Thanks to That Imaginary Cat

TAILCHASER was my first book, in every possible way — first I ever wrote, first I had published — so it will always be close to my heart. I still marvel sometimes at all the places that imaginary cat has traveled — far more than I’ll ever get to, probably.

I wrote the book in part as therapy for the shock of living with cats for the first time. I had one particular cat, a splendid ginger (as they say in England — we just say ‘red’ in the US) male named Fever. I could never get over the incredible scam he and the other cats had going. Dogs WORK for their living, fetching, guarding, wagging, drooling, making it clear how much they love humans. Cats think you should feel lucky to be slaving at a horrible job so you can buy them food. So I started playing with the idea of a cat-o-centric universe. How would they see things? What kind of stories and folktales would they have? What part would humans play? (Answer: Meal Ticket.)

The story came a few years later, when I first decided to try writing a novel. I’d written only one other original thing before that, a rather awful science-fiction screenplay called THE SAD MACHINES that I’ve never shown to anyone outside my family, I don’t think. The only interesting thing about it now is that its main character, Ishmael Parks, was a definite precursor to Simon in the Osten Ard books.

Anyway, I wrote the cat book, sent it off to the first publisher on my list (who were at the time the best-known fantasy publishers in the US) and got it back promply with a rejection note that said “We don’t do works with non-human protagonists.” When I wrote back to have this curious sentence explained, they said: “We don’t do animal books. We’d make an exception if this were a potential best-seller, but it isn’t.”

Ha ha, I can proudly say today. And again, Ha. (Not that I’m bitter. In fact, when TAILCHASER made the best-seller lists, I wrote the publishers who rejected it a very gracious and generous note, which I tied to a big rock and chucked through their lobby window. Just kidding.)

Anyway, the second publishers on the list, DAW Books, liked it and bought it, and they are still my primary publishers (and friends) to this day.

I think there are a lot of themes that show up in TAILCHASER that are still strong in my work. The distrust of easy and or/dramatic solutions is one of them. The love for stories of the past, but also a certain skepticism about history, is another. And, most importantly, the need to learn about oneself, to find out who you are before you can expect to change things in this or any world, is something I still work with all the time, in my books and my life.

Last but not least, thematically-speaking, there are some little nods (and affectionate jabs) toward Tolkien. Like a lot of people my age, I was head-over-heels in love with THE LORD OF THE RINGS when I was younger, and still think it an amazing and wonderful book. But even something wonderful should still not be swallowed whole without critical examination, and eventually I wrote MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN in part to deal with some of my conflicts about Tolkien’s LOTR (which I’ll try to explain in more detail elsewhere). In TAILCHASER, I reserved my Tolkien commentary primarily to a few jokes, like the scene where Fritti meets the Queen of Cats (a fairly obvious Galadriel-parallel), the glorious and exalted Mirmirsor Sunback, and discovers her biting her butt. Which is, of course, a very catlike thing to do.

When I received the letter that DAW was going to publish TAILCHASER’S SONG back in January of 1985, it was one of the happiest and most exciting days of my life. I took my dog Gala (who was then a mere youngster) for a walk in the hills and imagined all the things that might happen now that I was officially a writer. And many — no, most of them — did. Thanks to that imaginary cat.

Tad Williams — February 2001

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