Friday, June 10, 2011

Saying Goodbye To One Cool Cat Lady: Lilian Jackson Braun


In some sad news this week, several media outlets have reported that author Lilian Jackson Braun, famous for her "The Cat Who..." mystery novel series, has passed away at the age of 97. In her long career, Braun wrote twenty-nine novels and three short stories, all but one with the word "Cat" in the title.


While many obituaries I read mentioned the fictional cats in her books, I became increasingly interested on one thing: What inspired her to start writing these mysterious cat tales to begin with?

An internet search revealed a republished profile from 1987 with The Detroit Free Press, where she worked as "The Good Living" editor for 30 years. In the piece, Braun talked openly about her own cats, and revealed the unfortunate origin of the feline-centric mystery series:

"Braun, who formerly worked as an advertising writer and later as living section editor of the Free Press, traces the start of her literary activity to a cat tragedy. In the early 1960s, she and her first husband lived in a 10th-floor apartment in Detroit, where they kept a pet Siamese, the first Koko.

"When he was two years old, he slipped out and was killed in a fall from a 10th-floor window, " Braun recalls. "I was heartbroken." Later, when neighbors told Braun someone had pushed Koko from the window, her sorrow turned to anger.

"I began having nightmares about friends and relatives falling from 10th-floor windows, " she says. "I realized that to get rid of these feelings I'd have to write about it. So I wrote a short story, based on the episode."

The resulting tale, "The Sin of Madame Phloi," caught the eye of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which bought it. The late critic Anthony Boucher, a detective writer himself, hailed the author as "a fabulous fabricator of felonious feline fiction."

Meanwhile, Braun had replaced the original Koko with Siamese littermates, Koko II and Yum-Yum, who became models for her fictional cats. When Koko and Yum-Yum died, Braun brought in Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing to carry on the cat mystery tradition."

[You can read the profile in its entirety here.]

I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read any books in "The Cat Who..." series (what kind of cat lady am I, anyway?) but plan on picking one up soon in honor of Braun, who was able to turn her passion for cats into a lifelong career.

Do you have any favorites that you'd recommend?

Image credit: Daddyo Fattyo

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16 comments:

Pumpkinpuddy said...

I love these books. I've read 5 of these so far but I don't have a favorite.

Anonymous said...

I always liked "The Cat Who Saw Red," it's one of her early ones and there is some really neat art history in it. Oh, and yarn-based kitten wackiness if I remember correctly.

THE FABULOUS ANIMAL RESCUE PROJECT said...

So sad to hear of her passing but my gosh... 97! That is fabulous! I can't believe someone murdered her kitty! Poor little thing. I can see why Lilian became a mystery writer. Thank you for the great post about her. Cat lovers around the world will miss her dearly.

The Island Cats said...

Oh we are so sad to hear that Lillian has passed. Our mom has read all the "Cat Who..." books and she loves Koko and Yum Yum!!

Marg said...

We are also very sad to hear of her passing. Our Mom has read a bunch of the books and they are really good. I think I have some here I haven't read yet and need to get busy on them. Thanks for telling us.

Anonymous said...

I am so upset to read that Lilian has passed away. I have read every one of her books - more then once and I rate her as one of the best authors. Her characters are brilliant, and apart from Qwill, Polly, Arch, Hixie and the rest of the whole wonderful inhabitants of Moose County - we also had the cats. We all love Koko and Yum Yum, but all the supporting felines including Jetstream just made the whole of the Cat Who series just so 'human'. From Edinburgh, Scotland I send thanks to Lilian and hope she is reunited with her beloved felines who inspired such a wonderful world we could all share.

Anne Chalmers, Edinburgh, Scotland

BunnyKissd said...

Start at the first and read them through! She connects them all really nicely! I am so sad she's passed away...

Angel and Kirby said...

Mom and Dad have read half of her books and have he other half to read. I do not know how they call it reading when they listen to it on CD! They were very disappointed when her last book was pulled from the publisher. They are very sad that she is gone!

Nadbugs said...

I actually met her, 1.5 million years ago. She was a customer at my parents' shop in Detroit. Hence she was cool -- goes without saying, if she liked my parents' place! Never read her books, tho.

Catsparella said...

I am really touched by everyone's thoughtful comments about LJB - thanks for sharing! ♥

Royal Ruskies said...

Hi we are Jake and Elwood the Royal Ruskies and we love your blog! We are fairly new to blogging and these parties are really lots of fun and we love making new friends!!! Mommy was really upset when she read your blog about LJB. She had not heard the news and she was her all time favorite author!!! Mommy rescued us so it did not quit work out but when our big brother passed she wanted to get two kitties like KOKO and YUMYUM so they could be namesakes cause she liked the books so much! Mommy says the good thing is that she is now able to be with all her furry babies again whom she loved and cherished.

Cat said...

I've only read one LJB book years ago and it was delightful :-)

meowmeowmans said...

We missed the news about Lillian Jackson Braun's passing. She was a wonderful author, and we loved Koko and Yum Yum.

SexyKPistol said...

I know what I need to get at the book store <3

Alex said...

Koko and Yum Yum!! I remember my mom being a big fan of these books when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

I have a favorite. It is The Cat Who Smelled a Rat. One of my favorite authors. I am ten years old and I want to read them all

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