by Barbara Ross
in a dense city just outside Boston, longing to get to Maine
We continue our pet week celebration honoring of the release of Liz Mugavero’s book Kneading to Die, a Pawsitively Organic Mystery.
We had some fun earlier in the week when cat lover Edith Maxwell asked the question, “…do you think cozy mysteries are obliged to feature a cat?”
I was particularly interested in the discussion because I’m a dog-loving writer, but my cozy features a cat. Does this rank up there with challenges like writing from the point of view of someone of a different gender or race? Can it be done convincingly?
I didn’t set out to have a cat in Clammed Up, the first book in my upcoming series of Maine Clambake Mystery Series. I mean, you want your characters to be well-rounded, and real people have pets, just like they play instruments or speak French or whatever. But I hadn’t considered a cat.
Until, after I’d created my fictional private island with my fictional family and their fictional clambake business. Then I went to a real clambake on a private island in Maine.
The Cabbage Island Clambake is run by the Moore family on their island which is a short, scenic boat ride from Boothbay Harbor, Maine where I live in the summer. I totally recommend the experience.
On the day my husband and I went, I spotted the island cat and thought, “Could there be anything better in this world than to be the sole cat on an island where over a thousand pounds of seafood is served per day?” In addition to the endless opportunities to con diners out of bites of lobster and clams, there would be no coyotes or other predators on the island. The cat truly would be at the top of his own particular food chain. What would an embarrassment of riches like this do to the attitude of a cat?
So I created Le Roi who has a small but pivotal role in the book. I made him a Maine coon cat because I was writing about Maine and how many places have their own particular breed of cat? Here’s how he’s described.
“He was named Le Roi, the King, after Elvis Presley. When Gabrielle adopted him eight years ago, he had the sleek muscularity and swivelly hips of a young Elvis. Now he looked a lot more like Vegas-era Elvis, but he was still the undisputed King of the Island.”
If you read my answer to the Wicked Wednesday blog this week, you’ll see both the family I grew up in and the one I created are mostly dog people.
But I’m not completely unfamiliar with cats. When I was a teenager, Roo, the cat next door, moved in with my family after one of the daughters of the house moved back home, bringing with her two toddlers and two German shepherds. As usual, the cat knew what was best and once she made her move, all the humans involved fell in line.
In college after a particularly bad second break-up with a cat-allergic boyfriend, I adopted a kitten to be sure the boyfriend wouldn’t be back. Apparently I announced to my parents that this was my first adult decision. A few trips spent smuggling the cat back and forth to college on the bus, one time disguising her as a Christmas present, proved how hilariously inaccurate that statement was. Flash was around for fourteen more years, including eleven after I was married. She never did warm up to my husband, and viewed him as an interloper to the day she died, thus proving she took her role as a boyfriend deterrer seriously.
So I do know a little about cats. But as a dog person, did I create a convincing cat character in my cozy? I’ll leave it to you all to decide.
Meanwhile, I look to you all to answer the question: Can a dog-loving author create a convincing cat character?