My guest today on Who Are The Cat Writers’ Association is science fiction writer (& fencer) Mary Turzillo.
Mary, what can you tell us about your amazing writing career?
I publish science fiction, fantasy, and horror, in magazines like Analog, Space and Time, or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I have always been very fond of cats, starting with Little Lightning, the black kitten my mother murdered.
Wow, that’s terrible about your kitten! I wonder if that’s what started you on the path to sci-fi and horror writing? How do you think cats inspire your creativity now?
I feel their personalities, and I love to include them as characters in my work (although not all of my stories actually include cats). I am also fascinated with the scientific research on cats. One of my stories, “Steak Tartare and the Cats of Gari Babakin,” now in my Cosmic Cats & Fantastic Furballs story collection from WordFire, riffs on the unusual psychological effects of toxoplasmosis, which alters the brains of rats and also the personalities of human beings.
They also inspire me by sitting on shoulders while I’m writing. Warm. Comforting. Bossy.
What do you enjoy about belonging to CWA?
I am just delighted with the writers I’ve met and the new work that I learn about by the writers. Also, I learn so much about cat behavior, literature, history. And I have acquired so much knowledge from workshops. I wish I’d joined, and participated, years ago!
Please answer any of the following questions. You may be as brief, wordy, serious, humorous, or creative as you wish.
- Did you grow up with cats?
As I mentioned above, my sister, Jane Turzillo (also an author) and I had a black kitten we called Little Lightning. A real estate agent, trying to sell my parents a home, gave him to us. He was so sweet. We adored him. We had no idea how to take care of him. I believe we tried to feed him corn on the cob. My grandmother must have stepped in and taken care somehow.
My mother had him euthanized because he got the zoomies, and, well, she didn’t like cats. Even though her middle name was Leonia. And even though she had personally had a kitten named CreamPuff when she was a child. Brrrr.
2. What crosses your mind when someone tells you they don’t like cats?
I feel sorry for them. And a little distrustful. A friend of mine has an aphorism: “Men who don’t like cats also don’t like women.”
3. What does your cat think of you?
What a fun question! Scaramouche thinks I am a mean cat-mommy because I won’t stop making human dinner to play fishpole with him. He also thinks it’s appropriate for him to jump up on the bathroom sink and demand that I brush his teeth, even though he hates having his teeth brushed. I have no idea why he has this love-hate relationship with cat toothpaste.
4. Tell us a true cat story.
“SWISHY” by Mary Turzillo
The roadkilled pizza box lies scrunched, part flattened by tire treads. Late for class, you see pink-gray petal-pointy ears. You slam on brakes.
You will hit the horn but the lid of the box will only stir and when you roll down the window you hear heartbroken tiny screams and thinking oh, how could they? you jam the car in park.
The kitten will scream louder now he sees you and when you move the box, you see he is bleeding, hind quarters maybe paralyzed.
Avoiding filthy brown and bloody smears you scoop him onto the box lid and he will scream at you help me! leave me alone! you’re killing me! help help HELP!
Okay, the blood later turns out to be pizza sauce.
And even later, after his miraculous cure by leftover swordfish, it will it occur to you that he sent out for you, had you boxed and delivered, and he gets to keep the tip.
5. Tell us a fictional cat story.
“Dinosaurs May Be Ancestors of More than Birds”
Paleontologist Dr. Felix Stalker today unveiled three specimens thought to prey on ancestors of birds.
“Logic says,” according to Stalker, “where there’s birds, there’s got to be cats.”
First specimen: Acatasaurus. Originally thought vegetarian, this long-necked ancestor of the Siamese probably fed on early fish. Early aquariums may be discovered on future digs.
Second: Velocimouser. This quick-witted swift catosaur captured prey by silent stalking, then pouncing. Clever and voracious, it may have gone extinct because caught off guard taking naps after dismembering small mammals.
Most controversial specimen: Purranosaurus Rex. Note long, rapacious teeth. Also called Thunder Catosaur because of low rumbling sound emitted after devouring prey or shredding furniture. Small front limbs may not have been as useless as they look.
