Friday, February 24, 2023

Interview with Joanna Lowell

In college, I read romances, both historical and contemporary, by the bucketful. These days, not so much. A romance novel has to have a real hook in terms of characters and plot if it’s to draw me in, and those characters and that plot need to be strong enough that the final falling in love—which is, after all, the most predictable part of a romance novel—seems not only inevitable but part of a resolution to broader problems presented in the story world. If the book also features sparkling dialogue and a sense of humor, I’m hooked.

Artfully Yours is such a book. Nina Finch is a talented artist, but late nineteenth-century English society has little use for women painters, especially those of limited means and reduced social standing. Her brother Jack also has artistic aspirations, but after a series of misfortunes, he has turned his talents to forging the great masters and lured—not to say forced—Nina into helping him. As a result, Nina has redirected her aspirations toward baking Victoria sponges and gooseberry tarts to sell from a shop of her own.

But she can’t turn her back on the brother who raised her, and when it becomes clear that London’s foremost art critic, a duke’s son who goes by the name of Mr. Alan De’Ath (yes, the pun on “death” is deliberate, and he is in reality Lord Alan), has Jack’s forgeries in his gun sights, Nina agrees to accept the position of Alan’s amanuensis so she can keep track of his investigation and save Jack’s neck—and her own. With her pet marmoset, Fritz, she infiltrates Alan’s household, where she runs into a cast of eccentric characters, including a group of woman painters led by a cross-dressing firebrand determined to bend the artistic elite of London to her will.

It's all delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and although we can predict that Nina and Alan are meant for each other, how they will cross the vast divide that separates them remains far from clear well into the book. So too does the family secret, hinted at early on, behind Alan’s ongoing conflict with his aristocratic relatives. And if that’s not enough to draw you in, the antics of Fritz and the many humans desperate to wring a good review out of Alan will keep you flipping pages right to the end. 

Joanna Lowell was kind enough to answer my questions, so read on to find out more.


This is your third historical romance set in 1880s England. What draws you to this particular period?

My aunt gave me two big volumes of Arthur Conan Doyle when I was young, so Sherlock Holmes stories were my gateway to late Victorian London. All the gaslights and broughams! I’ve read other things since—novels of the late Victorian period or set in the late Victorian period, and also histories—and I still find the end of the nineteenth century fascinating. That may be partly because I grew up at the end of the twentieth century (1980s/90s). There’s something familiar about the fin de siècle feeling. People looking toward the future and imagining new realities. By 1881, London had nearly five million people. It was by far the biggest city in the world. There was enormous wealth and staggering poverty. Everything was speeding up due to industrialization, which was fueled by exploited workers and by raw materials thieved from the colonies. Class struggle intensified. Imperial wars raged. Women mobilized for political rights. We can see so many throughlines to the present, but it’s very much not our time as well. Different laws. Different social norms. (And of course, the gaslights and broughams!) That tension is very generative for me. I want to write characters that speak to readers now, and I also want to transport readers into the past so they can feel the (fictionalized) historical context come alive.


Some of the characters from the two previous novels are mentioned in passing in this one. Could you give us a quick summary of The Duke Undone and The Runaway Duchess?

The Duke Undone is the story of an aspiring artist from London’s East End and an angsty duke haunted by his demons and struggling to repair a brutal family legacy. They come from completely different places and stations in life, and they meet by chance when Anthony is sprawled passed-out drunk and naked in an alleyway. Lucy paints him from memory, just for herself, but one thing leads to another, and she sells the picture. Anthony sees it and is most displeased. A confrontation ensues, and the two realize they each have the power to help or hurt the other. Lucy is trying to save her condemned home and launch her painting career. Anthony is trying to find his missing sister while seeming to comply with the rules set down in his father’s will. They strike a bargain and get much more than they bargained for.


The Runaway Duchess unfolds across the moors of Cornwall. It follows Lavinia, the mean girl introduced in The Duke Undone. She escapes the horrible duke she just married by stealing someone else’s identity. Pretending to be another person makes her think more deeply about who she is. She realizes that she wants to change, and that she’s falling for the man she’s deceiving—not a great way to begin a relationship! (Even if you’re not a runaway bride.) Neal is true-hearted and sunny and doesn’t want to play games or get involved with a spoiled London socialite. He hopes to settle down with a fellow botanist. When the truth comes out, he and Lavinia are already too entangled for either of them to walk away, but finding a way forward requires a whole new order of growth.


