Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I remember when the advance copy of my first book arrived in the mail back in 1987. I was coming downstairs when it was handed to me, and I sat right down on the steps and tore open the box. There it was, my book. The cover was beautiful. I opened it at random and there they were, my words. I remember everything about that moment, even the feel of the carpeting of the stairs under my thighs. I’ve published a lot of books since then, and it’s always a delight to get that advance copy, but nothing quite equates to that first time.

I interviewed two women yesterday over lunch in St. Paul. They work for the St. Paul Area Coalition for the Homeless. Their compassion and dedication were amazing. I was struck by how ordinary they made most of their clients sound. The homeless are sometimes alcoholics or insane but other times just people fortune has ganged up on and some have surprising coping abilities. They are often clever, or kind, and even generous with their meager resources. And the rest of us are to often indifferent or even cruel. They scare us, sometimes because they’re genuinely scary and sometimes because they remind us that we, too, are living too close to the edge.

We once had a cat named Stinker, who was sometimes not a good cat. As a kitten, he had a delicate digestion and when lifted by his stomach reminded us of why we named him that. But he was a stinker in other ways, too. Mean to our other cat, and careless with his claws around our furniture. But he could be sweet and loving. Then one day he stopped using his litter box. I made a special effort to keep it clean, and even set up a second one just for him in my office. Nothing worked. We put up with it for months. Our vet could find no organic reason for his behavior. Every room in our house was carpeted but the kitchen, and it was costing a fortune to have the carpets treated over and over. Then one morning I simply lost my patience and my temper together. I stuffed him in his travel case, took him to the Humane Society and paid the fee to have him “painlessly euthanized,” as the phrase is. When I told them why, they didn’t ask if I wanted to turn him over to them instead -- who wants a cat that won’t use a litter box? They took him away and a few minutes later one came back to ask me if I wanted to see his body. I said No, and burst into tears. But what else could I have done? What would you have done?

There are a lot of things going on around me right now. I’m struggling to get Threadbare on track, I’m going to be making some appearances in the area over the next several weeks -- talking to a group of retired women, speaking at a library, signing books at a quilt show -- and I’m reading the manuscript of a really sweet mystery written by my dear friend Ellen that has a particularly strong sense of place. I love books that do that. When I look up from them, I’m surprised to find myself not in that time or place. What do you particularly like in a mystery?

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