a_haunting_dreamHalloween has always been a special time of year for me. My grandfather was born on Halloween in 1900 and we celebrated his birthday with trick-or-treat night. It was a huge affair with hundreds of candles, adults dressed in crazy costumes, and children running wild!

It’s still like that for my family. We get ready for the occasion all month. There’s the special food (everyone tries to outdo each other with deadly treats), the costumes (ditto here), and the games. We play Mummy Wrap to see what team can wrap their ‘mummy’ with toilet paper the fastest. We pin the spider in the web and bob for apples on a string. We also look for buried coins and plastic skeleton parts in the Haunted Maze.

Food always includes Swamp Punch in a big, black cauldron. We joyce_lavene1make it greenish-brown with orange pop, green food dye and Coke. We put a big hunk of dry ice in it for special foggy effects. Usually someone molds a frozen hand in a plastic glove, although last year, there were icy spiders too. My daughter makes witch’s fingers out of peanut butter cookies with almond sliver nails. We eat deviled eggs and make cemeteries out of cupcakes and cookies.

Once we had a whole body laid out on the table with various edible parts. That one was hard to beat!

joyce_lavene2Costumes? Everyone dresses up. Some of the younger kids aren’t spooky. They are Batman or a princess. I always encourage them to think outside the box—be a princess vampire or a zombie Batman. My daughters are ice ghosts, evil puppets or red demons. Their husbands complement them with their costumes. We do a lot of characters from books. My son was the Ghost of Christmas Past a few years ago. Last year, I was Death from Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”.

All of this takes time and preparation. You have to think of suitable prizes for winning costumes and for games. The music has to be right—we have several CDs of creepy music. We usually choose a scary movie to watch at the end of the joyce_lavene3evening. We love Sleepy Hollow, Beetle Juice, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Bride of Frankenstein. This Halloween, it will be Hotel Transylvania, before the festivities begin.

Halloween is my time of the year. With the red and gold leaves flying everywhere and costumed characters filling the streets, I can’t imagine anything better.

Free candy doesn’t hurt either! Happy Halloween!

Joyce Lavene


fangoverSince there are dozens of haunted houses to visit each Halloween, it seems I’m not the only person who enjoys the thrill of being scared. One of the perks of writing paranormal fiction is that I get to indulge my hobby and call it research so in the last few years not only have I gone to staged haunted houses, I have checked out some supposedly real haunted sites in the US. I tend to be a skeptic, but I love the stories, love the spine tingling feeling, and love the possibilities of future novels that spring from my adventures. Do ghosts exist? I have no idea, but all of these places certainly have a rich and intriguing history.

Waverly Institute in Kentucky: An old asylum that eventually housed tuberculosis patients, it had a body chute to carry the deceased to the mortuary. Seriously creepy place and well worth getting on the waiting list to visit.

erin_mccarthy_fangover1Haunted Hotels of New Orleans: I have stayed at the Olivier House, Hotel Monteleone, Andrew Jackson Hotel, and the Provincial. In the Olivier House, we have definitely heard odd things and had items appear such as straight pins sticking out of our mattresses (which could be a maid resenting her tip I suppose) and a black crow (yes, a live black crow was in the room!). In the Andrew Jackson, my sister complained of children running and laughing in the hallway late at night only there were no children staying there. Turns out, it a dozen or so boys died in a fire there when it was a boarding school.

LaLaurie Mansion: This house is privately owned but just looking at it from the outside is enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck. A doctor and his wife tortured their slaves here and managed to escape punishment. The window that is blocked off (and where allegedly they did the torturing behind the bricked over window) reminds you that ghosts or not, a real life evil couple did indeed live here. My book, The Taking, has a house in it I based off of the LaLaurie mansion.

Franklin Castle: This house in Cleveland was built by a German immigrant who lost his wife and children to disease. Supposedly children can be heard crying and there are sounds of parties. There are also odd peepholes and secret doors in the very stately home.

