Monday, July 13, 2015

American Black Cat Becomes Chat Noir

Chat Noir / © Deborah Julian

How My Black Cat Became French

I usually don't remember where the ideas for my stories originate. Mostly, they emerge out of a disorderly mess of inspirations, successful because they have a little more heft.

But I remember where the story that resulted in Chat Noir originated. It wasn't, as you might expect, in France.

We spent a week in Amsterdam one year, excited about its canals, history and freewheeling atmosphere. Art freaks that we are, we planned to devote lots of times to the historic Rijksmuseum and, of course, to an otherworldly walk through the art of Vincent Van Gogh.

Strange it is, then, that what I remember most vividly about Amsterdam is the cats. Yes, the cats.

We're cat freaks as much as we're art freaks. I proudly claim the title of First Crazy Male Cat Lady. And missing our own two cats, Billy and George, might have influenced us unduly, but it seemed like Amsterdam was the most cat friendly city we visited.

Cities in Italy, Rome and Florence especially, are great for cats, and stateside, San Francisco harbors a rich population of felines. But Amsterdam stood out.

Not only did we see cats doing their thing when we walked in the neighborhoods, but we saw the accommodations people made for them. Outside many second story windows were small platforms that looked, as far as we could tell, like sentry posts for the resident cat.

Like I said, missing Billy and George might have made us borderline psychotic, but if not crazy for cats, what insanity is more worthy?

Travel With Cats

You can see what a short stride it was from there to made up stories about cats who travel. My first book, about cats who become accidental tourists, takes place in Paris. I picked Paris because the sites where I could bring the cats were more popularly known. That is, I was compromising because I thought (rightly) that it would be better for sales.

The story done, I knew great illustrations would make it so much better, and although she'd never done illustrations before, more different than you'd guess from her popular cat art, I persuaded Deborah to bring the book to life with over a dozen full page illustrations of the guys viewing the rooftops of Paris on their first morning, cruising the Seine in a bateaux and, of course, what became the big star - discovering the cat posters in a kiosk one evening while strolling along the Left Bank.

We went on to create a sequel together, Travels with George: New York. It all started with the happy cats roaming around Amsterdam.