Shirley Rousseau Murphy
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Shirley Rousseau Murphy says of her Joe Grey cat mysteries, "Joe and Dulcie
set the mood by granting me rare glimpses into the feline world. I see the
room from beneath the furniture; I remember Egypt and witchcraft; the scream
of a skewered mouse is as music.... These cats are not cute, Joe Grey is not
your sweet natured kitty. Joe's detecting skills run to swift action and to
picking up classified information from Police Chief Max Harper as Joe
lounges on the poker table ... the gray tomcat is a devotee of the cutting
retort and the sneaky surveillance technique." --Mystery Scene.
How many books are there in the Joe Grey series? In what order should they be read?
So far 17 have been published. They're listed in reverse order on my Cat Mystery page, starting with the newest. Begin at the bottom of that page to see the reading order, which is: Cat on the Edge, Cat Under Fire, Cat Raise the Dead, Cat in the Dark, Cat to the Dogs, Cat Spitting Mad, Cat Laughing Last, Cat Seeing Double, Cat Fear No Evil, Cat Cross Their Graves, Cat Breaking Free, Cat Pay the Devil, Cat Deck the Halls, Cat Playing Cupid, Cat Striking Back, Cat Coming Home, and Cat Telling Tales.
When is your next book coming out?
The 18th Joe Grey book, Cat Bearing Gifts, will be published in November 2012.
Will Cat on the Money, the serial novella that began in Cats Magazine, ever be published?
Not in print, but it is now available as an e-book. Also, the entire story has been here at my website since Cats Magazine ceased publication, and it will remain here as a printable PDF to download as well as chapter by chapter to read on the screen. In time sequence, this story comes after Cat Spitting Mad. (There are a few references to its events in later books that may puzzle people who haven't read it.)
Are your other books available as e-books?
Yes, e-book editions of all the Joe Grey books and The Catswold Portal have been issued by Harper. Some of my Young Adult fantasy novels are also now available in ebook editions (see the Fantasy page here at my site).
I'd like to get hardcover editions of Cat on the Edge, Cat Under Fire, and Cat Raise the Dead. Do they exist?
No, the first three books of the Joe Grey series were originally published in paperback. Publishers often don't start issuing hardcovers until a series is well enough known to become popular.
Is Molena Point a real place?
Molena Point is based loosely on Carmel, California, where my husband and I now live--but there are many differences. I don't try to be too factual, I go for the atmosphere, for the feel of this small and charming village.
Do you have real cats that look like the cats in the stories?
My own cats, past and present, are shown on the Real Cats page at this website.
Will Joe Grey and Dulcie ever have kittens?
Joe and Dulcie aren't talking. Maybe the kit will have to remain the substitute for a litter--she's a pawful enough to keep them busy!
Now that Charlie is married to Max Harper, can she possibly keep the secret of the cats' abilities secret from him?
Wait and see!
In the Joe Grey books you sometimes say a cat is "flehming." That word isn't in the dictionary. What does it mean?
Here is an explanation of flehming from www.peteducation.com: "When a cat smells something and then opens his mouth slightly, wrinkles his nose, and curls back his upper lip, he is exhibiting what is called the 'flehmen reaction' or 'flehming.' He is drawing in air, capturing the scent, and transferring it to a small specialized sac called the 'vomeronasal organ' or 'Jacobson's organ.' This organ is located high up in the roof of the mouth, and has a large blood supply. It traps the odor molecules and sends signals to the brain regarding the scent."
Another word that's not in most dictionaries is "clowder." What do you mean by a clowder of cats?
"Clowder" is a collective term meaning a group of cats. There are specific collective terms for many other kinds of animals--for example, pack of wolves, pride of lions, and troop of monkeys. They're used for animal species that generic terms such as "herd" or "flock" wouldn't fit, but because domestic cats don't live in groups as feral ones do, "clowder" isn't seen often.
Why is Kit referred to as a "tattercoat" cat?
Tattercoat is the name of one of the many versions of Cinderella and Kit is, in a way, a Cinderella cat; but tattercoat is also self-descriptive. A long-haired tortoiseshell cat, because of the mottled variations in color, often looks to me as if she is dressed in a tattered or patched fur coat.
