Listen to the Podcast episode, which is simply an audio version of this post here: https://wisenotwithered.podbean.com/e/cat-lady-deni/
Welcome to Week 6 of the Wise Not Withered character showcase! I am thrilled to present the character, story, and illustrations of Deni, a ninety-nine-year-old “cat lady”, who has quite a fantastic saga of her journey back to her home with her cats, training them to hunt and battle, and live as wild cats do.
Similarly to Nero, the Retired Cyborg‘s story, I simply gave my bare-bone idea (which was “a different kind of cat lady”) to Natasha, who took it and RAN. She crafted an entire back story, cast of characters (people, cats, rats), and a riveting plot.
Our illustrator was Carla, whose colorful, dramatic illustrations add even more life and character to Deni, her cats, and their home.
Natasha and Carla both took some time to really thoroughly answer some questions about themselves and their work on the story, so I will let them do most of the talking in this episode! 🙂
So first, here is Carla, the illustrator for Deni and the Cats:
“My name is Carla Rodriguez. I am from Bolivia, which is a country in the middle of South America. I am a graphic designer, and an illustrator.
My artistic influences go around everywhere, I guess. I do a lot of pop culture in general: comic books, manga, animation. What I can say is that my usual kind of work, that I do personally… I like to be very colorful, very distinct contrasts between colors. It’s quite psychedelic, if I have to be honest with that.
The influences which I have is a lot of Junji Ito, which is you know, horror manga. And Naoko Takeuchi. She isn’t horror though, she’s shojo. Very ladylike, woman-directed comics.
I love pop art. I think that the most-known is Andy Warhol. I do love the lowbrow art, which is like another kind of pop art. The surrealist pop is kind of a new wave that is coming around. Casey Weldon… Hikari Shimoda, which is also one painter in Japan that does a lot of work that is very surrealistic, pop art. Those are usually my influences, very psychedelic and surreal.
Well I really did like the theme of the cat lady. It’s a pretty interesting theme because it used to be condemned to be a cat lady, like being a lady is something wrong. If you were going to be alone all your life only with you and your cats… Honestly nowadays, I think that is not such a bad thing, because I really do like my cats, and I do love animals. So for me, I’m okay with being a cat lady, to be honest. (laughs)
I wanted to show that Deni, as a person, she is not alone. She is a very social person, with a lot of love to give. I really like that of the character of Deni. I didn’t want her to be like the stereotypical cat lady. At least the one that people thought would be the norm. She wears very bold colors, she has a bold personality, so that’s what I wanted to show about Deni.
When it comes to the cats, I wanted her to be with the cats all the time, because when you love the animals, you just like them to be around you. They are like that. They try to go around you all the time, they love you. I wanted that to be on the illustrations.
Now when it comes to the illustrations and the background itself, I tried to make it like the jungle where she lives now. That’s why there are lots of muted colors, greens, the sunset… She is the main point, in fact, the main focus of the illustration. She is very bright, and all of the cats are around her. She has two other cats on the bridge. She is surrounded by all of the creatures that love her.
She is a very bold, and very adventurous woman. I think that’s the whole point of the theme of the cat lady. She is not only alone—she is doing something for her village. She knows the situation, and she tries to make something to make the village survive the whole onslaught of rats. That was one of the things I liked about the project. And that’s what I tried to show in the illustrations!
I joined the project because I really did love all of the concepts that Juliana was telling me about: the different kinds of stories that we wanted to tell. I wanted to see all of them, in real life.
For me, it was a thing of oh, I want to see them all! Because I found them all interesting. Especially when it comes to stories of women, different ages, especially old age, it’s pretty unusual. I wanted to see it come to reality. All of the stories are fascinating and I love them! It’s a good thing for everybody, I guess!
Also because, as a woman myself, I have to say that I always want to see that there are different kinds of things for me and for every woman in the world to do, when you [get older]. Society itself thinks that you are just valuable until one particular age. Let’s say you are just valuable until you are forty years old. And then after that, you are just being waved out of society, because you are not “productive”.
I don’t think that’s true, especially when it comes to women, we are so complex. We are not just one role that everybody tries to tell. Only an old lady that will stay at home, and that’s it. Or a sweet old lady that just wants to bake cookies—which isn’t a bad thing! But I want to have the chance to say okay, I want to do this too. Maybe I want to be in another place, maybe I want to have an adventure, I don’t know. I like the possibilities.
