Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Barnes

makingbiscuitsShow of hands please. Who thinks cats are aloof and lazy? If you answered yes, you’ve fallen for the stereotype that I held before a cat named Lucy came into my life. If you answered no, you’ve learned like me that cats are full of affection and fun. The latter is the idea behind Makin’ Biscuits, a collection of insights and anecdotes by Deborah Barnes about “weird cat habits and the even weirder habits of the humans who love them”.

My angel cat, Lucy, was very particular when it came to beverages. She liked milk, but there were rules. It couldn’t be straight from the jug—it could only be room temperature milk from a bowl with cereal in it. But she’d also only drink it after the cereal was completely gone!–My submission for the chapter, “Are You Going to Eat That?”

Makin’ Biscuits is a 36-chapter tribute to cats. Barnes starts each chapter with an overview wherein she chats about the theme and then hones in on a few personal experiences. For example, in the chapter entitled Cats in Toyland, Barnes admits that there probably isn’t a toy she hasn’t brought for her cats. One however is particularly unusual, that of a string bean. Her cat Jazmine likes to watch Barnes cut fresh ones and, if Barnes ever slows down, Jazmine will grab a stem and run off with it. Barnes dedicates the middle of each chapter to multiple anecdotes from cat owners from across the North America. Some of those cat owners are famous such as Vanna White, heavily involved in advocacy such as founders of various rescues, or simply average pet owners like me. Barnes wraps up each chapter with points to ponder. For example, in the chapter mentioned above, Barnes stresses how important toys and play are to the health and well-being of cats. She recommends cat owners schedule daily time to play with their cat(s), names a few popular toys, and warns against strings. With her book, Barnes wanted to explore the feline mindset, but also to make a difference in cat overpopulation by showing readers what great companions can be. It’d be hard to read this delightful book and still feel cats are aloof and lazy.

After my beloved cat, Lucy, died I made a vow not to leave my other cats, Cinder and Rainy, home alone if I didn’t have to. Loving them so much, I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. I know how fleeting time can be with our precious pets. So now when my husband Andy and I go to visit Andy’s parents every week (they live six blocks away), rather than keep Cinder and Rainy at home, we crate them up and bring them too! They’re put on flexi-leashes to give them unrestricted freedom, and they like being included in the excursions. Andy and I also bring them for special holiday visits and, if it’s Christmas, Cinder and Rainy will get gifts too!–My submission for the chapter, “Home for the Holidays”

Makin’ Biscuits is also a 250-page labor of love. Each chapter has a whimsical title and more than one illustrative photo. The commentary by Barnes is supported by over twenty-five sources of research. Then there’s the endless submissions that Barnes had to comb through. To obtain these submissions, Barnes put out an open call on her blog and on social media sites for cat lovers. In the end, received so many stories that to include all of them would have required her to write the next “War and Peace”. Add to all this the fact that Barnes, like many authors, had to juggle a work and family life to compile Making Biscuits. For her though, the labor of love will be worth it if it encourages more people to join help bring about the dream of ending cat overpopulation. Right now, there are over 40 million homeless cats in the United States alone. That’s why we need more and more cat owners to speak up and educate the world about how amazing cats are.

When I first heard that two of my stories had been accepted to Makin’ Biscuits, I immediately ordered five signed copies. Since reading my own personal copy, I’ve added more friends to my life who would enjoy Making Biscuits. My advice to you then is to simply plan on buying several copies to share.

About a year ago, I posted a request on BlogPaws for contributions to a spay/neuter series I hoped to run at LAA Pet Talk. One of the respondents was Deborah Barnes. We entered into a correspondence that still lasts today. Not only did Deb allow me to reprint several of her articles, but she sent me copies of two of her books to review, and helped me become a member of The Cat Writers Association. When she began working on a third book, just released this November, she invited fans to submit stories of their cats, and I had the privilege of two of mine being accepted. It’s an honor to know Deb, who is an advocate for cats and especially for spay/neuter, and to introduce her to you.

Deb resides in South Florida with her fiancé, Dan, and feline family of seven. She is the author of three cat books and hosts the award-winning cat-related blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. She’s also the Vice President of the Cat Writers’ Association and was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina. In addition, she is the secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane of Miami, Florida, and her freelance work has appeared in various publications including the popular Cat Fancy magazine.

ALLISON: How did adolescence change you?

DEB: I was extremely shy as an adolescent. I wasn’t very athletic, I wore thick glasses, and I was always the shortest girl in my class. This made me an easy target and I was bullied all the time. I was always picked last for any group activity, and I was even told to my face I wasn’t pretty. I took it to heart and it hurt me deeply. My cats and reading became my refuge and, it wasn’t until I went to college and had a fresh start, that I began to realize the words of bullies were only words. They weren’t truth and I blossomed. I discovered not only did I like myself, but that I had talent, worth, and value. I believe these life lessons made me stronger, more fair-minded, and empathic. I also learned to venture outside of my comfort zone and know that with enough faith, effort, and perseverance, anything is possible if you really want it.

