Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chuck Has Movie Fever - Out of Africa

While Chuck, my rascal cat, and I were on safari in Africa, I couldn’t resist visiting the house where Karen Blixen, known for her fab auto-biography Out of Africa lived in Nairobi.  I enjoy paying tribute to favorite authors by seeing where they used to live or seeing the landscapes that inspired them.  

Over the years I’ve been to Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's house in Salem, Massachusetts, and I’ve seen the moors that inspired Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, to name a few.  And although I know that so much of writing happens inside the imagination, I scrutinize the houses and the furniture, the grounds and the landscapes, as if there’s some magic that I can imbibe and take away with me that will make me a better writer.

This time I was inspired by the movie–Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, which had been based on part of Karen Blixen's life. As a young woman, she'd  came to Africa to marry a Baron, but had ended up also falling in love with a big game hunter, starting a coffee plantation that failed, and when her lover was killed tragically in a plane crash, returning to Norway, where she took the pen name Isak Dinesen.

Movie poster for Out of Africa courtesy of Wikipedia

I wanted to see this woman’s house.  I wanted to walk in her back yard.  I wanted to imagine myself living there–and yeah, I can hear what you’re thinking–as if I were the star of that Hollywood movie.

And you're absolutely right.

Her life was both grand and tragic.  I suspect that it was the years she lived in Africa that influenced her to write great literature.  Once she left Nairobi, she never went back, but Africa was never far from her thoughts.

When I first read her memoir, Out of Africa, published in 1937,  I was awe struck by her opening line, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Back then I tried to imagine those hills in the distance and how it would feel to gaze on their majesty everyday.

In Nairobi, when I stood in Karen Blixen’s back yard, I gazed into the distance and stared at those hills, hardly believing I was actually there.

I imagined that no matter what had happened to her when she lived in that house–the death of her lover, the destruction of her coffee plantation, the news that she’d contracted a near deadly disease (syphyllis)–all stuff of great drama, the hills remained a constant for her.

In truth, she’d written that she loved those hills and she was heard to say that if people could move mountains, those were the ones she would have taken with her back to Norway.

I love knowing that and knowing that I was there.

Today Karen Blixen’s house is a tourist stop, and you can see why when you walk through the rooms, decorated with a combination of original period furniture and props used from the movie that were donated to the house. Oh, she was a pretty fair writer, too. 

You can’t walk through the house unescorted, which is problematic for me because the tour goes much too fast.   I can’t absorb my surroundings that quickly, and I like to look at everything and imagine myself in each room, imagine how her day would have been, and then how I would live each day in each room.  So I’m always the laggard on every tour.

And then, there’s my rascal cat Chuck.

He’s stuffed inside my smart bag, itching to poke his whiskered face out and get a peek.  All he wants is to be let loose so he can sniff around.

When the house tour is concluded, people are free to wander around the back yard.  When the crowds thin out, I finally allow Chuck out of the smart bag, and at first he sniffs around, more sedate than usual, until he discovers the arbor along the side of the house.  Shady, stone-terraced and dripping with beautiful flowers, it’s perfect for Chuck.  He can’t resist munching on some of the grasses nearby.

Of course, this house and the hills mean nothing to Chuck and everything to me. I manage to scoop him up, seconds before the gift shop woman emerges just to make sure everything is okay.

As I walk away, I think of my first book Wild Point Island recently published. It’s too late to add Ngong Hills to the background, but then I wonder if someday some young author won’t pilgrimage to my house . . . and bring their rascal cat along.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chuck is Hyped Up About Blogger Book Fair 2013

Chuck, rascal cat and world traveler extraordinaire, put his paw down the other day and demanded that we take some time off and stay home. He likes to stay in Jersey for at least part of the summer. He likes the blasted hot summer days on his fur. When most New Jerseyans are either down at the Jersey shore -- yes we are back if not all the way at least most of the way -- after all, you’ve heard the ads on TV -- STRONGER THAN THE STORM -- or hunkered down in the air conditioned abode -- Chuck is outside sucking up all the hottest rays that the sun can offer. 

