My Cat Book in Progress, Meow,Y’all! A Feline-Centric Memoir

                                           My Sweet Minx, Her Glamour Portrait, 1988

Note: As of July, 2019, this book has now been published under the title, Catwoods: Stories and Studies of Our Feline Companions. Check out the upper right hand corner of this post where you can buy it on Amazon, or for other online venues, check out this post: CatBookIsOut

This write-up is lightly revised on August 28, 2019 due to the fact of book publication July 10, 2019, and some changes over the years.

Why do I write mostly about cats? I know someone’s gonna ask, so I’m getting this question out of the way first! “The Internet cannot have enough cats” is quoted everywhere online, LOL. I can’t seem to find who said it originally, but it’s true. The world needs more stories of animal rescue, words that will hopefully inspire more people to make kindness and/or rescue a way of life. I truly believe that having companion animals in the home is a healthy way for humans to live.

Sitting by the highway, taking shape out of the forest, trotting along the city streets, they appear. We find them . . . and they find us. Black, orange, brown-striped, patched black-and-orange, white, spotted and all combinations of the above, the felines come meowing, bounding to the door and pressing against the glass, leaping across our paths and into our lives. Or, on the edge of the road or the clearing, they wait serenely until we take notice.

They’ve been abandoned, walked away from, shoved out of cars into the woods, turned out of doors, ignored on city streets and left to reproduce profusely, with kittens they scrounge to feed, and they don’t know the why for any of it. They expect help from us; they come with searching looks, voicing their concerns. They’re mewing and purring like doves, or screeching like banshees. Out of the scenery they lock gazes with us; in traditional wordless feline dialect, the stories begin.

Their personalities are wide-ranging and complex. They’re sunny and affectionate, and moody and complicated; old-school mannerly and scent-pile brash; they’re pranksters and prima donnas. A few are as territorial as wildcats – strong-meowing-types who walk alone. And some of these ‘lone tiger’ individuals will have to live together! We adopt many; for the others, we find good homes.

The above describes our decades-long feline-centric life. In November, 2004, I had lost some of my cats over the previous years, to the ailments of old age. I had been ill for many years and we had found no way out of the blasted disease affecting me, which sometimes blanks out part of my memory while intact islands of recall stay sharply accurate. I figured it was high time I started writing down the stories of my cats. I thought they should be celebrated, not simply forgotten. All were such quirky characters, I knew they would make the pages pop.

The glorious Minx you see above was still with us. With her snoozing alongside of me, I began  hand writing a draft late at night. She was, and remains, the Muse. Early on, I figured out the title of the book would be Meow, Y’all! The subtitle, originally Cats, Cougars, and Critters in the Deep South, is now a work in progress.

After typing the framework into the computer, embellishing the narrative led me a merry chase. Far from being just ‘what my cat did yesterday’ notations, the research drew me into stories and studies, down many roads and up many alleyways. I was writing about cats all over the globe, but also a literature of our particular location. As backdrop, I detailed the natural history of felines, as well as of the surrounding deep woods animals and plants, along with some of our own history as we tend the feline royalty. There’s a bit of study about our languages, and theirs. By 2006 I was done – or so I thought. I continued to unearth notes, old letters, and stray memories around the house. I continued to work on the book as new events, cats, and cat-related topics also needed to be worked into the narration.

Starting a cat book is daunting when you glance at a room full of sleepy muzzles tilted skyward and figure, it’s just me and these cats lounging around. But when using precision watchfulness and rapt attention, the actions and musings come direct from an onsite living laboratory of natural history. I hope I’ve woven something engrossing and astonishing out of ordinary moments. I hope I’ve captured the ways cats enlighten us with their presence, as well as some facets of the Why of life with pets, in all its glory. I hope readers who don’t already have pets will want the joy of adopting and cherishing animals when they put the book down. Big hopes, there.

Because this was our time of wilderness living and harrowing household survival, at first I told the story using imagery and anecdotes taken directly from a Southern land of stunning beauty and within a progressive friend group, one not so very different from similar communities around the nation. Our pressing immediate lives of illness and family caregiving made home and forest our daily focus. I had not traveled for many years due to the illness.

When I was able to be ‘out and about ’around the nation and world more via the Internet, I realized I had to do more. I needed to include some of the activist and counter-cultural history here and describe the changes in the Southern region that have occurred since the sixties, when I began my life here. I also had to acknowledge imperfections, and the ongoing nature of the vital work that is not yet done.

