Have you ever noticed how throughout recorded time and in so many cultures, people love their pets?
Here is a photo of a Greek cat I came across when looking for art depicting ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cats. I guess this common thread bond between humans and animals is why many writers include pets in their fictional work; however, this practice is not without challenges. In their extremely funny, How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid them—a Misstep-By-Misstep Guide, authors Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman some pointers on how to include pets in your first novel, if you must.
In their chapter on developing the hero, the authors include a section called “Love Me, Love My Cat: Wherein there is a cat.” They strongly advise the following: writers are to refrain from naming the cat “Magnifi-cat or similar pun, after a composer (Bartok, Mahler, etc), after a writer (Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, etc.), after an ancient Greek” or naming the cat “Mr. + adjective = anatomical feature (e.g. Mr. Prickly Paws)” etc. (pp. 66-67).
Obviously in the hands of skilled writers, pets can add a wonderful touch of ‘ordinary world’ to a drama. One example would be the many cats and dogs included in the British Midsomer Murders film series, perhaps building on precedent set by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950’s era television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. However, since I was writing my first novel and my skill level at this point was questionable, I decided to take their advice and omit pets. So it was with interest that I saw an article in our local newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, specifically about books and cats. The article, which appeared on April 12, 2013 was titled, “’The Cat Who Chose to Dream’: from art comes hope” by Anne Ternus-Bellamy, and featured a beautiful drawing of two cats sleeping.
It turns out that Davis psychologist Loriene Honda had seen a film documentary by Linda Hattendorf (all links and information provided at end of post) about artist of the drawing, Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani. She found it moving and significant especially since both Jimmy Mirikitani and her own father Lawrence Honda had spent time in internment camps during World War II. The film became the starting point of a creative journey for Loriene that ended with her writing The Cat Who Chose to Dream, a children’s book exploring how the power of imagination can transform tragic experiences into art and beauty. Her book incorporates Mirikitani’s art and will be released later this year by Dixon-based Martin Pearl Publishing.
I absolutely loved so many elements of Mirikitani’s composition: his use of black, orange and icy blue, the elegant balance of solid and open forms, the fantasy elements of autumn leaves falling as if on invisible water with a fish darting away below …. I was also intrigued that the two cats were able to sleep calmly in spite of a pronounced triangular wave or blade image in the lower left corner, and a mysterious black net that weaves around them like a shawl. The older cat is even embracing this net, holding it with his or her paws, pulling it up close like a blanket.
The more I looked at the drawing, the more I thought about war and peace. These cats, depicted here in such a nurturing and cozy way can also be vicious and deadly hunters by instinct. This dichotomy becomes symbolic on some level of the mystery of our human existence here on this earth. We struggle to reconcile such radical opposites— the power to love and preserve; the power to hate and destroy. These tensions and themes fuel many of the great classic works of literature, but we are also caught up in these conflicts in the here and now. We are asking, how will ‘war’ and darkness change us? Will they render us powerless and hopeless? Will tragedy, abuse and injustice crush us?
After I saw the drawing of Mirikitani’s cats, I decided I would actually go forward with an idea I had been considering for about a month. I would start a website to write about the process of writing a mystery novel, and I would talk about the ‘war’ and peace that has shaped my own life. Perhaps in doing so I would also have the transformative opportunity to create art.
Image Credits, Information and Website Links
Photograph of Greek cat by Chmouel, March 2004
The Davis Enterprise article
Image of two cats sleeping by Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, date unknown. Image accessed from Linda Hattendorf’s website about her documentary film The Cats of Mirikitani: www.thecatsofmirikitani.com and used with permission.
The Cat Who Chose to Dream by Loriene Honda, PhD with artwork by Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani and graphic design by Mark Deamer, expected out in Summer/Fall 2013.
Readers can reach Loriene Honda through www.lorienehonda.com
and http://www.google.com/search?q=martin+pearl+publishing&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari for questions or pre-orders for the book.