Warrior Cats

The New Prophecy, book 1

I just love the second set in the Warrior Cat series, THE NEW PROPHECY (six books). It’s all about coming together across boundaries, a message that we desperately need to hear and act on in these divisive times. If every child read these books and internalized their message, I venture to say that we would be looking forward to a world where justice and respect for the natural environment are key values of society.

I hasten to add that the Warriors series is anything but didactic. They are addictive, page-turning stories about four “clans” of feral cats who live in a forest on the edge of a human community.

The hero of the first set of six books starts out as a “kittypet” named Rusty who becomes curious about the wild cats he sees on the edge of his yard and eventually decides to join them and forsake his safe, comfortable world for the call within himself to hunt his own food, experience the untamed natural world, and enjoy the camaraderie—and the rivalries—of living amongst his own kind, unbeholden to any human providers.

The stigma of being raised as a “kittypet” rather than being born to the clan is one of the many ways that the author, Erin Hunter, artfully raises questions of belonging and prejudice among humankind.

Into the wild

These books teach political lessons, too. The dark shadow of the clan’s deputy, Tigerclaw, overshadows the span of the entire series. Tigerclaw, ruthless and cunning, who seeks power at any cost, forms a stark contrast with our hero, who on entering the clan as a kitten-apprentice is rechristened “Firepaw.” Throughout the series, Firepaw consistently reaches out to cats in need of help—whether they hail from his own “Thunder Clan” or one of the three rival clans who populate the wood and meet in peace only on the nights of the full moon, where they discuss common threats and negotiate boundaries and other concerns, much like nations coming together at NATO or the UN.

I realize these books are wildly popular, and some readers may feel inclined to rail at me for publicizing them rather than equally deserving, but less well known, children’s books. My feeling, however, is that any books which have so much potential to instill a love for wilderness and wild things along with an appreciation for the role of compassion and justice both within and across social boundaries deserve all the publicity they can get.

If you decide to read them or pass them on to the little ones in your life, please note that they really need to be read in order! The original series begins with INTO THE WILD, and there is a handy list of all the books on the website: Http://warrior cats.com. Be careful venturing beyond the booklist on the website, though, or you will encounter spoilers.

Thanks to Sam and Violet, my nephew and niece (niece’s daughter, actually) who piqued my interest in the series.

Interview with author Clea Simon

Today I am pleased to present an interview with one of my favorite writers, Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe mysteries.

Clea SimonSAT: Tell us a bit about your writing journey: when you started to write, your journey to publication, and so on.

CS: I have always loved making up stories and have been writing stories since I could read. But it took me a while as an adult to think my stories had any validity. I became a journalist and wrote three nonfiction books in part because of this: I felt like if I was conveying information, then I had a reason to write. But I largely read fiction. It wasn’t until Kate Mattes, who owned the now-closed Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, Mass., told me, “You should write a mystery” that I started my first one, “Mew is for Murder.” I think in some way I needed permission.

SAT: Why do cats feature in most of your books?

CS: I’m not sure, except that I love cats and have long lived with them. When I started writing the Pru Marlowe pet noir, I didn’t intend for the protagonist to have a cat. I wanted to write a tough, dark heroine. But as I was writing it turned out that she had an even tougher tabby.

SAT: The heroine’s psychic abilities in the Pru Marlowe series come off to me as very realistic in the way that animal thoughts are portrayed. Did you do any kind of research for this series, for example, reading about how animals think and perceive the world?

CS: I do. This fascinates me — learning, for example, how parrots see or how ferrets express agitation. It’s just such a different language. Cats, of course, I know from experience, but other animals I have to research.

SAT: Are there are particular books or websites you consult for researching animal psychology?

CS: Not one particular one. Because of my background in nonfiction, I like to think I’ve got pretty good research skills. Plus, when I wrote “The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats” (St. Martin’s), I amassed a pretty great personal library of books about animals and I’ve got some great friends. Vicki Constantine Croke, who writes about animals, is often my first go-to person: she has connected me to some wonderful experts. Sometimes, it’s just a question of calling around: Who has a ferret? Who works with rescue dogs? There’s always somebody who is willing to share expertise. So many writers get things wrong that the experts are usually really grateful when one of us at least makes the effort! That’s why I try to always say in my acknowledgments that any errors are all mine.

SAT: Dulcie and Pru are such very different personalities. Which do you resemble the most? In what ways are you different from either?

