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