Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

February 22, 2013

The Literary Cat

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” — Charles Dickens

There are literary cats and then there are Literary Cats.

Charles Dickens had a very famous Literary Cat named Wilhelmina. In his London house, you can see the desk where he and Wilhelmina worked and, if you get close enough, you can see the imprint of cat claws etched into the wood.

Whenever Wilhelmina needed attention or thought Dickens had been at it too long, she would raise a paw and scratch the desk. If this didn’t get the desired results, she would snuff out the candle.

I have three literary kitties and, while I love them equally, I am particularly bonded with Lulu. She, like Wilhelmina, is a Literary Cat of the highest order. Let’s just say she has more… exuberance… for working with me than any other cat I’ve known. (For more on that, you can read about a typical day with her in a blog I wrote for Penguin.)

As I spend upwards of 14 hours a day at my desk seven days a week, working feverishly toward a May 1 deadline (which feels as if it’s five minutes from now in terms of HOW LITTLE TIME THERE IS TO DO ALL I NEED TO DO), Lulu has rarely left my side. Sometimes this is good, sometimes… challenging (depending on what she’s occupying herself with), but when you’re deep in the writing cave, it’s wonderful to have the company.

And she makes me laugh.

Here is Lulu at work. I’ve tried to put them in sequence.

(Note: When she isn’t taking apart the printer or running away with post-its pulled from research books, she does a good bit of gazing at me. Sometimes lovingly, sometimes impatiently.)

 

(No, I didn’t tuck her in. She did that herself.)

November 30, 2012

Spring cleaning

When Thornton Wilder finished writing his novel Theophilus North, he told friends: “So I finished the plagued book. I’m accustomed to turn my back on a piece of work once it’s finished– but it’s something new for me to feel empty-handed and deflated– to wake up each morning without that sense of the task waiting for me on my desk. Daily writing is a habit– and a crutch and a support; and for the first time I feel cast adrift and roofless without it. I hate this and am going to get back into a harness as soon as I can.”

I couldn’t have said it better. It is amazing how sad and purposeless and lost you feel after finishing a manuscript, even when that manuscript still has many steps to go through before publication. I handed the fourth Velva Jean novel (American Blonde) over to my editor in mid-September. Soon, she will send it back to me with her first round of notes and we will go back and forth till the novel is ready.

There is a mountain of other writerly work to be done. Even without American Blonde on my desk, I am as busy as ever. However, I still feel like Dickens’s Miss Havisham, wandering around my office, bereft and lonely, still dressed in my writing clothes, searching for the next idea. I have many, many, many of them, but until I’ve settled on one and am lost inside it, that feeling of being adrift and roofless will linger.

Usually, there is only one thing to do. Clear away the cobwebs and clean the office.

To offer some perspective, the only time I ever feel like cleaning is when I finish a book. I am not someone who vacuums to relax (like my best friend), or who scrubs the refrigerator shelves when she’s angry (like another friend of mine). Growing up, you couldn’t even tell that I had a floor because every inch of my carpet was covered in clothing, books, and records.

But to make ready for whatever comes next, I need to clean my office. Not just dusting and straightening– we’re talking some sort of overhaul. I need to clear away some of the clutter, reorganize bookshelves and closet, move my desk, reconfigure the furniture and general layout. In short, new book, new office. It happens every time.

Soon enough, I’ll be happily back in that harness, and I might as well be ready for it.