1. How did you get your inspiration for “Cat in a Red Hot Rage?”
Because the Midnight Louie mysteries are set in Las Vegas, which is a huge convention town, I have my pick of all the interesting groups that assemble there for murder venues! That’s one reason I set the series there. With almost 40 million annual visitors, it’s logical that my amateur detective and Louie’s “roommate,” PR woman Temple Barr, would keep encountering murders. One of these convention groups is the Red Hat Society, clubs of 50-and-over women who wear festive red and purple clothing and go out together to “have fun.”
I thought it was time “hatitude” met “catitude” in the form of Midnight Louie and company. Also, the exotic environment of women decked out in red and purple, including feather boas, seemed an intriguing background for murder.
2. What type of feedback have you received about “Cat in a Red Hot Rage” and your other Midnight Louie books?
I hear from a ton of readers. They e-mail news and photos of their cats and regard Midnight Louie as one of their own. Because the series has four human crime solvers that Louie “helps,” readers also are caught up in their ongoing romantic as well as investigative shenanigans.
I hear that the novels’ humor and human insights (via Louie) have helped readers through tough times and sickness. One young woman who survived a head-on car crash wrote that she saw “the light” but resisted going into it because she’d just started “Catnap,” the first Louie mystery and was determined to finish it. Brain damage made reading and other abilities difficult, but she did indeed recover to read Midnight Louie books again. Another reader recognized that a friend on the phone was suicidal and wondered, “What would Matt do?” using the fictional radio counselor scenes to help her calm down her friend. That’s pretty awesome!
Some in the literary community snicker at the idea of “cat mysteries,” but they have no idea what cats and fiction mean to many people.
3. How do you continue to come up with new ideas for the Midnight Louie series?
I look at which of my four human crime solvers besides Temple will be front and center in the next book. Of course I have to figure out how Louie can be a major element in a fun, yet logical way. Also, because the titles have an alphabetical pattern after “Catnap” and “Pussyfoot,” the first two books, I must weave the title color word into the plot. I’m now inviting readers to suggest “color” words for upcoming titles.
4. Which characters in the series are your favorites? Why?
Midnight Louie, of course, is first and foremost. His character is based on a cat living at a high-end Palo Alto, Calif., motel with a koi pond — a koi pond that kept him alive to the tune of 18 pounds. When I was a newspaper reporter in St. Paul, Minn., I wrote about the woman who flew Louie to her Minnesota home to save him from being sent to the pound by the motel management. I first used Louie’s “fur-person voice” in that article. It was hard-boiled and funny about human foibles. His survival instincts stuck with me when I became a full-time fiction writer.
Temple’s two romantic interests, Max and Matt, both have fascinating backgrounds. Max is a magician/antiterrorism agent and Matt is an ex-priest, so each is an idealist in his own way. Readers also love the hard-edged woman cop, Carmen Molina, whose barriers are breaking down. I’m a character-driven author, so I relish characters that continually grow, and in a long series they can have quite a story arc. Even Midnight Louie, ideal as he is in his innate feline perfection, has faced personal crises and evolved.
5. Can you give us any hints about the next book?
In the forthcoming “Cat in a Sapphire Slipper” (August 2008), the Sapphire Slipper is one of Nevada’s famous legal bawdy houses. I’ve never used this unique setting in the series before. Imagine an entire bridal party kidnapped and held there, with murder afoot, and Louie’s investigation hampered by the arrival of hard-to-handle Midnight Louise; his feral mother, cat colony gang leader Ma Barker; and a resident house cat, a pure black lovely who also might be related to Louie.
The “T” book, which I’m about to start writing, will deal with an ultra-modern danger — criminals using the Internet for fraud and predation.
6. What is your writing process?
Plot-driven writers outline what happens down to the scene before they start writing the book. Character-driven writers focus on the characters’ challenges and opportunities to grow.Then, the plot comes from that. I’m a character-driven writer, or I could never get along with such a wayward, take-no-prisoners character like Louie!
I pretty much write 24/7.
7. Tell us about your other books besides the Midnight Louie series.
I wrote eight novels from 1990 to 2004 in another series set in the Sherlock Holmes world. “Good Night, Mr. Holmes,” the first such novel, won two mystery awards and was a named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. It was the first novel to make a woman from the Holmes stories a protagonist.
Now, I have a new bestseller. It’s the first novel of a new series and features another animal character popular with readers, this one of the canine family. “Dancing with Werewolves” came out in October 2007, featuring Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator. It uses the Las Vegas of 2013 as a background, after the Millennium Revelation when all the supernatural creatures of myth and legend — vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and some new varieties I invented — have come out of the closet.
8. Are there any subjects you’ve always wanted to write about that you haven’t yet?
Every writer has key subjects that drive the writing. Ray Bradbury said to write about what you loved with a child’s passion. Animals are my major subject since, as an only child, I’ve always loved and wanted to care for them. As a graduate of a girls’ high school and college, I found myself frustrated by the barriers I found women faced in the working world, so I’m very interested in women’s roles and rights in times and places past and present. I’ve been able to address and use all these elements in my 50-plus novels so far, but I prefer to preach by entertaining.
I very much enjoy exploring public icons of any era and presenting fuller and more insightful portraits of them. I was especially able to do this in my Sherlockian historical series with such characters as Bram Stoker, the man who wrote “Dracula,” and Lola Montez, a notorious woman of her time who was so much more. In the Midnight Louie series, I did that with Elvis, although I knew some people hate him and some love him.
I’m now thinking about writing another historical novel that would allow me to cast new light on some famous figures and an era. Whatever I write, it will reflect what I care about in life, what and who has inspired me, and will investigate what makes it possible for us all to survive and thrive in the circumstances, good or bad — including cats.