Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hemingway's Cats

Hemingway with his sons and cats in Cuba
Hemingway's writing studio
"One cat just leads to another. . . . The place is so damned big it doesn’t really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . ." Ernest Hemingway

LUCY BURDETTE: So last week Deb talked about her new love affair with Hemingway's words. Me being me, I am crazy about his Key West home and--his cats! 

 We also talked last week about the scary kinds of research we've done for the sake of our books. But sometimes I take on "research" without having any idea how, or even if, I might use it. I go hoping the story will make itself known.

If you've visited Key West, you may have toured the home where Ernest Hemingway lived from 1931-1939. It's a gorgeous, private piece of land with a swimming pool and a wonderful old home, including the little attached studio that housed Hemingway's office. No wonder he wrote so well here!

Hemingway's bed
This was Hemingway's bed. Usually one of the cats can be seen napping on it...but not the day I visited:

Rudy Valentino
One of the most-beloved features of the property is the colony of 50+ polydactyl cats who live on the premises, allegedly descendants of Hemingway's felines. (Although family sources have said that he did not own cats while he lived in Key West, though he owned many in Cuba.)

Late last year, I made a new Facebook friend who happens to work as one of the cat caretakers at the Hemingway House in Key West. Naturally, I was dying to meet Donna Vanderveen and get an inside look at the cats who live on the grounds.

Kitty condos
She introduced me to a number of the residents and explained their routines--in spite of the lawsuit filed against the Hemingway House and Museum by the USDA, believe me, these cats are treated like royalty.  

This little replica of the main house is a place to keep kittens at night or various other fellows who might need a "time out."

The cats are named after
historical figures...

Captain Tony--notice the extra toes

Duke Ellington

Tennessee Williams

Okay, so I still don't know how all or any of this will get worked into the fourth Hayley Snow mystery, though her good friend and former roommate Connie is getting married. And there is a lovely place for a ceremony on the grounds of the Hemingway House. And perhaps a character named Donna may have noticed a crime in progress earlier in the week. She has to get to work at an ungodly hour to take care of those cats....and so she might see things she isn't meant to see...

I very much doubt that Hemingway went around soliciting plot ideas, but for me, suggestions are always welcome:). And meanwhile, I feel another visit coming on...maybe the cats will whisper the story.


  1. This gives new meaning to the term “pampered pets.” Obviously, in Hemingway’s view cats rule!

    Curious minds want to know, though . . . what’s it like to be a cat caretaker? Do you play with the cats all day? [Now this could be a perfect character for a book, don’t you think?]

  2. Looking up polydactyl was fun. Who knew? Hemingway Cat is even a nickname. My education continues on JRW.

    Motive for murder? Two fussy old women (who used to love the same man) now love and compete for the same semi-feral cat's attentions.

  3. I'll try to get Donna over to tell you more, but they clean up after and feed the cats, and call the vet if anyone gets sick. There are A LOT of cats:)

    Yes, perfect character!

    Jack, oh my gosh, that's a hoot...

  4. I have two cats, both polydactyls. Normal cats have five toes on each front paw and four on each back for a total of 18. Rugen has 22 toes, and Buttercup has 24. It's interesting that the extra front toes look almost like thumbs on Ru and a double paw on Buttercup (two extra on each front paw). They also have a second, smaller pad at the base of the toe. I thought about Hemingway related names, but ended up with Count Rugen (the six-fingered man) and Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

    Knowing how quickly cats multiply, I hope they are managing the size of the clowder (yes, I looked it up!) with spaying and neutering.

  5. Sandi, thanks for all the facts! Yes they manage the "clowder" aka herd very carefully.

    Love your cat names!

  6. The cats and their lodgings are adorable. Jack, what a great premise for a story either in a mystery or on its own!

  7. Opening line: A cat and a rooster square off in an alleyway...

    Lucy, I think you might need to visit his his bar to for inspiration, too.

  8. A JR reunion!

    Thanks for all the background info, Roberta. I hope to get their to see it myself someday.

