I used to say I didn’t care about publication. I used to sit in smoky bars with my nose in the air and insist to anyone who would listen that writing should be about the art. That was a defense mechanism. In the privacy of my own home, I’d stay up into the wee hours peddling my work like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, researching literary magazines and composing cover letters until I developed callouses on the pads of my fingers.
It was during one of these bleary-eyed sessions that I came across Spellbound, a journal for middle schoolers, and its call for fiction — specifically for stories that “engage young readers with elements of magic, myth and adventure set in an imaginative world where magical cats exist.” I chose to answer the call. I’ve had worse ideas at 2 A.M.
Attempting to write a short story about magical cats had me staring at a blank screen for hours, then days, on end. It made me question any talent I might possess and — briefly, in an uncharacteristic lapse into melodramatics — my place in human society and the universe itself. On the verge of quitting altogether, I talked myself down, reminded myself that all writers struggle, even the masters. Case in point: Kurt Vonnegut.
After attending the University of Chicago but before becoming a bestselling author, Vonnegut ground it out as a technical writer for General Electric, working to support his growing family while writing short stories on the side. He did see some success in fiction, publishing stories in magazines like Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal, but the hours were long and the return small.
For a time, Vonnegut also worked for Sports Illustrated, where he was assigned to write an article about a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at a blank page for the better part of a day, he finally wrote, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and walked out, becoming decidedly self-employed.
Though this foray into sports writing turned out to be a fantastic failure and his tenure at Sports Illustrated a brief one, shortly thereafter Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. During that time, Cat’s Cradle became a best-seller and he began Slaughterhouse-Five. He could have quit writing — in fact, after his horse-jumped-over-the-fucking-fence moment, he almost did — but he persevered, and I, as a reader, thank the universe for that.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to call myself a writer. There don’t seem to be any rules about that. In any case, I try. But I cannot write a story about magical cats. Maybe that means I’m not a writer — or maybe that just means magical cats matter to me about as much as a horse jumping over a fence mattered to Kurt Vonnegut.
So there are these cats, and they’re fucking magical. The end.
Trisha Leon is a freelance writer and student of English at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
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