Monday, December 9, 2013

Whiskers Behind the Words: Ali Brandon's Butch & Sundance

While many authors claim to have a muse hanging over their shoulder as they write their books, I can say with all truth that I actually have two of them. Their names are Butch and Sundance.

No, I’m not talking about the famous 19th century outlaws as portrayed by Redford and Newman. My Butchie and Dancer are two orange tabby brothers—almost identical twins—who my husband, Gerry, and I adopted nearly twelve years ago. And ever since I began writing my Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series, the boys have been keeping an eye on my work.

I mean that quite literally.

At least once a week, I have to clean nose prints (not mine) off my computer screen, while dusting the cat hair from my keyboard is an hourly event. And, daily, I have to break up an orange-striped wrestling match as the boys argue over who gets to lounge next to me on my desk.

Not that I delude myself into thinking I’m the actual attraction here. A section of free desk space about one foot square lies between my laptop and my high-powered desk lamp. What better place for a kitty to snooze than between such comfy dual heat sources? Since they are good boys, I usually can convince them to share the spot. Unfortunately, that also means that between one cat chin propped on a corner of the computer, and most of another fuzzy cat butt shoved up against the laptop screen, my writing output get slowed quite a bit. But then, these two have been indulged since kittenhood, so I sigh and scrunch up to the far corner of my keyboard until they decide on their own to take off.

I’d like to tell you how the boys and I met. Before I do, however, I have to start out by making a confession. Even though I write the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series featuring the indomitable Hamlet—an oversized black tom with a personality to match—my husband and I have always been orange tabby fans. We each had an orange tabby growing up. A few years after we married, we adopted an orange tabby female named Gingersnap, along with her orange tabby kitten, Moonpie…this, after Gerry’s co-worker decided she and her roomie weren’t really cat people, after all, and decided to rehome them.

We had our two girls for a good dozen years before Ginger slipped out of the house one night, never to be seen again. Moon Pie was as distressed at Ginger’s loss as we were, so my husband began the search for another orange tabby to serve as Moon’s new buddy. And, wouldn’t you know it, he found via a humane society’s internet ad a pair of orange tabbies—this time, two brothers—who needed a home.

Butch and Sundance had been born to an ill feral mother. That inauspicious start in life improved, however, when they were brought to a foster home to be bottle raised by a tireless rescue volunteer. The rescue woman was thrilled to learn that my husband and I wanted to adopt the pair together. And so, having been approved as kitty parents, we visited her place (a good hour away in the country) every weekend until they were old enough for us to take home.

By then, the boys were about six weeks old and, though growing into sturdy little kittens, still had a couple of weeks more to go before being completely weaned. That meant that we took over the bottle feeding duties! This was our first experience with bottle-raised kitties. It was a hoot to see how eager the little guys were to drink down their meals, and so what could have been a chore turned out to be fun. We discovered, as well, that bottle-feeding made for super-friendly little cats. Forget their feral roots…these guys craved human friends.

Well, at least, Sundance did.

Sundance was (and is) the mellower of the pair, larger than his brother and what we called a melt-in-your-arms cat. He never met a human that he didn’t think was a Class A Cat Petter. Butch, on the other hand, was (and still is) a bit more standoff-ish. Sleeker and more skittish than Sundance, he enjoyed his petting time but was always ready to end it well before his brother tired of being coddled. And, surprisingly, Butch also was the more difficult of the pair to wean.

While butterball Sundance quickly graduated to kibble and canned, Butch refused anything but his bottle. A couple of weeks passed, and he still did the old “scraping in the litter box” pantomime when we tried serving him official cat food. Growing a bit desperate now, we tried various brands and flavors of cat food, even tried sardines and people tuna, but Butch was having none of this. His bottle was just fine, thank you very much.

This might have gone on forever (imagine bottle-feeding a fifteen pound cat a few times a day!) had not a small kitchen mishap occurred one night. Gerry was chopping grilled chicken for supper, when he accidentally dropped some on the kitchen floor. Butch pounced on it and ate it…his first actual piece of solid food that he’d consumed in his short kitty life.

Let’s just say that our grocery bill went up substantially as my husband grilled Butch a chicken breast for supper every night for the next month. To be sure, the finicky feline had finally abandoned his bottle, but the only food he’d eat now was poultry. That was, until the hubster tossed Butch a piece of grilled steak. As you might guess, sirloin now was added to the burgeoning grocery bill. Fortunately, Butch finally consented to eat regular cat food, though to this day he’ll come begging when he smells steak or chicken on the barbie. And I have to admit that we always do toss him a piece, just for old time’s sake.

So that is the “tail” of how I gained my current writing muses. Butch and Sundance are invaluable in keeping me straight on feline etiquette, and I’ve put more than one of their antics in my books. They and the ghost presence of all my past kitties (we sadly lost our old lady Moonpie a few years ago) help me to be a better cat writer. Bottom line, I couldn’t do it without them!

Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series—also from Berkley—which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances which will soon be re-released as ebooks. A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association. Visit her at or

Words with Fiends (Black Cat Bookshop Series #3)

Brooklyn bookstore owner Darla Pettistone and her oversized black cat, Hamlet, have solved a few complicated capers. But after a recent brush with danger, Darla needs to get Hamlet out of a feline funk….

Lately, Hamlet hasn’t been chasing customers or being his obnoxious self—something Darla surprisingly misses. Concerned, she hires a cat whisperer to probe Hamlet’s feline psyche and then decides to get out of her own funk by taking up karate to learn how to defend herself in case the need arises again.

But when Darla finds her sensei dead at the dojo, it seems that even a master can be felled by foul play. Darla decides to investigate the matter herself, and the promise of a mystery snaps Hamlet out of his bad mood. After all, Darla may be the sleuth, but Hamlet’s got a black belt in detection….


Unknown said...

My first cat as a child was an orange tabby, a marmalade as I called him.

CatInTheFridge said...

Poor Ginger! I wonder where she went. It's nice to know where the kitties behind stories come from! - Crepes.

Anna Gerard/Diane A.S. Stuckart said...

Thanks for stopping by to read about the boys. Yes, it's hard not knowing what happens when our furbabies simply disappear. Oh, and my hubby's first orange tabby was actually named Marmalade. She beat up all the dogs in the neighborhood.

Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

What a delightful family story. Thankz for sharing with us. We had a orange tabby named Nitwit who passed after 15 yrs. We miss his clever tricks. He would only drink water from a facet and would knock things into the sink to alert us to his thirst.