Tag Archives: Peter S. Beagle

Exerting Fierce Power Without Spilling a Drop of Blood

I think I might have found my new, most favorite line, in all of literature. It is from a short story called “Gordon, the Self-made Cat,” by Peter S. Beagle.

It’s the story of a mouse who asks questions. He learns that cats eat mice, and mice are meant to be eaten. Thinking this is bullshit, he sets out to become a cat. The story explores the prejudice of the cats, the fear of the mice once they’ve heard that Gordon has ostensibly become a cat — and the kind of obstacles that arise when your reputation gets passed around by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

This story tackles intense themes of politics and prejudice, yet never loses its sense of wonder and curiosity. There is nothing gruesome or horrible about it. It is funny. It is charming. It is fascinating, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking. It is a master displaying his craft in a way that only he can, do deliver a message that so many of us need to hear.

Gordon does his thing, against all odds, and against all advice to the contrary. Gordon never gives up. He is always seeking the next level of mastery, and it all begins with this:

“They thought he was joking, but as soon as Gordon was old enough to go places by himself, he packed a clean shirt and some peanut butter, and started off for cat school.”

Is that not the best thing you have ever read? Our hero, armed with a clean shirt and some peanut butter.

I made that noise normally reserved for especially adorable kitten videos. I am so used to dark, cynical fiction that I forgot you can adventure, strive, suffer, and learn without ever lifting a weapon.

That line, that exact choice of necessary items at the beginning of the quest, is astounding. It’s whimsical and innocent, and also a giant FUCK YOU to a society that dictates mice must be hunted and can never amount to anything beyond their status of birth.

As if we needed more reasons to give Peter S. Beagle a giant hug and a fruit basket.

Check out the story for yourself, in text or podcast form, on Lightspeed.


Repurposing Rejections & [Harsh] Criticism

I’ve started collecting rejection letters. Stephen King slapped them on an old nail in a beam; I put them in a specially reserved E-mail folder. Since I’ve been collecting the letters, I’ve realized that they don’t tell me anything. Rejection letters are usually one-size-fits-all automated form letters. For me, they’re a checklist. A tally.

They create a vacuum of WHY. In the hunt for WHY, I began to eat criticism right up.

Criticism hurts. Of course it does. It’s hard to separate criticism of ME and criticism of WRITING. These are some of the critiques that I’ve gotten so far:
  • Forced waves don’t flow.
  • Yeah but, what’s the point?
  • It’s got flavor but no depth.
  • It’s not gripping. There’s nothing to take away from it.
  • POV is wrong.

Kill Bill (2004)
Kill Bill (2004) – Pai Mei is an excellent teacher, but not a kind one.

If I were a painter, it would be like hearing, “You’ve figured out which end of the brush to hold, but these colors just don’t work together.” At first, all you hear are the words DON’T WORK. But if you listen carefully, you hone in on COLORS and TOGETHER. You see not only where the issue is, but exactly how to fix it.

Any time I talk to a published author, I ask them “What’s the most hurtful piece of criticism that you’ve grown from?” Everyone has a story.

There was always a time when everything went wrong and they had to pick themselves up. They absorbed the criticisms, played with them, and applied them.
  • Christopher Moore (Lamb) doesn’t write dumb blonde heroines anymore.
  • Neil Gaiman (American Gods) used a derisive Monty Python comparison as the billing for his book “Good Omens.”
  • Peter Beagle (The Last Unicorn) was cruelly rejected by someone who later submitted poems for his approval. It re-enforced how important it is to be gracious in this industry.

Be open to critique, even if it hurts. When someone tells you THIS IS NOT WORKING, translate it into THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS. Then, try them out.

“Beware of what flatters you…the only real education comes from what goes counter to you.”
— Andre Gide

Find what you are afraid of, face it, and then you won’t be afraid of it anymore.”
― Marilyn Manson