Beware The Eye

The Aging Lothario

The Aging Lothario hangs out in the coffee bar, surrounded by older men he tolerates as the young women flitting in and out with their seventies sunglasses, stacked shoes, and short shorts ignore him. They stand at the bar flipping long locks of hair over their shoulders, intent on talking over each other in their need to be the center of attention.

He listens to his companions with half an ear and finally concedes he will not catch an inviting glance. His Saturday afternoon has been wasted listening to tired old jokes, tales of aches and pains, and the subtle currying of favor. He makes bland excuses; the wife will be home soon, he promised to pick up something for dinner, the dogs need a run.

The older men watch his departure, a glimmer of envy at his blond hair free of any hint of gray, his tan nicely bronzed but not too dark, his parting smile dazzlingly white. Their conversation immediately turns to the question of where he’s really going and who he plans to meet. They laugh, then sigh with remembered thoughts of their youth before the talk turns to a friend in the hospital.

The Aging Lothario walks down the block, stops on the corner and stares across the street at a row of shops. He jangles the change in his pocket. Finally, he steps off the curb and crosses the street.

The door to the shop at the end of the row has a coded lock. He keys in the numbers and enters the space. Workmen had been there earlier so he had kept to the far side of street as he made his way to the coffee shop. Now, he has the place to himself and no one the wiser.

He glances over the new shelving and a large, waist high table in the center of the room. It is very modern with a white acrylic surface. Drop clothes and a ladder occupy the area to the left of the fireplace.

He stands just inside the doorway debating what to do next. He had hoped she would be there, checking on the progress, deciding where to place her displays.

A restless, dissatisfied feeling settles over him. He checks the time on the Very Expensive Watch his wife had given him several years ago. The Very Expensive Watch paid for with the Very Rich Wife’s money. The Very Rich Wife whose money comes from the Very, Very Rich Father-in-Law. The same Very, Very Rich Father-in-Law who is the Aging Lothario’s overlord.

The Aging Lothario knows he’s on thin ice with the Very, Very Rich Father-in-Law. All that bother about the last Nymph has caused the lone eye of the Ogre, aka, The Very, Very Rich Father-in-Law, to turn in his direction.

The Very, Very Rich Father-in-Law

He shouldn’t be here. He tempted Fate with the last Nymph. He should have rented the space to a clock maker or a used book seller or anything other than the svelte, tanned, blond streaked Nymph of a manicurist. The necessity to send her on her way cut deep. The anger still simmers just below the surface. There will be retribution. He is sly that way, the Aging Lothario.

This time he will have to be more careful. He glances out the glass of the door of the shop, checking the street. He really shouldn’t be here. There’s no reason for it, no way to justify it. But the New Nymph is so tempting with the streaked blond hair and long, tan legs. If only he’d found her here.

The Aging Lothario takes a turn around the space, checking the progress in the bathroom and the little cubby of a private office. She’ll be ready to open soon. He’ll come to the grand opening. That will be justifiable, he decides. Part of his job, really, checking on the Ogre’s business, making sure his investment is paying off.

The door of the shop opens and the New Nymph walks in followed by another young woman. She’s surprised to see him there as is her companion. She makes the introductions. This is the partner, the older member of the company, but only slightly so.

The New Nymphs exchange a side-eye glance. It isn’t lost on the Aging Lothario. He feels the heat in his face. He mutters about inspecting the work and is suddenly bereft of the golden tongue that he uses to charm and persuade. He makes his excuses and departs, afraid to look back as the door closes behind him.

He considers returning to the coffee shop. Lydia is due to take the late afternoon shift. But in the end, he heads toward his car, his shoulders slightly slumped in defeat, the lines around his eyes and mouth deepening with his disappointment, aging him further. The Ogre will be watching him closely now and all for naught. He has squandered his carrot. The New Nymphs signed a two year lease.

Still, he might have been mistaken. The glance between the Nymphs might have been innocent. He has probably read more into it than was there. His shoulders straightened a bit and he whistles softly as he unlocks the Mercedes that the Very Rich Wife’s money bought.

The Purple Cat Period


My granddaughter is quite the artist. She has gone through many phases in her artistic education. For a time everything was about fashion. With numerous Barbie type dolls to dress for the runway, we spent a small fortune on fabrics, netting, ribbon, beading, and hair products.


