Books

We are not (always) amused: Musetta on the challenges of living with mystery writer Clea Simon

Clea Simon's cat Musetta

Guest post by Musetta Simon

Do we have to do everything around here?

Staff was supposed to blog today. Something about those books she’s always letting into the house, those boxes that make such an unpleasant noise when she drops them on the floor. But staff is, as is her wont, a little overwhelmed and so yours truly is filling in.

Let me set the record straight. Staff is busy doing that which she calls “work,” which as far as we can tell is really just an excuse to sit in one place ignoring me in all my magnificence, until we are forced to pierce her self-involved little mindspace with a well-placed claw. It is true that sometimes when we do this, she yelps, which can be harsh to the ear. And that sometimes she responds by pulling us onto her lap. On principle, we object to this – so undignified – but if she rubs our chin just right, well, we will permit such indignities.

Perhaps it’s just as well, really, that we have been forced into such menial service. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t deign to explain ourselves to you, more incipient or present Staff to felines present, past, or future. Why should we? We are a cat. However, since we have taken control – or are, at least, dictating this to staff while we have her under the most stringent form of feline mind control – we shall set the record straight.

To start with, we are not a hapless kitten. Although we may have had some unfortunate misadventures in our earliest youth, we have never been as foolish as that kitten Esmé in Grey Zone. Truth be told, that whole episode with the fireplace, when Esmé stamped soot pawprints all over the apartment, including the Forbidden Places of the counter? That was my predecessor, the original for Mr. Grey. So there. And all that other stuff and nonsense: snoring. Sliding off the pillow as we slept? Not us, and if Staff says otherwise, we shall bite her.

Nor are we Wallis, the tabby who aids her Staff person, Pru, in the despicably named Dogs Don’t Lie. Wallis has the right attitude: condescension with just a soupcon of disdain. But she is a tabby. And really, aren’t tabbies common? One would think that for the occasion of a mystery novel, one would assume a more formal attire. Black and white, for example, which is always impeccably in style.

But let us dispense with such minor complaints. We understand that Staff is incapable of capturing us in our perfection. Like the poor humans in that old Greek’s book, she is only able to portray us as shadows of our greatness. Reflections of ourself. Pale purring imitations. We are beyond Staff’s ken.

For Staff is, of course, not the real creator of these books. Yes, we allow her to put her name on them, much as one would allow a child to stamp out the last cookie – or a kitten to scratch over her mess in the litterbox. We allow her to go forth and do signings or readings, or whatever excuse she uses to come home late and a little flushed. She is an adequate amanuensis, after all, and deserves to be let play.

Besides, we need our privacy as well. And when Staff is off doing such things as signings or gathering the cans that we require at regular intervals, we are replenishing our creativity. For we are the muse, the little muse – the Musetta. And there would be no books without us.

Musetta’s Staff is Clea Simon, the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

For more about Clea Simon’s books, please read:

Book review: Dogs Don’t Lie

Book review: Grey Zone

Book review: The Theda Krakow Series

Clea Simon talks about writing cat-themed mysteries

Clea Simon

Those of you who’ve been reading The Conscious Cat for a while already know Clea Simon. For those of you who don’t, you’re in for a treat.

Clea is the author of three nonfiction books and three mystery series. I first came to know Clea through The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin’s Press, 2002). Her Theda Krakow mystery series was launched in 2005 with Mew is for Murder and continues with Cattery Row, Cries and Whiskers, and Probable Claws, all now available in paperback. She launched her Dulcie Schwartz series in 2009 with Shades of Grey and last year’s Grey Matters, and this year marks not only the third Dulcie book, Grey Zone, but also the launch of her Pet Noir series featuring Pru Marlowe with Dogs Don’t Lie.

Clea’s essays are included in numerous anthologies, including Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends. She is also a respected journalist whose credits include The New York Times and The Boston Phoenix, and such magazines as American Prospect, Ms., and Salon.com.

Clea grew up in East Meadow, on suburban Long Island, N.Y., and came to Massachusetts to attend Harvard, from which she graduated in 1983. She’s never left, and now happily cohabits with her husband, Jon S. Garelick, who is also a writer, and their cat Musetta.

Welcome back to The Conscious Cat, Clea!

You have two new releases coming out within three days of each other: Grey Zone on April 1, and Dogs Don’t Lie on April 4. Did you work on these two books at the same time?

Well, I worked on them at the same time, but I didn’t write them at the same time. I had already written Dogs Don’t Lie and my agent was sending it around when my editor at Severn House told me that they would like a third Dulcie book. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, and set right to work on Grey Zone. But then somewhere in there, Dogs Don’t Lie sold and the editor wanted some changes and general polishing. So I was working on them at the same time for a month or two last spring.

