Monday, January 27, 2020

A Tribute to Lumpkin the Cat: Guest Post by Kaitlyn Dunnett

Kaitlyn Dunnett: 
A Tribute to Lumpkin the Cat

It's never a good idea to base a fictional character too closely on a real person. As I recently discovered, it can also be a mistake to use one of your own pets as the inspiration for that character's feline companion.

Back in 2007, when I began my cozy Liss MacCrimmon mystery series with Kilt Dead, it seemed perfectly natural to model Lumpkin, the big Maine Coon cat Liss inherits, on my own big Maine Coon cat, Nefret. With each new book, Nefret generously provided me with more quirky "bits" to include.

I guess I should pause here to add that, yes, Nefret was named after the character in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries. The name Lumpkin came from the family of that name in Charlotte MacLeod's Peter Shandy series.

Among the Nefretisms I gave to Lumpkin were a tendency to bite ankles, a dislike of sharing with other cats or (horrors!) dogs, and the habit of stealing food off plates. Like Nefret, Lumpkin also chewed holes in the ankle weights Liss (and I) use to do leg lifts and gnawed on shoes, purse straps, and charger cords. Another shared trait was to play with the cabinet doors above the refrigerator, using one paw to pry them open an inch or two and then letting them thud closed on their own. And, since all Maine Coon cats shed enough fur to stuff a pillow, that, too, went into a book. In fact, Lumpkin's fur helped catch a killer in Scone Cold Dead.

Right from the start, Lumpkin played a role in crime solving, as this excerpt from Kilt Dead proves:

Lumpkin led Dan and Pete on a merry chase through the house, but they finally cornered him in the small downstairs room Mrs. Norris had called her library. The walls were lined with tall bookcases. Seemingly without effort, Lumpkin went from the back of a recliner to the top of the nearest set of shelves. A looseleaf binder tumbled to the floor as he launched himself from there to Mrs. Norris's cluttered desk. A stack of computer printouts, a tissue box, and a remote control scattered as he landed. "Close the door!" Dan yelled as the cat caromed off an end table and headed that way. Pete slammed it shut, trapping Lumpkin in the room. He was swarming up the drapes when Dan pounced, recapturing him. Pete had the carrier ready, but Lumpkin managed to brace all four paws against the opening. Grimly determined, Dan pried them loose, claw by claw, and gave one final push. Lumpkin flew into the carrier. Dan closed and latched the grate on a yowl of protest. 

Did you notice the looseleaf binder? And the printouts? Those turn out to be important clues.

Something that really happened to Nefret inspired one of my favorite bits of comic relief in a later book:

Lumpkin, in search of something edible, decided to investigate the plates of salad Liss had just placed on the kitchen table. She’d turned her back on him to collect the rest of their meal from the kitchen counter, unwittingly giving him time enough to catch a claw in a placemat and pull both it and one of the salads to the floor. A dinner plate in each hand, she swung around at the sound of ceramic clattering on tile. It was already too late to avert disaster. Lumpkin, happily chowing down on scattered bits of romaine, was unaware that a healthy dollop of cottage cheese that had, until a moment earlier, been nestled on top of the lettuce, now decorated his back, the curds actively embedding themselves in his long, luxurious fur. 

Talk about having a mess to clean up!

Almost two years ago, shortly before I was to begin writing the latest book in the series, A View to a Kilt, Nefret's age caught up with him. He lived to be eighteen years old, which is a pretty good life span for a cat, but his passing left a huge hole in my life and, from a practical point of view, I was presented with a difficult dilemma. Having lost him so recently, I didn't think I could bring myself to write any more Lumpkin scenes.

My solution was to continue to have art imitate life and write about Liss after the loss of Lumpkin. I know very well the "rule" about never killing a cat, but in real life animals don't have the life span humans do. Writing about life after Lumpkin provided closure for both Liss and me. It also ended up moving the plot forward. Any cat lover can relate to why someone telling Liss "it was just a cat" would make her angry enough to do something impulsive.

Losing a feline companion after nearly two decades is never easy, and it was made harder by having made Lumpkin such a big part of my long-running series. I have learned my lesson. No more basing cat characters on cats who currently share my household. So, in my "Deadly Edits" series, the resident cat, a calico named Calpurnia, is based on a cat who was part of our lives for nearly nearly twenty years but has long since gone to her reward. The fictional Calpurnia can survive indefinitely.

A View to a Kilt was just released (2020). Kaitlyn Dunnett, who also writes as Kathy Lynn Emerson, lives in rural Maine with her husband and a black cat named Shadow. Her websites are and

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