Leslie Martini is the author of the new children's picture book Matilda: The Algonquin Cat. It is based on a cat who lives in the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Martini is a journalist, a marketing copywriter, a literacy tutor, and a college essay consultant.
Q: How did you learn about Matilda, the Algonquin cat, and why did you decide to write a book about her?
A: When we were kids, my mother used to take my sisters and me to New York City. Going to the Algonquin to see Matilda was always the highlight.
I remember thinking I was entering Oz— the white gloved doormen, the gilded chandeliers, and this gorgeous cat sitting on a red velvet luggage cat. It was pure opulence and it seemed like royalty to me.
She made such an impression on me, and on my own children. When I began thinking about the fact that Matilda is the only living member of the Algonquin Round Table, and that the Algonquin is a historical landmark— it made me want to tell the story.
Q: Did you need to do a lot of research for the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I had visited several times over the years, and I learned more with each visit. It was interesting to learn that there was another cat named Billy who lived in the hotel for nearly 15 years before the first official Algonquin Cat. Poor Billy never earned the title!
I also was surprised to learn that the owner of the Algonquin, Frank Case, was a writer and had published his own book, titled, Do Not Disturb.
Q: What did you see as the right mix of fact and fiction as you were writing the book?
A: Having Matilda as the narrator allowed me to take many more liberties; however, I tried to stay true to the history and only stretch the truth as far as a child’s imagination would go. The back matter is purely historical information.
Q: At what point did you see the illustrations, and what do you think they contribute to the book?
A: I had a very unique set of circumstances with this project because I worked with an indie publisher. I worked very closely with Massi [Massimo Mongiardo], the illustrator, which was an amazing process.
Massi made the decisions, along with the publisher, but having the ability to watch him bring Matilda to life on the page was a phenomenal experience.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A few unrelated non-fiction projects, and exploring what Matilda might want to do next!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Algonquin Hotel is fabulous at Christmas time. The hotel currently has on display 20-plus illustrations throughout the lobby. Matilda loves the holidays so it’s a great time to stop in and say hello.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb