by Shelt Garner
Before we begin, let me be clear — I started reading the short story “Cat Person” but it hit too close to home on a personal level so I stopped. (Even though it’s a very short story.) Also, I’m just too lazy to do even the most basic of Google search for some details on this subject — think of this as just my impressions on things.
The thing about the short story “Cat Person” is it struck the zeitgeist at just the right moment. It was, as I recall, the height of the #MeToo “moment” and the story resonated with a lot of women who were enraged by men and thought they were all, collectively, a piece of shit.
Anyway, we now learn that a lot of the short story’s characterizations were lifted straight from real life. I’m writing a series of novels at the moment and so I have a lot to say about such things. I have stripped mined my personal life — and the lives of a number of other people — for plot points and characterizations. But all but one of instance of this is so out of context and garbled that it’s not a one-to-one type situation. A lot people I have met over the years would know that this or that quirk or trait of a character was based on them, but it’s not like the entire character is them.
But for one character.
One character is pretty much literally based on the late Annie Shapiro. Ms. Shapiro greatly changed my life while we were both in Seoul. The story of what happened between us is so interesting that over the years, I’ve repeatedly attempted to tell it both literally and in fiction. The literal version of I’m deeply embarrassed about — I had no right do that — and the various fictional versions were either failed or just bad.
But the series of books I’m working on now are much, much, much better than anything else I’ve worked on. And, as I mentioned, a very important character in the series is based on Ms. Shapiro. She’s dead, so I figured I’m not hurting anyone by doing this and also she was one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever met so I’m trying to honor her memory, not hurt it.
Anyway, I’m a pretty unique person, so I know that it’s very possible that someone could base a character on ME and the characterization is unlikely to be very kind. I could totally see someone using me as the basis of a villain in a fictional story, given what Ms. Shapiro and I went through in Seoul with ROKon Magazine. I was drinking a lot back then and also the stress of running the magazine really, really got to me. I was not in a good place. Ms. Shapiro and I hurt each other a lot in various ways and I was angry at her for a long time.
But her death devastated me. RIP, kid.
Now that I know the background of “Cat Person” I pause to reflect on my responsibilities as a writer. Is anyone going to get mad if I base a character of a dead person? And what about all the other people I’ve borrowed aspects of their personality and physical features from? I should be ok, I think, given how garbled it all is.
It is interesting, however, how loaded the “Cat Person” short story has become. It’s become something of a totem for men and women and how they view relationships in different ways. I can only hope for that much cultural relevancy with the series I’m working on.