What was that like? Was it hard to keep the two separate in your mind?

It was incredibly difficult, honestly. I’m not good at that kind of thing. Also, the voices are so very different. I guess that helped me keep them separate, but I found it hard to switch between the two. I tried various things – working on the raw writing of Grey Zone in the mornings, working on the fixes for Dogs Don’t Lie in the afternoons. Finally, I had to put Grey Zone aside for about two weeks of intensive Dogs Don’t Lie editing. Then it took me a few days to get back into the Dulcie mindset. But I did it, I think!

Authors are expected to do much of their own promotion these days. With your long list of titles, you’re a veteran at promoting. How is promoting two new books at the same time different from promoting one book at a time?

Ask me again in May! Seriously, I think I’m probably shorting Grey Zone a bit. The pet noir series is new; Dogs Don’t Lie is the first with this character and this voice, so I both want to work a little harder to introduce that, and also I think that, because it is new, it has the most news interest. More people are likely to write about the first book in a series than the third. That said, I’m trying to talk about both books when I do readings and other events. It’s really fun to talk about different characters and different voices: they’re both quite real to me, and I hope I can make them both real to readers.

In Grey Zone, Dulcie’s new kitten is presenting her with some behavioral challenges. Dulcie, who still misses her beloved Mr. Grey, finds it difficult to deal with them. What inspired you to add this element to the story? I recognized Allegra in some of her antics!

The fireplace story was taken from an incident with my own late, great Cyrus. He was totally not supposed to go up on the table or the counters – and I thought he never did. Until I moved into an apartment with a fireplace and … well, you read the rest! Since then, I’ve lived through many of the same kitten antics with Musetta, so I had a store to choose from. I think that all of us who are cat lovers deal with these little faux pas (faux paws?). I am hoping that other cat folks will recognize them and laugh and enjoy.

How did the idea for Dogs Don’t Lie develop?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I was reading a lot of the new female-oriented noir, books like Megan Abbott’s Queenpin, and I loved that cool tone – so tough, so in control. But when I try to write like that, it comes out a little cozier… and with a cat. Actually, I guess Wallis is the real tough broad heroine of this book. Didn’t realize that until just now!

Was there a real dog that you based the Lily character on?

No, not really. I knew that I wanted a “dumb blonde” who was being set up to take the fall in a crime she didn’t commit. And she had to be a dog who would automatically be viewed as guilty. Plus, in my research, I ran into an animal control officer who was a really strong advocate for pitbulls. He taught me a lot.

That said, after the book was written, I had a rather scary pitbull experience. A neighbor was sitting her son’s pit and was letting him run around our shared yard. I was sitting on my first-floor porch with the screen door closed behind me, and Musetta was sitting inside the screen door. Well, the pit saw Musetta and went for her – so fast that he got by me on the porch. He went through the screendoor as if it were nothing. Luckily, both Musetta and I are fast, too. Musetta scrambled up inside an opened window in my apartment – climbing up the screen inside the glass. And I tackled the dog right inside my apartment, landing on it with all fours. My neighbor came running. She, of course, said the dog only wanted to play. Yeah, right. Like I’d even take that chance. In truth, the dog didn’t fight back and as soon as I landed on him, was totally still (ha! Poor dog!). But I wasn’t taking ANY chances. That was terrifying for all of us; it took Musetta quite a few hours to return to normal. Me, too. Needless to say… the neighbor’s son’s dog was banished from our shared yard that night. Never, never again.

I think this was the classic human screw up though: My neighbor was a middle-aged woman who should not have been taking care of this young, active dog. Pits need to be exercised VIGOROUSLY. In the course of writing this book, I spoke to one pit lover who told me that he wouldn’t have the dogs if he weren’t a runner – he runs with his at least two miles a day. They also have been bred to react – they don’t go through the dominance/submission role-playing of other dogs – they just GO, and so they need to be carefully supervised and on some kind of restraint. I feel very strongly that the dog should NOT have been let run around the yard without a leash or a lead (the dog had access to my porch/apartment, obviously, but also to the street). But… we all survived and now it is water under the bridge.

We have since moved. Musetta remains a house cat, and the yard that she looks out on is fully fenced.

I loved Wallis – the combination of cranky and wise is absolutely wonderful. Is she based on a real cat?

Of course! I don’t know why, but I often voice Musetta as being quite fed up with all my silliness. “People, humph… sometimes I think you don’t have the wit God gave you…” I’ll say as Musetta leaves the room. Or, “Do you mind? I’m trying to nap,” when I sit near her and she looks up sleepily. Sometimes this confuses my husband, but he’s grown used to it.

