I don’t recall just how I did conceive of this idea. Might have come about from having had many playful cats in the house. How they love to chase and bat things around! The cat and mouse thing with them, I guess – or more the cat and prey . . .
Anyway, I’d known many class clowns, bullies, and braggers while growing up. You run into these types as adults as well. Some amuse, some annoy, but others live to intimidate. So I had lots of material stored up to draw on. Eventually, I came to live with friends who had four children, three of which of school age. Many a day, one or more of them came home with stories to tell of their not so happy time putting up with such a kid. And, I’m afraid, most teachers didn’t feel the need to step in. This is part of life; suck it up! I heard the same frustrating lines while I was in school too.
The short story version was called Ralph Henry’s Last Stand. It was just an eight page story, but I had to refine it in order to fit the word count of most kids’ magazines. Tough to do when there’s so much to the story!
In that short version, the feisty feline does give Ralph Henry a tough time at the air hockey table. She soundly puts him in his place, much to his classmates joy . . . and he accepts his defeat better than they expected he would.
I polished the story up and pitched it around with no success. Highlights sent it back with an interesting rejection in a full page. Their opinion of the piece was checked off according to how badly the story failed to meet their very strict guidelines.
I, to this day, don’t know how to take their decision or criticism or – whatever it was. There actually wasn’t anything checked off. Merely, a note to the effect that sometimes even an above average writer’s work doesn’t make it. You must try to write better than an above average writer . . . Okie dokie then.
To be fair, generally, rejection slips don’t tell you anything more than your story didn’t make the cut. If they felt you were a decent writer, though, occasionally you’ll get a hand penned reason why your story was turned down. They may say rewrite and resubmit. Or, this story isn’t what we’re looking for, but let us look at other stories you write. Or some variation of this theme.
In any case, I quit pitching it, parked it in a drawer and forgot about it for years until my own boys were in school. They began begging me to come to their classes and read my stuff to them. Was a ploy mostly to get out of doing other work, I’m sure, but I took them up on it and brought in Ralph Henry and another story. The kids always liked Ralph Henry best. Which made me again wonder why it kept getting rejected.
Eventually, I took a home study course for short fiction. i submitted as an assignment, another short story I’d been working on beforehand and was told that the story had the potential of being a novel. It occurred to me then that if that was true for this story, it could also be true for Ralph Henry.
I jumped into it. But as I developed the story to the same conclusion as the short version, I began to see that this was too simple. Too predictable. Although many stories are. And they still work. But here, in a novel, I saw I had to show why the kids were the way they were. The saying, chip off the old block came to mind. And the parents took on a much bigger role, leading to my new conclusion for the story. I felt it ranked up there with stories told in some of the Disney movies and other family type movies where the whole family is featured.
I changed the fluffy yellow feline, who was no particular breed of cat, into a large yellow-orange fluffy Maine Coon cat with double paws that the twins, Jerrianna and Jeoffrey and their mom find abandoned in their car. Mom, Kai Cei Kingsley, is Northfield’s air hockey wiz. She’s excited to find that their new pet shows every sign of being a worthy opponent for her to practice with. Jerrianna suddenly sees this circumstance as a way of putting the Biggest Bragger in the Universe in his place.
Snowshoe Mal, or Malley, as she’s nicknamed for her enormous paws, can whack that puck like a pro! Let’s have an air hockey tournament and make sure Ralph Henry meets Malley in a decisive face off! Yes! Because no kid, especially a boy, would like the school, no, the whole town, to know he’d been bested at air hockey by a cat – of any size!
Jeoffrey, the pessimist, thinks his sister is totally off her rocker. The miserable feline doesn’t like boys – or at least, she doesn’t much like Jeoffrey! Besides, she plays if and when she feels like it. What if she didn’t feel like playing on tournament day? Which probably she wouldn’t!
Jerri’s plan is oh, so totally doomed to failure!
I’ve changed the title of this story a few times as people couldn’t figure out what the book was about from the cover . . . of a cat playing on a air hockey table. And have reedited it with each title or cover change, which led to a couple of scenes being rewritten or chopped. I think it’s as good as I’m going to get it, so the next step is an even better cover and the book’s first journey into print. Which POD platform will I choose? Probably Amazon’s KDP platform. Seems to have gotten most of the bugs out of it. I plan both hard and soft cover versions.
So if you decide to delve into the whole story, it is my hope that you will think it’s worth spending time with. It’s the first in a series I’ve decided to create as I can’t say good bye to these characters after just one book. So far, I have two more stories planned. One where Malley gets stolen from the Kingsleys, and one about how one of the kids’ grammas comes to stay with them a while. I’m calling it Dancing in the Rain with Gramma. Gramma is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s . . . something I’m familiar with as I used to care for a woman afflicted with it. It’s sad, but it had some amusing sides to it, so I’d like to show that.
The new cover should be finished sometime soon, so I’m hoping print copies will be here before the end of the year! I’ll be posting that up here as soon as it’s finished. Hope you’ll stay tuned for that!