On Monday, February
2nd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Lilian Jackson Braun
to discuss THE CAT WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS.
Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Auditorium. We are excited to
welcome Lilian Jackson Braun, who is here to discuss her new book, THE CAT
WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS. Welcome, Lilian Jackson Braun. Thanks for joining
us online this evening. How are you doing?
Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, I am fine.
Jennifer St. Clair from Bethel, Ohio: Hi, Mrs. Braun. I'm a big fan -- I've
read all your books. I just wanted you to know that reading your books
makes me look at my own cats a bit differently, and I want to thank you for
that. I've never, ever gotten tired of reading your wonderful books over
and over again. My question is probably one you've heard many times: Are
Qwill and Polly ever going to tie the knot? Even if they don't, I still
think your series is a wonder among commonness. I'll love every page until
you decide to stop writing them.
LB: I think that question about Qwill and Polly is the most popular. I
don't know what is going to happen book to book. The characters walk around
in my head, and I don't exactly know if they will ever get married. It does
not look to me as though they will ever marry.
Marla from Canton, MI: I am always looking for new authors to read and have
not yet read one of your books. Will I be able to pick up any of the books
in the Cat Who series, or do I need to start from the beginning to gain a
strong understanding of this mystery series? Thank you.
LB: Well, the answer to that is yes and no. You can pick up any book --
they stand alone -- but to really enjoy the series you should start with
THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS. It proceeds from there with Qwill as he
goes through various changes in his financial situation and his place of
living. He changes and grows with each book. It is fascinating to see how
somebody progresses. The correct order can be found at any library. It goes
on for about 20 books.
Grover from Gainesville, FL: How much of your work is inspired by the
actions and personalities of your own cats?
LB: Bingo! Everything! I don't believe I could write the books without my
cats. Every day they do something that gives me an idea. They are very
creative, and what they do starts me off on a new idea, so I am very much
influenced by my two cats, Koko III and Pittising, who have been named
after Gilbert and Sullivan's MIKADO.
Mary Ploor from Lansing, MI: I am the Web curator for the Michigan
Historical Center, Michigan Department of State. We have a page of "famous
Michiganians" at our web site that includes Lilian Jackson Braun, of
course. We try to include each Michiganian's place and year of birth. I've
been unable to locate either for you (even in the extensive file of
clippings in the Library of Michigan's vertical files). If you'd like to
keep the date a mystery, I'll understand. But would you tell us where you
were born? We are the state history center and museum. If you'd like to
check us out, you can find us at this URL:
www.sos.state.mi.us/history/history.html. Our "Famous Michiganians" page is
at this URL: www.sos.state.mi.us/history/michinfo/people/people.html.
Personally, my cat Sabrina and I have read all your books as soon as
they're available and love them! When I talk to teachers about using
Michigan history in their classrooms, I use your story within a story --
"The Big Burning of 1869" -- in THE CAT WHO WENT INTO THE CLOSET to
encourage creativity in teaching history. Thank you. --Mary L. Ploor,
Ph.D., Michigan Historical Museum Education Unit
LB: I was born in Massachusetts and have lived in many states, and I am
sorry, but that is all I care to say at this time.
Michael Scott from Dearborn, MI: I have always been a huge fan of your
writing. What inspired you to become a writer? Or have you always dreamed
of being a writer? Thank you -- I am looking forward to reading your latest
LB: Well, I think it started because my mother was a storyteller. At the
dinner table every night we had to relate what happened to us during the
day. She encouraged us to be storytellers. Good writers read a great deal,
but the important thing is to write, write, write.... Letter writing is a
great way to practice, not gossipy notes but interesting letters with good
description. When I was ready to write fiction, I was self-trained.
Teddy from Spring, TX: Do you base Moose County on any real-life county? Or
is it more of a mix of many "anywhere USA" counties?
LB: Well, the answer to that is the second: It is a composite of all the
places I have lived, visited, heard about, etc. It is a composite, just as
all my characters are composites of people I know or have observed.