She dabbled in oil painting. This was her Chagall period as evidenced by the self-portrait shown here.

Emily self portrait

But my favorite expression of her creativity came at the age of eight (she is now sixteen) which we call the Purple Cat period. Water colors were all the rage. It was at this time that she created Reneaux.

Looking at the painting you might assume that Reneaux is a handsome cat. He certainly is the picture of contentment. But what you don’t see in this rendering is that he is a superior cat in the way that only a cat can be. He is a font of important information, i.e., purple and gold are the correct colors for any occasion because purple is for royalty and gold…well gold is for gold.Purple Cat

Never wear socks with sandals. Better your toes freeze off than make this fashion faux paux. Curly hair cannot be contained nor should you try.

If these were the only lessons to be learned from Reneaux then one would consider themselves well rewarded for having known him, but there are many things beyond mere matters of appearance that he has imparted. He has taught us that a nap is always appropriate, regardless of the situation and it quite often heals a world of heartache. Being alone isn’t lonely, especially when you have a creative mind. Work (creativity) is its own reward. Knowing your own worth and standing your ground when it comes to your values is hard but it is the right thing to do. Kindness to every living creature costs you nothing but the rewards are great.

Reneaux is no Cheshire cat. His messages are not cryptic. He has been a good friend and guide to a little girl who has had to survive the world of two older brothers, friendships that aren’t always what they seem, and the whole coming of age angst.

My granddaughter, the chicken whisperer, is a talented, creative, kind, self-assured young woman and brave in many ways. She has learned a lot from Reneaux and, through her, so have I.


Rebecca Barrett writes historical fiction, short stories of the South, and children’s stories. Her novel, Road’s End, is an historical novel set between WWI and WWII and is available on Amazon.

She is a cat lover, first and foremost, although dogs hold a special place in her heart. Cats have distinct personalities and abilities and anyone who is possessed by a cat is fortunate indeed, even if it is only in their imagination. Over the years, the many cats she has loved have formed the basis for the cozy mysteries she writes.

The Great Escape

EARLY MORNING, fog shrouding all the out-buildings and vegetation, ready to make the early morning run into town. That’s when she saw them. Spots of light flickered through the swirling white dawn, dancing in jerky movements all along the pasture fence line.

What the heck?

As my sister-in-law pulled out of the farmyard she saw the first patrol car. She lowered the window and the officer shown his light all through the interior of her SUV.

An escaped convict, he said. From up around Selma. Stole a car. State law, local law, and Sheriff’s Department all hot on his tail. He cut off 69 onto their dirt road. Didn’t figure on the loose gravel, he reckoned, and crashed down by the cattle crossing.

Keep your doors locked, he said. We got dogs coming. Should be able to catch him up pretty quick.

Back at home from her errands she told my brother the details. He got down the shotgun and checked it, loaded it. Went out and sat on the front porch.

She called her son who lives over the rise on the other side of the road. He had seen him, running across the pasture in his orange jumpsuit.

By this time there were more police cars up and down the county road. Everyone was keeping their dogs in because of the tracking hounds. The farm yard was filling up with law enforcement and vehicles.

About lunch time my nephew spotted him again. He had shed the jumpsuit over in the pasture. The dogs started up and my nephew looked out the window. He was dressed only in orange prison-issue boxers. He was running through their back yard, spurred on, no doubt, by the five confined dogs objecting to his presence with a chorus of baying and barking.

We can only assume this uproar was what gave him the burst of speed as he plunged straight into the briar patch situated where the pasture meets a little stand of trees.

At this point my sister-in-law called to fill me in on all the hi jinx. Everyone was exchanging a blow by blow of the unfolding drama as the number of vehicles and officers grew, huddling together in small groups, strategizing.

I decided to call my younger brother who lives a couple of miles, as the crow flies, from the epicenter of all that action.

My other sister-in-law informed me that they knew nothing about the great chase but that she would tell my brother. He would want, she was sure, to get his rifle and his one bullet and sit on the front porch, too.

I thought it was a Barney Fife witticism but she informed me that, no, he only had one bullet. The hardware store can’t seem to keep ammunitions on the shelves these days. He was down to his last bullet. But that’s all he would need, she assured me, if it came down to it.

Like the rest of the little rural community, my younger brother gleefully loaded his rifle with his single silver bullet and took up his post on the front porch.

