Monday, October 1, 2007

Morphing Felines

by Nina Wright

Meet Flannery Florida Wright, my monkey in a cat suit. Sure, she looks relaxed, but that’s because she’s resting after wreaking havoc. Flan is a Devon Rex, a breed known for its athleticism and sociability, cat-fancier euphemisms for hyper-activity and neediness. Our nicknames for Flan include “Alien,” “Flying Squirrel,” “Heat-Seeking Missile,”and “Waxhead” (don’t ask).

As you may know, I write a mystery series starring an Afghan hound and featuring the following canine crew: a golden retriever, a German shepherd, a Rott Hound (Rottweiler-bloodhound mix), and a shitzapoo (technically, a shih poo). Every dog I love or ever have loved lives on in Abra and her peers. However, I also live with and write about cats. See the cover of Whiskey and Tonic! (Give yourself a pat on the head if you can spot Flannery in Bunky Hurter's delightful art.) To date, four of my many felines have wandered, slightly disguised, onto the pages of my books.

Flannery has inspired two fictional felines: Yoda in Whiskey and Tonic and Ruby Tiger in my middle-grade work-in-progress, The Fine Art of Following Cats. I gave Flan a sex change for Yoda and a red-fur makeover for Ruby Tiger, who is actually a blend of Flan and a stunning Abyssinian I once owned. Also featured in The Fine Art is a cat based on Lola Felina, a fluffy all-white beauty who found me on a hike through the backwoods of West Virginia. Lola’s extraordinarily sensitive nose and communicative twitchy tail inspired Fiona Whiffer, cat detective.

Rocco the “serial-killer cat” in my teen novel, Homefree, is based on Oreo, an insanely fearless tuxedo cat who slew pheasants, ground hogs, and young foxes on my farm in Michigan. When we moved to Florida, he bit the heads off snakes. Minus a few teeth, part of an ear and the tip of his tongue (don’t ask), Oreo has now settled into urban retirement.

Something tells me I'm not finished writing about Flannery (who looked like this when I chose her from the litter). Here's how one cat fancier lovingly describes Devons: "Pixie-like with a cheeky face, turned-up nose, and large pointy ears....Respond well to training and often learn to perform simple tricks like fetching, begging, and opening cupboard doors....Will follow you, talking in chirps and trills; you'll never again go to the bathroom alone....Can arrange themselves around your neck like a suede scarf....Are astonishing leapers who amaze their owners by landing on book cases, refrigerators, and the tops of open doors."

All true, except that no one had to teach Flannery to fetch, beg, or open cupboards. As for the part about Devons jumping, they prefer to jump onto people, specifically backs and heads. Hence the "suede scarf" reference. If Flannery can’t access your back, she may, without warning, leap onto your chest. Or she may scale you like a mountain, using her claws as crampons. When that happens, even devout animal lovers scream. I do my best to warn visitors. Anyone with a heart condition or anxiety disorder is immediately placed in a Flannery-free zone. No wonder I’m contemplating a Devon Rex as a murder weapon. In a future mystery, I mean.

Then again, I may switch genres. One of my imaginative friends suggested that if aliens wanted to invade earth, they'd probably come in the bodies of cats, who are innocuous and ubiquitous. Following that argument, aliens would need to design a feline so that it contained certain technical components. Devons might fit the ticket; the breed can practically fly, their coats require no maintenance, and their ears could double as satellite dishes. And aliens probably wouldn't realize how odd Devons look.

If Flannery's leaps don't unnerve my guests, her relentless close-range gaze does. I don't joke about her as a potential alien, recording and beaming images to the Mother Ship. I’m saving those notions for future fiction. But I no longer let Flan follow me into the bathroom....


Deb Baker said...

Ha Ha. Cute Flannery! I have a border collie with those kind of eyes.

Susan Goodwill said...

Quite the cat there. It's been years since I have been a 'cat person,' your post made me remember how much fun they can be.
Those ears do look like satellite dishes--I have a Westie-poodle mix with large pointy ears who follows me to the bathroom. Hmmm.

Nina Wright said...

Thanks, Deb and Susan! Earlier Inkspot posts prove there are many animal lovers among us. I started out as a "dog person" and later, when I moved into an apartment where dogs were prohibited, I discovered--by force--the allure of cats. Being the compulsive researcher I am, I started with a Siamese because I'd read that they were the most "dog-like" of cats. I'm not sure that's true, but it made me the bi-species pet lover I am today.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post! As someone who resides with 2 cats (a true cat lover never says they "own" a cat), I understand the allure and frustration.

I think a story about aliens who infiltrate earth as felines is right on the money! I've always had my suspicions anyway.

Nina Wright said...

So true, Sue Ann! Dogs (well, except for Abra) have masters, but cats have staffs. ;<)

paul lamb said...

Didn't Lillian Jackson Braun strongly hint that the cats in her stories really are aliens in disguise. Seems like one of those "The Cat Who . . ." novels had a pretty definitive scene.

Julia Buckley said...

Well, not to compete, but I have three cats and a dog, and I almost wish my cats were a little needier. They're self sufficient to the point of being snobbish and distant. Darn them. :)

But what a cute kitty you have! Thanks for the photos!