My guest on Who Are The Cat Writers’ Association is Valerie Ramer.
Tell us a bit about your writing career.
My first children’s book, Alastair McAllister Goes to School, was published in September 2021.
Before that, I wrote and directed children’s theater around the Seattle area. I have a background in theater, I was trained as an actress, and I have always loved writing.
I learned a lot about writing for different venues while working as a ghostwriter. I wrote for TV movies, films, and episodic television. Each one required a different structure and different rules in writing. It helped me to be flexible and willing to edit my own words, and not get too attached to what I had written. I did however learn this the hard way! My first ghostwriting experience was to rewrite an entire LifeTime movie. This meant keeping the main story line but taking out or adding in characters as I saw fit and writing to the specific locations where they would be filming. I dove in, adding characters with strong backstories and creating rich dialogue which led to a plane crash on page 60 which was pivotal to the story.
My first notes from the producers were: The plane crash has to happen on page 20! I learned this was because every 20 minutes you had to break for commercials on TV. You always had to leave the audience hanging during the break. But this also meant I had to cut out many pages of what I thought was great dialogue and backstory!
How do cats inspire your creativity?
I love this question! Alastair McAllister, my cat, is my MUSE! Since I was 9 years old, I had a thought to write a children’s book. It took a while—clearly, I had to do several other things before I gave birth to my book. I have always loved orange tabby cats. I had 2 of them, Scout and Ollie. They were both 13 years old when Alastair came to me as a kitten. My adult son, who had adopted Alastair, an exotic long -haired cat, with a flat face and a bushy tail, was being transferred from Seattle to NYC for work. He didn’t know where he was going to live so taking Alastair with him was not the right choice. I was already in love with Alastair, and he came to join my family when he was about 5 months old.
Scout and Ollie were not happy about this arrangement. It took a long time to try and bond them, and besides being a kitten, Alastair required different care than I was used to. Alastair needed to eat from a flat dish—he couldn’t use a bowl because of the shape of his face. His eyes need to be cleaned all the time, and he has to go to the groomer because his hair gets too long! Alastair looked so different with his long hair, short legs, big eyes, and bushy tail that I wondered if Scout and Ollie even knew he was a cat!
These differences, and watching their interactions, inspired my book Alastair McAllister Goes to School. It is all about Alastair, a kitten who doesn’t look like the other kittens, and he gets teased. Alastair wants to fit in and comes up with a unique plan. It is a meaningful story about appreciating the differences in each other.
What do you enjoy about belonging to CWA?
I was so happy to discover CWA and learn there is a place for other cat lovers and writers to network and be recognized for their work. I think it is a great, supportive community. I like that you can network with others and read what everyone else is up to. I am a new member and was so honored to receive a Certificate of Excellence for my book.
Let’s move on to the questions. Please answer a few for our readers.
- Can cats show empathy?
My beloved orange tabby, Ollie passed away. He left not only heartbroken me but also his biological brother Scout. We had been together for 13 years.
A few months before this, my adult son David, who had his own apartment, adopted an exotic long haired kitten he named Alastair. Shortly afterwards, David found out he was getting transferred to NYC for work. Not only did he have no place to live, but he also had to leave almost immediately. What to do with Alastair?
Without hesitation, Alastair came to join my family. Scout and Ollie were not so open to this flat-faced little kitten living with us. It was a lot of work to get them bonded—my boys were not having it. The experience was exhausting.
Alastair had been with me about 3 months with not much progress in being accepted, when Ollie passed. For weeks afterwards, Scout hid under the bed, clearly mourning the loss of his brother. One day I couldn’t find Alastair. When I looked under the bed, to my surprise, Alastair was laying there with Scout. Alastair moved closer to Scout, but he turned away. Alastair reached his paw towards Scout, and they just sat like that for a long time. It was the most amazing sight; was I witnessing an act of empathy?
After this, Scout allowed Alastair to be near him.
(Alastair McAllister Goes to School is based on the relationships I witnessed between Scout, Ollie, and Alastair.)
- What would your life be without cats?
I was born into a family that had a cat named Friskey. I remember her fondly. I was too young to really understand the relationship potential, but I knew that I felt better when the cat curled up next to me or slept on the edge of my bed. Somehow, I felt chosen when she did this, as though she was watching over me.
Our neighbors had a cat named Whiskey and the 2 of them played together. That is a wonderful memory, Friskey, and Whiskey! Oddly they looked similar, both white cats with black markings on them. Friskey was thin, and Whiskey was about double the size! They played and snuggled as if they were meant to be together.
Friskey died when I was seven, and then we got a dog. I grew up with that dog, and we all loved him dearly. When I moved into my own apartment in NYC, it was the first time I was without an animal in my life. I would come home to —– nothing. The silence was deafening. It took 3 months of feeling like this every day when I thought I need to go adopt a cat. A dog was out of the question for me, living in NYC. I have always been drawn to felines; Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs, Leopards. In my mind an orange tabby was the closest thing to a baby tiger. My intention was to bring home one orange tabby— but I fell in love with 2 of them and discovered they were brothers. I adopted Bustopher Jones and Atticus Finch who filled my little apartment with warmth, love, and shenanigans.
