Preparing to Say Good-Bye

Saying good-bye is nature’s cruel joke, and now I’m preparing to say good-bye to my best friend and my writing companion of the past 13 years.

Chance “Mazel Tov” Lopatin, also known as Mr. Man.

Headshot of my cat Chance
My cat, Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

For those of you who have been following my blog for years, you may remember Chance from the viral Freshly Pressed post, “My Jewish Cat and the Art of Guilt.”

Why am I writing about Chance today? Well, it’s simple: nothing else is on my mind. I can’t write about my novel, or social media trends, or books to improve your craft, or literary agents. None of it would be possible without Chance’s love over the years.

Chance is 15 years old. He’s lived with me for 13 of those years. I met him when I was just 20, a few months after moving out of my mom’s house. He was a stray who appeared from a bush, like a mirage, as I prepared to go grocery shopping.

I never made it to the store.

Chance has been more than a pet. He’s been a soul mate.

Me with Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth
Me with Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

From ages 20 – 27, my life was not the most stable. I moved eight times in four years. I attended three different colleges. Through it all, Chance was the one constant. He was there for college parties, roommates, college graduation, first professional job, first major break-up, finding love again, the Great Recession, buying my first house, severance and unemployment, and finally, quitting Corporate America to launch my business.

He has been my ultimate source of comfort, my weapon against anxiety disorder, and my most trusted confidant. While in college, Chance even woke me one night, warning me of two intruders who’d just broken into our apartment.

A year-and-a-half ago, Chance was hospitalized when he became diabetic. I visited him every day. When the vet tech brought him to the visitation room, Chance rose from the dead like a Phoenix, regaining his appetite and his will to “talk.” I remember the vet tech saying, “I’ve never seen a cat who loves his human so much.”

Chance has also been my writing buddy.

Chance cuddling with me while I worked from home.
Chance cuddling with me while I worked from home.

This has been especially true since I established Shari’s Ink in September last year. Chance could never cuddle with me enough. Writing with him on my lap always made the process more warm, more soulful, more joyous. Yes, it is possible.

But nothing good is meant to last. That’s the irony, and cruelty, of life.

The sophisticated duo: me and Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth
The sophisticated duo: me and Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

Chance is now growing very weak from end stage kidney disease. The looming eye of death is ever watchful. When the moment comes to say good-bye, you may not hear from me for a week or two. But at least you’ll know the reason why: that a mortal cat has passed on, while a legend has been born.

Chance, the legend
Chance, the legend

My name is Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

If only life were this easy …

Chester on couchI know, right?

I guess this is what I get for spoiling my cats. By the way, meet my gray tabby, Chester.

Maybe I’m finally understanding what my parents felt like during the weekends, working their asses off while I laid in their bed, watching Dirty Dancing every freakin’ day.

But seriously, don’t you wish your life were THIS EASY?

Yea, I thought so.


Snatching Success: Q&A w/ Bestselling Novelist, Bruce Cameron

How many of us writers dream of making it onto the New York Times Bestseller’s list? For Bruce Cameron, that dream came true with A Dog’s Purpose—soon to be a DreamWorks movie, too.

W. Bruce Cameron is the New York Times bestselling author of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter which was turned into the hit ABC series (starring the late John Ritter) that continues to run in syndication, 8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter, and How to Remodel a Man. He has twice received the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Award for Best Humor Columnist and was recently named Best Columnist of the Year by the NSNC. His nationally syndicated column is published in more than 50 newspapers. Cameron’s fiction debut, A DOG’S PURPOSE, is a New York Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times bestseller and is soon to be a major live-action film from DreamWorks Studios.

I actually heard about Bruce’s “novel for humans” via a Facebook ad, of all places. I’d never clicked on one before, but being a complete animal-lover, I clicked this time. Maybe it was fate, because I immediately connected with Bruce’s story of striving for success, and asked his publicist for a Q&A. The timing worked out perfectly, as his next novel, Emory’s Gift, is releasing next week on Aug. 30.

So thank you, Bruce, for taking time out of your busy schedule to offer advice for those of us who are still working toward the Dream! Here are my 10 questions for Bruce:

1. SHARI: Your book, A Dog’s Purpose, is a New York Times Bestseller and soon to be a movie by DreamWorks, according to the book’s website. However, in your bio, you mention you didn’t reach success as a writer until later in life. What was the key factor that made THIS book successful, as opposed to other works of yours?

BRUCE: Well, I suppose the main factor in this book’s success is the fact that it was published. When I refer to my lack of success as a writer in the years previous, I’m talking about the fact that I wrote many books that were never published. However, my first book, 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter, was a New York Times bestselling book and was made into a television show on ABC.  I think that once I began writing about themes that were universally appealing (such as family, relationship, animals, etc.) I connected with my audience.

2. SHARI: Many of my blog followers are developing writers, or professional writers looking to reach success as authors. What are the top 3 pieces of advice you can offer them, to help them reach that success?

BRUCE: The first thing that I would tell them, is that they should ask themselves what they mean by “success.” All my life I wanted nothing more than to have a hard cover edition of a book of mine for sale in a bookstore. I have achieved that, but it is during a time in which fewer people are reading and bookstores themselves are disappearing. Does success mean selling a few thousand copies of an e-book? Is it material success, critical acclaim, great reader response? What has happened to me with A Dog’s Purpose is that I have touched a lot of people’s lives. That’s not what I started out to do but it has turned out to be the most profound element of my success.

