Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Channeling the Cat

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.

Papa Hemingway

Jean-Paul Satre

Ray Bradbury

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.


Anonymous said...

I've always had a cat. Can't remember a time when I didn't and often more than one. At the moment our calico, Kinko, reigns alone. When Elmer had to go in the hospital, she searched for him for weeks and never came near me. Then she switched and stuck so close to me I felt smothered. Now that he's back home (with Parkinson's, so in a wheel chair)she wouldn't have a thng to do with him at first, but has finally accepted him back and occupies his lounge chair whenever he's not in it. My first written story, when I was seven, was about my first cat and how my father, a conservation officer. found him in the woods. My dad didn't even like cats, but brought this half-grown, half-starved kitten home to me because he knew I wanted one. He'd already named him Merriweather, the name of the area where he found him. My father was also a published non-fiction writer and he tolerated Merriweather very well, plus all my subsequent cats. I'm now 86 and would hate to try to count all the cats I've been owned by in my life since then. So, yes, I agree writers and cats go together. Jane

C. A. Szarek said...

I, too have a cat. I love her to pieces. She's a tuxedo cat named Bailey. She many not need to be walked, but she does demand attention. If I am trying to write and she would prefer my hands on her, she very much lets me know. Then, I just have to improvise.

Ann Herrick said...

I'm definitely a cat person, had cats ever since I was a little girl. The current cat has not inspired my writing as much as one would hope with her name, Colette, though.

Amanda Earl said...

i must be the only writer who doesn't have a cat. in fact, i loathe them. they would take over the world if they could ;)

Juliet Waldron said...

You know the old saw: "In Egypt, cats were worshipped as Gods. Cats have NEVER forgotten this."

Juliet Waldron said...

Lisabet--loved this post and the wonderful author + cat pictures, too. Your tiger Big Foot is a real beauty! Have never had one of the polydactyls; my husband, who ordinarily loves all things feline, thinks they are "ugly." :(

Sheila Claydon said...

Loved this post. My last cat was nearly 20 when she died. She left a big gap. Unfortunately, with a son who lives in Australia, we've decided not to replace her because when we visit him we're away for three months at a time which wouldn't be fair to a new cat...so I just have to enjoy the memories.

Unknown said...

Oh I love this theory Lisabet! It explains oh so much, but let me take it one step further for you.

Most Authors I've seen or heard from have one, maybe two cats and at most write in one or two genres.

So, if your theory is true and you happen to have FIVE cats??? What do you get???? Why me of course, someone who writes in, at the moment, three completely different genres!

I have a Sci-Fi Series, a Paranormal one, and I'm releasing a group of stand alone Contemporaries too!

So, what's to say that each of my cats has their own favorite genre - and because I'm receptive to them - that's why I write in so many!

AH HA! Thank you so much for explaining it. Now I just need to figure out which of them likes what so I can know who to have in my lap, on my desk, or perched on the back of my chair when I'm writing!

Kate Deveaux said...

I have a 21 year old tabby, love her to bits too and she is still always on the keyboard or on my lap. Loved your post about the literary cat!

Miriam Newman said...

I think it's the pure serenity of a sleeping cat that was always the most helpful to my writing. Alas, my companion Jack the Cat (whom I believe had correspondence with your elegant Blackness at one time) has gone to the kitty Rainbow Bridge. I miss his quiet assistance. He was never judgmental about genre, so long as the tuna kept on coming.

Monya Clayton said...

We were catless for about ten years in the 1990s, travelling around for 2 years in our caravan (trailer to you in the U.S.) though I did know a lady who took her aged cat with her. Then we lived close to a major highway and it was simply too dangerous. My husband kept pushing for a cat, though we had the third of our long-lived dogs. Have always had a moggy at the same time as a doggy. Then we found a kitten in our carport. His stray mother left him there - in the engine bay of our car. He is now fat and shy and called Smokey. And dear old dog passed on last year aged 13 and a half.
Two years ago a lady across the road died and her poor cat wandered around between various neighbours' houses picking up scraps of food. It took a year before he'd let us pat him but he's finally decided to live with us. Smokey is my husband's cat and Toppy is mine. So nice to have a cat in my lap again, purring.
Er - do they inspire writing? I know it's a great help to settle the mind to stroke a feline, so maybe that's the answer. And they're full of character. If you can find it, there's an old s.f. story by Cordwainer Smith called "The Game Of Rat And Dragon", in which human operatives partner with cats to hunt outworldly beasts. And in the story the cat, a female, has such a personality that the unmarried hero pines that he'll never find a woman like her!

Monya Clayton said...

P.S. Whoops, when we found Smokey we'd moved to the small country town where we now live.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Jane,

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your feline experiences.

I grew up with cats but didn't pay them a huge amount of attention until I met my husband and his felines. That was more than thirty years ago. Now I can't imagine living without a cat companion or two.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Chrissy,

Yes, Mr. Toes likes to walk across my keyboard every now and again! With those feet, he can really make a mess!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Amanda,

Well, there goes my theory, since you're a fabulous writer.

Of course, it might not be true of all authors, only some of us.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Juliet,

Mr. Toes is huge all over. We think he has some Maine Coon genes. However, he's kind of a mush cat, a bit timid and very sensitive to noises. It used to be that when one of us sneezed, he would run away in terror. Blackness terrorizes him, though she weighs half of what he does.

The multitoes are a bit weird looking, and he has a strange, almost staggering walk. When he was a kitten, we had to have one of his extra toes declawed because the toe curved inward and the nail was growing into his flesh.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Sheila,

It's true that cats somewhat limit one's mobility, though not as much as dogs. We're fortunate to have an excellent cat sitter (though we never go away for as long as three months).

You might consider volunteering at your local animal shelter - a good way to get a "feline fix" without the responsibility of 24/7 ownership.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Margaret,

Now there's a notion - that each cat has a genre.

But I just published a novel (Rajasthani Moon) that combined five or six genres - steampunk, paranormal, BDSM, menage, multicultural, and Rubenesque. And I only have two felines...!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks, Kate!

We've had several cats live to 20 or beyond. The fascinating thing, for me, is that their personalities continue to develop and change, just like humans.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Miriam,

Sorry about Jack the Cat. It's a blessing that cats can live so long, but that makes it all the harder when they pass on.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Monya,

Great post! Thank you for sharing your memories.

I've never read the Cordwainer Smith story, but it sounds appealing.

Have you ever encountered the scifi story "Space Time for Springers", by Fritz Lieber? It's told from the POV of a kitten.

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