Gettysburg: Enough said. Thousands of men died there, and it is a sad, solemn place.

erin_mccarthy_fangover2Mansfield Prison: I actually spent the night in the empty prison, where they filmed The Shawshank Redemption. There was no electricity and no heat, and it is one crumbling pile of brick and metal. It has the largest free-standing cell block (six floors high, cells all stacked on each other with a main hallway) and the worst offenders were housed here. I spend some time in solitary confinement, but the only vibe I get is that murderers and molesters lived and died in this hopeless place. The pictures are of me in the prison, and yes, I laid on the bed, and I found an old Harlequin romance novel in there!

becoming_clementineOn September 15, I handed in the manuscript for the fourth book in my Velva Jean series (Velva Jean Learns to DriveVelva Jean Learns to Fly). Today the third book in that series comes out– Becoming Clementine.

I have now crawled out from behind my desk, Gollum-like– shrunken, blinking and shuffling into the sunlight– to get ready for the publicity phase of book three. I am trading my yoga pants, yoga tank, and flip-flops for pencil skirts, red lipstick, one very Charlie’s Angels-esque black pantsuit, and suede pumps, and heading out into the world to promote Becoming Clementine. Being an author is much like being Sybil, that famous possessor of multiple personalities. At various times throughout the process of working on a book, a writer needs many different sides.

jennifer_niven_clementine1You need to have a vivid imagination, able to conjure ideas and characters often out of thin air. You need to enjoy detective work and have the patience and determination to come at your research from all angles and track down just what you’re looking for. You need to like being alone, willing and able to happily, diligently spend month after month after month hermited away by yourself as you write and edit your book. You need to have the passion and ferocity of purpose to be at your desk for all that time and see your project through, no matter what– in spite of weariness and struggle and writer’s block and life. You need to be sensitive and observant to draw real, breathing characters. You need to be a critic, able to judge what you’ve written impartially and openly. You need to be analytical and impartial so that you can ruthlessly take your words apart and put them back together again.

jennifer_niven_clementine2You need to be outgoing and at ease in the spotlight, talking to nice folks who want to ask you questions and discuss your work and host you for book events, meeting readers, signing books, doing panels and speeches and book clubs and readings. You need to be tough and resilient to read and hear what people will say about your book– this book you’ve been pouring over and bleeding into and sacrificing everything for. (As my mother says, “To be a writer, you need to have the soul of an angel and the hide of an armadillo.”) You need to have enough stamina and fortitude to come up with an idea and do it all over again.

jennifer_niven_clementine3Book four will boomerang back to me sometime in the fall with my editor’s changes/notes/edits/suggestions/cuts, but for now it’s all about Becoming Clementine. It’s that time in a book’s life when I’m making the rounds, doing interviews, gathering reviews, answering questions, going on tour, etc. I love this part of it, even though it also carries its own degree of stress: reviews, feedback, sales. But I’m planning to enjoy it. After all, soon enough it will be time to pull on the yoga pants and retreat into the cave once again.

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.

And that is why we write.” ― Neil Gaiman

If you are an unpublished writer, take a moment to close your eyes and envision your favorite or ideal bookstore. Firmly place yourself there by imagining the colors of the walls, the light fixtures, the people browsing its aisles and reading in its chairs. Can you hear any music playing?

Now, focus on where your book would be shelved, and move toward it. What are the books around it? How many people are looking for it? What do those people look like? Whether it makes you comfortable or not, imagine your specific reader—the one, outside of yourself, who will love this book. Is it a man or a woman? Young or old? Rich or poor? What does his or her clothing look like? Where does he or she buy coffee, or does he or she even drink coffee? Does this person prefer independent bookstores, store chains, or buying electronically?

Is your ideal reader still in a bookstore?

This exercise is not a joke. If you want to find the right agent, publisher, and placement for your book, you need to know the answers to all of these questions, and be able to articulate them. If you know the answers, your agent search, choice of publisher, and marketing after the book launches will be much more successful.

