It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Dena Harris. Dena has been a humor columnist for Cats & Kittens magazine and contributor to Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul. The author of Lessons in Stalking and For the Love of Cats, Dena lives in Madison, North Carolina with her husband (aka, “The Tall Guy”) and their cats, Lucy and Olivia, in a home filled with expensive, never-touched cat stuff. Dena’s newest book, Who Moved My Mouse? A Self-Help Book for Cats (Who Don’t Need Any Help) was published on October 19th.
I’m delighted to welcome Dena to The Conscious Cat today.
How did you get the idea for Who Moved My Mouse?
I had the idea for a cat to author a self-help book for people and was discussing it with friends when one of them suggested it would be really funny if there were a self-help book for cats. I loved the idea so much I ditched my idea and—with his permission—used his. Never undervalue the brainstorming power of a group of friends!
What made you decide that cats needed a self-help book?
They very idea that a cat would deign to admit they need help, let alone venture out to read a book on the topic, is so opposed to everything we imagine we know about cats that I knew I could get a lot of mileage out of the material.
I went to my local library and checked out every self-help book they had (which I’m sure caused more than a little gossip in my small town). For weeks I read about the power of positive thinking, affirmations, loving yourself, learning to stand up for yourself, accepting responsibility for your life, creating joy, and the whole time I’m picturing this forlorn feline reading all this material and thinking, “What the–?” and deciding to bag it and destroy the couch instead.
Tell us about your cats. Did they have a paw in writing the book?
I have two cats. Lucy is my talker, a black-and-white who has an opinion on everything. (She twitters as @Lucy_Cat.) Olivia is a reserved tabby who most friends have never seen because she hides. Both were strays. I have really strong cat allergies and technically shouldn’t have cats, but I adore my girls.
Both are couch potatoes and didn’t do much with the book, except every now and then when I was stuck I’d look at them and say, “Do something funny so I can write about it” and then they’d wander into the kitchen so I’d stop bothering them.
You are a prolific writer – did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
No. I always assumed I’d be in upper-management at some business. But at my first job out of college, when I was promoted to supervisor I went into the ladies room and threw up. That was my first clue that maybe me and corporate life weren’t a great fit. I had a few different careers, earned a master’s degree, then started taking online writing classes. An instructor encouraged me to submit a story to a magazine; they accepted it and I was hooked.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
Oh Lord, it depends. I do a lot of client work and I have a hard time focusing on creative writing if I have a deadline hanging over me. I try to schedule my time in two-hour blocks, and divide it up among creative writing, client work, admin, and marketing.
What do you love most about being a writer?
Two things: how much flexibility I have with my time (I’m a morning person and am pretty much brain dead by 3 PM) and also that writing is something that I’ll never entirely master so I know I’ll never grow bored.
What do you like least about being a writer?
I sometimes get a bit defensive and feel the need to make sure people understand that freelance writing is hard work and I’m not just sitting around the house, goofing off.
Who or what inspires you?
Having worked at jobs where I was miserable, I’m inspired daily by this wonderful opportunity I have to do what I love. I get to work from home, I meet and interview interesting people, and with Who Moved My Mouse? I’m being paid to write about the world’s most magnificent creature, the cat. I am beyond grateful.
What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?
At a signing for my first book, this woman came up and told me this horrible story about how her cat was sitting in an open window and the pane fell on his tail and trapped him for hours and she just went on and on and she’s laughing as she’s telling me all this. The cat ended up being fine, but I just couldn’t see the humor in a cat being hurt and I had no idea what my reaction to her should be other than, “Get away from me.”
What are you reading at the moment?
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr. It describes how the Internet is changing the way we read and process information and how we’re losing the ability for focus and deep thought. As I writer, I really relate. The only way I get any work done is first thing in the morning before I go near e-mail or online. Once I open up Facebook or Twitter, it’s all over.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, Dena, and much success with Who Moved My Mouse!