    My daughter's mother-in-law has had two black polydactyls with 24 toes each. Both named Kitty.

  9. Oh, I love this! I have five cats. But they have much more prosaic names: Salami, Pliers, Chowder, McIntosh, and The Keeper. They rule the house and monitor the birdfeeders through the windows. Molly Campbell

  10. I like Hallie's opening line. The sequence could be full of sound and fury and posturing. Typical cat turf drama. :)

    Anyway, we have an orange/ginger polydactyl with working "thumbs" on his front paws. Back in his kitten days, I caught him perched on the back of the recliner to reach up and pinch on picture frame hanging on the wall. Another time, my husband caught him pulling a mug of tea toward himself from the kitchen table. Plus, those thumbs made him Houdini with an Elizabethan collar.

  11. Lucy, love the pics! I have to come visit...

    But in the meantime, I hope you'll put Hemingway's cats in a Haley book. It would be wonderful to have the story revolve around the cat-keeper (what a great and weird job) but it's difficult when it's a real job filled by a real person, isn't it?

  12. I want Hemingway's home and estate--and especially his writing studio. He was a smart writer. He always married quite wealthy women (often becoming unfaithful to one when he found a wealthier), so he never had to worry about money. Funny how he's managed the man's man myth rather than the gigolo image.

    Love the idea of the cat wrangler job. Roberta, I think you must find a way to put her in the book if she's amenable. Perhaps just as a witness or even witness-murder victim, if the real woman is amenable. You have the most fun in research!

    Jack, write that story or one of us will steal it! ;-)

  13. Linda, I've got dibs on that one if Jack doesn't want it:). And you are right--my research is so much fun! (though Debs and Rhys have a great time too...)

    I'm also reading a big picture book called HEMINGWAY'S CATS. It's almost more than you'd want to know about his pets (and I am, as my husband points out, pet-crazy.) Along the way, you get a good look into his marriages--most of the wives loved animals too...cats and dogs...

  14. Ooh! HEMINGWAY'S CATS! I'll have to look for that book, Roberta.

    Jack, you see what you've done? You'll have to write that story before Roberta and I have to duel at dawn!

  15. You can have the story about the writers fighting over a plot though Linda:)...unless Jack needs it...

  16. Roberta, if you and Linda have a duel at dawn I call dibs on that story!


  17. Cats hide things, right? They retrieve things, too, and they especially like to preent their finds to the people they love. And sometimes animal medicines and people medicines are similar..

    Hmm. Just mulling this over...
    very cool, Lucy!

    And Joan, I think the cats take care of the people, right?

  18. I am as fascinated by these cats as I have always been by Hemingway. And wondering why I've never been to Key West!?! things gotta change . . .

  19. Hank, the cats do indeed take care of the people. Still, if getting to play with them all day long is part of the whole caretaker thing . . . . :)

  20. No, Roberta, we'll let Jack have that one--or Darlene. :-)

    Though, to be quite honest, I'd like to be writing anything other than the story I'm writing now, which I love but which has turned thorny and difficult. *sigh* Back to work.

  21. it's a most unusual place Kaye! worth a visit...

    Linda, every story looks better if you're not writing it--or that's my experience anyway...

    Hank, I love the idea of the cat showing up with something important...

  22. Our youngest cat hides her toy mice from the other two. Roosters are fearless and will fight to the death for their hens. I 'll bet anything the cat who confronted a rooster would be chased up a tree. I loved visiting Hemingway's house and seeing his desk, the cats, the pool and imagining his life there. Key West rocks!

  23. I love the idea of a cat hiding evidence! Our latest cat, a beautiful Maine Coon, once hid our car keys. We looked everywhere for them. My husband finally found them on the floor of the basement utility room. This was pre-children, so the only way they could've gotten there was by Henry the cat. ~Kimberly

  24. I love Key West, and Hemmingway, and cats! Let's organize a Jungle Red field trip!