Doug from Canton, OH: Why did you make Qwill rich? I always felt that
giving him everything he needed in terms of material needs really detracted
from identifying with him. As a rich guy, he is awfully smug a lot of
LB: It just so happened that he inherited some money from Aunt Fanny --
what could he do about it? He didn't waste his money but spent it on a
foundation, the nicest thing you can do when you are rich, giving it
Marlene from Ann Arbor, MI: Good evening, Ms. Braun. I am an aspiring
author and would like to ask you a question. Do you believe it is more
difficult to write a series of books, carrying the same characters, etc.,
or creating a new idea with new characters for every book? Thank you very
LB: That probably depends on the individual writer, but for me it is easier
and more interesting to keep the same locale and characters and develop
them. However it is very important to develop them as their lives progress.
Evol from Dayton, Texas: How many Cat Who books are there?
Daniel DeBonis from Hobart, IN: Ms. Braun, I am 13 and have read your
novels up to and including THE CAT WHO SNIFFED GLUE. I find that I read
your novels not because of the mysteries themselves, but because of the
characters and their stories. Tell me, how is it that you write about
quirky people so well? And how do you find the inspiration?
LB: I write about people because I like people and have always observed
people. I observe them and listen to them and what they talk about and how
they talk. This is stored in my head, and it comes out when I am ready to
write. My stories are called character mysteries because the people are as
important as the mysteries.
Susan Lewis from Alpena, Michigan: My 17-year-old daughter, my 12-year-old
son, and I are all avid fans of your books. We each have our favorites. Is
there one of your series that stands out as a favorite of yours?
LB: Well, I think my favorite book is always the one I am writing at the
moment. It is like the women who has a lot of children -- she loves them
Angel from Big Rapids, MI: I love your books! I finally had to start
buying hardcover books because I've worn out my paperbacks from reading
them so much! How do you keep all of your characters and their actions
straight from book to book?
LB: Not easy! I wish I had some easy catalogue, so I could look up a
character to see how tall he or she is and what color eyes they have, but I
don't.... I have a pretty good memory and I dredge up the necessary
information when I am ready for it.
Jessica Dekalb from Lake Knoll, CA: I love your books and the cats,
especially Yum Yum. However, my question is: Why did you decide to move
Qwill to Pickax from Down Below? I couldn't imagine running out of
interesting people and situations in a big-city environment, but you could
keep some characters coming back throughout the books.
LB: I wrote the first four books when I was living in a big city. However,
when I moved to the country, I discovered small-town living and saw the
delights of small towns. One writes about what one knows and is
enthusiastic about, and right now I like small towns.
Evelyn Cullet from Chicago, Ill: I've read every one of your books,
starting with the first, except for your last, which doesn't seem to be in
the bookstores in my area as yet. But I'm looking forward to reading it
soon. I'm interested to know how you came up with the character of Qwill.
Is he based on someone you've known?
LB: Interesting question. When I wrote my first book, I knew I wanted to
write about a newspaperwomen, but I didn't want to write about a women,
because people said that would be too autobiographical. He turned out to be
a composite of five men I have known either socially or at work. He has
changed over the years, and he seems very real to me.
Abby Mulligan from Seekonk, MA: Hi, I have read all of your books and I was
wondering what the first book that Qwill meets Koko is called, and what is
the title of the book where he first met Yum Yum?
LB: THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS is the book where Qwill meets Koko.
THE CAT WHO ATE DANISH MODERN is where Qwill rescues Yum Yum, who had been
Shanda King from Morgantown, WV: I love Koko and Yum Yum in your books? Do
you think you will ever let Qwill get another cat?
LB: Well, I don't think Koko will like it. He likes to be the king, and I
think two cats is enough for anybody.
qwillgirl from aol: How do you come up with such wonderful characters and
locations with such appropriate and wonderfully funny names?
LB: I love naming them. I lie awake thinking of funny names. In Michigan
there is a town called Badax, and I invented Pickax and the Tittabawassee
River, and then I named Ittibittiwassee River. Naming the characters is
Melanie Thibodeaux from Belle Haven, Virginia: Although I have never read
your books, I can honestly tell you that many people like them. I work in a
local library and they are very much sought after. I am curious, however,
why you use domestic animals as characters in your work. Thank you!
LB: I have always written stories about cats, and in the series the cats
are almost more intelligent than Qwill. I think it is funny that cats are
more intelligent than humans. I am very tongue-in-cheek. I assume the cats
are smarter than Qwill, and that is my little joke. Also, there are 56
million cats in the U.S., so somebody must like them.
Sheila from Downers Grove, Il: Have you ever written any other fiction or
mystery books that have characters other than Qwill, Koko, and Yum Yum? Do
you ever think about starting a different series?
