Bidding farewell to our magical creature

Bidding farewell to our magical creature

Life sometimes works in strange ways. Here I am, prepping to teach a creative writing camp next week in Korea. The theme?

Magical creatures.

And this was the week that we had to finally let go of the most magical of creatures, our cat Griffin.

Anyone who has ever lost a pet knows how hard it is. They are constants in our lives and in our homes, loyal and unwavering. For me, Griffin was not just a pet, though—he was my work buddy. Being a writer can be lonely, but not when you have a cat purring and gently pawing your elbow throughout the day.

Inspiration

In fact, as I look back on photos of Griffin, it’s almost a chronicle of all the writing, illustration, and prop-building projects I’ve worked on in my career.

griffin-bcsrc-sketchbook

griffin-brainstomringbooknap

griffin-dragonegg

griffin-draw

griffin-kendramanuscript

griffin-paintbrush

In particular, my current book series, Zoone, owes a lot to Griffin. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have been able to write it without Griffin’s inspiration.

There are so many children’s books about cats, and I find most of them depict cats as standoffish, persnickety, or mischievously clever.

But I never felt that was Griffin. He was concerned with three matters: food, sleep, and affection. Not only receiving affection, but giving it.

The neighborhood character

We constantly found out about his escapades in the neighborhood. Like the time a kid came to our door on Halloween, saw Griffin, and exclaimed, “Oh, this is where Griffin lives?” (We found out that Griffin would wander up to the sidewalk each day when school got out, sprawl on the pavement, and greet all the kids coming home. They all knew his name from his collar tag.)

griffin-child.jpg

Another time, we saw a guy eating his lunch out in the adjoining courtyard and he told us that Griffin came and spent every noon hour with him so that he wouldn’t be lonely.

Then there was the time I received a call from someone who asked if I had just moved. The answer was yes, and the caller went on to explain that she was my old neighbor and that her kitten was depressed because Griffin used to visit every day. (She had my number from Griffin’s tag. She even asked if we could do a playdate, but we realized the mechanics were just too difficult.)

griffin-twist.jpg

When it came to our son, Griffin showed extreme patience. He let Hiro tug his tail or snatch his fur and if he ever really got upset, he batted with his paw (and not his long outdoor cat claws). Eventually, Hiro would crawl up to Griffin and greet him the same way Griffin greeted him, by bunting his head along his body.

hiro&griffin.jpg

Griffin featured in all of my school presentations—talking about pets is such an easy and immediate way to connect with kids. And when I reviewed stories by my creative writing students, Griffin often left pawmarks on their pages. A seal of approval, maybe?

When I wrote the character of Tug the skyger (a winged blue tiger) for The Secret of Zoone, I automatically gave him Griffin’s personality. There is no cynicism or sarcasm in Tug’s personality. He’s just an earnest and loyal sidekick. When my editor at HarperCollins bought Zoone, she told me it had a lot to do with Tug—that he was, in fact, one of her all-time favorite animal characters.

tugsketch&griffin

A magical creature

Griffin was with us a long time. I adopted him as a kitten, seventeen years ago. My sister was visiting me and when we brought him back to my flat, he immediately began bounding around the place like a little monster. I knew then that he should be named after some mythical creature. Then he began to fly—almost literally, bounding up the wall as far up as the light switch. (I think that’s the other reason why he inspired my character of a flying tiger.) Then I knew he needed to be named after a flying mythical creature.

No matter what we were doing around our house—making Yoda Yulefest cookies, carving pumpkins, or just watching a movie—Griffin was there.

griffin-halloween

marcie_griffin_halloween

griffin-napping

Letting him go

We know that Griffin had a rich and full life, but it’s still hard to let him go. He showed no signs of age really at all until last fall, when he had to get some teeth pulled and we were told we should start giving him water infusion once a week to help keep his kidneys going. But in May he stopped eating. Obviously concerned, we took him to the vet. Bloodwork came back negative, then he seemed to pick up again. But when he stopped eating again, we carted him back in and discovered that he had multiple tumors.

His time had come. He wasn’t in any acute pain, so we took a few days so that we could try to adjust to the fact that we had to let him go. So that we could say goodbye. I was down to feeding Griffin high-calorie gel from my fingertips. He stopped grooming, so I had to brush out his fur on a regular basis. I gave him steroid cream, just to perk him up and try to stimulate any sort of appetite. After a lifetime of sleeping on our bed, he mostly slept curled up in the corner of our bathroom.

