How an opinionated kitty inspired a novel

Carrie Carter

This author’s special bond with her cat, Asti, not only inspired her debut novel, but also gave her the strength to keep going even after she lost the desire to write.

by Carrie Carter

When I started writing Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey’s Adventures in Japan, I had a small building behind my house with walls painted lime green (yes, I chose that), and windows that looked out into the yard. Asti, my sweet cat, would curl up in my lap as I typed. This was my writing space.

We had our routine. We’d enter the “writing studio” behind the house, and before anything else could happen, she would eat crunchy kitty treats out of my hand. As I settled myself in front of my laptop and reviewed what I had previously written, she would strut back and forth in front of the screen and across the keyboard, occasionally stopping to head-butt me.

Once I had decided on the direction my writing would take for the morning, I took a break from it all and focused on Asti, stroking her silky fur until her purrs reached an incredible decibel level for a small cat.

Ten minutes would pass before she felt she had been adequately admired and settled into my lap so I could start typing. During the winter months, I placed a heating pad on my thighs for her.

As a petite black cat with delicate, rounded features, she weighed a whole whopping six pounds. Her vivid green eyes popped as she watched me, and she swished her shorter-than-average cat tail. She never hesitated to voice her cat opinion. She was tiny with a massive presence.

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Asti inspired part of Whiskers Abroad. Her cat personality never failed to amuse me, and I found myself so enthralled with her that it made me want to write about her fictional journey, whether it was an adventure, a spy novel, or a romantic comedy. All I knew was Asti had to be in the story. However, it was Ashi, not Asti, that became the final narrator for Whiskers Abroad.

Why not Asti?

Asti was two months shy of her eighteenth birthday when the horrible happened. Asti died. A part of me died with her. If she were my human kid, she would have been getting ready to graduate from high school.

I couldn’t go into my writing building anymore. Too many memories of her cute cat body begging for attention swirled in my mind. The idea of creating Asti’s story left me with a tight feeling in my chest. The desire to write shriveled up.

Her cat personality never failed to amuse me, and I found myself so enthralled with her that it made me want to write about her fictional journey. All I knew was Asti had to be in the story.

The tiny building, as well as the novel, was abandoned as a writing spot. It was over before it had begun.

However, as time crawled forward, a small sliver of desire to write stirred inside me. This time, I moved into the main house.

It wasn’t an ideal situation as my husband worked from home, and our house was what Realtors would describe as “adorable,” but it would work. I still missed Asti but felt like I had to do this for my deceased kitty. I know this makes me sound borderline unstable, but if I started the project because of Asti, I had to finish it because of her. The original excitement swelled inside me.

During this time, I worked a job near the house with hours that gave me free time from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. I swore I would use them to churn out a manuscript.

Unfortunately, motivation didn’t get the memo, and I permitted myself to use writer’s block as an excuse not to do anything. Plus, the rabbit hole of Japanese travel research distracted me.

My sister called me and gave me this ultimatum: “Each day, write your two crappy sentences.”

I’m certain she heard this on a podcast where the host interviewed an author.

After her texting, e-mailing, and calling me every day for two weeks about this, that’s what I did. I wrote a minimum of two sentences every day, some crappy, some not—a typical rough draft.

Sure, there were stretches of time when I did zero writing, like when we moved and I decided to take on the task of refinishing the 1954 kitchen cabinets in our new-to-us house. Or when my uncle, who I was closer to than my own dad, fell ill, and I accepted the caretaker role. There were times when I failed to churn out my two sentences. More days than I like to admit, but I tried when I could.

My sister’s voice floated through the room: “Write your two crappy sentences.” I planted myself in front of my laptop and wrote. Before long I had finished my rough draft, two sentences at a time.

Then the pandemic struck, and I missed Asti more than ever.

Anxiety and boredom hung in the air 24/7, and I was unsure of what to do with myself. My sister’s voice floated through the room: “Write your two crappy sentences.” I planted myself in front of my laptop and wrote. With each period marking the end of the sentence, it gained a smidgen more steam. Before long I had finished the rough draft of Whiskers Abroad, two sentences at a time, completed during historical times.

Being isolated from everyone, it felt anti-climactic.

After a walk, a few cups of coffee, and an imaginary pep talk between my new cat, Frenemy, and myself, I found my enthusiasm and started on rewrites, determined to make it the best I could. After all, a traveling, typing cat deserves nothing less.

I wrote in the den or in the kitchen. Sometimes even in my own “office,” which was a small yellow room stuffed full of clothes I’d never wear. It was so cluttered, it felt stifling. That didn’t stop me from trudging forward.

Hours didn’t matter. It was here or there, with no sense of rules or regulations. The time of day became an abstract notion. I just knew I had to get it done. For Asti.

And I did.

You don’t need a pandemic to get yourself to finish your manuscript, and it doesn’t matter where you write, so long as you write those two crappy sentences.

The time will pass if you write or if you don’t write, so you might as well do it.

Carrie Carter has a profound love for Japan, cats, sumo, dioramas, and eating unusual foods. She has traveled with her husband Jim to Japan fourteen times, so her numerous holidays across her favorite country were the inspiration for her first book, Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey’s Adventures in Japan. Carrie lives in Houston, TX, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently working on her second book, a sequel to Whiskers Abroad.

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