How Ketzel, The Composer Cat Inspired A Writer

Ketzel, the cat who composed

Writers often asked where they their ideas. Many find inspiration in serendipity. Our guest post by CWA member Lesléa Newman shares what inspired her latest book Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed (Candlewick, 2015).

Ketzel, the cat who composed

As all cat lovers know, we don’t choose our cats; they choose us. Somehow just the right cat has a way of working its way into our hearts at just the right time. And so it was with Ketzel.

One day I was sitting in my study, writing. Rather I was pretending to write. Truthfully, I was staring at the wall. I was between writing projects, always a frightening time for me. As soon as I put the last period at the end of a poem or story, I am filled with dread. Now what? The fear that I will never have another writing idea clutches me in its grip and won’t let go.

So I do anything and everything to avoid writing. I wash mountains of laundry. Cook vats of soup. Shred pounds of junk mail. Call friends I haven’t spoken to in years. Go to the gym. Eventually I run out of distractions, take myself by the hand and sit myself down to write.

On this particular day, I glanced down at the coffee table where my synagogue’s newsletter happened to be lying. I picked it up and flipped to the Rabbi’s monthly column. In it, he spoke about living with intention and being open to the magical moments that are all around us. As an example, he told the story of Ketzel, a cat who had just passed away, as he’d learned from Ketzel’s New York Times obituary.

Ketzel cat
Ketzel, the cat 1993-2011

And while I am of the firm opinion that every cat is worthy of a New York Times obituary, I was amazed that this cat had actually gotten one. I immediately turned on my computer to read it. This wasn’t a distraction, I told myself. This was research. And maybe it would lead me to a story.

And what a story it turned out to be! As I discovered, Ketzel lived with a composer named Moshe Cotel in New York City. One day Mr. Cotel learned of a piano solo competition being held by the Paris New Music Review. Each solo had to be shorter than 60 seconds. Mr. Cotel tried but did not succeed in writing a short solo and put the contest rules aside.

Enter Ketzel. One day, for no apparent reason, she made her way down Mr. Cotel’s piano keyboard. The composer liked what he heard and wrote it down. The “solo” was 21 seconds long. Mr. Cotel sent it to the Paris New Music Review, telling them that this was Ketzel Cotel’s first composition and he hoped the judges enjoyed it. Ketzel received a certificate of merit, her piece was performed in concert and she even received a royalty check! Mr. Cotel was amused by his cat’s newfound fame, and often said she was his best student.

This was clearly a children’s book waiting to happen. And thus Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed was born. I am forever grateful that Ketzel found her way into my heart and chose me to write her story.

Lesléa Newman (pronounced "Lez-LEE-uh")is the author of 65 books including A Letter to Harvey Milk, Nobody's Mother, Hachiko Waits, Write from the Heart,The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, The Best Cat in the World, and Heather Has Two Mommies. Her most recenpublished books include the poetry collection, I Carry My Mother (Headmistress Press, 2015), the picture book, Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays (Abrams, 2014) and a new edition of Heather Has Two Mommies with brand new illustrations by Laura Cornell and two picture books two picture books: My Name Is Aviva (Kar-Ben, 2015) and Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed (Candlewick, 2015).

Visit the author at her website
Visit the illustrator at Amy June Bates