Remembering Willie, July 4, 2003 – June 21, 2014

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Helping Momma relax for her publicity pictures, July 2009. Photo by

Our beloved Maine Coon, Willie aka “Prince Wills,” “Willie Snickers,” “Our Cowardly Lion,” “Our Little Gentleman,” and most recently, “Buddy,” passed over the Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, June 21st, at about 6:30 am after a brutal battle with IBD — Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Willie was many things to us: a rescue along with his mom, Tessa, and siblings, all of whom I discovered beneath a rosebush on the sultry afternoon following a Fourth of July; a warmer of laps–and the most purely loving creature I have ever had the privilege to love and be loved by.

From his first year on, Willie was a handful, a feline version of the Marley in “Marley and Me.” He gnawed the veneer off a suite of antique dining room chairs, consumed the corners of copious plastic CD cases, and bit through the handles of purses and, more benignly, paper shopping bags.

Beyond all, Willie loved electrical cords–Apple products were his preferred treat though anything running current would work in a pinch. When he was two, he sustained third-degree burns on the roof of his mouth that required an emergency veterinary visit and two solid weeks of twice daily antibiotics. It could have been so much worse.

Willie on kitchen floor
Confidence! Showing off his beautiful “bel-bel.”

But Maine Coon males are known for taking a while to mature and though fully grown, Willie obviously had plenty of kitten still in him. Given time to sew his oats, surely he’d outgrow the chewing habit.

He never did.

I tried coating all the electrical wires with cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce–neither worked for long. Calling on my psychology training, I took a different tack: if I couldn’t break the behavior, then I’d redirect it by providing “appropriate” (and safer) options–cat chew toys and small rawhide dog treats. But though Willie availed himself of these offerings, they only whetted his appetite for the forbidden. I even arranged for an animal behaviorist to make a house call and assess him though frankly the “doctor” was nuttier than Willie–and A LOT less handsome.  🙂

For a brief time, I resorted to trials of kitty Elavil and Prosac. The drugs didn’t work so much as make him dopey–not my bright-eyed, mischievous boy at all.

Finally, I did the only thing left. I surrendered. I sheathed every electrical cord I could with plastic cable protectors, which he still sometimes found his way ’round, replaced or learned to live without whatever electronics he ruined, and prayed that whatever guardian angels Willie had on watch would approach their charge as a 24/7 occupation.

By the time we moved from Virginia to Manhattan in winter 2008, I semi-joked that Willie had blown through his “nine lives” and then some.  Up until a few months ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be vacuuming, feel a sharp pull, and spin about to find his little mouth clamped down upon the cord. Mere seconds allowed me to shout “Willie, no, no!” before he bit through. (More than once, Raj and I mused that Willie must think “No, No!” was his middle name).

Christmas 2012 with his (biological) mom, Tessa.

Oh, but he was a lover! Throughout the day, he’d leap onto the closed toilet seat lid, lift up on his hind legs, and gently place his front paws on my or Raj’s chest, his little face turned up to ours, silently begging to be picked up. Busy or not, how could we resist? Once one of us lifted him into our arms, he swiftly settled in, laying his front paws on either side of our neck, his gaze shining up into ours with a love that was both boundless and unconditional.

He wanted to be close always, to his feline family (our other Maine Coon, Jane, especially) but mainly to us, his People. He was the dog Raj had always wanted, trailing him from room-to-room and even playing fetch. On the weekends, he wasn’t content for just one of us to be with him. He wanted us both. If either stepped away, he’d glue himself to the barred bedroom or bathroom door and mewl until the MIA party relented and returned.

Willie w Carrot_Last Xmas_12-25-13
With his favorite Christmas prezzie, a catnip carrot, December 25, 2013.

Though he occasionally pounced upon the other cats in play, he was always tremendously gentle with the two of us. Not once in nearly eleven years did he scratch me on purpose. Often when I held him baby style, he’d raise one of his tufted paws and, claws retracted, gently stroke the side of my face.

