Books

An Interview with CJ Lyons, Medical Suspense Author

It is my pleasure to welcome medical suspense author CJ Lyons to The Conscious Cat today.  (And yes, there is a cat connection – read on!)

CJ LyonsCJ Lyons has lived most of her life on the edge. Trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine, she has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy. She has worked in numerous trauma centers, on the
Navajo reservation, as a crisis counselor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac.  A Golden Heart Finalist in Romantic Suspense and winner of the Golden Gateway, CJ is a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers,  and Sisters in Crime. Her work has appeared in CrimeSpree, Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and Spinetingler. She has presented keynote speeches and workshops at numerous national conventions including MWA’s Sleuthfest, Romantic Times, Colorado Gold and RWA.

As a fan of medical drama tv shows and an avid reader, I was thrilled when I discovered Lifelines  last year.  I thought this would be the best of both worlds – a book that read like one of my favorite tv shows.  Actually – it was better.  CJ combines the best of ER and Grey’s Anatomy into a wonderful mix of romance, suspense, friendship and mystery in the form of a compelling medical thriller.  Thankfully, Warning Signs, the second book in the series, was not too far behind.  Meredith and McDreamy, eat your heart out!  Meet the doctors and staff of Angels of Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.  The third book in the series, Urgent Care , was published October 27, 2009.  I picked up my copy yesterday and I can’t wait to read it!

CJ, you are a trained emergency physician.  What made you decide to stop practicing emergency medicine and write about it instead?

Actually, the writing came first.  I’ve been a story teller all my life—which, given that I had a problem telling truth from fiction as a child, led to lots of hours in time-out, which led to more stories….a vicious cycle.  As soon as I could read, I began devouring books and writing my own stories down.
When published friends convinced me that my work was also good enough to be published, I realized I had a chance at a second career.  So after selling my first book, and realizing that working 60 hours a week was going to burn me out sooner or later, I took a leap of faith and quit medicine to write full-time.  So far (knock on wood!) it’s paying the bills and has been a wonderful adventure!

Do you miss practicing medicine?

I miss my patients a great deal.  There’s just nothing like holding a newborn to remind you what’s really important in this world.

Please tell us about Urgent Care.

urgent_care-185x300Urgent Care is a true book of my heart.  In it, ER charge nurse Nora Halloran must face her greatest fear—that she may have caused a colleague’s death by not reporting a sexual assault two years ago.  The man who attacked Nora back then has returned—only now he’s killing his victims.

As a woman and a medical professional, I was hard pressed to imagine a worse scenario.  And having worked with victims, I know that over 60% never disclose their abuse to anyone—they’re overwhelmed with shame, fear that they’ll be labeled as victims, and a need to move on with their lives.  How awful would it be for a strong woman like Nora to not only face her past but also the consequences of her actions?  What would she do to stop the killer and make things right?  Those questions drive the plot of URGENT CARE—it’s darker and edgier than the first two books, but it has to be.  These are dark, serious, universal questions that there is no right answer to.

How much of the story line in the books is drawn from your own experience as a physician?

I try to keep all the medicine as real as possible, using real life cases from my own career or that are reported in the medical literature.  But all the patients are totally fictional—I change everything except the medical details.

How much of yourself is reflected in your characters? 

A lot!  Lydia is who I aspire to be.  She’s strong, determined, smart, fiercely passionate about her patients, and always knows the right thing to do.  Amanda sometimes feels like a stranger in a strange land, just like I did as a Yankee in the South during medical school.  Gina reflects my insecurities and self-doubts.  And Nora has all the protective, mother-hen skills that I’ve been accused of having.

AnnieI was delighted to discover that you are a cat person.  Meet Annie, CJ’s cat.  Can you tell us a little bit about her?

Like all my pets, Annie (short for Orphan Annie) is a rescue animal.  She’d been tied up into a plastic bag and thrown out of a car when she was young.  I’ve had her for fourteen years now and other than an aversion to riding in cars, she’s the most friendly and sociable cat you’ll ever meet!  I wish people were as resilient!

Lydia, one of the characters in the series, has a very unique cat.  NoName, as she calls the cat, is almost panther like in his appearance and has a very unique personality.  Is he based on Annie, and if not, how does Annie feel about having to share you with a fictional cat?

Good thing Annie’s napping right now (can you hear her snoring?), don’t tell her but No Name is not based on her.  As you can see, Annie is a fat, happy calico.  I needed a cunning, self-sufficient graveyard cat to be the perfect match for my character Lydia who is herself independent and not very trusting.

