Talking and Silence

Years ago, I had a friend who said she thought in colors. This would have been handy for her, since we were both studying art history, but I never quite understood what she meant. We had different mental languages, because I think in words. I even edit as I go.

Like other Wickeds here, I attended Malice Domestic at the end of April. I don’t go to a lot of conferences—maybe three or four a year—and I’m always amazed that I can spend three days or more talking. To friends, strangers, panelists, my writer idols, wait staff, and just about anybody who is human and breathing (and even some non-humans too).

Idols! (And yes, I talked to both women.)

Which is in stark contrast to the other ninety percent of my life. I’m a full-time writer, working from home, usually without any other people around, so I spend a significant amount of my time sitting in front of my computer creating stories in my head. I’m sure you all know that any piece of writing takes more than just stringing words together: you have to hear the voices of your characters in your head before you can set their words down on paper/your screen. And then there’s the invisible narrator if you write in the third person, because somebody has to describe things like the scenery, clothes, food and so on, and then you have to have your characters move through all this clutter that you’ve created.

Plus  you have to make each character a distinct individual and differentiate between them all (and don’t even ask about using accents!). To put it simply, it gets pretty noisy in a writer’s head.

Yes, I talk to cows too. This one’s a neighbor in Ireland.

But that does not mean I work in absolute silence. I talk to my cats (there are three of them, and one or another, or sometimes two, and occasionally three will be sitting on me as I work). In fact, I carry on complete conversations with my cats (no, they don’t answer, although I can usually figure out what they want through their body language, and most often it involves food). I also talk to the neighbors’ cats, and the rare dog that wanders by, and birds, and squirrels, and anything else living that passes through my yard. It seems rude to ignore them, and usually I welcome them.

An Irish cat — my daughter and I both had a conversation with it.

At Malice I’ve shared a hotel room with the same person for several years now, but I hadn’t realized that she talks to herself too. She’s been published for a long time, but I didn’t think to ask her when she started doing this. I have a feeling there are a lot of us who talk when there’s no one there.

Writers use words. Sometimes we need to try them out, because a spoken word “feels” different than a word you think. We (and the cats) are our own first audience. And for me, at least, it makes a difference.

How about you? Do you think in words? Colors? Musical notes? Even smells? And do you talk when there’s nobody to hear you?

Cozy Cats and Authors

Recently Fellow Wicked Edith wrote a great post in defense of genre books, which some cluless people consider less important than so-called literary fiction, You know, those books that the critics adore and review all over the place but that only 137 people in the world read. I might be exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean. I’d like to think cozy writers like us have as many readers as they do, but most of them do not review for The New York Times. Many of you readers responded in defense of genre, and we thank you!

But if you walk through one of the increasingly rare chain bookstores, you will quickly see that some genre books share certain consistent characteristics. Like romances where on the cover everybody’s clothes seem to be falling off. Or, during that time when chick lit was popular, every cover for it was pink, with a pair of very long legs (no body) and stilettos.

And cozies have small furry animals on the cover. Why? There is a practical reason: if you see a book with a puppy or kitten or both from across the room, you can be pretty sure that the book is a cozy. That makes it easy for readers to find them (and buy them, we hope). So who decides on the cover design? The publisher, of course. We may write them, but often that’s the last control we have over them. And publishers generally know what sells books—it’s their business.

But recently I’ve been asking myself, which comes first? The cute animals or the story? And why do I care? Because I’m a cat magnet. I’m not exaggerating—these cats started appearing long before I started writing, most often when I travel (and no, I do not travel with a handful of cat treats in my pockets). I even have the pictures to prove it.

o 1998, Raglan, Wales, with my husband and daughter: we were touring Welsh castles (there seem to be a lot of them, mostly ruined) and I sat down on a bench to admire what was left of the castle somewhere out in the country. A cat showed up and sat next to me.

Cat Raglan

o 1999, Ireland, with my daughter: we stayed at a pleasant B&B south of the Shannon airport. They had cats. Lots of cats. I ended up clutching a tiger kitten (no, I did not bring it home with me).

Cat Abbyfeale

o 2011, Ireland, travelling with a friend I had met online through genealogy: we stayed at a small hotel in Dublin, across from Christchurch Cathedral. We toured the church, and then, since it was a nice day, I sat down on a bench outside the church and people-watched. So of course the official church cat showed up, crawled under my coat, and went to sleep.

Cat Dublin

o More recently we stayed at a nice rental in Union Hall, in Cork—a place that I picked, sight-unseen. We pulled into the parking area and I said, “look, there’s a cat.” And looked again, and there was another cat, and another—I think the final count was six. One took a particular liking to me and watched through the kitchen window.

Cat Union Hall

Those are just the cats I can remember (and that someone managed to take a picture of). I don’t recall that any dogs got quite so chummy. Cats seem to like me. I know, there are lots of cats and many are outdoor or feral cats and not particularly friendly. In fact, a lot of them run away and hide, or at least maintain a safe distance. But me they sit on.

But there may be a logical reason why cats appear on all those cozy covers. I wrote recently that we nice respectable ladies on this blog write about killing people, which seems odd when you think about it. But putting an appealing friendly pet on the cover signals that we aren’t bad people, that we are trustworthy, and that small animals like us–they send a message in shorthand. Not only are the fuzzy creatures a code for “cozy” but they signal that all will turn out well in the book.

What about you? Do you automatically reach for the book with the cat or dog on the cover?