murder mysteries

A life in cats, real and fictional

grey_cat_valentine

Guest post by Lucy Burdette

When Ingrid asked if I’d like to write a blog about cats in my life as models for the cats in my books, I couldn’t wait to get started!

As I was about to turn thirteen, awkward and shy and brimming with early teenage yearning, I wanted only two things for my birthday. One was a date with Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. Which I could never have handled even had it been possible.

My second wish was for a kitten. Unfortunately, my birthday is in January and we lived in frozen Michigan, so kittens were scarce. But my pet-loving mother searched the animal shelters within a fifty mile radius and tracked down an orange tiger kitten. He had already been returned by one family, and so came with a “no refund” receipt.

Tigger was a huge hit, Continue Reading

A day in the life of an author’s cat

Fred, Lorna Barrett's cat

Guest post by Fred, owner of
New York Times bestselling author Lorna Barrett

Hello, my name is Fred. I’m a Tuxedo. That means I’m black and white. And very handsome. I know, because my author told me so.

Yes, I own an author. She wasn’t always an author, but when I came to live with her, her luck changed. Who says black cats are unlucky! She started selling lots of books. She has lots of author names: Lorna Barrett, Lorraine Bartlett, and L.L. Bartlett.

Why do people think black cats are unlucky? Okay, I do have some white fur, too, but I’m mostly a black cat. (Unless I lie on my back, and then my mapmaker—that’s the husband of my author—says I’m mostly white. Go figure!)

As an author-owner, I lead a pretty busy life. My day often starts at 3 or 4 in the morning. Sometimes I get restless and like to walk around the house talking to the cupboard. It holds lots of cans of cat food and kitty treats. I tell it to feed me, but it doesn’t listen well. So I walk around the house and talk to the furniture and the walls. Sometimes I talk (and scratch on) the bedroom closet door. For some reason when that happens, water comes squirting off of the mapmaker’s bedside table. Go figure!

I like to go back to bed about half an hour before everybody else gets up. Then I like to have a lie-in while my author and mapmaker play on their computers before breakfast.

I show up for breakfast every morning, but sometimes I don’t like what’s on the menu. I refuse to sit up and then I walk away. (But I sneak back when no one is looking. Hey, I gotta eat ya know.)

After breakfast, I like to jump on my author’s lap to take make sure she is correctly answering her email. Then I take a long nap on my mapmaker’s extra office chair. Sometimes I go sit under his 200 watt light bulb in my kitty bed. It’s too small for me, so sometimes I have to hang over the edges.

At lunchtime, I like to go see what my author is having. Sometimes she cuts up onions and celery and that means tuna will happen, and I get to drink the tuna water. I like that. (Doesn’t happen enough, though.)

After lunch, it’s nap time. I need to stay well rested because, like I said, I get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to talk to the walls and furniture. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

My favorite part of the day is Happy Hour. My author and mapmaker like to read (and my author often edits her work in progress at this time of day). Sometimes cheese happens. Yum! Chester (their other black cat) is good about telling them that WE NEED CAT TREATS NOW! Sometimes Betsy (one of the two sisters that live here—I like to chase or LOOK AT HER and make her SCREAM) leaves her treats. I’m fast. I clean up her leftovers.

During happy hour, I like to run around the house and pretend I’m a bullet train. (Only I can jump over chairs and knock over tables. It’s fun!) I have kitty OCD which makes my skin ripple and makes me run fast. The only thing that calms me down is my author petting me and telling me I’m a good and handsome boy. (I am!)

In the evening, I like to walk around the house and let everybody know that I’m in charge. (Chester doesn’t believe it.) I like to jump on the back of my author’s office chair and purr in her ear. She seems to like it.

If my author stays up too late, I have to remind her that it’s my bedtime. I start talking to the walls and furniture in her office until she says, “Alright already! Bedtime!” I sleep at the bottom of my author’s bed. I have an afghan my people-grandma made me and I have a little pillow, too. I like to rest my head on the pillow.

When I’m not doing all these things, I bring my author lots of luck to sell her books. That’s why she calls me her little prince (and her tiny son). She loves me a lot.

That’s my happy life. I hope your life is happy, too!