Is the Gaelic folklore referred to in your books real folklore, or did you make it up?
The wonders of Celtic tales helped to inspire The Catswold Portal, and later the Joe Grey books--particularly the folk stories of doors to an underground world. But, as with my fictionalizing of Molena Point, I digress and wander astray as the mood suits me.
Will Joe Grey or Dulcie ever change form like Kate Osborne and the cats in The Catswold Portal?
I wish I could say that Joe Grey wants to be able to change to human, but the truth is, he doesn't, and wouldn't do so even if he could. Joe is stubbornly happy with being just what and who he is. And while Dulcie has mixed feelings on the matter, lately she's come to realize even more fully that the complications of such changes might outweigh the rewards--she's beginning to see that Kate Osborne herself isn't too happy with the dual role.
Are you going to write a sequel to The Catswold Portal?
I might, in the future. No promises!
Is The Catswold Portal still available anywhere?
A new paperback edition was published by Eos (a HarperCollins imprint) in January, 2005. It should be available in most bookstores. There is also an e-book edition.
At the end of The Catswold Portal, why does the picture of Alice Kitchen's cat Mari look exactly like Melissa's feline form?
On page 12 of the new paperback edition of The Catswold Portal, "Sarah" finds a page written by a child about the death of her cat, Mari. Sarah wonders if she herself had written these words, at some time in her past childhood that she cannot remember. We realize later as we learn more about Melissa, and about her relationship with Alice when they were young and about Alice’s own childhood, that Alice wrote this before ever Melissa was born.
So then, on page 402, "The cat in Alice’s drawing in the restaurant, the same cat as in Alice’s diary, the same cat that had been buried years ago in the front yard of the Russian Hill house--the cat that died before she, Melissa, was born." She knows that cat looked like her own cat self. The implication is that perhaps cats do have nine lives, and that Mari came back as a shapeshifting cat: as baby Melissa. Alice had dearly loved her little cat, and the cat loved her. When Melissa was born, Alice and the baby had an immediate affinity, one for the other. It is up to the reader to believe, or disbelieve, this part of the fantasy.
Does the Cat Museum described in your novels really exist in San Francisco?
I wish I could say that the Cat Museum is a real place, but it is not. The museum is one of my dreams, a place I would love to build myself and that I do enjoy writing about so that I can visit it in my imagination.
I have information about three cat museums, none of which are in the U.S. If you know of other such museums (not just specialty shops), e-mail me the particulars, and we'll add them to the list.
Why aren't you online personally?
Call it a quirk, call it contrariness, I like not being online. If I had Internet access I would know that silent and invisible messages were there in the computer waiting for my attention, an insistent offstage voice, at a time when I prefer to remain totally in the world of the book.
What did you do before you became a writer?
I grew up in Long Beach, California, riding the horses my father trained, hunters and jumpers and pleasure horses. After high school I attended San Francisco Art Institute, majoring in fine art and commercial art. Following graduation I worked as a designer creating everything from food labels to beaded wedding gowns, then, in Los Angeles, as an interior designer. Later, I exhibited my paintings and sculpture extensively in juried shows and museums on the west coast and in Mexico and Panama. For three years, I worked in a library in the Panama Canal Zone; that was when I began to write. When my husband and I returned to the States, we lived in Oregon, then Atlanta, before returning to California.
Do your books develop from personal experiences?
The Joe Grey books were generated by a lifelong friendship with all kinds of animals, and from my frustration at not finding enough books for adults about talking animals that satisfied me. I wanted to read about a real world with speaking cats whose thoughts and reactions were as complicated as those of humans--but cats who had not abandoned their feline nature. I imagined a bold tomcat who, with his natural skills of climbing, sneaking, hiding and eavesdropping, and with more than his share of cattish curiosity, would make a great detective. Joe Grey, a real cat friend with plenty of attitude, was the perfect candidate for the part.
In my earlier Dragonbards trilogy, the original impetus was my frustration that I had not been taught, in school, any real, solid, factual world history. I did not realize until later years how crippling that was to my understanding of present events and of my own life. My question was, What if a world had no written history? Such a world would surely fall into decline, unless, perhaps, history were passed on by oral tradition. But who would be keepers of the history? And what kind of world would it be?
