C. L. Francisco on “Cat Born of the Purple” and why cat lovers everywhere will recognize their feline companions’ inborn burden: the remedial education of ignorant human beings

Cat Born of the Purple: A Sequel to Yeshua’s Cat received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author C. L. Francisco.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

Cat Born of the Purple: A Sequel to Yeshua’s Cat (Volume 4 of Yeshua’s Cats), published October 15, 2016

What’s the book’s first line? 

“The Grandmothers named me ‘Purple Gleaming in Shadow,’ because of the way sunlight picks out purple highlights in my black fur.”

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”. 

Cat Born to the Purple, 4th volume in the Yeshua’s Cats series, picks up a story told in Yeshua’s Cat of a young woman who was stoned. After finding her battered and barely alive in the burning hills near Sepphoris, Yeshua healed her and renamed her Eliana, “God has answered my prayer.” He settled her in Cana with his friend Eli to keep her safe from her husband and mother-in-law, who had accused her falsely and incited the mob’s violence. Now, in Purple, she’s beginning to put her life back together—except for the memory of her stoning, which she has walled away in darkness. Eli’s wife Rachel encourages Eliana’s extraordinary gifts for weaving and needlework, hoping Eliana can make a living with her skills. But a year after her healing, Eliana’s in-laws begin to suspect that she’s still alive, and Yeshua returns to help Eli find her a new place of safety.

Eliana accompanies Yeshua and his cat Mari to the Phoenician coastal city of Acco, where her talent wins her an apprenticeship with a prominent merchant dealing in the royal purple murex dye. A Jewish widow, sold into slavery after the rebellions at Sepphoris and now a freedwoman living as an adopted member of the merchant’s family, takes Eliana in and helps her adjust to her new world. While in Acco, Yeshua discovers that the merchant’s peculiar devotion to the goddess Bast has twisted the hearts of the many feral cats living in his house. Believing that their descent from the cats of a ruined temple of Bast makes them divine, the merchant has convinced them that they are godlings in their own right—with unfortunate results. For the first time in his ministry, Yeshua reaches out to deliver non-human creatures ensnared by human wrong.

Eliana, now widowed and her name altered to the Greek “Aeliana,” prospers in her new home and learns the secrets of the priceless purple dye. A clever speaking kitten with a fascination for looms and a gift for dreaming becomes her constant companion, as well as the book’s narrator when Mari departs with Yeshua. After meeting a young Anatolian merchant, Aeliana finally begins to believe in the possibility of love, in spite of the constant threat of a co-worker’s violence. Still, although she follows the One’s light as best she can, she is shattered by the terrifying evil loosed on the world at Yeshua’s death. But together with all creation, Aeliana’s life is made whole at last in the miracle of the Resurrection.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event? 

As the 4th book in the Yeshua’s Cats series, Cat Born to the Purple has its roots in the 1st book—which was inspired by the death of a beloved cat after a devastating wildfire. The memory of that extraordinary cat planted the seeds of The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, where she took on the role of Mari, the cat who accompanies Yeshua throughout his public years and narrates the 1st book.

Purple joins Yeshua’s Cat as the 2nd book in the series to demand that it be written. I never intended to write a series in the first place, and by the time I finished The Cats of Rekem, I was ready to stop. But Eliana, the young woman Yeshua healed after her unjust stoning in Yeshua’s Cat, kept intruding into my thoughts, finally making the decision for me: the 4th book would be written, describing Eliana’s days as they unfolded after Yeshua healed her. Then, once the plot started taking shape, I realized that I was weaving a tale of the early life of the woman mentioned in Acts 16:14 as “Lydia, a seller of purple.” Volume 5 will spin the cords connecting those different times in her life.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book? 

Like all the books in the Yeshua’s Cats series, Purple is first and foremost an entertaining yarn, full of intriguing historical details and whimsical fantasy. But the purpose underlying the whole series is the portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth as I’ve experienced him—outside the crumbling walls of institutional Christianity. I find that feline narrators are uniquely qualified to offer fresh perspectives. The Yeshua’s Cats series neither seeks to convert or indoctrinate readers. It simply keeps company with a man of unique spiritual depth who is motivated by the One’s love and determined to share one basic truth: the Creator loves creation with the steadfast love of a parent, asking nothing but love and integrity in return.

Cat Born to the Purple, more than any of the previous books, brings Yeshua into contact with the non-human world. Purple’s characters carry readers with them as they consider the nature of souls, the role of animals in the One’s eternal now, and the existence of “little gods”—leftover sparks of creation that take on the likeness of created beings, both good and evil.

For me, “Reality” without a spiritual dimension is a hopeless contradiction in terms . . . and Purple, like the 3 previous volumes, affirms the existence of a benevolent Creator. Based on my readers’ feedback, anyone open to the possibility of such a universe, Christian or not, will find Cat Born to the Purple a fascinating read. Secularly inclined readers may enjoy it as a quaint bit of historic folklore.

