I wish I had a picture of the cat with a book for this post, but the cat has proven to be very troublesome
when it comes to pictures. Anytime he hears the camera turn on, he immediately stops what he's doing. Just before the above picture, he was "hugging" the arm of the couch, but, as soon as the camera made a noise, he sat up like, "What? I wasn't doing anything."
Which brings me to my point. Readers are like cats.
Seriously, ask someone what they're reading, which is likely to be something "trashy," and they'll start making excuses as to why they're reading it. "It's for my reading group." "Someone gave it to me." "My best friend said I had to read it." "I don't really like this, but it's so popular I had to read it." Whatever. It's like people have to make excuses because they're not reading something "better." Sort of like the cat when I try to take a picture of it doing something insane. "What? No. That wasn't me. You have the wrong cat. That cat just ran out of the room."
But it's more than that. As I said in my last cat post, science believes that cats adopt their owners, not the other way around. That is certainly true of readers. As a reader, I've done this myself. When I was in middle school, I adopted Piers Anthony as "my writer" and kept him around for six or seven years at least. Right now, I have two that I've adopted: Neil Gaiman and Mary Doria Russel.Gaiman is good in a way that Anthony never was in that he doesn't always write the same old stuff over and over again. Russel is good in another way in that her writing is just so magnificent. And deeply human. As a writer, the best thing we can hope for is get adopted by a reader and, hopefully, a lot of readers.
But the thing is, cats are finicky. It might be a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true. You can feed a cat something one day, something the cat barely stops to breathe for while choking it down, but give that same thing to the cat the next day, and it's "blech! Why are giving me that crap? I hate that!" Actually, that sounds kind of like my daughter, too. At any rate, it's hard to know what a reader will want at any given time. Yesterday, it was vampires, today it might be zombies, and who knows what it might be tomorrow: anthropomorphic frogs, maybe.
To make it worse, they're demanding. "We don't know what we want, but we want it right now!" Okay, sometimes readers do know what they want, but it often goes like this:
The cat demands food. The cat demands food again. The cat demands food very loudly. The cat demands food loudly and constantly. You finally get up and give the cat some food, which may or may not be what you gave the cat the day before. The cat looks at the food, takes a bite, and turns his tail on it while giving you that look. If you've never been given that look by a cat, you won't know what I'm talking about, but it loosely translates into "You suck. I hope you choke on a hairball. How could you give me this crap?"
I haven't read The Casual Vacancy yet, but I kind of think Rowling is going through this right now from what I've read of reader reaction to the book. Finicky.
On the other hand, I think young readers tend to be more like dogs; they'll eat anything you throw at them.
Cats also want to get all up in your personal space, but not in a friendly way like a dog does. I mean, a dog just wants to cuddle and be with you, but a cat... well, the cat wants the space. You are no longer you, you are just a pillow. They pop out those claws and start kneading you and molding you and trying to get you to move around into a shape they want. Who cares about whether that's comfortable for you or not, right? And, even when a reader likes what you've written, many of them will tell you how you could have changed it to make it better for them. With those little claws, working you over. Of course, the reader next to that one has completely different suggestions, and that one is working you over with his claws, too.
But writers are much more like dogs. Have you ever been to the animal shelter and seen the little doggies just waiting for someone to love them? Really, they'll take anyone. They're back there like Donkey (from Shrek), jumping up and down and yelling, "Me! Me! Pick me! Pick me!" And, even though readers are cats, writers are still back there saying, "Read me! Read me! Like me! Like me!" There may be less jumping up and down, but, then again, there may not be. And, really, writers will just take anyone. The only thought in a writer's head at that moment is, "Someone to love me!"
Of course, then, you don't want to make writers mad or mistreat them on an ongoing basis, because, then, they become that grumpy, old dog down the street that doesn't like anyone and just growls at anyone that gets near, "I don't care if you like my stuff! Get away from me before I bite your hand off!" I'm not sure if that's any less literal with a writer than with that dog.
But, mostly, dogs are just lovable and want to be loved. They want someone to play catch with and to scratch them behind the ears. They want someone to tell them "good dog." Yeah, that's writer equivalent of buying your book and leaving a positive review.
And, honestly, dogs are so much easier to feed than cats. They'll eat almost anything.
Except my dog, of course; she's picky. Unless the cat is around, then she'll eat anything.
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