Both Lydia and No Name have intimacy issues, lol!  But No Name gets overSokoke-Forest-Cat-Poster-I12158544 his first when he adopts Lydia as his human.  And he does get a name. 

He’s actually based on a cat adopted by friends of mine, David and Donna Morrell.  David was telling me about their cat and its different shape, which is found throughout the breed.  I did some research and found a relative of his cat, a species originally from Africa who enjoyed water and were fiercely loyal, known for protecting and herding their people like Border collies.  The breed is called Sokoke Forest Cats.

Will NoName ever get a real name?

LOL!  Of course!  In the second book, Warning Signs, he is christened “Ginger Cat” because of his coloring, shades of brown and tan.

Many writers find that cats are the perfect writing companions.  Does Annie assist you with your writing?

If you call sleeping on my laptop assisting, lol!  No seriously, she’s great company and fairly low maintenance which makes her perfect.  She’ll remind me when it’s mealtime, makes sure I’m out of bed early every morning, and makes sure I get some exercise when I play with her.  And of course, I never have to worry about my legs getting cold as her two favorite perches when I’m writing (I write in a comfy rocking chair with my legs stretched out on an ottoman) are either in my lap or asleep on my legs.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

I have no typical day—which is exactly how I like it!  After seventeen years of medicine (and before that all those years of school) when I needed to lead a very structured life, at the beck and call of patients and colleagues 24/7, I now do what I want when I want.  It’s very freeing!

What do you love most about being a writer?

I love the idea that through my books I can reach out to tens of thousands of people and not only entertain them but also inspire and empower them.  One of the main reasons why I’ve written all my life is a desire to try to change the world—one story at a time.  Yes, even after all those years spent in the ER, I’m still a hopeless optimist.  I truly believe that heroes are born everyday and that we all have the potential of becoming a hero.

What do you like least about being a writer?

That so much is out of my control—talk about the ultimate torture for a control-freak ER doc!  I’m slowly learning patience (the publishing world embodies “hurry-up and wait”) as well as the fact that the only things I can control are my attitude and my work.  Good life lessons, but oh-so-hard to learn!

Who or what inspires you?

Most of my inspiration has come from my patients, their families, and the wonderful medical professionals I’ve been privileged to work with.  They’ve taught me the true meaning of courage.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

Meeting readers, people who have been touched by my books or who love my characters like they’re real people is always exciting.  But the most memorable experience was at a signing where a woman carrying a baby, maybe nine months old or so, waited in line to see me, then plopped the baby down, undid his diaper and asked me check his circumcision!  Said she’d heard there was a doctor in the store signing books and wanted a second opinion on her grandson.  The baby was fine, I assured her, and she left—without even buying a book, lol!

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished re-reading Toni McGee Causey’s wonderful Bobbie Faye trilogy (Charmed and Dangerous, Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, and When a Man Loves a Weapon)—great reading if you want to laugh out loud and have a fun time with some memorable characters.

Will there be a fourth book in the Angels of Mercy series?

Yes!  Isolation  will pick up where Urgent Care leaves off—it takes place three days later, on Christmas Eve, and will be released next year.  In it Gina faces her darkest fears and decides her own fate—I’ve just started it, so I’m not exactly sure where it will go, but I’m thinking of it as Die Hard in a hospital, so I’m sure there will be tons of mayhem and chaos!  Sounds like a perfect Christmas for the women of Angels of Mercy, doesn’t it?

Thank you so much for visiting The Conscious Cat, CJ, and much success with Urgent Care!

For more information about CJ and her books, please visit her website at http://www.cjlyons.net.

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care by Celester Yarnall, Ph.D. and Jean Hofve, DVM

Holistic Cat Care

The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care is a comprehensive resource for the cat parent interested in natural alternatives for feline health.  Co-authored by Celeste Yarnall, Ph.D, the author of Natural Cat Care and Natural Dog Care, and Jean Hofve, DVM, a holistic veterinarian with extensive training in homeopathy and homotoxicology, the book covers topics such as nutrition, natural remedies, and hands-on healing in an easy to understand way without being light on the factual information.  The book places particular emphasis on nutrition as preventive medicine.  Yarnall, a breeder of Tonkinese championship show cats, bred and raised eleven generations of cats on the basic holistic principles outlined in her books.  The foundation of her breeding program is a raw food diet.  The chapter on Nutrtition as Preventative Medicine provides a complete and thorough overview of everything a cat owner might want to know about feeding raw the right way.

Other aspects of holistic cat care addressed in the book include natural remedies such as herbs, homeopathy and flower essences, hand-on healing modalities including chiropractic, acupuncture and Reiki, as well as some more esoteric therapies such as Applied Kinesiology, crystal, color and sound healing, and magnetic therapy.  All of these modalities are introduced and explained in an easily accessible, yet comprehensive manner.  In conclusion, Yarnall offers her outlook on the ever-expanding field of anti-aging health care and how it might impact our cats.

In addition to being chock full of well-researched and well-presented information on holistic cat care, the book is beautifully laid out and  illustrated with stunning cat photographs.  This guide is a valuable resource for every cat owner interested in holistic health and a beautiful addition to your cat care library.

For more information about Celeste Yarnall and natural nutrition and health care for cats and dogs, please visit Celeste’s website at http://www.celestialpets.com.

Book Review: P.S. What I Didn’t Say – Edited By Megan McMorris

PSFemale friendships are some of the most wonderful, powerful, and sometimes complicated relationships in women’s lives.  Have you ever had something you wanted to say to a friend, but couldn’t?  Have you ever wished you could go back in time to say something you didn’t?   In P.S. What I Didn’t Say, Megan McMorris brings together a collection of unsent letters written by a wide range of female writers to friends both current, past and deceased, covering, in the editor’s words, “BFFs, frenemies, and everything in between.” 

From the touching The We of Me by Jacquelyn Mitchard about the kind of friendship that is so intense that it survives even a five year period of silence, to Kristina Wright’s The Last Letter about a friendship with an older woman that took place almost entirely through letters, to McMorris’ own contribution What Would Diane Do about the kind of true friendship that endures, P.S.  provides a glimpse into the private thoughts and emotions of the writers.  Each reader will, no doubt, find parallels to her own life – remembering the grade school friend who moved across the country, but still remains a vivid memory, or the college pal who has remained a trusted friend despite infrequent contact. 

This book will help women better understand some of their own complicated friendships, and perhaps, provide the inspiration to get in touch with long lost, but not forgotten friends.  It will definitely make the reader treasure her own friendships, and perhaps serve as a reminder that it’s always better to say what you need to say while you still can, rather than wait until it may be too late.  A beautiful compilation, this book should go on every woman’s reading, and gift, list.

Megan McMorris is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR.  She is the MeganMcMorriseditor of Women’s Best Friend:  Women Writers on Their Dogs and Cat Women:  Female Writers on Their Feline Friends, and has written guides to hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.  Her outdoors column, Misadventures, appears in The Orgeonian.  Megan has also written for Real Simple, Glamour, Guiding Light, Prevention, Fitness, SELF, Woman’ s Day, and Shape, among other.  For more information about Megan, visit her website

And where, you may ask, is the cat connection here?  In addition to being the editor of the wonderful anthology Cat Women:  Female Writers on their Feline Friends, Megan also provided a wonderful endorsement for Buckley’s Story:

“For those of us who think–or, rather, know–that cats have a thing or two to teach us in this life, you’ll appreciate Ingrid King’s story about her cat Buckley.”

Thank you, Megan!

10 Top 10 Lists for Cat Lovers

kitten

The 10 Top 10 Lists for Cat Lovers project was launched on October 1.  This project is the first in a series of eleven e-books being published by Bellalife Studios. 50% of sales for each e-book will be donated to charities and non profits that are related to the topic of each book.

The 10 Top 10 Lists for Cat Lovers is a great resource packed with useful links to 100 excellent cat related sites.  50% of the proceeds from the sale of this instant-download, user-friendly book go to cat rescues, shelters, charities and groups.  If you know of a charity you’d like to benefit from this project, please feel free to let them know about it. They’re looking for people who have the heart, the courage and the time to help cats in need, and often do so at their own financial and emotional expense. They want to hear about those special souls who continue to work “in the trenches” despite regular heartbreak, time/space constraints and very limited budgets.  Their goal is to assist as many as possible with the help of their readers.

I am delighted that The Conscious Cat  is listed in the book under the heading Top 10 Newsletters for Cat Lovers.

An Interview with Barbara Techel, Author of Frankie the Walk ‘N’ Roll Dog

Frankie cover

It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Barbara Techel, the author of Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog.  This is a true, inspirational story about a dachshund whose life changed forever when she ruptured a disk in her lower back and became paralyzed in her hind legs. After three months of physical therapy and acupuncture, it was determined that she would not walk again, and she was custom fitted for a dog cart, which is the canine version of a wheelchair. It doesn’t take long for Frankie to adjust to her new wheels and she continues to joyfully roll through life.