I wrote and wrote for years without selling a single thing. So my second piece of advice is keep writing, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up.

Most writers feel that a work is not successful if it is not read by large numbers of people. To reach large numbers of people one must spend an awful lot of time marketing. My final piece of advice would be to prepare yourself for just how much time it will take to connect with your audience so that they are even aware of your work.

3. SHARI: How did you start writing? Was it your original career (such as a degree in journalism or English), or did you begin writing later in life?

BRUCE: I started writing when I was in the fourth grade. I wrote my first novel when I was in high school. I was an English major, and worked briefly as a freelance writer before poverty forced me to get a day job. But I have always been a writer; albeit not always a professional one.

4. SHARI: What is A Dog’s Purpose about, and how did you think of the idea?

BRUCE: A Dog’s Purpose asks the question, “what if your dog never really dies?” I got the idea because I was riding my mountain bike in Colorado one day and met a dog along the way who reminded me so very much of my first dog Cammie, whom I met when I was just eight years old. I was struck with the odd sense that I had just interacted with my long dead friend. Ever since that day, I have wondered if it really was Cammie, and if so, what did that look like from the dog’s perspective? These questions ultimately led me to writing the novel A Dog’s Purpose.

5. SHARI: You have a new book coming out soon, Emory’s Gift. Tell us about this story, and when is it due for release?

BRUCE: On August 30, 2011, Emory’s Gift will be released in hardcover. It is the story of a 13-year-old boy who teams with his father to save a wild grizzly bear from the people who would do it harm. Once they embark on their mission, the lives of the boy and his father are changed forever.

6. SHARI: As a writer, what has been the largest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?

BRUCE: Because I was not able to make enough money as a writer to survive, I got a day job – a good day job – and wound up getting married and having children. The demands on my time were great and so it was always my writing that got sacrificed. I don’t regret any of it, but it is true that my choices led to me not being as productive as I would have wanted.

7. SHARI: What do you think makes a great writer, versus someone who’s just average?

BRUCE: The writers I enjoy reading the most are those who combine talent with an understanding of the importance of plot, character, and story structure. Writing is an art, but it is also a skill that must be practiced over and over. 

8. SHARI: Now that you’ve finally reached success as an author, what’s it like? Are you enjoying it?

BRUCE: I am living the life that I always wanted. My biggest challenge is trying to adjust mentally to the idea that this is really it, that I don’t have to continually scan want ads for jobs that I could do to support my writing.

9. SHARI: Do you have any recommendations of other writers/authors/teachers for my blog subscribers to follow?

BRUCE: As a screenwriter I have had to spend many hours reading and rereading Sid Fields seminal work screenplay. It has taught me so much about story structure and I would recommend it even to people who have no intention of ever writing a script for a movie.

10. SHARI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BRUCE: Readers who were drawn to and pleased by the spiritual message of A Dog’s Purpose will find that this same theme shows up in Emory’s Gift. Though it doesn’t have a dog on the cover, I urge anyone who felt moved by A Dog’s Purpose to give Emory’s Gift a look.

[Want more interviews, like today’s Q&A with Bruce Cameron? Then sign up to get posts from ‘Rogue Writer’ delivered by email, every Thursday! Still not sure? Read up on this blog and my experience, first.]

My Jewish Cat and the Art of Guilt

My Jewish cat, Chance, who has skillfully learned the art of guilt

When hungry, most cats drill their “servants” with shrilling meows, driving them into madness. Not my cat.

Instead, he’s taken another route, skillfully learning the art of Jewish guilt. He doesn’t need to meow. In fact, he protests with complete silence, accompanied by “the look.”

I first noticed Chance had acquired this divine power last weekend, on a Saturday morning. I’d slept in that day, awoken by my own urgency to use the bathroom. Of course, curled up next to me in a furry ball, was the purring Chance.

As I left the bathroom to climb back into bed for a few extra minutes of rest, he merely climbed on top of my belly to cuddle. Thirty minutes later, as I slid into my slippers, he gently followed me down the stairs of my house. Five minutes later, he quietly sat in the kitchen as I prepared my Saturday morning coffee, toasted my bagel and prepared some salmon lox.

When I turned around to the pantry, I saw it.

There, poised gracefully next to an empty food bowl and a dry water dish, sat Chance. His black tail neatly curled around the confounds of his white paws. His fluffy chest held back in an upright position exuding a quiet dignity. And his blue eyes, patiently staring up at me from a dipped head, as if to say, “Did you forget to feed me, Mom? Do you not love me anymore?”

Immediately, I rushed to his side, drowning him in apology after apology, reassurance after reassurance. He received wet food that day, along with a full bowl of freshly filtered, cool water.

Chance understands the power of Jewish guilt, unlike the other whining cats who paw at their servants’ faces in the morning. He understands that time is his ally, not his enemy. And with a little patience, the rewards will far outweigh the wait.

Since this divine power was bred into me, I’ve remained immune to it throughout my life—well, except from my father. Yet, it was a cat who finally broke through the wall, took my heart hostage, and now uses it to wield his will.

And I know from this day forward, I’m in trouble. Big, big trouble.