Deb Susan’s Kitty Friendship Surprise

When I sat down to write a ninja detective mystery, I knew I had a couple of fairly substantial hurdles to clear. High on the list: unrepentant assassins don’t rank very high on the “winsome protagonist scale.”If I wanted to write a mystery series starring a highly trained killer, I needed to round off some of his edges a bit.

Fortunately, there’s an app a writing trick for that. Most people like animals, you see, and animals are fantastic judges of character (especially in books). If I wanted to round off my ninja’s edges, I needed to give him a pet. Pets weren’t that common in medieval Japan, however, so I needed to find a historically accurate animal that could accent the novel without taking over the plot.

Enter the kitten. (Oobie – the cat in the photo – is the inspiration for Hiro’s feline friend.)

In early drafts, the kitten was a plot device that entered and left fairly quickly – especially since Hiro’s Jesuit companion, Father Mateo, has allergies to cats (tension builder, anyone?). Yet as I wrote on, the kitten insinuated herself into the novel’s structure – and Hiro’s household – with startling speed. She doesn’t appear in many scenes, and isn’t a focus of the book, but her “friendship” with Hiro, Father Mateo, and Ana (the Jesuit’s crotchety maid) was one of the nicest surprises I had in writing CLAWS OF THE CAT.

One of my peer editors – a self-avowed feline-hater both in fiction and in life – threatened to cut the kitten from the novel.

“A cat has no place in a ninja book,” he declared.

When he finished reading, he handed over my edits with a slightly sheepish look and said, “I have to admit … I actually like the kitten. She needed to be there.”

A very surprising little friendship indeed.

What do you think about animals in fiction? Does a well-placed, minor appearance by an animal help you relate to a character? Do you have any favorite fictional animal friends?

9 Replies to “Deb Susan’s Kitty Friendship Surprise”

  1. Animal companions in fiction are often one of my favorite things. I’m thinking about the office cat in the Martha Grime’s often Richard Jury novels. And of The Cat Bastet in the Elizabeth Peters mysteries. I’m also rather fond (of course) of the penguin who showed up in BETWEEN. Besides – a book titled THE CLAWS OF THE CAT should have a cat in it, even if it’s not about a cat.

    1. I LOVE Poe the Penguin. BETWEEN would not be the same without him! I especially love that he’s not a talking animal (though he does seem sentient) – it makes him feel very real. Actually, it makes me want a Poe of my own – I’ve always wanted to touch a penguin, and even though I’m sure they’re not really soft and cuddly I still picture Poe that way.

  2. I love animals in fiction! One of my favorites is the wizard Harry Dresden’s dog, “Mouse.” Mouse is of Tibetan Foo dog ancestry, and is a very handy companion indeed.

    1. Mouse is an awesome character!

      I love animals in fiction too, especially the ones that act as sleuths’ companions. They add a nice touch of spice to the story, for sure!

  3. I love the subject of this, Susan(the subject AND the subject, that is;)) because I am always debating the inclusion of animals in my books. As my fellow Debs know, I am a HUGE dog person and my beloved pup Olive was my baby–and yet, I rarely have pets in my books. I so admire writers who can put animals in their books which is why I am EXTRA excited to read yours!!!

    1. Thanks so much Erika! I hope you love the kitten as much as I do (I can’t tell you her name because it’s a surprise, but hopefully you like that too!). I can definitely understand the debate about adding animals – you want them to be natural, and part of the story, while simultaneously wanting to have them there! Also, they DO have a tendency to steal the show!

  4. There’s a dog in my novel…I know how important he is to the family, and I hope the readers will know. You’ve reminded me that there isn’t a pet in my WIP. Oh my. I think I just realized. It’s a cat. And I now know and where to introduce him! Thank you! xo

  5. I don’t have animals in either of my books, which obviously is a huge oversight on my part, as I love animals! There’s still time to work one into my draft of book #2, so perhaps I should…

    Btw – Oobie is SO CUTE!

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