Open Season is Maryann Miller‘s latest mystery out in hardback by Five Star Cengage/Gale, and it will come out as an e-book in December of this year. When not writing, Maryann loves to play on stage and is thrilled to be playing Martha Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace this month at the Main Street Theatre in Sulphur Springs, Texas . She’s finally old enough to play one of those Aunties who help gentlemen find their way to a better place.
First I want to thank Lelia for inviting me back. Being a guest here on her blog is becoming quite a nice habit. Since I have no more cats of my own to write about, we decided I could just write some things in general about cats, and that got me to thinking about writers and cats. There is no denying that cats are quite popular as pets for writers, and I have noticed that is particularly true for mystery writers, as well as mystery readers and mystery bookstore owners.
My first encounter with bookstore cats was in Omaha, Nebraska where I frequently visited Kate’s Mystery Bookstore and met two delightful cats. Our local Sister’s in Crime chapter would meet there, and often we would bring snacks to share. The cats always figured they were part of the group, and among the eight or so members that would show up for a meeting, nobody seemed to object to sharing with the cats.
I never made it to Lelia’s physical bookstore, but I connected with her online through a mystery writers’ loop and noticed that she never hid the fact that she loves cats, too. I always thought that if I made it that far east, I would love to visit a store called Creatures ‘n Crooks.
On a recent book tour, I did make it to a store in Indiana, Howard’s Books, and met two wonderful cats Lulu, and Merlin. The owner told me that Merlin is about 22 years old and still going strong. Merlin might be king, but Lulu clearly considers herself the top cat, and she is not above checking everything out, including a trinket I had on my table. More about them and pictures can be found on my blog It’s Not All Gravy. http://its-not-all-gravy.blogspot.com/2011/06/book-signings-can-be-fun.html
I’ve also noticed that cats tend to make it into some mystery books as the pet of choice for a central character. When I started writing Open Season, I had no intention of putting a cat in the story, but the cat sort of showed up. Well, actually the cat literally showed up. I was writing a scene where Sarah, one of the detectives, was out jogging. The scene was to serve two purposes; show her getting some exercise lest the readers think she was a slug, and let her mentally review some facts of the case. I had no intention of having a cat show up when she got home, but that is what happened.
Like most writers, I love when things just start coming as a scene progresses, but I also know that we have to be careful that we are not just putting stuff in for the fun of it. Yes, I love cats and that was cute the way the kitten just dashed into the apartment when Sarah opened the door, but did it work for the story and the character?
“Her grief and her guilt hovered in separate corners of her consciousness, coming out and facing off like boxers responding to the bell.
Only she never knew when it was going to clang.
In desperate attempts to avoid the bout, Sarah had given in to silly impulses, including falling victim to the plight of a stray kitten. When the pathetic little thing had scooted through her open apartment door, she hadn’t been heartless enough to throw him out on an empty stomach. But that was all she’d planned to do. One meal, then he’d be history. She’d never wanted anything to depend on her for life. Not even a houseplant. But the feel of prominent ribs poking out of a ragged orange coat had touched some soft spot she usually kept carefully protected.”
To maintain that emotional aloofness, I let Sarah name the cat, Cat, as she didn’t want to bother with a name, and Sarah appreciates the fact that the cat is independent and not as needy as a dog.
It can be a mistake to throw anything into a story just for the fun of it, and we writers do have to be careful.