Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On cats, clockwork and otherwise...

Clockwork kitten. You know you want one.

When I write, like most writers, I hold an image in my mind of the story as it unfolds. When I was writing Dangerous Science the images were very specific. The study in Dr. Cromwell's home had high ceilings and opened to a library that was a rather narrow, deep room. The streets of London were gray and gritty and steamy. Gladys was petite, pretty and prim. Dr. Cromwell was tall, brooding and solid.

And then there was Claudette.

Steampunk is wonderful because you can throw fantastical creatures or creations into the story and it somehow works. In most Victorian stories you don't run across cats, let alone clockwork ones. When I considered all my herione, Gladys DeWalt, had been through, I felt the story needed something that would make her smile. So I came up with Claudette, the clockwork kitten she's given by the eccentric scientist who saved Sebastian Cromwell's life.

Who can't smile when they think of a clockwork cat? Well, except for cat haters. And if you're a cat hater, you are excused.

I love cats. I think most writers love cats because they are such wonderful companions for those of us in the profession. They are quiet and - being independent - don't generally make a lot of demands of their human companions. That's good if you're up against a deadline.

My kitten, Dorian Gray. It's "Dori" for short.
They're not at all slavish. I have two corgis; they think I'm wonderful no matter what I do. The cat makes me work for her affection. This is good practice for writers; with cats you learn the value of working to please one's audience.

Some of my favorite writers have cats. Ernest Hemingway was famous for his polydactyl cats, so much so that even now six-toed cats are called "Hemingway Cats. There's a fantastic book on Hemingway's cats here if you're interested.

My favorite author, Neil Gaiman, often references or includes cats in his books and other writings. There was a cat in Ocean at the End of the Lane, and his short story, The Price was adapted to a fantastic video that I find frightening, uplifting and strangely touching.  Sir Terry Pratchett, whom I adore, mentioned cats frequently in his Discworld series. I think my favorite of his quotes was about Death's reaction to someone less than enthused with felines:

“I hate cats."
Death's face became a little stiffer, if that were possible. The blue glow in his eye sockets flickered red for an instant.
"I SEE," he said. The tone suggested that death was too good for cat haters.”

 I was pleased to see that a reviewer actually mentioned Claudette in her flattering assessment (thank you!) of Dangerous Science. Friends who've read the book have asked me if Claudette will come back in the next one? My answer is, "Of course." Cats are not only excellent companions for writers, but for characters as well.


  1. Dori is so cute! Your cat character sounds intriguing. If you haven't done a cat Pinterest board, you should, and have a photo of your clockwork cat that would link to your book. Just a suggestion.

    1. That's a wonderful suggestion, Cara. I just started a Pinterest account and so far just have one board for Steampunk. I certainly need to think about doing a cat board.

  2. OMG Dori is so adorable! I love her! I have 3 cats but none have been in my books yet. I like that your using a cat as a device to make your one character happy. Very good idea :)

    1. Oh, thank you Casey!
      I do a bit of volunteer work for the local high-kill shelter and got Dor when she was just five days old. Her eyes weren't even open and I was the first thing she saw. I bottle-fed her and she's four months old now and still sleeps beside me and gives me hugs and kitty kisses. I adore her completely.

  3. I love cats and recently lost my 17 year old companion. Your kitten is gorgeous. I'm a big fan of Discworld too, Death has some excellent lines.