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I read Lying Awake by Mark Salzman shortly after reading a profile of the author by Lawrence Weschler (“The Novelist and the Nun”) in the Oct 2, 2000 issue of The New Yorker. In the article, Salzman reveals his multi-year battle with writer’s block that included several drafts his agent and publisher rejected and his difficulty working at home because his cat wanted to sit in his lap — making it hard to concentrate.

While he struggled to write and often had no idea where to take his story, he did have several brainstorms related to the cat. First, he fashioned a skirt from aluminum foil and wore it while he worked (the cat did not like to sit on the metal garment). One day, Salzman was wearing the tin foil skirt and nothing else (you know how it is when you work at home) and stood up to get something. He looked out the window and saw a man working on the telephone wires outside — the lineman shook his head in pity when he saw Salzman. It was time for another cat deterrent tactic.

Salzman took his laptop to his garage and worked in his car. His cat followed him and sat on the vehicle’s moonroof while Salzman attempted to complete his novel, which, in his words, he wrote with a cat’s a**hole staring down at him.

Somehow the author managed to complete Lying Awake, which went on to bestsellerdom and rave reviews. Here’s one from the Amazon Page that does a good job of summarizing the novel: “Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic inspiration.”

Note: I recently found a beautiful paperback edition of Lying Awake at one of my used books haunts, and will mail the novel to the first person (U.S. only because of postage rates) who leaves a comment on this post. This our third book giveaway.