The stories in the project—all of them are pretty different. They are not just an old lady in the house, waiting, knitting, or something. All of them are showcasing different things in life: different roles. That’s what I really liked about the project.
When it comes to being on the project, I did in fact love a lot to be with all the girls. We were talking with Juliana and Natasha, which is the writer of Deni and the cats. I really did like her point of view when it comes to showing her as a character. With Juliana we were discussing about what she looks like, how she has to be, and everything. So I really did like the project, I would probably do it again. It was a very nice experience!
I like to work with a lot of people. I have my point of view as a Latin American woman, and Natasha had another point of view as an Indian woman, and Juliana as an American woman. It was pretty interesting to see the different point of views, and also how we wanted that to be reality in the character of Deni. Yeah, that was it! I think it was pretty cool.”
And here is Natasha, the writer for Deni and the Cats:
Hi everyone. My name is Natasha. I am from India, specifically, from the state of Assam in the North Eastern region of India. India is a very large and diverse country, geographically, as well as culturally. There are many languages, religion, tribes, and communities. Currently, I work and live in the city of Bangalore, which is in the southern part of India
I started writing when I was very young. I used to write diaries and I enjoyed writing letters. As a teenager, I loved writing poetry. I think I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I did not undergo any formal training in writing until a few years ago, when I joined a writing workshop, called the Bangalore Writer’s Workshop. In this workshop, I learnt the technical aspects of writing and it has really helped me hone my writing skills.
About influences, I feel that our writings get influenced by many things, and many people. I think what influenced my writing in a big way is attending this workshop. My facilitators there and my batchmates in that workshop, along with all the lessons, have all help me improve my writing skills in an unimaginable way. In the sense that, technically I became stronger, and I gained a lot more confidence. I was less fearful of being honest. This was in fact a great benefit. I understood how vulnerable you have to let yourself be, if you wanted to write well. And I am not, I was not, the vulnerable sort, you know. I used to be more guarded, as a person, I think in a way I still am. Although with regard to my writing, I was told at the workshop that I had a very strong voice. I never knew about this before.
I mostly write for fun. And so far, I have written a few short stories. Although, my day job involves a bit of writing but that’s a very different kind of writing altogether. Anyway, when it comes to creative writing, I mostly write for fun.
About the story that I have written, it is about a ninety-nine-year old lady called Deni and her five cats. Deni is not the stereotypical cat lady. The cats originally belong to her granddaughter, Freya. And each cat has its own unique personality and is a character in the story.
The story starts with Deni living with her granddaughter and her family in the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Why Santa Cruz? Rather, why Bolivia. Initially, when I was drafting the story, I had mentioned America. And Juliana was like, why not some other country? And I was like, that’s right, why does it have to be America always, why not any other place? And Carla, the artist who has created the art for the story is from Santa Cruz. And we decided, it will be Santa Cruz.
Deni has spent her entire life in a valley called Along in the North Eastern region of India. But now at the age of ninety-nine, she finds herself living a city life. And this is because her granddaughter is concerned about her and wants her to live with them. They are her only family.
But Deni is not really happy although she is living a very secure and comfortable life. There is no purpose to her life. At the same time, the cats feel the same, you know, because cats instinctively like to hunt, play, explore. Left in nature, they would have been living a very different life. Deni has also spent her entire life in the valley of Along in North East India, surrounded by mountains and forests. The city life has given them security and comfort but deep down they are not happy.
And one day, there is news in the TV that a calamity is about to befall on Along Valley and its surrounding regions. It is because of the flowering of the bamboo, a unique and rare phenomenon that happens once in fifty years. The rats gorge on the flowers and it results in the proliferation of the rat population.
As soon as Deni hears this news, she knows what to do. She knows that she has to go back to her valley and do something. Deni is now unstoppable and is determined to prevent the calamity. She leaves for India and takes the cats along with her.
The rest of the story is about how she trains the cats to live the life that they had never lived, you know basically hunting, fighting, and getting trained to kill their prey and eating raw food and finally prepare to destroy the rat population. They do this with the help of other felines of the valley. And the story ends with an epic battle between the cats and the rats, basically, between a hundred cats and a million rats.
