As a young reader I fell under the sway of a number of writers, but none grabbed my heart and imagination like Edgar Allan Poe. I remember reading “The Gold Bug” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Poe is often credited as the first mystery writer, and I became a devoted mystery reader because of him. I was genuinely captivated by his dark tales and a favorite was “The Black Cat.”
I’ve always enjoyed superstitions, folklore, and old stories, often in the horror realm. My grandmother was an excellent storyteller and would give us chills with “Bloody Bones,” “The Man with a Hook for a Hand,” “Bloody Mary,” and many more. Black cats, though, were never included in stories where they played a negative role. We were a family of cat lovers—and as my parents and grandmother understood, fear could be a dangerous weapon to be used against cats.
The old superstition that witches could turn into black cats comes from a story of two men who threw rocks at a poor cat back in the late 1500s. The cat ran to the home of an older woman, who they, of course, thought was a witch. The next day, the older woman was seen in town limping and with bruises, so the rocket scientist geniuses immediately thought the woman WAS the black cat they’d tried to stone to death. Yes, there were plenty of ignorant people back in the late 1500s!
I grew up with cats. We were one of the first families in Lucedale to spay and neuter our pets because my parents couldn’t stand giving the kittens and puppies away, not able to control their futures. I was raised with the idea that good owners provided veterinary care, good food, love, grooming, and neutering. A pet was something to cherish and treat with love and respect. My parents were ahead of their time.
We didn’t pick cats by color, but by what came to the house. We had several black cats—Blackie, Raven, Black Boy. Not the most imaginative names, but we loved them. And we had grays and yellows and a white cat with a blue and a green eye that I rescued from a ditch when she was a kitten. McDonald, as the cat was called, was possibly the meanest cat I’ve ever known. She loved my father and brother. Me, not so much. She would hide on top of the refrigerator and jump on top of my head just for fun. She had a rare and perverse sense of humor.
The black cats were always sweet and loving, and while I love all color kitties, the black ones seem to be drawn to me. Today I have the charming Karma, a small black female. She was spayed the first of the year, and she’s completely recovered and is back to her bouncy self. I haven’t had a female black cat in a long time. E.A. Poe and Coal Shaft Haines were my last male black cats and both have been used as prototypes for “literary heroes.” The character of Familiar the black cat detective grew out of Poe’s antics. He was a stray—but he was also a cat that had no fear of dogs or humans and ruled the farm for a number of years. Coal Shaft had a very tragic beginning on the farm. He was found by my neighbors with his front leg hung in his collar. The leg had atrophied and we thought it would have to be amputated. But with lots of PT and care, he healed perfectly and regained full use of his leg. He is the cat who inspired Trouble, son of Familiar and another black cat detective. He was with me for fifteen years.
And now Karma rules the roost. She is the youngest of all the rescue animals here at Good Fortune Farm Refuge. She makes the older cats play and chases the dogs’ tails. She sleeps with Velcro, the gentle dog I’m fostering. And she makes me laugh. There is nothing like a young cat to tickle a sense of humor. As I watch her frolic and her great intelligence at solving problems, I get more and more ideas for the series of Trouble books I’m writing with a number of my wonderful friends.
Cats do have a superior attitude—which I approve of. And the fictional Trouble knows he is smarter than the bipeds who populate his world. If you haven’t tried one of the romantic mysteries, please do. I think you’ll find that our black kitty, Trouble, is quite charming and exceptionally smart. We have published five full novels and one collection of short stories. Check us out and join the fun.
Carolyn Haines is the USA Today bestselling author of three series. Trouble, the black cat detective, Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi mysteries, and the Pluto’s Snitch historical mysteries. Learn more about her at www.carolynhaines.com