Can you tell us how “Gordon, the Self-Made Cat” started for you?
Back in the late sixties or early seventies, a small—and now long defunct—animation company asked me to submit some story ideas. The first version of “Gordon” was one of two notions that I wrote up and handed in. They weren’t impressed with either, but my kids had liked “Gordon,” so I tucked it away in my filing cabinet, thinking that someday I might do something more with it. I had no idea it would take more than 30 years. As for the first flickering spark of the idea, that came from the fact that I was living in a run-down old rural house that had a lot of cats and, for obvious reasons, no mice. Looking at the cats, I found myself thinking, “If there were any mice around here, they’d have to go undercover to survive.” Young Gordon followed.
Why don’t dogs go to school?
Dogs sort of know about being a dog, early on. And I say this with all due respect and affection, because I love dogs, but canine life consists of a fairly limited range of behavior. It’s like my father’s old joke about counting a dog’s interest on his legs, by turning the dog upside down and going counter-clockwise: food, food, sex, food, and food. Cats have a more varied spectrum of interests and some of it is indeed rather technical. It’s like watching a mother cat training her kittens how to stalk, or to freeze when necessary. So I imagined what else cats get taught.
I got the impression that the Principal of the Cat School had a fondness for Gordon. How do you see their relationship?
The Principal has a fondness for Gordon because of the sheer gall of Gordon’s request, the fact that he couches it as a gamble, and of course, what he actually accomplishes once he’s in. But mainly he’s attracted to Gordon’s chutzpah. He doesn’t think of himself as a friend, though—he just doesn’t quite think of Gordon as prey, which is very unusual for a cat.
Gordon exhibits extraordinary perseverance and creativity. Can you tell us more about that?
I’ve known people who were born, as it were, in the depths of pre-established despair, who got a good look at the world that was waiting for them and just curled up and died. And I’ve known some who didn’t give in despite horrendous odds against them. Call it stubbornness or creativity or determination, Gordon is like those folks.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out in writing?
The thing I always say is to show up for work. To make it a discipline. Even if you don’t write much each day, make certain that you do write every day. And don’t give up on the days when nothing seems to be coming at all. Stay at your desk or your pad (or whatever) anyway. Commitment counts more than craft, when you’re starting out: It’s the way you make certain you get enough experience to develop craft.