I’m having a rough go of it. Friday we got transfer of our little farm. It’s not much to look at. 43 acres of rough grazing, bracken, sag tufts, and daggy fences. Still, for us, a big deal. Saturday afternoon I noticed Batman-cat was looking really skinny and that the dry food hadn’t been touched. I gave him some fish, which he ate. By Sunday evening he turned down fish, and I knew we had trouble. So first thing today he went into the vet. He was de-hydrated and anemic – he’s an elderly cat, who has no reserves. It’s probably his kidneys and not looking good – which is rough after 17 year of having the little tyrant around.
So tonight (it’s Monday night here, we live in the future) I was struggling to think just what to write about. I’ve gone from triumph to a sadness, and knowing that our other two cats are the same age, and my old dog lost her brother a few months back. Reality says that soon will be last sad trip for a loyal friend and rather affectionate cats. Time… no one’s friend, really. I thought of just saying ‘sad puppies’ three times, which is believed to have Mike Glyer appear on your blog and make passive-aggressive comments, always good for a laugh. But that was a bit of an easy cop-out. Writing isn’t easy. If you’re a professional with bills to pay, commitments to meet, it goes on through thick and thin, somehow.
So I got thinking how life imitates books and books imitate life, and how writers can learn from this. Because it isn’t true. In books we can play god.
Of course there are books in which authors let this go their heads. They’re often called Mary-Sue (or Marty-Stu), where the author takes deus ex machina personally. Still, like the news on the BBC or CNN, there is also sometimes a little kernel of truth in the idea of books and life mirroring one another: books which reflect wishful thinking (for example the typical modern feminist sf – which is rather like John Norman’s Gor stories, but with the roles reversed) or other books where the characters merely act as cardboard cutouts doing precisely what the god-like author would have them do in a perfect world… don’t usually get finished, let alone remembered. Of course they have their fans, but… well look at books that endure, have broad appeal. It’s not Gor, or its inverse. There’s space for them: it’s a broad church – so long as it is not space only for them.
Books where the characters (and sets of characters, and their interactions) are realistic enough to get us to accept the people (at least temporarily) as real, are remembered, are read, are loved.
The touchstone, sadly, is that for these characters a kindly author-god cannot intervene to shield them from the horrible bits. Life is ups and downs, disasters, heartbreak, joys and celebrations. The author can shape things so they finish the book on the last, but that’s really the limit on that power. Only real divinity goes further.
Characters need to suffer. It makes the good bits sharper, more wonderful and more joyous. Unfortunately that kind of means letting your own hurt bleed onto that page a bit. Characters need to fight back against that – or the book is a depressing downer, with an author not to be re-read.
And I too need to do that. The years with my beasts have been full of their character, affection, outright devilry at times (Wednesday the black lab was Wednesday from the Adams family by nature, Batman liked to attack my knees while I sat on the porcelain throne of power. Ventures to the bathroom required military precision and strategic genius or the little Tabby was just somehow in there. It was a game to him, constipation and twisted legs to you. His talent for mouse-skull-crunching noises at the squeamish was certainly deserving of a far higher award than a mere Oscar.)
And finally – taken from life, the writer needs to accept that when this is all over, and hearts are torn… I’ll take on another pup that needs a home and cat that needs a servant… and another book to bleed into. And yes, I’ll build up my little farm. It will be richer for my having the memories of the friends along the way, that if I were the author, a place they’d share with me.
And now I am going to pick up my little old hooligan kitty and tuck him into bed with me, because that is what he would like.
Kitty updates – don’t hold you breath version. Last night I thought Bat-cat would not see morning. Wouldn’t look at food, barely drank, was just flat. Somewhere during the night I got a purr out of him. On the plus side – for a dehydrated kitty with possible kidney failure, with sub-q fluids from the vet, he wasn’t wanting to go and wee.