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 too 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?


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, Monica, that's quite a list of random thoughts!

I do love the moment of first seeing the book--and how about first seeing it in a library? Or bookstore? SO wonderful...

Sheila Connolly said...

Recently our eldest cat passed away, in her sleep, at the age of 21. She was one of those who never would use a litter box, and we'd had her since she was a kitten. I guess we kept hoping she'd get the message, but in the meantime, she spent most of her life in the basement, or later, when she had trouble with stairs, in the kitchen (sheet vinyl floor, easy to wash).

I'm not sure why we put up with it for so long. Most likely we lacked your courage, to face reality and take her to the vet. It's not easy, and I salute you!

Jean Henry Mead said...


There was probably nothing else you could have done. Our beloved 12-year-old cocker spaniel had cancer and we drove to Fort Collins, Colorado, (a three-hour drive) every three weeks to the best animal hospital in the country for her chemotherapy treatments. After five months she was fine and lived a "normal" life for 18 months. Then we made the mistake of having her regular vacination shots and she began throwing up all over the carpet. After two months, the hardest thing we ever had to do was to euthanize her.

Don't beat yourself up over euthanizing Stinker. Sometimes it's the only thing we can do. My condolences.


Betty Hechtman said...

Someone anonomously dropped off a Persian cat with a similar problem at my vet's. They named him Jack and kept him. He has free roam of the whole place and walks around amidst the dogs and cats in the waiting room like he owns the place. Often he is laying on the reception counter watching people sign in.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica, you always fascinate me. I understand about the cat. One of my vets once said, "There are so many animals who need homes that if an animals just can't adjust, maybe it's best to move on."

Maybe that vet was right.

Monica Ferris said...

I used to go into random bookstores and libraries to search for it on a shelf, always a thrill to find it!

Thank you all for your kind words about Stinker.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Monica, another alternative for a situation like Stinker is to take the kitty to a no-kill shelter. Here in L.A., at least, they take owner relinquishments. Some of the ones I've visited while researching my new pet rescue mystery series have really nice accommodations where cats can hang out with one another until they find new homes, if ever. Of course if the pet is ill or suffering, that won't work.

Jennifer in MN said...

I, too, just went though a similar situation with our cat, Percy. Wonderful in many, many ways but would stop using the litter box. He had picked up Giardia when he was a stray and after numerous antibiotic and changes in food, we had to banish him to the basement when we slept or wasn't home to watch him. We all suffered with it for years hoping he'd get better. He didn't. When he "went off" his food, we knew it was time. That was 6 month ago and I still miss him, but I know he was suffering and it was for the best.