When one adopts a shelter cat, unimaginably wonderful things can happen! We all know their companionship can fill a lonely heart; their unique personalities can entertain; their loving purrs can comfort and heal.
But did we know they can also get you published in Western Horseman? Well, Coco the Shelter Cat did. When my mom lost her beloved grey Persian of 14 years, the empty house became too much. She adopted 5-year-old Coco, a part-Siamese, from a local shelter. Not allowed to have a cat where I lived at the time, I became Coco’s most ardent fan, assuming “cat duty” whenever my mom was away on vacations. Among other things, I practiced teaching Coco tricks.
And, being a photographer, I photographed her progress. When I ask her to, she can reach up and touch a wooden spoon with either paw, sit patiently and “Wait,” and is now learning to jump through a hoop. She comes running every time I call her name. Now, whenever I appear at my mom’s house and start setting up my photo equipment, Coco shows up, often waiting patiently for thirty minutes or more. She knows we’re going to have a photo session . . . which means her tricks will be rewarded with delicious treats.
The thought began crossing my mind that I had to tell Coco’s story. To this day, I feel she was nudging me to share her tale (no pun intended), including two important messages: her promise and her prayer. Coco’s promise is that, during the most difficult times (i.e., being surrendered to a shelter), unimaginably wonderful things can happen. Her prayer is that every family’s next companion animal will be a shelter animal.
All well and good. Now, what does this have to do with horses? Well, I had to find an agent and a publisher for Coco’s story. Coincidentally, a friend introduced me to Marilyn Kreiger, The Cat Coach, who was kind enough to spend a lunch coaching me on next steps. She gave me a book on how to write a book proposal and recommended attending the annual Cat Writers Conference, which was scheduled for Dallas, Texas, that year. I had learned how to train Coco from Marilyn’s awesome book, “Naughty No More.“
Meanwhile, I’d been working on a story about a lady rancher who lives in my area, on a ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She has raised champion Arabians for over fifty years while working with the space program since the days of the first flights into space. I’d been wondering which horse magazine to approach and pondering the best way to bring attention to my story proposal.
I could write a whole blog just on what goes into preparing for a writer’s conference. It certainly included having the appropriate business card messaging that I am a writer-photographer for cat stories. Several days before I flew to Dallas, I checked the conference website one more time to make sure I was correctly scheduled to meet the attending book and magazine editors. I was scheduled to meet Lonnie Du Pont, former editor at Harper Collins, to talk about Coco’s story. Aside from conferences, one only has access to her through an agent. She was looking for inspirational animal stories for Revell Books. My second appointment was with Susan Logan, the editor of Cat Fancy, to discuss my true story about a cat who was best friends with a handicapped pigeon.
Now a second adoptable cat enters the picture: Beasley, the orange tabby kitten. As Coco had promised, an unimaginably wonderful thing happened. The third editor on my list canceled. One of the co-founders of the Cat Writers Association, Amy Shojai, had several beautiful orange tabbies needing new forever homes. Katie Frank, a former editor of Equus, had just relocated to Texas to work for Western Horseman. Her move included a promise from her husband to find her an orange cat. As you’ve guessed by now, she adopted one of the kittens. When she picked up the kitten, Amy invited her to attend, since many Cat Writers also write about horses. How perfect was this? I could pitch the lady rancher story.
Coco’s promise kept working: Katie was interested in seeing the story about the lady rancher! Additionally, shortly after the conference, she emailed me and asked to use another image from my western portfolio in a two-page photo spread, “Opening Shot,” for Western Horseman’s April issue.
The image is of another ranching family, the Ericksons, who have been trailing cattle through the Sierra pines for over 125 years. I asked Katie if she’d be interested in my doing a story about them as well. She said to go for it!
Since there was a timely aspect to the Ericksons’ story — how the August 2013 Rim Fire affected their annual cattle drive — I shifted focus to complete that before finishing the lady rancher story. Slowed down by preparation for the S.F. Writers Conference – where I learned a whole lot more about what still needed to be done for Coco’s story! – I finally sent in the story about the Ericksons.
Western Horseman bought the article for their June 2014 issue!
“But remember!” Coco purred during one of our practice sessions, as she swatted at the wooden spoon, nailing it perfectly, “unimaginably wonderful things can happen!”
“Coco,“ I asked. “Isn’t being published in Western Horseman unimaginably wonderful enough?”
Apparently not. For, when the June issue came out, one of my images was on the cover, and the article was Western Horseman’s cover story! Even more wonderful, now the editors are asking to see the lady rancher’s story, which I’ve finally finished.
As anyone in the publishing business knows, nothing is ever guaranteed. Magazines have to be sure they offer what their readers are most interested in; stories can be bumped by late-breaking news.
But I’m adopting Coco’s positive “Cat-itude”: “Unimaginably wonderful things CAN and DO happen!” I’ll keep you posted!