LANDRUM, S.C. – The author who wrote 29 books in the "The Cat Who ..." mystery series almost quit writing after the third book was published because popular tastes had changed so much, but a casual conversation with her husband convinced her to try again.
Lilian Jackson Braun, who died last week in South Carolina, took an 18-year hiatus between "The Cat Who Turned On and Off" and "The Cat Who Saw Red," published in 1986. She resumed because her husband encouraged her to return to writing after she retired from The Detroit Free Press in 1984.
Braun and her first publisher parted ways when she refused to add sex and violence to her fourth book, her husband, Earl Bettinger of Tryon, N.C., told The Associated Press on Tuesday. On a rainy day years later, she asked Bettinger if he wanted to read the rejected book. "And I said, 'Lilian, everything about this book demands that you send it back to your agent.'"
So she tried again, and Berkley Publishing Group, an imprint of Penguin Books (USA), not only accepted her book but also reprinted her first three mysteries.
In an obituary provided by Penguin, Braun discusses that time: "They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. Gore was not my style, so I just forgot about 'The Cat Who.'"
Braun, 97, died Saturday of natural causes at the Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum. She had lived in Tryon, N.C., for the past 23 years. She wrote 31 books, including two short story collections, and worked 30 years at The Detroit Free Press.
"The Cat Who ..." books began with "The Cat Who Could Read Backwards," published in 1966. They ended when Braun retired from writing in 2007 after the publication of "The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers." Her books about Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, were regulars on the New York Times bestseller lists and were translated into 16 languages.
Her characters were so real that people wanted to meet them, Bettinger said. "A woman from Germany called and said she was coming to America and said she would like to meet Jim Qwilleran," he said. "That's how real her characters were."
Braun's books were so popular, he said, because her characters weren't mean and the cats didn't do anything that a cat wouldn't do. "No cats danced and no cats sang," he said.
Her books redefined the mystery genre, said Natalee Rosenstein, Braun's longtime editor and vice president, senior executive editor of Berkley Books, a Penguin Group imprint.
Rosenstein said in a statement that she loved the books when she first read them, but "it did take me awhile to figure out what genre it belonged to.
"She ultimately created a whole new chapter in the American mystery, and our wonderful working relationship spanned more than two decades. But most of all, it is Lilian the person I will remember — a strong, dedicated feisty woman who would always speak her mind and not be intimidated by anyone."
Braun wrote her books in longhand, then typed them herself, according to her publisher.
But the woman who wrote about cats didn't own any in the last years of her life. She was losing her sight, and a kitten kept getting underfoot, Bettinger said. She nearly fell three times so the kitten was sent back to the woman in Atlanta who had given the cat to Braun; the older cat had to be euthanized. The couple had about five cats over the years, all Siamese and all named Koko and Yum Yum, he said.
Braun was born June 20, 1913, in Chicopee Falls, Mass. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Louis Paul Braun; sister, Florence Jackson; and brother, Lloyd Jackson.
No memorial service will be held.