author interview

Meet Penny, The Star of Penny: A Graphic Memoir

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When I received a review copy of Penny: A Graphic Memoir, a wonderful book about a tortie with a colorful imagination (review to follow on Friday,) I just had to learn more about the real Penny. Her human, Karl Stevens, is a graphic novelist and painter whose comics have appeared regularly in the New Yorker, Village Voice (where Penny initially premiered as a series), and Boston Phoenix, was kind enough to answer a few question for me.Continue Reading

Exclusive Interview: Rita Mae Brown Talks About Cats, Writing and How to Live a Simpler Life

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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.Continue Reading

Listen to My Interview on Steve Dale’s Pet World Radio

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I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Dale on his national radio show. Steve is one of the most dedicated champions of cats, cat health and cat behavior you’ll ever encounter. He is one of the co-founders of the CATalyst Council, a member of the board of directors of the Winn Feline Foundation, the American Humane Association, and the Tree House Humane Society, a cat shelter in Chicago. This pet expert, writer, radio and tv personality and cat lover extraordinaire is passionate about cats’ health and happiness.Continue Reading

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

An Interview with Helen Brown, Author of Cleo: The Cat Who Mended A Family

Helen Brown is the author of Cleo: The Cat Who Mended a Family.  She was born and brought up in New Zealand, where she first worked as a journalist, TV presenter and scriptwriter.  Now living in Melbourne, Australia with her family, Helen continues to write columns for the New Zealand media, and she’s been voted Columnist of the Year several times.  Cleo rose to the top of the bestseller lists in its first week in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia and has been translated into more than nine languages.

I’m delighted to welcome Helen Brown to The Conscious Cat today. 

Cleo’s story, and by extension, your family’s story, begins more than twenty years ago.  When did you first know you would write a book about Cleo?

Cleo always behaved as she expected a book to be written about her but I was slow to pick up on the signs. Whenever I wrote about her in my columns she was a big hit with readers. Then about five years ago a friend suggested Cleo would make a great book. I thought he was joking, but when I took the idea to a weekend workshop people seemed really interested in our story.

I’ve always believed that animals are amazing teachers and healers, and Cleo has certainly been all of that and more.  Have you had other animals in your life since Cleo, and how have they affected your life?

A crazy Siamese (though some people swear he’s Tonkinese) called Jonah bounced into our lives two years ago. I was half way through writing Cleo when I found out I needed a mastectomy. About two weeks after I returned home from hospital my sister said she’d just seen an amazing kitten in the pet shop down the road. The rest is history. He’s vain and funny, and a healer in his own right.

I was captivated by your story and by Cleo almost from the very first page, but I was particularly moved by the sensitivity and openness with which you share your journey through grief after you lost your young son so tragically.  What was it like to have to revisit that time in your life? 

Some days I had to take a deep breath before sitting down at the computer. But remembered pain is different from the real thing (ask any woman who’s been through childbirth!). I hoped it was worth scratching a few scars if it was going to help other people.

What was the writing process like for you? 

The days I manage to approach the computer screen with a sense of lightness and joy definitely work better.

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

I stay in bed as long as possible so the rest of the family get themselves off to work and school without asking me to cook or wash anything (they’re pretty good these days). Once the house is quiet I sneak across the road for a sacred cup of café latte. Sometimes the coffee makers ask how my writing’s going, but I think they suspect I’m a middle aged housewife who merely fantasizes about writing books and travelling the world promoting them. Occasionally someone’s kind enough to remind me if I’ve put my coat on inside out.

Once the caffeine starts flowing, I head back to the house and sit at the computer, often with Jonah on my knee. There are heaps of diversions – solitaire, emails, laundry, mysterious cat smells. But I try to write a minimum of 500 words a day. I’m usually burnt out by two or three o’clock. Besides, it’s usually time to think about what to cook for dinner by then.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Readers! What amazing people. Readers have helped me through tough times and celebrated with me through the highs. When I became a grandmother recently, they sent gifts, cards and hand knitted garments. Immeasurable kindness from people I’ve never met.

What do you like least about being a writer?

Loneliness.

Who or what inspires you?

It sounds a cliché, but family (including pets) and friends are my greatest inspiration. I find stories in everyday events like standing in a supermarket line, or cleaning out kitchen cupboards. My antennae are always out for human behavior at its best and worst. I love it when  prejudices (specially my own) are shattered. On a bus soon after the Twin Towers tragedy, I was charmed when a young man stood up so I could take his seat. He then went to the back of the bus to stand beside his partner – who was wearing a burka. I’m inspired by writers who are better than I am: David Sedaris, Alan Bennett, Alice Munro to name a few.

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

About 30 years ago when I was hardly known (even in New Zealand) I was invited to a book store in a provincial town on a wintry Friday night. The book seller didn’t know what to do with me so she parked me at a table with a pile of books at the back of the shop. I waited…and waited. Nobody showed, of course. Eventually, a man in a raincoat made a stealthy approach from the front of the store. I tried not to make eye contact and scare him off. He eventually appeared at my side and asked me to sign a copy. I was so grateful. When I asked who I should sign it to, he said “Nobody. I just collect signed copies of books so that when the author dies they’re worth something.”

