The Nine+ Lives of
Carole Nelson Douglas
Not many people find their calling at four years of age. Of course, the very young Carole Nelson Douglas never guessed providing food and overnight shelter to stray animals would prove a necessary step towards writing bestsellers in mystery, fantasy and romance. She just wanted a cat.
Eventually, she got her cat and much more. Talking to Crescent Blues, Douglas reflects on her many writing lives, her series, her satire, and a four-legged shamus named Louie.
Crescent Blues: When you first started writing fiction, did you ever dream you'd be writing so much about a big, black tomcat?
Carole Nelson Douglas: From my first novels, I made sure that animals were in my books because they play a large part in my life, and always have, and because I thought their presence, even if just as background figures, made fiction more realistic.
In my very first novel, Amberleigh, a post-feminist gothic set in late 19th century Ireland, an Irish wolfhound became more than an ongoing background player, and actually helped nail a murderer at the end, through purely canine behavior. A King Charles spaniel in my second historical novel came to a sad end symbolic of his Cavalier master's death. In my third novel, a bestselling fantasy called Six of Swords, I introduced a talking white cat named Felabba who had 99 lives and magical powers as well as a sharp tongue. So it isn't odd that my current collaborator is a big, black tomcat.
Crescent Blues: Cat in a Golden Garland (scheduled to be re-released in paperback this month) finds Midnight Louie, your feline sleuth, in New York competing for the post of "spokescat" for a major cat food. This is the first time in the series the fictional Louie has left Nevada. Do you plan more out of town adventures for him and his human companions, Temple Barr, Max Kinsella, Matt Devine and Lieutenant C. R. Molina?
Carole Nelson Douglas: Taking Midnight Louie out of his Las Vegas setting is like removing the plums from plum pudding. So his "getaway" city had to be something special, hence Manhattan at Christmas time. The change of locale was fun, but Las Vegas is tailor-made for a cat detective: it's all just one big sandbox with lots of tinker-toy fantasy worlds, isn't it? Although Louie moves around in space (and now time) in his short story outings, Las Vegas is his best backdrop for the novels.
Crescent Blues: Why do you think the holidays are such a good season for murder?
Carole Nelson Douglas: The holidays pull together people who haven't seen each other in some time, and often allow underlying tensions to rise to the surface. Then, too, the murder amid festivities provides a piquant sense of contrast that writers often like to exploit.
Crescent Blues: As invariably happens in a "Louie" mystery, Louie discovers the body in Cat in a Golden Garland and gives the alarm. Is this something you've encountered in real life with cats and other animals? What were the circumstances?
Carole Nelson Douglas: Animals, with their superior sense of smell, are natural finders of unnatural conditions, such as sudden death -- much better than odor-indifferent humans. Nose E., the ace bomb and-drug-sniffing Maltese dog I introduced in a Louie short story, shows up in Cat in an Indigo Mood, the new March '99 hardcover. This is one area where dogs clearly outdo cats: smell. Even Louie, a formerly homeless cat who has no fondness for dogs, has to admit that a three-pound lapdog is a primo perp-tracer.
Dogs have often accidentally unearthed dead bodies in real life and are trained as cadaver dogs to find the dead. Cats, I fear, are great hunters (bugs if indoors; mice, etc., if outdoors), but not great skip tracers. The only dead bodies I've found, thanks to the intervention of my seven cats, are the occasional cricket or waterbug. The pet sitter came in once to find Longfellow playing with a "rubber" snake that wasn't rubber.
Crescent Blues: Midnight Louie was based on a real cat. Could you tell us something about that cat, and how you happened to meet?
Carole Nelson Douglas: Many readers think Midnight Louie, the original, was my cat, but he wasn't. He was a particularly savvy survivor, being abandoned as a kitten in a motel room (an all-too-common fate for unwanted litters).
Despite the short, unhappy, unhealthy lives granted such strays, Midnight Louie grew up big and strong by eating the decorative goldfish in the California motel pond. His successful scavenging almost cost him his life: the motel management was going to deport him to the animal pound. But a traveling softie flew him back to her home in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I was a feature writer for the daily newspaper.
I spotted the ad seeking the right home for this character for a mere dollar, and was intrigued into writing a feature on Louie. That was back in the Seventies, and that was as far as I thought it would go… until he popped into my mind as the perfect narrator for a quartet of romances-cum-mystery (Love Boat in Las Vegas) in 1985. (By the way, the romance quartet will be coming out in hardcover versions from Thorndike, beginning next fall with The Cat and the King of Clubs.)
Crescent Blues: How do the fictional Midnight Louie's origins differ from those of his real life counterpart?
Carole Nelson Douglas: Hardly at all. I just moved Louie and his carp pond to the abandoned (fictional) Joshua Tree hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, which was remodeled into the (fictional) Crystal Phoenix, the classiest hotel in Vegas, with Midnight Louie in place as "unofficial house dick."
Crescent Blues: What made you choose to tell part of the Midnight Louie mysteries from Louie's perspective?
Carole Nelson Douglas: I had "interviewed"…
Click here to read the Crescent Blues review of Cat in a Golden Garland.
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