In Memory of Scarlett, the Inspiration for My New Book
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.
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.
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.