Sunday, May 19, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Macur Rev 2

Name: Franziska Macur
Genre: Middle Grade; Magical Realism
Title: Magic by Any Other Name


With the death of her beloved owner, an orphaned cat fights to save her life and carve out her own future.

The only name she’s ever know is “My Cat”, but when the “My” dies with her owner, Cat is lost without an identity. When the owner’s son returns, Cat’s struggles worsen as the son plans to sell the house in the next week and to bring Cat to an animal shelter where certain death awaits. But running away would betray her owner’s number one rule of never leaving the house.

With the help of a nosy mouse and a shy neighbor girl, and by challenging her own assumptions, Cat has a chance to save her own life and find out who she truly is.

Chapter 1

My old woman was dying. 

I knew.

She acted as if she didn’t notice that her movements slowed, her skin paled, and her words quieted. She tried to hide that life was leaving her, even though she and I were the only ones to witness. 

She still got up in the morning, but her breathing was rattly and loud, and her hands trembled like the mailbox during a strong wind. She still got dressed and put on her healing stone necklace, but her breakfast stayed untouched or only nibbled on, and she retired soon to the couch, paging through an old battered journal filled with photographs.

I slinked around her legs, curled up in her lap, or set myself up as a neck pillow. I was there for her. My greatest gift to give was time. 

Every so often, I got up from the couch and stretched my legs and did other necessary cat things. In those moments, I’d strut back and forth between the couch and the cookie jar and the place where my old woman charged her phone, begging her to make the call I knew she wanted to make. 

But she didn’t. Not even a text. Even though the dark cloud hung very close to her.

A nurse came in the morning and then at night. With each visit, the son’s ears should have been ringing enough to bring him home. 

And then my old woman died, her head resting against my warm, velvety body. 

She became cold very fast.

I didn’t move until the nurse returned that night.

I didn’t move when the nurse double-checked that there was no heartbeat.

I didn’t move when she folded my old woman’s hands and gently placed a flower beneath her palms.

I didn’t move when she called for my old woman to be picked up.

But when the men arrived to carry my old woman away, I moved to the loft and surveyed the great plain below.

The nurse waved for me, but I didn’t come. This was no time for company.

My old woman was no longer mine. I was no longer my old woman’s. You can’t be called “My Cat” if you don’t belong to anybody.

I sat with that thought for a long time.

And then I realized what should come next. It was almost too easy. Too obvious. Too logical. I wanted to go with my old woman. I lost my place in this world the minute she left me. 

I was not having any premonitions of my own death. But I could be wrong. 

When the house had gone dark and quiet, I climbed down. 

The mouse sat in the middle of the kitchen. She didn’t hide. She didn’t startle. She didn’t even tremble. Her confidence irked me. This was my house. I shushed her back into her hole. 

She understood.

My food was set out; I didn’t touch it.

I settled onto the couch where my old woman had spent her last days, and curled up into as tight a ball as I could. Her smell was woven into the cushions. Part of her hadn’t left yet. A devious trick that played tug-of-war with sadness and false hope inside of me. I would stick to my decision to stay on the sofa for as long as it took. Some undefined feeling, possibly—dare I say it—even magical, had left this place with my old woman. And for as much as I resisted believing in magic, I did feel its absence.

The next day, the house stayed still.

I stayed still.

The numbers on the clock showed 3:24.

I stayed still.

I didn’t see the girl walk by but I was certain she did. I quenched the urge to move to the window. The only activity in the house came from the mouse foraging through the pantry, and even she seemed to act more somberly.

The day after, the son arrived. When his car drove up, I moved back to the loft. I’ve heard that cats in the wild perch in tall trees in order to see the movement of prey and foe. I didn’t want to hunt or be hunted. The only thing I wished for was stillness, to not have my journey to follow my old woman disturbed. But it couldn’t be helped. 

I had met the son several years ago. He was short and stout, with a round nose. His hair was still wavy, but now it was quite grey. He was wearing his uniform. His shoulders drooped and dark rings shaded his eyes. 

He walked around our little house, every so often placing his hand onto a book, a piece of art, or some other keepsake. He studied the pictures of my old woman and me, and me and the girl. There was no picture of him. I recalled the times when my old woman would stare at his photo in the album and I’d jump to the mantel. She understood, but still didn’t acquiesce. He bit his lip as if he was copying my thoughts.

He didn’t stop at the cookie jar as I had hoped; instead, he sat down on the rocking chair, staring into the cold fireplace.

I wanted him to leave. As much as I had wished for him to come when my old woman was still alive, there was no sentimental need for him to be here now. Formalities didn’t require residence. What he needed, this place could not give him.

I wanted this house to stay undisturbed for my own sake.

But not everything was about me. 

I climbed down.

This house still had one official inhabitant; co-owner, I’d dare say, but when it came to legalities I knew that I had no signature on anything. It was still my duty to greet guests.

I slinked through his legs. He startled. 

“Oh, it’s you,” he let out a heavy breath. He ran his hand over my back like a stiff brick. Petting an animal seems to be comfort for people. He wasn’t as skilled at it as his mother or the girl, but I figured he needed practice. I could tell that he meant well. Meaning is always the first step. After the third stroke, it already felt more like a smooth wooden block.

