Writing Advice From A Furry Editor

As some of you know, the Hoyt household is going through feline upheaval.  Greebo-cat went into hyperthyroidism mid 2019, and we finally put him in radio iodine therapy.  This was absolutely necessary because though Greebo is sixteen, he’s also my “editor.”  More on that later. Suffice to say I couldn’t go into a new phase of my career, and brave indie without him. So far, it seems to have worked, he’s gaining weight back, feeling well enough to put his sister, the young whipper snapper (11) in her place (she needs it) sleeping by my side, and herding me to the writing chair.

Meanwhile in December, son’s cat hit end-stage renal failure. Holding fire so, so far, but you know… it won’t last forever.  And right after the new year Euclid cat — around 21 yo — suddenly fell of the health cliff. We’re trying a few things, but it’s likely he’ll leave us soon. No, not happy about that. That’s life.

Meanwhile onto “how can a cat be your editor?”That’s the handsome fellow, when he was at the clinic getting therapy. Looking at it, yes, he’s got a lot of weight back, thank heavens.

First to explain: Greebo was born to a stray mom, under the basement of the house across the driveway from hours in Colorado Springs’ Old North End.  To explain, the driveway was the extent of our side yard.

His mom was dumped, literally the day we moved into that house. We tried to capture her, but I’d never heard of cat live-traps. Oh, well. Anyway, she hooked up with the Mad Feral Tom who sired all the kittens in the neighborhood, and who looked exactly like Greebo, and could run off dogs.

The result was Greebo, Maurice and Mr. Underfoot, and a little calico who got adopted, and whose name I don’t know.  Greebo, Maurice and Mr. Underfoot became neighborhood cats.

I devoted months of my life to sitting on my back steps, with a can of food on a little plate by my side, tempting the kittens ever closer.  This was 2003 — Greebs will turn 17 in July, I think.) and my publishing career had crashed (first time. Bah. I was an innocent) and the day I managed to pet the boys, it was a major triumph.

Over the years, the other two boys came to prefer the neighbors across the street, who, being proper cat worshippers, built a glassed in porch, with a cat door to accommodate them.

We, meanwhile, had what the boys and I called an airlock and Dan called a mudroom, and which had an outside unsecured door (we eventually exchanged it for one that would lock. More on that later) and then the entrance to the house.  That little room had a tall shelf with skates, skateboards, scooters and basketballs, as well as my gardening shoes and gloves. Oh, and water guns, of which my kids were very fond, conducting battles all over a three block area every summer.  At the bottom and top (hey, he’s greebs) there was a cat bed, the bottom one with a “warms up when you lie down on it” pad.  There were also Greebo’s bowls of food and water (the later also warmed in winter, because duh.)  And Greebo preferred us.

Greebo is a warrior cat. If cats are admitted into Valhalla, he’s one of those.

I first named him, while I watched from an upper story window, as a tom tried to attack the kittens to court mom (not Papa cat, Greebo’s dad, who was a weird cat and baby-cat-sat his offspring whenn mom was off about her businenss. I saw.)

Greebo was maybe 10 weeks old. Tiny legs. All fluff and meows. But he squared up against the big tom and eventually jumped on his head scratching and biting, till he ran away.  (As we later found out, this was a Greebo patented maneuver.)

So, he was a Greebo, and he wore it proudly.  Later, he tore the tail off a fox — vertically. He brought us the half — when it attacked Maurice.  He also might have saved my life, or at least a lot of trouble. You see, in Colorado Springs, periodically, helicopters fly overhead with a search light. It took me a while to figure out that was when the police was looking for an escaped fugitive.

So, when Greebo was about 3 or 4, I was in my kitchen, cooking, waiting for Dan to come home (the kitchen overlooked the driveway, which was empty.)  I turned away for a while, came back, and noted two things: the search lights were out, AND there were sounds from the airlock. (This is when we put a real door in. You see, the airlock was “unsecured” and completely hidden, so it gave cover to anyone trying to break in the house.