This heartwarming and moving story is told from Frankie’s point of view. While written for children, it’s a story that will appeal to animal lovers of all ages. Along with beautiful illustrations, the book show us, through the example of this high-spirited little dog, that it is possible to overcome any challenge and reclaim a joy for life despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Please join me in welcoming Barbara Techel to The Conscious Cat!

Barbara TechelBarbara, Frankie is your first book. How did you become a writer?

Yes, this is my first book. After my chocolate lab, Cassie Jo, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 I began a spiritual journey yearning to do something that would matter deeply to me and would make a difference. That led me to writing about animals, especially dogs. For two years I had a monthly column, “For the Love of Animals” through our local paper before I ventured into writing a book.

What was the process of writing about Frankie like for you?

It was an amazing experience for me! Though I had never written a book before, the urge to tell Frankie’s story was very strong. Frankie inspired me because of all she went through and how she remained the same, happy dog. Writing her story in part, was therapy for me, while at the same time I wanted to share what I learned through Frankie’s experience so others could see that a disabled animal can live a quality life.

What made you decide to write Frankie’s story as a childrens’ book?

The reason I decided to write Frankie’s story as a children’s book was because of exactly that. Children. 🙂 When I started taking Frankie out in public in her dog cart (wheelchair) kids were so fascinated by her and wanted to know what happened. They thought it was so cool she could get around in her wheelchair. I realized I could have a positive impact on children, through Frankie, by helping them see their own challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow, just like Frankie taught me. I also thought if I could show kids that animals with disabilities deserve a chance, it would help them become better human beings, as well as help animals in need.

What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?

I really want people to see that just because an animal has a disability does not mean putting them to sleep is the only option. When Frankie suffered her spinal injury, I was so uneducated in disk disease in the breed, and at the time I thought putting Frankie to sleep was the only option. By having Frankie’s book as a children’s book, with parents reading the story to their kids, I felt I could reach two audiences with my message. The book is also great for dachshund lovers and Frankie is making a difference in helping other dachshunds in her same situation, and their owners. Frankie’s book helps people see that their dachshund can live a quality life also if diagnosed with disk disease and that there are viable options.

What was it like for you to deal with the many challenges a diagnosis such as Frankie’s brings? Do you have any tips for others who are faced with this situation for their pet?

It was tough at the beginning, especially since I didn’t know much about the disease. Financially and emotionally it was hard, and trying to make the best decisions for Frankie, while also having to be concerned with what I could afford. It was an adjustment adding in physical therapy twice a day to my routine, helping Frankie go to the bathroom by expressing her bladder several times a day (which I continue to this day), giving her meds throughout the day, etc. as she healed.

Looking back, my best advice would be to talk to others who have been through this. I didn’t know anyone at first, and I feel if I could have just talked with someone who had been through this it would give me more peace of mind. Luckily I did find an organization, DodgersList (http://dodgerslist.com/) which provides information and help for those going through this. They are wonderful! I also offer to help anyone by talking with them via phone or email who find themselves in this situation. Helping ease some of their worry is my way of giving back and hopefully giving others peace of mind to get them through the first crucial days.

Who or what inspires you?

Without a doubt, animals, especially dogs, inspire me!

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

You know, I was simply blown away at my book launch. I really had no idea what to expect or even if people would come. There were over 200 people in attendance and I felt this incredible energy of support and love. It was so amazing. I remember driving home with my husband later that afternoon feeling incredibly blessed and as if I was in a dream. It is a day I will remember the rest of my life.

As far as other experiences, this journey has been wonderful. Meeting children and seeing how they come to love Frankie makes my heart sing! Also meeting physically challenged children and watching them connect with Frankie without even saying a word at times, is simply heart warming and very rewarding.

Are you planning on writing another book?

I have a second book about Frankie that is due to be released in January 2010. It is called, Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House. In September 2009 Frankie became a registered therapy dog with Therapy Dogs, Inc (http://therapydogs.com/). Once a month we visit a senior assisted facility where many of the residents have dementia or Alzheimer’s. The book is about how Frankie became a therapy dog and the residents she now visits with. My hope is to help children understand the elderly and not have such a fear of them.

I also have an activity book, Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Activity Book , which is good for grade levels 3rd and up. It has crossword puzzles, word search, mazes, etc. to help reinforce Frankie’s message of dealing with your challenges in a positive way.

What are you reading at the moment?

