August 26, 2004. My alarm goes off at 3:55 in the morning. I lumber through darkness, nearly skidding across the kitchen on my cat’s empty food bowl. I sit down at my desk and croak out several test words until I stop sounding like Sylvester Stallone on diazepam.
Right on schedule, the telephone rings. A chirpy young woman greets me and asks me to hold for the host. I grunt in agreement. My latest interview is about to begin.
Long ago, in the dark and rustic age and before social media, authors once promoted their books through wireless aural transmissions called “radio.” My mission, which I chose to accept, was to explain my debut novel to a bunch of East Coast morning listeners, dazzling them so much that they pull their cars over and add my book to their “Holy Crap/Gotta Buy” list.
I wasn’t optimistic but hey, any exposure is good exposure. And this host is clearly skilled at dealing with semi-conscious phone guests. He steers me through the interview like a pro. By his fifth question, the fog is lifted from my head. The two of us chat like old college buddies.
Suddenly I hear a familiar creak behind me. A feline comes traipsing in through the flap in the porch door. He’s an orange and white tabby with a long, narrow body. Ridiculously long. If he could stand upright, and if he wasn’t neutered, he would be the Wilt Chamberlain of cats.
His name is Jake. And he is home.
A little backstory: Jake had lived his first two years under the care and collar of my next-door neighbor, until my neighbor abruptly moved away. Jake informed me in no uncertain terms that he was taking over my place, but I could stay with him if I wanted. I was okay with that. Though he was Keyser Soze to the other cats in the neighborhood, he was well-behaved and eminently pettable around humans, especially me.
But he had one big problem. I can only assume a mad scientist had implanted a megaphone into his larynx because when Jake meowed, the walls shook. Birds fluttered out of trees. Dogs in the next town raised their heads in tense query. Jake’s favorite pastime was to sneak up behind me, ninja-style, and then blast me with his sonic mewl. To this day, I remain the only novelist on Earth with a detachable skeleton.
Now Jake is back from his late night thuggery and utterly confused to see me awake. I cover the phone just in time to block his inquisitive yowl, then brusquely motion him away. Go! Go!
While I answer the host’s question about the origins of my story idea, I nervously watch Jake. He has difficulty processing behavior that doesn’t revolve around him, and assumes I’m only up at this hour because I’m so damn excited to feed him. He hurries over to his empty food bowl, then shoots me a hot-eyed glare that only a cat can conjure. You…bastard.
I cover the receiver again, a split-second too late. I can hear the brief, addled skip in the host’s next question.
Jake isn’t done registering his outrage. My heart hammers as he draws closer. I don’t have the time or mind to explain the concept of live radio to him, so I try every gesticulation imaginable. I shush. I wave. I plead for him to be quiet. I draw a frantic finger across my neck, proving beyond all scientific doubt that cats ascribe no meaning to the slit-throat gesture.
Soon the interviewer has no choice but to address the elephant in the room. I can hear the rolling chuckles in his voice, the laughter he’d been suppressing for thirty seconds now.
“Is that your cat?” he asks me.
By now, my mind’s working at full emergency power. The red hot embarrassment has made me hyper-alert to the point of giddiness. I am backed into a corner, a mile out of reach of any sane retort.
“No, it’s my dog,” I reply. “He has issues.”
This all happened nine and a half years ago. The world’s moved on to bigger and better things—Facebook and Twitter and blog tours and Goodreads, all venues that are much more flexible to a poor writer’s schedule, and utterly impervious to cat noise. I don’t remember the name of the man who interviewed me that morning. But I’m pretty sure he remembers me.