Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cats on Wednesday -- Alexis O'Neill and Friends

I believe cats are particularly good at being muses to writers and illustrators, and I would like to document some of these mysteriously symbiotic, creative relationships.

Definitions of ‘muse’:
• A state of deep thought, or dreamy abstraction
• Any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology, presiding over song, poetry and the arts and sciences

left to right:  Ebony, Cookie and Fudge
"plotting a bit of mischief"

Alexis O’Neill has been a generous friend and mentor to me. Her books (Loud Emily, Estella’s Swap, The Recess Queen and The Worst Best Friend) all explore the many aspects of friendship.
I wanted to find out about a trio of close friends in her life – her cats.

What are your cats’ names, and how did each one find you?
Fudge, Cookie and Ebony. Fudge took refuge in our garage after she had been severely bitten by either a dog or coyote. After all the vet bills were paid and the neighborhood scoured for a possible owner, this sweet cat became ours. We rescued Cookie and Ebony on their way to the pound. Energetic Cookie is actually my husband’s muse, sitting on his lap as he solves computer problems in the garage. And Ebony likes to stir up a bit of trouble, whacking the other cats on the noggin when they become too complacent about life.

Which of the above definitions of ‘muse’ best describes each of your cats?

Our “Three Sisters” preside over dreams. Some might say they hog the bed at night, but actually, Fudge, Cookie and Ebony are Dream Guards, chasing bad ones away so the good dreams have room to play.

In what way do your cats help you write? What is the most memorable contribution they have made to your work?

Exercise. That’s their contribution to my writing. Fudge is my “fetcher.” She knows when I’ve spent too long at my desk and calls me for a game of “Toss the Mousie Down the Stairs.” So I hop out of my chair, pull one of her glittery pink mousies from the basket that is overflowing with them. She crouches at the top stair and leaps for it when I toss it over her head. I go back to my desk. She scrambles up the stairs, mousie in her mouth and drops it for me. And so it goes for a good portion of the evening. Cookie and Ebony help with lifting exercises – they jump onto my desk to lick photos, tape and plastic bits, I lift them down. All this exercise keeps me tuned up for writing.

Do your cats have favorite napping or sitting places, and are they perhaps anywhere near your work space?

In the morning, the cats stretch out on the stairs in the sun, one, two, three, Cookie, Fudge, Ebony. Fudge then follows the sun around the house of the rest of the day, Cookie takes over the couch and Ebony sits as high as she can reigning over all.

Do you have a writing project your cats are currently helping with?

I wish! They are so lazy! They won’t even pick up a pen. They say they don’t want to ruin their nails, but I think they just like to see me struggle a bit. However, I will say that they are marvelous listeners. They are attentive when they hear my drafts, though pretty useless when it comes to helpful feedback since they say they pretty much love everything I write.

Questions for your cats (those willing to participate):

What are your real names, the names you feel reflect your true selves?

Cookie:  I’m a smart cookie, so my name is perfect.
Ebony:  My name is elegant – just like me.
Fudge:  I’m soft, sweet and comforting. What’s not to like about Fudge?

What led you to believe that your humans would make good hosts? Are they?

Cookie:  Warm laps.
Ebony:  Brushing my luxurious fur every morning.
Fudge:  Can you spell c-a-t  c-r-a-z-y?

Does your writer-person listen to your critiques of her writing, or does she pretend not to understand?

Cookie:  I’m okay with the first draft, but how many times does she have to read that thing to me?
Ebony:  Critique?  I’m supposed to do what?
Fudge:  She gets me. Here’s our code: Closed eyes = nice. Squinty eyes = huh? Big eyes = yes!

I notice your writer-person has never written a book about you. How do you feel about that?

Cookie:  Oh, but she has! She’s done lots of books about cats. But she tells me that “none of them are working.” Does that mean the cats don’t have jobs?
Ebony:  How does one capture my essence of elegance on the printed page? Impossible.
Fudge:  I like her story about the old cat, Skeeter, trying to get used to the new kitten, Patch. Someday, I’ll give her the Big Eyes code on it. But until then she has some work to do.

In addition to being the author of four books and numerous stories and articles, Alexis is the SCBWI Regional Advisor for the California counties of Ventura/Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo/Kern.  She is considered by many to be THE expert on the subject of school visits Find out more about her at and


  1. Great interview! I think Alexis' cats might have their own stories to tell!

  2. What a fun interview! I appreciate Alexis' work with SCBWI. She's amazing.

  3. Now I know why I am not getting anywhere. I have no muses! Wonderful interviews.

  4. Barbara,
    I think you're right! And personality plus!

  5. I agree, Alexis is one of my favorite people. And her cats sound amazing, too. I don't have a muse now, either! Wish I could borrow one of hers!

  6. Love the cat answers! Very fun. Thanks Alexis and Diane!

  7. Alexis... this is your next book!!! Adorable!
    Diane...just get a cat already!!!
    Love, Suzy

  8. Yes, Lee -- cats have all the answers! I believe they may have been "plotting" their book in that photo! And yes, Suzy, point taken!