I was reading Sir Arthur Bryant's Set in a Silver Sea, which presents a powerful picture of a world seen from the sky: a tangle of green islands set in vast blue ocean. From this vision, the world of Tirror was born. I knew that I would people its islands with speaking beasts as well as a young human prince. As otters are among my favorite animals, they showed up with their wit and humor and their clever and manipulative hands that could invent and use simple tools;and at that point my thoughts turned again to the sky where I soared on the back of a dragon--a dragon who sang the stories of Tirror's history, and who had the psychic power to bring, into people's minds, living scenes from that rich past.
So you can see that I invent my own worlds when I feel a need; when I feel some lack in this world, off I go on a new adventure. Such journeying is cheaper than a cruise ship, and it is, for me, far more satisfying.
What awards have you received for your writing?
The Joe Grey novels have won seven Muse Medallion awards from the Cat Writers Association, and now one of them has won the new World's Best Cat Litter-ary Award, too. Earlier, for my children's books, I received a Parents' Choice Award and five Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists Awards.
Do you still write children's books?
I haven't written a children's or young adult book in many years, I'm having too much fun with Joe, Dulcie, and Kit. Sometimes I think I'd like to write a fourth Dragonbards book, but these three cats are very demanding of my attention.
What books have influenced you? Who are your favorite authors?
From C. S. Lewis to Tolkien to Peter Beagle, I read my favorite books every so often, to enjoy anew their clarity of style as well as what the authors have to say. Bailey White's first two books are a must. I want an author to have a voice, clear, individual, sharply visual, and to have wit. The Steinbeck I love best is Cannery Row. With many authors I have one favorite, as Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I love the YA fantasies of Jane Yolen, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin, Meredith Ann Pierce. I re-read the fiction of Sue Grafton and Dean Koontz--my favorite Koontz is Midnight. My favorite Sylvia Engdahl is Enchantress from the Stars. My all-time favorite from my early childhood is Alice in Wonderland. And animal books? Watership Down, of course, and Wind in the Willows. And currently I am reading all of J.A. Jance, Sue Henry, and Jeffrey Deaver, and I'm starting on Dick Francis.
But not all my reading is fiction. For I often re-read the essays of Loren Eiseley.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
The best advice: Don't quit your day job. You need to support yourself while you're learning to write and following the long, difficult path to getting published. Master a work-skill that is always in demand: be an electrician, a plumber, some pursuit that you don't bring home with you at night, as you would a profession involving optimum mental and emotional strength and demanding long hours; this frees you to write at night and on weekends.
Take classes in writing wherever you can. But if the teacher does not inspire and excite you, find someone else. Same goes for books on writing: if the book doesn't inspire and lift you, put it back on the shelf. In all your reading, look for quality, clarity, for writing that puts you there, that makes pictures and that stays with you. Don't tolerate that which is dull or uninspired.
If you're really serious, and have been writing and amassing some polished work, go to a writer's conference. (Conferences are listed in some writers' magazines.) You'll find out a lot about other writers, about their problems and how they work. You'll meet an editor or two and maybe an agent, and hear what they have to say.
But if you also long to become a doctor or lawyer, a scientist or teacher, then do so. That, in the long run, is far the wiser choice. The world is full of writers with little to say, but we badly need doctors and fine teachers and honest statesmen. Whatever profession you enter, you can perfect your writing skills along the way, they will be needed and will strengthen you at every turn in your career. If you are meant to write, there will come a time for it in your future. And if you stay home to raise a family really well and creatively, that too is a most admirable profession. If you choose to employ your talents in that way, be sure to read Shirley Jackson. Just remember, for a writer, nothing in life is wasted! It's what you do with it that counts.
You can find more suggestions for young people interested in becoming writers in the advice section of my friend Sylvia Engdahl's FAQ.
Where can researchers find out more about you?
There's lots of information in the following sources, some of which you should find in your public library. Each library is unique in which of these it has, and in which they can access for you through online databases not available on the public Web. They might even help you get machine copies from other places through interlibrary loan.