Those two precious boys were part of my life as I got married, moved across the country to Seattle, and had my first child. Bustopher lived for 7 years, and Atticus lived on to be 18 years old. He was with me through so many significant changes in my life. Soon after he passed, Scout and Ollie, 2 orange tabby brothers, joined my family. They got to be part of my 2 children growing up and moving out on their own.
Now, my grown daughter has 2 grey tabby cats, Tucker, and Bentley. If you read my book, you will understand the character names! Alastair goes to school with Scout, Ollie, Tucker, and Bentley!
- Have you ever seen a ghost cat?
My short answer to this is no, I have not SEEN a ghost cat. But I chose to answer this question because I have FELT a ghost cat. Scout and Ollie were my orange tabby cats that I had for 13 years. When we slept at night, Scout was always on me, and Ollie was always next to me. Ollie passed first, then 18 months later, Scout. I had a kitten at the time, Alastair, who was small. I remember distinctly many nights of feeling the slight shift of the bed as though Scout or Ollie had jumped up on it. I felt the weight on my legs as though Scout was sleeping there. Alastair was much too small to cause this and with his short legs could barely jump onto the bed! It was a comforting feeling, as if they were with me.
I think my new orange tabby cat, Finley McKinley has been channeling Scout—strange to say, but that is what it feels like. They have the same body type, long and lanky. Unlike Scout, Finley does not like to be held—in fact the record for holding him is 15 seconds— but Scout loved it. Scout and I had a little ritual, when I came out of the shower, I would wrap a towel around me and sit on the edge of the tub, and he would jump in my lap and snuggle with me. There have been a few times that Finley has done this with me—Finn, the cat that hates to be snuggled! Finn jumped into my lap, and I closed my eyes and I FELT Scout—his soft head butts, the purring, the closeness. It was Finn, acting like Scout. Finn was staying with me well past his usual 10 seconds, and it made me feel I had a visit with Scout.
There have been a few times that I called Finn “Scout” – it had to do with his expression in the moment and something oddly familiar. I would like to think that all the kitties I have loved in my life are still with me in some way.
Please give us the names and short descriptions of your cats.
Alastair McAllister – Born August 26, 2017. He is an exotic long-haired cat. He is in the Persian family.
Alastair is curious, gentle, loving, and slow. Even when he plays, he bats at things very gently and almost in slow motion. When people come to visit, Alastair tends to be aloof.
His large, furry paws look like mittens. He has short legs and a huge fluffy tail. He is absolutely adorable, and he makes me laugh a lot. He has a little mustache, and he can move each side independently, so sometimes it looks like he is curling his lip, as if giving an opinion. Alastair’s long hair requires professional grooming every 3 months. He comes back smelling so good, and he likes his short hair in the summer months.
Alastair can be very vocal, especially when he wants to play. He also makes other little noises that I find adorable to communicate how he is feeling or what he wants. His favorite sleeping position is next to me with his forehead pressed against my hand and his paw wrapped around my arm.
Finley Rocket McKinley “Finn” – Born May 17, 2019. He is an orange tabby.
I found Finley in a Craigslist ad, and he was handed to me in a parking lot. I adopted him so Alastair would have a playmate. From the get-go, he was non-stop energy and mischief.
Finley is a force to be reckoned with—everything about him is the opposite of Alastair. Finley is tall and lean, and his tail is about 3 inches longer than an average tail—the vet measured! He is a big talker, and he is very smart. He understands many words and he is constantly letting me know what he wants. He takes toys and invents games with them. He is very curious and friendly to anyone who enters our home. And he is FAST! He earned his middle name Rocket. Finley is prone to moving so fast he destroys things in his path. He will run very fast and launch himself onto the window screen. First time, I had to save him and the screen from plummeting 2 stories. This forced my carpenter friend and I to invent a new unrippable, boxed-in screen that fits in the frame of my window, dubbing it the FINNDOW.
Finley plays a little rougher than Alastair would like, and he needs to sit everywhere Alastair sits. He also thinks he must have whatever toy Alastair has. Finley’s calm-down space is a box where he feels very secure. He has many shapes and sizes of boxes to choose from. If he is getting too ramped up, I throw a blanket over him. That immediately stops him, and he lies down and naps under the blanket.
Finley is not a fan of being held or getting his nails clipped. The record for holding Finley is held by me; 15 seconds. With all that being said, Finley loves to cuddle and take naps across my keyboard while I am working. He also lies in my lap—I just can’t hug him too much when he does!
***Important to note that Finley was not yet born when I wrote Alastair McAllister Goes to School! My next children’s book will definitely have Finley in it!
About Valerie Ramer