How My Editor Changed My Book … and My Household

Lea Wait, cat owner, here.

When I was a young child my mother had a pair of Siamese cats. But I was a sickly kid, and after one life-threatening asthma attack the doctor proclaimed I was allergic to cats. My mother’s cats sadly disappeared, and we never had another one, fearing I’d either have health problems … or, perhaps even worse, by the time I did have problems (I knew I wasn’t immediately allergic to cats) my family would have become very attached to the cat.

But I write cozy mysteries. And for some reason, cats and cozies go together. In the Shadows Antique Print Series I gave my protagonist, Maggie Summer, a cat named Winslow Homer. Winslow wasn’t around much, but he was there.!cid_487CF410-53E3-4F9A-B4E9-3E3180900689

Then, last January, on a Maine day with snow billowing outside my window, the editor for my new (Mainely Needlepoint) mystery series called. I immediately panicked. The manuscript for TWISTED THREADS, the first in that series, wasn’t due until March 1 – and it wasn’t finished. What if he wanted it early? I could be in big trouble.

But our conversation took an unexpected turn.

Editor: I just called to see if there was a cat in TWISTED THREADS.

Me: (thinking fast.) No. Should there be a cat?

Editor: (who is always right) Cats are good.

Me: Then there’ll be a cat.

Editor: What does the cat look like?

Me: Ah … how about a Maine coon cat?

Editor: Great!

Me: (Getting a few more words in) Why do you need to know about the cat now?

Editor: Because the art department is working on the cover of TWISTED THREADS.TWISTEDTHREADS

Okay. I was impressed that they were working on the cover of a book no one (including the author) had read yet. But — publishers do unexpected things. So I went back to my manuscript and gave Gram, the protagonist’s grandmother and major series character, a cat named Juno. (She’s the queen of the household.) And I finished the book. (You can see the cover. Juno may have come late to the cast of TWISTED THREADS, but she’s clearly the star.)

But — I’ll admit — I had trouble writing Juno in at appropriate moments. Having never had a cat, I wasn’t absolutely sure how she’d react to various scenes. Research was clearly needed. So … I started looking more closely at all those cute cat videos people post on Facebook.

But research should be primary, right? So I found myself thinking about getting a cat. I knew there might be a problem, should my allergies pop up again. But it turned out my husband liked cats almost as much as dogs. (We don’t have one of those, either.) And he was willing to take the risk.

pet shelterCynthia Lord, one of my author friends, volunteers at the Coastal Humane Society, not far from us. (Among other books, she writes a wonderful series for young readers called the Shelter Pet Squad series. Write what you know!)

So when Cindy posted that the Humane Society was having a special adoption night June 1, my husband and I ended up there, at midnight, in the building where there were cats and kittens. Maybe we’d adopt an older cat, we thought. Maybe even two, if they were friends. To our amazement, when we got to the building an hour before midnight (when they would start placing the animals in homes) we were assigned number 27. People of all ages were there to meet the cats at midnight.

Feeling a bit crazy, we waited it out — still saying “maybe yes; maybe no.”  Then, finally, close to 1 in the morning, it was our turn. As we walked into the area where the caged cats were, my husband casually said, “I’ve always liked black cats.” Who knew? And so while I was oohing at the kittens (although we were there, you understand, to adopt an older cat,) Bob went from one cage to another, talking to the black cats. “Com’on out, boy. No one’ll adopt you if you’re in the back of the cage!”

A mystery writer with a black cat. Okay. That sounded interesting.

As we worked our way around the room it was clear kittens had become a possibility. And then, over in the far corner, we came to a cage holding two black kittens. One already wore the little necklace the Humane Society put on “chosen animals.” But the other? Bob opened the cage and took her out. She immediately jumped to his shoulder and nestled there. And he said, “We’ve found our cat.”

Bob & I & Shadow the night we adopted her

Bob & I & Shadow the night we adopted her

So — I share custody of a now eight-months old black cat named Shadow. Yes, Juno is also in the books following TWISTED THREADS. And my main character, Angie Curtis, may even get a cat of her own in a book or two.

Shadow has changed our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined.  More on that in a future post.,

But, for now, allergy-free (knocking on wood,) thanks to an editor in New York, thousands of readers who love cats in mysteries, and a friend who volunteers at the Humane Society … for the first time in my life I own a cat.

Although — as I’ve seen on FB — maybe that cat now owns me.

Shadow, age 2 months, helping me write

Shadow, age 2 months, helping me write




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6 Responses to How My Editor Changed My Book … and My Household

  1. Beth Kanell says:

    A delightful tale — with a purrfect ending!

  2. Kait Carson says:

    Congratulations on adopting and not shopping. You have made a huge difference. Happy Thanksgiving to you both and to Shadow who is discovering the joys of his people.

  3. Carole Price says:

    I loved reading your heart warming article about how you got a cat. My daughter has only black cats (yes, plural) and also dogs she’s rescued. I have a mixed terrier dog she came across and I can’t imagine being without her. I have a cat and a dog in my mystery series.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    I definitely believe that if you’re going to add an animal to your household, shelters are the place to go. We’ve even been back to the shelter to check out the other animals … but so far haven’t been tempted to add another. We want to be free to travel … and Shadow is a pretty aggressive cat. I’m not sure she would cope well with a “sister” or “brother.” But — you never know! Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers out there .. and their pets!

  5. Carole Speechley says:

    Lea, I am on my third shelter dog and recommend them to any animal lover. Shadow looks precious and you should feel extra good about rescuing her. I know from the things that my rescues were afraid of that some of these animals have had a rough life and just need a lot of loving (Murphy would not go near a stick and was afraid of lights going on or off and did not make a sound for 2 years). I wish you and Bob many happy years with Shadow. Happy Thanksgiving. Carole

  6. Pat Marinelli says:

    Shadow is adorable and I’m so glad she helps you write your mysteries. Love the cover on your book.

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