Some Thoughts On Where Ideas Come From|
And What One Does With Them
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Contrary to popular perception, ideas are not plucked from the air or picked
off bushes. Idea is not something ready-made that you can buy from K-Mart,
nor can you check an idea out of the library for two weeks. To be a writer,
you must expect more than that from yourself in this treasure hunt. One
writer has said that idea is like a bird in flight, you must catch it on the
wing. I take this to mean that the bird soars within our own consciousness,
where the agile mind is quick to track its flight.
But idea alone is not story, ready to be typed into the computer; it is only the germ of a beginning. Ideas can be mined in many ways, from so many turns of thought. You might develop ideas by:
For a writer, idea is not the only element that can generate a story. Story might start with a powerful need to bring alive a place or a personality. At first there is but only desire. The writer, driven by desire, then begins to form ideas for scenes, for conflicts, for complications, to structure the story by deliberately developing scenarios. Playing what if, the writer tries different combinations to build depth and excitement.
The point is to take an analytical look at some place, person or event, and play with that. Let your mind and your questions roam--this is all mind-play. Then see if the result stays with you, if it has rich possibilities that you can develop. It might be full of holes, too weak, and you will discard it. I might toss away hundreds of ideas before one starts to glow and expand. I hold that one close and look at it. It begins to resonate. Place and characters emerge around it. It becomes the kernel on which I want to build, around which I can weave stress, love, fear, conflict, and at last a satisfying resolution--and only then does the real adventure begin. Only then do I set out on the real exploration, trying this path and that, listening to and watching my characters as they themselves take over the story. And thus, at last, finding my true way.
Not everyone has a visualizing sort of mind that sees a place and hears conversations in his or her head. Fiction writing is easier if you do; but even this ability can be enlivened and improved with practice. And there are all kinds of creativity at work and needed in the world, from that of the fiction writer to that of the effective statesman. All start with need that generates idea.
Idea grows from need to solve a problem or need to create something palpable and alive. Idea is the first small and magical bit of clay that you hold in your hand, that slowly you form into a living entity that you must make unique and strong.
Creativity is the process through which the idea takes hold of you, and by which you shape it. If you're a writer, you combine all that you are and know to bring forth a story. You train yourself to the habit of thinking creatively and clearly, just as you might strengthen your running muscles. You understand that your accumulated knowledge, your life experiences, and your joy in the world around you all go into the mix, and from these you form something new. The process of creativity is making: bringing into being.
Surely a writer must learn techniques for bringing a character alive and making the setting totally real. You can learn a lot from books on writing, and from writing teachers (but only the best). Read and re-read the fiction that really excites you. See how the writer does that. Study the use of language, the image making, the conflicts between characters, how the author makes you really care.
What I'm saying here is that creativity is more than do-it-yourself projects and occasional weekend painting. To create seriously, in any form, is an encounter, a mountain climb, a wonderful striving in which all you know waits to be called forth. And in which all outside information, all research that you need to collect, is sought with excitement. You are totally absorbed. Committed. Nothing distracts you, not baseball, not your friends calling you away, not video games or television. You put all else aside in your passion to make what you want to put into the world, to weave together the elements with which you are working. And in doing so you begin, in turn, to see the world more clearly.
Nor does creative passion free you from mastering necessary skills. I know this from hard experience. The artist who scoffs at skill and technique in favor of his or her own feelings will never be great. If as a would-be writer you do not learn good English construction, you will never be able to say what you want so that others know your exact meaning. The discipline of English structure is no different than the discipline of competitive sports: you have to know the moves so well that you respond automatically, or you will never play well. The solid skills have to be second nature. This doesn't mean your work will be dull and stuffy. On the contrary: your unique voice depends mightily on those skills. Certainly you can choose to break the rules--but you have to know them first, to intelligently break them.
Everyone has some creative potential, from artist or writer to scientist to designing engineer to office manager. Solving everyday problems is creative, if you are honest with yourself and with others in your approach to the problem, and if you seek all possible solutions with an open and analytical mind. Raising and teaching children, when it is done really well, is very creative. We all have a creative nature to some degree, it is part of being alive. But beware! There are elements eager to destroy anything creative within you. When you are young and still forming your life the way you want it to be, you would do well to beware of the three D's: