Category Archives: mischevious cats

All Hail Dusty!

Dusty, the feline star of my novel Bait and Switch, is based on a cat with whom I grew up.Dustyk

Dusty came into my life as a kitten when I was seven years old, and despite my occasional lapses of trying to saddle her with tack from my toy horse, Thunderhead, we were actually great pals. Dustye Especially since I would sit through thunderstorms when she hid behind the couch and try to calm to her.  I’m afraid singing was involved, but unlike Rosalind, she didn’t think my singing suggested I was in pain.

 

Dusty gets credit for inspiring what may actually have been my first venture into literature:  writing her biography, illustrated with pictures from a Purina Cat Chow book on cats.  It was mercifully short.  However, I did learn that Dusty was a silver or grey tabby from my research.

 

Inspiring the wise aleck attitude of her literary incarnation in Bait and Switch, the real Dusty was quite the character. Dustya Not only a top-flight mouser (which will come into greater play in the third Jessica Minton novel), Dusty also taught the neighbor’s dog an important lesson in inter-yard relations.  As my mother related the story, Spot (there’s an original name) had a bad habit of chasing Dusty, until one day her nibs stopped short, turned around, and, as if to embody that she’d had it with being a victim, unleashed her very sharp claws right across her pursuer’s nose.  He never bothered her again –– even though she would occasionally sit on her side of the fence between our yards and do the cat version of “Nyah-yah!”

 

She also was undeniably the boss of us. Dustyi If my brother or I spent too much time late at night sitting, talking in a car with our friends outside the house, Dusty would circle the vehicle growling, until we got out.  Then she would march us to the back door and into the house, before she galloped off to handle the rest of her catlly night duties.  Humans are so hard to take care of!

 

Also like her name sake in Bait and Switch, Dusty was quite the gourmand.  She also delighted in Polish ham, liverwurst, or fresh turkey and chicken.  Dusty additionally had some more unusual tastes for a feline:  peach ice cream; potato chips;  Dustydand, as you see here, corn still on the cob.   Note that her place setting has four bowls:  water, milk, and two types of cat food!

And woe to you if you didn’t feed her fast enough. My sister-in-law Dusty2 Pam got a sound smack on the hand once for not moving that chicken with sufficient alacrity.

 

Dusty may have had a secret scandalous life.  She did give birth to three kittens (Tiger Butterball, Jr; Mitzi Gaynor; and Midnight –– I didn’t name them!). Dustyf We also suspected she might have had a drinking problem.

 

 

 

 

All in all, Dusty was a dear and sympathetic pal, Dustyjgoing for walks with me in the yard, nuzzling me when I was down, playing with me when I needed some exercise.  She lived all the way up to sixteen, one day waiting for my mother to come home before taking her leave and making a final journey to the great beyond.  I have many more stories about her to tell, so mayhap we can have some more Dusty blogs.  I would love it if anyone else who remembers Dusty would share.  I just hope my novels are a fitting tribute to a truly cool cat!

 

 

Dustyc

Summer Birds and Beasts One

Yang went to pick up the watering can for the plants the other evening, and this is who greeted him. Frog2My friend Sarah tells me that he/she is a grey tree frog! We always have plenty of toads in the yard. In fact one used to sit on a floating platform in the fish pond and sing away the afternoon. However, I didn’t even know we had these guys in our yard! Quite the cutie, isn’t she/he?Frog1

Here, you can see, from left to right, a Blue Jay, a Mourning Dove, Birds1and the edge of a shy (or hungry) Red-bellied Woodpecker’s wing. I always get them mixed up with the Common Flicker. I can tell the difference in how they look; I just can never remember which name goes with which bird. Ah, here he is peeking out at us!birds2

 

Here’s a Downy Woodpecker. It could be a Hairy Woodpecker. I know the latter is bigger, but I can’t exactly make the comparison here.DSCN2839 I also know the Hairy has a longer beak, but unfortunately the picture is not quite sharp enough. We get both types, as well as Flickers and Nuthatches. No Piliated Woodpeckers, though!

 

 

Next are a Cardinal and a Mourning Dove. Some of these images aren’t as clear as they could be because I had the screen down on the window and had to shoot through it.birds4

 

Darned old Mourning Dove with a Red-winged Blackbird. The Blackbird is hard to catch. He comes by all the time, but always seems to see me and fly off before I can get a good shot.birds7 I’ll have some more bird pictures later with him in it –– as well as other birds. I would also love to get a shot of our Catbird. She is forever landing nearby and popping around looking for food or getting a drink from the bird bath near the fish pond. All I have to do is hold still and she’s my buddy. I’m happy to say that on our bicycle rides, Yang and I have seen a plethora of Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows!

