Thursday, September 20, 2012

Practical Cats

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Someone once told me cats only say two things:
1. What time do I eat?
2. Everything here is mine.
I know that's what my cat Lola used to say. She was also big on "Where have you been? Do you not love me anymore?" "I hate dry food." "Move over."  "Who is that other stupid cat you brought home?"  And "I'm not following you, I was coming this way before you thought of it."

It's funny, now, to realize I often knew exactly what Lola was thinking. She was sympathetic and understanding, and knew when I was happy and when I was upset. She died at age 20, in my arms, and I haven't had a cat since.

Of course I fell in love with (the fabulous and iconic) Carolyn Hart instantly...years ago at Malice. Now her new book, WHAT THE CAT SAW, explores exactly the kind of thing that was happening between Lola and me. But--as so often happens--she reveals: it didn't start out that way.


                    by Carolyn Hart

            A funny thing happened when I started to write a book where the heroine knows what a cat is thinking. I had - famous last words - a great idea for a cute, fun, lighthearted series set in a cat hotel. Our three felines live the live of Riley when we travel. They stay at Aristocats Feline Suites and Spa, individual rooms (no cages for these tabbies), water fountains, heated cushions, window views, fake tree perches. Now we may be at a down-at-heels motel with rowdy kids in the next room, tepid air conditioning, and a mysterious clanking in the air vents, but hey--we aren’t cats.
            My book would feature a young woman who had always hidden from everyone, including her family, the fact that when she looked at a cat, she knew what the cat was thinking. However, the imps of fate being what they are, her sister owned a feline hotel and had surgery and needed help while recuperating so the heroine was forced to deal with cats of all sorts, shapes, sizes, and thoughts. I foresaw possibly an imperious Persian boarding and the heroine learning that the owner was last seen on a misty morning after someone knocked at the door.
            Fellow writers will understand what happened next. When I sat down to start - always a by guess and by God process with me - cute cats and a lively heroine refused to respond to my plaintive calls.
            Instead, a young reporter who has lost her job on a small SoCal daily and is grieving the death of the fiancé in Afghanistan finds herself looking into cats’ eyes and seeing their thoughts. Nela Farley refuses to believe this is actually happening. She is a rational, smart, serious woman struggling with sorrow. She sees the transference of thoughts to the eyes of cats as a way of avoiding hard memories. Unsuccessful in her job search, Nela welcomes her sister Chloe’s request that she come to Oklahoma and take Chloe’s place at work for a couple of weeks. And therein lies a tale of suspense, danger, and possibly the ease of heartbreak.
            Nothing funny. Nothing cute. No talking cats.
            I think I turned away from my initial idea because I have such enormous respect for cats. They are - to me - God’s most elegant creatures, intelligent, perceptive, independent and incredibly attuned to their surroundings and the people in their lives.
            It may rather be on the order of a proud young mother who thinks her kid is always the brightest one in the room, but I have no doubt that my brown tabby Sister always knows how I feel and whether there is safety or danger in our immediate surroundings. We don’t really need the tornado sirens. Sister will tell us. And yes, cats care for their very own people. If I get up to leave the room, Sister escorts me down the hall and back again to the sofa where she decrees that we sit while we watch baseball.
            Sister knows if I’m happy or sad or upset. Sister knows if danger threatens. 

            And so does the cat in WHAT THE CAT SAW.   

HANK:  Tell us about your cat! Do you know what your cat is thinking? Does he or she know about you?
A copy of WHAT THE CAT SAW  to   a lucky commenter!


  1. Cats? Hhmm . . . . The truth of the matter is that cats own the entire world and simply deign to allow the rest of us to live in it. As far as the three who have temporarily taken up residence in our house while our daughter is deployed, they quite simply proceeded to make themselves thoroughly at home and in the manner of cats everywhere generally condescend to tolerate us as we look after them. [Well, okay, I guess I’ll admit that we really don’t mind having them around and, yes, we always know exactly what they are thinking . . . I’ve decided it must be some sort of feline-telepathy that gives them the power to transmit their thoughts to us mere humans . . . .]

    Argh! Fourth time . . . maybe I am a robot . . . .

  2. This book sounds fascinating. Although I have had one or more cats for decades, and adore these independent intelligent creatures, I don't like to read cozies that are too focused on the pets. Just a preference. So I'm glad your book steered you to a darker tale, Carolyn.

