The Immortality of a Cat by Heather Haven

Tugger, the real cat

Years ago, when I began writing the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, I knew I wanted to include my cat, Rum Tum Tugger, because I adored him so. At the time, I didn’t know about the plethora of cat mysteries out there. But, of course, when I started writing back in the early 90s, there may not have been so many. Nonetheless, I can’t believe how stupid or unread I was. But at the time, I was only familiar with Lillian Jackson Braun’s cat series, The Cat Who…. Lillian Jackson Braun wrote about two Siamese cats owned (if anyone can own a cat) by a middle-aged, burly ex-reporter of the male persuasion. I never for one minute thought a cat being in a mystery series was a common thing. As I say, stupid! In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know there were so many mystery books with cats. I might not have included Tugger (and now Baba, as well) in the stories and I think they add a lot.

Several screenwriters I know have mentioned that when they write an anti-hero kind of story, they have to make sure the anti-hero Saves The Cat. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson did just that in their first Lethal Weapon movie, where they pulled a cat out of building right before it was blown to smithereens. If you think about it, it’s done all the time. It’s even talked about in an article written by the Coen Brother’s character, Llewyn Davis, in the Guardian, if you care to read it. As he says, once you recognize the formula, you see it everywhere, from Sigourney Weaver in Alien to Marlon Brando in the opening scene of The Godfather.

Tugger on the book covers

But that’s not why I did it. I wanted to have fun with my own cat, Tugger. I wanted to have him be a part of my writing experience. Now that he’s gone, having him in the stories even means more to me. For a few brief moments he’s alive again, running, jumping and leaping, getting into all sort of mischief, and being just as loved. For a short time, I can almost hear him purr and smell his powder-puff fur (he was the most fastidious and cleanest cat I ever met). People ask me if I will ever stop writing the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries. The answer is a resounding no, if for no other reason than Tugger is alive again, if only in my mind and heart.

Alter Egos and Alternate Lives

Oakland private eye Jeri Howard has now sleuthed her way through 14 (almost!) books. When I started writing the series, a friend often referred to Jeri as me. I would correct her, saying Jeri is a fictional character.

Jeri is taller, fitter, and more likely than me to put herself in harm’s way, all in service of solving the mystery and finding justice. She’s not aging at the same pace that I am. It’s been 32 years since the first book, Kindred Crimes, was published. Jeri is still in her thirties. As for my age—well, never mind.

Truth be told, there’s a lot of me in Jeri. I like her stick-to-it attitude when she’s digging into a case, determined to see it out. While that determination doesn’t seem to work when it comes to decluttering my condo, it did regarding my plan, hatched in junior high school, to become a published writer. And ongoing plans to keep publishing.

Jill McLeod, my crime-solving Zephyrette, was born in the late 1920s and is working on the train known as the California Zephyr in the early 1950s. As readers learn in Death Rides the Zephyr, Jill majored in history at the University of California in Berkeley. She was planning to get married and teach school, but those plans were derailed when her fiancé was killed in Korea. Instead, she rides the rails.

Jill remembers World War II and the Korean War is still in the headlines. My knowledge of WWII and Korea comes from books and research, but I was alive during the Vietnam Era. These days I travel by plane, but as I did research for the Jill books, I became a rail fan. I enjoy train travel, though Amtrak bears small resemblance to the California Zephyr of Jill’s era. Jill and I do share curiosity about the world around us and a desire to get to the bottom of things.

Kay Dexter is the protagonist of The Sacrificial Daughter. She’s a geriatric care manager in a fictional city in Northern California. Alter ego or alternate life? Maybe. I don’t live in that town or work as a professional care manager, but in the past twenty years, I’ve experienced some of the things that Kay sees. I’ve helped with aging parents and observed a lot with aging relatives and friends. I have plenty of stories.

In my novella, But Not Forgotten, semi-retired reporter Maggie Constable attends her 50th high school reunion, where she sees a poster listing the names of deceased classmates, as well as the dates and causes of their deaths. Her best friend Fern is on that list, but with a question mark next to her name. Fern disappeared after graduation and Maggie is determined to find out what happened to her friend.