Oh, and by the way, Yang and I aren’t the only ones in the house who like to bird watch.birdcat

 

River Hawks Bookstore Lowell – Reading on My Old Home Turf

 

So, on May 28th I gave my final reading of the month at my alma mater’s bookstore, River Hawks.  It wasn’t exactly a trek back to Tara, but it was a wonderful experience for seeing so many old friends at UMass Lowell.Lowell4

First of all, the day was a scorcher:  in the 90s!  Of course, I had to have a hot cappuccino before my performance!  Thank God this place is air conditioned – but the nice, comfortable kind of air conditioning, not the Arctic temps that make polar bears shiver, which you find too often once May rolls around.  Lowell5Here, I’m sitting, looking over my notes and finishing my coffee in the lobby.  The building is really nice, with lots of windows and airy space.

Ham bone that I am, I had to get a picture of myself with the display for my book! Lowell1 The young woman clerking at the counter was nice enough to do the honors.  Like the dress?  Yang made it for me by copying a vintage dress I’d bought on Ebay.  This way we get the beauty of authentic vintage design combined with the convenience of material you can hand or machine wash!  There’s not much he can’t do:  from using physics to move boulders to building an oxygen R08chamber for a kitten recovering from double pneumonia.  Note the luxurious quarters:  litter box, bed, blanket, toys, and inspiring pictures (Rosie the Riveter, Rosalind in AYLI, and Rosalind Russell).

Before the session, I had a nice chat with Abbey and Christina, who had taken charge of setting up the space for me.  As you can see from the pictures, it’s a great area for doing a reading.  Lowell7What I could really kick myself over is that I had such a wonderful time seeing old friends that I forgot to have my entourage (Yang) take any pictures of folks.  Damn! Not even a group shot!  So, who’s on the red – or here royal blue-  carpet?

Sue Thorne-Gagnon and her husband Bobby were first to arrive.  Sue and I were at ULowell together at the same time, but darned if we never met until years later when we were working at BASF systems before we both went back into teaching.  She’s a wonderful teacher and flutist.  Next came Lisa McCarthy and her daughter Hedda.  I’ve known Lisa since the late seventies, and we’ve been through everything together from rambles around Boston, hikes through the woods, and Star Trek conventions.  My nephew Phil and his wife Steph also appeared on the scene.  Steph is responsible for addicting me to Psych; Monk; Murder, She Wrote; and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.  Can I get her hooked on Murdoch?  Steph is a teacher and Phil is a filmmaker – check out his co-production of My Name Is Jonah.  When he and his older brother were kids, Sharon&GeoffI used to hold them under the arms and swing them in a circle, which they loved.  Now they can do it to me, but not at the reading. Here’s a picture of my giving Geoffrey a whirl.

After the reading started, I was so excited to see, first, Barbara DeMeuth then Mary Lou Beausoleil slip in!  These guys have been my friends since grammar school!  Clearly, they have much forbearance.  It was fantastic that they came to support me!  Barb is actually my oldest friend – not in age but in duration.  We met when we were going into the fifth grade.  Mary Lou is only a few months behind.  But we can’t get together as much as we’d like, so it was fantastic to catch up!  Mary Lou was one of the earliest readers of one of the earliest versions of Bait and Switch – and she still came, anyway!  Barb and I have managed to stay in touch on the phone or over an occasional lunch lo! these many years.  Both have wonderfully wicked senses of humor!

It was an absolute delight to see people I care so much about, and who showed me they cared by being here to share in the success of Bait and Switch. And thanks to Maria Shusta, Christina, and Abbey at River Hawks for doing a wonderful job of setting everything up for me and making the day run so smoothly.

So, if you’re a friend from the Merrimack Valley, old or new, who missed the reading but still would like to get Bait and Switch, they have copies awaiting you at the Dusty1River Hawks Bookstore, 220 Pawtucket Street, Lowell.  Dusty from Bait and Switch will be watching for you.

