What was the inspiration for this piece? Where did Maurice come from?
Discworld fans who have read The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by the late Sir Terry Pratchett will recognize the reference to the scheming cat who stars in that book. The Discworld books were some of the first fantasy novels that I read, and Terry Pratchett remains one of my favorite writers. Maurice is my tribute to him.
There is also a reference to Star Trek! When I was a kid, the entire family used to watch Star Trek (the original series) every Sunday. Lieutenant Uhura was the first WOC that I saw depicted in a major western show. She was smart, capable, and talented. I’ve always wanted to name one of my characters after her.
Lastly, the story is inspired by the mythology and folk tales I grew up reading.
This story takes on an almost fairy tale-like quality. Do you feel that fairy tales influence your writing? What about them makes them so accessible and relevant, sometimes centuries after they’ve been told?
I love fairy tales and folk tales. I particularly love seeing how they intersect. Go back far enough, and you begin to see how multiple versions of a story spread over time, like tributaries flowing out of a single source. Some fairy tales are thousands of years old. We tell and re-tell them. Languages split from their roots and evolve. Wolves become bears become tigers. The monkey wife becomes a dog bride becomes a mouse maiden. Stories don’t stay the same, and they don’t just entertain and instruct. They are a mirror to who we are as people, as a society. They reflect our fears, desires, and beliefs back at us. Sometimes dark, often violent, they reward courage and cleverness, punish greed and stupidity, and just as often are completely amoral. For all these reasons and more, readers will continue to be fascinated by them.
I read in a previous interview that you are deeply influenced by Indian mythology, and some of that influence is evident in this story. Could you talk a little bit about how it was applied here?
The idea for this story originated in the mythology of the world tree, which is present in multiple cultures across the world. Kalpavriksha, for instance, is a divine wish-fulfilling tree in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is the tree of life, the Milky Way, and also the birthplace of stars. One myth says it resides in Indra’s Paradise. On Earth, the species varies—an ancient mulberry tree in the Himalayas, coconut trees in coastal areas, a sacred baobab in North India, or even the mighty banyan. Whatever the species, trees provide both physical and spiritual nourishment. It’s not hard to see why they are considered sacred by so many people, and why so many stories have grown up around them.
Why cats? What about them makes them interesting characters to read about?
I adore cats. Sadly, I cannot adopt one, for health reasons. I take great vicarious pleasure in other people’s cat pictures and videos. Cat fairy tales are some of my favorite stories.
The relationship between cat and human goes back nearly ten thousand years when they apparently domesticated themselves out of sheer self-interest. Ancient Egyptians mummified their cats just as they mummified people. Multiple cultures regarded cats as sacred at one time or another. Over the centuries, the furry felines have established themselves quite firmly in the hearts and homes of humans.
There is something about a cat that is mysterious, beautiful, regal, and elegant. They don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves, like dogs do. I always think, looking at a cat, if only they could speak. It’s just one step further to imagine what they would say and do. And honestly, the idea of a universe-protecting cat is much less terrifying than a universe-destroying one. It could go both ways . . .
This story expertly handles adventure, heart, and a little bit of comedy in one small package. What other sorts of themes do you like to tackle (knowingly or unknowingly) in your writing?
I think family and relationships often make their way into my writing. Even in this story, the cats form a kind of family together with their witch. Oh, and food nearly always makes an appearance. I love both cooking and eating, and I think food is an important part of worldbuilding.
What’s next for you? Are there any projects in the works that you can talk about?
I just finished writing a fantasy novel set in medieval India which is full of monsters and mayhem! Hopefully, I get to share it one day. I’m also working on short stories inspired by the Indian epics and Puranas.
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