It's almost a joke – the common association between authors and cats. I haven't done a systematic survey, but I would estimate that at least 75% of the authors I hosts as blog guests mention feline companions in their bios. I'm no exception. I currently have two cats who traveled with us from the United States to southeast Asia ten years ago, and who have settled in quite comfortably. Here's a photo of polydactyl Mr. Toes as a kitten (you can see where he gets his name!).
And here's our elegant Blackness.
Of course, many famous writers (of whom I have hosted very few) were renowned for their close relationships with their felines. There's Colette.
I sympathize with Alexander McCall Smith. Mr. Toes loves to climb around on my back, often with his oversized claws embedded in my clothing – or my flesh!
The woman who inspired my erotic writing career, Portia da Costa, is a huge cat lover – that's one of the things that forged a bond between us – but she's so shy I couldn't find a picture of her and her cats together.
Many explanations have been offered for the feline-author affinity. A cat doesn't need to be walked, so we can spend our time at our desks as opposed to trucking around on the street scooping up their business. Cats are mysterious creatures with many layers of personality – rather like effective characters. Cats have an elegance and precision of movement we writers might use as a model for our prose. Many authors have cited their felines as sources of inspiration. Noted Canadian writer Robertson Davies once said “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reason.”
The other day, I was suddenly struck by a new theory. I was thinking about the fact that so many authors report hearing “voices”. “I just listen to my characters, and write down what they say,” one of my guests commented. Writing sometimes feels like something driven from outside, beyond our conscious control. Well, what if that's true?
What if it's not our characters who are dictating the story? What if it's our cats?
Ridiculous, right? But Mr. Toes sits behind my monitor most days I'm writing. He pretends to be asleep, but if I should get up for a bathroom break or a drink of water, he stirs and gives me a look, as it to say, “Where are you going? The story's not done yet!”
I grew up with cats. I grew up writing fiction. When I went off to college and then grad school, I left the felines behind, and although I wrote lots of poetry during that period, I didn't pen a single story. Then I met my husband, a confirmed ailurophile, and filled my life with felines once more. Next thing you know, I was a published author.
Ever tried to write when your cat was sick? Tough to concentrate on the tale, isn't it?
And wouldn't this explain why our characters are larger than life? Why they have so much vitality, such powerful passions, such intense adventures? How could a mere human imagine such creatures? Cats, though – they have superhuman abilities. Just ask them.
Of course to really test this, we'd all have to get rid of our felines and then see if we could still write.
That might be informative. It might restore our self-respect. But it's simply too painful to contemplate.
If I'm channeling my cats, I'm okay with that (though they have surprisingly dirty minds). As long as they don't want their names on the cover.