CS: I think they’re both sides of my personality — as are all my characters, probably! If I can’t relate to a character, even a killer, then I don’t know how I’d write them. That said, I’m not nearly as tough as Pru (or Wallis) nor as studious as Dulcie. I do live a bit too much in my head, though, as she does — and in books.

SAT: Both the Dulcie Schwartz and the Pru Marlowe books contain elements of the paranormal, a cat-ghost in Dulcie’s case and a (sometimes unwelcome) psychic ability in Pru’s. What led you to include these elements in your mysteries?

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

CS: Dulcie’s first paranormal experience with Mr Grey, the scene that opens her first book, “Shades of Grey,” is something that happened to me… almost. I had lost my beloved gray cat, Cyrus, to age and kidney disease. I missed him terribly — but then one day, I swear I saw him. He did not tell me that anyone had been murdered, though. At any rate, the story just grew from there. As for Pru, well, don’t we all feel like we really know what our animals are telling us? And that this makes us a little crazy?

SAT: What is it about mysteries that appeals to you as both reader and writer?

CS: I love the puzzle aspect. But I think the secret to mysteries – at least to good ones – is that they’re about the characters. With a series, you get to revisit people you’ve come to know and, hopefully, love. That’s very appealing to me as a reader and very much so as a writer.

SAT: What’s next for Clea Simon?

CS: Well, I am pleased as punch to have just been contracted for two more Dulcie books — and that’s not including the one that is now in production (“Stages of Grey,” which will be out in October). I am also working on the next Pru book, and my contract covers another one after that so that carries me into 2016. Beyond these books — four still to write, five to see light of day — I don’t know. I really hope that my publishers will want to stay with me. I am beginning to think I would like to write something different. A stand-alone or maybe even a non-mystery. But I can’t see leaving crime fiction behind, and any mystery I write will certainly have kitties in it somewhere. So we shall see!

Read more about Clea and her books at: http://cleasimon.com/

Clea’s most recent releases are:

grey howlGrey Howl: A Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery

A prestigious literature conference is convening in Cambridge and Dulcie Schwartz is the university liaison for the event, meeting and greeting some of the finest minds in her field.

But events do not run according to plan when one scholar’s presentation is sabotaged while another visiting professor disappears. As Dulcie and her boyfriend Chris struggle to solve problems and soothe egos, a strange apparition starts to haunt the bi-annual event. And even Mr Gray, the ghost of Dulcie’s late, great cat,,appears to be overwhelmed, leaving Dulcie to manage an increasingly backstabbing crew of professional rivals, one of whom may be a killer.

And, just released:

panthers play for keepsPanthers Play for Keeps: A Pru Marlowe pet noir

When Pru Marlowe takes a dog for a walk, she doesn’t expect to find a body. But Spot, a service dog in training, has too good a nose not to lead her to the remains of the beautiful young woman, and despite her own best instincts, Pru can’t avoid getting involved. The young woman seems to have been mauled by a wild cat – and Pru knows there have been no pumas in the Berkshire woods for years. And while Wallis, Pru’s curmudgeonly tabby, seems fixated on the idea of a killer cat, Spot has been sending strange signals to Pru’s own heightened senses, suggesting that the violent death was something more than a tragic accident. As motives multiply, a cougar of a different sort sets her eyes on Pru’s sometime lover, and another woman disappears. With panther panic growing, Pru may have to put aside her own issues – and her own ideas of domesticity – to solve a savage mystery.


Cats in Fiction

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

I like cats and I like reading novels. Judging by the number of cats I see on book covers, I’m not alone. Here are some of my current favorite series where cats are among the continuing characters.

Clea Simon has to be the queen of mysteries that include cats. Her Dulcie Schwartz series is an academic semi-cozy that features the ghost of Dulcie’s recently departed and much-loved pet, Mr. Grey. Dulcie isn’t sure at first of what’s going on, and Mr. Grey’s appearances are deftly handled, with a nice degree of subtlety. As the series progresses, Dulcie becomes the unwilling custodian of a new kitten, but by the end of the third book, Dulcie and the new kit are beginning to forge a bond, even as Mr. Grey continues to grace her (and the kit?) with his ghostly wisdom. Fans of academic mysteries in particular will enjoy this series, which features graduate student Dulcie wrestling with her Harvard dissertation as she navigates the sometimes politically charged waters of the University’s English department. Ms. Simon’s knowledge of the Boston/Cambridge area gives us a good taste of local color in this most prestigious college town.

