From ‘The Unkillable Mr. Whiskers’ one of the stories in Pussycats Galore by Stephanie Barr.
The cat, black as he was told, but with a white chest and feet and white whiskers and eyebrow hairs, lifted his head as he approached, his wide amber eyes unafraid. Instead, he sat primly on his cushion, regarding him with curiosity but not a speck of animosity. As Tony approached, telling himself one cat wasn’t worth two or three of the kids on his list, the cat twitched his whiskers, regarding him with the same intent calm. Then, with a volume that seemed inconsistent with this smallish creature, a buzz filled the room, a purr several sizes too big for this cat.
There was something about the white whiskers and the black fur, the golden eyes, the white feet. Tony couldn’t help thinking this was, perhaps, the most adorable cat he had ever seen. The most adorable anything he had ever seen.
But a job was a job. He was a pro. He reached out his hand to grab the cat by the neck. The cat turned his face into his gloved hand and rubbed his cheek against his fingers, his purr growing impossibly louder. Holy shit, what kind of monster wanted to kill a cat like this?
He couldn’t stop himself. He rubbed the cat’s ear, stroking his palm along the cat’s cheek and down its sleek body. The cat’s body rose to take his hand along his body and then moved closer, placing his front paws on his knee and batting at him for more attention.
Damn, damn, damn.
He couldn’t do it. No way he could kill this adorable, affectionate kitty in cold blood. Which left him with a serious problem. He took the job, which means he would be in bad favor with his previous benefactor. He’d lose the money. He’d lose reputation. He might even get a contract out on himself. He couldn’t afford to not do the job, which was the only reason he was here now.
“Braow,” the cat said, injecting some of his mighty purr into his voice. Holy shit, that was cute.
Only one thing to do, he decided, feeling various clocks ticking. He had to fake this cat’s death and sneak it out of there, far more challenging than just killing it. He scooped it up and gave it a quick cuddle. The cat responded without complaint. Then, he moved some tools around to make room for the cat in his bag. Fortunately, the cat wasn’t that large. But would he stay quiet. Had he brought any chloroform? No. He’d have to chance it.
There was a standing lamp next to the table beside the window. It took more than one blow, but he managed to smash through the window—some of these older buildings didn’t have the tough glass. He knocked some of the other items on the table over, making a mess and leaving a cat-sized hole in the window. He reached in, petted the cat, and closed his fingers to tug some fur free, then wedge it into a broken corner of the glass. Only thing missing was a body.
Well, it was New York. No telling what would happen to it.
Pussycats Galore is a book of short stories with cats as a central theme. Cats are already running rampant through my books. All of my novels has at least one cat and often it’s in a pivotal role. (or they are) so a cover I made as a joke took hold of my brain and I challenged to myself to write a book of stories all about cats. Naturally I love cats, not just because they’re soft and cuddlesome and purr, but because they’re also deadly creatures. That duality fascinates and intrigues me. And I use it in my books. Especially this one.
A Bite of… Stephanie Barr
Q1: Okay. Cats and dragons and rocket science. That’s a fascinating combo. Cats are understandable, but just how did a scientist come to be so invested in dragons?
Probably better to ask how a dragon-crazed kid, who collected Asian and European dragons, read mythology, every kind she could find, and loved fairy tales ended up in the practical side of space stuff.
Of course, I still wouldn’t know the answer. I always loved dragons and they were never antagonists to me, but mighty and ancient, so potentially wise. And, of course, there’s the flying thing. Plus, Anne McCaffery was one of my formative writers.
I love intelligent creatures. I love creatures that are dangerous and intelligence. Cats and dragons both fit.
The rocket science thing, that was the fluke.
Q2: Given that you chose to parody soft porn in the title of this book, how much of a role does trope bashing have in your writing?
The cover started as a joke. There was a contretemps in the indie writing world with someone wanting to copyright the word “Cocky” in a title. Much angst went on, none of which directly affected me, but I drew up the cover as a joke, noting that Cocky wasn’t really my problem. Many laughed at the title (which has since become more family friendly) but at least two people told me the cover was too cheesy. No one would buy it. And that just set my back up.
To go to you question, however, I love it. I love challenging preconceived notions. The first short story I ever sold was a sword and sorcerer type fantasy story where my gal was coming into rescue her husband. In a novel based on the same characters, I gave that manly swordsman a flock of telepathic snarky kittens and made him learn magic.
I love to make people think. There are many things in history that seem unbelievably horrific, but, if you give them context, you can understand how they happened, Sometimes that means violating a comfort zone. Sometimes, it’s as simple as showing an unusual perspective.
Q3: What’s next for Stephanie Barr, writer? Give us a flavour of what you have in store for your readers.
So next is a paranormal romance set in close to the present day, something completely different for me. Which doesn’t mean much. I’m very eclectic anyway. I’ve found it cathartic, with all the ugliness going in the world, to write this story where someone ordinary-ish suddenly finds out she has the power to change the world.
Only it’s not that simple. She accidentally unleashes a world-changing spell and starts a process that will, eventually, bring the magic world and the mundane world she lives in back into alignment. Dragons and other mythical beasties sneak over first. It’s a chosen one trope, something that I would nominally avoid, but then she’s no pawn driven by fate. She makes her own choices and isn’t what anyone expected. And that’s all to the good in my view. It will be called Catalyst and I’m hoping to have it out by November.
Although Stephanie Barr is a slave to three children and a slew of cats, she actually leads a double life as a part time novelist and full-time rocket scientist. People everywhere have learned to watch out for fear of becoming part of her stories. Beware! You might be next! You can find Stephanie on her website, on Facebook, her FB fan group and her blog, subscribe to her newsletter or follow her on Twitter.