Books

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.

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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

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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.

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

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The first book in the brand new series by Clea Simon, Shades of Grey features Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, who is fascinated by 18th century Gothic novels.  Dulcie is not having a good summer.  She recently lost her beloved pet cat Mr. Grey, her best friend and room-mate has gone away for the summer, and she has sublet her apartment to an unpleasant business school student.   One day, Dulcie comes home from her boring temp job at an insurance agency and is about to enter her apartment when she sees a cat that looks just like her beloved Mr. Grey, and she clearly hears a voice in her head warning her “I wouldn’t go in just now, if I were you.”  Is it he spirit of her pet?  Dulcie ignores the warning, and finds her room-mate murdered with her own kitchen knife. 

This sets up a multi-layered plot in which our heroine deals with murder, someone hacking into computers at the insurance agency she temps at and at Harvard, and research for her thesis on Gothic novels.  Throughout all of this, the ghost of her cat continues to appear, offering his cryptic advice.  Is it a ghost, or a spirit guide?  You’ll have to read this extremely well-crafted and enjoyable mystery to find out for yourself.  This book has everything a mystery (and cat) lover could want:  a great story, a likeable heroine, a spirit cat, a little bit of romance, exceptional story telling and multi-dimensional secondary characters.  I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

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

Book Review: “8 State Hurricane Kate” by Jenny Pavlovic

8statekate

From the publisher:  “On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared into New Orleans, Louisiana, unleashing a torrent of wind and water that forever altered the landscape. In the ensuing weeks, countless people and animals were rescued from the flood-ravaged city. 8 State Hurricane Kate is the unforgettable story of the powerful bond between a cattle dog rescued from a rooftop and the woman who wouldn’t give up on her.

The heartwarming story of Kate’s post-Katrina journey is a testament to the will and perseverance of the dog and human spirit! As they make that courageous journey together, new worlds open up for Jenny and Kate, an amazing survivor and teacher. Kate’s remarkable journey, a tale of love, courage, and compassion, has inspired many others. Her legacy is a rescue network that continues to help dogs across the country today.”

I found this book to be very moving.  The accounts of the author’s experience helping with rescue work  immediately following Katrina were gut-wrenching and difficult for me to read, but at the same time, inspirational.  Thank goodness for people like Jenny and so many others, who dropped everything to assist the animals in need after this catastrophic event.   The book is also the story about how one dog can change a person in ways they never expected.   As Jenny becomes more and more involved in rescue works, she forges bonds with others, both dogs and humans, that change her at a core level.  I always enjoy reading books about how animal affect the life of the humans they come into contact with – this book is a gripping and touching contribution to this genre.

For more information about the book, and about Jenny Pavlovic, visit http://www.8statekate.net/

An Interview with Nadine M. Rosin, Author of “The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood”

Healing Art of Pet Parenthood cover

It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Nadine M. Rosin, the author of The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood.

The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood is the moving story of a nineteen year journey of the author and her dog Buttons – a story about how the unconditional love of one dog can transform and heal a wounded human heart. The author, who has been studying alternative healing for over thirty years, also shares her experience with holistic pet care. When Buttons is diagnosed with cancer at age eight, the author decides against conventional treatment and instead seeks out various holistic and alternative treatment modalities for Buttons, who recovers and thrives for another eleven years. Reading this book is a deeply emotional journey for anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet. Unlike many other books that attempt to address the issue of pet loss, this book truly acknowledges the often devastating grief that comes with losing a beloved animal companion as well as the spiritual connection we share with our animals even after they die. The story of Nadine and Buttons is a celebration of the love we share with our animal companions – a must read for all pet parents.

Please join me in welcoming Nadine to The Conscious Cat!

Nadine, The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood is your first book. How did you become a writer?

Although I’ve never had any formal writing training, I’ve always considered myself a decent storyteller. According to the reactions of readers and reviewers of this book, it seems I have a knack for telling a story on paper, too.
   But I also have many years of experience writing and performing nondenominational wedding ceremonies and memorial services (over 600 to date). In that process, the goal is identical: to both touch people’s hearts and keep their interest- making it perfect practice for writing this book.

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

For the first time in my life, I felt I was doing what I was truly meant to do. I felt energized, in the flow, at one with Source, and deeply connected to Buttons’ spirit. Her paws were all over that manuscript 🙂

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

My wish is that that every reader’s heart is touched and opened- that they can relate to many of the things I experienced and described and that in turn, they find themselves empowered from the read. I also like to say the book has a 3-fold mission:

  • Helping pet parents realize we may be unconsciously contributing to the skyrocketing increase of cancer in our pets by unknowingly creating highly toxic environments in our homes.
  • Providing comfort, camaraderie, and validation for pet parents experiencing the devastating loss of a beloved pet
  • Helping to remove the words, “It’s just a dog/cat” from the lips of non pet parents everywhere

A core part of your book is the story of Buttons’ cancer diagnosis and how you choose to deal with it. What was most difficult for you during that time?

