This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Claire Hamner Matturro. Claire is the award-winning author of the Lily Cleary Mysteries, a lighthearted 4-book series featuring the exploits of a Sarasota lawyer. Claire's latest release is something quite different, and she tells you all about it here.
Imagine you are a cat—a beautiful, sleek black animal with a superior intellect—and you need desperately to tell some sweet, but dense humans that the clue they need to save a kidnapped diabetic law student and to stop a serial arsonist is hidden in a can of cat food in the fridge. You, the cat, cannot speak human words. They, the humans, are linguistically challenged and don’t speak cat. You know the kidnapped law student, Layla, had a penchant for hiding stolen jewelry and cryptic flash drives in clever places, like cans of cat food. And you know Layla possessed something so condemning that someone else is willing to kill to get it back.
What you—the cat—don’t know is how to compel your humans to dig out the cat food from the back of the fridge and find the clue. And, you have to communicate this to the humans with a splash of arrogance and a touch of a British accent.
This is not a hypothetical, or at least it wasn’t for me while I was writing Trouble in Tallahassee (KaliOka Press September 2017), a romantic suspense novel featuring Trouble, the black cat detective.
Let me explain a bit before we get back to Trouble and the clue in the cat food.
When friend and fellow writer Carolyn Haines first asked me to join her Familiar Legacy author collective and to write a romantic suspense novel, I was thrilled. After all, I knew Carolyn to be this bold, funny, successful author, and awesome person who rescues animals and generously helps other writers.
At Carolyn’s initial invitation, I jumped at the chance.
Then Carolyn explained the project further. Carolyn had rounded up several talented, critically/commercially successful women authors who would create a book-a-month series. We would each write our own manuscript, to be set anywhere and anytime we wanted, and the characters and the style of writing would be up to us. Just one catch—each of us had to include Trouble, the black cat detective.
Even that didn’t make me jump back from Carolyn’s invitation.
Trouble is the son of Familiar, a black cat detective Carolyn made famous in the 1990s with a series of books such as Thrice Familiar, re-released in June 2017 by KaliOka Press. Familiar has uncanny abilities and intelligence, even for a cat. It takes a while for the people around him to realize that he is quite the skilled detective, far better usually than the humans. Familiar channels Humphrey Bogart from such classic movies as “The Big Sleep,” at least in terms of his attitude and his thought patterns.
Trouble is Familiar’s son, and he inherited his famous father’s uncanny intelligence and skills as a detective. And his sleek good looks and superior attitude.
But what Trouble didn’t inherit was his father’s tendency to think like Bogart.
Nope, Trouble is a Sherlock Holmes’ addict and channels Benedict Cumberbatch. That is, Trouble speaks with a British accent like Cumberbatch.
Okay, not speaks exactly. Trouble is a cat, after all, and though the Familiar Legacy authors have all been creative and imaginative in what Trouble can do, he is still a cat. That is, he does not speak in human words.
But he thinks in human words. To be precise, he thinks in English—and with a Benedict Cumberbatch accent and style.
After it sunk in on me during that first conversation that Carolyn was saying I would need to write approximately a third of a manuscript from the cat’s point of view and with a British-Cumberbatch accent, I jumped back.
Not the cat point of view, mind you. Animals as characters are not new to me. A large dog, a ferret, a parrot, and a troublesome blue jay play critical roles in the plots in my prior books Skinny-dipping (William Morrow 2004) and Bone Valley (William Morrow 2006). Taking that one step further to give the animal’s inner thoughts words sounded like a fun leap.
I wasn’t troubled by the idea of getting inside a cat’s thoughts and writing from the cat’s view point. Having shared my life with a bushel basket of cats, I fancy I know cats—or at least as much as any mere human can.
So there I was, thrilled to be asked to be part of Carolyn’s bold new adventure in her Familiar Legacy series, and not intimidated with the notion that I’d have to tell a large part of the story through the inner thoughts of a cat.
Nope, what stymied me was the British accent.
I don’t do British accents.
I do Southern. I’m a “write what you know” kind of person, and I know the South. I know Florida. After that brief, failed experimental foray into Oregon one long, cold winter, I prefer not to get too far from the Gulf of Mexico, even in hurricane season.
Given that daunting task of using Cumberbatch-speak, I had to think about whether I could pull this off. Carolyn supported me completely, believing in my abilities. After all, I’m the one who had a ferret save the day in Skinny-dipping and had a parrot causing a lawsuit in Bone Valley.
Having accepted Carolyn’s challenge, I studied the PBS Masterpiece Theatre productions of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch. This was hardly an unpleasant task as these are superbly well done shows. As I watched and re-watched, I jotted down phrases and terms that Cumberbatch’s Holmes said. I played with inner dialogue in my mind, and every time I wanted to use a Southern colloquialism, I substituted a British one.
The next task facing me was how Trouble could communicate what he discovers to the humans around him. For Trouble to find clues was not a problem—after all, as a cat, Trouble could smell, hear, and see better than any person and slide into spots people wouldn’t fit.
But he couldn’t exactly sit the humans down and tell them in English what he knew.
So back to the drawing board. I needed to figure out how Trouble could tell the two romantic leads, Abby and Victor, that a major clue is hidden in a can of cat food in the fridge—and he has to do it thinking in a British-Cumberbatch sort of way. Here’s what Trouble did:
Having discovered long ago it is never too early to try to communicate with a biped, I start meowing. In the plainest terms I can imagine, I tell them both what I need. Someone to open the damn refrigerator.
Victor hurries after me. I paw at the refrigerator door and he pulls it open for me, casting a curious glance at me. “Looking for chow or another earring?”
The chap’s teasing me, but I don’t take time to rebut. Instead, I put my head to the task in front of me and jump into the refrigerator.
“Hey, get down.” To his credit, he sounds more amused than angry.
Ignoring him, I push the cat food can with my nose toward the edge of the refrigerator shelf. Victor starts fussing at me, the amusement gone from his tone, as I push the can off the edge and watch with satisfaction as it falls to the tile floor.
Splat. The can hits with a resounding clatter, and I hop out of the refrigerator.
Victor yells and I yell back. He’s going to have to learn better manners if he intends to marry Abby.
“What is going on in here?” Abby stands in the entrance way to the kitchen. “I can hear you two in the bedroom.”
While Victor starts to explain, I nose the can. The force of the fall knocked the plastic cover on the can loose. With my teeth and paws, I’m able to pull the lid all the way off.
“Meow.” I yell as distinctly and loudly as I can—meaning: would you two shut up and look at this?
Inside the can of cat food, there is no food. Someone—doubtlessly Layla—has scooped out the food and filled the can with a crumpled paper towel.
Victor swoops down and picks the paper towel up. Inside, there is a single gold wedding band.
Sounding like a boastful Mum, Abby says, “I told you he was a better detective than either of us.”
Trouble in Tallahassee and all the books in the series are available as e-book or paperbacks at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, i-Books, Kobo, and other likely sources. The Amazon link is: http://a.co/86GoxBu.
For more information, visit Claire at www.clairematturro.com and “like” her on Facebook at Cat Cozy by Claire.