Stephanie “Stephanie” Holcomb is a local real estate agent and actor/director/publicist for Showtimers, the theater group in southwest Roanoke County.
Cleverly, she managed the publicity for one of their shows by inviting local DJs, news anchors, politicians, and columnists to play a minor role. This is how she became “Officer Pudney” for Showtimers production of the Neil Simon comedy “Rumors” in 2017.
Aside from those activities, Holcomb, 50, is a cat person. In their home in Fenton, she and her husband, David, have two, an orange coffin named Woody and a black-and-white kitten, Monby. Thanks to her love of cats, Holcomb recently added an “international author” to her resume.
Assembled with hardcover, “This Isn’t My Cat: Cat Friends Who Chose Their Humans,” is already on sale in the UK and Australia. Published by Victoria, Australia-based Smith Street Books, the volume hit the US market on November 1, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The price is $14.95.
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The book features cats from all over the world, such as Dill Pickle Soup (also known as “Pickle”) who have made frequent, unannounced visits to someone else’s homes. The back cover calls the book, “A Celebration of Cats Who Adopted a Human.”
“It’s one of the biggest sellers so far this year, that’s what’s going on [Smith Street Books] Holcomb told me on Tuesday.
How it all happened was totally bizarre. Often, potential authors knock on publishers’ doors, questioning interest and book contracts. This masochism usually elicits letters of rejection. Some writers end up self-publishing.
Sort of like a stray cat adopting a house, State Street Books contacted Holcomb, attracted by the Facebook group she launched in 2016, “My Home, Not My Cat.”
The group, whose members must be accepted, now has more than 47,000 followers around the world belonging to England, Canada, the United States, Japan, Italy, Australia and other countries.
“The group came because I kept noticing these funny little stories online, about people who found a cat in their house when they didn’t have a cat,” Holcomb told me on Tuesday. “It started as a hobby and turned into a job.”
The “My Home Not My Cat” group is still going strong on Facebook. It is private, but it allows members after they have applied and are screened.
“I wanted the Facebook page to be useful,” Holcomb explained. (As of this writing, you haven’t approved my request yet).
Almost from the start, My House, Not My Cat has been getting five or six shows a day telling stories about mysterious cat fur that has appeared in someone else’s home. She seemed to be under the radar.
Soon, the page contained hundreds of stories, photos, and then thousands.
At one point, Holcomb began imposing standards on applications submitted. For example, a cat on the balcony or peering in a window would qualify. A stray cat in the yard won’t necessarily cut the mustard. But it might as well be, if it’s especially great-looking.
Eventually, the traffic on “my house, not my cat” grew to a crazy level that Holcomb couldn’t handle. She recruited cat breeder and group member Janet Walker, who lives in Tokyo, Japan, as co-responsible.
Four other regular people act as moderators of “my house, not my cat”. They are Julia Knight Simpson, from London, England; Ali Ramos, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Morgan Sager of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Leah Workman of Los Angeles, California.
Avery Hayes, a project editor at State Street Books, pitched to Holcomb the idea of putting together a volume based on requests to the Facebook group. State Street paid an advance to Holcomb, which it declined to disclose, as well as a healthy property.
Such an effort fits the old adage, “easier said than done.”
Holcomb had to grab thousands of requests for “my cat, not my house,” identify the best potential contributors, then email them and ask them to sign the publisher’s statement, allowing State Street books to use their words and photos. She added, “We freed the hell out” of the submissions.
Some of the cat breeders I contacted answered “No thanks,” and others did not respond at all. But 83 of them did, and their text and pictures are the fortress of the book.
The pictures are incredibly beautiful. Some entries are brief – less than 20 words.
An example would be a large brown and gray cat in the bathroom sink.
“This is Randall,” wrote a woman named Barbara. “He lives on our way in a very nice house but prefers hanging out in our tub.”
Another cat breeder named Charlotte called her a “coworker”.
“She belongs to a neighbor and visits me when I work alone from home,” Charlotte wrote.
A man named Stephen posted a picture of an orange tab that he called “Handy Worker.”
“Repair people were in my apartment. I went to my bedroom after they left and found this cat on my bed,” Stephen wrote.
Then there’s Frank, a stray little tuxedo female from Manx.
“So, one day, I’m leaving for work and patting her head as I walk to my car,” Tiffany wrote. She was sitting in her natural place on the front porch. When I come home in the afternoon I find her at home. …so, stormed. Now, it’s an indoor cat.”
Holcomb said she knew the whole thing was real when State Street sent her evidence last summer.
“You wouldn’t believe how stupidly happy I was when they sent me proof of my ISBN number,” which stands for International Standard Book Number.
In the United States, “This is not my cat” will be on sale Amazon.com And in Barnes & Noble stores starting Tuesday. Another major distribution outlet, Holcomb said, is the gift shops at Cracker Barrel restaurants.
What’s the next step in her budding career as an author? Holcomb is not sure.
“I’m someone who needs to be pretty much on the inside,” she said. Then I write a book about cats going door to door.”
She added that it was unlikely that it had anything to do with the dogs.
“I love other people’s dogs,” Holcomb said. “Dogs are great, but you might as well have a baby.”
Call metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter:.