Everything!  Ha!   Seriously, I am always trying to keep up on the writing world, marketing, etc. by reading articles and newsletters, as well as reading for pleasure. So right now I am reading, Excuses Begone by Dr. Wayne Dyer, My Buddy Butch by Jeff Marginean and eagerly awaiting the arrival of Soul of a Dog by Jon Katz (my favorite author who writes about dogs and animals).

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Barbara!

You can learn more about Barbara and her book on her website  and on her blog.

An Interview with Gwen Cooper, Author of the New York Times Bestseller Homer’s Odyssey

Gwen

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?

Writing!

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!

You can learn more about Gwen and her book on her website , and you can find her on Facebook.

Book Review: “Homer’s Odyssey” by Gwen Cooper

HomersOdysseyCover

Some books about animals warm your heart.  Others touch your soul.  Homer’s Odyssey, subtitled A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wondercat falls into the second category.  This moving, inspirational and often funny story about a blind cat with a huge spirit and an endless capacity for love, joy and a determination to persevere no matter what the obstacles is a wonderful celebration of the bond between a cat and his human and the transformational power of loving an animal.

Homer’s story begins when the stray kitten is brought to Miami veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly (who wrote the foreword to the book), host of the popular veterinary blog Dolittler, at only three weeks of age.  Homer loses both eyes to a severe eye infection, and while nobody would have faulted Dr. Khuly for euthanizing this kitten, she saw something in him that made her determined to save him.  When Gwen gets a call from Dr. Khuly asking whether she would come take a look at this kitten, the last thing the author wants is another cat.  She already has two, and she’s worried about crossing the line into crazy cat lady territory by adopting another one.  But she agrees to take a look – and falls in love.

Homer, the blind kitten who doesn’t know he’s blind, has a giant heart and an indomitable spirit.  He quickly adapts to new situations and environments, and turns into a feline daredevil who scales tall bookcases in a single bound and catches flies by jumping five feet into the air.  Eventually, Gwen and the three cats move from Miami to New York City (and the story of their move is an adventure that will have you on the edge of your seat with worry and concern for this family of four).   Adjusting to city living in a cold climate takes some time, but once again, Homer’s adaptable spirit triumphs.  He even survives being trapped with his two feline companion for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center.

But it wasn’t Homer’s physical feats and his ability to adapt to physical limitations that ultimately transformed the author’s life.  Homer’s unending capacity for love and joy, no matter what life’s challenges may be, were a daily inspiration for Gwen, and ultimately taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

It’s rare that a pet memoir is the kind of book you can’t put down – but this one is.  Thankfully, I knew at the outset that Home is alive and well, so unlike what happens with so many books in this genre, I didn’t expect to cry while reading this book.  Little did I know how the gut-wrenching account of the author’s experience in the days following 9/11 would affect me.  Gwen Cooper lived through every cat owners’ nightmare – fearing for the safety and survival of her cats, and being unable to get to them for several days.  The moving narrative and emotional impact of this chapter will leave few cat lovers unaffected.

Homer’s Odyssey is a must-read, to quote from the book’s cover, “for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and hopelessly in love with a pet.”

Coming soon on The Conscious Cat:  an interview with author Gwen Cooper.

An Interview with Clea Simon

Clea_w_cat1It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Clea Simon.  Clea is the author of three nonfiction books and two mystery series. The nonfiction books are Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings (published as a Doubleday hardcover in 1997, released as a Penguin paperback in 1998), Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads (Wiley, 2001) and The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin’s Press, 2002).  Her Theda Krakow mystery series was launched in 2005 with Mew is for Murder and continues with Cattery Row and Cries and Whiskers, all now available in paperback, and Probable Claws.  She just launched her new Dulcie Schwartz series launches this month with Shades of Grey, and it will continue in March 2010 with Grey Matters.

Clea’s essays are included in the following anthologies: Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends (Seal Press) and For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance (Seal Press).  Her short mysteries are found in Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Authors (Level Best) and the upcoming Cambridge Voices.  She has also written new introductions for two Agatha Christie classics, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary, published by the Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading in March 2009

Clea is also a respected journalist whose credits include The New York Times and The Boston Phoenix, and such magazines as American Prospect, Ms., and Salon.com.  She used to do a fair amount of music criticism, but now primarily focuses on relationships, feminism, and psychological issues.

Clea grew up in East Meadow, on suburban Long Island, N.Y., and came to Cambridge, Mass., to attend Harvard, from which she graduated in 1983.  She’s never left, and now happily cohabits with her husband, Jon S. Garelick, who is also a writer, and their cat Musetta. 

