Okay, so the “news release” part of this blog is about the fact I’ve written a children’s chapter book called Finnigan the Circus Cat, about a foundling kitten who finds a home in a small town circus museum in Wisconsin. I’m shooting for a publication date of June 1, and we’ll see if my “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” decision to draw the pictures inside the book will slow me down!
In fact I have a Goodreads Giveaway going on RIGHT NOW until the end of May to win one of 15 autographed copies.
But the DEEPER story I want to share now is how I came to base the book on the real live “Finnigan” in my family. And believe me, there’s a lot of the real Finnigan in the book!
There’s nothing cuter than a kitten, or so the saying goes. That was certainly true when my son and his wife were seized by the impulse while they were still in college to browse through Craigslist ads for kittens. Just before Christmas. They found a pair of tiny siblings at an animal shelter. The pair had been discovered abandoned in a barn. One of the pair jumped immediately into my daughter-in-law’s lap, and that was that.
Ours can been a “cat-free zone” while my son was growing up, since his dad was deathly allergic to cats. But we divorced when my son was just finishing grade school, and since nature abhors a vacuum, my son sensed an opportunity. Before long there was a kitten in our house, who grew to be a cuddly sixteen-pound behemoth who still resides with me. The kid left the nest, the giant cat is still here a decade later. Go figure.
Some years later, now married to his high-school sweetheart and attending college away from home, this self-same son called just before returning for Christmas break. “Mom, we got a kitten!” he said. “Can he stay with you over the break?”
Oh my God, I said “yes” in a heartbeat. I’d get to play with a kitten! There was no absolutely no downside to this!
When the wee little Finnigan arrived, he was literally the smallest kitten I’d ever seen. Within a day I’d made an emergency run to the pet store to find specially granulated kitten food that was tiny enough for him to chew. At this point, the pet supply at my house was already up to two cats and the family dog, and so Finnigan did his best to stay out from underfoot.
On his first night with me, the kids spent the night at my ex’s house, and Finnigan slept curled in a tiny ball under my chin. Ah bliss! Ah unbelievable softness! Then the next day, the tiny claws came out. For the next few weeks, he used them to make vertical sprints straight up the leg of my sweat pants and up to my shoulders. It was like having a pirate’s parrot perched at my ear as I moved about the kitchen.
On the second night, I had crawled into bed and positioned Finnigan under my chin again, expecting another night of innocent purring and softness. It lasted only a minute. Then the little darling decided to try out his “pouncing” skills by jumping on my face, claws extended. Again and again and again. I gave up at last, and shut him in the bedroom to spend the night in solitary confinement. I took to a different bed after checking out the scratches on my nose.
After the holidays, Finnigan returned to Madison with my son and his wife, and life quieted back down with the two cats and the dog. And it stayed that way for another couple of years…until my son and his wife elected to study abroad in Ireland for a semester. And Finnigan came back to my place to roost.
He had grown into a sleek and elongated feline by now, with extra long legs and a long, skinny tail. He sported two tan smudges under his nose that made him look like he had a mustache. His grey and black striped coat, combined with his natural swagger, reminded me of a circus performer strutting around in a striped leotard. And Finnigan certainly brought a theatrical sense of adventure to the table.
The other two cats in the house were middle-aged at least, and mostly sedentary…unless a stray mouse was involved. Finnigan, on the other hand, still had a seriously playful streak, and would lurk behind the furniture until one of the older cats walked within reach. Then with a “pounce” he’d leap out from behind the furniture like a giant vampire bat to land on the older cat and dare him to play. It didn’t work all that often…but he never stopped trying. Eventually the three of them reached a truce of sorts, and would gather together in my lap in the evenings as I switched channels and watched TV.
It didn’t hurt the “circus” vibe I kept picking up from watching him that my younger daughter is a contemporary circus aerialist, and the circus arts just kept working their way into our conversations.
Months later the kids returned from Ireland and came back to retrieve Finnigan. I had become QUITE attached to the little fellow, now all grown up, and fretted that he would be lonely as an “only cat” after spending all those months snoozing with—and pouncing on—Smokey and The Meatball.
I need not have worried. Just a few months later, my son and his wife were visiting her dad, who lives out in the country. There is a barn on his property. And in the wee hours of the morning, the sound of a tiny kitten in distress floated on the breeze through the window.
A search was mounted, and a wee solitary kitten was found crying in the barn. The kids gathered him up in their arms, and announced their find on Facebook. Their stated intention was to take the kitten to the vet and find him a good home. I knew better. They had posted a photo of the new kitten—they called him Linus—sitting in the palm of my son’s hand. They were eye to eye, the bearded human and the fluffy foundling, and I recognized “the look” in my son’s eye.
There was going to be absolutely no fighting it, I knew. That second abandoned kitten had found a home…and Finnigan was no longer going to be an “only cat.”
By then, for me there was also no fighting the idea of writing a children’s story about a little rescue kitten who found his own happy ending in a circus museum. In between publishing my latest essay collection, selling my house, and downsizing and moving to a new place, I kept noodling around ideas for extra characters (two mice, a dog, and a pair of VERY bad cats!) and revisiting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin for inspiration. And then finally I put it all down on paper.
And so, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages…you have the back story for Finnigan the Circus Cat, the first book of several Finnigan stories to come. The adventure continues!!