Will you be coming to the United States to promote Cleo?

I’m very much looking forward to visiting the States in the near future.

What are you reading at the moment?

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, John Adams by David McCoullough, re-reading Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 

Are you working on another book?

I’ve been inundated with emails from people saying they didn’t want Cleo to end. My next book will probably be a sequel around the power struggle between mothers and daughters, spirituality and – of course – a cat.

Thank you so much for your time, Helen, and much continued success with Cleo!

Thank you, Ingrid, for this opportunity to share some time with you.

You can learn more about Helen and her book on her website.

An Interview with Lorna Barrett, Author of the Booktown Mystery Series

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It is my pleasure today to introduce you Lorna Barrett.  Readers of The Conscious Cat have come to know Lorna as the author of the Booktown Mystery Series featuring Tricia Miles, owner of the Haven’t Got a Clue bookstore, and her feline sidekick, Miss Marple.

Lorna Barrett is the nom de plume of author Lorraine Bartlett.  Lorraine’s other alter ego, L.L. Bartlett, writes psychological suspense and the Jeff Resnick mystery series.  She’s done it all, from drilling holes for NASA to typing scripts in Hollywood, and lives a life of crime in western New York.  Her first sales were to the confession magazine market.

The latest in the Booktown Mystery Series, Chapter and Hearse, was released on August 3.   Read my review here.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to ask Lorna/Lorraine some questions today.

How did you get the idea for the Booktown series?

My editor came up with the idea, but I ran with it.

Miss Marple doesn’t help solve the crimes in the series, but she’s an integral character of the books.  Is she based on a real life cat?

Yes, she’s based on one of my cats:  Cori.  She’s was a long-haired gray cat with a white blaze.  She never weighed more than eight pounds and was a gentle, loving soul who lived to be 20.  She was toothless and deaf by that time, but none of the other cats ever bothered her or tried to take her food away.  I have pictures of her on my web site, along with a drawing of her my husband did.

Tell us about your cats.

Currently we have two pairs: boys and girls.  My husband is owned by Chester (who’s all black) and I am owned by Fred, a handsome Tuxedo.  The girls (Betsy and Bonnie) are sisters—who are pretty cranky (and always have been).  My husband and I share them.  We can’t sit down without some cat coming and getting on our laps.  It’s wonderful on a cold winter night—not so wonderful on a hot summers day.

You are a prolific writer – did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? 

No.  Although I always had stories circling around in my head, it wasn’t until I learned about Star Trek fanzines that I decided to put my own stories on paper.  It hadn’t occurred to me that regular people wrote stories.  (A real “duh” moment.)  I was hooked from the very start, although they were terrible stories.  I learned an awful lot from several excellent mentors.  Some of them have gone on to be “traditionally” published authors themselves.

Why did you decide to write under several different names?

Long story.  Short version:  Cozy mysteries are very different from psychological suspense.  It was thought that having a pseudonym would be better than to “confuse” my readers.

My names are:  Lorna Barrett, author of the Booktown Mysteries.  Chapter & Hearse, released on August 3, as well as the whole series on audio as mp3 files.

Lorraine Bartlett:  Author of the Victoria Square Mysteries (A Crafty Killing will debut in February 2011.)  I also have two short romances available under this name on Kindle/Smashwords, plus a short mystery.  They are:  What I Did For Love, Only Skin Deep, and We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.

L.L. Bartlett, author of the Jeff Resnick Mysteries.  Currently I have two Jeff novels available on Kindle and Smashwords (Nook, Sony E readers, etc.):  Murder On The Mind and Cheated by Death.  (I also have two short stories related to this series available electronically:  Cold Case and Bah Humbug.)  Murder On The Mind is also available as an audio book.

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

Bleak.  No, seriously, I like to do most of my writing in the afternoon.  I do “office work” in the morning, which can include writing a blog post, answering email, or packaging up bookmarks and bookplates for my readers.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Not having a day job. Of course, I miss the security of the day job, but this is a fabulous job and much less stressful.  Although, I’m a harder taskmaster than most of my former supervisors.

What do you like least about being a writer?

The lack of job security.  Without readers buying my books, Im out of a job.  And it’s difficult having three names.  I was thrilled to sell my Victoria Square mysteries, but now I’m worried that most of Lorna’s readers won’t get the connection that they’re written by the same person and will never hear about the new series or be willing to give it a chance.  (I’m definitely a “see the glass half-empty type of person” – but I’m working on changing that.)

Who or what inspires you?

I have no idea.  I like to keep busy.

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

The most memorable?  The times when very few or nobody came.  They feel like failures.  One library event stands in my mind.  It wasn’t a talk – just a gathering of authors at the library’s Arts Festival.  I asked a woman if she read mysteries, and she glared at me and said, “I only read worthwhile books.”  Whoa—that took the starch out of my sails pretty darn quick.  You try not to let rude comments like that rattle you, but they do.

What are you reading at the moment?

Organize Your Corpses by Mary Jane Maffini.  Next up on the TBR Pile:  Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman.

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Lorna, and much success with Chapter and Hearse!

You can learn more about Lorna and her book on her websites http://lornabarrett.com and http://www.lorrainebartlett.com/ and on her blog,  http://lornabarrett.blogspot.com.