I saw a similar sign at my own high school reunion and asked myself, “what if?” Maggie and I both went to journalism school at the University of Colorado and both worked at small town newspapers in Colorado after graduation. However, I joined the Navy as a journalist. Maggie moved to California and worked for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s. In fact, she puts in an appearance in the Jeri Howard novel I’m working on, The Things We Keep, and tells Jeri, “I started working for the Chron in 1974, just in time for the whole Patty Hearst circus.”

Two roads diverged, as Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken.

Perhaps Maggie is me in an alternate life. I took one road and she took another. Stay tuned! Maggie will appear in future projects.

Guest Blogger ~ Dominique Daoust

Why I write cozy mysteries

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I felt like I had to prove I was a dedicated reader by opening the pages of the classics.  But regardless of how many times I forced myself, I simply couldn’t connect with them, they weren’t for me.  And why bother reading something during your free time if you didn’t enjoy it?

After some trial and error, I finally zoned in on what I liked.  I’m a big fan of mysteries and thrillers, historical fiction, true crime and other non-fiction like biographies.  They all bring something to the table that resonates with how my brain works.  I love the twists and turns of a good thriller, the time travelling in historical fiction, the stark realness of true crime, and the revelations of biographies.  My Goodreads TBR list exclusively contains those genres, but there’s one more I recently added.

I think it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say the past few years have been rough.  Other than cuddling my pets and watching reality television (big shout out to RuPaul’s Drag Race!), the only other thing that kept me mentally afloat was my newfound discovery of cozy mysteries.  The laid-back, small-town settings, the quirky characters and pets, the element of mystery that still pulled me in even though it was lighthearted.  It opened my world to a whole subgenre of mystery I could enjoy without it feeling so harsh and heavy.  And who knew there were so many categories!  Cafes, bookstores, gardening, vineyards?  Cozies basically cover every hobby and profession in existence and it’s perfect (cheers to London Lovett and Vivien Chien!).

When I finally decided to start writing, choosing the genre was a no-brainer.  I could include elements I like from all the other genres I’ve been reading for years and wrap them up in a cozy little package.  My goal wasn’t to create a new classic but rather write some fun mysteries that people can enjoy.  Not only did it relieve the pressure and expectations of the end result, but they were a blast to write! 

With The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy, I’ve incorporated a setting and job I’m familiar with, all wrapped up in a historical period I’ve been obsessed with for years.  I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal, my first job was as a maid and I studied journalism.  And I’ve watched so many 1930s movies on the Turner Classic Movies channel that I can’t keep count.  I doubt any genre other than a cozy mystery could quite capture the tone I wanted. 

Many cozies have brightened my days and I sure hope my trilogy can do the same for others.   

Secret sources have a whole new meaning.

Newbie reporter Rita Larose is tired of getting assigned boring stories at one of Montreal’s most popular newspapers. It’s 1930 after all, women don’t need to only write about household chores anymore! But when a high hat socialite gossips about the New Year’s Eve party at the Bonne Nuit Hotel, a riveting mystery falls right into Rita’s lap. This is her chance to prove to herself and her underestimating colleagues that she has what it takes to write the hard-hitting articles.

While going undercover as a maid to get the scoop, Rita will soon discover unexpected friendships and an unusual gift of her own to contend with. Will she be able to juggle this newfound ability while not blowing her cover and jeopardizing her career-making article?

Purchase here: https://www.amazon.ca/Disappearance-Bonne-Nuit-Hotel-Exclusives-ebook/dp/B09WVW6L53

Dominique Daoust is the author of The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy. She is a journalism graduate from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. When not reading or writing, she likes to do yoga, drink margaritas, incessantly quote Friends and listen to rap while doing mundane household chores.

You can follow her on

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dominique.daoust/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DominiqueDaoustAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22331118.Dominique_Daoust

Print the Legend?

Midway through the second novel in my new series, I realized I needed to do more research. So, I stopped before my character’s zeal to confess his backstory irretrievably misdirected my story and the series and did more research on the Civil War.

My challenge is the character’s story involves a man the North made into and still believes was the great monster of the Civil War, while the South still calls him a hero, and the military still studies his genius. Bedford Forrest was not a West Pointer, he was not the son of Southern aristocracy but of a poor farmer who died leaving him head of the household at fifteen, he was semi-literate, and as a man made his living as a slave trader. The question is, when politics define history, what story does the storyteller tell?