Dr. Stalker showed bone fragments of other catosaurs “too early to categorize,” he said. “But tentatively named Triwhiskerops (note pointed structures either side its head), Meowasaurus, good mother catosaur, Prrtadactyl, Kittycoatlus, and Architsbackterix, evolutionary blind alleys nature abandoned when catosaurs found they could not leap forty feet. And finally the ancestor of the domestic feline: Ankylorubbosaur.
Dr. Stalker plans next summer to seek fossils of a species believed to prey on catosaurs: the Fidonychus.
(This story originally appeared as a poem in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine)
6. What cat-themed item is sitting on your desk right now?
An 18 inch aluminum cat & kitten sculpture by Don Drumm, Akron sculptor, known for many awards, but also for having one of the National Guard bullets punch through a steel sculpture by him (Solar Totem #10) at Kent State May 4, 1970. Don Drumm does lots of cat sculptures.
7. What is one thing you will only do in front of your cats?
Come on! If I won’t tell anybody else, would I really put this out on the web???
Mahsamahtman, who is now part of the feline shadow world
8. Does cat love run in your family?
Not really. My sister likes cats, but she only owns dogs. And my mother despised them.
9. What famous cat or cat person have you met?
I was privileged to be in a workshop run by Blind Homer’s mom, the brilliant and amazing Gwen Cooper. This was another perk of being in CWA.
My husband and I also are friends with Nnedi Okorafor. Nnedi is a prolific author, including Who Fears Death, and graphic novel Black Panther: Long Live the King. I’m waiting for her Space Cats, with Tana Ford, featuring her real-life cats, Siamese Pumpernickel Pickle Periwinkle Chukwu, and her Sphynx, Neptune.
10. Do your cats get along with each other?
Yes! On my birthday in 2016, my husband Geoff Landis told me he wanted to give me a kitten for my birthday. We searched and searched. We wanted a fairly young kitten, preferably mixed breed. The rescue organizations all had kittens that weren’t quite ready, plus they (sensibly, I know) want to neuter them before offering them to forever homes. I have read that it’s best to wait until the cat is about five or six months old (one of my son’s cats, Tyrael the Spanish Inquisitor, was neutered too young and had urinary problems his whole life).
We finally found a litter of kittens who had been born in a dresser drawer in an abandoned house. Two were marmalade toms. Both seemed to be the friendliest of the batch. We cuddled each (the black female was having none of us) and I looked up at my husband and said, “Couldn’t we take two of them?”
How could he resist?
We took the two home and they were INSEPARABLE. The second week, one of them wandered away for awhile, and his brother cried inconsolably until we reunited them. They had been together FROM CONCEPTION.
Today, six years later, they have a ritual: Scaramouche tries to mount Samurai or bite one of his ears, they fight, then they fall to grooming each other. It is so DANG CUTE!
I always tell people, adopt litter-mates, if you can.
11. What would your life be without cats?
I shudder to think.
12. Have you ever seen a ghost cat?
Maybe. I’m definitely a believer.
13. “Adopt, Foster, Volunteer, Donate, Educate” is a common slogan for animal rescue. What do you like to do?
14. How would you identify your cat in a lineup?
T Marmalade cats all look very similar. I can tell Samurai from Scaramouche most of the time, but it’s only by the crook of Scar’s tail and the size of the white medallion under their chins. But they are chipped. So I would have to take them to a vet. But I do think they would come to me. Without being called.
15. What is your favorite cat-song?
My husband and I have a cat play-list. I won’t post the whole thing, but here are two:
“Delilah,” by Freddie Mercury
“Gatto Matto” by Roberto Angelini
- Scaramouche: Orange tom. Very smart, can solve lots of problems. But goofy. Wants very much to play with me, especially if I’m busy. He’s the dominant of the pair.
- Samurai: Orange tom, a little darker coat, a little chubbier than his brother. Laid back. Also quite intelligent, but a goofball. Likes to sit on my husband. But then, they are both real cuddle buddies.
My neighbor’s, kitten, Oscar. He is now a huge snarly, slippery misanthrope
You can find Mary at http://www.maryturzillo.com/
and in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Turzillo