ALLISON: Why the leopard print clothes?

DEB: Many people think the character, Peg Bundy, of the television show, Married with Children started the leopard print craze, but truth be told, it was me! I’ve been fascinated with big cats my whole life – especially leopards and cheetahs – and wore leopard prints clothes any time I could find them. But back then, even though I was a huge cat lover, I had never heard of the Bengal breed. Once I caught wind of this cat, which is in essence, a leopard shrunk to housecat size, I knew I had to have one. I got my Bengal, Zoey, in 2008 and she helped to inspire my first book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and my blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. I’m featured on the blog and book in leopard clothes, and it just took off from there. A brand was born and I’m officially known as the leopard lady in the cat world!

ALLISON: What have been your biggest challenges with pets? Your greatest rewards?

DEB: The biggest challenge is having to say goodbye, especially those times that seem unbearably cruel and unfair. I had a beautiful Golden Retriever, Bailey, and I adored her to the moon and back. She was less than two years old and died of cancer. I also lost my beloved cat, Harley, when she unexpectedly died at 10 years of age after experiencing a severe seizure. It’s those moments that really challenge the heart and soul. But I’ve taken those instances and tried to find the good in it. That’s how Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond was born. I wanted to help others with the grieving process and offer comfort and hope to them. As far as the greatest rewards, that’s simple, each and every day I’m blessed with another day to share with my pets is a great day. They never fail to make me smile or feel appreciated.

ALLISON: What’s the perfect number of cats for a family to have?

DEB: There really is no correct answer for this. I currently have seven cats and have always had more than one cat. While not all cats become best friends, more times than not, they at least can get along (with a proper feline-enriched environment). I think companionship is important for them. My cats snuggle together, play together, and groom together. They’re never lonely that way. But how many cats a family should have depends on the size of your living quarters, your financial ability to take care of the cats, and how much time you can devote to them. I think 2 to 3 cats in most households would be ideal.

ALLISON: How long have you been blogging? What inspires your ideas? How do you find time?

DEB: I started blogging in 2010 and quite honestly didn’t even know what a blog was back then. I had attended a writing conference and it was recommended I start a blog about my cats to compliment my first book , The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Like the show Seinfeld, I’m inspired by the everyday moments of life and my cats provide endless material for me – a bug walking into the living room, for example, can become an entertaining post. As far as finding the time, when I first started blogging it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it is today. I was able to maintain a schedule of posting several times a week but now, with a full-time day job as well as working on writing my third book, it’s a struggle to find the time to post once a week. On week days, I get up at 5:30 a.m. so I have a couple of hours before I leave for work to concentrate on my writing. On weekends, I typically get up around 7:00 a.m. and I never allow myself to sleep in. That way I’m certain to have as much time as possible to work on my writing, as well as to do my household chores and errands. As far as designing the blog – I knew from the moment I was going to start a blog what my vision was going to be. I wanted the blog to be completely different to any of the cat blogs I had seen elsewhere, and I wanted it to mimic the concept of Zee & Zoey’s book – meaning, I wanted the reader to enjoy the ordinary act of reading, but in an extraordinarily beautiful environment.

ALLISON: What have you learned from writing?

DEB: I’m not much of a talker. I’ve always preferred writing as a means to communicate and I’ve learned that the written word can be a powerful tool to inspire and move people. I’ve been told that I have the unique gift of being able to express concerns, sentiments, and ideas that others have, but that they didn’t know how to convey. I’m not afraid to speak honestly and I like to question the world we live in. By doing this, I’m able to inspire provocative conversation. That way, I able to educate people and to move them to action for the better good of cat care, especially when it comes to spay/neuter.

ALLISON: You’ve won several awards from BlogPaws and Cat Writers. What does that feel like?

DEB: Being recognized by your peers is extremely humbling and emotionally rewarding. When I was awarded the 2013 Cat Writer of the Year Award by Friskies Purina at the Cat Writers’ Association annual writing contest, it was completely surreal and the whole thing was a blur to me. I was so new to it all back then and was in awe of the talent around me. To be recognized for my own talent brought me to tears, and even to this day, I often wonder how I’ve gotten this far. When I was younger, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be an author, let alone an award-winning one. But regardless of winning or losing, being a member of such esteemed groups as BlogPaws and Cat Writers drives me to be a better writer.

ALLISON: What does life currently hold for you?

DEB:  I just finished my third book, Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Humans Who Love Them. It was released on November 15th and I’m so excited about it!

Front row – Left to Right: Jazmine, Peanut, Rolz, Mia. In Deb’s lap, Zoey. To Deb’s far left, Zee, and to her far right, Kizmet.

Front row – Left to Right: Jazmine, Peanut, Rolz, Mia. In Deb’s lap, Zoey. To Deb’s far left, Zee, and to her far right, Kizmet.

