I have been a fan of the Mrs. Murphy mystery series by Rita Mae Brown (co-written with her cat Sneaky Pie,) featuring tabby cat Mrs. Murphy and her friends Tee Tucker the Corgi and Pewter, a rotund grey kitty who is sensitive about her weight, since the first book in the series came out in 1991. Ms. Brown just released the the twenty-sixth installment in the series, A Hiss Before Dying. Today, I am absolutely thrilled to bring you this exclusive interview with Rita Mae Brown.
The first Mrs. Murphy mystery came out in 1991, and here you are, 26 books later! Did you ever imagine that the series would be this successful and run for this long?
No. Then again, I should have realized that cats are smarter than people. Sneaky Pie was on to something.
How do you sustain this kind of writing pace? (For my readers who may not know this, Rita Mae Brown is also the author of many other books, including the iconic Rubyfruit Jungle, published more than 40 years ago.)
Fortunately, I have such a deep foundation in literature and language, having Latin throughout junior high school and high school and then through college. I also took two years of Attic Greek. That background truly makes things so much easier. You have a strong sense of your own language, you go back to The Iliad so you understand the themes of Western literature as well as the evolving format and styles.
I have so much discipline, I don’t have to think, if that makes sense. It’s like tennis; takes ten years to groove a stroke. You don’t need to think about it after that, you need to only think about the match. The other factor in my pace is I have never smoked, drank or taken drugs. I work on a farm and I foxhunt in fall and winter (we just chase foxes, we don’t kill them.) The human body is meant to keep working as is the human mind.
The original Sneaky Pie lived to be twenty, the original Pewter twenty-four. What is your secret to having your cats live this long?
Clear water, good food, allowing them to hunt to their heart’s content, and they can sit wherever they please. They live a more natural life than confined cats. Like me, they keep working. The Sneaky Pie currently in residence is 17, showing signs of age.
Tell us about the current Sneaky Pie and Pewter.
Gray cats everywhere. You can pick your Pewter, as this part of Nelson County bursts with gray feral cats. I trap them, fix them, do my best to civilize them. Most live outside what I call their beehives. I hope to build a true cattery this summer. Those that have had kittens I nurse, try to find homes for the kittens, and keep the totally grey ones.
I don’t have as many feral tiger cats. I do have three nursed and now huge ginger tiger cats, but I must find a tiger kitten since the current Sneaky is long in the tooth.
Your deep love for animals and nature comes through in everything you write, and you’ve been called a modern day Thoreau. Why do you think so many people have lost their connection with the natural world, and how can animals help us rekindle it?
How can people live a natural life in cities and suburbs? At least in a suburb they might have a lawn, trees, a garden, but being bombarded by electronic devices numbs people to reality. Reality becomes what someone says or posts. And given the nature of these devices, news can be manipulated, made up, etc. People are bound in a tissue of lies.
If they have two cats or two dogs it’s a help.
Seems to me there are good reasons for the rise in mental illness and alphabet conditions, ie. OCD, etc.
Your publicist mentioned that you are living a Wifi-free life on your Virginia farm – I’m intrigued! So many of us (and I have to confess, I’m one of the many) have an increasingly hard time unplugging, yet it seems that it’s essential to do so from time to time to maintain one’s sanity. How do you do it?
There’s nothing that interests me other than reality and the arts. I do have a weather app on my phone which I check. If you farm, you become fascinated with the weather.
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to live a simpler life?
Make as much money as you can for the next few years, then get out into the country. This nation is so big, so varied, you will find a place that nurtures you, speaks to your heart. It is there that you will fulfill yourself and do your best work.
What book had the most profound influence over your life?
Aristophanes’ plays and Marguerite Yourcenor’s Memoirs of Hadrian. She was not inducted into the French Academy. I don’t know if they have inducted a woman to this day. What a travesty. She towers over every other French writer of the Twentieth century.
What is your favorite cat book (other than your own)?
Puss in Boots. We all need such a bold kitty in our lives.
What are you currently reading?
Luther by Lyndal Roper. I read constantly, everything I can lay my hands on, I read. But I most enjoy a worthy subject if a biography, and good, fluid writing.
Read my review of A Hiss Before Dying
Conscious Cat Sunday will return next week.