So it’s all there! The core of the book remains communication between animals and humans, but like all narratives of life on Earth, the story twists and branches out.

The process of searching for an agent led me into the several ways of trying to tell about the book crisply and briefly. That quick, few sentences of summary thing? It never did seem to stick with me, LOL:

Meow, Y’all! is primarily about communication between animals and humans. My husband and I are sixties-era, offbeat Southerners. At our home in the deep woods of Alabama, domestic cat rescue is now a great part of our lives. We must learn to translate the constant, wordless cat-to-human dialogues and diatribes of feline individualists who open with “meow”, and then take ‘center porch’ to get their ‘druthers across to us. Every cat who comes to claim us, schools us in feline language; each has a story to disclose. I revel in the felines’ repertoire of expressions, posturings, and vocalizations they use to make contact with their fellow cats and to maintain their loving bonds with us. Strict behavioral interpretation will translate these actions; a dash of light anthropomorphism and some Southern conversational idioms help to get the stories told and the meanings across. There will be fifteen main cat characters over the years, a supporting cast owned by friends or my Mom, and those cats (and some dogs) we fostered and homed. The cat group we have the longest, for twelve years together, includes: My sweetheart black girlkitty, bold and mischievous, who sets the pace for the entire group; the big tuxie, a comedian and flirt who plays practical jokes on the females and has a crush on the black kitty; the talkative petite calico with the movie star personality, and the smaller tuxie, a studious and thoughtful cat who learns to fetch paper wads on his own and teaches us to crumple and toss them on cue.

This region around Tuscaloosa, Alabama, partly Appalachian Ridge and partly coastal plain, is noted for its bountiful variety of plants and animals. The cats enter our house from the glowing backdrop of dense leaves and hidden wild animal awareness, an Appalachian ‘jungle’. They join us in watchful study of the landscape, as the forest’s constant pageantry regales us; foxes, raccoons, and even a cougar make the scene. There’s a daily sensory feast here; it lifts the spirits and sparks the thoughts. Always with an eye on the science, I compare my local impressions of cat intelligence and behavior to those of premier feline experts, and cover cat coat color genetics, multi-cat home dynamics, feral cats, major issues such as spaying and neutering, the no-kill movement, the co-existence of cats and birds, diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis, and more.

There are also good times and bad times, joy and humor and mystery and adversity and loss; always cat-besotted, this household learns to persevere. Although illness limits my activities, the cats make me feel I am still in the land of the living. They have kept me hopping, in my subdued, ill-person way; our adventures make for a lively narration. The story is also heartfelt remembrance of the remarkable feline beings we’ve shared life and home with, and of the passerby wild creatures along the way. The sad longings due to changes in the flora and fauna and landscape over the years are also part of this story.

This book is a multifaceted romp in deep wilderness living. It blends observations of the changing South from the sixties to the present, the lyricism of making a home in a forest Paradise, and the celebration of the ways humans and animals are always fine tuning their common chords. Here, biographies of humans and cats intertwine, and examinations of natural history, zoology, poetry, and music illuminate the stories. All paths lead eventually, towards a deeper sense of harmony and belonging. Few cat books are set in the Deep South, making this a stand out work in the thriving field of animal writing. As near as I can tell at this time, there is no other Deep South real-life nonfiction cat narrative outside of My Cat, Spit McGee, by Mississippi writer Willie Morris.

This section is on why I, and I alone, am qualified to write this book, in case you were (grin) wondering:

I have been studying and writing about animals and the natural world for about 50 years. I have always lived close to that world and with those critters, first in Maryland and Virginia, and later in Alabama. I was beginning to be published in a few small literary journals when a serious chronic illness slowed me down in 1992. But it hasn’t stopped me, and I have recently had an essay appear in a local journal. As a University of Alabama student in 1966 I became part of the counter cultural life and ongoing grassroots progressive movements that are sometimes unknown outside this region. We continue by still striving for social justice, and by being part of the growing environmental movement in the South. When we settled into our forest home, every cat living out in the leaves turned up at the door, locked gazes with us, and then darted right inside. After five decades of cat keeping I am well versed in the ways of these smart and adaptable furry experts in intensity, tranquility, and impromptu comedy. As a visual artist, I’ve practiced the careful observation that it takes to learn from animals. Our cats, like all felines, have been originals like no others; I hope this book will preserve the memories of these particular individuals while embodying and conveying the truth that all animals are deserving of the kindest treatment.