One of the biggest mistakes new writers make (and which I certainly made in the past) is to take action on the assumption that all readers will love your book. In other words, querying all agents in Writer’s Market who represent fiction if you’ve written a novel is a bad idea. It is a waste of your time and their time, and it will leave you feeling cold, empty, and wrung out. It would be better to query ten agents who represent books you love to read, which you’d find on shelves next to yours, which would be picked up by the same exact hand that picked up your book, than to query one hundred agents. It would be more effective to post on ten blogs written by swimming coaches (if your book is about swimming, of course) than hundreds of blogs that cover a wider range of topics.

Ultimately, everyone who reads your book may, in fact, love it. But you need to find the first wave of readers before your book makes it into the hands of their spouses, teachers, or dermatologists. You need to find the people who share your passions and interests so that they may fall in love with your work, and then talk about it with everyone they know.

Know those who need your stories, and find a way to get your book into their hands. That is why you write.

You write a book with a title like mine and you can expect some questions. Of the many, herewith please find the two I get most frequently.

First: Has the experience of writing Am I a Jew? increased your religious feeling (and if so, would you mind stepping away from the bacon cheeseburger, sir?)

And second: Well…are you?

Allow me to begin with the first. The simple answer would be no. I find myself in houses of worship no more today than I ever did, and if the spirit moves me of late it is only in response to the recent birth of my daughter, Mena. My journey into Judaism only occasionally (albeit pivotally) intersected with a personal search for what people like to call “faith.” I’m not a fan of this term, by the way. I have faith in a great many things—death, taxes, the futility of man and the Mets, the rain in Spain falling primarily in the plain—but “faith,” strikes me as an indeterminant word used in service of a vague state.

Better instead to say only that we believe in the God in which we believe, in the way we believe in Him (or Her or They or Buddha or the wind or a circle of stones in England), be the godhead’s proper name or pronoun capped or no; that we locate or adopt or adhere to our belief in the manner that seems to us most sincere or reasonable or likely or unlikely or inarguable or scientific or hereditary or miraculous or brave or foolhardy; that that we do so in cooperation with or resistance to or in dismissal of different or competing beliefs and modes of beliefs and motivations for belief—and leave it that.

Perhaps we should go with faith at that.

Either way, as we approach Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, ringing—or more accurately, blowing (more on that later)—in the dawn of the year 5773, I, for one, won’t be found in shul (here, in fact, is where I’ll be: join me!). Nor will I be at home, worshipping at the altar of finely marbled brisket, or deep frying sacred donuts in my trusty cast iron pan.

That is not to say that I will forgo all consideration of the holiday. Far from it. During the research and writing of Am I a Jew?, I drew great intellectual inspiration from Maimonide’s Guide for the Perplexed, in part because I was perplexed, both in the personal sense and after attempting to read this famously impenetrable work. A minor example:

He who is everlasting, constant, and in no way subject to change; immutable in His Essence, and as He consists of nought but His Essence, He is mutable in no way whatever; not mutable in His relation to other things: for there is no relation whatever existing between Him and any other being, as will be explained below, and therefore no change as regard; such relations can take place in Him. Hence He is immutable in every respect, as He expressly declares, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal. iii. 6); i.e., in Me there is not any change whatever.

You got that? This will be on the exam.

One thing in the Guide that is remarkably clear, however, is Maimonides’ take on the requirements of Rosh Hashana:

  • New-Year is likewise kept for one day; for it is a day of repentance, on which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness. For this reason the shofar is blown on this day, as we have shown in Mishneh-torah. The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast, as is obvious from the national tradition about the days between New-Year and the Day of Atonement.

Simple enough. Blow the shofar, feel bad about the past year’s sins, and remember (despite our collective forgetfulness) to eat well in preparation for the fast of Yom Kippur. As with all things Maimonides, however, a little research into just what about the shofar has been shown in the Mishneh-Torah (Maimonides’s master work, a compendium of the legal wisdom found in the Jewish bible, written in the 12th century c.e.), yields greater complexity.