Like most cats, Willie was magnificent Muse material. He was the heroine’s cat in The Haunting, my Civil War time travel romance set in his birthplace of Fredericksburg, Virginia. (You can see his “bio” on my Best Friends page). Toward the book’s end, the villain gives the fictional Willie a swift kick–God, was that hard to write!–and pays dearly for it. Very dearly. And of course Willie’s alter ego survived with no lasting ill effects. Romance novels are all about the Happily Ever After, after all.

Alas, Real Life rarely writes itself so neatly. While Willie had always had periodic stomach upsets–with all those chewing sprees, how could he not?–last summer he began vomiting more and more frequently. We had the vet run a CBC panel, which came back normal. An abdominal ultrasound showed his intestines to be somewhat thickened from inflammation consistent with IBD, the probable cause a food allergy. On our veterinarian’s advice, we promptly put him on a novel protein diet and his symptoms seemed to resolve. Occasional flareups had me giving him Pepcid and Metronidiazole, but we were able to steer clear of steroids, which I viewed as a last resort.

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With Momma and Papa, January 7, 2014. Photo by

At the end of January, he sickened again, violently so, and once more we rushed him to the vet. An abdominal x-ray revealed a fragment of what looked to be plastic that was nearly clear of his system. Once more his blood work came back normal, and we were assured that the “foreign matter” hadn’t perforated or in any way damaged his bowel. We shook our heads, torn between frustration and relief. Our little chewer was up to his old antics, giving us a good scare–and yet another anecdote to add to our Willie lore.

For a while he seemed to get better but by March he was a bit thinner and less playful. Mornings saw us cleaning up more and more hairballs. Despite or perhaps because of the frequent throwing up, he was constantly ravenous, racing to the kitchen throughout the day demanding to be fed, sometimes gnawing the shrink wrap off six packs of water and gobbling the garbage.

Napping with his namesake, his Will (Shakespeare) Doll, Winter 2013.
Napping with his namesake, his Will (Shakespeare) doll, Winter 2013/2014.

Come April, something was clearly very wrong. I took him back to the vet for yet more blood work and another ultrasound, expecting to hear that his IBD was acting up or that he’d eaten yet another “No, no!” Instead, the sonogram showed substantial inflammation in not only his intestines but also his stomach. The finding suggested that his IBD had progressed to small cell lymphoma. Distraught but determined to be proactive, we  sought, and got, an oncology consult that same day.


Over the past six weeks, Willie has seen a veterinary oncologist, surgeon, internist, multiple ER doctors, an holistic vet (for weekly acupuncture and B-12 injections) along with our regular, wonderful vet. When the GI biopsies revealed that he didn’t in fact have cancer as we’d feared, “only” IBD, I wept with joy. We made peace with putting him on steroids, the typical treatment for stubborn IBD, and tried to be patient for the anti-inflammatory properties to kick in.

They didn’t, or at least not for long, despite increasing the dosage of prednisolone. When the internist posited that Willie’s thickened stomach lining and frequent vomiting prevented him from properly absorbing the oral medication, we learned to give him injections, three shots a day, at home. Subcutaneous fluids every other day kept him hydrated. It wasn’t a permanent solution by any means, but if we could just keep him going long enough for the treatment to work so that he could eat–and retain–his food, then it would all be worth it.

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Such a good little poser! January 7, 2014. Photo by

This last week was particularly painful as we watched Willie drag his little wasted body from one spot to another, seeking in vain to settle. His magnificent ruff was thin from the steroids; his belly and front legs, shaven for the surgery, still brightly bald; the once alert, mischievous eyes vacant and dull.

There was one more medication left to try, Leukeran, a strong anti-inflammatory used in chemotherapy. If it didn’t work, I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our darling boy’s day was indeed done. We would have to euthanize him. But we weren’t there yet.

When the piteous cry awakened us early Saturday morning, I knew Willie wasn’t going to last long enough for us to try anything further. An hour later, he was gone, leaving a hole in our hearts that no other cat will ever begin to fill.

Admittedly, Willie wasn’t an easy cat to keep. He tested my fragile patience many, many times. But then we don’t love someone because they’re easy.

