Deadlines & Japanese cats

My whole week has been packed with them—both of them. I’ll get to the Japanese cats later, but in reference to the deadlines, I stayed up half the night on Tuesday because my first short story for Intro to Fiction was due that coming afternoon. Question: why is it that when you really really need a printer to work, without fail it decides that that exact moment is an excellent time for it to go comatose?

P.S. — notice how I am now referring to my printer as a Thing with feelings. This is because I have given it a name, so that I may curse it at 3 am when I am ready to pull my hair out because it has decided to die for the upteenth time. So my printer is now called “Clark Gable” because frankly, my dear, it doesn’t give a damn.

At least I met my deadline. Sure, I wrote my first 12-page short story in the course of two days, so it’s probably way more awful than I can ever imagine, but hey—I turned it in, it’s done, it’s over with, and now I just have to wait until next Tuesday, when my classmates critique it.

So. The Japanese cats. Let me explain:


A photo I used for inspiration

There was no prompt for this story. My professor simply told us to write. So I sat down, and nothing came to me. Nothing. Literally, zero ideas.

Then a few days later, I was walking down the street across the street from a grocery store, and the smell of cantaloupes was incredibly potent in the air. I don’t know why, but I instantly thought of the Chinatown in New York City. Apparently, I associate melons with Asian vendors who yell at you when you pass their stores without acknowledgment. Anyway, I thought it could possibly be useful information later, so I jotted it down in my notebook and promptly forgot about it.

Then on Friday, I went to a baseball game with my family, and I was talking to my little brother about how I had to write a short story. His eyes lit up, and he immediately started to declaim a long and very complicated story idea about a bunch of people who, in the end, all meet their ends via various violent fight sequences. It was basically awesome. An epic, I tell you.

Then I thought, Wait, okay, maybe he has something here. I can write a fight scene. I’ve written a fight scene before. Actually, I’ve written way too many fight scenes, and I was sort of loathe to do it again, so I decided on a foiled robbery. So I wrote that down and promptly forgot about it.

The next day, I was sitting at my computer, struggling to churn out a different story that simply wasn’t working for me, and I suddenly realized why that was; I had a plot, but not a character. I don’t write plot-driven stories very well, but when a character knocks on the door to my mind and demands entry, he/she basically writes the story for me.

So I opened my notebook and flipped through my random notes… cantaloupes, Chinatown, Asian shopkeepers, a robbery… And there she was.

Ali. Alison Zhang Wei.

At first, she was just a voice. “I want to go home,” she said to me. “I want to go home.”

The image came later, coinciding with my aforementioned notes. Ali was a girl who had lost her family to a tragic car accident, and since then was forced to move to Chinatown, New York to live with her only remaining relative—her Chinese grandfather who has made her work in the grocery store he owns.

And she hated it. And she hated her grandfather. Actually, she pretty much hated the world, and understandably so. To her, that accident represented the beginning of the entire universe turning against her, and since then, Ali had lost her faith in everything. She dyes her hair green, then cuts it all off. She runs away, only to get dragged back by the cops.

But then, someone gives her a maneki neko.

Maneki neko – 招き猫 – Japanese for “Beckoning Cat,” also known as “Lucky Cat”

You’ve probably seen them in store windows, waving at you with big, unblinking eyes. In Japanese culture, the Lucky Cat is a talisman, a sort of lucky charm, said to bring visitors and prosperity to its owner. When Ali gets the Cat, she doesn’t want it. Her grandfather, on the other hand, collects them, and puts them in his grocery store window. But then, the Lucky Cat beckons in a vistor that they do not expect…

*cough cough* ROBBERY *cough cough*

So I wrote Ali’s story. Or part of it. My problem is that I think in terms of novels, and should never be trusted with short stories (see: “How, Ever“). I can only hope that I didn’t whip my readers around too much.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but it does (sort of) involve a fight, and a Chinese, 70-year-old man. Did I mention that I wrote the grandfather’s dialogue entirely in dialect? Welp… that happened. And it’s either going to sound close to right, or just incredibly, incredibly racist. But since I’ve grown up listening to my Chinese grandmother’s accented English, too, maybe it won’t be so bad…?

Also, this is the first story I have ever written that includes Asians. Ever. EVER ever. Why that is, is completely beyond me.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all. Sorry about the rambling. It’s been a long couple of weeks. If you made it to the end of this post, I congratulate you. Here, have a gif of Robert de Niro in a dress.

Samantha Chaffin


8 thoughts on “Deadlines & Japanese cats

  1. deshipley says:

    Frankly, my dear, you are a delight.

    I’m totally with you on the whole plot vs. character story starting point. Figuring out who the story’s about has to be one of the first things I do, else I am sunk.
    I also know what Clark Gable printers are like. My rule of thumb: Anything I need to have printed on X day? Start trying to print it a good 24 hours before that. That way I can be frustrated, but not panicked.

    • samchaffin says:

      No, you. 🙂

      I’m glad you understand. I think a lot of writers feel this way (at least, I hope so, otherwise you and I are just freakin weirdos). I think that it’s because while it’s great to have a plot, and know where the story’s going, character is the so often catalyst for plot that it’s much easier to write with a character in mind than without.

      And that is a great rule of thumb! Of course, for it to work, one must have something to actually print out a good 24 hours before it’s needed… which I did not have FOR HUZZAH I AM A SLACKER.

  2. Tiffany (J.A.) says:

    That totally was not rambling. Totally, totally NOT. You had me engaged the entire time! Btw, LOVE the name you created for your Printer 😀 Just imagining you in your imaginary voice in my mind, “CLARRRRRKKK! £)($*&)!£(*$&()*@&£$” I don’t really know what I expect from you in terms of curses, though. lol….

    • samchaffin says:

      LOL well I’m glad somebody didn’t think I was going on and on… 😛 And that’s basically how it went! I just shout at him now… gets my point across. And no, generally I don’t swear that much. I opt for making gurgling noises instead–much more effective. Haha

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