A Tribute to a Black Cat

During the 1930’s, Chandler had a black Persian called Taki. He often spoke to her as if she were human. Sometimes he called her his secretary, because she frequently sat on the paper we was about to use or on copy that needed revising.

I first read this about Raymond Chandler in The Book of Lists 2 under the category 12 CAT LOVERS. The book was published in 1979. Along with it was this photo:

At the time, I was in high school, thinking I might want to be a writer, maybe a journalist, possibly in film-making. I didn’t read classic crime fiction like Chandler and Hammett, preferring mostly to watch the classic noir movies. But the thought struck me that crime novelists had black cats. I mean, what else would they have?

So, time goes along. I study screenwriting in college and didn’t do much with it. Wrote a lot of poetry, mostly tragic sobbing over a bad relationship. Got intellectual but still wasn’t writing anything worth a darn. It was in 2007 that I finally tried NaNoWriMo and the first thing I worked on was a hard-boiled noir crime drama. As dark and nasty as I could get. At the time, Mongo had been part of our household for three years along with Camille (a black and white bi-color) and Rupert (a tuxedo cat). Initially, they reminded me of Butch and Sundance and Etta, with Rupert being Butch (the thinker) and Mongo being Sundance (quick to shoot) and sweet Camille as Etta.

But then, as Mongo started to hang around in the office while I wrote, I was reminded of that Chandler photo and I realized I had Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy:

I was writing crime fiction and I finally had my black cat. Now all I needed was the photo:

This was the first take. I was lucky because the rest didn’t come out so well. Maybe Mongo didn’t realize what I was up to at first but he didn’t feel much like cooperating after that. I’m certainly not Raymond Chandler, but this crime writer has HIS photo with his black cat.

Mongo crossed over The Rainbow Bridge two days ago, worn out by his fight against cancer. He was truly a partner who showed me that all the best cat qualities can be found in the characters I put on paper. I will keep writing and keep reminding myself that a black cat possibly taught me more about human nature than over 35 years in customer service.

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Feline Inspiration for Hard-Boiled Fiction

I recall seeing a photo of Raymond Chandler with his black cat and was fully convinced that any mystery, crime, or hard-boiled writer needed a black cat.

I also thought you needed to wear glasses and smoke a pipe. Be that as it may, Mongo came into our lives six years ago. He’s a tough guy, more like Robert Mitchum than Humphrey Bogart but he makes an excellent sidekick.

I’d like to say he is a constant source of inspiration but nine times out of ten he’s on the desk, grabbing my hand with his paw to get me to rub his belly and pull my hand away from the keyboard.
Rupert reminds me at times of Peter Lorre from “The Maltese Falcon”.

A tuxedo cat, he exudes charm and class. But he can also be skittish, making me wonder exactly WHAT he has been up to.
Camille is my sweet little angel, daddy’s little girl. But don’t let her charm fool you:

If either of the two boys try to jack with her, she is more than their match.
I should be more cognizant of real human characters and their traits when I contemplate characters in stories and novels. I just happen to find the felines living under my roof to be a continuing source of inspiration.

A Contemporary Writer Explores the Mathematics of Time

I have this absurd notion that being an expatriate writer in Europe after the First World War was part writing and part drinking and that each one supported the other.  Relationships were tenuous; there weren’t that many happily married couples.  Very few were homeowners.  There weren’t 401(k) or money markets or retirement funds to worry about.  Therefore they MUST have had all the time in the world to write and develop their craft.

That’s when I look at my contemporary life and begin to wonder where the time goes.  We start with 24 hours in a day.  There are 168 hours in a week.  I get by on 6 and a half hours of sleep roughly.  Any more and I would be frittering away the time; any less and I would be sickly.  I work (or am at work) 42.5 hours a week.  But between sleep and work there is morning time: shower, coffee, breakfast, maybe the newspaper.  That equates to 7.5 hours per week.  And we take into account commuting to and from work which equals 4.16 hours.

I am more health conscious than before so I do work out.  Between the gym at work and at home that comes to 5.5 hours total for the week.  I do all the cooking at home so calculating making and eating dinner that’s 9 hours.  And I usually go grocery shopping once per week; I’m using 2 hours total for shopping and putting everything away.

Now, these are all the “have-tos”.  I suppose, as stated earlier I COULD sleep less and not work out.  Then I’d possibly be like those struggling writers of the 1920’s.  But I AM contemporary.

The math for the have-tos is 116.16 hours leaving me a total of 51.84 hours per week to write or an average of 7.4 hours a day.  I should be able to write encyclopedias, right?

Well, there are other things.  For example, even though I work the weekends (Tuesday and Wednesday are my “weekend”) I still spend the evening with my wife.  Maybe there’s a movie and/or commiserating that married couples are known to do.  So let’s say seven hours of a Friday and Saturday are our social time.

My new job is better than my old job so I’m a lot less stressed out and want to write more.  BUT let’s say I feel like kicking back and watching a couple of episodes of “Criminal Minds” on ION Television.  And let’s say I do this two times during the week.  Four more hours.

So now I’m down to 40.84 hours left which brings my per day average to slightly over 5.8 hours per day.  Still a lot of time.  But there are errands to run on my day off and homeowner things that have to be done because my wife and I are not Ernest and Hadley or Scott and Zelda and we can’t afford to hang around drinking all day.  So throw in another four hours for errands and an equal amount for household things.  Eight more hours into the mix.

I’ve got 32.84 hours left in the week to write.  But writing also includes blogging, reading blogs, updating Facebook, responding to Facebook comments and entries, researching agents, updating the query letter, sending out the query letter.  Writing is no longer simply one letter after another to make a word, one word after another to make a sentence, one sentence after another to make a paragraph, one paragraph after another to make a chapter, and several succinct and well-organized chapters to make a novel.  it is all the extraneous components of networking and research that are fundamental.

I’m not even counting the time it is taking to write this missive or the calculations that went into the details herein included.

Perhaps this is a diatribe at getting older and having more personal responsibilities, none of which I resent because they are elements that enhance and, in essence, define my life as a Human Being.  But what defines me as a writer?  Youth has a greater capacity for freedom because of fewer restrictions.  Age has fashioned a schedule and a set of parameters.

In the end, it becomes an issue of the quality of time spent doing anything as opposed to the quantity of time.  It would be nice to have more time to write more often.  Yet writing well in the time afforded to me is more significant.

And, on top of all that, as I was composing this, Mongo jumped up on my desk and laid down exposing his belly and reminded me that time HAS to be spent paying attention to him.  And Camille.  And Rupert.  Cats are so demanding.  But then, several of you already knew that.