Neal is best friends with Alan De’Ath, the art critic. Alan plays a role in the last quarter of The Runaway Duchess. He’s the hero of Artfully Yours, which brings the series back to the London art world.


Introduce us to your heroine, Nina Finch. What does she want out of life, and what is her reality when the novel opens?

Nina wants peace and quiet, a life that’s simple and sweet and free of risk. Her dream is to run a village bakery. She’s practical and organized, and she has it all planned out. The problem isn’t that she doesn’t know her own mind, it’s that her heart tells her she can’t leave her brother. Jack raised her after their mother died. When the novel opens, they’re living in a noisy, chaotic curiosity shop. Jack has a forger’s workshop upstairs. He trained Nina to paint in the style of Old Masters, and they make their living off their forgeries. This means there’s always the threat of discovery and punishment hanging over their heads. It’s horribly anxious-making for Nina. She worries for Jack, and that worry—along with her powerful loyalty—makes it difficult to imagine leaving unless he comes with her.


How did Nina’s brother Jack wind up in his current predicament?

Jack would say it’s because the deck was stacked against him from the start. He was as talented as his fellow students at the Royal Academy of Art but, unlike most of them, he lacked financial resources. Stepping up to care for Nina meant that he had to change how he was living, and ultimately led to his losing his place at the Royal Academy. He and Nina both understand this as a major sacrifice, one that bonded them together and put Nina in his debt. Jack realized he could make the most money forging art, and so he established himself in the Royal Academy’s shadow. He got caught fairly early on, and his experience in prison made him angrier and left him with even fewer options, so he went back to forging, with Nina’s reluctant help. I don’t entirely disagree with Jack’s social critique, but his refusal to take responsibility for his decisions and the way he manipulates Nina create a central tension in the book. 


Alan De’Ath is in every way Nina’s opposite. Without giving away any of his secrets, give us a sense of him at the moment when he enters her life.

Alan is an art world insider, one of the most respected critics in England. He thrives in London’s elite and bohemian circles. Born into an aristocratic family, he inhabits a place of privilege, operating with confidence and social ease. For all that, he’s a very guarded person. He has dozens upon dozens of friends and acquaintances, but he’s careful to show them only what he wants them to see. He uses humor as a mask. When he meets Nina, things have just started to crumble. His extremely troubled family relationships (past and present) are threatening his ability to live the life he built for himself. He’s trying to use his wits, as usual, to fix the situation. Only in this case, he’s going to have to dig deeper, and that terrifies him. He felt vulnerable once and doesn’t want to feel that way ever again. This avoidance is going to compound his problems.   

Tell us, please, about the Sisterhood and the part they play in this novel.

The Sisterhood is a group of women artists that Lucy Coover (heroine of The Duke Undone) started with her friends while they were students at the Royal Academy of Art. They’re dedicated to making art education more equitable for women, and to supporting each other and other women in the art world. They’re friends with Alan, and so Nina finds herself interacting with them. They’re the first contemporary artists she’s ever known, and meeting them forces her to see forgery in a new light. It also gives her a glimpse into a way of living that appeals to her and that she never thought possible for herself.


And perhaps Fritz deserves an introduction. What made you decide to include a marmoset?

Many of the human relationships in Nina’s life have been changeable and explosive, so she feels particularly close with her animal friends. I wanted her to have one comrade in particular that traveled around with her, providing support and also causing some mischief. Virginia Woolf lived with a marmoset named Mitz. Sigrid Nunez wrote a wonderful book about her, Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury, which I highly recommend. I created Nina’s marmoset, Fritz, in homage to Mitz. The animals most present in my life at the time of writing were the neighborhood squirrels, so Fritz has some squirrel in him as well.  

For all the sparkling humor—of which there is a good deal—Alan makes an important point about forgery and its effect on art. Could you summarize that for us, please?

Jack sees forgery as a victimless crime. So long as the fake isn’t discovered, buyer and seller both get what they want. Where’s the harm in that? Alan thinks that forgery harms art itself, that allowing a fake Rembrandt to stand as a real Rembrandt does a disservice to our understanding of what makes painting matter. But beyond that, he thinks forgery hurts living artists. There was a growing demand for artworks by famous dead painters in the nineteenth century. This was linked to the rise of national museums and business elites who wanted to establish prestige through private art collections, and forgers took advantage of the opportunity, creating fakes galore, which fed the buying frenzy. Alan wishes this would all settle down, and attention could turn to riskier, contemporary work, such as the paintings and sculptors by the members of the Sisterhood. Fewer forgeries of old stuff, more room for new stuff.