Bits and pieces from another synopsis written about the book:

At first we live in a mid-sized university town full of trees. Later we move out beyond the suburbs, into a thickly forested wilderness – full of even more trees – and wildlife. When I develop a rare chronic disease, I become even closer to the cats.

Watching their forays around the house, I explore cat intelligence. I cover group dynamics. I ask the questions: Do they love us? How do they communicate with us? Exactly how do we reach each other? Minx seeks me out for a loving bond of stunning depth and intensity. Despite the language barrier, we have rapport with each cat. With looks, gestures, and meaningful visual cues, they voice their declarations and diatribes.

The book revels in the luxuriance of birds, insects, amphibians, yelling frogs after rain. A lame lady fox brings gentlemen callers and kits around. A screaming non-entity in the night turns out to be a probable cougar. It’s also about the quiet times, the daily light and the way it falls upon the domestic furry ones sitting in sunny spots, illuminating, coloring, and defining every nuance of living in a little lost city of house cats within the forest.

Major cat issues, scientific matters, and my impressions compared with the opinions of experts, are included; I discuss an occasional small wildcat, starting at home with the bobcat and noting a few from around the world. Delivered in the form of stories and humor and scenic vistas, it’s a practical guide to the dualities of understanding your cat, and to weathering a serious unending illness. An awestruck microscopic minute-by-minute log of natural history, this is the journal by a witness to the astonishing antics of the cats who prowl and purr through its pages.

The agent search was difficult, for many reasons; I eventually gave up on it. There are so many excellent authors writing today! After all, unlike music or visual arts or dance or theater, everyone on Earth is practicing to become a writer. If you are using language, you are training daily. The result is a writing world – and that’s a good thing, of course. The immense field of cat writing is not confined to zoologists, natural history professionals, and those working in animal-related fields. Writers and scholars with widely varied backgrounds have written cat books. Psychologists, sociologists, humorists. Quotes about cats have come from the writers and artists Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Leonardo DaVinci, who said “The cat is nature’s masterpiece”.

So here it is, a few of the many ways to tell about my cat writings. Big welcome to all readers! I hope everyone will want to read this book, which actually became two volumes; only the first has been published, in July of 2019; in August 2019 I hastily placed the publication notice on this article. It has become important to clarify that there was no publication prior to 2019; only fragments and excerpts appeared on this site Catwoods Porch Party, and on an online forum, before the Borgo Publishing Edition of July 10, 2019. There was another book looming originally, but a changing medical condition means I probably won’t be able to write a third book.

An indie publisher, Borgo Publishing, has published Volume 1 in July of 2019. Hopefully we’ll be able to go on and publish Volume 2. Some of the descriptions above pertain to that second volume. Whatever happens with distribution – I dream of this book becoming well-known in the cat world – at least I have a written history of my cats, and for me, composing this story has been laissez les bon temps rouler!

For an article condensed from this book, click here:

About Leah

I'm Leah T. Alford, a writer fascinated by the natural world and animals, especially cats.
This entry was posted in black cats, Book topics, Cat Topics, Cats, Nature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to My Cat Book in Progress, Meow,Y’all! A Feline-Centric Memoir

  1. Claudia says:

    Meow Y’all! Love this! Took me a long time to come back and find this, but it was an enjoyable read. Your love of cats comes through every sentence. Cats and writing — what better pairing than that?

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Claudia, I’m happy you liked this post. I’m still struggling to get this book together. Cats do indeed seem to go with writing, so many past and present writers had/have cats, the Internet tells me, and I have found cats to be not only excellent company but highly skilled editors, too!

      • Claudia says:

        Good luck on the book! I know how frustrating it can be. I’m not published but I imagine the rewards outweigh the stress!

        • Catwoods says:

          I’ve only ever been published a few in small journals, this will my first book, actually one book in two volumes. It’s turning out to be a huge hassle, and I will be glad when the work part is over, I can sit back, slack off, and just be with kitties.

  2. Elemental Quill says:

    Awesome! It can be hard publishing a book I know; when I did work experience at a publisher’s, I read some manuscripts submitted without an agent and bar one, they ranged from mediocre to terrible and questionable. Getting an agent does make things easier.