Specifically, the sounds were someone fiddling with the door knob and…. hitting it?  (Yep, we later found it was ALL dented.)

Then there was this horrendous YOWL followed by a scream, followed by a large man running out of the airlock WITH GREEBO ON HIS HEAD.  I.e. Greebo had been sleeping on the topmost shelf, when the fugitive tried to break into our kitchen door. At which point Greebo jumped on his head, biting and scratching, and somehow holding on while the guy ran, all the while screaming like a demon.

I don’t know when Greebo jumped off. Heck, I don’t know why he decided to attack the man. We had catsitters and friends who had the key, and he never attacked anyone else.  We didn’t see it, but neighbors said the fugitive surrendered and was “a complete mess” when he did. This episode became neighborhood legend.

Five years ago, when we moved away, we honestly thought Greebo would stay with the house. He and his brothers’ were never indoor cats, and we assumed he WANTED to stay in the little kingdom he ruled, where even the raccoons were afraid of him, and the fox crossed the street to avoid him. And of course, near his brother.

About a month later, we got a phone call. Greebo would go up, sit on our back porch and lament. Later he started lamenting in the middle of the street. Not only weren’t the neighbors sleeping, they were afraid he’d get run over.

What could we do, really? We went and got him. He stayed with a friend of ours for a few months, because the house we were renting had a maximum number of cats we could have, but when son and his cat moved away we got Greebo.

And that’s when I found out Greebo’s most amusing peculiarities.

First of all he was a dog. No, really. To wit, he was MY dog.  He follows me around, and sleeps at my feet while I work.

Second, he’s OCD. Or knows where his tuna is buttered, or something. As in, he’s learned to identify the rhythms, when I’m writing, versus when I’m on social media. And he has something very clear in his head: from 9 am to 5 pm I’m SUPPOSED to be at my desk and making the typing noises that mean I’m writing.  If I don’t do either of those, I get nagged or worse.

Once, when I was ill I tried to take an afternoon nap (I have trouble sleeping during the day) with my glasses next to me on the bed (atop my kindle.)  He got my glasses in his teeth, and when I woke up he was trying to put them on me because, dang it, I was supposed to put them on. As soon as I woke up, he started herding me back to the office.

This has developed into a joke, in which Greebo is editor-cat in charge of productivity.

If indeed his health issue was solved (we’ll now for sure at the end of March) I intend to make a page with Greebo’s editorial advice.

For now, I think you can deduce plenty from his story.

For instance: Don’t be afraid, even if you’re a baby writer all fluff and meows. Square up to that challenge and you’ll win.

Or: When a fox tries to take down your (writing) brother lend support, even if you have to rip off the threat’s tail.  (Or IOW read and critique and encourage.)

And: Know what is a threat, and don’t be afraid to risk your life to protect your writing. (Or your source of food.)

And: Even when the writing moves away, keep trying till it comes back. (We don’t recommend lamenting in the middle of the street, though. They might put you away.)

However, the most important piece of Greebo writer advice is “Sit down at a regular hour, and write. It might feel like you’re not doing anything worthwhile, but over time the learning and productivity will pay off.”

And speaking of my feline editor…. he’s giving me the hairy eyeball, like he knows this isn’t the novel.  So, I’m going back to work.


    1. Greebo is sixteen pounds. He’s only turned claw on me 3 times. All kind of accidental. One kneading that moved from my blanket-covered chest to my shoulder/arm and OW. One while trying to get on my lap when he was probably overweight, slipping and using claws to catch himself. And one while dragging my hand back to the keyboard. Not sure about that one, but the others were accidents.

      1. Muffin used to lie in wait and leap out to get us. Walk past the hall closet and suddenly there’s a black cat attached to your ankle.

        He would also hunt my sister, by sneaking up on the back of the couch and then pawing her head. The screaming was excellent. ~:D

        He used to do things like hooking all the potatoes out of a bag while we were out, and then chase them around the house. His favorite game was tinfoil ball hockey. Throw the ball and he’d stick-handle it all over the living room with his front paws.