  3. This sounds wonderful Carolyn! I've had a line of cats since I begged for one at 13--can't live without 'em!

    But you are amazing. You certainly could be at a stage in your career that you decide to rest on your laurels--instead you keep coming up with new ideas. So that's my question--can you imagine a time you won't want to keep writing? (Then you could open the cat motel:)

  4. Hank, I just loved your comments. My beloved Miss Priss died two years ago and there is a huge hole in my life that nothing in the world can fill! Interesting how many of us writers are cat people. It is a mystical realm - if you are not one, you can't hear that music! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  5. My cat says I am not allowed to comment on other cats.

  6. My cat gave us permission to share his world. It was torture for us to finally have to say goodbye to him after almost 19 years.

    How have I missed your books, Carolyn?!!! They sounds wonderful and I will add you to my ever-growing TBR list.

  7. Hank and Carolyn! WE don't have a cat--unfortunately, my husband and I are away from home too much. It just wouldn't be fair to a cat--or dog.

    But I love the premise for this book, and I can't wait to read it! I have a friend who has several cats, and they are quite bright. One of them behaves a lot like Sister.

    Lucy--don't be giving her any ideas about retiring! :)

  8. What a great premise for a mystery. I love your books, Carolyn, especially the Death on Demand series, and look forward to reading this new one!

    I'm allergic to cats, so we've never had an indoor one. All I know is that every cat in the world wants to come directly to me, the one person who can't be anywhere near them without going into anaphylaxic shock.

  9. Welcome back Carolyn! can't wait for the new sounds purr-fect. (Couldn't resist.)

    I haven't had a cat for years. My first cat was named Leon - after Leon Russell, a good ole Oklahoma boy - and my last was named Running Fox (don't ask, I didn't name him and called him The Fox.) The Fox would sit on my windowsill and great me as I turned the corner and walked into my apartment.
    Difference between a dog and a cat? When you get home the dog thinks It's You!!! Cat thinks, You again?

    But now Carolyn will give us the real skinny on what cats think...

  10. OH! I can't wait to read this!

    Welcome Carolyn! I'm a huge fan of your work and this sounds just lovely.

    We don't have a cat right now and I miss having one or two around. When we lost our George and Martha is when Harley the Wonder Corgi came to live with us. I've asked him a few times if he'd like a kitty to play with and the response was "Grrrrrr." (I "think" that meant no). But that doesn't mean he won't change his mind.

  11. Carolyn, you are amazing, as Lucy says. And I'm so glad you decided not to go for a cute book about cats. Sometimes those can get a little cloying. Your book sounds much more exciting. I'll read it, of course. I get all your books.

    Did Nancy Pickard ever tell you about our local SinC chapter using your fist Death on Demand book to pick apart and see what made it so good? It was the first book we used that way in our Book Dissection Group. I know I learned a lot from you!

    Hank, I loved what you wrote about your cat. Yes, I always know what mine are/have been thinking--and it's usually not anything designed to build my ego. LOL Scientists now think that cats joined humans on their own because they saw it as beneficial and they've never really been domesticated in the way dogs and other animals have.

    My cat could probably do the Captcha better than I do.

  12. Domesticated? They've domesticated US, far as I can see.

    My cat Leon (SO funny Rosemary! Mine as named after Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta--where I found him as a stray kitten) would wake me up by batting my face with his pow.

  13. Ruff -- he had a brother named Ready -- is a Burmese we inherited from an elderly friend. At this moment, he is sitting by the garage door talking to the squirrel. I can hear him: "Hey, come on down. I got something I want to tell you. ..."

    Carolyn, your book description gives me the shivers! I can hardly wait....

  14. Welcome Carolyn! I'm so excited for you about this new book. And I can't wait to read it. My cat Marmarlade wouldn't talk to me for a day or so after I went away. He'd deliberately turn his back when I came into the room. The silent treatment. And my granddaughter's kitten, Cupcake, small enough to fit in my hand, has no hesitation about perching on a chair and whacking the dog on the nose as it runs past.

    I'd often wondered what would happen if an animal witnessed a murder and tried to tell someone about it.

    I hope it sells a gazillion copies.

  15. Carolyn, I'm looking forward to reading your book. I concur with other comments: glad to hear it's not cutesy.

    Leslie, my cat talks to squirrels in just the same way. I love my guy, Trio, a siamese mix with big blue eyes. I call him "the dude" because if he were a man, he'd hang out with his gut spilling over his jeans, drinking Coors from a can. Not too dignified.