    I wish you every success. Especially as we cannot have enough about cats in life. 🙂

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you for the good wishes, Elemental Quill! That sounds like interesting work, but also frustrating. I think it’s great that so many people are writing these days, but some don’t understand that reading, learning, and rewriting are all essential before submitting.

      I completely agree about the cats! I intend to contribute to the world’s bounty of cat facts and stories soon!

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  4. S.H. says:

    I found this post to be quite emotional as you described the current state of cats without homes. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you, S.H. Cats seeking homes will indeed be a huge part of this narrative. I’m still working on getting the book out, hopefully sometime in the spring, or sooner. There are many book-related details to attend to, and many other tasks competing for my time right now!

  5. Karen B says:

    This means that I really do have something to look forward to! Leah’s book is about cats! How totally, totally perfect. A way for all that love in your heart for all the cats you have cared for and communed with to spill out of your heart and onto the page. Can’t wait to read it! x

    • Catwoods says:

      Karen, thank you, you have really helped me to have more confidence! It’s been both fun and meaningful to write the book. I look forward to you reading it! It’s going to be a long slow process though, there are so many details to wrap up. Hugs and greetings going out to you!

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  9. amoralegria says:

    Thank you for visiting my new blog about cats!
    You are a wonderfully descriptive writer; as Kate Gilmore says, a rarity in the blogosphere. I recently came across an interesting memoir which takes a different approach: the author is publishing it for Kindle in 4 chapters. Each chapter is only $0.99! I too am working on a memoir of my own that I hope to get published. I think you are taking the right approach of posting parts of your book here. I certainly hope that an agent or someone in the publishing world finds you and realizes what a great writer you are! Good luck!

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you so much, amoralegria, for your kind words and encouragement! I really enjoyed your blog! Right now I have no idea how I’m going to navigate the world of publishing when the time comes. I will update later with anything I learn. Wishing you good fortune also, in writing and publishing your book.

  10. niasunset says:

    I am a cat lover too… and your writing about them fascinated me. It was so nice. Thank you, I am so glad to meet with you and also Thank you for visiting my blog. With my love, nia

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  12. Kate Gilmore says:

    Since you had the kindness to “like” my post about kinship with animals I have delved into all the wonderful photos, including those gorgeous insects and reptiles, the fascinating paintings, and, of course the extensive writings you provided in two posts. You are a marvelous writer, a rare discovery in the bloggosphere, and I would love to say that I can’t understand why no agent has picked you up except that I recently had the same experience. The market is horrible, and don’t rejoice at the number of writers out there. Most of their work is garbage.
    I have pretty much decided to self publish, probably with Lulu, although the personal involvement seems daunting. It really depends on how much money one wants to or can throw at it, in my case almost zero. For lots of help you need lots of bucks, but it is true that really good things do get picked up and go on to glory.
    I have a science fiction trilogy which is all about our need for and kinship with animals. The first book was published in 1999 just before my wonderful editor at Houghton Miflin retired. I hope to republish this one and follow it with the other two unpublished volumes in both paper and electronic formats, which probably means I will spend the rest of my life (literally) doing the stuff publishers are supposed to do (proofing, formatting, etc.).
    You would like this book much more than you may think and can still get the old version for a song on Amazon, or I could send you the electronic version.
    Meanwhile, thanks for all the lovely things. Give each cat an unappreciated squeeze for me.
    Kate Gilmore

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words! I really enjoyed your insights into animals! I’m still thinking about which direction to go when it comes to trying to publish. I am indeed seeing many fine authors self-publish these days. And thanks for telling me about your book, I will definitely order the paper copy; I just prefer traditional books to electronic.

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  15. Catwoods says:

    Thank you, Louie! Very nice to hear about your cats.

  16. Louis Skipper says:

    Since moving beside an alley in Sylacauga where I live on the church grounds, I am outside often, enchanted by the social life of the cats. There’s our three, and a cat I’ve named Honest Abe for his looking like the good president. He comes to break bread and sun with the girls before moving on. You have a great Franciscan ministry there in the woods for the cats. This is great.

  17. Catwoods says:

    Many thanks for your kind comment!

  18. cliffbb says:

    I enjoyed reading this so much. Thank you!

Comments are closed.