        My mother made a poem:

        “My name is Mighty Muffin, I am a rotten cat.
        I hack and slash,
        and rip and tear,
        and various things like that.”

        There’s a line on my forearm from the time he got me with his back feet when I was still living at home. That was a long damn time ago.

        I expect he’s prowling the grounds of Valhalla, and he’s the size of a rhino.

        Spike my invincible golden retriever prowls my stories. He’s as big as a polar bear these days. In our world he only acted like one.

          1. Sounds excellent.

            Lately we have Maximum Maxwell the super poodle. All the Maxwell you can cram into one dog. He’s big, he’s dominating the hell out of everybody all the time, and today its muddy so he’s tracking crap through here like you can’t believe.

            He also raises almighty Hell when anyone comes to the door, which I encourage. 65 lbs of black poodle lunging at the front door and baying like Huan the Hound of Valinor, its quite a thing to see from the outside. >:D

            1. Old-line standard Poodles have always been excellent guard dogs. They were, after all, originally working retrievers, and of all a dog’s possible jobs, willingly handing your potential dinner to the master is perhaps the most human-oriented work. And since you don’t want that dinner handed to random strangers — attitude toward outsiders should legitimately be indifference to go-away, depending on the stranger’s behavior… but not fawning-toward-all; that’s puppy behavior, but not correct in an adult working dog.

  1. The “Greebo Catches the Fugitive” story needs to be written up as a scene. I mean, it will probably make its way into your fiction sooner or later, but the non-fiction version would be great for the laughs.

    1. Or the chills. Frankly, that sounds pretty darn scary, the nefarious fugitive trying to break into the house for God-knows-what purpose, the innocent(ish) victim in the kitchen, and the unimaginable danger that might have occurred had the feline hero not shown up in time.

      1. Look, I was in the kitchen. I LIKE knives. But it would be a bother, and I had two kids in the house too, in their early teens which would complicate matters.
        What I’m still puzzled on is HOW Greebo knew to attack that guy. Seriously. We had people in and out of the house. He was more likely to hide than attack.

        1. Body language, and perhaps body odor due to stress. Furtive behavior often triggers an aggressive/protective response, but you can only count on that being correctly directed (rather than randomly or at everyone) if the animal is confident in its master.

        2. And then there was Fuzzy (my gravatar), who loved EVERYBODY. Including the vet. Would bark until introduced, and then was good on subsequent visits. Except for the Orkin guy, who smelled different depending on what he’d been spraying for, so reintroductions had to be made.

          Until an A/C repair guy showed up…. and Fuzzy would not let him in the house. Period. Had to put her in the back yard while he worked in the house, and she was still trying to get in and get him. I watched him like a hawk because this NEVER happened.

          About a month later, the problem he was supposed to have fixed reoccurred…. and a different guy showed up (Fuzzy was fine with him). Asked about the original guy, and the response was “Oh, he got fired; we caught him stealing from our customers.”

          They KNOW.

  2. You might also enjoy the site textsfrommittens.com. A snarky cat texting his staff about life, food, friends, food, etc.

  3. A slightly – no, she was all the way nuts neighbor – who was good about cats and dogs – observed several times that the very best cats had very dog-like qualities about them.

  4. Awww. I love your cats Sarah.

    Maggie, my lab/shep mix is very concerned about my sleeping habits. I got into a decluttering spree a couple of weeks ago. I stayed up late wanting to finish the little area I was working on. Starting around 11 I started getting nose pokes in the backside at regular intervals. When I stopped for a break she was guarding my sorting spot with a stern doggy frown on her face. She growled when I shooed her away and sat sighing and moaning by my side until I finished.

    Don’t be worried about the growling. She growls at me to get up every morning, and growls for treats after dinner. It’s just how she talks. I’ve only had her for a few months and I can’t imagine life without her.

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