We love them because they’re worth it.

And Willie was worth it–so very worth it. Only now do I fully realize just how very much I loved–love–him.

With Jane_Circa 2011
With Jane, 2012.

With our rambunctious boy gone, there will be no more “No, no!” anecdotes to report to family and friends. Never again will he streak across the living room and stop smack in the middle of my path, nearly knocking me over in his exuberance. Without he and Jane, my two Maine Coon minxes, dive bombing everyone’s food bowls, mealtimes are accomplished with far less fuss–and far less fun.

Willie, I understand now that you weren’t sent to test me. You were sent to teach me. The lesson, the main one at least, was patience. Alas, I was, and am,  a slow learner in that regard. But because of you, I’m working really hard to do better, to be better, not only with the other cats but also with Life overall.

Bon voyage, Little Gentleman. We know you’re with your Auntie Jane now in a place where there are no nasty tasting medicines or poking needles or impatient moms shrieking “No, no!” often in frustration, almost always in fear. Surely there, in that Perfect Place, all the wires are attached to Apple products and you can safely savor to your dear little heart’s content.

With all my love now and forever,


Please take a moment to view this lovely tribute video short created by Willie’s papa, Raj Moorjani.


Remembering Jane, Circa 2000 – May 3, 2014

Jane on Bed_11-21-13
Lounging on her beloved bed…

Our beautiful black-and-white Maine Coon, Jane (aka “Molly Jane”) passed over The Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, May 3rd at 9:22 am.

Like all my cats past and present, Jane started out as a throwaway–a stray.  Our paths crossed (literally) a few days after 9-11. I was living in the Fredericksburg Virginia Historic District, sitting on my front porch with my ex, both of us trying to make sense of the terrorist atrocities that had just taken place.  It was a beautiful autumn night, clear and starry skied. The American flag we’d raised in patriotic solidarity with our neighbors stirred in a silken, still warm Southern breeze. Gazing out onto Caroline Street, I spotted a scrawny black-and-white tuxedo cat I’d never before seen strolling down the sidewalk. I didn’t think much of it. Owing to the warmish climate and nearby river, the area was thick with strays and ferals. Suddenly the cat changed course, darted up our front steps, and vaulted onto my ex’s lap, purring and kneading and drooling and headbutting us in turn. Collarless, flea-infested, and rail thin, this animal wasn’t  anyone’s pet, at least not anymore, but he certainly wasn’t close to feral.

Helping me with my makeup…

The trouble was, we already had two indoor cats, both with special needs, and upsetting the proverbial applecart with a new addition didn’t seem smart. Bowing to “reason” I got up and went inside though closing the door on my newest “neighbor” felt the farthest thing from right.

When I didn’t see the cat for the rest of the week, I told myself I should feel relieved. What I felt was disappointed, as though maybe just maybe I’d missed out on the start of something wonderful.

Thursday, my monthly book club night, rolled around. I can’t say what the book was. What I can say with certainty was that we never once discussed it.  Still mired in trying to make sense of the grim news reports and mounting death tolls coming from Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania didn’t leave spirit or room for much else, least of all literary musings.

hopenjane circa 2002
In our “salad days,” circa 2002…

Walking home afterward with a few neighbors, I glanced across the street–and saw the little black-and-white cat standing on the sidewalk in front of my house. I didn’t call out or make any gesture–sleepy Southern towns are notorious for attracting speeders and Fredericksburg is no exception. It turned out, I didn’t have to.  I felt rather than saw the exact moment when the cat spotted me, with a joy so single-minded that it left no room for taking note of the fast coming car. He bolted across Caroline Street toward us, a flash of white paws and underbelly that sent my heart and stomach sinking. The car whizzed past, and the cat landed safely at my feet. Oblivious to how close he’d come to being creamed, he looked up at me with what I can only describe as adoration. This time there was no second guessing myself. I scooped him into my arms, tucked him tightly against my chest, and crossed the street to home.

