Welcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Our program continues with a guest post from Elizabeth Bear, author of the Eternal Sky series beginning with Range of Ghosts (and many other works of fantasy and science fiction), about the esoteric practices that make a successful writer. A new book set in the world of the Eternal Sky series, The Stone in the Skull, will be available October 10th.
Over the years, I have written a great many articles and blog posts dealing with the nuances of the publishing industry, but there’s one topic I’ve never touched on before.
It’s one of the arcane secrets of the successful writer, jealously guarded. One of the secret handshakes of the clubhouse of publishing success.
Only now, with the cooperation of Tor, can I reveal it to you—and I’m risking my career and perhaps even my very safety to do so. It’s something every writer needs to know, and from time immemorial that secret has been passed down in back rooms and at two a.m. sessions in convention bars.
I speak of “How to wax a cat.”
I can’t count, over the years, the number of times a dewy-eyed young would-be author has looked at me in surprise and horror after overhearing a few casual lines passed between more established writers. “Bear!” they cry. “You are an animal lover! Why would you do something so terribly cruel?”
Well, Grasshoppers, I am here now to reveal a great secret. The cat is a metaphor.
Cat-waxing (also known as cat vacuuming to some) is something writers undertake in order to complete important research, to give the brain the time it needs to do the subconscious processing so essential to creative work. There are a number of techniques, but here’s how I handle it.
First, you must determine if you wish to wax your cat for shininess, or for smoothness. Both have advantages—reducing allergens, waterproofing—but if you are going to wax your cat for smoothness I recommend sedating it first—for the comfort of the cat, and the safety of the human.
In either case, before you commence waxing, you must first create a clean and dust-free environment in which to wax. Dust will adhere readily to a freshly waxed cat, and then you’ll just have to start all over again. To create a proper waxing environment, select a space that you can completely control, clean it thoroughly, and drape it in plastic sheeting. You’ll want to wear a freshly laundered white-cotton full-body coverall or perhaps a Nuclear-Biological-Chemical suit as well, to avoid getting fibers from your clothes stuck in the cat wax.
The television show Dexter provides an excellent model of the sort of environment that’s best.
Having prepared your waxing chamber, it’s important to secure a good wax. There are several dedicated brands of cat wax which do an excellent job, and a number of writers use non-proprietary waxes, such as Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (despite the name, intended for surfboards) or Homer Formby’s furniture wax. You will likely wish to experiment with a variety of waxes before making your final selection.
Once you have secured the cat, the space, the sedative, and the wax, you will also require a source of warm water and some dust-free cloths. First, grasp your cat gently but firmly by the scruff…
…oh, I see we’re out of time.
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(This is a rerun of a post that originally ran on March 5, 2012.)