My name is Ali Brandon, and even though I write the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, I’m an orange tabby cat junkie.
If a kitty has sunny stripes, it’s automatically my kind of feline. And why not? Orange traditionally symbolizes strength and fortitude, happiness and success. Going more esoteric, the orange chakra of various metaphysical traditions is associated with creativity-an essential element for any writer!-while Buddhist monks wear orangey robes denoting their vocations. And all this positivity seems to cling to orange kitties. As far as I’m concerned, they are four-footed, meowing good luck charms!
I suspect that my addiction to orange tabbies began in childhood, probably because our family’s first cat, Topsey, was one. I don’t recall when she originally joined the household-she likely just showed up one day and stayed-but I do remember seeing a photograph of me at about 5 years of age with the poor thing dangling helplessly from my chubby arms. Topsey’s main claim to fame was that she was, as my dad put it, the only cat you could actually hear coming. Not that this was Topsey’s fault. Early on, she’d had an unfortunate encounter with a nail sticking from a piece of discarded lumber that had left her with a permanent limp; hence, the thump on our wood floors when she made her way through the house.
Coincidentally, my husband’s first cat was an orange tabby, too. She was named Marmalade-hey, what better name for a cat that color?-and apparently had a reputation as the neighborhood tough. By his account, Marmalade once beat up a German shepherd (or maybe it was a Rottweiler) and even survived an encounter with a VW Beetle, damaging it more that it damaged her. Of course, my hubby is prone to exaggeration; even so, it was obvious Marmalade had taken advantage of his youth and converted him to an orange tabby cat fan at an early age.
Fast forward to adulthood. A couple of years into our marriage, my husband’s co-worker told him that she had to unload an orange tabby and matching kitten, since said co-worker’s roommate was allergic. All it took was a look at a snapshot of the two fuzzy striped faces for him to agree to adopt both cats from her. We brought them home…and orange tabby fever took hold of us again!
We called the mom, Ginger Snap, and her kitten, Moon Pie. They were friendly, rough-and-tumble girls who got along just fine with our white German shepherd and our Aussie. We had them for a good dozen years before Ginger slipped out of the house one night, never to be seen again. Moon Pie was as distressed at Ginger’s loss as we were, so my husband began the search for another orange tabby to serve as Moon’s new buddy. And, wouldn’t you know it, once again he found a pair of orange tabbies-this time, two brothers-who needed a home.
Butch and Sundance, as we named them, had been born to a feral mother who didn’t make it, and so the rescue folks turned the pair over to a foster home to be bottle raised. We brought them home from foster when the boys were about six weeks old and not yet weaned. This was our first experience with bottle-raised kitties, and we were amazed at how friendly the little guys were. Well, at how friendly Sundance was.
Butch was a bit more standoff-ish, enjoying his petting time but ready to end it well before his brother tired of being coddled. And, surprisingly, Butch also was the harder of the pair to wean. While butterball Sundance quickly graduated to kibble and canned, Butch refused anything but his bottle. The weeks passed, and he still did the old “scraping in the litter box” pantomime when we tried serving him official cat food. Growing a bit desperate now, we tried various brands and flavors of cat food, even tried sardines and people tuna, but Butch was having none of this. His bottle was just fine, thank you very much.
And then, one evening, my husband was chopping grilled chicken for supper, when he accidentally dropped a piece on the kitchen floor. Butch pounced on it and ate it…his first actual piece of solid food that he’d consumed in his short kitty life.
Let’s just say that our grocery bill went up substantially as my husband grilled Butch a chicken breast for supper every night for the next couple of weeks. To be sure, the finicky feline had finally abandoned his bottle, but the only food he’d eat now was poultry. That was, until the hubster tossed Butch a piece of grilled steak. As you might guess, sirloin now was added to the burgeoning grocery bill. Fortunately, Butch finally consented to eat regular cat food, though to this day he’ll come begging when he smells steak or chicken on the barbie. And I have to admit that we always do toss him a piece, just for old time’s sake.
The reason I’m telling you all these orange tabby stories is to illustrate why I’m so pleased to be part of Penguin Group (USA) Inc’s 2nd annual Read Humane® promotion. This month-long event, which began April 30 and continues all through May, is designed to bring awareness to the animal advocacy work of The Humane Society of the United States. Six animal-themed novels-including my first Black Cat Bookshop Mystery, DOUBLE BOOKED FOR DEATH – have been reprinted with the special Read Humane® logo and contain information about The HSUS’s work. Other participating authors include our 2013 Read Humane spokesperson, Jill Shalvis, as well as Linda O. Johnston, Miranda James, Leann Sweeney, and Judi McCoy.
Even better, Penguin is donating $25,000 to that organization’s Animal Rescue Team, which works with law enforcement to investigate illegal animal cruelty, targeting the worst cases of animal abuse nationwide. This donation is not tied to book sales, but is given regardless. You can learn more about the Read Humane program at this link.
A final postscript. While Moon Pie left us a few years ago at the ripe old age of eighteen, Butch and Sundance are still going strong at age ten. And if any other orange tabby wanders our way-living in the ‘burbs, that’s always a possibility – I know we wouldn’t turn it way. For one thing about all these awesome orange tabbies, past and present, is the fact that they all came to us from less-than-ideal conditions. Fortunately, none had suffered any of the cruelty that the Animal Rescue Team battles. Still, all were either strays, or rescues, or unwanted cats needing to be re-homed. None had pedigrees or came from fancy stores. But all of them worked their ways into our lives and hearts, all of them making us richer for their presence.
Richer? Hmmm. Maybe I should start referring to them as GOLDEN tabbies, instead.
Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of DOUBLE BOOKED FOR DEATH, her 2011 debut offering in the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. The follow-up book, A NOVEL WAY TO DIE, was published November 2012 and hit the New York Times Extended List for bestselling Mass Market paperbacks. At least four more Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries are scheduled to follow. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she’s also the author of the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she has penned several published works of short fiction and five full-length historical romances, all of which are in process of being re-released as e-books.
A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past board member for the MWA Florida Chapter. Visit her at www.dianestuckart.com or www.alibrandon.com. And don’t forget to “Like” Hamlet the Cat on Facebook: facebook.com/blackcatbookshopmysteries.