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January 2014 by

The next morning I took “Jake” to be vetted, vaccinated, and fixed in preparation for finding an adoptive home. Only the bright light of day showed “Jake” to be  testicle-free, one hundred percent female. The amused vet confirmed that the scheduled neuter would in fact be a spay and, by the way, what name should she put down on “Jake’s” chart?

I shrugged and thought for all of thirty seconds. Since I wasn’t keeping the cat, any name I chose would likely be only temporary. Jacqueline, the closest feminine version of my original pick, felt far too formal for a cat who was the feline equivalent of a party girl. It also brought to mind the bully who’d brutalized me in middle school.

“Put down Jane,” I finally said and made arrangements to board her along with posting an adoption notice in the vet’s waiting room.

Subsequent visits to check on Jane aka “Molly Jane” (the “Molly” now added in deference to the rambunctious, drooling, black-and-white Border Collie from my childhood of whom Jane reminded me mightily) confirmed what I’d sensed on first sight:  this cat was a keeper.  Though I’d considered myself full up in the pet department,  I couldn’t stop thinking of how Fate, and Jane, had contrived to cross our paths, not once but twice now.  The situation, though not ideal, had all the makings of a meant-to-be. And in light of 9-11, could any of us really afford to pass up, if not a miracle, then certainly a second chance at living Happily Ever After?

Jane on Raj's chest
Comforting her daddy who had a crummy cold…

From the start, Jane showed herself to be a character. She didn’t meow–she brayed. She had a huge personality and an equally huge capacity for giving and receiving love. When she was in a room, you knew it. She was a purr bucket and a fierce drooler–and she wasn’t overly particular about where that drool landed. Clothes, carpets, human faces–all were fair game. Sometimes she became so excited, her nose ran. Whether you were a stranger or a familiar friend, once you walked through the door she was on you, stropping your legs, leaping onto your lap, stubbornly lavishing affection whether it was wanted or not.

Being her pretty, sweet self…

She aged with great beauty and grace, seamlessly evolving from a spastic youngster into a wise elder “auntie.” Even for a cat, cleanly creatures by nature, Jane was a meticulous groomer. Until the last month of her life, her coat including four white paws, was kept pristine.

She was one of the most compassionate creatures, quadraped or biped, I have ever known.  If ever one of the other cats seemed hurt or in anyway distressed, she would get up and go to them, sometimes receiving a scratch or hiss in “gratitude.” Regardless, she never reciprocated with anything less than patience and unconditional love.

Above all, she loved us, her People. When I moved us to Manhattan and Raj came into our lives, she was the first of my cats to greet him. One of us stretching out on the couch or floor was her cue to climb up on our chest, purring and drooling and kneading away with an unbridled joy that was sometimes inconvenient–but almost always contagious.

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More parental adoration captured by…

And she was tough, a true trooper. In the thirteen years I was blessed to have her, she lived through multiple moves, including one inter-state drive from Virginia to New York, several dental surgeries, fierce seasonal allergies (despite being an indoor cat), a partial thyroidectomy that saved her life and returned her T4 level to a consistent normal, and, most recently, a palliative excision of a ruptured mammary mass.

Jane wasn’t just my cat. She was, and will always be, so very much more than a “pet.” Among her many roles–fur child, confidante, friend–was that of muse. She served as the inspiration for feline characters in several of my novels, notably the hero’s cat “Dinah” in Vanquished.

But all Happily Ever After stories end eventually and ours is no exception. Last October, Jane was diagnosed with metastatic mammary cancer. The shocking news came just one month after an annual veterinary exam (with full blood work) had led to the pronouncement that she was in excellent health. A followup consultation with a veterinary oncologist and surgeon, including a CT-Scan, showed that the cancer had spread to both lungs, and that there would be no point in pursuing chemotherapy. (Radiation was completely out of the question).

Jane in toy basket
Resting easy in her beloved toy basket…

Told we could anticipate having her with us for  another three to six months (at best) and mere weeks (at worst), we brought her home. Raj and I took a tearful look at Jane, as yet asymptomatic and playing with her toys, and then another long look at each other.

“From here on she sleeps with us,” he said, swallowing hard, and despite my previous injunction against cats in the bedroom, I didn’t protest or hesitate.