I won’t delve into the details here, but know this, those Jews keeping the holiday, or those desirous of a post-book increased observance for me (for this, I’ve borrowed liberally from the Chabad website):


  • The shofar must be crafted from a “bent” ram’s horn. Note: the halacha, or legal explanation, on the chabad website offers this with regard to bendiness: “Rams’ horns are always bent. [The bend] has homiletic significance, referring to the bending over of our proud hearts.” Homiletic sent me to the dictionary. Feel free to join me there.
  • If the shofar is cracked, not to worry (these things happen), but only if the break is lengthwise. Cracks along its width render it non-kosher.
  • You can plug a hole in a shofar, if it has one, so long as it is plugged with “its own kind.” Note: I have no idea what that means.
  • Feel free to sound your shofar in a cave or pit. Likewise, if you find yourself situated outside of a cave or pit, it is acceptable to listen to the shofar being blown. Close proximity is essential, however: it is forbidden to listen only to the sound of the shofar echoing off the walls of the cave or pit.
  • For sounding a shofar “into a giant barrel,” please see directly above.
  • There are no religious prescriptions against making a long shofar shorter, if the should arise.
  • Altering a shofar’s narrow end to make it wider, or its wider end to make it narrower—no dice.
  • For those interested in understanding why circumferential improvements are forbidden, Maimonides recommends Leviticus 25:9. From the admittedly far-from-Jewish King James: Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
  • How that relates to the previous point remains beyond my meager capacity to comprehend.
  • You can coat a shofar with gold, so long as it doesn’t change the sound.
  • You can place a shofar inside another shofar and blow it (them?), so long as you can hear the sound of the inner shofar.
  • No blowing the shofar without hearing it. Maimonides was, apparently, either opposed to inaudible shofar-blowing, or—sorry for this—he didn’t like deaf people.

Maimonides offers a great deal more in this vein. My reading of it demonstrates, I trust, that I have given some thought to the meaning of the holiday, beyond its conventional (and wholesome) role in bringing together Jewish families for celebration, amity, spiritual introspection, and fine food. If I seem flippant here it is because I am having some fun. But Maimonides, like the rabbinical scholars of the Talmud and other eras, provides the sort of intricate ethical and legal analysis that has always constituted the fundamental core of Judaism. It was this rigor, and its inexorable intellectual demands that sparked my renewed interest in Judaism, and set me on the path of my question and my quest. I laugh, and call on others to do so, with a reverence, admiration, and awe that is as close as I get to faith.

As for the second question asked above: Jew-ish.

becoming_clementineMy grandfather Olin Niven was a postal inspector, traveling the country, investigating dangerous crimes. He also edited and wrote for the newspaper in his small North Carolina town. He was brilliant and kind and quiet, and one of the wisest people I’ve ever known (years after his death, I wove him and his warm and gentle wisdom into Velva Jean Learns to Drive, as Velva Jean’s granddaddy, Daddy Hoyt).

On days like today, when I am up at six a.m. and will be jennifer_niven_lifelines1working until nine or ten p.m., I try to remind myself of something Granddaddy used to say. Whenever my mother or I would grumble or cry or rant to him about our writing deadlines, he would gaze at us with wise blue eyes and, in his patient, steady voice tell us, “Remember: you get to do this, no matter how hard it can be.  This work is who you are. It is what you’re supposed to do.  And so it’s not a deadline, it’s a lifeline.”

jennifer_niven_lifelines2Some days that’s easier to remember than others. Today for instance. I am months into a seven-day-a-week work schedule, juggling pre-publicity and promotion for the soon-to-be-released (September 25) novel, Becoming Clementine, as I continue to research and write (and constantly restructure and edit) its sequel, which is due to my editor in September.  Between tasks, here and there, I try to squeeze in moments with loved ones in an effort to recharge, refresh, and remind myself that I’m human.  As Mom and I often say to each other, we feel like twelve dogs pulling the Iditarod.