What are you working on now?

A beach-set queer Victorian romance. It’s part of the same series. There’s more art, there’s also lots of seaweed, and bicycles with big front wheels.


Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Joanna Lowell lives among the fig trees in North Carolina, where she teaches in the English department at Wake Forest University. She is the author of The Duke Undone, The Runaway Duchess, and Artfully Yours. When she’s not writing historical romance, she writes other things as Joanna Ruocco.  Find out more about her at


Images: William Powell Frith, A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 public domain, and photograph of a marmoset © Carmem A. Busko CC BY 2.5, both via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Interview with Dan Jones

Despite having interviewed Bernard Cornwell three times for the New Books Network, and as a result having enjoyed all of his Saxon Chronicles, I am not a big fan of war books in general. So I agreed to read Dan Jones’s Essex Dogs, which released this past Tuesday, with some trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised.

For those who love gritty descriptions of battles and campaigns, behind-the-scenes peeks at the daily life of soldiers in all its filth and profanity, and the push-and-pull between the medieval equivalent of enlisted men and their noble officers, there is plenty here for them to love. Dan Jones is first and foremost a historian, and his grasp of the details and his easy confidence in describing scenery, events, and the many hardships of a military operation on foreign soil make for a compelling tale. The novel follows the English army during its first major campaign of the Hundred Years War, from its landing on the coast of Normandy to the crucial battle at Crécy in August 1346. Suffice it to say that several historical characters—including King Edward III’s son, the chivalric hero known as the Black Prince—appear in an unfamiliar but amusing light.

The story moves fast, and the main characters—a small group of fighting men who call themselves the Essex Dogs—emerge as distinct individuals, each with his own past, personality, and problems. But it is their leader, variously referred to as FitzTalbot and Loveday, who dominates the story. On the rebound from personal tragedy, in a struggle to stay alive  under difficult circumstances, and intent on fulfilling what he perceives as a sacred trust from the group’s prior leader, known only as the Captain, Loveday is determined to keep his small group together no matter what fate throws at them.

What follows is an interview between Dan Jones and his publicist, Ben Peterson (questions in bold). Although I normally insist on conducting my own interviews, I made an exception in this case because Ben has asked the same questions I would have, so it seemed pointless to require a busy author to spend time repeating himself.

A Conversation with Dan Jones

You’re best known for writing books about British history. What prompted and inspired you to write your first novel, Essex Dogs, and why now? How did you prepare?

For some years I’ve been yearning to try my hand at fiction set in the Middle Ages. And plenty of my readers had been asking me when I was going to get around to doing it. As though it were the obvious natural progression in my career. I suppose it figures. My nonfiction books are built on narrative structures borrowed from screenwriting. They celebrate character and explore history through strong, colourful scenic narrative. They smuggle big ideas in under the guise of in-your-face entertainment. These are traits shared with fiction.

I conceived this novel in several stages. The idea of writing about a rogue band of freebooter-soldiers known as the Essex Dogs came to me while I was dozing on a flight from Prague to London in 2017. I began writing about them, but could not settle on the right adventure for them to have. So I shelved the project, and forgot about it until the winter of 2018/2019, when I rented a house in Normandy, quite near Saint-Lô. During a New Year’s Day walk on Omaha Beach with friends, I began to think that having the Dogs take part in Edward III’s 1346 landing a little further up the coast (near Utah Beach) might be viable and fun. A medieval D-Day, kind of like Saving Private Ryan but in fourteenth-century costume. Medieval American hardboiled. Yeah. That felt cool.

Yet even then I dithered. It was not until that summer, after a wide-ranging conversation over dinner with George RR Martin, a history lover whose works of fiction I admire enormously, that something clicked. I went home and started work. George had nothing to do with the writing of this story. His contribution ended at being an inspiration and a personal hero. But it was an important contribution all the same.

The novel is based on the Hundred Years’ War. How much of the book is based on actual events, and which parts are complete fiction? Which characters really existed, and who’s invented? Did the Essex Dogs and its members really exist?