dogs don't lie

First in the Pru Marlowe series

Ms. Simon’s new series features a very different sort of heroine and a different twist on the paranormal slant. Where Dulcie is often full of hesitancy and self-doubt, Pru Marlowe is often surly and seldom out to please her fellow humans, as befits the heroine of this self-titled “pet noir” series who name cleverly echoes that of Raymond Chandler’s famous gumshoe. While Dulcie sees her cat’s ghost, Pru can hear animals’ thoughts. Though some of these thoughts drive her crazy (especially the inane twitterings of birds), she’s far more sympathetic to the four-footed among us, and her urgency to fight for the lives of animals who have been wrongly accused of murder gives readers a heroine to root for and a cause to celebrate.

Like Dulcie’s ghostly sightings, Pru’s talent is handled with surety and flair. The animals’ thoughts feel authentically animal-like, far removed from any suggestion of sentimentality, cutesiness, or anthropomorphism. One of the best realized characters in this series is Pru’s wonderfully grumpy cat, whose personality in some ways reflects Pru’s own.

No murders, just mysteries. Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret. The first Mae Martin psychic mystery Published December, 2013

A recent voice on the cats-in-mysteries scene belongs to Amber Foxx, author of the new series of “murderless mysteries” featuring psychic and healer Mae Martin. In THE CALLING, the first book in Ms. Foxx’s series, Mae’s very first intuition of her psychic stirrings occurs at a young age when she sets out to find her mother’s cat, which has escaped their house on the very first day of their move to a new neighborhood. Unlike Pru, Mae doesn’t hear the cat’s voice in her head, but she can see in her mind a cat’s-eye view of the discombobulated feline’s hiding place and is able to figure out where the cat has gone. Later in the book, a grown-up Mae reluctantly exercises her psychic gift to locate her neighbor’s injured cat—an act that turns out to have far-reaching ramifications for her reputation in the small-town, small-minded community.

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second book in the series, SHAMAN’S BLUES, features yet another cat, this time one who has been traumatized. This time, Mae doesn’t have any success, but a new friend in her life, the frustrating and often enigmatic Jamie, turns out to have a natural gift for healing this particular soul-injured pet. It’s a nice way of showing Jamie’s personality and talents on multiple levels, handled with great subtlety and sensitivity.

Here’s hoping to read many more in all three of these series. Brava to both authors!

How about you? What are some of your favorite novels with cats?

Cats and Dragons (Here there be Dragons; 3rd in an occasional series)

I generally try to avoid controversial topics, but here I boldly venture the opinion that those who love dragons are predisposed to also love cats.

My Dragon Cat by artist Amelie Hutt Smirtouille

My Dragon Cat by artist Amelie Hutt Smirtouille from Digital Art Gallery Online

Cats, like dragons, are predators. They may not breathe fire (though they are fond of warmth), but cats have often been accused of being selfish and standoffish. I daresay the same accusations have often been lobbed at dragons as well.

Why then are some of us so attracted to these predatory creatures?

To begin with, they are quite pleasing to look at. Both dragons and cats have graceful, sinuous bodies and long, equally sinuous tails. (“Sinuous” is one of my favorite words.) Both seem to grin, rather like Alice’s crocodile, a grin of deep and somewhat smug self-satisfaction that is nevertheless quite attractive.

In a previous post, I discussed the mysterious attraction that predatory animals hold for many of us: the way that raptors, owls, wolves, and big cats, among others, inspire us with feelings of wonder and awe. The love I hold for dragons and cats is a somewhat more domesticated version of this, and the feelings they incite are a safer, more comfortable and cozy sentiment that is removed from the dangers of the true wild. The house cat,  a domesticated version of the wild’s tigers and lions, pleases cat lovers in part because its presence combines the pleasures of domesticity with the vicarious excitement of wild things in the same way that lovers of mystery enjoy curling up by the fireside with the latest thriller or a classically gruesome tale by Poe (often with a cat curled up on one’s lap). In the same way, dragons offer a similar sort of vicarious thrill as we read or view their adventures from the comfortable safety of our favorite couch or reading nook.

So, fellow dragons lovers, it’s time to weigh in. Are you cat people or fonder of dogs? I’m curious to know!

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