The day rocked on, interest in the great chase waxed and waned. The grand baby was dropped off and the vigil moved inside to the recliner.

In the late afternoon my sister-in-law sat in the middle of the floor playing with the grand baby. My brother kept guard from the recliner, the quiet disturbed only by an occasional snorting snore.

Suddenly, my brother brought the recliner up-right and struggled awake as he got to his feet.

“Get outta the way!” he said as he stepped over the grand baby and headed for the hallway.

The convict, tired, sweaty, scratched and scraped, sat on the front porch steps. It’s uncertain how long he’d been sitting there or why he had risked capture with such a reckless act. It’s only known that by the time my brother returned with the gun, he was gone.

Well, I’ve made a long, shaggy-dog tale out of this little farce. Suffice it to say that at around eight that evening the man in orange was back in custody. Though I can’t speak for him, I imagine he was about as glad about that as the law was. All of which brings me to the question of choices.

As entertaining as this great chase was to all the local folk, you can’t help but wonder, what was he thinking?

Was this all the result of a fortuitous opportunity and a lapse in judgment? We can’t know what prompted the urge to run. And perhaps the decision to cut down a narrow, red clay road in the middle of nowhere where every man, woman, and child is as proficient with a gun as a mosquito is at finding me from half a mile away, was a valid choice to evade the police. But to strip down to your orange boxers defies logic, in my opinion.

We can guess, of course. Did he think he would become a less conspicuous target by shedding the jumpsuit? Was it the heat of clambering through scrub growth and racing across open fields that caused him to disrobe? Or could it be that he had his eye on the concrete storm bunker in my nephew’s back yard to hole up in that inspired his fashion decision. This is my sister-in-law’s favorite theory. I can’t quite see the logic of it.

Regardless of the motivation for his choices, in a certain neck of the woods in Marengo County, orange is definitely entertaining. Whether or not orange is the new black remains to be seen.


Miss Marple

I couldn’t find the garden fairy. She was nowhere to be seen. Normally she rests ever so lightly on the lip of a flower pot that contains a rather unruly butterfly plant. Concerning, yes, but not a cause for true alarm. It was several days later when the plant ties disappeared that I began to worry.

It’s true that I had been careless and left them on the patio table while gardening. What was going on in my back yard? It’s secluded, you see. There are two wrought iron gates but both are closed and locked. I sat in the glider under the ceiling fan in the Taj Mahal carport and pondered, my coffee growing cold.

Miss Marple slipped through the iron bars of the side gate and came to join me. She lives next door and occasionally drops by when I’m out and about in the yard. I guess you could say we have a comfortable relationship. She will lounge on the concrete floor, or choose one of the patio chairs and stretch out along the seat. I think she finds the woven metal mesh a good air conditioner. We don’t speak on these occasions, nor do we go in for anything touchy feely. We respect each other’s space.

The next day when I went out to sit in the glider and drink my morning coffee, I discovered that one of the tassels was missing from my seat cushion. It’s a pretty coral color and I absolutely adore the peacock design with bold blues, greens, and a touch of mustard. It’s my new favorite summer thing and I’m disheartened to see that it has fallen victim to the mysterious thief in the night.

This could not go on. I needed to get to the bottom of things. As I sat trying to devise a plan to catch the thief, my neighbor appeared at the garden gate. I invited her in for coffee and as we sat she drew three items from her pocket: the garden fairy, a small bundle of plant ties, and a coral tassel. She informed me that she had been vacuuming Miss Marple’s bed and found them.Peacock

You can imagine my relief. I may never know who slipped into my garden and made off with my valuables or if such acts against me will be repeated but I am relieved to know that, true to her name, Miss Marple is on the case and what is lost will be found.

The Naming Game

William Shakespeare famously asked…

“What is in a name…”

Quite a lot, actually, especially if you’re a writer. I had the most wonderful English professor, Father Doyle. Yes, it was a Jesuit College. He and my eleventh grade teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, instilled in me the love of language and a desire to write the stories that were always intruding on my thoughts.

Perhaps it’s, in part, due to the fact that Father Doyle chose my name for one of his dissections that I find the subject so fascinating. Did the author of the short story we were studying choose Rebecca for its significance in biblical history or for the place it holds in literature? If you name your character Rebecca, does the reader subconsciously associate her with the mother of Christianity or a woman in peril as in the classic Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier?