As a longtime fan of Clea’s writing, I’m thrilled to welcome her to The Conscious Cat today.

Thank you, Conscious Cat.  It’s a pleasure to be here.

Clea, you’re about to launch Shades of Grey, the first in your new Dulcie Schwartz series.  Can you tell us a little about the book and the series?

shades_of_grey_145Have you ever lost a pet – and then felt like your cat isn’t really gone?  That’s how Shades of Grey opens.  Dulcie Schwartz is having a miserable summer.  Her graduate studies are going nowhere, her nice roommate has been replaced (temporarily) by a boorish subletter, and, worst of all, she’s had to put her beloved cat, Mr. Grey, to sleep.  So when she comes home from her crappy summer job to see a cat who looks just like Mr. Grey sitting on her front stoop, she’s sort of shocked.  But then when that cat says to her, “I wouldn’t go inside, if I were you,” she doesn’t know what to make of it.  Being Dulcie, she doesn’t really pay attention and goes inside – to find her roommate dead, with her knife in his back, and a whole mess of problems waiting.  Perhaps it would be a good time to point out here that Dulcie is studying the Gothic adventure stories of the late 18th Century.  She just never expected her own life to become a ghost story…

What made you decide to start a new series, rather than continuing the successful Theda Krakow series?

I actually wrote Shades of Grey while Cries and Whiskers, the third Theda book, was in production. I needed to take a break, I wanted to try something different and … voila!  Then my editor at Poisoned Pen Press asked about Theda and I was happy to return to her and write Probable Claws.  But soon after that, Shades of Grey sold on the condition that I write a sequel.  I’ve just finished Grey Matters, which will be out in December in the UK, by March in the US.

You are a prolific writer – did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? 

Always.  I’ve always liked telling stories and I wrote those stories down from the first days I could write.  It was just a question of figuring out if I could do this for a living.

You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction.  Do you prefer one over the other, and if so, why?

These days I much prefer fiction.  I find it more fun.  But it requires a different kind of effort.  Nonfiction, and for me that also includes journalism, is about presenting a truth, or truths.  Facts and research.  I believe in over-researching, that is, doing enough interviews and research so you start to hear the same stories again and again.  I always want multiple confirmations of anything I’m writing about.  I want to make sure I have the story right. I’m also very conscious of what a very smart editor once told me: we strive for objectivity, but it doesn’t exist.  We all have a bias, a viewpoint, a prejudice.  So when I write nonfiction I also want to make sure that I present the options and, when possible, that I’m aware of my own bias or viewpoint. When I can, I try to state who I am as the writer in a piece.  Let the reader know, so she or he can make up her or his own mind  about how to read what I’ve written.

For fiction, I’ll do some research but it’s different kind of work.  It is more important in fiction to make a believable world than an utterly true one.  I am reminded of something Barry Unsworth said about writing historical fiction.  (He’s a wonderful writer – check out his Sacred Hunger.)  Someone asked him about his medieval mystery, Morality Play, specifically about the hand gestures early actors used.  How did he find out that particular tidbit, he was asked.  He didn’t, he replied.  He made it up.  It seemed like something actors of that period ought to do, so he had them do it.  And it works, because it makes perfect sense in context.

Another thought on the fiction/nonfiction divide:  My husband (Jon Garelick, who now writes about jazz and works as an editor at the Boston Phoenix) used to write and teach fiction.  When I first started writing fiction, I said, full of glee, “Hey, this is great! I can make shit up!”  And he replied, “Yes, but you have to make shit up.”  Which about sums it up.  You don’t have to dig up facts and figures, but you do have to keep mining your imagination in order to get words on the page.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

I make myself write every weekday, Monday through Friday.  Basically, I give myself a word count for the day, most days.  I like to write at least 1,000 word or 1,500 words a day.  That can take from an hour to all day.  I wrote Grey Matters on deadline, making myself write 2,000 words a day and my readers think it’s the best thing I have ever written, but that was hard. I’m happier at 1,500 words a day.

What do you love most about being a writer?

The writing.  I love my characters and my books.  I just love spending time with them.

What do you like least about being a writer?

The waiting.  I was tempted to say “the writing,” because when it’s not working, it’s a bear.  I’ll grind out 1,000 words of description or dialogue and know I’m going to cut it later.  But really, the worst part is waiting to hear from your agent, from editors, from publishers, from critics.  If I could just write and then not care, I’d be much, much happier.

