Lately, I've been marveling at how chic it is to scoff at kittycats. There's this overarching bias in our crime fiction community that equates felines with frippery. It's a kind of odd snobbery, snuggly and warm as a winter blanket, but woven with disdain.
If a mystery contains a cat -- and that cat has even a small role -- it's a hairball in the world of literature.
And yet, sometimes, when I'm imbibing my second shot of scotch, I raise a glass to the queen of cat mysteries . . . Lillian Jackson Braun. Her dozens of CAT WHO books have sold millions of copies for years. She has a rabid fan base that spans the globe.
Obviously, all of those readers are wrong. Right?
Cat mysteries denigrate the important work we're trying to do in the crime fiction genre. Don't they?
It's interesting that at the same time this bias exists, you can come to a community-connection site like Crimespace and find many people who use cats as avatars.
Why is it cool to dis fictional felines?
Let me tell you a brief story . . .
A little more than a decade ago, I was pregnant -- sick, hostile and of a murderous mind. That's when I discovered the curative powers of traditional mysteries, of fun and fast reads. Only these could momentarily soothe my nausea and frayed nerves. Braun, Grafton and a score of other authors became my sanity.
Alas, one day the CAT WHO series stopped working for me. I got angry. If Braun could slam out so many books and sell so well, why couldn't I? Hell, I was a better writer than she was! (DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!)
It's so easy to compare ourselves with other writers, isn't it? Many of us tumble into jealousy or holier-than-thou attitudes that only serve to make us miserable, wet little kittens -- the kind with stinky fur and runny eyes.
I know I suffered in a major way because of these attitudes. When Braun's books lost their magic for me, I wanted something to blame. The cats were an easy target.
. . . So, I understand some of the current snickering.
But guess what? I ended up putting a cat into my New Mexico series. This was -- and is -- an absolute tip of the hat to Braun. Without the disappointment I felt with that book long ago, I might never have had the impetus to put my butt in a chair and write the first manuscript. I might not have stuck through the failure of that attempt, and the one after that, before finally selling a work.
You see, I think it's seductive to feel superior. Sometimes it can generate wonderful action. More often, it deprives us.
I don't write cat mysteries, but I don't mock them either. In my series, Leo does have a role in my protag's life. Anyone who has had a pet to love, knows how important an animal can be to maintaining a sense of stability when the world seems rocky and mean.
What I find intriguing is that cats get bigger play, bigger attention, in the excuse to neglect a sector of books.
Why not goldfish
or cigarette smokers
or men who can't maintain healthy relationships?
What's up with that?