Ann Parker, author of The Secret in the Wall, a Silver Rush Mystery, is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to tell us how she came to include cats in her Silver Rush mysteries.
Welcome, Ann. I’ll turn the floor over to you –
I’ll start right off by noting that I have a long personal history with pets of various sorts, starting when I was a child with dogs and cats, a multitude of pocket pets, chickens and even (once!) a peacock that must have gotten loose from a nearby zoo and spent some months perched on a tree above the creek behind our family house (the zoo, when contacted, didn’t bother to come claim him, so he lingered with us for quite a while). More recently, I have become “servant” to a rescue cat; the #DivaMissMia is featured now and again on my Facebook pages.
However, it was never my intention to include “pets” as such in my Silver Rush historical mysteries. For one, when the series opens, it is 1879 in the silver-rush boomtown of Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is a real place, located deep in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, up at the ten-thousand-foot mark. Winter lasts eight months of the year, and it can snow at any time. Helen Hunt Jackson (author of Ramona) once remarked that Leadville was too unnatural for felines to flourish: “Grass would not grow there and cats could not live.”
But on my visits to the town to do research, I saw cats galore—soaking up the sun on porches in summer and posing in front windows in winter. Clearly, there were plenty of them in present-day Leadville, alive and doing well.
Still, when I began writing SILVER LIES, the first of my Silver Rush historical mysteries, in 1879 Leadville, cats were not part of my plan. I provided my protagonist, Inez Stannert, with a horse, which made sense for the timeframe. I also gave Inez an occupation—saloon-owner. This was an unusual job for a woman, but not unheard of. As I set about creating the saloon through words, something unexpected happened. A calico cat jumped into a scene and curled up on a horsehair couch in the saloon’s office. Inez’s reaction? She waves one hand at the cat and says, “Shoo. Go chase those rats I heard in the storeroom last night. Earn your keep, you lazy thing.”
The cat, instead of doing her bidding, scoots under the couch, tail flicking. (How like a cat!)
This unnamed calico weaves her way through the first five books, and as many at that time and in such places, “earns her keep” by decimating the vermin population. The relationship between Inez and the cat is strictly a business one. (However, cat-lovers, do not despair that the cat was unloved; Inez’s business partner, Abe Jackson, has a soft spot in his heart for the resident feline. The hard-working calico knows she can count on Abe for a tidbit from the kitchen table or a friendly lap to sit on.)
All that changed in the series when Inez departed Leadville for San Francisco, with her ward, twelve-year-old Antonia in tow. Toward the end of the seventh book, MORTAL MUSIC, my very own Mia makes her appearance as a kitten, with tiny claws and long, gray fur. Needless to say, Inez is not happy with this addition to the household. Arrangements are made such that a nearby family friend will “board” the fluffball until she is older and can assume her duties as a household cat.
In THE SECRET IN THE WALL, the number of felines in the series increases yet again…. just like in real life! Early in the book’s development, I offered up a raffle to “name a character ” (as authors sometimes do). The winner, Laurie Pinnell asked if she could name a fictional feline after her own rescued tortoiseshell cat, Eclipse. As the conversation evolved, Laurie noted that she had a second cat, Lucky, who was rescued from under the hood of their car (yep, that’s a lucky cat!). Well, I couldn’t invite one into my fictional universe and not the other, so Eclipse and Lucky did a little time-travelling to 1882 San Francisco, and grew younger in the process. They became the beloved indoor/outdoor pets of Antonia’s young friend, Charlotte. Charlotte’s mother Moira runs a boardinghouse, and the two cats are allowed inside at night to prowl the halls and chase down any bugs or mice that might have slipped inside.
That much of their roles I had decided ahead of time, but as often happens when spinning tales the characters evolved into so much more. They unlock certain clues to the mystery, not through “talking” or being supernaturally intelligent, but just by being, well, cats: curious, sneaky, disobedient, but totally loveable little critters (loveable to those who appreciate felines, that is). In fact, the totally normal, cat-like behavior of one of them (I’ll not say which one) helps “save the day” at the end.
Thank you for telling readers about the cats in the Silver Rush series, Ann, and good luck with The Secret in the Wall, a Silver Rush mystery.
The novel is available online at the following retailers:
About Ann Parker: Ann is a science writer by day and fiction writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush Mysteries series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, a Sourcebooks imprint, is set primarily in 1880s Leadville, Colorado, and more recently in San Francisco, California, the “Paris of the West.” The series was named a Booksellers Favorite by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, and Ann is listed in the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. The Secret in the Wall is the eighth and newest entry in the series.