I nodded. “Yes, she does.”

Overnight our bedroom became her personal suite, her Chamber of Healing as we took to calling it. The cat blanket I initially placed on the bed to contain any shedding soon went by the wayside. Human furniture was rearranged to accommodate her food and water bowls in case she got hungry or thirsty in the middle of the night. Though both Raj and I are more nocturnal by nature, her scratching on the bed’s taffeta dust ruffle (noisy stuff, taffeta) trained us to get up at 6am to open the door so that she could go out to use the shared litter box. Even in this, she showed compassion and wisdom, alternating sides so that she never woke the same person two nights in a row.

Despite the dire diagnosis, we weren’t ready to give up on Jane and neither was she.  She loved her feline and human family far too much to simply let the cancer have its way. Having conquered the bedroom, aka The Final Frontier, there was that much more to live for–and we were determined to help her continue for as long as she chose to stay.

Jane_Oct-15-2011With the oversight of our regular vet and the weekly care of a holistic vet, both wonderful practitioners and compassionate people, we maintained Jane on a regimen of Chinese herbs,weekly in-home acupuncture treatments, and Reiki. Taking oral herbs twice daily via a pill shooter wasn’t exactly her favorite thing, but she was enormously good about it. After her Saturday acupuncture session, she liked to lounge on the bed listening to music with Raj–she was particularly partial to slow jazz. Sundays were about reading the paper and of course more napping. Though she by far preferred the bed, there was a particular spot on the bedroom’s Persian carpet where the sun hit for a few hours a day and when it did, she could usually be found stretched out soaking it up.

Up until a few weeks ago, she remained a happy girl, moving more slowly, to be sure, and coughing occasionally, but still enjoying a high-quality of life. There were rough patches–and rallying victories. But when she stopped eating as of last Thursday–even her beloved Cheez-Its couldn’t elicit more than a halfhearted sniff–we acknowledged the wrenching reality.

Our brave, beautiful girl wasn’t going to bounce back this time–and it wasn’t fair to expect her to.

Fittingly she spent her last night in our bed albeit lying at the foot. Breathing heavily by then, she needed her space. On what was to be her final morning, I lay on the floor beside her, stroking her and thanking her for being such an awesome cat all these years. I told her how very much I loved her and that I was ready to let her go. She didn’t have to fight any longer. Then I got up and called the vet to schedule an in-home euthanasia for Monday.

But true to character, Jane had other ideas.  Within a half hour or so of my phone call, she was gone. She passed away naturally in “her” bedroom, outstripping the upper bound of the experts’ predicted survival time by nearly a full month.

I feel so blessed to have had Jane, to have set my so-called practicality aside and taken a chance on love no matter how messy and inconvenient. As for Raj, she is the first animal who has ever worn his name on her collar’s ID tag. She will live on always in our memories–and in our hearts.

For now, there is too much room in the bed. After seven months of twisting our bodies into various pretzel-like configurations to accommodate her, it feels foreign to suddenly stretch out full-length.  With her water, food bowls, and cat bed gone, I can now open the bi-fold doors of the bedroom closet all the way without having to shift a single item. Once I toss the quilt in the washer, I can go back to using the bed to fold laundry free of fur. Alas, all these “conveniences” are paltry, pitiful consolation for losing one of the best cats, and best friends, I’ve ever known.

Our household is quiet now, silent and still. There is no more braying or persistent purring or 6am wake up calls via the scratching of taffeta dusters. Jane’s loss is staggering; we are grieving her greatly. But if, in the midst of our sorrow, sharing her story helps even one pet owner avert tragedy, then I am happy to have done so.

Feline mammary cancer is more common than we care to think and often deadly. It is also frequently preventable — by spaying your cat before five months, the age when most females experience their first heat cycle.

Cats such as Jane who are spayed after estrus, or who remain unaltered, account for more than 80% of feline mammary cancer cases.  In addition to annual veterinary exams, they should be checked regularly by their owners–monthly at minimum but weekly is better. I found Jane’s tumor by chance as I was grooming her.  By then, it was too late.