I admire James R. Benn for his myth regarding Eisenhower’s distant nephew that fuels the Billy Boyle series, it is plausible, a bit humorous, and works. But who didn’t like Ike? Or am I that old? Though Ike fiddled around with his MTC driver, he never became the subject of the teeth-gnashing yellow journalism Forrest did after the “massacre” at Fort Pillow. One could argue that if most of the troops protecting Fort Pillow had not been black, the ruthless overrun of the fort would not have made the front page of abolitionist newspapers and the New York Times.

The massacre at Fort Pillow was a gift to the North. It proclaimed a Southern monster days after the 13th Amendment passed the Senate, energized Lincoln’s base in an election year, helped the 13th Amendment through Congress, and reinvigorated the Northern fight as Lincoln let Grant and Sherman loose on the South. Though excoriated, General Forrest put the skeer in the Northern generals and keep them skeered, raiding Union stockpiles, burning bridges, and winning battles against long odds right up to the end.

After the war, every time Forrest’s influence rose, the Northern press dredged up Fort Pillow, proving Reconstructionist-era politicos were as afraid of him as their generals had been during the war. Did his decision to lead the nascent Ku Klux Klan help public perception? Of course not. He lent his skills to the fledgling organization to get a Reconstruction Governor out of the Tennessee State House. When the Governor moved to the US Senate, Forrest resigned his leadership. That Klan disappeared after a few years to be reborn in the 1920s as the terrorist Klan we know.

Even now, the Northern legend that the South’s best general was a murdering, slave-trading monster is accepted fact. How then does my character tell a believable tale of an eleven-year-old boy riding with and cared for by Forrest after the boy’s father dies in battle? Will readers accept my character’s backstory, will they label me an apologist, will they ban the book? In the current climate, anything is possible.

My character stands by his story, though the other characters in Illinois in 1876 will not believe it any more than they would now. But it is an opportunity to air both sides of the argument for and against a brilliant, complicated, profane man who managed hell so well both Patton and Rommel studied him.

So, getting back to the title of this blog, at the end of John Ford’s movie The Man who shot Liberty Valance, when Jimmy Stewart’s character finishes telling the truth about Liberty Valance’s death, the newspaperman taking notes says, “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.” In that story, a tough, irascible man does the right thing to save a man he considers better than him. The act changes the trajectory of both their lives forever. Forrest’s “legend” changed his life and the trajectory of this country, as well, otherwise, historians say, we might have become the Confederate States of America. There is a story there.

What Being a Writer Means to Me

I started writing stories when I was a youngster. I wrote my own versions of the books I read. My first original was a story about fairies which I illustrated. My mother sent it to a publisher, who sent back a nice note telling me to keep writing, and I did for a long time.

My first efforts as an adult were rejected and I’m sure because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t get serious about writing until I had grandkids. My sister did our family genealogy and I decided to write an historical family saga based on both.  I had to do lots of research about places and times my ancestors lived and believe me it took a long, long time.

The second one I wrote was published by a major publishing company. I had no clue about marketing or promotion and did one book signing. When the 2nd was published, I knew a bit more.

Next came my first mystery, and another.  I’ve been at this a long time, and now have 50 published books all available on Amazon. Along the way I’ve learned so much about writing and promotion.

Besides the fun of writing and creating characters who seem as real as the people I know, I’ve had a great time over the years traveling all over the county attending writers workshops and mystery cons—Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, plus many of the smaller ones  that have disappeared like Mayhem in the Midlands and Crimefest.

I was able to meet some of my favorite authors like Mary Higgins Clark, William Kent Krueger, Craig Johnson, Naomi Hirahara, and so many, many more. Plus, I made friends with so many other writers and more importantly readers.

When I read about how much writers and readers enjoyed this most recent Left Coast Crime, I was a tad envious, but then realized I had so many great memories of conferences past and all the interesting people I’ve met over the years.

I’m now in the process of my two favorite writer pursuits: 1. Planning for and promoting my latest book, the last in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Reversal of Fortune and 2. Putting together ideas for my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Being a writer is a wonderful and rewarding part of my life in so many ways.

Reversal of Fortune is about the death of a fortune teller. It’s available in paper and for Kindle on Amazon: (I wrote this series as F. M. Meredith)