Griffin-readingbuddy.jpg

Griffin-hidinghisface

When we took him in for his final vet visit, he was light in my arms, having lost almost three pounds in his final weeks. He never complained during that final appointment—he just purred and put his paw on my wrist. I thanked him for everything that he had given us then cradled him in my arms. And that is how he went.

Now our home feels empty. I feel like a goldfish—every three seconds, I’m wondering where his food dish is or why the cat flap is closed. Then I remember.

I’ll have to finish my Zoone series without my writing buddy at my side. But I’m thankful he was there at the start. Writing Zoone is truly something that I feel is helping me cope with losing Griffin, that a small part of him resides in Tug and will continue to live on.

studio_griffin

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Telling our family stories: My Cat is More Famous Than Me

Griffin.

In a previous post, I told the story about my very first pet: a blind chicken. But I would be somewhat remiss if I didn’t tell a story about my current pet, and that is my cat, Griffin.

Kids often ask me if I’m famous. Which I think is kind of funny question, because if you have to ask me if I’m famous, then isn’t that your answer? Usually, I just reply by telling them that my cat is more famous than me.

It’s true.

griffin-on-newly-painted-table

We live in a townhouse with a courtyard. (Incidentally, as the senior cat in the complex, Griffin sort of rules the courtyard; he’s the King of Cats, if you will.) Griffin likes to wander  through the courtyard and lounge on the sidewalk out on the upper street. He especially likes to go out there just as the local elementary school gets out. If we’re out tinkering in our front garden, we can hear all the comments emanating from the street:

“Oh, look. It’s Griffin!”

“Hi, Griffin!”

“There’s a good cat.”

Everyone in our neighborhood, it seems, knows Griffin. They pet him, read his name tag, and give him boundless love. One time, we met a neighbor eating his lunch out front who told us that every day Griffin comes out and sits with him while he eats. And, last year, when a kid came to our door on Halloween, he saw Griffin weaving through our legs and exclaimed, “Oh! This is where Griffin lives? Hi, Griffin!”

griffin_stretches

Well, to be fair to Griffin, he seems to return love. I’ll never forget what happened when I first moved with Griffin from our old apartment to the townhouse. Griffin had only ever known the old place, so the move was quite stressful for him. For the first couple of weeks, I never let him venture outside, being too afraid that he would scamper off and get lost.

That first week, the phone rang and I picked it up to hear a woman’s voice asking, “Um . . . hello? Is this where Griffin lives?”

My initial instinct, like any normal cat parent, was to wonder, What did he do?

But then I realized he hadn’t even left the house and, at that exact moment, he was sitting on the floor right in front of me. So I simply replied, “Yes. Er . . . I’m Griffin’s owner.”

“Did you happen to move?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” I said tentatively. “We just moved. And Griffin’s sitting here, right in front of me.”

“Well, I live where you live. Or where you used to live, I guess. And it’s just that Griffin’s, well, he’s my cat, Sam’s, best friend.”

Now, I had never met my former neighbor. I had no idea who she was, let alone her cat. So I said, somewhat befuddled, “Griffin has a best friend?”

“I live in the back of the building,” the woman explained. “Every night at 6pm Griffin leaps through our window and plays with Sam.”

“I lived at the front of the building,” I told her. “I had no idea that he was . . . er, doing that.”

“Sam is completely depressed,” the woman continued. “He misses Griffin.”

At this point, I was really speechless. I had no idea what to say.

“I suppose,” the woman hazarded, “you wouldn’t be willing to let Griffin have a sleep-over?”

“Um . . . I . . . ” I fumbled for a response.

“I guess that was a little strange, wasn’t it?” the woman interjected.

“Yes,” I admitted. “I’m sorry about Sam. I’m just not sure I’m entirely . . . comfortable with a . . . er, sleep-over.”

Thankfully, the woman laughed. “I know. I just thought I’d ask. Sam really does miss Griffin!”

griffin_relaxing_manuscript.jpg

Another question kids ask me is how I came up with the name of Uncle Griffinskitch in my Kendra Kandlestar books. Griffin is responsible for that, too. It happened because of his hair. When Griffin was a kitten, his tiny fuzzy body promised a blissful, short-haired future. But then, a few months later, POOF! He exploded into this long-haired creature. It was about the same time I was designing the character of an old bearded wizard for my book (because wizards have to have long white beards; it’s mandatory). So I decided to name the wizard after Griffin. The “Griffin” part of “Griffinskitch” is obvious. The “skitch” part comes from a nickname we used around the house for him. So I just ended up putting the two names together and, voilà, there was Uncle Griffinskitch.

