I’m delighted to welcome Clea Simon back to the blog! For folks in the Boston/Somerville area, Clea and I will be on a panel along with Kate Flora and Joanna Schaffhausen on January 27 at 7pm at Porter Square Books. We hope you’ll join us! Welcome Clea!
“The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” So wrote T.S. Eliot, to which I’d like to add, “the writing of cats can be tricky, too.” No, that line isn’t likely to make it into the next film version of Cats, assuming there is one. But it does hold true for us cozy writers, especially in the case of my witch cats of Cambridge books, which feature three quite distinct feline personalities.
First, there’s Clara. A calico and the youngest of her litter, she’s also the point-of-view character for much of my new An Incantation of Cats and its predecessor, A Spell of Murder. Picked on, albeit affectionately, by her older sisters, she’s the most straightforward and possibly most loyal of the bunch, always looking out for Becca, their wayward human. Clara (aka, “the clown,” to her sisters) worries the most about Becca’s belief in magic – and about her siblings’ rather nonchalant approach to their own powers. Because, yes, Becca may think she’s a witch, but it is really her pets who have the magic.
Because Clara has such a big role, she can be tricky to write. She needs to be very active and relatable, in human terms. But writing her, I was always aware how important it is to keep her a cat. True to her feline nature, she needs to gather most of her information through scents and sounds. In addition, she has to have short bursts of energy, followed by naps. And while it may be useful to have a character who drops out of the action regularly to bathe, it can also be a challenge to insert a small domestic animal in crucial scenes, even a magical one.
More difficult, however, was the writing of Laurel and Harriet, Clara’s siblings. These cats, one marmalade and the other with throwback Siamese coloring, are, frankly, somewhat more self-involved than Clara – more stereotypically cats. That should make them simpler, right? Laurel, after all, is vain and craves attention, while Harriet cares most about comfort and food. But both these felines are ongoing major players in Becca’s life (as well as Clara’s), and so I needed to make them sympathetic, all the while staying true to their basic personalities. Plus, as this is the second book in the series, they both needed to grow – just enough to keep them interesting. It wouldn’t do to resolve all the sibling rivalry between these littermates, not when I hope the series has a while to run.
This is a puzzle any writer faces, of course. We must make our characters real, flaws and all, and yet build sympathy and understanding for them as they grow and change. But in a cozy, a less-than-pleasant character must toe a fine line between unlikable and unrealistically redeemed. The key, for me, has been to focus on those traits I share – Laurel’s issues with appearance, for example, or Harriet’s love of indulgence. The hope is that if I can relate even to these bratty cats, my readers will too. Then, of course, I needed to translate those traits into cat, which involved many hours of feline observation. Hard work indeed!
Readers, what traits do you notice in your pets? How do they show you their personality? As a writer of cats, I’m eager to hear. Let me know in the comments. I’m giving away a signed copy of An Incantation of Cats to one commenter–US only please!
The author of more than two dozen cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries featuring cats, three nonfiction books, and one punk rock urban noir, World Enough (a Massachusetts Book Award “must read”), Clea Simon lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband and one cat. She can be reached at www.cleasimon.com.
“Simon expertly casts suspicion on one member of her tiny human cast after another … for readers who want all cats, all the time.” – Kirkus Reviews
About the Book:
When two new clients seek Becca’s professional services, the fledgling witch detective is overjoyed. Finally, she can use her skills to help her magical community. But as the young witch finds the new cases intertwining, things grow more complicated. Becca’s three cats – the ones with the real power – can smell something is wrong with these clients. But not even Clara, the calico, knows what to do when a man ends up dead and a powerful and poisonous root appears – and disappears – in the case. To make matters worse, Clara and her littermates are feuding – and she can’t tell them about an unsettling interaction she’s had with one of the client’s sisters. Is it possible that some humans may have the same powers as the magical felines? What does that mean for Clara’s beloved Becca – and for the potent poison that has already taken one person’s life? In this second Witch Cats of Cambridge mystery, Clara and her sisters must learn to work together if they are to save the person they all love.