(For questions about the Joe Grey cat mystery novels, go to the FAQ page at www.joegrey.com.)
Why did you decide to write a book that is not part of the Joe Grey series?
My husband and I began writing The Cat, the Devil, and Lee Fontana many years ago, and I wanted to finish it. If I spent all my time writing Joe Grey books I wouldn't be able to use any of the other ideas I've developed in the past.
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.
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 published in January 2005 is in print, and can be obtained by any bookstore. There is also an ebook 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.
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.
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 cat mysteries.
Are any of your YA or children's books other than your Dragonbards and World of Ere series currently available?
I have just published new paperback and Kindle editions of my two horse books for middle-grade readers, White Ghost Summer and The Sand Ponies. A new paperback edition of Silver Woven in My Hair, a YA retelling of the Cinderella story, was also issued recentlly. And my YA novel Poor Jenny, Bright as a Penny is available in an ebook edition under the title Unsettled. This book is highly relevant to today's teens, and I hope more of them will discover it.
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 her Flame series. 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 re-reading the James Herriot books set in the Yorkshire Dales, and some of Loren Eiseley, both authors weaving enchantment in their own way.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
The best advice is the most often quoted: don’t quit your day job. You need to be able to support yourself well before you can give yourself the luxury of writing. You need to be making a steady income while you are leaning to write really well and learning whether you do want to continue on with that discipline. Do other things in life that intrigue you, learn other disciplines. Every challenge you master hones a satisfying personal strength, the same as is needed in writing. As you build your future, your positive life experiences may come together in ways that will surprise you.
Master a work-skill for which you have talent, but one you think will be always in demand: medicine, nursing, rescue work, or one of the building or repair trades where really skilled people are often so hard to find. While many young people with college degrees hunt endlessly for jobs, those who have trained themselves instead in skills that are more generally in demand may find work more easily.
Once you settle into a satisfying job, arrange at least a few hours a week to pursue the discipline that writing demands. The pleasure of mastering a discipline, making it a meaningful part of your life, has produced some of the best adjusted, most likeable and happiest people I know.
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 on the Internet and 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.
If you are meant to write, there will come a time for it in your future. 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, when, chasing the children off to school, she is then busy at her typewriter among the dirty dishes and toast crumbs. Just remember, for a writer, nothing 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 some, online databases containing them are available to patrons. Where they are not accessible, a librarian might even help you get machine copies from other places through interlibrary loan.