The Cats that Launched a Website

Have you ever noticed how throughout recorded time and in so many cultures, people love their pets?


Greece Cat 2 The Cats that Launched a Website


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.


Jimmy Mirikitani The Cats that Launched a Website

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: 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

or Martin Pearl Publishing:

and for questions or pre-orders for the book.



Nothing is a Part of Something

I grew up playing with cubic geometry.  My parents had been raised during the Great Depression and this experience gave them a different perspective on what toys children ought to have.  They had played with paper, scissors, cardboard boxes, wood blocks, balls and string and this was all still going to do for the spoiled post WW II generation, as far as they were concerned.

 Paper dolls were still popular when I was a little girl.  They had beautiful paper outfits you cut out and that were supposed to stay on with little folded tabs but never did.  Sometimes I created my own smaller paper dolls that would fit into shoe box houses.  We would take the lids off the boxes, and my father would use his Swiss army knife to cut out doors and windows that folded back.  When it was time for the dolls to go to sleep in their match box beds, I could put the lid back on and it would be night inside—the rectangular space filled with shadowy darkness.

When I was in third grade, my parents bought a new Echiler home in a tract just outside the city of Orange.  The next year my father converted part of the garage on the right side of the house into an art studio.  He covered the cement floor with new yellow-white pine boards that fitted together tongue and groove, put a shelf on the wall for his oil paints and brushes, set up an easel and one rainy winter installed a small black potbellied Franklin stove for heat.  Here he would paint at night and on weekends, interesting paintings we all grew to love as we watched them take form.


Linda Vista house in Orange CA 1970 1024x655 Nothing is a Part of Something


This is one painting from that period, an untitled work on a large piece of masonite of people walking in Laguna Beach, our favorite place to go in the summer.


Paul McCoy early 1960s Ray Johnston photo 20071 1024x689 Nothing is a Part of Something


I personally enjoyed spending time watching my father paint in his studio because it was quiet and peaceful there in contrast to the rest of the house filled with five rambunctious children and their neighborhood friends.  But there was one rule if I wanted to watch: ‘no talking.’  Since this was such a hard rule and possibly to give the girls of the family something to do so we wouldn’t need to ask him so many questions, our father built us a an elegant Le Corbusier four story doll house out of wood.


Villa La Roch photo Steve Cadman wickimedia commons 1024x768 Nothing is a Part of Something


This photo is very reminiscent of looking into the open side of our doll house for some reason, possibly the configuration of the squares and rectangles.  Our new place lived at the far end of the studio on the pine floor near the Franklin stove.  It was outfitted with the beautifully crafted English Dol-Toi furniture I had purchased with my allowance over the years when I wasn’t spending it on boxes of Sugar Frosted Flakes.  I still have most of these pieces which came from a wonderful children’s store called The House of the Mouse (perhaps capitalizing on the popularity of E. B White’s Stuart Little) near the Broadway Department stores in one of the Orange County malls.  I had a blue couch and two matching living room chairs, a three inch tall china sideboard, an elegant wing chair upholstered in red Chinese silk, a bed and nightstand, dresser with mirror, upright piano and a desk with a fold-out shelf for writing tiny letters.  Everything else we needed such as blankets, curtains, dishes, rugs etc. to outfit the house all had to be made from inventive reuse of found objects and scraps of wood, cloth and paper.

Playing with dolls was an imaginative pastime, one which appeared to have had no practical usefulness until I got much older and looked back on it.  Now I can see that many of the same elements needed to write fiction were involved.  Once the home was furnished and decorated the dolls then acted out dramas composed of the issues and relationship dynamics observed in the adult world.  The space inside the doll house (the invisible air) was taken for granted—we arranged our furniture and played out our stories within it not realizing it was the ‘negative space’ of an artistic composition and also important.

I finally stopped playing with dolls in sixth grade.  When I went to high school I developed an interest in literature, perhaps drawn to the telling of stories and the creating of alternative worlds in this new form.  Some questions lingered over the years about books and plays I read during that period.  What really possessed the Macbeths to go on their murderous rampage?  Why did Mersault feel no remorse for shooting the Arab?  Why did the deck have to be so stacked against Tom Robinson?  Why did Kurtz whisper, “The horror!  The horror!”?  I could never understand.  Then one day many years later I started to understand.

One purpose of literature is to explore the literal ‘heart of darkness’ inherent in the human condition.  Consequently, if we in our experiences suffer darkness, feel grief or are tormented with insoluble questions— that is not to be counted as ‘nothing.’  That is not wasted time even if it kept us from writing.  Instead, these experiences help us understand what makes literature deeply powerful.  These experiences can make our own stories richer and more compassionate.  They can make our lives and our work one unified artistic composition.


