Sunday, May 5, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Macur

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

Chapter 1

My old woman died.

That’s the turning point in my story.

But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The beginning happened eight years prior, when the old woman took me from the shelter: me, a sickly little black fur ball, the only one left from my litter.

My old woman had an eye for potential.

And I delivered, to take the suspense out of that right away. Not to gloat, but some facts are easier all around if they are established early on.

On that day of homecoming, the old woman became my old woman. And I became her cat. That’s what it means to take an oath to stay together and love each other. And it was a good oath.

“My cat,” she called me. This is not a valid name, as I learned much later. Humans name their pets Bobby, and Filly, and Sunshine Golden Child. But I was “my cat” to her and she was “my old woman” to me. She healed me, and raised me, and loved me.

And I did the same for her.

Tit for tat? Maybe. But more likely the balancing act of love. There’s an urge to spread love around when you are fed love like a constant stream of treats. While there were many others in my old woman’s life to whom she offered love, she was the only person I could spread it back to.

So for eight years my old woman and I lived a good life. Our days were filled with laughter, and food, and musings about the world. Hers were out loud, mine not so much. And our nights were filled with gentle snores and noiseless watch sessions by the window.

The only time my life was shaken up in this picture book–worthy happiness was in the early days, when I attempted to get out of the house. I remember the first occurrence well.

The spring air was swooping in through the open door, luring me with promises of adventurous strolls and intricate trees. I listened for a while, and then—the way only a young and foolish kitten would move—I frolicked out of the house to jump on and off the round stepping stones between dainty daisies.

(Frolicking is a word appropriate only for the young and naïve. Which is too bad, since it is such an amusing composition of letters.)

I soaked in approximately one and a half rays of sunshine before a scream churned throughout the house and blasted out into the whole neighborhood. Windows vibrated. Traffic came to a shrieking halt. Dogs hurried to our place.

My old woman followed her scream with a broom. She jumped in front of me like a mad warrior queen, swinging the broom that was certainly possessed with fiery snakes.

I froze. My fur spiked up sharper than a porcupine.

My old warrior-woman shrieked and jumped some more, until her lungs forced her to take a breath, and a break.

When my spikes had dulled enough to not hurt my tender self, I curled up and covered my eyes.

Her breathing steadied. She started to talk about rules, and staying inside, and dangers.

Then my old woman picked me up and carried me inside the house. I curled up in her arms. It was a safe place.

She did not want me to leave.

After an insignificant number of attempts (I’m a quick learner) to explore the world outside of our house, I accepted that the outside was a place where dangers were lurking. I stopped trying to get past the doorstep. The more I stared out of the window, the more I could see how the clouds might fog my vision, the trees might fall on my back, and the car fumes might clog my nose. And because nothing bad ever happened to me when I stayed inside, I concluded that even if my first conclusion was wrong, I did not miss out on anything important.

I lived comfortably with this knowing for many years.

Chapter 2

When humans hear stories about old women and black cats and brooms, they expect a certain, very predictable plot.

They expect a witch.

They expect wand waving.

They expect shadows flying in front of a full moon.

I have none of this nonsense to offer here. My old woman, for as smart and loving as she was (and she could certainly sweep a mean broom), was not a story-worthy sorceress.

“My cat,” she said as regularly as the monthly bills arrived in the mail, “if I could brew some herbal hocus pocus together, we certainly wouldn’t have to stress about these bills. I’d just sell bottles of crazy expensive love potion.”

Her statement was a lie, of course. If my old woman would have concocted an actual love potion, she’d have readily handed it out to the world, sprinkling it upon every human, animal, or plant she could reach with her ever more jittery hands. And she’d have never even requested a penny in return.

“This world, my cat,” she used to say, “this world needs buckets and buckets of love . . . and even more peace. Not war. Never war.”

But then, if she‘d handled that monthly piece of mail differently, she would have had to worry much less about those bills and she would have eliminated a different stress in her life. And she would have been able to use the cookie jar for cookies. But I’m jumping ahead again.

Chapter 3

Back to the concoctions.

(Concoction in itself is such a bold, organized blend of sounds and letters that it conveys not only the science, but also the magic of the liquid blend and its power, if one believes in such things.)

My old woman didn’t sell magical drinks, but people came to her for healing on a daily basis. She had certainly nursed me back to life, but what she did with the humans was very different. She didn’t give them medicine or herbs. Mostly, she gave them time. (Sometimes there were cookies and tea involved, now that I think about it.)