I let him indulge in petting my silky fur, even though it didn’t gleam as decadently as it used to. It gave me the time to get my mind and body ready. Ready for what I considered was my last duty toward my old woman. 

I jumped up to the cookie jar, carefully circled around it on the narrow side shelf.

I jumped back down to the son’s feet, stared at him.

Back to the cookie jar.

Back to the son.

It tired me quickly after long hours of no movement.

He thought he understood. “She made cookies, did she? And you want one, too?” he mumbled.

But my old woman hadn’t made cookies since the last time he had visited, many years ago. It just now occurred to me that I missed the sweet cookie smell from my kittenhood.

He heaved himself out of the chair and patted my head in an absentminded gesture. “I’m sure glad she had you,” he said.

That was a kind thing to say. And it was true, but not all people acknowledge the truth, especially when it doesn’t reflect favorably on them.

He opened the cookie jar and gasped.


  1. Wow, Franziska! You amaze me with the extensive rewrites you've done. These pages are beautiful. I think they are much stronger, and establish what the woman meant to the cat. They flow much better. I like that we're left wondering what is in that cookie jar! Your pitch has a nice opening, and the second paragraph establishes stakes well. After that, I'd like to see more clearly what the cat actually needs to accomplish to save her life, and the role the girl plays. Great work! You've put in tons of time working on these pages. It shows! :)

    1. Thank you, Melissa. I'm glad that it paid off :-)

  2. Wonderful work, Franziska.

    This feels distinctly middle grade yet literary and very assured. Your writing is very nice and easy to read. I wonder what adventures await this cat! It reminds me of the stories of Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, Shakti and other great animal-centric books. I think there is always a market for this kind of literature.

    I don't have any comments on your query. It is short and to the point, and still gives us the proper info. You may want too add the title and word count in there and that it is Middle grade.

    Great job and good luck!

  3. Hi Franziska,
    I posted earlier but it didn't go through! I love the pitch and the pages are fantabulous! My only suggestion is to include a brief connection the cat has to the girl in your pages. Right now, we only see it in the pitch. I think the reader needs a better glimpse of her importance. Great job on the revision! I'm intrigued! All the best to you!

  4. Hi Franziska,

    You did such a wonderful job on your rewrites and I really enjoyed reading your opening pages. I think you got it right this time and it kept my attention very well.

    My only suggestions are very nit picky ones because you did such a great job:

    The first sentence of the pitch read a little awkwardly to me. Maybe you could change the second half of the sentence to say the cat fights for her own life and her own future. Or maybe to add some voice to the statement, say that the cat now has to focus on itself for a change (since in the pages it's clear that the cat is very selfless and devoted to the old woman) in order to save its own life and carve out its future.

    In the pages, the statement "The nurse waved for me, but I didn't come. This was no time for company." maybe expand on this a bit. I want to know the nurse's intentions or the cat's interpretation of the nurse's intentions.

    Again, great job and good luck with querying in the future!

  5. Hi Franziska,

    As I read your pages, my cat was curled up in my lap, so know that this hit me right in my very soft heart. I love the concept of a cat coping with the grief of losing its owner, even if it will make me weep like a baby! What a lovely idea, and you've done a beautiful job of creating the character for Cat without making its animal voice feel false.

    You've done a great job with the pitch, and that second paragraph especially perfectly captures the main conflict of the novel, as well as the distinct tone of the book. But I felt like the part of the pitch that's "looking ahead" to the rest of the plot could be more specific. For example, you mention that Cat could "find out who she truly is," but it's not entirely clear what you mean by this. Does this mean finding the rest of her litter? Learning where she comes from? Or what she wants? With any pitch, the more specific language you use, the stronger the impact of its short form. Make sure it's clear not just where Cat is coming from, but where she wants to go.

    As for the pages, you've done a terrific job telling the story. Writing from an animal POV is exceptionally difficult, and you not only pull it off in a way that's accessible to readers, but also avoid the common pitfall of it being "too cute." There is a grace and dignity to your Cat, and I could see how the story might unfold with her character driving things forward. My one suggestion is to make sure that you're still balancing out the character with the scenic description to give the narrative the necessary context. While you do a great job capturing Cat's voice and emotions, we don't get as clear a vision of place and everything surrounding the character. I would have loved to have seen Cat more grounded in a clear sense of place, letting the character explore the world around them.

    Overall, this seems like a really lovely story, and I can't wait to see where it goes. Best of luck!

    All best,

  6. Thank you so much for your feedback, Erica! I really appreciate it.

  7. Hi Franziska,

    I really love the pitch, and I like how you stayed in the moment in this version. The addition of the son was interesting too. I did miss the humor of your last draft and the girl and Halloween. This version is much darker, especially when the cat says maybe he’ll die too.

    I would love it if you could find a way to keep that and combine it with the observation that the old lady is getting old. Maybe the next day, the girl waves and pets the cat, and there’s another interaction with the old lady and then the day after she dies, and the son comes and turns the girl away. So in other words, you can keep the best of both and still make it chronological. I really like that you don’t jump back to show us when the old lady adopted the cat. That can be in a later chapter, as he remembers the stress of being on display and realizes that will happen again.

    You have so many sweet and funny moments in all three drafts. The trick is combining them in a way that will be appealing for a kid. In order to make those choices, put on your kid hat...this is what I try to do and I find it makes things very clear.

    You are so close! I really love this story.