Once upon a time there was an animal lover who opened her home up to cats. For anyone who reads pet books, there’s nothing new about that plot. So why should you check out the two offerings by Deb Barnes? From the gorgeous and charming artwork to the funny and conversational style, The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey and Purr Prints of the Hearts will certainly warm your heart. If pretty looks and engaging words aren’t enough to woo you, there’s also the fact that Barnes is an excellent storyteller. She deftly draws you into her world and makes you intensely care about what happens next to her cat clan.

In the prologue, Barnes explains the subtitle of A Journey Into the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Most of us like to imagine our lives better than they are. For one lovable male Maine Coon cat named Zee and one wild female leopard inspired Bengal named Zoey, however, Barnes believes that the ordinary is itself a gateway to unlimited adventure. This is true partly because of how cats are, but also because of the way Barnes choose to view her life with them. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And then Zee….” quips Barnes before proceeding to dedicate a chapter to her search for the perfect Maine Coon, a cat intended as a surprise for her sweetheart. She shares of how her criteria changed due to how few Maine Coons were available within driving distance and then how the deadline got altered thanks to an impending hurricane and finally about the arrival of “the chosen Almighty One”. The tale of Zoey’s arrival contains a similar tonal mix of amused and dramatic. “The possibility of getting a Bengal had already been in the back of my mind for quite some time, what with my ever-present obsession and love affair with anything leopard related,” note Barnes, before proceeding to describe Bengals and how the stunning Zoey was a creature to be reckoned with.

But The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey isn’t simply a story of how boxes can become forts and gardens can become jungles for two cats in love. It’s also about the consequences of felines blossoming into adulthood before being spayed/neutered. As is her personality, Barnes embraced the responsibility of being a cat parent while also finding magic in a home overrun by a litter of kittens. Even when the reality settled in of only one adoptive home being found, she issued this declaration: “We brought these cats into our home, so as such we have decided that the love and companionship they bring us far outweigh the scratches and damages incurred in our home.” At times, Barnes has extended apologies for the fact she realized too late how quickly cats can have kittens, but I admire how she allowed her life to be positively changed by that one misjudgment. Not only has she weaved a fabulous adventure about Zee and Zoey, but she’s also become an avid cat advocate.

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing a book is encapsulating the essence of a book into a couple of paragraphs. For example, in the prologue, Barnes writes that The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey wouldn’t actually exist if not for a beloved cat named Kit. Yet up to this point I hadn’t referred to Kit. For that matter, I also neglected to mention the numerous other strays including dogs that found their home with Barnes. The anecdotes that Barnes shares of them are just as engaging as those of her lovebirds, but obviously there’s only so many highlights I can feature. You’ll have to discover who all of the rest of Barnes’ family are by reading The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

But I do need to introduce you to Jazz, as he’s the star of Purr Prints of the Heart. Before Zee became the patriarch of the family, Jazz had been the residing male. Barnes had been watching a pet show and fell in love with the “Ragdoll” breed. She immediately began to do research and found Jazz through the classifieds. Discovering that Jazz came from a hoarding situation, Barnes immediately decided to adopt him. As Jazz progressed from being a kitten to an adult, he developed the quirky habit of playing fetch with wads of paper rolled up into a ball. He also liked tennis and lizards. As Jazz matured, he grew to earn the title: “Mr. Jazzy Grumpy Old Man Leave Me Alone I Don’t Want to Be Bothered.” These details and a few others are all ones that Barnes provides in The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook Page

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook

In Purr Prints of the Heart, Jazz takes center stage as the narrator of his own tale from start to finish. Jazz shares his dismay of being labeled sick by his original owner. After all, his mom had raised him to believe that he was the most handsome kitten alive and somebody would want him one day because he was special. And when Deb Barnes walked into Jazz’s life, this turned out to be true. Yet at first Jazz wasn’t so sure. Crates, car rides, and quarantines all made him question if his new circumstances were better ones. But then he met Kit, who helped him acclimate. Just as Jazz falls in love with his new home, so I fell in love with Jazz who shared adventures of hurricanes, house renovations, new cat arrivals, change of jobs by the owners, and even saying goodbye to friends. By now, Jazz has begun to understand what Rainbow Bridge means, and to realize that this will soon be his future too. Although I like to avoid those stories which end with the inevitable death of a pet, Purr Prints of the Heart is unique in its approach. By having Jazz narrate his view of sickness and dying, Barnes avoids being sentimental and instead helps all of us owners see how growing old might feel to our beloved pets.

Deb Barnes and I connected about a year ago when I put out a call for articles about pet overpopulation. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch occasionally through email. As someone whose life’s also been forever changed by feline companions, I relate to many of the cat escapades that she shares in her books and on her blog. I also appreciate her dedication to making a difference in the lives of cats. She’s an inspiration to me and I feel honored to have signed copies of her books.


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