I have been a board member of Marian’s Dream: Philanthropy for Animal Advocates since 2008. For more information on the benefits of early age sterilization both for feline health and prevention of unwanted litters, visit Fix By Five.

Please enjoy this commemorative video short of Jane by her papa, Raj Moorjani.


In Memoriam: Cara Summers

cara_summersThe romance community lost a prolific author, generous colleague, and shining star when Cara Summers (Carolyn Hanlon) passed away earlier this month on September 10th. Please take two ticks to join us in honoring Cara’s amazing career–and life–on the Blaze Authors Blog.


In Memoriam: Blake Snyder

Screenwriter Blake Snyder passed away suddenly on Tuesday, August 4th, and I’m struggling to put into words how it is I feel so sad, so personally touched by the loss of someone I knew so little.

Blake Snyder, Photo courtesy of
Blake Snyder. Photo courtesy of

But Blake was, is, that sort of being, a Light Bulb Being. Along with being super talented and successful, charismatic and funny, engaging and dare I say, wise, he had such a…light about him.

I met him at last year’s Romance Writers of America Conference in San Francisco. His mini workshop on adapting one’s romance novel into a screenplay unexpectedly and totally wowed me–and after sixteen years in this business, believe me, I am not easily wowed.

We corresponded occasionally by email. I was always amazed that someone who was such a…Name responded so promptly and so graciously. I think people, all people, just genuinely interested him.

I bought his book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need and was signed up for his two-day screenwriting workshop, which would have taken place next week here in New York City. When the email came through informing workshop registrants of his death, I was stunned. I still am.

What I also am is mindful, wholly mindful, of just how uncertain and yes, infinitely precious our lives are. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the so-so, it’s doesn’t matter, every moment counts. It’s life, our life, and I’m pledging to savor every single second of mine from here on.

Bon Voyage, Blake.


Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

Last night my friend, Barbara, passed away. I say “passed away,” not died, because it’s my personal belief that energy never really dies but instead changes forms. And hers is a big spirit, huge. Something so wild and beautiful and free doesn’t ever die. It just doesn’t.

I’d say Barbara was my best friend, but I’m not in the habit of ranking my relationships. Suffice it to say we were tight. She wasn’t only a girlfriend in the peer sense. She was–and is–a mentor, a soul mate, and yes, my very dear friend.

When I got The Call from her son, also my friend, it was creeping up on one AM. I was still up, though, if not wide awake then certainly wired, writing. Because the manuscript for my next book, UNTAMED, the finale to my Men of Roxbury House series is late. Not egregiously late or shockingly late, not the kind of writer’s blocked lateness that results in pushed up pub dates and editor frenzy, but a week late. And at the moment, I don’t really care.

I shut off the computer and met a small group of my friends at a local bar still open in our otherwise roll-up-the-sidewalks early-to-bed small town. We had a drink, a drink for Barbara, and then we went back to our friend Tim’s house and had another round in the timeless quiet of his 1800’s living room.

But mainly we talked. Barbara’s three adult children who have been her round-the-clock caretakers for the past three weeks shared something of what that had been like, including some of the moments of dark humor involved in physical dying. But mostly we celebrated life, Barbara’s life, and the profound ways she had touched us as parent, mentor, lover, and friend. In the course of the next two hours, her one musician son shared the song he’d written for her and then our musician friend, Tim sang the one he’d written, too. We cried some but we laughed even more as well as smiled at all the many memories. Above all we celebrated a life, Barbara’s life. A Life Well Lived.

Sitting there last night amongst dear friends, it struck me that it’s not the deadlines met or missed, the bestseller list rankings, the contest wins or losses, the sales numbers on our latest release or the sundry other successes and failures that define a life. All the must-do’s and should-haves that fill and sometimes clutter our days aren’t what we remember or even care about. In the so-called end, it’s how our lives touched others, how their lives touched ours, that matters–period.

Bon Voyage, Barbara. Congratulations on a Life Well Lived and deepest thanks for all you’ve done to teach me how to better live mine.