaches. But it’s boring.)

But secretly, I love an audience. Even as an anesthesiologist, once I had that patient in my clutches, helpless, vulnerable, strapped to the bed, I used those precious minutes before the drugs kicked in to tell jokes. Yes, yes, it established rapport, alleviated anxiety, and put my patient in a beneficial state—beneficial for me. People tend to wake up in the same mood in which they fall asleep. It also was my only chance to perform, since I had neither the time, nerve, nor repertoire for stand-up comedy. In my heart, I want to make people laugh and cry and scream out loud. Maybe even in the same story—I aim high.

Without that outlet, I write. Today, I want to be a better writer than I was yesterday. Tomorrow, I admit it, I want that story to be read.

The only way to do that is to write as if no one is watching, knowing the whole time you’re performing on stage. I did it at the beginning of every case, in front of impatient surgeons, skeptical scrub nurses, and parents who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. (A sample: “What do you call cheese that’s not yours? Nacho cheese!” It’s all in the delivery.) But if I could make that kid smile as the anesthetic took hold, it was all worth it–even if I had thirty seconds to get the airway in as soon as the little tyke stopped breathing. If I could tell jokes under that kind of pressure, you and I can submit our work. When that story gets out there, it won’t matter how many rejections it gathered along the way. In fact, the more you have, the more you can brag.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t think about what your mother or your English teacher would think. They probably won’t read it, unless you send them a copy. And God forbid, do not even consider the fact that your children have Internet access and know how to perform a Google search.

Writing–Where I’m At with NaNoWriMo

November is coming, and we all know what that means. Halloween candy binges. Christmas decorations everywhere. Frantic preparations for a gigantic holiday feast. Men growing facial hair to raise awareness about their prostates. And writers everywhere going insane trying to finish a novel in a month.

Which one of these am I going to be doing?

I don’t like candy, and I don’t have a prostate.

So this leaves me with a dilemma—decorate for Christmas and feed my family on Thanksgiving, or write a novel.

Sadly, I can’t do it all. That’s my biggest problem with National Novel Writing Month. They couldn’t put it in August, the one month with no national holidays? A month more than one hundred days away from the holiday frenzy?

But what about that great idea I’ve been working on? How will I ever get it done?

I suppose there are other ways to write a novel—the one day at a time method. Two pages a day. Take a year to write it and a year to revise it. But, part of me thrills, if you do NaNo, the novel will be done on November 30th!

Don’t believe the hype. NaNo is a slog. It is the ultramarathon of literary grinds. Especially for slow writers such as myself. Maybe there are people who thrive on the challenge, just like there are sickos people out there who love to run 100 mile races (you know who you are, and you know you’re crazy, even if you’re going to live fifty years longer than I am).

I ran a ten mile race once. It felt great—up until mile five. Then it was like pounding nails into my knees for the last half, and I limped over the finish line and collapsed in a heap. I sat in the car for the five hour drive back home, and couldn’t walk without pain for a week. You should have trained for it, people said. Oh, I did, I argued. And I’m convinced the training is what set me up for failure. My knees were running low on their warranty to begin with, and I used up all their miles in the weeks before the race.

There’s no training for NaNo. You can plan and outline, of course. But you’re not allowed to start your novel ahead of time—that’s considered “cheating.” But when winning is the equivalent of printing of a certificate that says “You win,” who’s keeping score? If the goal is to have a novel by the end of it, I say do whatever it takes.

I’m not going to risk a repeat of what happened with my ten mile race, though. No way—no ice packs and ibuprofen for this girl. No training. No pre-writing. Not because it would be cheating, but because it would wear me out. I’m going to eeeeeease into NaNo.

Today, I’m going to consider signing up. (I want to, I do. There’s the euphoria of starting…of hitting 10,000 words…and then the crush of realizing you’ve stared at your computer for an hour and only typed three sentences. GRRR!!!)

Tomorrow, I might actually look at the website. (But the camaraderie! The pep talks! Hitting the halfway point!)

Maybe by next week, come November 1st, I’ll actually do it. I wouldn’t want to risk burning out too soon. (Like when you realize you’re three quarters through your novel…and you have no idea where to take your plot next.)

But if you see me putting up Christmas decorations and baking pumpkin pies before Halloween, you’ll know why. (I know I put that box of ornaments somewhere down here…)