Feline Muses

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today musing about muses, this time of the feline variety. Anyone who reads by books is probably aware that I almost always have at least one cat as a character. In my Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries, I’ve had two, Lumpkin, who first appeared in Kilt Dead, the first book in the series, and Glenora, who turned up in #3, A Wee Christmas Homicide. Lumpkin and Glenora were inspired by two cats who came into my life in 2001, litter mates Nefret and Bala. The cat in my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, set in sixteenth-century England, was based on the third cat we acquired later, Feral, who previously belonged to my late in-laws. In the novels, he’s called Watling.

There’s one big problem with basing characters in a continuing series on a current pet. In real life, pet owners eventually lose their feline companions. Even if they are house cats and run no risk of being run over by a car or killed by predators, most cats die of disease or old age in less than twenty years. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that most of the animals who have shared my home, cats and dogs both, have lived long and healthy lives. That said, both Feral and Nefret are gone now, leaving a big hole in my personal life and presenting me with an equally big problem in my professional life.

In Feral’s case, I had already finished the three books featuring Watling and what might have been a fourth has evolved into a single-title historical novel that does not contain a cat, but with the Liss MacCrimmon series, it’s a different story. We lost Nefret in late 2017. I’d already written Overkilt, the book that will be out in October 2018, but I’m under contract to write another Liss MacCrimmon mystery this year. That’s left me with a hard choice. Do I continue to write about Lumpkin now that Nefret is gone? Or do I write his passing into the story line, starting this new one with Liss and Dan grieving but consoled by the fact that they still have Glenora in their lives?

Either choice will be painful to write, but Lumpkin is not a young cat. He’s full grown when Liss inherits him. Even in the fictional timeline of the series, more than ten years have passed since then. My agent and editor, of course, may have something to say about this decision. The book isn’t due until December, so nothing is yet written in stone, but this whole question of basing fictional animals on real ones, which was first brought home to me when Feral died, prompted me to make a different decision when I was working on my new “Deadly Edits” series.

There is a cat in Crime & Punctuation (in stores May 29, 2018) and Clause & Effect (2019) . Of course there is. Her name is Calpurnia, “Cal” for short, and she came with my protagonist, Mikki Lincoln, from Maine to New York when Mikki moved back to her own home town after being widowed. There was a real Calpurnia, but she’s been gone for a good many years now, long enough for the memories to be sweet rather than painful.

We had been without a cat for awhile when we went to the local animal shelter to find a new feline companion. I was walking past one of the cages when a white paw reached out and touched my arm. It was attached to a Maine coon cat, all white except for a couple of dark patches. Sharing the cage with her was a short haired calico. I’m sure it will surprise no one to hear that we took both of them home with us.

The white cat told us her name first—Lavinia. That’s the name of a character in Titus Andronicus. The relevant line is “My Aunt Lavinia follows me everywhere.” If you were in college with me in the 1960s you can probably identify a secondary reference, especially given the white hair. Once one kitten had the name of a minor Shakespearean character, it was obvious the other must, too. Calpurnia is a character in Julius Caesar and this particular kitten was a calico and purred. Purr-fect, right?

Calpurnia lived to be nearly twenty, surviving Lavinia by several years. She was still in residence when Nefret and Bala joined our family. She’s the ideal muse for the “Deadly Edits” series, not only because she’s an interesting character on her own, but also because she provides Mikki with a sounding board. You cat people out there—you talk to your cats, right?

Sometimes they even answer back.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

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2 Responses to Feline Muses

  1. Julianne says:

    I can’t imagine life without cats. Their dependent independence…we have to feed them and should provide water, right?…allows them to live separately from us while still sharing our space, unlike dogs who tend to demand and require a lot of commitment from their companions. Even thought my husband is mildly allergic and swears he doesn’t like them, ha, who sneaks them treats when I’m not there?!, we have always had them around our 40 years of married life.

    As a reader and a cat person, I believe you should allow Lumpkin to die, but it would be totally okay to introduce another feline in his stead. After all, most cat parents wouldn’t take too long to bring new blood into the household.


  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thanks for your response, Julianne. I’ll have to see what happens when I start writing.


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