The cat in Shades of Grey is a “ghost cat” – how did you come up with the idea for Mr. Grey?

The idea came from two sources: my own experiences after I had to put my much loved cat Cyrus to sleep.  I felt like he was still around.  I mean, I know rationally that it was just that I was used to him, but it really felt quite strongly that he was still a presence in my life.  To the point where I actually believed I saw him, sitting on a stoop a few blocks from my house.  I told myself, well, there must be another cat who looks like Cyrus.  But I kept going back and I never saw that cat again.  And, yes, Cyrus is the model for Mr. Grey: a longhair grey with a face more Siamese than Persian, a quiet and dignified manner, and huge white whiskers.

The other spur came from my fellow authors.  We were at the Mystery Lovers’ Book Shop annual shindig in Oakmont, PA, the Festival of Mystery (an incredible daylong bookfest, if you ever get the chance), and we were all talking about what to do next.  And one — I think it was Karen E. Olson (author of  The Missing Ink) — said, “You should write about a ghost cat.” And that stuck.

Who or what inspires you?

Everything. Random bits of overheard dialogue, things seen out of the corner of my eye.  Suggestions made lightly but remembered…

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

That’s a hard one, because so many are so cool.  What I particularly like is meeting aspiring writers – and then finding out later, at other events, that they have gotten published too. I’m a huge fan of libraries and independent bookstores. Places like Brookline Booksmith and Harvard Book Store here, M is for Mystery in San Mateo, New York’s Partners and Crime, Baltimore’s Mystery Loves Company… those events are always good.  I’m also a member of an international group called the Cat Writers’ Association (http://www.catwriters.org) and we have our annual conference alongside a big cat show every year, so we always end up signing right by hundreds of show cats.  That’s a blast, and between signings, we can go see the kitties.  That’s always fun.

What are you reading at the moment?

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  Mantel is a British novelist, possibly my favorite writer.  This book, a retelling of the life of Thomas Cromwell, comes out in the US in October but my husband got me a signed copy of the British release as a birthday present. I’m trying to make it last. I sort of read too fast for my own pleasure sometimes. (I’ve been cutting it with other books, most recently Sara Stockbridge’s Grace Hammer, a fun Victorian.)

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Clea, and much success with Shades of Grey!

You can learn more about Clea and her book on her website and on her blog.

Book Review: The Theda Krakow Series by Clea Simon

I previously reviewed Probable Claws by Clea Simon, which is the fourth in a series.  All books feature Boston freelance writer Theda Krakow and her cat Musetta.  Since it’s always more fun to read a series from the beginning, I thought I’d provide reviews for the first three books for you.

mewisformurder

Mew is for Murder is the first in the series.  In addition to a great mystery, which begins when Theda shows up at a local “cat lady’s” home to interview her and finds her dead, and which features suspects ranging from the coffee-bar waitress who helped the murder victim take care of the cats to the victim’s schizophrenic son, Simon also shares her love of Cambridge, the setting of the story, as well as her forays into the Boston music scene. Filled with well-developed and likeable characters, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read that leaves the reader wanting more. Thankfully, there are three more books in this series.

catteryrow

Cattery Row is the second book in the series.  In this book, we get to enter the world of show cats and the Boston area rock and roll scene. When show cats are being stolen, and Theda’s friend Rose, a breeder of pedigreed cats receives threats and is eventually implicated in the thefts and then found murdered, Theda begins to investigate because she refuses to believe that her friend had anything to do with the cat thefts. While she delves into solving the cat thefts and her friend’s murder, a musician friend of Theda’s is being blackmailed and becomes increasingly withdrawn. Are the two situations connected?

This is a well-crafted mystery with an immensely likeable heroine and the combination of cats and rock and roll make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed this second glimpse into Theda’s world because of Simon’s excellent character development. Theda continues to grow as we get to know her better. And let’s not forget Musetta, Theda’s feline sidekick, who always has a paw in solving the mystery.

crieswhiskers

Cries and Whiskers is the third in the series, and it’s the most intense one yet. While Theda is investigating a new designer drug that is threatening musicians, fans and her friends in the growing Boston area music scene, an animal activist is killed by a hit-and-run driver while rescuing feral cats. As Theda and her friend Violet try to rescue the semi-wild cats from being outside in a freezing New England winter, it becomes apparent that the activist’s death was more than just an accident. As Theda begins to investigate, her boyfriend, a homicide detective, is recuperating from a broken leg and not at all thrilled with Theda’s involvement in these investigations. On top of that, she begins to suspect one of her friends, and finds her loyalties tested on all fronts. When her beloved cat Musetta goes missing, Theda risks everything to get her back and to solve the case.