Was it hard for you to write a canine character?

I had to do a lot more research, that’s for sure! I want to make sure all my animal characters have species-appropriate behavior and talents. So for that I have to read and talk to experts and visit with animals. From there, I let my imagination run wild.

I was intrigued with the cover for Dogs Don’t Lie – it features a cat. What was the rationale behind that design choice?

In truth, I have very little input or control over the cover. I’m asked for my input, and I give it, but then it goes to a designer and to marketing and I’m only consulted again at the end of the process. That said, right from the start, the one thing that we all knew was that this was a very different type of book from my previous mysteries, so we had to have a very distinct, very different cover. Poisoned Pen’s designer came up with a bunch. Earlier versions had no cat – but the one we all loved did have that cool blue noir look! I had suggested a cat early on, because the cat Wallis is central to the book (and the title would lead readers to expect a dog, not a cat). But then I saw that cool blue and loved it. So I said, “Great!” But the publisher said… let’s try one thing more. And voila, the same cool blue cover, same great typography – and now there’s a cat. I think from their closed eyes and the concentric circles, you’re supposed to get the idea that they are communicating psychically, which they do. I’m thrilled.

What’s next for the two series? Are you working on the next installments?

I am!! I have Cats Can’t Shoot drafted and now I’ve put that aside. I hope to spend the next two months drafting the very first rough draft of the fourth Dulcie, which doesn’t yet have a title. Then I’ll go back and revise Cats Can’t Shoot and turn it in. Then go back to Dulcie. Am trying to be a little more sane about it all this time, but I know that sometime in late spring or early summer I’ll be working all out and going a little nuts.

Thanks for joining us again, Clea. I can’t wait for Cat Can’t Shoot – what a great title!

Thanks so much, Ingrid! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about these books and the process that went into them. I hope that they bring pleasure to readers.

You can learn more about Clea and her book on her website and on her blog, You can also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Book review: Dogs Don’t Lie by Clea Simon

Dogs Don't Lie cover

I first came to know Clea Simon as the author of The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats , and later the Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz series of cat mysteries. When I first heard about the title of this first book in Clea’s new Pet Noir series featuring Pru Marlowe, I thought “oh no, Clea has gone to the dogs!” But never fear, there are still plenty of cats in this one.

Pru Marlowe has almost finished her animal behavior training in New York City when she becomes ill, and all of a sudden discovers that she can hear animals talking to her. Disturbed rather than pleased with this new psychic ability, Pru leaves the city to retreat to her childhood home in the Berkshires. Even though she hasn’t completed her behavior certification, she begins to take on some jobs training and walking dogs. One of her clients is Lily the pitbull, a former fighting dog. When Pru finds Lily’s owner murdered, his throat ripped open, and Lily standing over the body with blood on her face, it sure looks for all intents and purposes like the dog did it.

But Pru knows Lily, and she knows the dog is not a killer. So Pru sets out to prove Lily’s innocence, and she gets tangled up in an investigation that involves a business venture, an aging mother with Alzheimer’s, a pregnant fiance, an animal control officer with a pet ferret named Frank, a gay Bichon named Bitsy who tells Pru his real name is Growler, and a handsome cop.

As Pru digs deeper into the case, she realizes that the pretty little town harbors secrets that make murder look like the least of its problems. Unwilling to tell anyone about her psychic abilities, and at times questioning her own sanity, Pru realizes that if she clears Lily of the murder, she herself may be come the most logical suspect, which only increases her desire to find the real killer. Pru, who is reserved and a bit solitary by nature, doesn’t come to trust people easily. Instead, she confides in Wallis, her old, cranky, opinionated and wise tabby, who always seems to know the right time to provide a little extra guidance to Pru.  My favorite quote from Wallis is the one that probably provided the title for the book: “Dogs.” Wallis hissed out the word, as close to a curse as she comes. “They lie.”

And since one can never have too many cats in a mystery, an orange kitten named Tulip and a black Persian named Floyd also contribute bits and pieces of information to help Pru solve the puzzle. While Lily the pitbull ultimately uncovers the proof needed to convict the killer, the cats provide plenty of help along the way.

Characteristic of all of Simon’s mysteries, this new series features a fast moving, intricate plot, an immensely likable main character and well developed and multi-dimensional secondary characters. But it’s in the portrayal of the animals where Simon really shines in this book. From her sensitive portrayal of Lily’s agony, grief and sadness to her wonderful description of Wallis and her many quirks, Simon masterfully captures each animal’s unique personality. Pru’s psychic abilities add an element of surprise and delight, making Dogs Don’t Lie a treat for cat lovers, dog lovers, and mystery lovers.