Rebecca by du Maurier

My friend Greg Herren reads Rebecca every year. Was she a woman in peril? He says the meaning changes with each reading. That’s the beauty of good literature. The meaning resides with the reader in the moment that they are reading the story.

But back to the naming of characters, the process of choosing. It’s an important aspect of telling a good story. It’s also tricky. The thing that set me thinking on this subject recently was a debate on the merits of a character in my latest manuscript, Trouble in Paradise, the sixth book in the Familiar Legacy Mystery Series. The male protagonist is named Trout. I thought this a very fine name, a nickname, of course, but very telling of his character, his identity. He is, after all, a charter boat captain living in Key West, Florida.

Trout's boat

His proper name, however, is Armentrout and that’s a whole other side of the spectrum. The name is Germanic, formed from the words “army” and “man.” Further explanation says it means bold, inquisitive, a planner, and interested. Since Trout’s former life, the one he escaped to Key West to forget, is that of a psychologist for troubled teens, it now seems a truer fit than ever. I’m amazed sometimes by how my subconscious works. Or I’m lucky.

Either way, I still like Trout just fine, thank you very much. It fits the character and the story. Trouble in Paradise is in the final editing stages and we’re sticking with Trout. It will be released May 7, 2018. Trouble, the Sherlock of black cat detectives, is the star of the show, naturally. But Trout just might surprise you with his sleuthing skills. You’ll have to read the story to see.

Trouble in Paradise cover


Leave The Gun, Check the Microwave

Purse and wallet

If you hear someone say “I was thinking about how to commit the murder as I was leaving home,” let’s hope you’re listening to a mystery writer on a panel at Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham, AL, or Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka, AL. That’s exactly what I was doing at the Wetumpka Civic Center when I reached down in my purse with every intention of buying this guy’s book. To my surprise, my wallet wasn’t there. Then I remembered I’d left it in the microwave.

Like Lucy, I’ve “got some ‘splain'” to do.

My friend and fellow writer, Susan Tanner, and I had driven up to Birmingham to attend Murder in the Magic City with a lot of other talented writers, a good number of which were members of The Cat Women Collective. As with any gathering of writers, there was a fair amount of adult beverage consumed. Not that I’m making any excuses, mind you.

On Saturday we had a wonderful time talking our craft and characters to a great gathering of readers at the Homewood Library. When we returned to our hotel we were informed that there would be barbecue in the meeting room Margaret Fenton had arranged for us to use to congregate and smooze. I decided I didn’t want to lug my purse around all evening so I left it in the room.

In my lifetime I’ve traveled quite a bit so you might say I’m a seasoned traveler. I wasn’t about to leave all my valuables sitting in my purse in my room while I was elsewhere enjoying myself. My dilemma? What to do with my wallet. There was no safe in the room so naturally I cast about for a good place to stash my cash. Et voila, the microwave. I’m a writer, accustomed to hiding dead bodies, so it seemed perfectly logical.

The problem with being a writer, particularly one sweating a deadline, is that our mind tends wander to thoughts of red herrings, choices of poison, and body parts. Make of that what you will. Since I was on this excursion in the face of a looming deadline and a woefully low word count, I let my mind turn to Babs, the first ex-wife of the dead wife’s dead husband. I know, I know, that’s confusing but you’ll just have to read the book.

I left the merry makers telling tall tales and whopping lies and went up to my room in my own little literary fog of lies. I had to get Babs on the page, never sparing a thought to the wallet in the microwave.

The next day, the writers caravanned down to Wetumpka for Murder on the Menu, another excellent event to help fund the library. It was then, after a delightful lunch and mingling with a lovely group of true book people, that I sat listening to this panel of professional liars and remembered the wallet.

When I called the hotel to explain the situation, the woman manning the desk almost choked. They immediately sent someone up to my room and recovered the lonely wallet. Not only did I have to tell my friend that we would be adding almost three hours drive time to our trip home, I had to walk into the lobby of the hotel where, I kid you not, the entire staff was awaiting my arrival. Apparently leaving your wallet in the microwave isn’t as common as I would have thought.

So, if you were traveling by air Sunday evening or early Monday and the person in the seat next to you started snorting with laughter for no apparent reason, she or he was probably a writer returning home from Birmingham. Without doubt I shall have to listen to the admonition to check the microwave anytime I’m traveling with my writing friends. What can I say, my job is to entertain and I take it seriously.

