She was the elegant interior design writer at the Detroit Free Press
when my journalism career began -- a slender, stylish woman in her 60s whose office was partitioned with a Chinese lacquered
screen and decorated with art objects.
Her hair was silver -- this, I distinctly recall -- when she retired in 1978.
She was, it was said, moving to the Lake Huron shoreline with her husband and her cats.
That was 27 years ago.
And with a typical twenty-something's understanding of life's certainties, I assumed then that Lilian Jackson Braun's life
was waning, her career finished, when she left her well-appointed Lafayette Boulevard office for the last time.
So last week, when her publisher took out an expensive advertisement in the New York Times to promote her latest novel,
"The Cat Who Went Bananas" -- the 24th book published since her Detroit newspaper career retirement -- it occurred to me that
Braun, the chronicler of best-selling cat mystery novels, had lived more lives more successfully than even her Siamese cat
The Cat Who...books are inevitably New York Times-list best-sellers, beloved by a combination of mystery-and-cat lovers
with an appetite for gentle, wry tales. Most of them transpire in small town Pickax, in Moose County -- a place she modeled
on Bad Axe, in the Michigan thumb, where she and her second husband, Earl Bettinger, lived until the mid-1980s.
For years, publicity material and newspaper articles indicated Braun was younger than I remembered her being. And in a
telephone conversation from her home in Tryon, N.C., she confirmed that.
"Once you're 90, you're not supposed to be shy about your age. You're supposed to boast about it," she said. She is 92.
Like many writers who came of age in the last century, Braun is a technophobe who uses a typewriter. She has, she says,
almost completely abandoned the tedious business of fact, preferring the more fluid world of the imagination.
"It's like a muscle," she says, "and the more you use it, the more adept you become at it."
As a teenager in the Detroit area, she sold sports poetry to The Detroit News. Later, she worked as an advertising copywriter
for most of Detroit's now defunct department stores (Crowley's, Kern's). And she then spent 30 years at the Free Press. ("Is
it still there?" she asked.)
But the fictional cats -- and the Pickax newspaper columnist Qwilleran who works with them -- have occupied her attention
for 24 years.
And each and every January, a new book appears.
I don't know what words of wisdom I expected to hear from this woman, whose life has been productive for 90 years. (She
cites a poem she wrote at age 2, in a snowstorm, as her first work: "Mother Goose is up in the sky/And these are her feathers
coming down in my eye.")
But, like many artists in various fields who are inspired by some inner need to create, her drive is neither money nor
fame. She avoids interviews and lives quietly, writing every day.
What's alive for her -- and what keeps her engaged, curious, amused, productive -- is the never-ending surprise of what's
in her own head.
Laura Berman's column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in Metro. Reach her at (248) 647-7221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Found July 2008
I was only two years old when I became acquainted with public libraries. Every Saturday afternoon my
father would walk a couple of miles to the library and return with an arm-full! There would be scientific subjects
for himself, fiction for my mother, and picture books for "Little Lilian". I remember being told how to turn pages,
"Very carefully. This is a library book!"
Who could have imagined that Little Lilian's CAT WHO books would be in libraries around the world!
For a recent Book Fair in Tokyo my Japanese publisher asked me to write a few words for their readers
Cats are cats the world over,
These friendly, furry, four-footed creatures,
Who are without hate, without envy, without greed
May someday teach us something.
Thank you again for this inspiring and generous tribute.
A Limerick for the Cast of A Tribute to Lilian Jackson Braun
An audience filled with glee!
A library gone on a spree!
All credit is due
To a talented crew
Thanks from Koko and LJB!
If YOU know any more, please let us know. Thanks