Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Place for Cats?

JRW welcomes another cat-loving mystery writer today--Karen Olson. Karen is the author of a series set in New Haven, CT featuring reporter Annie Seymour. And Karen's brand new book in her tattoo shop mystery series, PRETTY IN INK, hits bookshelves this week. Welcome Karen!

KO: Let me first say: I love cats. I am a definite cat person. Growing up,
we had so many cats that I’m not sure I can name all of them. Some
didn’t last too long, but others we had for a long time. As an adult,
I had a cat named Thisbe for 20 years. When I met my husband, I told
him I’d had Thisbe longer than any man. He took that as a challenge.
Sadly, Thisbe went to the big catnip patch in the sky five years ago.
But we now have two cats, Eloise and Hemingway. They are both a little
too fat, even though we don’t feed them as much anymore. Eloise does
like to nibble crumbs off the floor, so maybe she’s getting too many
carbs. She was named after Eloise at the Plaza; she’s more than a
little crazy. Hemingway was named after Ernest, because while he’s
very macho, he’s also a little bit gay.

Again, I want to say that I love cats. But I have been very reluctant
to put them in a book.

In my first mystery series, my protagonist, police reporter Annie
Seymour, couldn’t possibly have a cat. Annie is a bit too
self-centered and too independent to have to worry about a cat. She’s
working all the time and wouldn’t have time for it. In my tattoo shop
series, Brett Kavanaugh lives with her brother, Tim, a Las Vegas
police detective. They’re both in their 30s, single, and not thinking
about a pet. In fact, they could possibly both be dog people, but
since dogs are way too high maintenance, it just won’t work to give
them one. Somehow going out and solving crimes isn’t conducive to
walking the dog a few times a day.

That said, I know how much readers enjoy a good cat in a story. And I
don’t mean the cats that solve the crimes or speak to their owners or
each other. My good friend Clea Simon writes wonderful books with cats
in them, and the cats never speak but play a big role in the plots.

Always looking for a way to connect with readers, I began to wonder if
I shouldn’t put a cat in one of my books. Should Sylvia Coleman, the
elderly tattooist in my Ink series, own a cat? Maybe Bitsy Hendricks,
the tattoo shop manager who is a little person, or Joel Sloane, the
tattooist who looks like a biker but has a much gentler soul (see
reference to Hemingway, above).

No, none of those things would work. I tried. Really I did. But what I
ended up with was the perfect cat for PRETTY IN INK, set in Vegas with
drag queens at its plot’s center: A stray, feral cat skittering
through the parking lot at Chez Tango, the drag queen club, with a red
ribbon in its mouth. His appearance is brief, but notable. It plays a
role in the plot without being overt about it.

What about you? Do you think cats have a place in mystery novels?

JRW: Always room for a cat, Karen! Good luck with the new book! Read more about Karen, her cats, and her series at her website. And she's standing by for comments and questions.


  1. Of course. What a silly question.

    But you raise a good point: if you're going to add a pet to your series, you have to treat them responsibly. Your protagonist can't just leave town for three days, without making arrangements. She can run out of food for herself and live on take-out, but she must never run out of pet food. The pets aren't just an accessory, they're characters in the book!

  2. Ah, it's Cat Week on Jungle Red Writers. I think any mystery is improved by the presence of a cat, and even some male writers agree with me. Robert Crais's Elvis Cole doesn't exactly own a cat, but he feeds a feral cat that sorta, sometimes, considers Elvis's house his home. Rick Riordan's books have a great cat. I prefer cats that don't talk (good grief, aren't they demanding enough without the ability to speak Human?) and don't solve crimes (how would they ever stay awake long enough?) but are simply cats.

  3. Yes it's cat week, Sandy! and we didn't even plan it that way!

    You're right Sheila, pets must be treated well or readers will be horrified. In Deadly Advice, my character has a cat foisted upon her and of course he becomes integral to the series.

    Karen, I bet your next series will have a cat onstage--you're moving in that direction!


  4. HI Karen,
    Can't participate in the cat love, deathly allergic. I once picked up a kitten and was sick for a week. Even with shots, I can't actually stroke one.... so sad...... especially since they are so cute.

    But I think cat-loving and mystery-loving go hand in hand, so best of luck and CONGRATS

    on PRETTY IN INK!!

  5. No mas! I've taken the kool-aid. There are two cats in my next book. Although it's doubtful they'll be making a return appearance, my heroine could use a pet. Lord knows she isn't getting any other kind of cuddling!

  6. Jan, sorry to hear about your allergy. When we were kids, we thought my sister had an allergy at one point and got rid of our cat, but it turns out she's just fine with cats.

    Rosemary, LOL! And not just one cat but two!

    Roberta, you may likely see a cat sometime in the future in one of my books. I don't know how much longer I can resist it!

  7. Sorry Karen, I misread the original post and thought you WERE putting a cat in the book.

    SO Rosemary is taking up the cat slack.

  8. I had a cat named Eloise so I can relate. I'm ok with cats in books, but I hear your hesitancy about it, Karen. Because it can be just another cliche unless the writer does it really well.

  9. I was told that my kitten is inbred. He has amazing agility and balance--and he likes to body slam the bedroom door at 6:30 in the morning if he feels that it's time for some attention. Or food. Or water. Or whatever. He can jump 3/4 the way up the wall and also finds it enjoyable to scale our elliptical (glad it serves some purpose!) and then hang from the top of the door frame...

    Karen, what do you think of cat tattoos? ;-)

  10. Hallie, you're so right about the cliche.

    John, hmmm, cat tattoos...I'm not sure about that.

  11. I have shied away from pets in any of my books for that very reason--you get letters if you don't look after them properly.

    Actually love both dogs and cats, but we travel so much that I have to get my dog fix from my daughters' dogs--Sunny and Oscar

  12. Cats in books--where would archie be without mehitabel? Where would Alice be without the Chesire? And where would whatshername played by Kim Novak be without Pyewacket?

    And I think Botox plays a necessary role for Charlie.

    I agee, you can't just stick in a cat. But people have cats!And for their own reasons. And when they work, that's why they work.

    Hi Karen! COngratulations on launch day--and thanks again for being such a wonderful tour pal in North Carolina! (Julie Hyzy was our terrific third Musketeer--all for one and one for all!)

  13. My protagonist Kate has a beautiful Ragdoll cat, Elfie, who is modeled on my own cat Smokie. My daughter brought Smokie home as a kitten--he was so young he had to be bottle fed. She'd gotten him from someone at school who couldn't keep him, and swore she would find another home for him in "two weeks." Well, Cut to ten years later, and my daughter has graduated from college, and Smokie is the king of my house. I love him to death.

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