Introducing: the Real Gato

I get a lot of questions about Gato, the kitten in my Shinobi Mystery series. 

The top two are “What kind of cat is she?” and “What made you decide to give a ninja detective a rescued kitten?”

I’ll defer on question two for a bit, but question one is easy to answer. Hiro’s kitten, Gato, is my favorite kind of cat: a tortoiseshell.

It wasn’t a hard decision. You see, Gato isn’t just a cat I made up for the novels. She’s real (in every way that matters, anyhow).

Oobie Tongue out redact

Six years ago, a friend of ours rescued a mother cat, only to discover she was pregnant. Rather than aborting the kittens, our friend committed herself to finding homes for every one (and then spaying the mother, to ensure the cycle wouldn’t repeat).

When this friend called to ask me to take a kitten, I declined. We already had three other cats, and I was still mourning the loss of a beloved tortoiseshell rescue named Tumble. 

Two weeks later, my friend called again. “You won’t believe this,” she said, “but the litter contains a tortoiseshell.” 

I went over to see the kittens (then three weeks old and small enough to sit in the palm of a hand) and sure enough, one was beginning to show the tortie markings. I shouldn’t have held that kitten, but I did…and by the time I left, it wasn’t so much a question of “will we take her” as “when will we take her home.”

We named her Bumblebee, for her buzzing purr and also because she transformed our decision from No to Yes. (And yes, that was a transformer’s reference.) Mostly, though, she answers to “Oobie.”

In the years since then, Oobie has grown into one of the smartest, most loving (and probably most entitled) cats I’ve owned. She sits on my desk (or my lap) while I write.

14C16 Oobie

She shares my sense of humor.

Oobie and Lily

She “helps” with my edits.

12L30 Oobie

She also eats paper–but we won’t go there now.

She’s so much a part of my daily life that when Hiro needed a kitten I had an easy time finding a model. Oobie became that kitten, who actually had no name for most of the early draft. I couldn’t decide on a name that would fit the character without sounding too modern or too contrived. 16th century Japanese people did share their homes with cats, but not exactly in the way we do today.

I actually “learned” the kitten’s name at the very same time the reader learns it in the first Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat. That surprises some readers, but it’s true–the cat had no name at all until Hiro named her during the drafting process. The moment I “heard” his name, however, I knew it was the right one.

So when you see Hiro’s kitten getting herself into various kinds of trouble, know that there’s a real cat behind the fictitious curtain. Every major characteristic Hiro’s cat displays is real…Oobie has them too…and most of the trouble that cat gets in is also drawn from life.

Does “Gato” look different in your mind, or did you have her pegged as a tortoiseshell too?


4 thoughts on “Introducing: the Real Gato

  • June 19, 2014 at 8:12 am

    It’s been a while since I read the book and the only cat scene I vividly remember is Gato eating paper. Although I haven’t heard Oobie paper eating stories yet, I now understand where Gato got the quality.

    • June 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Yep – that scene was “in” the book from the minute I decided to base the cat on Oobie. I’ve actually lost pages from several books (including a Bible, several novels and at least one nonfiction research book that was out of print) as a result of Oobie’s love for chewing paper. I knew that had to come into the book, and hoped it would be memorable. I’m glad to find out it was!

  • June 20, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Fun background! Oobie is cute and looks like she knows it. Great photos.

    • June 23, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks Laura! She’s sweet … and also incredibly spoiled.

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