Alas, as you can see from the photo below, Griffin doesn’t really respect his fictional counterpart. Mostly, he uses my sketchbooks to scratch his back!

studio_griffin

A tour of my writing studio ~ Part 3

studio_wallov

Here’s the final part of my virtual studio tour, in which I’m showing the items that I have collected or built over the years, and which serve to offer me daily inspiration.

We start off in a corner of artwork and photographs . . .

Brunelleschi Print

My wife bought this print of a Brunelleschi blueprint for me when we were in Florence, Italy. As a student of art history, it had long been a dream of mine to visit Florence. This is a fitting memento.

studio-brunelleschiblueprint

* * *

The Young Astronomer

This is a print of one of my favorite paintings: The Young Astronomer, by Oliver Van Deuren. I bought it at the National Gallery in London a few years ago. I just love the pensive look on the figure. I think this scene reminds me of how I feel during a moment of study and discovery.

studio_youngastronomer

* * *

Zōjōji in Shiba

This is a print of a painting done in 1925 by Hasui Kawase. I loved this scene the moment I saw it. I bought the print in the Asakusa outdoor market when I visited Tokyo in the winter of 2014.

studio_japaneseprint

* * *

Travel Photos

These are three of my favorite photos from my travels: ceremonial weapons on the Great Wall of China, the stone head of a buddha statue cradled in the roots of a bodhi tree at Ayatthaya, Thailand, and a spiraling staircase at St. Stephens’ Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.

studio_travelphotos

* * *

Keys

I hung these keys in the far corner of the orange section. First, because there was a space to fill and, second, well, you can never have enough keys to inspire you.

studio_blackkeys

* * *

These next pieces are all from the opposite wall of my studio, what I call the “white corner.”

Mickey Mouse Sketch

This is a print of a sketch from the famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene in Fantasia. That scene has long been one of my favorite pieces of animation.

studio_fantasia

* * *

Clair de Lune

This is a print of a painting by the Czech art deco artist, Alfonso Mucha. I picked it up on a visit to an art gallery in Prague. I’ve always been a huge fan of art deco art and illustration.

studio_artdecopainting

* * *

Ozymandias

This frame combines a picture I took at Luxor in Egypt with the famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called Ozymandias. It has always been one of my favorite poems, and when I saw this truncated statue, I was reminded of it.

studio_ozymandias

* * *

We now move into another Star Wars corner of my studio. (Yes, I have two Star Wars corners!)

Autographs

In this frame are a pair of postcards signed by the actors who played Chewbacca and Boba Fett (I met both in person).

studio_starwarsautographs

* * *

Star Wars Trilogy Postcards

This frame features the poster series of the re-release of the original trilogy. I can’t remember how I came into possession of this.

studio_trilogyframe

* * *

R2D2

My fully-functioning voice-controlled R2D2 droid stands on guard in the white corner of my studio. He actually has a security alarm as part of his features, so intruders beware!

studio_r2d2

* * *

Rancor and Ticket

On the shelf near the white corner of my studio is a ticket I was sent from Lucasfilm for the re-release of Star Wars in 1997, standing proudly next to my Rancor action figure.

studio_rancor&ticket

* * *

Griffin

Well, he’s more or less a permanent fixture in my studio, so it seems apt to conclude the tour with a photo of him in his usual position!

studio_griffin

Enchanted feathers for my magic potions kit

This is the last of the ingredients I have to show (at least for now) of my revamped magic potions kit that I use in my creative writing classes. True, I showed clippings from a winged horse earlier in this series, but these are from your more exotic creatures: Griffin, Phoenix, and Cockatrice. These are good to drop into your potion at the very last moment (not that my students ever listen to me on this account).

I will admit these are three of my favourite creatures—they make appearances from time to time in my Kendra Kandlestar series. In The Shard from Greeve (which is being offered for FREE on amazon until September 25th by the way!), Kendra finds herself in the midst of a few critter brawls.

Magical creature feathers

I’m still on the hunt for a few more ingredients to go into the kit: Goblin eyes and tail hair from a centaur. So far no luck. The hunt continues!