In Memory of Scarlett, the Inspiration for My New Book

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It's hard to believe that it's been three years--almost to the day--since my agent first called me and said, "Random House wants to know if you'd be interested in writing a novel from a cat's point of view."  My first thought was, I have no idea what that novel would be about.  My second thought was, But the cat will have to be based on Scarlett.

I always knew that Prudence (the cat who narrates most of  LOVE SAVES THE DAY) would be an incarnation of Scarlett--even before I knew her name would be Prudence, or that the book would be called Love Saves the Day, or where it would be set or who the other characters would be.  If I was going to attempt to speak a cat's thoughts (or, at least, what I thought a cat's thoughts might be--because who can know for sure?), then it would have to be a cat I knew well.  I had already written a book about Homer.  Vashti was an angel among cats, with a pure sweetness that drew everybody to her and her to everybody.  It was a quality that made her one of the great loves of my life, but that I also felt wouldn't be right for a cat whose "job" was to observe and offer insights into the people around her, with a clear eye to their good qualities but also their flaws.  If Vashti could have spoken, she would have found nothing but the good in everybody.

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That left Scarlett.  Those of you who've read Homer's Odyssey may remember my describing her as the kind of cat who made people who don't like cats wonder about those of us who do.  Scarlett was aloof, unfriendly, occasionally surly.  She was all those things, that is, unless you were the one and only person who had earned her love.  And then...ah, then, you would see a heart as loving and fiercely loyal as any you could ever hope to find.  Scarlett was exactly the kind of cat who could have told you exactly what were the flaws of the humans around her, but whose love and admiration could be earned if you showed her the best you had in you. (And Scarlett--with all her dignity and self-important little airs--was deeply, deeply funny in many of the ways that her counterpart, Prudence, is also funny.)

It took time (nearly three years) for me to earn Scarlett's love and trust.  I used to joke that we were more like "roommates" than "mom" and "fur-kid."  In the book, Prudence also has a long way to go with her humans.  But, by the end of the story, she realizes that her "roommates" are really her family, and that love does save the day.

Writing this book was the hardest thing I've ever done (in my professional life, anyway).  I struggled and re-wrote, struggled and re-wrote, until my editor lost patience and even my husband yelled, "Just finish the thing already!"  Well, some of that comes down to the struggles that are innate in writing fiction.  But by the time I got about a third of the way in, Scarlett had been diagnosed with cancer.  I think that, deep down in the place where magical thinking lives, I believed that as long as I kept writing Scarlett, I could keep her alive.  Scarlett has since left us, but a piece of her spirit lives on in Prudence who some readers will, I hope, come to love as dearly as I loved her real-life inspiration.

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And for those of you who also came to love Vashti through Homer's Odyssey, never fear--there's a bit of Vashti in this story as well.  Vashti was the inspiration for a cat named Honey, a sweet girl who's a lesser character in the book ("lesser" in terms of how much ink she gets--but actually, in a way, the key to unlocking the heart of the story).  "Lesser" in the sense that she has fewer pages in a book, but never lesser in my heart or in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.

A few weeks ago I was afraid that I might have lost Homer as well by the time this book was published.  Homer's spirit will always live on through Homer's Odyssey, but his real physical self is still alive and happy and purring deeply in my lap as I write this.  For this, I am deeply grateful.

I'm absolutely crazy about our doofy, hilarious, three-legged Clayton (with his adorable little hippity-hop way of walking) and his loving and beautiful littermate, Fanny (who adores Laurence as much as Vashti did).  But today is a day when I have my girls back with me, the way it was when it was just the four of us--me and Homer and Scarlett and Vashti--as we were for so long, before life gave us New York and Laurence and books and old age. 

Much as I did when I wrote about Homer, I once again send all three of them out into the world between the covers of a book, hoping that readers will find a place for them in their hearts.

Comments

  • judi madigan Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I am sooooooo looking forward to reading this new book with my cat Layla on my lap.

  • Andrea Thursday, 17 January 2013

    I have a cat named Layla too!

  • Jackie Matlock Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    That's so sweet! I need a tissue ...

  • Becky Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I'm glad Homer is still with you. May the others never be forgotten and RIP. The book sounds great.

  • Janet Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I have started reading the new book this morning. Took me while to convince my Nook to give me my pre ordered book... But I finally won :-)

  • Pat Roller Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Help

    How did you get your Nook to let the book onto your screen?k I can't make it work!!

  • Rebecca Asberry Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Beautiful!