    His favorite activities (when he's up and about, that is) are stalking the dog and take running leaps over her, and getting all in and around my limbs when I'm trying to do my exercises/stretches.

    Can I read him? Pretty well, I'd say...Hmm...Except when he's about to projectile cat-barf all over the rug (WHY do they do that?). He always looks so serene before a throw-up.

  16. And why is food perfectly good for some amount of time--and the, suddenly, it's UNACCEPTABLE?

  17. Exactly, Hank! These things must be part of their master plan for domesticating us humans, like you mentioned earlier. Thou shalt buy me new food just because. Thou shalt clean up after me just because. :-)

  18. Love these cat stories! I've had cats my whole life; I'm not sure I can say I know what they're thinking (besides the obvious: feed me, stroke me, play with me)--but sometimes I wonder when they occasionally swipe at me for no reason. Hey what did I do!

  19. Carolyn, so thrilled to have you on Jungle Red! You know I love your books, and l love the premise for this one. I, too, am glad you didn't go the cozy route. Can't wait to read it!

    I adore my cats. I've always thought that people who say cats are cold and unfeeling have just never had one. And I've always felt that, unlike dogs, cats are really wild animals who deign to give us the privilege of their company...

    And I've just found out that our oldest cat, Jolly, is in kidney failure.

  20. Hi, Carolyn,
    I'm looking forward to What the Cat Saw and so are Nefret, Bala, and Feral.


  21. Don't laugh. Carolyn Hart is madly trying to post comments..and she emailed me that the dreaded captcha is making it impossible.


    She says hello,and she's delighted to read all your stories! And she thanks you for your good wishes! And she's reading all the comments--so you;re getting through!

  22. My first cat, Mittens, loved to torment the dog across the street. She always knew went he went out and demanded to be let out seconds later to sit on the front steps and drive him nuts. She didn't even have to cross the street! She was the one who disappeared for 2 weeks each summer and then came strolling in demanding her dinner - and pregnant! The one who fell in the washing machine, who had her kitties in my closet, who slept on my back until she discovered my parents had an electric blanket!

    Could I read her? Sometimes, but I just loved her!

  23. I've loved Carolyn's books (LOVE Bailey Ruth! Funny, tart, and metaphysical). And I (confession) love cats. I really do. This sounds delightful.

    Carolyn, lovely to have you on Jungle Red!!

  24. I'm back! And just off the airplane..nw in NOrth Carolina!

    Karen B--my Mrs. Purdy had her kittens in my closet! I was 13...and it was the first day of school. We neamed the kittens f.Scott and Zelda...

  25. I love Bailey Ruth too, and Deb, I'm so sorry to hear about your baby.

    I have 5 little girl kitties, and they are all named for strippers! Bambi, Belle, CiCi, Sunni and Stormi.

    There is no one that can understand the minds of cats. They won't let you.

  26. Hank and Carolyn - What a wonderful topic! I'm proudly owned by 7 (that was NOT a typo) feline furbabies. Duchess, Josie, Lizzie (for Elizabeth Bennett), Lexi, Hayley, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet has her own Facebook page. They are all rescues or strays, or kittens from one of my previous bookstore customers. We feed them breakfast of Corelle saucers each morning, and give them all a bite of Velveeta each night (Duchess' bite has a pill in it). Each morning, as soon as I wake up, we have the "purr parade" across the bed...and my stomach.

    My 6'5" husband will fight you over his furbabies. He wears t-shirts that say things like: "If you don't talk to your cat about catnip, who will?" and "Talk to the Paw".

    Carolyn's new book is at the top of my "gotta have it" list with Hank's new book. Mysteries and cats - it doesn't get any better!!

  27. OH, Tammy Lynn! How wonderful to see you here..and thank you so much!

    YOur house sounds quite the Velveeta idea!

    See you all tomorrow...xoxo

  28. Bless each and everyone of you and the cats who hold your hearts. (Yes, I am trying again to get past the funny little letters which always seem to confound me.) Each cat is unique. The only common bond is sheer beauty. I have always said that cats are God's most elegant creatures. Carolyn

  29. I love cat cozies. I have seven cats: Fluffy, Brownie, Blackie, Muffin, Suzie, Wiggles, and Tippy. Brownie is actually a light gray tabby, but my mother thought she was brown and I had been looking at a box of brownies in the cupboard so that's how she got the name.

    RE: projectile vomiting, my cats will throw up in one place then go and throw up some more in another place. Can't they just stand in one spot?

    I had a cat, Marshmallow, who lived to be at least 19 years old.