Clea SimonClea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

Coming next week on The Conscious Cat:
An interview with Clea Simon!

 

 

Book review: Grey Zone by Clea Simon

I had eagerly anticipated the release of Grey Zone, the third in Clea Simon’s Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery series.  The book’s official release date is April 1, and even though I have a pile of unread books a mile high, I just couldn’t wait that long, and ordered it on Amazon as soon as it became available. 

Harvard graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is hard at work on her thesis, which focuses on a 200-year-old Gothic mystery.  Mr. Grey, the spirit of her beloved feline, who offered wise advice and comfort to Dulcie in the past, has been increasingly silent.  Dulcie could really use his help with Esme, her mischievous and sometimes destructive kitten.  And on top of everything, her boyfriend is working all the time, and never seems to be available when Dulcie needs him.  When a student goes missing and a professor ends up dead, Dulcie finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into an increasingly complicated tangle of possible suspects, motives, and maybe even murder.

This exceptionally plotted story sweeps the reader along with Dulcie as she tries to unravel the mystery.  Will Mr. Grey help her, as he did in the past?  What about Esme?  Will the kitten play a part in solving they mystery?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book not just for the story, but also for the main characters and the setting.  Simon excels in developing her characters, and Dulcie is no exception.  Simon’s skills in writing appealing characters extend to the cats as well.  Even though Mr. Grey is a ghost cat, he feels real, and many readers will be able to relate to the feeling of connection with lost pets that extends beyond the realm of the physical.  She perfectly captures the antics of a growing kitten, and the slow process of a new kitten making her way into the heart of someone who’s lost a beloved cat.   The relationship between Dulcie and her boyfriend keeps changing and growing as well.   The story is set in Cambridge in the middle of winter, and Simon sets the scene so well that I found myself shivering at times.

All of these components make this book a wonderful read for cat lovers, mystery lovers, and lovers of a great story.  Don’t miss this one.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

Coming next week on The Conscious Cat: a review of Dogs Don’t Lie, the first in Clea Simon’s new Pet Noir series. And coming in two weeks: Clea Simon talks to The Conscious Cat about writing murder mysteries featuring cats.

You may also enjoy reading:

Book Review:  Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

Book Review:  Grey Matters by Clea Simon

Book Review:  The Theda Krakow Series by Clea Simon

Book Review and Giveaway: First Person Cat by Jacque Heebner

When I came across First Person Cat, I was immediately intrigued.  A murder mystery featuring a tortoiseshell cat – I had to read this one! 

Tiffany, a tortoiseshell Persian is living the good life in Beverly Hills, CA when her human mother, a former rock star, is found murdered in her home.  Even though Tiffany didn’t witness the murder, she is sure she knows who killed her mother.  Highly intuitive and with an uncanny (or maybe catty?) ability to read minds, Tiffany wants to make sure the right person is caught and justice prevails.  As the murder investigation progresses, she charms a handsome detective on the Beverly Hills police force, who just happens to be a cat lover.  As the story unfolds, Tiffany uses every feline wile at her disposal to direct the detective’s attention toward the person she believes killed her mother.  In the process of her feline sleuthing, she even manages to prevent a second murder.

As the title suggests, the book is written from Tiffany’s perspective.  Set in glitzy Beverly Hills, and filled with plenty of designer name dropping (the cat on the book’s cover is wearing a David Webb diamond necklace), the book is highly engaging, and you’ll find yourself cheering Tiffany on as she attempts to communicate what she knows to the sometimes frustratingly (for her) slow humans.   

The author’s celebrity friends readily endorsed the book:

“Tiffany the cat is a cute and very enjoyable read . I love cat Tiffany and her point of view with humans and their flaws” – Lou and Carla Ferrigno, actors and body builders

“The beautiful Beverly Hills Tiffany, Tiff to select few, will guide you through a most fascinating, page flipping murder mystery. It deals with the rich, the conniving, the rock and film stars, the devious and then ever clever detectives. However, none is more clever than the magnificent Tiffany in solving the crime, with its intriguing cast of celebratory characters. By the way, Tiffany is a hot tortoise-shell Persian Cat!” – Tippi Hedren, actress and founder of Shambala Preserves for Big Cats & Exotic Animals

I enjoyed this book, especially the passages when Tiffany is trying to communicate with the humans around her.  Heebner’s love for and knowledge of cats comes through loud and clear.  The book leaves a little to be desired when it comes to human character development, but this is more than made up for by Tiffany’s endearing personality.  A delightful, entertaining read.

I requested this book from the author’s publicist.

