(Note: This is an expanded and enlarged version of a blog from two years ago, with new cat pictures)
I’m not the only mystery writer to include a Maine Coon cat in the cast of characters of an amateur detective series, but I think I am the only Maine writer who takes my inspiration straight from daily life. Meet Nefret, aka Lumpkin, the Maine Coon cat in the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery series.
Nefret weighs in at a bit over seventeen pounds, which is about average for a Maine Coon cat. They run extra-large. He was not always this big, of course. When we first found him, with his littermate, under the floor of our garage, he was only a few weeks old and cute as a button.
That was twelve years ago. They’ve both grown some.
Nefret’s fictional alter ego, Lumpkin, is yellow, while Nefret is what I call buff-color. Lumpkin has a slightly more abrasive personality. He bites ankles. Nefret only bites wrists, and then only if I get too enthusiastic about combing the tangles out of his fur. All his little idiosyncrasies are fodder for the novels. He achieved a lifelong ambition when he was pictured on the cover of the fifth book in the series, Scotched.
Maine Coon cats are special, unique in both their size and their affectionate natures, and the best of them, in my opinion, are strays and shelter kitties. Nefret and his sister Bala are the latest in a series of Maine Coon cats to share our home. The first was Jeremiah, a black and white kitten who adopted us in a laundromat in Lewiston, Maine about three weeks into our marriage, a scene that later inspired the arrival of a black kitten in A Wee Christmas Homicide.
We had to hide her when the landlord came to collect the rent because no pets were allowed in our apartment building. Later, there was Lavinia, who was almost pure white except for a striped spot on the top of her head. We got her at the local animal shelter.
We’ve also had cats who were not Maine Coons: Lancelot, Lefty, Smokey, Calpurnia, and now Feral. We inherited Feral from my father-in-law. He got his name because he was a stray, possibly feral, cat who was lured into the house with the promise of turkey one Thanksgiving. Because one ear collapsed after it healed from an infection, we sometimes tell people that he’s half Scottish Fold, but he’s really just a domestic shorthair, my favorite breed after the Maine Coon.
You may have noticed that we don’t give our cats ordinary names. Or names that reflect the correct gender. What can I say? We named our one and only dog Notacat. To be honest, though, Nefret was named by mistake. We had named his littermate Bala, a name I had previously assigned to a cat in a short story I wrote about a Persian cat (“The Rubaiyat of Nicholas Baldwin”). Since they had long fur in common and since Bala means nuisance, it seemed to fit. My husband then suggested naming the other kitten after the cat in the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. He meant Bastet (de cat), but the name that popped into my mind first was Nefret, Amelia and Emerson’s adopted daughter. Yes, that Nefret is a girl and Nefret the cat is a boy, but the name means beautiful and it just seemed to fit. The name for the fictional Lumpkin came from the books of another favorite mystery author, the late, great Charlotte MacLeod of Durham, Maine. The Lumpkins are a family and appear in her Peter Shandy series.
Living with Maine Coon cats can be inspiring. And they definitely have personality. Nefret likes to wake me up at dawn by putting his face right next to mine on the pillow and tapping me on the nose with one paw, claws optional. And he seems to come up with a new bad habit for each book I write in the series, everything from chewing on the corner of the footrest on the recliner to grabbing my foot with both paws (claws out!) when I’m sitting in said recliner with the footrest up.
He has always liked to chew on things, everything from shoes to purse straps to the five-pound ankle-weights I use for workouts. One morning, when I reached under the bed to pull out the rolling suitcase I use to carry copies of some of my out-of-print titles to book signings, I discovered that he had completely gnawed through the leather handle! Still, he’s a sweet boy, and nothing soothes after a hard day at the computer like a lap full of purring cat.
Lest you think I’ve forgotten that this blog has a mystery theme, the Maine Coon cat IS a mystery. No one really knows how the breed originated. One popular, if unlikely, theory has a Persian cat mating with a raccoon. On the other hand, if you’ve ever seen the back end of a Maine Coon cat waddling away from you, you have to wonder.