Guest post by Clea Simon
Cats understand book time.
You know how felines are – the way they’ll rush around madly, only to suddenly plop down for an hours-long nap. Their insistence that they are starving and must be fed immediately, only to be sated a few licks, finishing up a split second later – or distracted by a passing shadow.
Book time is like that. It starts with an adrenaline spurt – that first geyser of inspiration – as the ideas, the characters, and the bits of dialogue burst forth. That’s the time when I’m prone to rush out of the shower to my computer – or stop in the middle of a workout to scribble down something I’ll have trouble deciphering later. (Dulcie misunderstands when Esmé says “Gryzsb!” or worse, “the CAPTION!”) Musetta, my own feline muse, knows to get out of my way when I’m in this mode, lest I barrel over her on my way to the desktop computer where most of my writing gets done.
That headlong rush gives way to a hurry of a different sort, as deadline approaches and I try to corral these unruly characters, human and feline, into some kind of order. Talk about herding cats! (Esmé has been fed breakfast three times in a row in this chapter… well, maybe that does work.)
Then the months of waiting. For the edits. For the copy edits and page proofs, and finally for the book itself. If I could curl up and sleep, as heedlessly as Musetta does on her velvet chair, I would, just to let that time pass. And as I sit here, anticipating the Sept. 1 publication of my tenth – tenth! How did that happen? – Dulcie Schwartz mystery, Into the Grey, I am struck at how odd and inconsistent the passage of time is, both in the book world and without.
This happens to us all, I know. Time speeds up as we get older, and sometimes – especially after a day inside a fictional world – I am amazed to catch sight of myself in a mirror and see that I am no longer twenty-eight. Or eight, for that matter, talking to the animals around me on the assumption that we little things are not only peers but allies.
In Dulcie time, a few years have passed since Shades of Grey, her first outing – though not quite as many as the seven-plus that have flown by in the “real” (i.e., non-book) calendar. In that debut book, she was mourning the loss of her great, grey cat, Mr Grey, and ended up adopting a kitten, Esmé, an adorable tuxedo with a regal disposition. (Her full name and title, she ultimately revealed, is Principessa Esmeralda after all.) Now in the new adventure, Esmé is a full-grown cat, stout and still imperious, but no longer the wild terror she was in her youth. Dulcie, meanwhile, has grown a bit more secure – both in her relationships (with the long-suffering Chris) and in her academic standing. And as Into the Grey opens, she is actually, finally finishing her thesis.
How different is real-world time! When I first started writing this series, a few years before it was finally published in 2009, I was mourning my own Mr Grey, a great grey longhair named Cyrus. And, like Dulcie, I found my heart soothed by the appearance of a tiny tuxedo kitten (thanks to a caring friend who then worked at Boston’s Animal Rescue League and who insisted I come down to see a special new arrival). These days, Musetta is 15 years old, a senior kitty in her own right. She’s slower going up and down the stairs, and you can see her gauge the distance and effort required before jumping in her favorite chair or onto the couch, beside us, for treats.
She’s progressing in real time, not book time, and I try to make things easier for her. We now have multiple drinking fountains and comfy resting places around the house, and she gets as many treats as she wants. It’s hard, sometimes, seeing her slowing down while the literary feline she inspired has just entered her prime. But she takes this all in stride, of course. Musetta knows she the grande dame of the house, as Esmé is in Dulcie and Chris’s life.
And I simply have to remember that cats, like books, measure time differently than I do – and that all of it is precious.
Coming next Friday: My review of Into the Grey
Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, Pru Marlowe, and Blackie & Care mysteries and also a handful of nonfiction books. For more about Clea and her books, please visit http://www.cleasimon.com.