Once again, Simon manages to combine a great mystery with wonderful, multi-dimensional characters. By now, we feel like we know Theda, and yet, we’re always surprised by the twists and turns of both the plot and Theda’s life.

For more information about Clea Simon and her books, visit her website at http://www.cleasimon.com

And coming soon on The Conscious Cat – an interview with author Clea Simon, who is getting ready to launch her first book in a brand new series, Shades of Grey.

Book Review: “Black Hills” by Nora Roberts

Black HillsI’ve been reading Nora Roberts for decades, and while her books can be somewhat formulaic, as you would expect for the genre, they always provide a wonderful mixture of entertainment, escapism, and a great love story.  Who doesn’t like those elements in a book?  Over the past few years, her story lines have gotten a bit too “dark” for me, and I skipped several of her more recent releases such as High Noon.  I’m also not all that crazy about books about paranormal topics, and she lost me with her vampires and witches trilogies.  

Then Black Hills was released – and I’m a fan again.  If the gorgeous cover with the mesmerizing cougar wasn’t enough to grab my attention, the description of the book was:  Black Hills is the story of Lil Chance and Cooper Sullivan, who meet as children when Cooper comes from New York City to spend a summer at his grandparents’ South Dakota.  Each year, with Coop’s annual summer visit, their friendship deepens from innocent games to stolen kisses, but there is one shared experience that will forever haunt them: the terrifying discovery of a hiker’s body.

As the years pass, Lil becomes a wildlife biologist and establishes a wildlife sanctuary on her family’s land, while Coop struggles with his father’s demand that he attend law school and join the family firm.   Twelve years later, fate reunites them again.  Coop recently left his fastpaced life in New York to care for his aging grandparents and the ranch he has come to call home. Meanwhile, strange things are happening at the Chance Wildlife Refuge.  Small pranks and acts of destruction escalate into the heartless killing of one of the cougars housed at the refuge, recollections of an unsolved murder in these very hills lead to an investigation and a hunt for a serial killer.  Lil and Coop both know the natural dangers that lurk in the wild landscape of the Black Hills. But now they must work together to unearth a killer of twisted and unnatural instincts who has singled them out as prey.

In addition to a well-told and well-crafted story, the addition of the cats was what made me enjoy this book so much – and it even made the serial killer content tolerable for me (I don’t usually read books with that subject matter).  Lil rehabilitates wild cats – cougars, lions and tigers, trying to recreate as much of their natural environment as she can so they can live out their lives in a safe environment.  One cat in particular, a cougar she has named Baby, is bonded to her to the point of following her back to the refuge when she tries to release him into the wild. 

I met Nora Roberts at a book signing in Washington, DC last month, which probably added to my enjoyment of the book.  She was an entertaining speaker and answered questions from the audience for over an hour, and was extremely gracious while signing books for the over 800 attendees. 

Ingrid with Nora Roberts
Ingrid with Nora Roberts

Book Review: “Alive Day” by Tom Sullivan

alive day

This book was sent to me for review by the publisher. They thought I might enjoy it because I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain  by Garth Stein.   It’s not a book I might have otherwise picked up, and I enjoyed the opportunity to read it.

Based in part on a true story, Alive Day is about blind psychiatrist Brenden McCarthy and his guide dog Nelson, a big-hearted and courageous black Lab.  It’s also the story of Antwone Carver, a Marine who is injured in Iraq and is struggling with coming to terms with the physical limitations caused by his injury.  McCarthy volunteers his services at a veterans’ hospital, is assigned to Carver and attempts to help the young Marine build a new life.  Nelson becomes an important contributor to the therapeutic process by his gentle and comforting presence.  This is a story about dealing with tragedy and life’s challenges, and it’s told in a straight-forward  and uplifting way.   While the solutions to the magnitude of the problems at hand may be a bit oversimplified at times, the overall message of the book is positive and inspirational, and dog lovers will enjoy the passages about Nelson. 

The author presents a convincing case of the need for better programs for veterans returning home from the war without being preachy or political.  However, I would have liked to have seen the bond between Nelson and McCarthy conveyed in greater depth.  While McCarthy’s love for and reliance on Nelson is very apparent, the story doesn’t delve deeply enough into the spiritual aspects of the human animal bond for this reviewer’s taste.

The book is a heartwarming and life-affirming testament to how the exuberant spirit and love of a dog can heal wounded hearts.