Jacque Heebner is a former Daily News journalist, animal rights activist, and owner of Jacque Designs Presents.  For more about Jacque and First Person Cat, please visit her website.

 
   

I’m offering one copy of this book for one lucky winner.  To enter the drawing, leave a comment here.  For an additional chance to win, share this giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter and post the link in a separate comment.  This giveaway ends Friday, March 18.

 

Why I love cozy mysteries (with or without cats)

I love reading cozy mysteries.  They usually feature a strong, intelligent female amateur sleuth with an interesting profession.  The lead characters range from coffee shop owner to dog trainer, florist to quilter, librarian to homemaker.  They’re frequently set in small towns, and feature a cast of sometimes quirky secondary characters.   Somehow, they get involved with a murder investigation, and frequently, local law enforcement either does not take the amateur sleuth’s efforts to help solve the crime very seriously, or is looking at the wrong perpetrator.  Cozies are fun, easy reads that engage the while providing entertainment.  I particularly enjoy cozies that are part of a series, especially since for me, the setting and characters are almost more important than the actual murder mystery.  I love being able to meet the same cast of characters again and again.  It’s a little like spending time with old friends.  

Many of these cozies feature cats, and of course, they are my favorites.  I’ve reviewed a number of them by various authors here on The Conscious Cat, and I previously introduced you to Lorna Barrett, the author of the Booktown mystery series featuring Miss Marple, the (sometimes sleuthing)cat. 

When Lorraine Bartlett (Lorna’s real name) asked me to review A Crafty Killing, the first in her Victoria Square Mystery series, I jumped at the chance. Even though the two cats featured in  A Crafty Killing are not a large part of the book, one of the cats plays a crucial role when it comes to resolving the story, so I decided that that was enough to qualify it as a “cat mystery.”  And besides, I loved the book, so I wanted to share it with you. 

The book features Katie Bonner, a young widow.  When Ezra, her decesased husband’s business partner, is found murdered, Katie finds out, much to her surprise, that his will designates her as executor of his estate.  She takes on managing Artisan Alley, a collection of booths for artisans and crafters located in a renovated apple warehouse in Western New York.  When she begins to dig into the business records, she finds that Artisan Alley is in dire financial straits.  As Katie attempts to revive the failing business, she also becomes involved in investigating Ezra’s death – and begins to wonder whether perhaps her husband’s death was not an accident, as it was ruled. 

A fast moving plot, a likeable heroine, well-developed secondary characters, a wonderful sense of place, and a fascinating look into some really unique crafts make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.  And even though the two cats only make cameo appearances, they still added to my enjoyment of a delightful cozy.  I’m already looking forward to the next one in the series.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.

An Interview with Blaize Clement, Author of Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons

Blaize Clement is the author of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, Duplicity Dogged the DachshundCat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs.  The latest book in the series, Cat Sitter Among the Pigeons, was released on January 4, 2011.  Blaize has been a stay at home mom, dressmaker, caterer, family therapist, and writer, some of them all at the same time. She has never been a pet sitter, but has shared her home with dogs, cats, birds, fish, and neurotic gerbils. No snakes. She has a thing about snakes. She has written several parenting books, numerous essays and short stories and a play.  Blaize lives in Sarasota, Florida.

I’m delighted to welcome Blaize to The Conscious Cat today.

How did you first come up with the idea for the Dixie Hemingway series?

Actually, I never thought, “I believe I’ll write a mystery series,” it just sort of happened. I lead a workshop every week in which we grab a word and write like crazy for five minutes without any plan. I don’t remember what the word was, but in one of those writing bursts I ended up with scene in which a man drowned in a cat’s water bowl. That became the start of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, which was the first book in the series.

How much of yourself is in Dixie’s character?

Friends tell me that Dixie’s smart-alecky mouth is exactly like mine, but I’m sure they exaggerate. I do agree that she and I share a deep feeling about the importance of family and loyalty. We also share an appreciation for the differences between people’s races, religions, and sexual orientations. We both pretty much think the world would be a better place if people just minded their own business and respected one another.

I was first drawn to your books by the adorable covers.  Anything with a cat on it will always get my attention!  How important are covers to the success of cozy mysteries like yours?

I think cover art is important to the sales of any book. I’ve liked all the Dixie covers, but my favorite was the very first one on the hardback edition. That book shot up to the best-seller list as soon as it came out, and I think the cover had a lot to do with it.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

I usually start writing around ten in the morning, break for a quick lunch, and write until around four or five. During that time, of course, I may leave the computer to stir the soup or throw a load of laundry in the dryer, but mostly I’m writing. After I’m in bed, I think of ideas to insert into what I wrote during the day. I used to scribble those ideas on a post-it and stick it to my bedside table, but now I send it to myself on my laptop which is never away from my side. But I don’t do much actual writing at night because my brain is too tired. In the morning, I write in a journal before I get up. If I’m having plot problems, I may work then out in the journal and then take those ideas with me when I start on the manuscript again.