LB: No, I am very much content with the series I have. I have not written a
ny other books. Wait, I wrote a book many years ago that didn't have cats,
and it wasn't published. I think I am at my best when writing about cats.
Nicole Evans from Park Slope, Utah: Do believe that a person is either a
cat person or a dog person? Are you a feline fan as well as a dog person?
LB: Some people like all animals and some people prefer one or the other. I
personally have more experience with cats, but I know other people's dogs
and I am starting to incorporate dogs into minor roles in my stories
because I know people love them.
Gregory from Gary, IN: Do you have a set writing formula that you apply
when writing your Cat Who mysteries? Also, I am curious to find out a
little bit more of how exactly you write these highly entertaining books.
Do you have a structure or outline of the book previous to starting?
LB: I know it would be smart to have a structure, but I don't. I just think
about my book and I start writing my first page and the story develops. It
is not the right way, but it is how I do it. I never learned how, so I just
do it the way that comes naturally.
Kate from Glen Ellyn, IL: I am 14 and I love your books. I've read all but
two, counting your new one. Anyway, do you have a favorite character? Why
is he/she your favorite? (P.S. I love them all!)
LB: Qwill is probably my number-one favorite, but I love Polly and Hixie
Rice and his lifetime friend Arch and Amanda.... I love them all! I love
them because I created them.
Cheryl Lowe from Maple Shade, NJ: There have been an awful lot of murders
in Moose County. For such an out-of-the-way place, it seems the crime per
capita is getting a bit high. Will Qwill be traveling to crime any more in
LB: Well, in the first place, it is hard to write a murder mystery without
a murder. That is the only answer I know to that question.
Donna from Dundee, MI: Hello, Ms. Braun. Are there other authors that you
have looked to for inspiration, style, ideas? Do you have a favorite author
(other than your own works)? Thank you.
LB: When I am writing, I am not reading, and when I am reading, I am not
writing. I especially like 19th-century authors like Dickens, Brontė, etc.
I have been influenced by all of them and I am grateful.
Natasha Lewis from Alpena, MI: Has there ever been any discussion about
taking your stories to another media, i.e. film or television? I think your
tales would stand up to the best "Murder She Wrote" episodes.
LB: There have been many suggestions that we film the series, but I don't
want any filming when I am writing it. But after I am writing, I might
adapt to taking it to the screen. I am scared that I might be influenced by
the screen, and I don't want that. So until I stop writing, there will be
Cindy from Chicago: I love Qwill and the cats. Some of your villains are
really quite evil. How do you come up with their cruelty and meanness?
LB: You must have villains, and they very often are cruel and mean. What
else can I say?
Christina from Zelienople, PA: Hello, Mrs. Braun. I'm 12. I really like
your books and was wondering when you first began writing.
LB: When I was two years old, I wasn't exactly writing, but I composed a
poem: "Mother Goose is up in the sky, and these are her feathers coming
down in my eye." Not bad for a two-year-old.
qwill007 from CT: I have just read a few of your books and really enjoy
them. My question is this: Must they be read in the order you wrote them to
understand the character development? Do you write a certain number each
year? I love the name Qwill and lifted it for my AOL name online.
LB: I write one per year.
Kara from Des Moines, Iowa: When you first started to write, did you write
using a typewriter or did you write it out in longhand? What method do you
use for writing now? Do you use a word processor or computer? Do you think
one method for putting down your thoughts is more effective than others?
LB: I like that question, because I love writing longhand. I don't have a
word processor -- I am very old-fashioned. I use a felt pen and a yellow
S. Nelson from Springfield, Illinois: What advice would you give to high-
school-age authors who would like to become professional writers?
LB: What I always say: Write, write, write. Describe people, write about
personal experiences, but write something every day.
Sheila from Downers Grove, IL: Thank you for answering my previous
question. I have just one more. Do you ever do book signings in the Chicago
area? Not only am I a fan of your books but so is my aunt. She gave me my
first Cat Who book. After I read it, I went to the library and bookstores
and started reading them in order. Her birthday is in March, and I'm sure
she'd love an autographed copy of your latest book.
LB: Unfortunately I don't travel for signings. I just stay around home
(North Carolina and South Carolina). Sorry about that.
Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us this evening, Ms. Braun. Any
LB: I have enjoyed this opportunity. You have asked many intelligent
questions, and I have enjoyed answering them. Have a great night!