I’ve been a fan of Wendy Corsi Staub‘s thrillers for a long time – her thrillers and all her other books, too. I’ve been following Wendy’s adventures with Chance the cat on Facebook, and like many of Wendy’s fans, I was excited when she turned his real-life story into a book. Wendy is offering a giveaway to one of today’s commenters – her book HELLO, IT’S ME (writing as Wendy Markham) which was recently made into a Hallmark movie. You can watch a video clip of it here.
When I was a little girl, I longed for a pet cat. My aunts had them, and I was obsessed. For years, my parents adamantly refused—and then shocked me by giving me a kitten on my 13th birthday. He was a beautiful gray and black ticked mackerel tabby. I named him Charles.
The whole family fell in love, but he was my kitty. I nurtured him like a baby for almost four years, and he was my constant companion who even slept in my bed. He was neutered, but he liked to go outside. Sometimes, he would disappear for days at a time—out carousing, we would laugh. But he always came home—until one sad, stormy spring. I searched daily, never giving up until my father found him drowned in our pool after the thaw. I was devastated and swore I’d never have another pet. The deal was sealed when I grew up, moved almost 500 miles to New York City, and married a guy with a severe cat allergy.
Over two decades later, we were a pet-free household with one son in high school and another in college, living the hectic suburban lifestyle. One of my boys and I had both been battling chronic medical issues in the midst of everything else.
On a warm June day, I had lunch with my agent and an editor who had approached me about developing a mystery series for his new publishing house, though I didn’t see how I could squeeze it in. I left the lunch pretty sure that it was going to be a long time before I’d muster the energy for something new. I not only had a tight deadline, but was going to be away for most of July and August on a book tour.
That evening, my husband had both our sons in the car when he picked me up from the train. That was highly unusual. We were always scattered in opposite directions. We decided to grab dinner at our favorite restaurant, and I told them all about the new mystery series venture. They were encouraging and I was inspired, but dubious about the timing
When we pulled into our driveway after dinner, we saw a cat sitting on our doorstep. I expected her to run when we got out of the car, but she sat there looking at us. We got closer, and I realized she was a gray and black-ticked mackerel tabby. She was the spitting image of my long lost Charles. (My older son, however, decided she was the spitting image of Chance the Rapper.)
She was super-affectionate—and enormously pregnant. The boys and I gave her some milk as my husband started sneezing and went inside. By then, the boys were calling her Chance the Cat. We left her out there, but heard her meowing through the screens, and found that she’d presented us with a dead mouse. Even my husband was impressed.
The next morning, I got up at four—my habit when on a tight deadline—and had forgotten all about the cat until I heard a meow from the doorstep as I was making coffee in the kitchen. Sure enough, there she was. I gave her more milk, and later, when she stuck around, she gobbled some tuna fish. I took to Facebook, asking if anyone local was missing a cat. It turned out a number of my neighbors had seen her around and even posted about her. I called animal control hoping they could help her, but they only dealt with stray dogs, not cats. I started looking up animal shelters/rescues—savvy enough, thank goodness, to do a little research and make sure they were no-kill shelters. No one called me back.
It started raining, and I figured the cat would flee, but she just sat there. So we put out a blanket and hung a tarp over the back steps to keep her dry. We couldn’t bring her inside because of Mark’s allergies, but he was the one who went to the store with our son that afternoon to buy cat food for her. By nightfall, a local rescue promised to come get her the next day.
We brought her into our garage overnight, worried that if she gave birth outside, predators would harm her babies. She curled up in a cozy box of rags we set up, and used the makeshift litterbox we provided. She also presented us with a dead chipmunk that had apparently taken up residence in the garage. By then, even Mark was smitten, though he sneezed just looking at her. She was sweet and noble and had a strange, quiet confidence—as though this was precisely where she was meant to be.
When Penny, the cat rescue woman, showed up the next day, though, it was Mark who said we might want to adopt her after she had her babies.
A week later, Penny sent a photo of Chance with half a dozen newborns. I posted it on Facebook, where my sons’ former social studies teacher saw it and volunteered to foster the new mama and all six kittens for the summer.
She and I went together to get the feline family from the shelter on Saturday morning. I told Penny that we definitely intended to adopt Chance in September, after the kittens were weaned.
That evening, the foster, Laura, called to say that Chance was bleeding and she was worried. Unable to reach Penny, we did a crash course in feline-postpartum-bleeding research on the web. It seemed serious, so I ran out to buy a thermometer and dashed to Laura’s house. Yep–Chance was running a significant fever. No vet was open, so I packed the cat and kittens into my car and drove to the emergency animal hospital.
There, I learned that Chance had a life-threatening bacterial infection and would not only pass it to her nursing babies, but probably wouldn’t make it through the night without emergency surgery…which would cost between four and five thousand dollars.
