Gwen Cooper is the author of Homer’s Odyssey – A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wondercat, and the novel Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. A Miami native, Gwen spent five years working in non-profit administration, marketing, and fundraising. She coordinated and led direct-service volunteer activities on behalf of organizations including Pet Rescue, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, the Miami Rescue Mission, His House, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, the Daily Bread Food Bank, and Family Resource Center (an organization providing emergency shelter for abused and neglected children). She also initiated Reading Pen Pals, an elementary school-based literacy program in Miami’s Little Haiti.
Gwen currently lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her three perfect cats—Scarlett, Vashti, and Homer—who aren’t impressed with any of it.
I’m delighted to welcome Gwen Cooper to The Conscious Cat today.
Gwen, Homer’s Odyssey made the New York Times Bestseller list less than two weeks after its publication. It’s a wonderful book and I’m not surprised at its immediate success. What does it feel like to see your book become so successful in such a short amount of time?
It’s hard for me to say, because it still hasn’t really sunk in yet! So mostly what I’ve felt is shock, interspersed with moments of pure elation.
When did you first know you would write a book about Homer?
November of 2007. I’d had the idea a couple of months earlier, but that November was when I finally felt like I knew, in general terms at least, what the story would be and how it would be written.
I was captivated by your story and by Homer almost from the very first page, but I was particularly moved by your account of the events of 9/11 and the days following. You lived through every pet owner’s nightmare. As a result of this experience, do you have any advice for pet owners to prepare for emergency situations?
That’s a tough question to answer, insofar as there are some things in life you can’t fully prepare for. But what I learned from the experience was that I should always have at least a week’s worth of supplies—food, litter, a few gallons of water—in my apartment at all times. My cats ended up trapped in my apartment near Ground Zero for days before I could get back to them, and because I didn’t have any extra supplies handy, I had to walk for miles—and then climb thirty-one flights of stairs—with two gallons of water, seven pounds of litter, and five pounds of cat food. The process of getting back to them might not have been faster if I hadn’t had to carry all of that, but it certainly would have been easier.
What was the writing process like for you?
The process of outlining this book was long and agonizing and had me tearing my hair out at times. How to summarize twelve years of a life in 80,000 words or less? But once I had my outline done, the writing itself was pure joy.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
I’m usually up between 5:30 and 6:00am, and writing by no later than 7:00am. Then I write for as long as I can until I run out of steam. Usually I try to put in at least an eight-hour writing day, but of course some days go much longer and others are much shorter.
What do you love most about being a writer?
What do you like least about being a writer?
Writing! I’m sure a lot of writers out there will know exactly what I mean when I say it’s frequently a love/hate relationship.
Who or what inspires you?
There’s no one specific thing, except that I’ve always been in love with language itself. As soon as I get an idea for a really great phrase or sentence, I’m off and running.
I’m also always inspired by the idea of telling a great story. With Homer, the initial “a-ha” moment came when I realized that a book about this blind cat, and the impact he’s had on the lives around him, would be filled with action, adventure, romance, heroes, villains, journeys, quests, triumph in the face of adversity, and all the great narrative “bones” that underlie a story truly worth telling. Once I realized that, I couldn’t wait to get the story on paper and out into the world.
What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?
Actually, the first reading I ever did for a book I’d written was the reading I did in Miami Beach to launch Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. I’d moved from South Beach to New York about six or seven years earlier, and very few of the friends I’d had before the move still lived in Miami—so I knew my parents and some of their friends would come, but I didn’t expect much of a crowd. But around 150 people showed up! I was absolutely floored, and it was just a really great way to kick off that book.
What are you reading at the moment?
The City & The City by China Mieville. It’s phenomenal.
Are you working on another book?
I’m working on a proposal for another book, although my agent has basically threatened me with death if I talk about it before it’s written. (I kid! But, seriously, she’s anxious to keep it under wraps for now.)
And lastly, what does Homer think about his newfound fame?
Homer is taking it pretty much in stride, although we’ve been getting a ton of gift baskets and toys and gourmet cat treats lately. I’ve probably always spoiled my cats, but now they’re really spoiled, and I sometimes wonder if Homer wonders why he’s suddenly so indulged these days.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, Gwen, and much continued success with Homer’s Odyssey!
Thank you—and thanks for having me on your blog!