The Crécy campaign of 1346 is every bit a real historical campaign. On 12 July Edward III—who claimed to be the rightful king of France as well as England—landed 15,000 men on the Normandy beaches. It was his “medieval D-Day.” For the weeks that followed, his troops marched and burned and pillaged their way through Normandy, raiding cities and indulging in a chevauchée—a terror campaign designed to frighten and intimidate French people and to disillusion them with their leaders. (This is exactly the same tactical approach to warfare that Vladimir Putin adopted in the first weeks of the recent invasion of Ukraine.) The English came within a few miles of Paris, before forcing a crossing of the river Seine and then heading north towards the Somme, now pursued by a hastily assembled but very large French army. The two armies collided near the Forest of Crécy in late August. It was a spectacular battle with an improbable outcome.

So that much is known. But the historical accounts we have for these events are mostly written either by royal/noble/clerical/knightly participants in the war; or else by chroniclers sympathetic to such a class of people and interested in the ideals of chivalry rather than the “ordinary” experience. It would be impossible to write a straight nonfiction book about the adventures of a medieval Easy Company—such as the Essex Dogs are—because there are no soldiers’ diaries from this age. That’s why I chose fiction and elected in my approach to invent an imaginary “platoon” but have them interact with real historical characters such as King Edward, his son the Black Prince, the earls of Warwick and Northampton, and so on. It’s a similar approach to that adopted by one of my favourite American writers of historical fiction, James Ellroy. Think of American Tabloid: the three viewpoint characters are running blind through history, running into grotesque imagined versions of the Kennedy brothers, J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes, etc., etc. My Essex Dogs do exactly that, only in the white heat of a war for medieval France.

What was your process for weaving together fact and fiction? How did you create dialog and what research and sources were involved? Did you learn anything new or come across something that surprised you?

Well, as I’ve hinted above, all the plot points in Essex Dogs are real. I’ve pulled them from the sources of the time, which I know pretty well: we’re talking chronicles, letters, administrative records, and such. At the start of each chapter I’ve inserted snippet quotes from those sources to show you how fact and fiction intersect. But the Essex Dogs, my imaginary platoon, come at the events from a perspective not seen/cared about by the men who wrote those original sources. So there are many times when, in exploring the ordinary soldier’s view of events, my chapters run deliberate counterpoint to the official history. That also means there are a ton of Easter Eggs and jokes hidden in the text for aficionados who know their medieval history. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t spot them, it won’t spoil the read.)

As for dialog, that’s a really interesting point. There is no way to accurately mimic fourteenth-century speech on the page and remain intelligible to approx. 99.89% of modern readers. I also loathe the affected “Hollywood” rendering of “ye olde” dialog, which is about weird passive verb structures, phoney formality, and vaguely archaic vocabulary. For example, “be not troubled, my liege, the French want not this fight, I warrant.” Ugh. Gross. And lame.

I approached this as a translation task. Dialog in Essex Dogs is blunt, modern, often bracingly military and somewhat profane. The main concession I’ve made to fourteenth-century manners of speech is to include a colourful repertoire of high blasphemy—for in the later Middle Ages, cursing was done by references to God’s wounds or St Anthony’s bloody toenail, rather than leaning on scatology and urology. I had a ton of fun doing that. A TON. Maybe too much. You will have to be the judge.

Which characters did you enjoy writing the most and why? Which parts of the novel were the most challenging to write?

In light of the above, the earl of Northampton was my favourite. He’s the one noble character in the book who speaks a language the “grunts” can understand. Think General Patton’s speech to the Third Army in 1944, and you’ve got the general idea. When we first meet Northampton, he seems to be quite an atrocious individual because he doesn’t sugar-soap his speech like the other nobles do. Yet as the story goes on we learn that this man, the constable of the army (therefore roughly the fourth in chain of command), is the only one who can really communicate—and even sympathise—with the ordinary troops. And he’s prepared to put himself in harm’s way to lead them. I kind of love the guy, and I definitely lit up whenever he walked into a scene.

That being said, Northampton is not one of the Essex Dogs, and they were obviously my viewpoint characters. I spent most time living inside the head of Loveday, the leader, who is nursing a lost love and a lost brother-in-arms. Loveday consistently conveys the deeper themes of the book that transcend the period—about loyalty and regret, about the uncomfortable conflict between what you might call toxic masculinity and the deep-rooted male urge to be a good role model—a heroic father-figure and a brother. So he’s very dear to me. So too is Romford, the sixteen-year old, very damaged, very abused, a fiend and an addict, a sexually uncertain teenager figuring out a brutal world, but also at times just a tender little boy. Romford was the one who made me cry. When I was writing the last three chapters of the book I cried so much I almost shorted out the electronics on my laptop. Romford did that.