On those days when the clients—that’s what she called them—came, she would sit with them, and hold their hands, and often not say a word for minutes, or even hours. And when they left, they seemed to be more at peace. Their faces had relaxed and their spines had straightened, and every so often there was a new spring in their step as they re-entered the world outside of our door. (And while most everyone paid her or gave her something, it wasn’t much, hence my knowing that she’d never charge for love potions.)

Only once did somebody leave worse off.


  1. I would combine all three chapters into one - they're too short. Also, I found myself doubting "Traffic came to a shrieking halt. Dogs hurried to our place." Maybe the cat could be sarcastic and say he was surprised that traffic didn't come to a shrieking halt (etc). I'm not pulled into the narrative. I want the turning point to happen immediately, not later. Since the first line is about the old woman, I would suggest focusing on her and let the incident of the cat going outside come later.

  2. It's been years since I've read a novel with an animal narrator, but when I taught fourth grade, I had quite a few students who loved them. This was a fun one for me to read. The cat is quite sassy and that certainly comes through. It's clear the love shared between the old lady and the cat. I'm almost afraid to read what comes next for the poor cat once the lady died. Definitely see what others think, but it does jump around some and that might be off-putting to younger readers. The first line certainly grabbed my attention. I agree with Laurel that the escape scene is a little over the top. I read it several times to see what she was so worked up about, thinking it must surely be a real danger. Overall, good introduction to a plucky little character's adventure.

  3. Hi Macur,

    I love that first line - very voicy. I also love the use of 'my' old woman. And it's a lot of fun to read the POV of a cat whose owner has just died. I love that the old woman calls it 'My Cat' and that's not a valid name.

    I think this should be a linear story. The 'jumping ahead' lines should be cut. They take away from the narrative flow. I would say to start with the moment she picks him up at the shelter and calls him 'my cat' and he calls her 'my old woman'. I like the escape story as a narrative device, if he actually tries to escape, but it didn't make sense to me. Maybe she keeps thinking he's escaping, when he just wants sunshine.

    My biggest note is that nothing happens in the beginning and I really don't know what the story is about, and there is a lot of explanation, but I'm not in a scene. I want to experience your story like a movie and I want to be in it. What is your inciting incident? Why do you need to tell this story now? Maybe she makes a concoction for a person and the cat can smell poison and knocks it over. There needs to be some kind of problem and that problem should be introduced early. Think of your 'what if' question...this is a pretty essential element of a strong story.

    You have two very interesting characters, and you're great at voice.

    Let me know if you have any questions. Good job!


  4. A cat as the narrator! I love it!

    I like the dynamic between the woman and the cat, who refer to each other as "my cat" and "my old woman." I'm thinking it may suggest some kind of distance between the two...or maybe just a quirky relationship.

    The cat is very "voicey" which is wonderful. I can sense its personality and wit.

    When the cat is talking about sneaking out for the first time, put more "voice" into that scene. Why was he trying to sneak out? Was he excited? Was he an outdoor cat before this? Was the spring air too enticing to pass up? Was the cat not 100% happy with the old woman?

    Would dogs really hurry to their place and cars come to a shrieking halt because the old woman yelled? Or was that the cat's perception and an exaggeration because it was so startled?

    Is it even important for us to know that the cat used to try to sneak out? I don't see the importance in that or its connection to any of the other narrative. Maybe it's just backstory that you know about but the reader never learns about... I have lots of that with my characters. I know more about them than the reader does, but the reader doesn't need to know the character's whole life story like I do as the writer. I think starting with the adoption, then getting into the old woman's concoctions and healing abilities and generous demeanor might work better. We need an inciting incident.

    Also, like Kim said, I would avoid jumping ahead in the needs better flow.

    I think you can flesh out these things without too much time and you'll fall in love with your story even more after doing so!


  5. Franziska,

    Thanks for sharing your pages. I love this intellectual, word-loving, snarky cat. It’s a cool conceopt and I wonder what the story is. That said, we need more, and quickly.

    The first part of this feel like prologue, with the first chapter still to come. I’d say get to the heart of the story quickly and let’s get moving.

    I have no grammatical or prose-related comments because you are obviously A Writer. Your rhythm is excellent and the voice is spot-on.

    Just get to the story! I want to know what happens. Nice job. Looking forward to more.