Saturday, April 2, 2016

Authors and their Cats: Clea Simon: Putting the Kitty in the Crime Fiction

Today for Caturday, in addition to posting a photo of an Author with her Cat, I have a guest post from the wonderful and talented cat author, herself, Clea Simon. Clea wrote a post for Mystery Fanfare last summer -- On Writing: What Happens Next?  Simon is the author of several mystery series, including the Theda Krakow Mystery series, the Dulcie Schwartz feline series, and the Pru Marlowe pet noir series. She also publishes short stories and appears with regularity in several magazines. She has published three non-fiction books dealing with topics ranging from mentally ill siblings to the connection between women and cats. 

Clea Simon:
Putting the Kitty in the Crime Fiction

Why do I write books with cats in them? Honestly, it’s a mystery.
It’s not like I ever set out to write cat books – cat crime fiction, specifically. My first mystery (yes, Mew is for Murder) arose from a nonfiction book I’d written (ok, that was about cats too). I’d explored the phenomenon known as “animal hoarding” – aka, the “crazy cat lady” – and found myself considering how many suspects there would be if one of these hoarders were to be found dead. And now I can’t stop. Even though I’ve left cozy territory behind with my latest, The Ninth Life*, somehow every time I sit down to write, a feline appears. Twenty mysteries in, I’m almost resigned to it.

It’s not like I enjoy only cat-centered books. Even aside from my current required reading (books for a panel I’m moderating at Crimefest, a review assignment for my local paper), my taste runs to darker fiction, crime-related or not. (I just finished Ann Cleeve’s wonderful Silent Voices, which followed Alexander Chee’s intriguing, but not entirely successful, historical Queen of the Night).

Yes, I do have loads of cat books in the house (a current favorite, thanks to a generous friend, is the hilarious picture book, Fat Cat Art). And yes, I do have an actual cat – a little tuxedo kitty who goes by the name of Musetta – but as much as she likes to think she runs the household, I do not find that she narrates my books for me, although at times I wish she did. (As I pen this, I’m deep in revisions to the sequel to Ninth Life, and I really wish she would shoulder more of the load.)

Nor was it ever a conscious marketing ploy. I mean, if I had gone into this field for the big bucks, I’d be writing sexy, dangerous shoot-em-ups. Thrillers with car chases and explosions. Only when I hunker down by the computer, well, a little voice says, “mew.”

Maybe that’s it, after all. Maybe I write cats because they give voice to the other, less coherent impulses emanating from the back of my head. What does any sidekick do, after all, but reflect the protagonist’s musings back at her? Provide a little comic relief? And for someone who spends hours alone – well, alone except for a certain tuxedo cat – maybe it makes sense that when my characters need to air their innermost thoughts, they do so to (if not through) an animal character. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. I’ll let you know when the cats tell me.

*Really. The Richmond Times Dispatch said, specifically: “Unlike other catcentric mysteries — there’s nothing cozy here — it offers an unusual and satisfying take on contemporary noir.”


Clea Simon said...

Thanks so much for having me, Janet. Happy Caturday!

Carfair said...

Musetta is beautiful!

Clea Simon said...

Thank you. She knows it!