What do you love most about being a writer?

The writing. If I go a day without writing, I get antsy and weird. I’m sort of hard-wired to write. Part of my love of writing is a love of words. I can get gob-smacked over a new word that I’d never heard before, just awe-struck like other people get at seeing a rock star. I love sentences, too. Sometimes I read a book over and over just because I’m in love with the way the sentences march along in a wonderful rhythm.

What do you like least about being a writer?

The necessity of self-promotion. I don’t do that well, and half the time I forget that I’m supposed to be doing it at all. Some people are great at it, and I envy their talent. They blog and twitter and facebook and do virtual tours and send out cards and trailers, and I’m just amazed that they have the energy and know-how to do all that.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by writers like the poet David Whyte who are able to send word-arrows straight to the heart. I’m also inspired by philosophers and thinkers who rise above the petty, silly things we waste time with and remind us of what’s really important in life, like love and friendship and home. Some of those are contemporary and some have been around for centuries. When I’m writing, I always read some Greek classic, one of the tragedies or comedies, before I go to sleep at night. I want the largeness of those ideas to seep into my mind. I usually manage to slip a line from one of those classics into each Dixie story. It’s a little way of acknowledging those great minds and thanking them.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

A young couple drove several hundred miles to bring me a framed plaque titled “The Official Dixie Hemingway Fan Club.” The plaque had photos of all their pets with their names and titles of President, VP, Secretary, etc, of the club. I was so touched that they’d gone to so much time and trouble to do that! The plaque hangs in my office and gives me a lift every time I look at it.

Tell us a little bit about your own pets.

My last pet was a beautiful Abyssinian who warmed my feet at night. At the moment, I have a grand-dog named Zoey. Zoey is two years old, and quite a character.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a lovely new book by Bonnie Pemberton, a fellow member of Cat Writers of America. It’s titled The Cat Master, and is about the gulf between the Ferals and the Indoors. I’m not very far into it, but it promises to be a cat-hair raising adventure.

Are you working on another book?

I just finished the seventh book in the Dixie Hemingway series. I don’t know what the title will be, but it’s about the killing competition in the world of high fashion.

Thank you so much for your time, Blaize and much success with Cat Sitter Among the Pigeons!

You’re welcome, Ingrid! Thanks for inviting me.

You can learn more about Blaize and her book on her website and her blog Kitty Litter.

You may also enjoy:

My review of Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons

Book Review: Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons by Blaize Clement

I first discovered Blaize Clement’s Dixie Hemingway series three years ago when the cover of the first book in the series, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, caught my eye.  Dixie Hemingway is a pet sitter who lives on one of the Florida keys – just based on those two pieces of information, I had a feeling I was going to thoroughly enjoy the series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I’ve since read the entire series, and I was eagerly awaiting the next book.  Even if I wasn’t already a fan, the cover of this one would have drawn me in for sure!

From the publisher:

In the sixth installment of the wildly popular Dixie Hemingway mystery series, Dixie is caring for the cat of a prickly old man whose granddaughter shows up with baby in tow.  Dixie desperately tries to save this young woman and her infant from murderous con-artists ready to kill in order to hold on to the millions they stole from naive investors.  The villains, though, are not run-of-the-mill criminals; they are among the socially prominent movers and shakers in Dixie’s town.  As with other novels in the series, in the end, Dixie must confront her greatest fears and try to save the lives of the innocent, both two-legged and four.

This book has everything that makes a successful cozy mystery:  an immensely likable protagonist, a wonderful setting (especially when you’re reading it in the middle of winter), well-developed secondary characters, and, of course, there are plenty of cats. 

For me, the most enjoyable part about reading a series is always the development of the main character, and Clement does this masterfully, but the book can also be read on its own without taking anything away from it.  However, be forewarned:  once you read this one, you’re going to want to read the entire series.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read for mystery and cat lovers alike.  The only complaint I had about it was that it ended much too quickly, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Blaize Clement is the author of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, Duplicity Dogged the DachshundCat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs.  Blaize has been a stay at home mom, dressmaker, caterer, family therapist, and writer, some of them all at the same time. She has never been a pet sitter, but has shared her home with dogs, cats, birds, fish, and neurotic gerbils. No snakes. She has a thing about snakes. She has written several parenting books, numerous essays and short stories and a play.  Blaize lives in Sarasota, Florida.

