Dogs may be man’s best friend, but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs by nearly 10 million among the pet-owning public.
With an estimated 90 million cats in the nation, it’s no wonder South Hill author Niki Anderson’s inspirational books featuring true-life cat tales are so popular.
This summer Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, released Anderson’s latest book, “Whiskers, Wit and Wisdom: True Cat Tales and the Lessons They Teach.” Each story features a Purr-rayer to reinforce the lesson, a tidbit called The Tail End that provides practical information, and Kitty Wit, a humorous quip. In addition, Anderson included a brief description of the featured cats’ owners.
Her first book for cat-lovers, “What my Cat has Taught me about Life,” came out in 1997 and sold more than 300,000 copies. Despite that, Anderson’s original career goals didn’t include becoming a best-selling author.
“From the time I was in high school, I wanted to be a missionary,” she said.
For 14 months she served in Kenya until malaria curtailed her missionary career.
Throughout her life Anderson has been an avid Bible study teacher. She often wrote her own lesson plans, so when a friend invited her to attend a writers conference, she was intrigued. Less than a year later she was published.
Using an electric typewriter perched on a board laid across two cement blocks in her basement, Anderson honed her craft. She sold work to magazines, greeting card companies and anthologies. She wrote to communicate the things she was learning in her own life. Later, she began teaching at writers conferences like the one that jump-started her career. At one such conference she sat next to an acquisitions editor. They enjoyed chatting when suddenly the editor asked, “Do you like cats?”
Anderson may not have planned to be an author, but she’s always loved cats. Surprised by the editor’s question, Anderson recalled, “My eyes got big. I’d never even written an anecdote about cats.” The editor was looking for someone to write an inspirational book of true cat stories. Anderson didn’t hesitate. “I said, ‘That I can do.’ ” Nine months later her book hit stores. Within weeks, 50,000 copies had been sold.
Two years later Honor Books released Anderson’s second collection, “Inspur-r-rational Stories for Cat Lovers.” She’d gathered the stories, interviewing countless cat owners across the nation. People would frequently tell her, “I’ve got a great story, but I don’t know what kind of spiritual truth you can get from it.” Anderson chuckled. “I told them, ‘Don’t worry, that’s my job.’ ”
Though she’d given up her dreams of serving God as a missionary, she’d discovered a new way to share her faith. “My whole motivation for writing is to point the reader to a warm and approachable God,” she said.
After the second collection of cat tales, Anderson wrote about her other passion. “What I Learned From God While Gardening” was released by Barbour Publishing in 2000.
“Gardening is very therapeutic,” she said. “It’s a sanctuary for me.” After that book’s release she’d planned to start a book about living a balanced life – a topic she’s long explored in workshops and Bible study classes. However, “everyone kept wanting to tell me their cat stories,” she said with a smile.
For Anderson, using cats to convey spiritual truths makes perfect sense. “Jesus told stories about sheep because he lived among shepherds,” she said. Currently, she and her husband, Bob, share their home with Myles, a 12-year-old orange tabby, and Clawdia, a 3-year-old Maine Coon.
Like most cat lovers, Anderson enjoys talking about her pets. “Myles is very compliant – he goes limp in my arms,” she said. “Clawdia is a little spitfire. I love their beauty and grace.”
Her pets have offered more than furry companionship. Anderson said, “Cats have been a bridge to people’s hearts. They are the way I’ve reached readers with lessons for life.”