Cats in Paris and New York
The idea for writing a book of cat stories, seeing Paris through George's curious, feline eyes, started in Amsterdam. On vacation there, we saw cats everywhere.
(Above: Cats at the Conservatory Waters in Central Park)
A second story exterior ledge seemed built to give indoor cats safe access to fresh air. Walking to dinner, we saw cats running free in the neighborhoods. The sightings reminded us of our cats, George and Billy, back in New York.
From there, the connection germinated.
Why not write a book about our cats traveling with us? Then, why not write it with George telling the story, offering his feline take on travel.
Because it seemed easier to sell a book about Paris than lesser known Amsterdam, I migrated the location. By the time we returned to New York, I had my idea. It was time to start writing.
Writing the Story from a Cat's Eye View
Accustomed to writing longer novels, I confess that I imagined that writing cat stories would be easier. Whimsical is easier than intricate and intense, isn't it?
Well, as any good humor write can tell you, no, it isn't.
My concept for Travels with George: Paris was to make it all about surprising discoveries. Frustrated with being left behind with cat sitters when we went on trips, George hides in our luggage and springs the biggest shock in all our lives when we unpack after flying a red eye to France.
That idea came easy because George, when he spotted us packing, always employed a tactic of parking himself in our suitcase, doing what he could to make it difficult to leave.
Getting Billy to Paris was easy too. He shadowed George all the time. Into the luggage he went behind his mentor.
From there, it was more work than I expected. My decision to write in the first person, that is, as if George were telling the story himself, meant channeling my favorite cat.
Some cats are silly, playful, attentive or affectionate. George was all of that, plus intelligent in a way that often reminded us we had a third adult in our house.
So, I had to think like a smart, innocent cat and be cautious not to slip too much of me into his thoughts. The idea of imagining a convincingly observant cat, visiting Paris, was challenge enough.
I had to convince readers that the "I" in my story was really a cat.
It was hard. But fun, too.
Pictures Bring the Cat Stories to Life
As you can see from Cats in a Bateaux on the Seine (above), pictures really can tell a story that words can never convey as well. This is the first boat ride for George and Billy. If you recall that strange feeling of uncertainty, floating for the first time, try sensing in a cats mind.
Then, drift toward central Paris, the Eiffel Tower behind you, while pedestrians shout "Chat! Chat!" from bridges above.
To really make the book great, I talked my wife, a photographer and cat artist, to dream up over a dozen illustrations to match my story about our cats, George and Billy, touring Paris.
When you consider that our cats have never been in Paris or even on leashes, you get some idea of how crazy that was. But she pulled it off and some of the pictures, like Chat Noir and Cats in a Paris Window, went on to be successful cat art outside the book.
Selling a Book is Harder than Writing One
I'd had my disillusion with publishers row, with men in suits making critical decisions about books written by men and women in jeans, but I thought Travels with George was conventional enough to get their interest.
Although I got a nice, personal letter from an editor in San Francisco, I could not get another, even an agent to take a look. It was time to fly solo again.
There are advantages in doing it yourself in publishing, and I kicked myself for not taking my own advice to begin with. Who loves your book more than you do, after all?
So, instead of waiting two years to see our book fit into an overcrowded publisher's list and being ignored like the small fish in big pond I was, I designed everything, assisted by my artistic wife, of course, and had George out in the wild in two short months.
Travels with George: Paris sold well, right away. Cat lovers bought it for themselves and as a gift for friends. We were right in calculating that Paris was a draw, but we learned a lot from the strategy that made it our bestseller.
Hard to accept for a writer, but people like pictures more than they do words.
Putting our book on display in my wife's holiday markets, we watched shopper after shopper flip through to see the pictures. To top it off, her illustrations, sold separately, were popular too.
Rare was the event when anyone read a bit of the story first, although it did happen, mostly as a second thought, trying to make sure my writing didn't screw up the visuals.
Encouraged, I wrote and my wife created artwork for Travels with George: New York in time for the following Christmas. The economy was struggling, so why not let them stick around for a "staycation" at home?
We've done better with each of these books of cat stories than any of my novels. We haven't realized our dream of selling enough to make our dream of financing trips to Europe for "research," but we expect to keep trying.
If you had a choice, where would like to see our intrepid cats go for a visit?