But in the back of my mind, always, is Granddaddy’s voice. All through the day I repeat Granddaddy’s words to myself, just like a song: You get to do this. You are lucky to do this.  It’s a lifeline, lifeline, lifeline…

story_withinMy husband gave me a new iPhone recently—a GS 4. I didn’t really need one but it was about Siri, the artificial intelligence software that resides in the phone like a genie in a bottle and which is not to be confused with Tom Cruise’s child. “That’s Suri,” my husband said. “This is Siri.  Ask her something,” he prodded.  “Ask her anything.”

“Is Suri a name?” I asked. “Is Scientology a religion? Wait! Does Ron Hubbard really own a secret cave in the southwest full of gold to give alien space invaders?”

“I don’t understand. Please repeat,” Siri said.

“Can Roy Dyson admit his vacuum weighs more than a school bus?” I asked, on a roll now.

There was a bonging noise.

“Does anyone know why Roy Dyson was knighted?” I tried. “Was it for weaponizing cyclone technology?”

“I have found 14 Roy Dyson’s near you,” Siri said.

The next day we were on our way to the movies when someone started talking in my purse. At first I thought the radio had come on but it was Siri. She was definitely talking to someone. It was a little creepy. I turned her off. Again.

My computer does this as well. Just gets a mind to do something I never asked it to do—zoom things up to gigantor proportions on a whim, or completely changes the view panel so that one page becomes two. Sometimes my computer starts proofing my work in Spanish claiming everything is misspelled.

The worst thing my computer ever did was send an email  I’d written to Alan, complaining about our friend Paul, to Paul.  Wait. Maybe Siri did it.

Write about receiving a gift you didn’t need—or didn’t know you needed–something perplexing, maybe even wonderful—a a spa treatment, a vacation, jewelry, or a friendship. Write about the gifts you’ve been given in your life that you didn’t even know enough to want—like a child, or partner, or puppy. Write about someone who gives a gift he wants himself. What is it? What happens? Who is transformed?

rav_hisdaAs a historical novelist, my goal is to take my readers to a distant place and time, but without them forgoing 21st-century improvements like antibiotics and indoor plumbing. There I hope to provide all the pleasure of other fiction genres – conflict, passion, and perception into the human condition – but with the extra advantage of insight into the culture of a previous era and society.

My novels have an additional goal, that of introducing readers to the lives of learned Jewish women in communities that are rarely written about elsewhere, such as 11th-century France in Rashi’s Daughters and 3rd-century Babylonia in Rav Hisda’s Daughter. Embedded in my heroines’ scholarly households, readers learn how the Talmud shaped Jewish holidays and life-cycle events into those we observe today.

Engaging fiction thrusts readers in a character’s conflicts, keeping them turning pages until the final challenge is resolved. So Rav Hisda’s Daughter provides conflict on three levels. On the grand stage, Zoroastrian Persia battles Christian Rome for world domination, while on a more intimate stage, Rav Hisda’s two best students vie for my heroine’s hand in marriage. [Spoiler alert: she eventually weds both of them]

In the middle is a conflict whose outcome fundamentally changed Judaism. This is the early Rabbis’ struggle to reinvent and revitalize Judaism after the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in the first century. Until this time, as detailed in the Bible, Jewish observance centered on the Temple. There the people came for the three pilgrimage festivals; there the priests offered a variety of sacrifices on their behalf. Yet in less than 400 years, Rav Hisda and a few hundred colleagues convinced a million Jews in Babylonia to embrace a new Judaism that functioned without the Temple or its priests. This had to be a difficult transition, as many Jews would have been skeptical of these self-appointed Rabbis and rejected their authority.