I couldn’t believe it. I could not spend that kind of money on a stray cat. I couldn’t even spend it on my own medical care. But she was lying there dutifully nursing and grooming six newborn kittens even as she was bleeding on the table, gazing up at me like she trusted me to save her. Not only that, but she looked exactly like Charles, my childhood cat—a stark reminder of yet another unhappy ending.
It was a traumatic moment. I honestly didn’t know what to do…until I realized I didn’t have much choice. Our family simply did not have five grand lying around. Why hadn’t Chance the Cat shown up on some rich person’s doorstep instead? There are plenty of millionaires and even billionaires where we live—not to mention plenty of people with significantly more time and energy on their hands than I had.
I asked the ER vet if there was any other option. He said they could keep her overnight and try an IV (for a little less than two thousand dollars). If she pulled through night and then the weekend and kept the infection at bay—all very big Ifs–she could have regular surgery on Monday at the vet’s office, which would be considerably less expensive. The staff was sympathetic, and seemed dubious about my decision to go with any treatment at all. They kept commenting about the fact that she was a stray. Well, yes—but she was OUR stray. And there were seven lives at stake at that point, not just hers.
I handed over a credit card, drove home, and cried. I couldn’t believe the situation. Why had this cat landed on OUR doorstep, of all places? How could we be responsible for saving her when at that point, we weren’t even certain we could save ourselves?
I slept about three hours, got up at four a.m., and called the hospital. All the kitties were still alive. The woman who answered the phone said that everyone there had fallen in love with the feline family. “I can see why you went to such great lengths for a stray cat,” she said. “There’s something really special and unusual about Chance.”
I went to the gym before dawn to swim laps, trying to find peace and meaning amid the chaos. As I swam, clarity seeped over me—along with an idea for a cozy mystery series that begins with a slightly mystical, more-than-slightly pregnant stray cat who lands in the heroine’s path at the worst possible moment in her life. It would be set in Lily Dale, the quirky upstate New York village populated by spiritualists, where I had set several books in the past.
The first book, out this month from Crooked Lane, is called NINE LIVES—a nod to the seven feline lives and two human ones (my son and me) who had survived that harrowing summer and been healed. I wrote it last winter in my home office, under Chance the Cat’s watchful, contented, and yes, always enigmatic gaze.
Looking back now, although I believed at the time that I was the one who saved Chance, I sometimes wonder whether it was the other way around.
My wise mom always told me that people (and, I will add to that, cats!) show up in your life because they’re meant to be there in that particular moment—especially the ones who aren’t particularly welcome at the time. She said that if you don’t immediately grasp the meaning, you might one day when you look back.
Have you ever experienced a chance encounter that later proved to be a pivotal one?
Lois Winston aka Emma Carlyle joins us on Wednesday, November 18.
New York Times bestseller and two-time Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award finalist Wendy Corsi Staub is the author of more than eighty novels under her own name and pseudonyms including the USA Today bestselling Wendy Markham. She has three 2015 releases: suspense novels THE BLACK WIDOW; Mundy’s Landing trilogy launch title BLOOD RED (HarperCollins); and Lily Dale Mysteries series launch title NINE LIVES (Crooked Lane), as well the premiere of her first book-to-film, HELLO, IT’S ME, starring Kellie Martin and Kavan Smith, on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. Honors include the RWA Rita Award, the RWA/NYC Golden Apple for Lifetime Achievement, the Romantic Times Bookreviews Award for Career Achievement in Suspense, and four Westchester Library Association Washington Irving Prizes for Fiction. She lives in the New York City suburbs with her husband and sons. She has been a volunteer and spokesperson for various cancer charities and has more recently become a foster and advocate for several animal rescue organizations. Readers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and at http://www.wendycorsistaub.com.
From New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub comes the first in a terrifying new series set in a small town with a sinister secret.
He brandishes the razor’s gleaming blade, relishing their final anguished moments. Then he claims his prize: long, silken strands of red hair. But these women are merely stand-ins…a prelude to his ultimate victim. Mundy’s Landing is famous for its picturesque setting—and for a century-old string of gruesome, unsolved murders.
Rowan returned to her hometown years ago, fleeing a momentary mistake that could have destroyed her family. Life is good here. Peaceful. Until an anonymous gift threatens everything Rowan holds dear. The town’s violent history was just the beginning. Soon everyone in Mundy’s Landing will know that the past cannot be forgotten or forgiven—not until every sin has been paid for…in blood.
After the death of her husband, Bella Jordan and her son need a fresh start. But on their way to stay with family in Chicago, they stop in Lily Dale, New York and a storm forces them to spend the night.
Chock-full of kooky psychics and mediums, Lily Dale is just the kind of quirky little town Bella’s late husband always talked about settling down in. So when the local hotel’s owner, Leona, passes away, Bella agrees to step in and help temporarily. The longer she and Max stay there, the more Lily Dale starts to feel like home.
But for Bella, finding a home means finding danger, too. Leona was murdered, and it’s up to Bella to track down the killer before her sanctuary comes crashing down in bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub’s warm and witty series debut.
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