Image Credits:

Real estate listing photograph of Orange, CA Eichler house, 1970.

Untitled oil painting by Paul McCoy, circa ealy 1960’s.  Photograph by Ray Johnston, 2007.  McCoy family private collection.

Photograph of Villa La Roche 1923 Le Corbusier, Paris by Steve Cadman, July 2007.  Wickimedia commons.


Literature references:

Macbeth by Shakespeare

The Stranger by Albert Camus

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad





Sam Shovel


My first detective story (written at age twelve) was a heavily plagiarized if not 100% verbatim version of the exploits of Sam Shovel, a satirical take-off on detective Sam Spade in the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  I’m not sure where I came across the Sam Shovel jokes I repeated in my story, but they might have appeared in a skit on the wildly popular TV show Laugh-In (1967-1973) or Sam Shovel might have been featured in Mad Magazine, a source of comic information I consulted every month.

I remember my father giving me the original novel to read and although I found the plot a bit obscure, I was attracted to the mysterious cover illustration.

maltesefalcon Sam Shovel

Last year I found my handwritten story in a box of papers my mother had saved.

Sam Shovel circa 1960s 791x1024 Sam Shovel


It begins: “You’ve all heard of Sam Spade, private eye, well, my name is Sam Shovel, private nose.  The other day I climbed out of my chandelier.  You see, I’m a light sleeper.  I went to my private office, opened my private door, went in and sat behind my private desk and my private secretary came in and poured Murine into my private eyes.”

It continued: “I turned to the door and knocked.  The same beautiful blond opened the door.  She had a gun in her left hand, a gun in her right and a knife between her teeth.  I knew something was holding her back— her garter was caught on the doorknob.”  It ended: “Quick, quick,” she yelled.  “Shoot him with you .44.”  I didn’t have a .44 so I shot him twice with my .22.  Just going to prove that Sam Shovel always digs up his man.”

I recall going out to the back yard one afternoon during a dry, hot, howling Santa Ana windstorm, wrapping myself in a blanket and working on this story.  I remember thinking, ‘I am going to be a writer!’  Fast forward 40 years to 2008; I had still not become a writer.  I had started out as a high school English teacher and later changed careers into landscape design.  I did write, of course: proposals, contracts, letters, reports, etc. for work, and I did read mystery and detective stories all the time (I called this research) for fun.  But I wasn’t actually writing fiction.

One day, I thought of a possible story.  What if a man called a landscape designer and asked her to come and look at some work he wanted done in his back garden.  Suppose the man lived in a new area of town in a grand McMansion.  The designer arrives on the appointed day.  The man tells the designer he had been away in South America on business for three months and had left his wife behind to watch the house and dogs.  In his absence, the wife decided to clean up once and for all the ratty succulent bed along the south back wall.  She asked her mow, blow and go guy to order a truckload of mulch, wheelbarrow it into the back and dump it on top of the offending plants.

The man returned from his trip.  He walked outside his first morning back with a cup of coffee to look at his beautiful collection of rare succulents, given as gifts over the last twenty years from friends at the university.  It would be a hot sunny day and the light would beat down on the wide lawn and the south planting bed now covered with pine chips.  The man would turn his head to explain what happened and rage would begin to suffuse his face.  He would say quietly, ‘I could have killed her.”


Succulent Collection 1024x768 Sam Shovel


So, even though I was not writing, I was thinking about writing.  If you want to write novel someday, that’s still important.

I took this photograph of succulents in a greenhouse on the property of the Donnell Garden designed by Thomas Church.  I am not sure who maintained this collection, but I loved the colors, shapes and textures.


Image credit:

1930 First Edition Maltese Falcon cover.  Source:


The Importance of Being Obstinate


Garden Grove House age 5 1024x626 The Importance of Being Obstinate


Here I am at age six in front of our next house in Garden Grove which came with this wonderful xeriscape mound covered with boulders and cactus.  In the 1960’s parenting was a little different than today.  My parents said, “sure you and all the neighborhood kids can play on the cactus mound!  You’ll figure it out.”

I still remember the plants at this house.  In the back was a thorny pyracantha and a jacaranda tree with beautiful, soft mauve flowers.  Against the house wall in the picture you can see a tree fern and the twisted spires of a Hollywood juniper.  The shady, cool space underneath had baby tears moss, hairy tufts of blue fescu and papyrus that looked like green silky umbrellas.