Look for an interview with Blaize Clement here on
The Conscious Cat on Wednesday, January 7!

I received a review copy of this book from the author.

My 10 favorite cat books of 2010

 

Reading is as essential as breathing to me.  I usually have at least two or three different books going, and at least one of them will have something to do with cats.  I’ll read anything from books about cat health to stories about cats who changed their owner’s life to murder mysteries featuring cats.

Here are ten of my favorites from this year, in no particular order:

  • Grey Matters by Clea Simon is a cat-themed murder mystery and the second in a series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz and the ghost of Mr. Grey, her beloved deceased cat, who offers his wise and comforting, but often veiled and cryptic advice.  While the premise of a ghost cat may sound like a bit of a stretch for many readers, Simon makes this work by combining it with immensely likeable and multi-dimensional characters, exceptional plotting, and a fascinating academic setting.  I’m a huge fan of all of Simon’s books, and she just keeps getting better.
  • Your Cat – Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life by Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, D.V.M., Esq.  is a comprehensive guide to feline health and nutrition.  From kitten through adult life to the senior years, Dr. Hodgkins explores the full spectrum of cat care, and offers a closer look at the common chronic diseases that afflict so many cats.  Hodgkins believes that the underlying cause for many of these diseases, as well as the key to managing or even curing them, is nutrition.  I loved this book because it approaches feline nutrition from a perspective that makes sense to me.
  • The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie by Alan Goldstein is one of the most unique cat books I’ve ever come across.  As much as I love cat books, I never expected to find one I actually couldn’t put down until this one.   Written from the perspective of an orange long-haired cat named DooDoo, this is the account of how a sudden impulse sends the self-confessed catnip addict into the wilds of San Francisco and beyond, and his subsequent six thousand mile, year-long journey across America, trying to find his way home again.  Along the way he encounters a subway cat named Rass who becomes his new best friend, helps a homeless drunk find his way home, a minor league baseball player and a small town TV reporter find the big time, and a widowed pilot find peace.
  • Complete Care for Your Aging Cat by Amy Shojai.  I have a soft spot for senior cats, and I was thrilled when I came across the newly released and updated edition of this book.  This comprehensive guide on caring for senior cats is a must have for any cat owner’s cat care library, and the “golden moments” stories from real life cat owners caring for senior cats are heart touching.
  • The Cat, the Professor and the Poison by Leann Sweeney is the second mystery in the author’s Cats in Trouble series featuring amateur sleuth and quilt maker Jillian Hart and her three cats, Merlot, Chablis and Syrah.  I loved that this book was not just a highly entertaining and fun mystery, but is also interspersed with plenty of fascinating facts about cats.
  • Houdini by T.J. Banks is the story of Siamese kitten who goes from the despair of being abandoned to the joy of finding happiness when he meets a young girl who smuggles him home on a plane.  I was touched by the author’s deep connection with the feline soul that comes through in every word.  It melted my heart over and over again.
  • Dear Sparkle – Cat to Cat Advice from the World’s Foremost Feline Columnist edited by Janiss Garza is a beautifully designed and unique cat care book that provides solid information from a cat’s point of view on the various problems Sparkle is asked to address by fellow cats.  Presented in a humorous fashion, it gives the reader insight into how cats think and provides a fresh new look at some of the same old problems.
  • Cleo:  The Cat Who Mended a Family by Helen Brown is a sweeping memoir of heartbreak, changes, new beginnings, and ultimately, happiness.   When Brown is faced with the unthinkable – the loss of a child – this small black cat becomes the thread that holds Brown’s family together through devastating grief, illness, moves across continents, and other challenges.   This one goes on my list of best cat books ever, right along with such classics as A Snowflake in My Hands and The Cat Who Came for Christmas.
  • The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care:  An Illustrated Handbook by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM is a beautifully designed guide for cat owners interested in natural remedies such as herbs, homeopathy and flower essences, hand-on healing modalities including chiropractic, acupuncture and Reiki, as well as some more esoteric therapies such as Applied Kinesiology, crystal, color and sound healing, and magnetic therapy.  The photographs in this book are stunning.
  • The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle is not strictly a cat book, but since it features a very cool, cranky, but ultimately loving three-legged one whose life was saved by the protagonist, and since I loved this book so much, I’m including it in this list.  Blessings is a beautifully written and plotted relationship drama featuring a veterinarian who finds solace and healing from her animals as she deals with some of life’s challenges.

What are some of your favorite cat books of the year?

