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

  • April Crawford Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    A wonderful tribute to sweet Scarlett. I can't wait to read the new book.

  • Shirley Bailey Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Scarlett's Memoir
    Gwen: So sorry about your losing Scarlett last year. I had a similar experience with my beloved Silly... lung cancer... I will never forget the date he went to sleep. I still mourn him. I'm a cat-sitter in Canada and you can see him on my video www.kittycare.ca Looking forward to getting the new book. I have read Homer's O. And when I'm not busy with sitting kitties I keep up-to-date with you, Laurence and Homer. Good luck with the book sales.

  • Deanna Williamson Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    A Thankful Blessing to Vashti and Scarlet!

    How precious to have both Vashti, Scarlet and Homer in your lives! Each one with their special sweet ways and their objections now and then. Homer's story is so dear to my heart. Will always be there. You give and gave the most caring love to each of them. Your new book is on the way to me.THANK YOU!

  • Leslie Polzien Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Thank you, I am now sobbing like a baby. That's what I get, I suppose, for reading that post while waiting for the vet to call me with test results. But it's a happy day for you, Gwen, so congratulations! I am so glad your kitties will be immortalized like this, it's awesome.

  • Cathy Horan Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Looking forward to reading the book!

    Just gorgeous thoughts, Gwen, re your 3 "original" fur-babies & how they inspired you...and will live on between the covers of a book. I'm going to have to do something similar with my own lovelies.

  • Nancy Pollack Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Hurray for Love Saves the Day

    What a moving story! What wonderful cats and their "parents" are just as wonderful. Wish you all the success that is sure to be yours!

  • Kumo Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Gwen, the Magic Writer

    Dear Gwen,
    It isn't just your eloquence, your capacity to create story and atmosphere; it's your LOVE, the love you pour into each of your characters, that leaps off the page and into our hearts! THAT is the Gwen Cooper magic. Thank you for a beautifully memorable book.
    And thank you, Scarlet and Vashti, for being beautifully memorable cats.
    Kumo

  • Sherri Eubanks Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Love to you all, Gwen! Beautiful, beautiful story! Your heart shines!

  • judi madigan Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    tough read for all the right reasons

    started reading this this morning and got to page 29 and " she was the only human I loved" and started crying like a baby. I lost my cat Felix after a struggle with congestive heart failure just 3 weeks ago and the pain is sometimes unbearable.
    had to put the book down since I couuldnt see through the tears, I am hoping to be able to pick it up again in a bit becasue I adore the book already but the heartbreak is a tad bit overwhelming.

  • crescentmoon Friday, 18 January 2013

    From my heart to yours

    Judi - I lost Sarah to congestive heart failure all the way back in 1998! I still miss her terribly (she was truly my soul mate) & still cry sometimes. The pain will be unbearable for some time (I wanted to be dead with her b/c she was all I had that really mattered to me), but slowly & surely it will dull a little & eventually become poignant memories & smiles along with occasional tears. I wish you angels to help comfort you - & I wish you the presence of Felix all around you.
    Last February I had to send Maya to the rainbow bridge to wait with Sarah. My little My had cancer in her face & in the course of trying to just make her comfortable for the duration, we removed her eye (it no longer could close or blink) & did a skin graft. Of course I thought of Homer w hen she was without an eye. I don't know if it made her more comfortable, but she was such a trooper through it all. The last night she was here, though it was Feb., it was mild enough that we sat on the porch & looked at the "Maya star" (Jupiter as the evening star then - & the one I wished on the rest of the winter - & it's back now... hi, Maya) & talked & petted & purred. Maya was always the "fraidy kitty" & would puff her tail to twice its size at anything that startled her. Her very last act (probably some sort of reflex, but so what?), just before Dr. Lori said, "She's gone," was a tail puff! It was as if she was telling me "See you later" – or maybe Sarah just impishly startled her when she got to the bridge.
    Oops - I got a little carried away here - hope it's not too long.

  • Kumo Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Gwen, the Magic Author

    Dear Gwen,
    I wept when I read your new book had, in one day, reached #1 on the B&N charts.
    That speaks volumes! Literally, and in so many different ways. It's the LOVE that you pour into each of your characters that jumps off the page to fill our hearts. It's the integrity of tithing to animal welfare organizations and giving them your time and hands-on support. It's the power of a fan base you treat like family. It's deeply loving and caring for your furry family and your human one. And it's the power of eloquent writing, intriguing story-lines and fantastic marketing!(I hope Zabar's provides you all with a lifetime of deli goodies) And its the HOPE you give to animal welfare workers that, together, we can create miracles.
    The Gwen Cooper Magic is a "gift" well earned.
    Sincerely,
    Kumo

  • Cynthia Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Can't wait to read the new book!

    I am so looking forward to reading "Love Saves The Day." I only recently discovered Homer in his book. Reading that book made me fall in love with not only Homer, but Scarlett & Vashti as well. I, too , have had a fluffy, gentle, loving white cat (Poo Kitty) & a, well.. somewhat surly tabby & white cat (Sneezer)- both of which sounded so much like your furbabies. & Homer.. what can I say? He is amazing! Thank you for writing your stories. It is wonderful reading about cats from the perspective of someone who loves them as much as I love my cats. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories! God bless you!

  • Jeanette Bujold Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Rabsatt (Rabby) was my Scarlett. Unconditional love is so hard to find even in the best of pets.

  • Gwen Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Thank You

    Thank you, everybody, for all your kind words, your support, and for loving my little ones almost as much as I do. :) Some of you (I'm looking at you, Kumo!) give me FAR more credit than I deserve. I don't do anything more than anybody here does--I just have a bigger mouth. (I believe it's genetic--I come from a long line of mouthy women! ;-p) I always say that the greatest thing about writing about cats is having gotten to meet so many outstanding humans because of it...

  • Amy Palmer Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Socks

    Scarlett had great socks. :) I'm enjoying the book. Thank you for sharing all of your kitties with us!

  • Melissa Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    I love reading your updates!! I'm a facebook follower & read Homer's story a couple of years ago. And I'm the local cat lady! Haha! Also, just saw the video clip on here...LOVE it!! Looking forward to the new book and love hearing stories of your kitties!

  • Mariodacat Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    I am so looking forward to this book. Homer was such a great book, so we know this will be too. It must be very difficult to write a book and then to have that spaial kitty cross the RB bridge. Thanks heavens you had the courage to carry on.

  • andi Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    beautiful tribute

    what a wonderful honor for your girls! I am sure they are having a wonderful life over the Bridge and they are happy that you are doing so well and providing a loving home and family for the new kids. That is the greatest love you can give.

  • Gisele Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    Gwen, Love Saves the Day is on my Kindle now and I can't wait to read it: I suspect I will identify with Prudence's voice in going through the bewildering transformation of a huge personal loss, and I know from the excerpt you posted that your storytelling skills will be as captivating here as in Homer's story (but then we all knew that from these always anticipated blog updates on the growing, evolving Cooper-Lerman household).

  • Janette Kavanaugh Wednesday, 16 January 2013

    YOUR TRIBUTE TO SCARLETT

    What a beautiful tribute to Scarlett. It will be wonderful as I read the book to realize that she is the inspiration. I know it must have been doubly difficult to write it after she became ill. I'm glad Homer Bear is doing well. Love to you and your wonderful family.

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