Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

UPDATED 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

>Lilian Jackson Braun

THE CATS WHO STARTED A CAREER

IT BEGAN, OF COURSE, WITH A MYSTERY and a cat. Lilian Jackson Braun was a features editor at the Detroit Free Press in 1961 when her beloved 2-year-old Siamese, Koko, died in a suspicious fall from a 10th floor window. Haunted by the notion that the cat had been pushed by an eccentric neighbor, Braun wrote several short stories that featured feline plots and sold them to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In 1966 she published The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, the first in her popular series of mystery novels. "Cats and mysteries just go together," says Braun, whose 20th novel in the series, The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, recently hit shelves. "There's something mysterious about cats, they're unpredictable, they're intelligent, they're independent. And of course, they're fun." The books—which feature Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum helping their two-legged housemate, journalist Qwill Qwilleran, solve murders—have sold more than 9 million copies and cause readers to write Braun about their own felines. "People love to talk about their cats," says Braun, who lives in Tryon, N.C., with her second husband, retired actor Earl Bettinger. The books, however, are more often inspired by her own two Siamese, Koko (the Third) and Pitti Sing. "Every day they give me an idea," says Braun of the cats, whose incessant wildlife-watching prompted the title The Cat Who Sang to the Birds, due next winter. And Braun—who declines to give her age but considering her 18 years as an advertising copywriter, 30 years at the Free Press and dozen or so since she retired to write novels full-time, is likely about 80—can't wait to wrap that book up and get on to the next. Says the author: "I tell people that psychologically I'm 35, physically I'm about 55, and chronological age I don't believe in."

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