By this age I had started running away from home.  I would pack a paper shopping bag with a snack, picture books and a few stuffed animals.  I would spread a blanket out on the grass under the shade of a big tree that was just to the right of the mound in the picture.  There I would sit and read or color for as long as I could.  One day my father came by and looked at the picture I was coloring in my coloring book with my brand new 64 crayon set of Crayola crayons all very sharp and hardly used.  I remember showing him what I was working on and asking if he thought it was pretty.  He said something that absolutely stunned me.  He said, “you know, you can color outside the lines.”  This was sixties talk for ‘think outside the box.’  “No thank you,” I said.  (Probably really not that polite).  “Go away,” I said. “I like coloring inside the lines.”  Ironically I now make part of my living coloring inside the lines for landscape design.  But I know what he meant, and I still think about it.

By this age I was already very obstinate.  Although television had been around for a while, my parents finally broke down and bought a black and white set with a wire antenna that sat on the top.  Such was the allure that my brother and I routinely got up at 5:00 a.m. to watch it.  Of course there was no programming available at that hour, but we would sit and stare the grey bars of the test pattern expectantly anyway.  For hours.  Cartoons came on in the afternoon and we loved Popeye, Felix the Cat and Wile Coyote.  With cartoons came commercials and soon my mother began to regret her decision because I became absolutely adamant that she needed to buy Sugar Frosted Flakes because Tony the Tiger said so.  My mother had been raised during the depression, and she thought this was reprehensible subversive brainwashing on the part of advertiser.  She just as adamantly refused; Wheaties were good enough.

The argument raged for months until finally she said, “Fine.  Take your allowance (I probably earned a dime a week doing a few chores), walk down to the grocery store and buy yourself a box of Sugar Frosted Flakes if you want them so much.”  Well I did want them desperately, but the store was  blocks and blocks away and you had to cross a very busy four lane street with a stoplight to get to the huge parking lot of the store.  You then had to cross that, enter the store, find the cereal box, go to the cash register, purchase it and walk home.  I was six so this all seemed quite daunting.  So I thought about it very carefully for a while, but then I went.  Bolstered by sweet success I even went a number of other times.  But soon I got tired of spending my entire allowance on this product and realized that by dumping two heaping spoonfuls of sugar on Wheaties you could get a similar effect with a lot less work.

If you have not written your first novel by the time you are in your early twenties, life events will conspire to delay your efforts.  Being obstinate will help you return to the task.


Image credit:

Photograph by Paul or Priscilla McCoy, 1962.


Making a Mark

Here I am in a picture my father drew at about age four either drawing or trying to write.  I’m making marks on paper.  The house is in Anaheim in Orange County, California.  In 196o little girls still wore cotton dresses with bows in the back that had to be ironed.


Laurie by Paul McCoy 1960 938x1024 Making a Mark

I was born in Seattle, Washington in 1956.  Here is a drawing my father did the year I was born.  It’s funny but, to this day, I love sweet peas almost more than any other flower.

Sweet peas Paul McCoy 1956 757x1024 Making a Mark


My parents moved to Seattle in the early fifties after my father got an MA in English from Cornell following WWII.  My father loved literature and poetry and thought he would continue into a PhD program at the University of Washington to study with poet Theodore Rotheke.  But Rotheke ended up leaving to travel in Europe, so my father changed plans and got a job editing technical manuals for Boeing in Seattle.  The work was boring and his other passion was art, so he started wondering if he would like to make his living as an artist.  My mother said they cleaned out their savings and sold stocks to travel and live in Spain for eighteen months so my father could paint; in the end their money began to run out, and he decided he might not enjoy the life of a starving artist.  Back in the states the aerospace industry was booming and salaries were lucrative.

My parents returned to Seattle and shortly after my father went alone to Orange County, got a job, bought a car, rented a house and called my mother on the telephone.  He said, “Bring the children down and join me.”  So she did.  The wooden crate of drawings and paintings from Spain came later on the moving truck.

I grew up in a family where people drew and wrote.  It was the modern period of art and design.  This is another picture my father drew of the same house.

Anaheim House Paul McCoy 1960 791x1024 Making a Mark


I think this is the same chair in the picture.


Eames Molded Plywood Chair DWR 784x1024 Making a Mark

Eames Molded Plywood Chair

In my childhood I was trying to write and draw because I enjoyed it.  I think that sometimes when we become adults we forget that writing fiction is very fun.  Reason enough to pursue it.


Image Credits:

Drawings by Paul McCoy circa 1950’s and early 1960’s. Laurie Gates private collection.  Photos of drawings by Laurie Gates, 2013.

Photograph from Design Within Reach catalogue, date unknown.