“We’re Not Making this Up”: Plainfield Library, Sisters in Crime New England

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to participate  with two other mystery writers in a Sisters in Crime New England panel, “We’re Not Making This Up” at Plainfield11the Plainfield Library in New Hampshire. Nancy Norwalk is the wonderful lady at the library who set up our panel,  and advertised and arranged for event. I was the newbie and the two veterans were Kevin Symmons, who does romantic thrillers, sometimes with a gothic twist, and Ellen Perry Berkeley, who does gritty mysteries with a historical basis – as well as some interesting nonfiction, Maverick Cats and At Grandmother’s Table:  Women Write about Food. Kevin’s latest is Chrysalis and Ellen’s is Keith’s People.

 

IMG_1936The Library is a beautiful little brick buidling that, like the Tardis, is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.  Just to make sure we knew where we were going, Nancy’s signs pointed out our way into the charming, old New England building. IMG_1940Once there, I shared a table for displaying my books with Kevin Symmons, and the three of us got started talking about our writing and answering questions from a nice turn out of about 15 people. Kevin was our adept moderator.

 

We had some interesting discussion of the merits of small, independent publishers over the big-ticket conglomerates.IMG_1942  You may not get huge advances or get as much promotion (though the latter advantage is not always available), but you also aren’t under pressure to sell 10 to 100s of thousands of books – and you don’t have to pay back an advance that low sales don’t erase. Just as good, your books tend to stay in print longer – and you tend to have more control over content.  We also had some fun and funny discussions over sex vs. romance (in the novels), how do we carve out the time to write, and do the characters spring direct from Plainfield7the unconscious or do we base them on people we know.  I ended up talking about how I like to cast my novels like a movie full of classic actors, with a few more modern folk sprinkled in.  But we all agreed that characters have a way of taking the reins and telling us what they intend to do, no matter what our original intention was – and we love it!

It was also fun to discover how we all did our research through talking to people in different fields, drawing on our own personal andPlainfield8 professional experiences, reading and immersing ourselves in the environments that would become our characters’ worlds:  whether it was WWII New York, show- horse farms, or post Viet Nam America.

I did “shock” my two panel members by admitting that I have to write my first draft with pen (no pencil- too soft!) and paper.  Otherwise, the muse just won’t flow.  She needs to travel from my mind to the paper via that sharp pen point.  Computers are for editing as far as she is concerned.  What can I say!

We writers made some nice connections with one another and with our audience – Plainfield9and I hope that we inspired some of them to keep on with their own writing and perhaps be published, themselves! And, of course, it’s always nice to sell some books!  We writers even ended up getting some reading material from each other.

Plainfield4Next, it’s on to Lowell tomorrow (5/28/16) from 2:00-4:00, where I go solo with Bait and Switch.  Maybe I’ll see some of you folk there!

Christmas Cat Tails

 

So, you’d think these two were little angels:  nice without a hint of naughty.  Christmas garlnd9Albeit, Rosalind looks a little worried about which of Santa’s lists she’s on.

Still, look at Natasha as “O Little Cat of Bethlehem” here.2015Chritmastree

 

 

Not so much.  2016Christmas blackHere, you have the reason for the Great Christmas Blackout of Bethlehem, 2011.

 

 

And of course Rosalind isn’t above diving into the fray to tear2015Christmas apart the pile of presents under the tree.

 

 

 

Popping out of a bag of wrapping paper scraps like the  creature in Alien has its appeal for Miss Rosalind as well.Rosy

We used to blame Rosie for knocking ornaments off the tree and batting them around, often to be found under the couch, sometime in July.  However, one day I came home to find Natasha sitting on the arm of the loveseat next to the tree, smacking down ornaments to her sister on the floor.  I was never quite sure if  ‘Tasha were doing Rosalind a favor or just setting her up to get blamed for striking down the bauble with which we’d catch her playing.2015Christmasmantel I don’t have any pictures of that, but I do have a couple of Natasha showing me 2015Chritsmatmantlethat the mantle piece is not off limits in her book.

 

 

 

 

Natasha is also quite sly about getting around rules.  One cardinal one is that cats are not allowed to walk, rest, or put even a paw on the dining-room table.  I’ve been fairly successful at ensuring they obey while I’m in the house.  Christmas basket2With the clever mind of a lawyer or a student trying to game the syllabus, Tasha found a way to sleep on the table without sleeping on the table.

 

So, there, Mummy!2016Christmas basket4

 

 

 

 

But at the end of the day, after gifts have been gnawed, paper has been shredded and disemboweled, turkey and gravy has been consumed, 2015Christmashangoverboth girls collapse together in a moment of holiday quiescence.

 

 

 

 

The Best of Holiday Cheer from

Rosalind

Christmas garland10

and Natasha!

Christmas Garland