Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inspiration for Cat

   Some of you readers may already know this, but I had one of my short stories published as an podiobook (podcast audiobook) through the Untold Podcast. (You can find the story, titled Cathere.) Because of this awesome occasion, I decided to talk about some of the inspiration for that story, what themes I was trying to convey, and how I tried to make the story the best it could be. So, if you haven't already, you may want to listen to the story (it's free, after all) and then come back here and read the inspiration behind it. Or, if you prefer to do things backwards, you can read about the story and then listen to the story itself. One warning, however: there will probably be spoilers ahead. Fair warning.
    Allow me to start at the beginning. I initially wrote Cat for an anthology about cats in space. It might be obvious, but I took the concept at face value. Then, as I wondered what a story about cats in space would entail, I decided what possible themes I could weave into a story about a cat in space. At the time of writing it, I had been reading a lot of classics. I was wondering why classics always seem so boring and if action and adventure are necessary in stories. Does action and violence and excitement need to be in a story to make it good? Or can slow and boring stories be good even if they don't grab me by the suspenders and drag me along? So that was my initial idea for a story: I wanted to write a story that was slow and boring and asked the question of whether a story needed to be entertaining to be good. (Fun tidbit: the anthology turned me down because the story was a bit too boring.)
   As the story developed, it turned into something greater than just the story of a cat in space. It became the story of a cat searching for meaning. Searching for why it was created. The start itself went through several drafts, which is why there's some issues I have with it (specifically: how does Cat know the word parents? How does she know all the stuff about planets and stuff, but still refers to Earth as a round thing?). The reason for that early scientific musings about planets and physics was to show that though Cat could comprehend things scientifically, there were still some things which cannot be answered through mere brain power. Others are necessary for certain answers to be solved. Philosophy and science can only answer so much, but eventually community is necessary for answers to some big questions.
   As the story progressed, I had Cat land on an apocalyptic world and explored some ideas of how a character who was completely isolated would react when forced to interact with others. The scene with Tom the tomcat has several things of note in it. There is the fact that Cat learns about speech and names. Of course, this is somewhat ironic because when Cat lists the terms that are names as opposed to mere nouns, she references words which we use as both normal and proper nouns. Tom is a name while also a description of a male cat. Earth can mean the planet or the ground. There is an issue here of Tom seeing Cat's charred fur and associating it with the asteroid almost out of nowhere (are all burned cats aliens?). However, I hope it still got across some of the ideas I sought to convey.
   The scenes with the two despairing humans kind of send the story into a different thematic quality. It enters into the problem of evil and how that would affect an individual who had never encountered it before. Though, I must admit, the fearful violence of one man is hardly characteristic of all evil in the world, as some of my critics have pointed out. Finally, there is Cat's encounter with the final person which wraps up this portion of the story. Initially, both people were male. Then, when I did edits, I considered making the kind human a female. However, I thought it would be more interesting to have Cat be female and all the beings she encountered male. That way she could see that not all people were the same way and I wouldn't be commenting the differences of genders or species but the differences of personalities and choices. And then there's the ending: SPOILERS AHEAD!
   The ending is kind of three things. It embodies my love of twists, it really pushes home the theme, and it's a complete cop-out. There was no way I could really come up with an ending to that story that would be satisfying. Stories like that, that are that artistic and boring and in a classical style never really reveal all the answers that the reader wants. Therefore, I knew that I would have to do something different. Plus, to really do the subject justice I'd have to do a really long story, and I didn't want to do that. Therefore, I wrote something which kind of shoved the theme home of boring stories in a semi-ambiguous way. This is where I kind of really make my point and subvert it at the same time (of course, that all depends on whether I pulled it off. Which, depending on who listened, answers vary). When the author's boss says that the story is boring and needs to be scrapped, I originally had him as a big jerk. He was rude and unkind and embodying The Gatekeepers of the industry. It was sort of my way of saying that big business has kind of made art become lessened because it must fit into marketable boxes. However, when I thought about it a bit more, I changed his character to try and make him just a guy who was trying to make something which people would want to play (it being a video game and all). In one way, I could be still be saying that big business hurts art in order to make money. That the reason movies and TV shows are full of explosions and violence and eye-candy is because it makes money. That the only things that are made are things that make money. However, in a somewhat lesser way I could be saying that sometimes art must be created which people will buy. A brilliant book which no one buys is pointless. But if an author can take a genre and use the tropes while making it intelligent, that is really the best of both worlds. So maybe I'm ranting against the machine, or maybe I'm depicting a self-righteous author who is trying to make whatever he wants even if it's not what the job requires. I think the story could be taken either way, or at least pose that question. Whether the story is well written or not (it's definitely well read!), well portrayed or not, I hope it makes readers think. And I hope you enjoyed me describing my thought processes and the ideas I had behind it.
   Did you enjoy the story? I hope you'll comment below and tell me about it! Did you hate the story? Still, feel free to comment below and tell me why!


  1. Interesting to hear your thoughts on the process, Jesse! :-) Creating a story can be more free-movign and enjoyable than reading it... that reader-end of things can be a tough target to hit!
    But I think the point about marketableity-vs-artistry is a real issue to be considered from all angles, as you point out. As creatives the trick is to find a good balance point, and that can be a challenge!!! :-)
    Take care and keep writing!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! It really is a difficult issue to solve, one which I'll probably be grappling with for a long time yet. Art itself shouldn't be hampered by marketability, but art which no one wants is kind of pointless to publish. I wish I had an easy answer.
      Thanks again for commenting and may your writing be prosperous as well!

  2. I liked it. It was definitely jarring at the point of the twist, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    Was it thought provoking? I don't know. I've heard a lot of talk about today's art forms and their vapid state of bright lights and pretty colors (from both sides) so I don't know if it made me think any, but it did hammer the topic home a little more by allowing a bit of empathy to the game creator.
    As you said: aside from a long story, I don't know that you could ask for anything more. Good job.

    1. Yes, the audio version made that part a bit more jarring, but it was beautifully executed and made the story all the better in my opinion.
      Some of the thoughts of the game creator in the final scene were suggested by Nathan James Norman (who runs Untold Podcast). It made the point a bit easier to comprehend, as my original draft had everything shrouded in ambiguous mist (which I thought made it seem more artsy, but probably just made it really confusing).
      Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.