One of the amusing parts about being an author is having people ask if a character could be someone they know in real life. That happens a lot with my Isabel Long Mystery Series, which is inspired by the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I live. I’d like to think that I’ve created such authentic characters, readers believe they could be living among them. But, no, I made them all up.
Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in the series, has an exception: the cat is based on a real being — our cat, Stella. They even have the same name.
The fictional Stella is the pet of Gerald Danielson, a literary agent who was found shot in the head and left to die outside his Meadows Falls home. Gerald survived but is not the same hotshot agent who moved there from New York City. The cops ruled it an attempted suicide, but the person who hires Isabel feels differently.
Gerald lives with his devoted sister and has an aide who assists him. But his cat is the one who brings him comfort when he’s feeling agitated. Having witnessed how animal can do that in real life, I wanted to use that observation in this novel. (I also didn’t mind giving the real Stella a plug.)
Gerald’s Stella is a stray that just showed up one day and took a liking to him. This Stella is also a Maine coon cat, who is particular about humans. She doesn’t pay any attention to Isabel when she comes for the first interview. Here’s an excerpt in which Gerald’s sister, Wendy, who has taken over the agency, talks about her brother.
“Sometimes at night I read aloud from their manuscripts and he tells me in his way which ones we should consider. He appears to like that. And he has his cat, Stella. She’ll sit on his lap for hours. Inside. Outside. It doesn’t matter. That helps a lot. You can see her right over there. He calls her Stelzee.”
Wendy points toward the window seat on the other side of the room. A cat, a Maine coon breed in multiple shades of brown, I believe, is curled, presumably asleep, on a mat in the sunlight. She shows no interest in meeting us.
My best guess is that non-fictional Stella lived on her own after being dumped by her owner during Covid. A good friend, who started feeding her outside her home, put a notice on Facebook looking for a home for the cat. And so she became ours. I named her Stella, so I could channel Marlon Brando when I call for her outside. We do call her Stelzee as well.
An amazing assassin, Stella spends time outdoors, killing any rodent that dares to come near our house, and indoors, often hours lying on Hank’s extended legs. All it takes is a light touch from a human and she purrs loudly. Stella has only sat on my lap twice and after three years has finally gotten used to me holding her in my arms but not for long.
Eh, I don’t hold it against her, obviously not if I make her a character in my latest mystery.
Missing the Deadline was released Dec. 21 in Kindle. (Paperback readers will have to wait a couple of months, my publisher’s rule.) Thank you if you read my book.