Plus, he heard about the Blogger Book Fair 2013 and wanted a chance to browse online and see what all the fuss was about. Oh yeah, he was just as intrigued as I was when Kayla Curry announced that she was going for the gusto this time around.  

In June of 2012 she came up with this dynamite idea of organizing her writer friends, to help them profile their work at an online Book Fair. You’ve heard of Book Fairs where you hop in your car and travel somewhere, then walk around in the blazing hot sun or freezing cold or some airless room -- it’s never the perfect day like in the movies -- browsing around in search of the perfect book?  

Aren’t we all looking for that perfect beach read--whether it be a novel, short story, poem, play, biography--whether it was published by a big New York publisher or indie published?

Well, Chuck is looking too. 

He likes stories about other cats, but he also gets into mysteries and yeah, even the occasional love story. All in all, he’s rather an eclectic reader.

But he likes the concept of staying home, jumping on my computer and being able to browse through the authors and avoid the jostling crowds of a real book fair.  He dislikes screaming kiddies who inevitably have been brought along by parents who had no choice and who sometimes try to pick him up. It’s either book fair or lock them in a closet. 

And Chuck prefers to take his time when he’s looking at a book. He wants to make up his mind. That’s the beauty of an online book fair. You can read the blurb, use the link to read an excerpt, and then take all the time in the world to make up your mind without having to face an author who is staring at you with that pleading look in his or her eyes.  

Plus an online bookfair offers GIVE-AWAYS and contests. 

Are you convinced??
Here’s the link:

If you’re a writer or a reader who likes to skulk behind the scenes and discover why an author chose to write that particular story or chose that particular setting . . . or if you’re interested in what inspired an author to come up with a series, there will be places to go and hang out and read some personal stories. We’re talking author chit chat. 

Chuck was hooked. 

 Here's the link to the directory of events--to all the authors, and bloggers and contests and events and give-aways:


If you haven’t been there already, hop on over to http://www.katelutter.com during the week of July 22 through July 26.  I’ll be hosting twelve authors and their stories.  Join Chuck. Find the perfect summer read. Browse the shelves, all from the comfort of your air-conditioned cozy room.

Meow.  Meow.

And if you bump into Chuck, don’t hesitate to offer him a treat. The kid is always, and I mean always h-u-n-g-r-y. He snacks while he reads, of course.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chuck Is Mesmerized by Paris Streets

Just one of the many bridges that cross the Seine in Paris

Chuck, my very rascally cat, is a big Woody Allen fan. He especially loved Sleeper, Play It Again, Sam, Annie Hall and the recent Midnight in Paris. In fact, his obsessive watching of Midnight in Paris just recently explains, I think, why he suddenly wanted to go to Paris.

Now Paris, the capital of France, has thirty million visitors per year and is the most visited city in the world so who wouldn’t want to hop on a plane or ride through the tunnel and see such a magical place? 

I suspected Chuck wanted to walk the streets, just like Owen Wilson who plays the nostalgic screenwriter, did. Perhaps, he was hoping that mysterious car from a previous century would pick him up and transport him to another time where cats led a simpler life. Perhaps, he was hoping he would meet, then fall in love with a beautiful Parisian kitty . . . 

So with that hidden dream in tow, we hightailed it to Paris, booked a room at the Montparness, and decided to take in the sights of Paris. Of course, we paid homage to the usual big name places that always rightfully attract the tourists--the Eiffel Tower, The Arc of Triomphe, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre. We even paid a quick visit to Les Invalides (the museums and monuments devoted to French military history). But even though Chuck got the usual thrill from seeing such exciting places, something was missing. I could see it in his eyes.

The Eiffel Tower from afar

The Arc of Triomphe

I then dragged my furry rascal to one of my favorite places--the second largest park in Paris--the Luxembourg Gardens, the home of the Luxembourg Palace, where many Parisians come to relax during the weekend or where they come to walk or sunbathe. Chuck, who loves to be outside, walking around, sniffing the grass and the trees, still didn’t seem to be completely satisfied.

Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Gardens - the second largest park in Paris

It seems he wanted the streets of Paris--not the monuments and statues, not the museums and churches. He wanted the tree lined streets. 