    Gwen,
    I see all of my cats in your stories! Thanks for sharing your angels with us! I will now have to re-do my makeup! I am going to amazon right now to order the book! I read the 1st chapter in the post last week and cant wait to read the rest!

  • Kim Hester Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Sniff. Sniff... Thank you so much Gwen for being such the gifted writer that you are.

  • Gina Howard Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I can't wait to read it! Congrats!

  • Cheryl Hogeland Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I absolutely loved Homer's Odyssey, and I am so looking forward to Love Saves the Day. I just cannot imagine my life without my little 4-footed fur-kids. I currently have 3, all female, who run the gamut from 4 month old kitten to a 4 yr old rescue to a 14 yr old tabby who came from California with me, who really wishes that all the others would just go away and leave her alone!

  • Sherry Douceur Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Shortly after Scarlett passed away, my husband had a business trip to Manhattan. One of the things he did while he was there was to go up to Fort Tryon (?) Park to commune with the spirits of Vashti and Scarlett. That is how much we came to love them Gwen. Miss Scarlett reminds us of our cat Buddy. He was a brown tabby and also loved no one but us. Nobody understood why we loved him. When we went to adopt him, the guy at the adoption place said "You want THIS one?" Yes, we did. We saw a photo of him, and he just spoke to us. We had him from 2001 until his death at 20 in 2010. Once he accepted us after his first few days, he slept with us every single night we were at home until the day or two before he passed away. I was already so looking forward to reading LOVE SAVES THE DAY, but even more so now that I know that Prudence is based on Miss Scarlett.

  • Lisa Shackett Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Why am I crying? I guess it's because I know hoe much you loved Scarlett and Vashti and now they are alive in spirit through your new book. It is awaiting download on my kindle. Can't wait to read it! Love to Homer and the new kids!

  • June and Sienna Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    A Truly Loving Tribute

    This backstory about the new book has me in tears once again. I am overwhelmed with the love that shines through your tributes to Scarlett and Vashti in the form of Love Saves the Day. And I am reminded once again how thankful all of your fans and readers are that our special little Homer is with you to share the triumphant release of the new book. I will be watching the mail for its arrival as I anticipated "meeting" Prudence and the human characters. Thank you again, Gwen, for sharing your wonderful family with all of us.
    Love and Purrs to you, Laurence, the kittens, and especially our Homer.

  • Kaye Brady Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Can't wait to read it. My Carolina Crew has so many purrsonalities, each and everyone touch our lives in so many ways. When they cross the rainbow bridge they never go far, they are always in our hearts, in little things all around us, till time we meet again.
    I enjoyed meeting you at BCR and hope you continue to write and wish you must success.
    Hugs and purrrs from Me and the Carolina Crew

  • Mary Stewart Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Inspiration

    Gwen, I didn't know they were the inspiration for your book - thank you for sharing that with us. I'm looking forward to reading it!

  • Dee Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    books

    I so loved the audio book about Homer; I laughed and cried listening to it. I could "see" everything you described;it was nice to see real pics here though. Am looking forward to reading the new book. Much love and blessings to all especially Homer from Joker-21 yrs;Bunny-18 yrs;and Amber-the baby at 6 yrs and me

  • Annie Spokescat Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Scarlet of Calico Junction Sanctuary

    Our Scarlet's will always be a big part of us. Good luck with your book. Know how your heart must have felt while trying to be her. I'm sure the adventure will be well worth the price like, your last book that was a very good read..

  • Anesthesiagamer @Anesthesiagamer Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Scarlett's Memoir

    I can't wait for this book. I was completely enthralled by Homer's Odyssey and follow you (him) on facebook

  • Melinda Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    FYI

    You've made people care so much about your fur-babies :) My husband and I have 3 fur-kids, and one daughter. I read Homer's Odyssey a couple of years ago, and yet I still check in on this blog at least once a week to see how the kitties are doing. I'm so glad Homer is still with you.

  • Hope Prinzivalli Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Touching...

    I am sooooo glad that when I visited my cousin in Tenn. last year she told me about your book, actually she had it from a friend and kept it so I could read it while I was visiting her. It brought me to tears... it made me laugh out loud... I could totally relate to everything you wrote about your kitties! Your writing is spot on with how a cat thinks.... and this I know because I am also a cat psychoanalyst! Putting all jokes aside, you have a real gift... can't wait to read the book. Your post and love for your cats brought me to tears,I feel the same of mine. We love our pets don't we, better than some people! Hope your book sells off the shelves! xx

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