What part of my culture and interest did I incorporate in the story? As far as interest is concerned, I love cats. I have a cat, his name is Juno and I have him since he was two months old. He is about eighteen months now. So I have incorporated a few things about cats that I have learnt while taking care of Juno.
Regarding culture, Deni belongs to a fictional valley called Along in the North Eastern part of India. The North East of India is a very diverse place in itself: culturally, socially, economically. I have not really picked any one specific culture with details. However, she does have mongoloid looks. Like South East Asian physical traits because that’s how most of the indigenous tribal people in the region look like in general.
Because of the dominance of the mainstream cultures in the media, the north east is not very well-known. When people think about Indian women, they have a certain perception. But in reality the diversity is mind-boggling. Not just in looks, but in cultures, languages, and religions. It has hundreds of languages, tribes, each with their own different a traditions, food, and clothing. I wanted the character of Deni to be relatable as well as have have a certain enigma about her. And so we incorporate some of the aspects of her looks, dress, jewellry, and so on from the tribal cultures of the north east. We don’t of course mention any specific culture or tribe.
About the place – I imagine it to be a beautiful valley surrounded by paddy fields, blue mountains, shining rivers, and lush forests. When I first started writing the story I did not have any particular message in mind. All I wanted was to, you know, enjoy writing the story and hoped that the readers would also enjoy reading it.
But now that the story is complete, I can see some important messages emerging. In the story, Deni is ninety-nine-year old and she is actually a normal, elderly, woman, who has lived a normal life, close to nature. Her only special skill, is being able to befriend animals and importantly felines. But she becomes very sad and lonely in the city, while living a safe and secure life. Like most of us, in fact, she cannot seem to be able to decide whether to choose security and comfort over freedom. It’s a very difficult choice to make, and we have to strike a balance somewhere, for most of us.
Even the cats feel the same although they do not analyse and introspect like Deni does. But as soon as they find a purpose to live, their lives are filled with joy and excitement and something new to look forward to. So it’s a beautiful life to live, you know, when you live with a sense of purpose.
Deni realises her mission to save the people of the valley. But she does not do this alone. You know, she does not undertake the entire mission on her own shoulders. She trains the cats to to help her. Therefore, the message is that you can find a purpose to live at any age, no matter how old you are, you can live a life filled with purpose. A life filled with purpose is a happy life.
And when you’re old, with all the wisdom and the knowledge that you have, you know, you can always pass it on to others, help others, perhaps, find their purpose in life. The cats, for example, were also living a purposeless life. Although Deni decides to use them, she does it by helping them find their own true nature. And that’s when all of their lives are filled with happiness.
Secondly, the epic battle that the story ends with takes place between a hundred cats against millions of rats. But the cats win at the end. So I think this has an important message in the sense that in any battle, number does not matter. Purpose and unity matters. So who wins ultimately is not a matter of how strong your army is, it’s a matter of your conviction and your purpose so that is very important.
I think for Deni, it’s very important to have a voice that is is determined and strong, but at the same time a voice that is not like that of a typical leader. Because initially, she cannot decide and does what her granddaughter wants her to. She is a regular ninety-nine-year old woman. When her granddaughter ask her to stay back in Santa Cruz she does not refuse outrightly, because she isn’t sure about the pull and push in her heart between security and freedom.
She does not make a choice until she hears the news of the calamity and that is when she takes a call. when I think about it, for most of US as well, it is very difficult to choose actually between freedom and security. But when the time is right, Deni becomes very determined and sure. So the voice has to be affectionate—that same voice can also be sure and assertive when the the need arises, when the mission demands.
I don’t have much idea about music but I feel that the story is very cinematic in a way that it has interesting characters, a definite plot, humour, and of course, an epic battle as a climax. So the music i feel should also be very cinematic.
I joined the wise not withered project because I felt that it was a very unique project with an important purpose. We all know that old and middle aged women are not really represented in a powerful light. And by power I don’t mean brute power, but power of character, personality, and intent. The power of conviction.
I knew that I had to participate in it because it’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to write about a ninety-nine-year old lady as the main character. I don’t think I would have been able to come up this idea on my own although I have written short stories in the past, I have never written anything like this before. And I am so glad I did.
Stay tuned for more showcases of the Wise Not Withered characters, every Sunday until April, 2020!