The Rabbis’ earliest success was likely instituting new ways to observe the Biblical festivals, as well as creating new holidays like Hanukah and Purim. Synagogues came into existence, along with innovative rituals and liturgy. Passover was now celebrated at home with a special dinner, the Seder, and using some clever arithmetic, the Rabbis showed that Shavuot, another pilgrimage festival, deserved celebration because it was the day the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai.

But it was with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur where they excelled.

Compared to the pilgrimage festivals, these holidays are barely mentioned in the Bible. There we learn that the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashana to announce the New Year and that a goat is sent into the wilderness to atone for the peoples’ sins on Yom Kippur. The Rabbis expanded Rosh Hashana to include a lengthy shofar service in synagogue, along with a theology of people being judged by the Heavenly Court as to whether they merited being written into the Book of Life for the upcoming year. Yom Kippur built on this to give a holiday much like today, where Jews spend the entire day in synagogue – fasting, confessing their sins, and praying for forgiveness.

In this manner the Babylonian Rabbis created the Talmud, which has been the source of Jewish law and traditions for over 1500 years. And in Rav Hisda’s Daughter: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery, I show how this process began.

Watch the book trailer for Rav Hisda’s Daughter

Watch an interview with author Maggie Anton: Part 1 & Part 2

pygPenguin has asked me to say a few words about Pyg, and I’m very happy to do so.  What many people may not realize, in looking at the book, is that it’s based on the true story of an actual pig who flourished in the early 1780′s and was — for a time — such a phenomenon that the poet Robert Southey declared him “A far greater object of admiration to the English nation than ever was Sir Isaac Newton.”

I first read about the Learned Pig in Richard Altick’s landmark volume The Shows of London, where he reproduced an etching by Rowlandson, which depicted “the wonderful pig” doing his act, which was to answer questions posed by his audience by spelling them out with letters printed on cards. This was not, indeed, the only wonder of the act: this pig also could “Spell, Cast Accounts, tell any person what O’Clock it is by their own Watch,” and even “read the minds of Ladies, but only with their Permission.”  And, as would be the case with his many later imitators as well, this pig was named Toby.

This piqued my interest. If it were indeed possible for a pig to learn to Spell, then why might it not express its own inward thoughts and feelings by the same means?  Why might it not, indeed, tell its own story?  I was the more astonished to find that, in the early 1800′s, one such pig had indeed, purportedly, penned an autobiography!  I was disappointed on reading it, however, to discover that it was a mere punning pamphlet; Toby’s mother had got her learning by eating her master’s library; Toby’s favorite play was Hamlet and his favorite philosopher Bacon, and so forth.  Surely an actual pig, subjected to all the trials of being put on show for Humans and by Humans, would have a far more interesting tale to tell!

And so Pyg was born.  As much as is possible for an author, I endeavored to let Toby tell his own tale, and relegated myself to the situation of “Editor,” the better to imagine him as a truly original Animal narrator.  And indeed I’ve been able, even now with the novel complete, to tune in again to Toby’s voice and, just as had been done in the 1780′s, pose him some questions, and transcribe his answers.  I hope that readers will find them as engaging as the original book.

Learn more about Toby on Russell Potter’s blog.

Follow him on Twitter.

velva_jeanTallulah Bankkitty, better known as Lulu, is part Scarlett O’Hara, part Tinkerbell, and part Bonnie Parker. She is the minxiest, smartest, flirtiest, cleverest little soul, and I am lucky to have her. But, as my mother says, she is very much a fulltime cat. She is also the most enthusiastically involved and interactive literary cat I’ve ever known.