The Mad Catters

Cowboy Motel: Getting Your Kicks on Route 66


In September I went on a grand adventure with my best friend. I’d always wanted to travel across the country by car and see what this great land has to offer, so we set off. Destination: California’s Napa Valley and the Wine Train. The best way to get there, of course, is due West along the various roadways that make up the famed Route 66.

As a history buff I know the stories about the great migration west of America’s early days, the escape to the land of plenty during the Depression, the flight of the Great Dust Bowl era, and the lure of Hollywood that continues to draw a steady stream of aspiring actors and actresses looking for their close-up.

There are a number of ways you can see the USA. Our Interstate highway system is a marvel of engineering and efficiency. With air travel, you can hop from city to city and see what’s unique in any given community.

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.
 Charles Kuralt
 Like Charles Kuralt, I wanted to see the great in-between. One of those places was Boone, Colorado and the home of  “Cousin Eddie” of  National Lampoon’s Vacation fame. And, no, we didn’t set out in search of it, we just lucked upon it by chance. That’s also how we came upon the Cowboy Poetry competition in Elko, Nevada. In Carson City we found Admiral Halsey’s saddle.
Admiral Halsey's saddle
What’s a trip out West without stopping in for a gunfight in Dodge City? Wyatt is there, waiting for his Kodak moment.
Wyatt Earp
And, there are dinosaur bones to be seen on the winding backroad of Indian country in Utah, Nevada, and Colorado.
The iconic motel and eatery signs that Route 66 was known for in it’s golden days are few and far between but there are pockets where you can still imagine you’re on the road to Hollywood or the California surf, your dreams tucked into your pockets. I’m glad I took the opportunity to see what’s left while it’s still there. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but pictures can’t translate the experience of seeing it up close and personal, of plotting a course each day, and marveling at the unexpected around the next corner.
My advice, see this great country and its people. You’ll be glad you did.
Thunderbird motel

Country Roads, take me home


When my grandson was little, probably about three, he was on an errand with his other grandmother. They were stopped in traffic and a truck was in the lane next to them. “That truck’s been to the country,” the apple of our eye said. Other grandmother looked out the side window to see it was covered in red clay from the underbelly to almost the level of the windows.

To him, red clay meant the country. It still does. The last few days of July, I had quite an adventure in the country. It involved a lot of red clay.

I had gone to the country to take care of a little business and piddle with some honey-dos I’d been putting off for a while. My early departure from home didn’t happen. I got bogged down with last minute issues involving my current book. So, by the time I crossed Horse Creek bridge and turned onto County Road 41, it was late. I was anxious to get in and settle before nightfall, to crank down the air conditioner so the place would cool enough for sleep.

Usually I go the long way around. It’s paved for all but about a hundred yards from my front porch and, I have a white car. But, as I said, it was late. I wanted to be there already. After weeks of rain the car needed a good wash anyway, I reasoned.

Fifty yards in, I knew I was in trouble. The car slowed of its own volition as the tires became so caked in red mud they couldn’t get traction. As I tried to maneuver to the middle of the road, hence higher ground, the mud had different ideas. I was on a trajectory toward the ditch and the woods beyond. Flooring the gas pedal and turning the wheel to correct for my slide did no good. I came to a stop, tried to reverse. The result was a slide even closer to the ditch. There would be no rocking back and forth to break free.

What to do? Fortunately, I had noticed a vehicle at the lone house just after the turn onto County Road 41. The people who own the house don’t live there, they just visit back and forth from Louisiana to do a little gardening, and, I expect, enjoy the quiet of country life. They would be my salvation, I decided.

I turned on the blinkers and turned off the ignition, my car balancing on the very edge of the road and nosing the dense vegetation. When I opened the door to get out I realized my second problem. I was wearing flip flops. Now, that’s not an uncommon thing for me to do ten months out of the year. But as I surveyed the red clay beneath my open door, I knew they would become part of the roadbed if I stepped out in them.

flip flops

Well, I’m a country girl and I confess that when I’m home and inside, I’m usually barefooted. So, I slipped off my flip flops and stepped ankle deep into the mud. I was wearing what a dear friend used to call high water britches, known as pedal pushers in my youth, and today called cropped pants.