Statue of Winston Churchill

So we moved at our own pace. No one bothered us. And, no, even though it got a bit late and the sun went down and we were still outside at dusk, the magical car never arrived to take us to another century. Even so, by the time we arrived back at the hotel, Chuck was happy. 

Paris street

One of the many tree lined streets in Paris--this one near the Luxembourg Gardens

He even discovered that he enjoyed the French cat food that I bought at a local store. Although he did a double-take when he saw the label--very artsy-fartsy for a cat food label. After all, Chuck sees himself as just as an ordinary down to earth, run of the mill kind of cat, even if he is a world traveler, hiking around in "Paree".
I just loved the art deco on this can of cat food--I wonder do French people display their cat food as art around their house??


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chuck is Obsessed with Crepes in Deauville

If we’d been living one hundred years ago, Chuck, the rascal cat and I might have come to Deauville, the wonderfully historic seaside resort--the closest one, in fact, to Paris--via railway, but, in fact, we came via highway.  

With great expectations.  

This lovely town has a fantastic history dating back to 1060. It seems to have always been the stomping ground of the rich and famous of France--the place where the fashionable people went--the upper class and the wealthy--to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

In 1865 when the railroad connected Paris to Deauville, it was easier for people to come to the Deauville Hippodrome to see the horse races, which then spawned the development of therapeutic baths, and eventually the construction of a casino.  Deauville was living high on the hog then.

But during World War I, Deauville took in and cared for the injured soldiers, and unfortunately, the war took an economic toll on the city. Then the Germans occupied Deauville during World War II, and it wasn’t until D Day that the Allied forces were able to finally liberate the city.

Since 1975 Deauville has been the location of the American Film Festival, which is a celebration of big budget and independent films. Every year they celebrate a different Hollywood star--Elizabeth Taylor, Robert De Niro, Janet Leigh, Sharon Stone, George Clooney . . . the list goes on. 

Many famous artists and writers have been inspired by Deauville. Marcel Proust vacationed nearby in Cabourg, Deauville’s sistertown, and wrote In Search of Lost Time. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatzby had Daisy and Tom Buchanan honeymooning in Deauville.  Claude Monet, the famous of all Impressionist painters, came to Deauville for inspiration.

Chuck and I could have come to Deauville to see the races or for the therapeutic baths or to gamble. We could have even come to play golf. But we didn’t. We came here to sample the famous French crepes.

Yes, we have crepes in America, in New Jersey, where we are from, but they are not the same.  In Deauville, the crepe is not just a breakfast food or a dessert.  It is also the main attraction, the main meal.  Entire restaurants are called creperies and that is basically all they serve--many different varieties of crepes. Ordering a crepe is like ordering a pizza here in the states.

They are thin and delicious pancakes filled with almost anything:
Yes, I would like my crepe with ham, mushrooms and spinach, please.
Yes, I’ll take the meat lovers crepe or the veggie crepe.
Yes, I’ll take two different kinds of cheese in my crepe, please.

It was lovely trying to choose which crepe to order from the menu. 

We stopped at the Creperie Becassine on the main boulevard in Deauville, a small and rather crowded creperie and sat at a quaint table inside.  Ordered up our crepes.  They cook in no time.  The cute waitress served them up almost immediately.  Hot and delicious.  She never blinked an eye that Chuck was a feline.  That is one thing I love about France.  The French people take their dogs with them everywhere--into stores, restaurants, and I would assume even into church, although I have to be honest about that--I didn’t actually eyewitness a dog in church.

Perhaps, they thought that Chuck was just a wierd looking dog, or that Americans treated their cats like the French treat their dogs--as constant companions.

Anyway, no one said a word about Chuck sitting on the stool.  He didn’t actually like the pancake-like crepe, but he liked the tiny bits of ham inside.  He gobbled the ham up like it was bits of candy.

The next morning, before we left Deauville, we passed an open market. That’s another thing about being in France. Sophistication abounds but everyone is also very down to earth. 

Remember, Deauville attracts the rich and famous. The French elite come and stay in Deauville. An open market? I love it.