Let me describe a typical morning. Today for instance, Lulu is jennifer_niven_cat1having a very busy day, even for Lulu, who is always busy. One of the reasons she’s so busy is that my boyfriend Louis and I both work out of our home, and this means she is constantly running between offices to help us with things. First, she participated in Louis’s morning work-related telephone conference, performing flips and somersaults at his feet, and when that didn’t work, climbing all over him– lap, shoulders, the arm and back of his desk chair, and when that didn’t work, sitting on his keyboard and petting him.

jennifer_niven_cat2As soon as he hung up the phone, she was, of course, finished. In those moments, it’s really about the attention being paid elsewhere and not some urgent desire to bond with us. She then joined me down the hall in my office where she pulled numerous pages out of the printer, and then climbed on top of it, as she always does, in order to better get her paw inside and figure out its inner workings. When we were done printing, she retired to the water bowl for some much-needed hydration, and that was when the real drama began.

I moved the bowl yesterday, just four feet from where it originally sat, since her dear brother Rumi, jennifer_niven_cat3as sweet and innocent and perpetually confused as Lulu is shrewd and sassy and deductive, needs to dig at the water in order to see it (he is part-Siamese and has slightly crossed eyes that wiggle), and I was trying to salvage the wood floor from where it was beginning to warp from all that sloshed liquid.

This morning, after Lulu finished her telephone conference and her printing duties, I heard a series of thuds and scrapings, like a body was being dragged a great distance, and there was Lulu, pushing the bowl back to its original place, first with her paw, then with her nose, water splashing everywhere. I said what I always say when she does something she shouldn’t be doing: “No ma’am.”  I try to say it reasonably but firmly, knowing full well she’s aware that she’s doing something she shouldn’t be doing which is, of course, why she’s doing it. She stopped– as she always does when I say this– and blinked at me, and then proceeded to go on doing it until the bowl was back in its original place. She sat down then and drank and, when she was done, she left, off to hunt her favorite orange earplugs, the ones we bought her in bulk for Christmas because she kept stealing mine. Out of my ears. As I was sleeping.

jennifer_niven_cat4After a ferocious game of earplug hockey, it was time for Mistress of the Jungle, as my mom calls it, which is what Lulu sounds like when she races up and down our rather long hallway, ears flattened against her head, tail puffed out as big as a skunk’s, growling like something out of the deep, dark woods (we call it the Great Throaty Beastess). This is especially disconcerting given that she’s tiny and weighs just eight pounds and her regular meows are nothing more than squeaks. When she transforms into Mistress of the Jungle, as she does every day, her brothers Rumi and Satchmo (our shy and portly, almost eternally patient former dumpster cat) scurry out of the way and peek at her from around doorways, a bit alarmed and, in Rumi’s case, terrified, since he seems to temporarily forget who she is.

This carried on for ten minutes, and then she marched back into my office and, after checking to make sure the water bowl was still where she had moved it earlier, sat beside my keyboard and stared at the monitor, huge green eyes blinking dreamily and a bit sleepily, watching me write.  Mercifully, she did this for an hour (she actually does this daily, as if we’re writing the book together), which gave me the chance to do a good bit of writing uninterrupted.

Then, bored with that, she arranged herself on my lap with her head thrown back against the jennifer_niven_cat5keyboard and watched me from that angle.

When I didn’t pay enough attention to her (I was, after all, trying to write a book), she jumped down and flounced over to my reading chair, just beside my desk, where she proceeded to Give Me The Back, as we call it.

After I apologized and told her how pretty she was (“pretty” is her favorite word), she returned to my desk, where I managed to admire her sufficiently and pet her with one hand while typing with the other. After a few minutes, I stopped typing (but not petting) to go back over something I’d written, reading it aloud to Lulu, who listened for approximately 45 seconds before she got so bored she had to take herself off for a nap in the cat bed that sits on a corner of my desk.

jennifer_niven_cat6This was my cue to do what I always do when Lulu takes herself off for a nap– I started writing furiously. And so I will write furiously for the next ten minutes or two hours that she’s asleep, until she gets up and decides to rearrange all the index cards (i.e. the outline of my next chapter) that are so meticulously, carefully, painstakingly arranged on my desk.

Update: An hour later, I got up to stretch my legs and return the water bowl to its new place. Three hours later, Lulu has just moved the water bowl back again.