I took my purse that contained my phone and locked the door, hazard lights flashing. My reasoning for taking the purse was that maybe I wouldn’t look so threatening if I arrived on a stranger’s doorsteps, barefooted, my feet caked in red mud, and pounded on their door. Who knows how my mind came to that conclusion. I guess I wasn’t thinking too rationally at that point.

The red clay sucked to my feet like a slug on the bowl of my water fountain. I kicked and scrubbed my feet against the grass of the neighbor’s yard to little avail. I found a twig and was able to pry a little of it from between my toes. In the end there was nothing for it except to walk across their front porch, muddy feet and all.

So, there I stood, knocking on their door, my nice designer handbag on my shoulder (yes, I confess, that is my weakness, lovely handbags), my high water britches, and my bare feet covered in mud up to my ankles.

Although I woke the lady of the house from her afternoon nap, she was very kind. She let me use her cell phone to call my brother. My cell phone doesn’t work up there. (No, Verizon, I can’t hear you now.) And, bless her heart, she never batted an eye at my attire.

Just as I got my sister-in-law on the phone, I heard a vehicle turn onto the dirt road and come to a stop, obviously blocked by either my car or the good sense not to attempt to go around it.

I hobbled back to road as quick as my bare feet and the red clay would permit to find none other than the county commissioner surveying the situation. I was informed that the road had just been graded and a new culvert put in to correct the issues the neighbor was having with access to his driveway. The commissioner tried to hook my car to the cattle catcher on the front of his truck with a chain he had but the hook wouldn’t fit. The rope he had in the bed of the truck was old and didn’t hold up to the weight of my car and the unrelenting grip of Marengo County red clay.

Stuck in the mud.jpg

The neighbor came to help on his four-wheeler and about that time my brother and nephew arrived. My brother got behind the wheel, red clay caked boots and all, and the others pushed until we broke free. We pretty much hydroplaned until we reached my front porch for fear of settling once again into the roadbed.

My brother was quick to tease me as we waited for my nephew to follow behind us and pick him up. I’d lived away from the country too long, he said, I didn’t know how to drive on the dirt roads anymore. After a bit we started wondering where my nephew was. Finally, he pulled into the driveway. The county commissioner had gotten stuck in the same spot and they had had to pull him out of the mud with the Jeep.

Lessons learned. Follow your better judgment, and when you don’t, be sure no one has a camera to record the results. More importantly, don’t let anyone tease you that you don’t know what you’re doing. It may be true but all of us have lapses once in a while and we should be allowed to let them, like sleeping dogs, lie.

Apricots in Bloom

Spring and new beginnings, how they lift us up and make anything seem possible. Yet here we are in the doldrums of a wet, hot summer. It’s hard to be inspired when the humidity exceeds the temperature.

I’ve been writing most of my adult life. The simple act gives me pleasure and the exercise helps me figure out who I am and come to terms with life’s circumstances, good and bad.

The past few years have been difficult. People I care deeply for have been lost or suffered terribly. This week marks the closing of a chapter in my life. The home where I lived with my dear husband, where we raised our children, sold. It is a bittersweet occasion. I am no longer weighted down by the responsibility of a house too big for one person. Yet, as I sift through the contents, keep this, give up that, I feel a deep loss.

It’s the old photographs that do the healing. They contain our history, tell our story. Though is it faded with age, there is a snapshot of my husband against the backdrop of masses of apricot trees blooming at the peak of their flowering. We were in Pakistan, having traveled from Karachi all the way to the Kyber Pass. It had been an arduous trip, minimal facilities, terrible roads, even a river crossing by fishing boat. As we came around a sharp turn in the road, there they were, the trees loaded with flowers, more abundant than the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. in the spring.

“Well,” my husband said, “was it worth it?”

Apricot blooms-CanStock

It was all worth it. I’ve had a very good life and I know in my heart there is still more to come. The good and the bad. So I’m setting forth with gratitude in my heart and hope in the future. It is time to dedicate myself to my writing. It has been relegated to the back burner for a long time. As my dear, departed, friend Eugene Walter would say, “Life intervened.”

I hope you will join me on my pursuit of something that once again feels fresh and exciting to me. I’ve written a number of books, most of them in boxes deep in the back of the closet. A precious few are available to readers. I write historical fiction (Road’s End), short stories (, post apocalyptic fiction (The Blessing of Hannahunder the pen name Campbell O’Neal), children’s stories, and now I’m writing romantic mysteries.


