Penguin Remembers Lilian Jackson Braun

Lilian Jackson Braun
Lilian Jackson Braun, the bestselling, award-winning author of "The Cat Who" mystery series for Penguin Group (USA)'s G. P. Putnam's Sons, Berkley and Dutton imprints, died on Saturday, June 4, 2011, at Smith Player Hospice House in Landrum, South Carolina. She was 97 and had lived in Tryon, North Carolina, for the past twenty-three years.

In a career spanning more than forty years, Ms. Braun authored thirty-one books, including twenty-nine "Cat Who" mysteries and two short story collections. Dutton published her first book, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, in 1966, and The New York Times hailed her as "the new detective writer of the year." Dutton published two more "Cat Who" books before Ms. Braun took an eighteen-year hiatus.

"By the time I had written the fourth one, tastes in mysteries had changed," Ms. Braun once said.  "They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. Gore was not my style, so I just forgot about 'The Cat Who.'" She resumed the series with the encouragement of her husband after her retirement from The Detroit Free Press in 1984.

Berkley Publishing Group reintroduced the series in 1986 with The Cat Who Saw Red and published four more titles over the next two years while reprinting her first three books. G. P. Putnam's Sons and Berkley went on to publish twenty-one more "Cat Who" novels.

Ms. Braun's books became staples on The New York Times bestseller lists. They have been translated into sixteen languages and are distributed worldwide, allowing readers everywhere to follow the lives of Jim Qwilleran, his mystery-solving Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum, and the quirky characters of Moose County, "400 miles north of everywhere." Ms. Braun often said her characters and settings were composites of people and places she knew. She made her protagonist a male with a moustache so that people would not think her fiction was autobiographical. Often asked where the fictional Moose County really was, Braun would say, "In my head. It can be anywhere you want it to be."

People Magazine called Ms. Braun "a master of mystery who knows exactly when to let the cat out of the bag." According to The Los Angeles Times, "Braun's strong suit is her storytelling voice, which is filled with enough sense of wonder and whimsy to turn her yarns into ideal bedtime stories for grown-ups." Booklist wrote, "With its familiar characters, cozy plots and happy endings, ['The Cat Who'] series remains as comforting as a warm cat in your lap on a rainy day."

Ms. Braun wrote all of her books in long hand and then typed them herself. Her longtime editor, Natalee Rosenstein, Vice President, Senior Executive Editor, Berkley Books, commented, "When the manuscript of The Cat Who Saw Red came across my desk more than twenty-five years ago, I read it and found delightful characters, witty dialogue and situations that real people could relate to. And those cats! Those smart, funny, loveable cats… But, I have to confess, it did take me awhile to figure out what genre it belonged to. She ultimately created a whole new chapter in the American Mystery, and our wonderful working relationship spanned more than two decades. But most of all, it is Lilian the person I will remember—a strong, dedicated, feisty woman who would always speak her mind and not be intimidated by anyone. She will be deeply missed by all of us at Putnam and Berkley, as well as her millions of fans around the world."

Lynda Gregory of the Blanche C. Gregory Literary Agency, Ms. Braun's longtime agent, said, "Lilian Jackson Braun was an inspiration to me and my sister, Merry, in our work at the agency, because she, and our aunt, Blanche C. Gregory, were both very important examples of women who have achieved successful professional lives during a time when it was the exception rather than the norm."  

Ms. Braun was born on June 20, 1913, in Willimansette, Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. Her father, Charles Jackson, was an inventor and industrial manufacturing troubleshooter. Her mother, Clara Ward Jackson, was a homemaker. Her father's work took them to Rhode Island, New York, and Michigan, where Ms. Braun lived until retiring to North Carolina.

She inherited her mother's story telling talent, and writing was a lifelong passion. Ms. Braun once said, "I always wrote; first for fun, then for an advertising job, then for a newspaper, and then for 'The Cat Who' readers."

After a short stint as a waitress (lasting less than a week), Ms. Braun went to work for Detroit department stores, beginning as a copywriter and eventually becoming the director of public relations. She took time off to write her first three books and then accepted a position with The Detroit Free Press, where she wrote feature articles on interior design, art and architecture, as well as reviews of kitchen gadgets and other household products, for 30 years.

In 2005 the Polk County Public Library in Columbus, North Carolina, held a tribute to Ms. Braun for her lifetime achievement and community involvement. She served as the honorary writer in residence for the library, as well as the honorary chairperson of the 2005 library card sign-up campaign, where she created the tag line, "A library card is the beginning of a lifelong adventure."

Ms. Braun was preceded in death by her first husband, Louis Paul Braun; sister, Florence Jackson; and brother, Lloyd Jackson. She is survived by her husband of thirty-two years, Earl Bettinger.  No memorial services will be held.  Donations may be made to Hospice House, Landrum, SC, or the Polk County Public Library, Columbus, NC.

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