What are some of your favorite historical novels, and what about them do you find appealing?

Well, I mentioned Ellroy already. His American Underworld trilogy (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, Blood’s A Rover) made a huge impression on me when I read it—it was a different sort of historical fiction than I’d seen before. Don Delillo’s Libra I guess kind of the same thing. I love Mary Renault’s visions of the Bronze Age world—her book The King Must Die took the Minotaur story and told it like nothing I’d ever known. Of course, right now there’s a really interesting creative moment around the Middle Ages, particularly among American writers, who I suppose are drawn to previous ages of great change when it felt like DOOM was coming down the line pretty fast. Lauren Groff’s Matrix and Otessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona impressed me. Then, of course, there are the medieval big guns. Bernard Cornwell has given me some great advice on the couple of occasions we’ve spoken, and I think his work is sensational. I’m a big admirer of Ken Follett. George RR Martin—goes without saying. What connects them all? World-building. Heart. Thrills. Ideas.

Essex Dogs is the first novel in a trilogy on the Hundred Years’ War. What do you have in mind for the other two novels?

Volume 2 is called Wolf Moon. It follows continuous from Essex Dogs. Only now, rather than marching into the unknown, the Dogs find themselves caught up in the siege of Calais—a brutal eleven-month blockade of a small port on the French coast.

Why are they there? Why does the king care so much about taking it? What are they really fighting for? All this will be revealed as in Wolf Moon we peel back another layer of the war and discover who really wants it to last for a hundred years.

Wolf Moon is about money, merchants, and the medieval “deep state,” which cares nothing for chivalry or the loyalty to kings, only about the naked pursuit of power and profit. We will travel inside and outside Calais, from the siege city built outside the walls, to the pirate ships patrolling the harbour, and into the dark corners of oligarchs’ houses, where the deals that shape—and end—lives are made.

And at the end, we hear the first, faint, chesty rattle of a natural disaster that is sweeping towards the Dogs and their world—and which will set the stage for the epic third book in the series, The Last Knight.

When can we expect your next nonfiction book and what will you be taking on?

I’m writing a biography of Henry V. It’s the missing link between my big chronicles of medieval England: The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses. It’s a huge project and a challenge. But that’s the way I like it.


Images: Miniature of Edward III granting Aquitaine to his son, Edward the Black Prince, and of the Battle of Crécy from the Chronicles of Jean de Froissart public domain via Wikimedia Commons; map of Edward III’s chevauchée in Normandy in 1346 CC-BY SA 4.0 Goran tek-an, via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The Other Side of the Desk

One of the perks of having hosted New Books in Historical Fiction for more than ten years—as long as I’ve been publishing novels, although both twists along the road of life seem like turns I took yesterday, not in 2012—is that once in a while I get to shift gears and talk with one of the other hosts about a new book of my own. With Song of the Storyteller officially released as of January 17, the time has come to let the world know of its existence. G.P. (Galit) Gottlieb, the host of New Books in Literature and the author of three charming contemporary novels collectively known as the Whipped & Sipped Mysteries, offered to conduct this interview. It went live just before January gave way to February, and you can find the results at both the New Books Network (NBN) and various podcast subscription services such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

This isn’t my first interview for the New Books Network. I previously talked with Joan Schweighardt about The Swan Princess and with Galit about Song of the Siren and Song of the Sisters. You can find those previous conversations, if you’re interested, by searching for C. P. Lesley on the NBN site. Each time, I gain more insight into how my guests may feel when it’s their turn at the far side of the microphone—or, more often, just the receiving end of a telephone call. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I was shy as a teenager, and although I thought I had conquered that particular source of anxiety, my first forays into podcasting terrified me.

That was 140 or so interviews ago, and I have long since learned to take the host position in stride. But I was surprised by how nervous being a guest still makes me. That was especially true this time, because it was my first wholly unscripted conversation: I had no idea what Galit would want to know. And like many historians, I tend to ramble, so I worried that I would go down a conversational rabbit hole and emerge twenty minutes later to the online equivalent of glazed eyes.

Of course, none of that happened. Long before we actually started recording, I had relaxed into chat mode. Galit was as delightful as ever; she asked wonderful questions, and I mostly managed to rein my naturally discursive tendencies while answering. I didn’t say everything as perfectly as I would have liked, or tip my hat to every nuance, and I hem and haw more than I would have thought possible. But I did manage to get at least a few big points across. And the next time a guest forgets what she meant to say or tells me how nervous she is, I will be able to extend my condolences and assure her that I know exactly what she’s going through.