Trouble in Dixie is my contribution to the Familiar Legacy series of romantic mysteries. Together with several other fiction writers (Carolyn Haines, Claire Matturro, Susan Tanner, Laura Benedict, to name a few) we are up to all kinds of high jinx featuring Trouble, the black cat detective. Take a trip to Savannah, Georgia with Trouble as he adeptly deals with old money and fresh murder in pursuit of an art thief, a missing insurance adjustor, and love in the air.

The Familiar; or a cat by any other name

When you hear the word cat, what comes to mind? Is it the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland, the Jellicle cats of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, on which the Broadway musical Cats is based, or perhaps that zany Cat in the Hat of Dr. Seuss fame? For many it is the classic black cat that is the witch’s familiar. Whether you relate to Garfield or Mau, the cat has been intertwined with mankind for more than four thousand years, and possibly much longer.

We are first introduced to the witch’s familiar, Graymalkin, in McBeth. Shakespeare was not a fan of cats though he used them often in his plays. His feelings ranged from the mild quote by Shylock in The Tempest, “A harmless, necessary cat,” to Lysander saying in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Hang off, thou cat,” referring to a particularly murderous game practiced by the Dutch in Scotland which involved a hanging cat.

Shakespeare’s sentiments regarding cats were possibly influenced by a knowledge of Pope Gregory IX’s denouncement of black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Papal Bull, Vox in Rama. This was issued in an attempt to destroy a heresy known as Luciferians or Satan worshipers. The Pope’s views led to the slaughter of thousands of cats that some argue, in turn, culminated in the Black Plague because of the explosion in the rat population. Which brings us to the how and why of the domestication of cats.

Science tells us that the cat (felis catus)is part of the genus felis that is a group of seven species of small cats that are found worldwide. Several characteristics of wildcats such as their size, social nature, and high intelligence, may have predisposed them for domestication. How this domestication came about is up for debate but the prevailing theory by historians is that cats were tolerated by people because of the benefit garnered from their hunting vermin found around towns and villages. A strikingly different perspective than that of modern society:

Cats know how to obtain food without labor, shelter without confinement, and love without penalties. (Walter Lionel George, author).

Living in close proximity with people created a symbiotic relationship between cats and humans. It also insured the survival of the food supply of grains necessary for human consumption.

Ancient Egypt is generally credited as the site of cat domestication:

Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy circle; thou art indeed the Great Cat. (Inscribed on the Royal Tombs at Thebes.)

Historians know this history of the cat because the Egyptians depicted the domesticated cat in drawings in their palaces and their tombs. These images show the progression of the cat from domesticated animal and revered pet to the status of deity. One of the most famous monuments of Egypt is the Sphinx that is a combination of the pharaoh’s head on the body of a lion. Egyptian gods and goddesses named for cats include Mau (Ra in cat form), Tefnut, Mafdet, Bastet, and Sekmet. The penalty for killing a cat four thousand years ago in Egypt was death.

There is a caveat to Egypt’s claim as the origination of domesticated cats. Publications by archaeologists and paleontologists from the University of Washington and Chinese Academy of Sciences show evidence of domestic cats in Quanhucun, China 5,300 years ago. During the Song Dynasty cats with yellow and white fur were valued as pets simply for their appearance rather than as mousers.

The evidence of a domesticated cat buried with its owner was found on Cyprus in 2004. This site is dated at approximately 9,500 years old, pushing back the timeline on the domestication of cats. The theory is that domestication began in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and traveled from there to Cyprus and Egypt.

Regardless of the original arena for the domestication of cats, the Egyptians, through their exaltation and veneration of the lowly house cat, win the honor in my view.

Thus far we have painted the cat with a checkered past. How did he go from divine deity to Satanic scourge? Well, that’s a tale for another day. What we do know is that his return to western mankind’s good graces is noted in literature by such writers as Joanna Baillie. Her poem, The Kitten, appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s English Minstrelsy in 1810. Perhaps the debunking of their Satanic reputation began with such tales as Puss in Boots in 1697 or the inclusion by some Renaissance painters of cats in religious scenes. Whatever the cause, I  and my fellow writers are here to continue the tales of the Great Cat, avenger of the Gods, and judge of the words.