And, of course cat lovers everywhere will recognize their feline companions’ inborn burden: the remedial education of ignorant human beings.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of? 

Cat Born to the Purple has three main characters: Yeshua, Eliana/Aeliana, and the kitten, Purple Gleaming in Shadow. Yeshua is based on Jesus of Nazareth, but both Aeliana and Purple Shadow emerged entirely from my imagination.

Aeliana suffers from the aftereffects of trauma. Stoned to the point of death, she recovers when Yeshua heals her body, but healing from her family’s brutal betrayal is a longer and more complex journey. As a textile artist from the hills of rural Galilee, Aeliana must adjust to the strange Roman world of Phoenician Acco, where she learns the closely guarded secrets of the royal purple dye trade.

Aeliana shares some similarities with tragic heroines like Hardy’s Tess, but is essentially a gifted and intuitive innocent, like many of Jane Austen’s characters. Perhaps she reminds me most of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, whose early tragedy shaped and limited her character until she was able to fight her way through it to acceptance.

Purple Shadow is a feral kitten with an attitude, and obsessed with the working of looms . . . whose like I’ve never met.

If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?

I’ve yet to see a film where the actor cast as Jesus of Nazareth didn’t disappoint many filmgoers. I don’t think the role can be cast successfully: too many different people have intensely personal expectations. As for Aeliana—Natalie Portman: she has both the beauty and depth to play the part. Tony Shalhoub would be perfect as the somewhat absurd but immensely successful cat-loving Phoenician purple merchant. Maybe Adam Baldwin as the creepy sexual predator, and definitely Judi Dench as the gritty older woman who takes Aeliana under her wing. I have no suggestions for cat casting. Perhaps a computer animation program with claws.

When did you first decide to become an author?

The whole thing fell out of the sky like a flaming meteorite—or an epiphany—when I started writing my (dreadful) autobiography. I discovered a passion and an obsession for writing, and it hasn’t paled in 20 years.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

No, this is the 4th book I’ve written in the Yeshua’s Cats series, in addition to two other novels (soon to be three) published under a pseudonym. That’s not including my PhD dissertation, Native American Medicine Shields, or an early attempt at autobiography.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I have no time for anything but writing—so it’s fortunate that I’m retired! Before retiring, I taught religion and philosophy at the college level, and directed humanities research for a small non-profit. I also taught art in public schools and worked as an art therapist in inpatient psychiatry before my children came along. If I’d discovered writing earlier, who knows how my life might have been different? But I suspect writing comes to an author in its own time.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

Pretty much every waking hour. It’s what I want to do when I first wake up in the morning, and what I wish I could keep on doing when I burn out at the end of the day. Between the time invested in the creative writing itself, and the necessary editorial/administrative/publicity-related tasks of an indie author, I always need more time in my day. Real-time human relationships too often take a backseat, although my cats make sure they never do . . .

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?   

The best part is first and always making my own decisions about what, how, and when I write. The hardest part is publicity. I don’t have the big bucks to pay for advertising, or the imprint of a major publishing house to get (and pay for) major reviews or an entrée to the large bookstore chains.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?

It would depend on the publisher and what they had to offer in trade for my independence. If they had a good name, with integrity, and a good record for book promotions and fairness to authors, then I’d probably try it. I’m an extremely reluctant PR rep!

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

Love of writing is at the heart of why I write. Few indie authors ever get rich at their art, and I’m no exception. I do want people to read what I write, but even during the times when they haven’t, I’ve kept at it. Writing is what I love. Fame would be an appalling distraction and a huge waste of time. I’d enjoy fortune in moderation (who wouldn’t?), as long as it didn’t come coupled with fame and endless publicity. I suspect I’d quickly become a forest hermit if fame threatened.

Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?

Favorites, most admired, best—these choices are always hard for me. Here are some possibilities:

  • Lois McMaster Bujold, for the wonderful universe she created in her Chalion series, especially her delightfully down-to-earth theology, with its affectionate insights into spiritual life
  • Charles Williams, for the his entrancing and bizarre Christian fantasy
  • S. Lewis, the favorite of my young adulthood, whose utter disregard for ecclesiastical “fossils” gave me hope for a living spirituality in my future
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, for her sparkling murder mysteries, her insight into the minds of academic women, and her brilliant essays on spirituality

Which book do you wish you could have written?

Perhaps an obscure little book called The Scent of Water, by the mid-20th C British writer, Elizabeth Goudge. It’s a glowing gem of a book, about a woman tormented by chronic mental illness, and it overflows with mystic vision, wisdom, and human compassion. I may not always agree with Goudge’s characters or theology . . . but, then, why should I?


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