Lorraine Bartlett with Fred

Fred’s author is New York Times Bestselling author Lorna Barrett of the Booktown Mystery series. Sentenced To Death, #5 in the series, was relesed June 7th. Lorna also writes the Victoria Square Mysteries under the name Lorraine Bartlett and the Jeff Resnick Mysteries under the name L.L. Bartlett.

You may also enjoy reading:

An interview with Lorna Barrett

A mystery author and her cats

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.

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.

Book Review: Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett

Bookplate Special

Bookplate Special is the third in the Booktown mystery series from Berkeley Prime Crime and will be released November 3.  The first book, Murder Is Binding, was published in April 2008. The second book, Bookmarked for Death, was a Feb. 2009 release.  If you love books, cats and food, you will love this series! 

The protagonist of the series, Tricia Miles, owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a mystery book store located in the charming small town of Stoneham, New Hampshire.  It’s the kind of town where everybody knows your name.  In Bookplate Special, Tricia discovers the body of her former college roommate.  Never satisfied with letting the police handle a murder investigation, Tricia launches her own informal investigation to find the killer, and encounters all sorts of trouble.   This is a wonderful story with immensely likeable characters, a cat names Miss Marple, and mouth-watering recipes.  The author also includes a subplot about a topic that is clearly important to her, and she manages to do so in a way that’s thought-provoking rather than preachy.  A thoroughly enjoyable book – be sure to add it to your winter reading list!

You can learn more about Lorna Barrett by visiting her website.  You can also find her at her delightful blog Dazed and Confused.

And look for a guest blog by author Lorna Barrett right here on The Conscious Cat next week!

Book Review: The Theda Krakow Series by Clea Simon

I previously reviewed Probable Claws by Clea Simon, which is the fourth in a series.  All books feature Boston freelance writer Theda Krakow and her cat Musetta.  Since it’s always more fun to read a series from the beginning, I thought I’d provide reviews for the first three books for you.

mewisformurder

Mew is for Murder is the first in the series.  In addition to a great mystery, which begins when Theda shows up at a local “cat lady’s” home to interview her and finds her dead, and which features suspects ranging from the coffee-bar waitress who helped the murder victim take care of the cats to the victim’s schizophrenic son, Simon also shares her love of Cambridge, the setting of the story, as well as her forays into the Boston music scene. Filled with well-developed and likeable characters, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read that leaves the reader wanting more. Thankfully, there are three more books in this series.

catteryrow

Cattery Row is the second book in the series.  In this book, we get to enter the world of show cats and the Boston area rock and roll scene. When show cats are being stolen, and Theda’s friend Rose, a breeder of pedigreed cats receives threats and is eventually implicated in the thefts and then found murdered, Theda begins to investigate because she refuses to believe that her friend had anything to do with the cat thefts. While she delves into solving the cat thefts and her friend’s murder, a musician friend of Theda’s is being blackmailed and becomes increasingly withdrawn. Are the two situations connected?

This is a well-crafted mystery with an immensely likeable heroine and the combination of cats and rock and roll make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed this second glimpse into Theda’s world because of Simon’s excellent character development. Theda continues to grow as we get to know her better. And let’s not forget Musetta, Theda’s feline sidekick, who always has a paw in solving the mystery.

crieswhiskers

Cries and Whiskers is the third in the series, and it’s the most intense one yet. While Theda is investigating a new designer drug that is threatening musicians, fans and her friends in the growing Boston area music scene, an animal activist is killed by a hit-and-run driver while rescuing feral cats. As Theda and her friend Violet try to rescue the semi-wild cats from being outside in a freezing New England winter, it becomes apparent that the activist’s death was more than just an accident. As Theda begins to investigate, her boyfriend, a homicide detective, is recuperating from a broken leg and not at all thrilled with Theda’s involvement in these investigations. On top of that, she begins to suspect one of her friends, and finds her loyalties tested on all fronts. When her beloved cat Musetta goes missing, Theda risks everything to get her back and to solve the case.

Once again, Simon manages to combine a great mystery with wonderful, multi-dimensional characters. By now, we feel like we know Theda, and yet, we’re always surprised by the twists and turns of both the plot and Theda’s life.

For more information about Clea Simon and her books, visit her website at http://www.cleasimon.com

And coming soon on The Conscious Cat – an interview with author Clea Simon, who is getting ready to launch her first book in a brand new series, Shades of Grey.