Book Review: The Zen of Max by Lou Belcher

I love reading books about cats who have changed their human’s life, and I had looked forward to reading The Zen of Max:  (a memoir of great wisdom and many naps).  It probably wasn’t coincidence that I ended up reading it on the second anniversary of Buckley’s passing

I’m well aware how much a cat can change your life when you least expect it, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lou Belcher’s memoir about the sixteen years she shared with Max.  Max was by Lou’s side through happy moments and sad ones, through challenges and loss, and along the way, he taught her a few things about life.    The bond between Max and the author comes through in every word, and you will smile as you think about the bond with your own cats, both past and present. 

The entire book touches the heart, but one of the most moving passages for me was when the author moves to Florida to be closer to her ailing mother.  Max provides support and comfort not only to Lou as she deals with the logistical and emotional challenges of her mother’s declining health, but he also works his cat magic on Lou’s mother.  I loved reading about how this usually somewhat clumsy cat was able to manage his energy and be gentle around a fragile, older woman.

This is the kind of book that you will want to savor as you follow Max and Lou’s journey, and you’ll find yourself chuckling at some of the lessons, and reflecting on others.  Highly recommended for all cat lovers.

And if you’re looking for a purrfect last minute gift for a cat lover on your list, Amazon can still get this book to you or the recipient in time for Christmas! 

Lou Belcher was Max’s food human, assistant, staff person, or human bean, depending on your orientation to such things. She took Max into her home and her heart when he was almost two years and freely admits she learned many valuable lessons from him about love and life. Lou is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger. She devotes time to supporting artists and writers through two of her blogs; and she supports animal adoption efforts through the blog she set up for Max. A portion of the proceeds from this book will go to agencies devoted to finding forever homes for pets.

This book was sent to me by the author.

Book Review and Giveaway: Complete Care for Your Aging Cat by Amy Shojai

Cats are living longer than ever before. More cats are being kept exclusively indoors, thus avoiding many of the health risks encountered by outdoor cats. More and more cat owners are understanding the importance of a healthy, species-appropriate diet as a foundation for good health. Advances in veterinary medicine now allow cat owners to pursue sophisticated treatments for diseases that would have been a death sentence in the past. But older cats (most commonly defined as cats age seven and older) have special needs when it comes to maintaining their health.

Amy Shojai’s Complete Care for Your Aging Cat was first published in 2003 and quickly became the “old cat bible.” However, seven years is a long time when you’re talking about health related topics. This newly released edition has been updated to reflect changes in veterinary medicine and includes a wealth of resources about treatment options, products and research, complete with links to websites when appropriate. The e-book version of the book includes hotlinks to relevant information.

This book is an invaluable resource for cat owners. Shojai covers basic information on how age affects your cat’s body in great detail. She explains how to look for changes that might signal health problems in older cats (for an excerpt, read Amy’s guest post Caring for Your Older Cat).  She discusses home nursing care to help older cats through various health issues, and presents advanced care options and how to make informed choices, including a section on making end of life decisions which is presented with great sensitivity, yet covers all the facts a cat owner needs to know when faced with this difficult choice.

The most valuable section of the book is the extensive and comprehensive listing of feline health conditions, ranging from arthritis to heart disease to kidney failures. Each section provides information on symptoms, reducing risk, and treatment options. I read a lot of cat health books,and I have yet to find another one that is as well organized and easy to use as a reference guide as this one.

But it’s not all hard facts and information. Each section of the book contains a “Golden Moments” segment, which contains heartwarming stories of real cat owners who share their lives with older cats and are continuing to enjoy life while dealing with typical issues common for senior cats. These touching, and often inspirational stories make this book more than just a reference guide.

I loved almost everything about this book. The one area that didn’t resonate with me was the author’s take on nutrition.  Pet nutrition is a controversial subject.  While the material is as well-researched and well-documented as the rest of the book, Shojai’s recommendations focus on senior diets and prescription diets.  I’ve written extensively about feline nutrition and won’t belabor the issue here.  You can read more about why I don’t believe these diets are the best choice for cats of any age here.

Even though I disagree with the author’s recommendations in this one area, I nevetheless highly recommend this book to all  cat owners, regardless of how old your cat may be.   This is a must read for anyone who wants to keep their cats happy and healthy well into their golden years.

Amy Shojai has generously offered to give away one copy of this book to one lucky winner.  If you’d like a chance to win the book, please share your story of your senior cat, or a friend’s senior cat in a comment.  The contest will run until Friday, December 10.  Share the contest on Facebook and Twitter and include the link in a separate comment for an extra chance to win.  Winners will be able to choose between an autographed hard copy of the book, or an e-book.

Amy Shojai is a nationally known authority on pet care and behavior, and the award-winning author of nearly two dozen nonfiction pet books, including Complete Kitten Care and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog.  She can be reached at her website http://www.shojai.com