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Why Cats

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And now a questionaire. How many of my smart readers have discovered that Koko and Yum Yum got their names from Gilbert and Sullivan? And Qwilleran copies his moustache from Mark Twain? And the series was inspired by Anthoy Trollope? LJB

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"Why Cats?
   by Lilian Jackson Braun (Caseville, ME)

It was never my intention to write about cats... or to write mysteries. In fact, I knew nothing much about either of them, apart  from an adolescent fascination with Baker Street. Little did I know that my own Sherlock Holmes would be a cat, and my Doctor Watson  would be a journalist with a large moustache that twitches when he  encounters foul play. Story-telling came to me naturally and early, and I wisely wrote about things I know: Girl Scout camp-outs, high school baseball,  the eighteenth century French court. Strange to say, all my stories  had unhappy endings, and many tears were shed in my $15 typewriter, prompting my mother to say, "Why don't you write something that makes you laugh?" I tried, because I was brought up to believe that mother knows best, but darned if I could think of anything funny! At that time I was unaware how funny cats could be. When I was an adult with a husband and a career in advertising and an apartment in a high-rise building with a view, I finally acquired my first pet. He was a Siamese kitten whom I named Koko after a character in "The Mikado," and the two of us were on the same wave length. He obviously knew what I was thinking, and I seemed to know what made him tick. Such was our empathy that it became usual for people to call me part-cat, a remark I accepted as a compliment. magine my grief when, at the age of two, Koko was killed in a fall from a tenth floor window! Imagine my horror when neighbors told me he had been pushed! I began having nightmares about members of my family falling from great heights, and I knew I had to write about the episode in order to cope with my distress. The result was a short story titled "The Sin of Madame Phloi," a  tale of crime and retribution told from the viewpoint of a Siamese cat. It was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and the editors asked for more cat mysteries. Then a publisher asked for a mystery novel involving a cat, and The Cat Who... series was  initiated. Many cats have since shared my life, providing  inspiration and ideas, but it was the original Koko who launched my fiction career, and The Cat Who... series is a memorial to him. Naturally the hero of the books is a Siamese named Koko, short for Kao K'o Kung, who is smarter than people -- or at least smarter than the journalist with whom he lives. Koko is no supercat; he neither flies nor drives a car no speaks English. He merely sniffs and scratches in the right place at the right time, enabling Jim  Qwilleran to uncover clues. Mother was right. I laugh a lot while writing these catly spoofs.  As subjects for mysteries, cats are clever, funny, independent,  subtle, wily, profound, inscrutable and -- yes -- mysterious. And  there are no two alike. But if you're going to write about them, it helps to be part-cat."

 

"To understand a cat you must realize that he has his own gifts, his own viewpoint, even his own morality"

- LJB

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