Galit and I talk mostly about the historical backdrop of the novels: the boyar politics, the religious differences, the bride show itself, a few of our favorite characters, what’s next for the series. So whether you listen to the interview first (you can find it at the link above) or read the book and then listen, I hope you’ll enjoy them both for different reasons.

You’ll also find out a little more about me, my background outside fiction, how I came to write these novels, and why I use a pen name to do so.

Galit’s latest novel, by the way, is due out later this month, and I will be interviewing her not long after the release. You can find out more about Charred and the series of which it is a part at her publisher’s website. At the moment, e-book editions of both the first book and the third are discounted.


Image: Song of the Storyteller ad © C. P. Lesley; Ivan IV’s first bride show, from the 16th-century Illustrated Chronicle Codex (Litsevoi letopisnyi svod), public domain via Wikimedia Commons; covers for G. P. Gottlieb’s novels © D. X. Varos, reproduced under the fair use doctrine.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Finally, a Truce

Well, it took fifteen weeks, a mesh screen door, a ton of patience, and even a couple of Eagles victories, but I’m happy to report that my older cat, Mahal, has more or less agreed to live and let live with the kittens introduced into her life, against her will, in mid-October.

It helps, I’m sure, that the boys have quadrupled in size during the intervening four months and can now defend themselves if need be. If nothing else, knowing that they can hold their own makes us more comfortable with the idea of letting the threesome work it out without human interference. Decades of living with cats have taught me much about how to read their behavior, but I’ve also developed a deep appreciation of how much I don’t know about how cats communicate with one another.

The crucial turning point, in this case, seems to have been time—assisted by that mesh screen door. Made of nylon, it includes zippers and attaches to the existing frame, allowing people to pass through at will and cats to see, hear, and smell one another. In this case, we set it up in the room where the  kittens had spent their first two weeks, so that most of the furnishings already bore their scent. Mahal had her own food and water dishes, her own cat box, a steady supply of Feliway pheromones (not sure how much difference those actually made, but they are supposed to calm cats), and frequent visits from her humans. She could watch us as we went about our daily tasks and, most important, interact with the kittens but not attack them.

They, in turn, were forced to respect her space, dialing down the opportunity for conflict. (I would be the first to admit that Mahal had ample cause for complaint, since the boys thought nothing of cleaning out her food dish, drinking up her water, or soiling her cat box.)

You may wonder why we put Mahal behind the screen, when she was the long-time resident. The answer is two-part. First, she was the one whose behavior we wanted to modify, and shutting them up and leaving her the run of the house would convince her she had won the day rather than give her an incentive to change. But more fundamentally, kittens are like children. They’re busy figuring out the rules of their world and what’s expected of them. The last thing we wanted to do was convince them that they should spend the rest of their lives immured in a single room. Instead, we wanted them to feel comfortable exploring and bonding with us—just as Mahal already did and continues to do.

At first, she did her best to leap at them whenever they appeared. The first time we let her out, she hunted for them and attacked them, and we had to return her to her cave. But then something interesting happened. She started calling for attention.

Was she calling for the kittens? I don’t know. But the kittens were the ones who responded, dashing from wherever they happened to be to station themselves outside her door. Throughout December and January, the three cats gradually moved closer, even touching noses through the screen. The next time we let Mahal out, she hissed only once, when Rafi—who has made it his prime objective to climb the screen and break into her room—dashed in the moment the door came down, then ran past her on his way back out again. And last Sunday, when we let her out again, we could watch her and the boys sussing each other out, advancing and retreating, visibly testing how close they can get to each other without crossing a boundary only they can see.

And that’s the main thing we wanted: a détente. Knowing Siamese, I suspect they will eventually snuggle on the couch, but if we can maintain “no teeth, minimal claws,” the rest can develop at its own pace—or not. A cold war is better than a hot one, and a working truce better still.

So here I raise a glass to Mahal. It’s not easy dealing with such a fundamental change when you’re the cat equivalent of seventy-five. Some great cat treats and a nice belly rub for you. And despite the occasional setback—such as the one that occurred a few days after I drafted this post—we feel confident we will get you through this, sooner or later.

Images: Mahal relaxing on the couch, sending good thoughts to the Eagles, who had just won their division title; Rafi (front) and Ruslan relaxing while they wait for the next summons—both © 2023 C. P. Lesley.