“A cat is said to have nine lives.
Where I live, on and off the Strip, the odds are your
average hip but homeless street cat will be Las Vegas lucky
to live three lives.”
—Midnight Louie, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
Today, Oct. 29, is National Cat Day. For real.
Oct. 31, is cat detective Midnight Louie’s birthday. So he says. He spits in the face of idiotic human superstitions. And hisses too. Halloween is a Black Cat Power Day to him.
Either way, it’s a great day to celebrate one long-ago cross-country cat rescue that has become a 44-year writing collaboration over 32 books and assorted short stories, including an Agatha nominee.
And now, for the first time ever, all of the Midnight Louie “alphabet” mystery series books (many out of print) are available for binge-reading (Louie hopes) in eBook, all 28 from Cat in an Alphabet Soup to the A-Z titles in-between to Cat in an Alphabet Endgame.
So Happy Birthday to you, Midnight Louie, as your interviewer-turned long-time collaborator thinks back to when we met in 1973. Assuming your stray self was six years old back then, that’s 40 lives for you, with more to come. Not bad for a homeless motel habitué destined for the needle at the sunny Palo Alto, California, pound.
Writers claim to invent characters, but Midnight Louie appeared fully formed and pre-named in the Classified Ads in snowy St. Paul, Minnesota. A cat-loving newspaper reporter, I always scanned the Classified “Cats” for sale column. Among the half-inch, tiny-type ads was three long expensive inches of Midnight Louie “available to a good home for $1.00”.
Who would pay $30 to virtually give a cat away? A woman who had flown him home in a borrowed puppy crate to escape a death sentence in California. She wanted him to be “the only cat, free to roam and not fixed”. She had me at “as at home on your best sofa as in your neighbor’s garbage can”.
I called her for an interview.
Midnight Louie had been named by the patrons of an upscale California motel. He survived by eating the $2,000 large Koi swimming in the pond. He ankled up to female guests at the outside food dispensing machines and wormed his way into their rooms for the chill northern California nights. She was working temporarily in Palo Alto and decided that such a master survivor would not die on her watch.
ML and I met only once. He was a big, black American shorthair with a piercing green gaze. Alas, Louie was not adapting to apartment life. He used the litter box to tunnel to China and naught else. Politically incorrect, he was “inappropriate” with her two fixed female cats. He attacked the Hoover upright vacuum until it was subdued in a closet again.
Back at the newspaper, I wrote the story’s “who, what, when, where” first sentence. My fingers hovered above the keys as I made the most significant decision of my reporting career. I decided to let Louie tell his story in his own voice. Good decision: he was smart, sassy and brassy. Why not? He’d been a champion big game fish catcher, successful con and ladies man, a motel detective protecting the dames feline and human in the dark of night. So what if he was wanted dead or alive?
He’d landed in clover again.
Yes, he had. He went to a farm in Minnesota and I went on to sell my first novel in 1977. After a huge “sleeper” national bestseller epic fantasy novel in 1982, I moved to sunny Texas to write fiction full-time in 1984. Then the fantasy publisher dropped me for selling too well. (Long, disgraceful story). Writing short romance novels for Harlequin was a quick buck, but the formula didn’t thrill me and single book advances were too low to eat on.
Then Louie started scratching for entry at my mind: he reappeared as a mysterious hotel-detective narrator at a Las Vegas hotel where four couples would meet and find romance in four books. Readers would only discover the mysterious PI narrator was a cat at the end of book four. In solving my money problems (selling four short novels over six months), I also invented the first continuing mini-series inside a romance line of individual books. That went on to become a hot new trend in romance lines for years. Unfortunately, the romance editor wanted to debut this great new idea with her bestselling real romance writers, so I lived on her lies until Louie’s quartet was published in a chopped up version I hadn’t seen, after three years and I got my money after four years. (An even longer, more disgraceful story.)
I should have been devastated, but Louie had a better idea. You don’t abuse the associate of an alley cat PI packing sixteen sheathed shivs and a fish pond’s worth of cattitude. I reversed the concept from romance with a smidge of mystery to mystery with a smidge of romance.
Cat in an Alphabet Soup (formerly Catnap) came out in 1992 with a cast of four human characters: two men, two women; two amateur, two pro crime-solvers whose professional and personal story arcs would play out over each novel as a chapter in a continuing crime and family saga. The series eventually encompassed a quarter century of changing social issues and the Las Vegas scene and could veer from searingly serious to satire, from home-grown murder to international intrigue.
Louie and my partnership had one last, long challenge. Came on little cat feet the eBook. I had rights to Louie books 1-12. Writers who live on their craft get used to delivering book after book a year. For some time I wrote 270,000 words a year: a Louie and a heavily researched Irene Adler novel, plus assorted short stories. Young writers rely on their memories; older ones wonder if memory is as reliable as it seemed. So I went over and over the first 12 novels, with loyal readers like Ken Green, Denise Thompson, and my long-ago college assistant Jennifer Null, volunteering to reread for typos and glitches along with paid proofreaders and myself. I also created the covers.
Finally, this month, Oct. 14th, my husband’s birthday, the twelfth novel, Cat in a Kiwi Con, which combines New Zealand kiwi birds and Science Fiction conventions with murder most alien, went “live” to link up to the publisher’s eBooks Cat in a Leopard Spot through Cat in an Alien X-ray (those darn aliens again; Area 51 is near Las Vegas). Then I wrote the last three novels, sure I could correct any previous undetected errors.
Besides the rare never-defeated typos that will survive all readers, two sentences in a banquet scene imported somebody’s parents as an afterthought on my part. My afterthought fled and books later I had a character present in the scene say she had never met this parental set. Little fudge, but it leaped out at readers. I “explained” it in one of the last books!
So I’m breathing a big sigh of fulfillment and finishing on National Cat Day, 2017, and wish Midnight Louie and all his clan and their clowders, inside cats and outside cats, tame and feral, lives as good as we can give them.
And I’m thinking about Midnight Louie’s next ventures: the mutilated quartet converted to eBook and the start of his new series for 2018. Forty-five years and counting . . . .
That “ole black magic” called Midnight Louie never gives a collaborator a rest, but thank goodness. Thank Bast.
Two lucky readers will each win a copy
of Cat with an Emerald Eye by Carole
Nelson Douglas, one signed hardcover and
one ebook. To enter the drawing, please
leave a comment below and ALSO state
whether you prefer print, ebook or either.
The winning names will be chosen at random
on the evening of Wednesday, November 1st and
the books will be sent out after November 7th.
The drawing for the print copy is open to
residents of the US and the drawing for
the ebook is international.