Cozy mystery author Eileen Watkins is here today to share a little bit about her new novel, the third in her Cat Groomer Mysteries series, Feral Attraction.
Eileen Watkins specializes in mystery and suspense fiction. In 2017, she launched the Cat Groomer Mysteries, featuring “cat whisperer” and amateur sleuth Cassie McGlone. The series, from Kensington Publishing, includes The Persian Always Meows Twice and The Bengal Identity; a third book, Feral Attraction, comes out this month.
The Persian Always Meows Twice won the David G. Sasher Award for Best Mystery at the 2018 Deadly Ink Mystery Conference, and received a Certificate of Excellence for 2017 from the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. Eileen previously published eight novels through Amber Quill Press, most of them paranormal suspense, as “E. F. Watkins.” These included two Quinn Matthews Haunting Mysteries; the first, Dark Music, also won a David award at Deadly Ink 2014. Eileen is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Liberty States Fiction Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. She serves as publicist for Sisters in Crime Central Jersey and also for the annual Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. Eileen comes from a journalistic background, having covered art, architecture, interior design and home improvement for New Jersey’s two largest daily newspapers. She also has had lifelong interests in animal training and rescue. She is seldom without at least one live-in cat and pays regular visits to the nearest riding stable.
Welcome, Eileen. Please tell us about your current release.
My Cat Groomer Mysteries feature amateur sleuth Cassie McGlone who operates a grooming and boarding business—catering strictly to felines—in a small town in northwestern New Jersey. Feral Attraction is the third book in the series. To help out her best friend, Dawn, Cassie agrees to speak up at a contentious meeting about feral cats causing problems at a local condo community. She meets resident Sabrina Ward, an aging but feisty eccentric who argues for a trap-neuter-return solution to the problem. Sabrina has agitated for underdog causes all her life, and Dawn has known and admired her for years. Cassie likes Sabrina, too, so she also is shocked when Dawn finds the older woman dead in the woods bordering the condo community, near the cats’ feeding station. Technically, Sabrina had a heart attack, but did something, or someone, frighten her to death? Dawn persuades Cassie to help her investigate, though this arouses resentment among certain community residents. It seems that, due to Sabrina’s history of rabble-rousing, quite a few people could have wanted to “euthanize” her, for reasons that went beyond her fondness for the ferals.
What inspired you to write this book?
A friend of mine who lives in a condo community encountered a less extreme type of pushback when she began feeding a cat that lived in the nearby woods. She soon found out that a few other community members also were working with the ferals, in a more organized way, and had been harassed by residents who just wanted the cats hauled away. I looked into the topic and found this is a common problem in many neighborhoods these days. It seemed like a perfect cat-related topic for a murder mystery—I just had to find a way to get Cassie involved.
Excerpt from Feral Attraction:
Leaning on the kitchen table, Dawn buried one hand in her thick, wavy hair. “Sabrina didn’t deserve to die like that. Alone, in the dark, in the snow. Like some old bag lady.”
The pain in my friend’s voice wrenched my heart. “Bonelli actually thought she’d strangled on her scarf?” I knew the police detective was pretty sharp, and didn’t usually jump to conclusions about the cause of a death.
Dawn’s amber-brown eyes blazed as they met mine. “It looked that way, but I think it was made to look that way. The end of the scarf was wrapped around a low branch a couple of times. How does that happen by accident?”
“The wind—?” I suggested, weakly. She brushed away that theory with a sweep of her hand. “Cassie, you heard those residents at the board meeting talk about Sabrina. A few of them absolutely hated her. Hell, Mike Lawler even said somebody ought to ‘euthanize’ her!”
“Now, Dawn.” I began to wonder if she should have stuck to herbal tea, after all. “That doesn’t mean…”
“Somebody did try to poison the cats. That’s a fact. I think maybe one of those folks got riled up after the meeting and decided the only way to get rid of the ferals was to get rid of Sabrina.”
It might be a stretch, but I’d learned over the past year that sometimes murderous conflicts could simmer beneath the surface of our seemingly peaceful and picturesque little town. “I sincerely hope that didn’t happen. If it did, though, Angela Bonelli will get to the bottom of it. She’s very good at her job.”
“Maybe. A couple of times, she’s gotten some major help from you.” Dawn gazed across out my kitchen window, where nearby street light illuminated the falling snow, but her focus had turned inward. “Do you know, when I found Sabrina’s body, that black cat was sitting on a rock just a couple of yards away? The one she called Omen. He ran off right after I came. It was like he’d been standing guard over her.”
* * *
What exciting story are you working on next?
For my fourth Cat Groomer book, Gone, Kitty, Gone, Cassie takes part in a weekend cat expo at a hotel/convention center. The guest stars are Jaki Natal, a major pop singer, and her YouTube-famous cat Gordie. Lately the star has received mysterious threats from a stalker, so extra security is put in place. Still, shortly after she arrives at the hotel, Gordie is stolen. The anonymous cat-napper demands to meet with Jaki alone, and the death of a security guard suggests that the stalker means business. Her handlers warn her against such a meeting and the local cops concentrate on investigating the guard’s death. When Jaki learns about Cassie’s experience with crimes as well as cats, she begs the groomer to find and rescue Gordie before he pays a high price for her fame—and before the end of the weekend expo. Cassie sympathizes and wants to help, but with thousands of cat lovers and others passing into and out of the hotel complex, it could be like finding a whisker in a haystack!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote pretend “books” in grade school and takeoffs on Nancy Drew and spy stories in high school. My freshman year in college, I wrote a short story that won a college-wide contest, much to my surprise. That probably was the first real confirmation I received that this was something I did well. Senior year in college, I wrote my first novel—Dark Shadows fan fiction—just for my friends, and right after I graduated I started my first original novel. At that point I had my first newspaper job, but I was always determined to write and publish fiction.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like?
If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write? I found time to write before and after hours during my 40 years of working full-time, mainly at newspapers. I managed to retire a bit early, so now fiction is my job. I still tend to get most of my actual writing done in the morning and after dinner at night. In the shank of the day, there are too many other errands and appointments to take care of. At least now I often can write into the later morning—when I’m pretty sharp and energetic—which is something I couldn’t do when I had an outside job.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
When I’m brainstorming about a character or a plot twist, I fall back on longhand, writing on a legal pad. It frees up the creative side of my brain. Also, I’m very visual and will hunt online for pictures of a certain type of character or setting, to get a feel for them and how to describe them.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A fiction writer, absolutely. But I also loved theater, music and art, so I probably fantasized at times about doing one of those things for a living. All very practical, financially secure professions, of course!
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Cozy mysteries that involve cats in some way abound these days! I try to take a distinct approach by including practical information about cat care and behavior in each book, and in ways that relate closely to the mystery. My sleuth Cassie isn’t just a cat lover and owner—she works with them for a living, and she takes her responsibility to her clients and their pets very seriously. She also has a strong sense of justice that brings out her fighting spirit. These qualities sometimes get her in over her head, but like her feline friends, Cassie seems blessed with nine lives!
Thanks for joining me today!