The thought of losing her was terrifying. As you know from having read the book, when the diagnosis came, I was in the midst of dealing with my fiancé ending our relationship and my heart was already shattered. I was forced to reach down even deeper into myself to find strength I didn’t believe I had.
How did you deal with the many challenges such a diagnosis brings?
Initially, like most people, I took a very logical approach, but that only led me to more frustration and confusion. A short excerpt from the book will illustrate:

“I lay awake all that night. If the cancer was in my body, I would absolutely forgo the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It wouldn’t be my choice to cut, burn, and poison. My beliefs, based on all the years of reading I’d done and exposure to alternative methods I’d experienced since childhood, were that one needed to boost the immune system in the presence of disease and not destroy it. Western medicine’s focus was on treating or suppressing the symptoms. A holistic approach called for focusing on the cause in mind and spirit, clearing it, and then strengthening the body so it could heal itself.
   If it were in my body, I’d go to Mexico and cleanse and detoxify, meditate, visualize, and drink massive amounts of raw vegetable juice at one of the alternative cancer clinics there. But it wasn’t in my body. I tried to imagine Buttons without her tail. It would be like amputating her personality. I thought about what it might be like for her to go through radiation treatments and doses of chemotherapy. Horrendous. Demons wrestled violently in my mind. Who was I to force my beliefs on this innocent soul whose well-being I was responsible for? Who was I to risk her life for the sake of my preferences? How big a risk was it? The entire allopathic, Western perspective was screaming for me to follow the vet’s advice. He was a trained professional, and I was a self-taught, quasi-hippie health nut.”

After 2 days of listening to my mind, I finally began listening instead, to what my heart was telling me (also described in the book). Once I had THAT guidance, there was never any question or doubt as to what my next steps would be.

Do you have any tips for others who are faced with a cancer diagnosis for their pet?

Everyone must take the path that feels right for them. I WOULD, however, encourage all pet parents to start doing some research about pet food, the chemicals in household products, etc. BEFORE ever getting a cancer diagnosis (a good place to start is my blog).
   I believe if all pet parents simply followed the approach I talk about in my book and my blog, many would be spared having to deal with any form of cancer or other forms of disease.
   Fifty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for a dog or a cat to live to be in their 20’s. Today, vets consider a 12-year old cat to be old and a 12-year old dog to be ancient. I cannot help but believe that environment and food have nearly everything to do with that.

Who or what inspires you?

I greatly admire people who are humble, open-minded, and authentic. I have tremendous respect for those who are willing to look inside themselves and take responsibility for their own feelings and experiences, rather than blaming others. I’m inspired by those who are genuinely kind and forgiving to everyone, even (and especially) to the ones who bug them the most. My current “heroes” are Byron Katie, Colin Tipping, and Caroline Myss. All of their work can be found online.

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

One sweet memory is from my very first book signing at the Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania, where I was keynote speaker for the annual fundraiser for The Action for Animals Humane Society. I was sitting at the table at the end of the event signing books when a woman handed me 2 to sign. The first she wanted made out to her. The second she wanted made out to Arnold Palmer and his dog, Mulligan! It turned out that Mr. Palmer owns the country club, but was in Florida at the time of the event. He had wanted to make sure he got an autographed copy of my book even though he was unable to attend. FYI- in golf terminology, a mulligan is a “do-over” shot.

Are you planning on writing another book?

Most definitely, but for now, I am spending every spare moment getting the word out about this book. When it takes on a life of its own, I will begin writing its sequel, which will be a more technical, fact-filled text on holistic pet care.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am thoroughly enjoying The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Nadine!

It has been my pleasure, Ingrid. Thank you for reading and loving my book. I gratefully embrace every opportunity to spread the word about it in order to help pets and pet parents have longer, healthier lives together. Thank you so much for your help and your own work in that arena!

Nadine Rosin    

For more information about Nadine and her book, visit her website at http://thehealingartofpetparenthood.com/Home.html and her blog at http://petparenthood.blogspot.com/

NOTE: Excerpt from The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood ©2008 Nadine M. Rosin used by permission of the author.

Book Review: “The Daily Coyote” by Shreve Stockton

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The Daily Coyote – A Story of Love, Survival and Turst in the Wilds of Wyoming is the story of a young city woman who trades the busy streets of New York City for the wilds of Wyoming, where she raises a ten-day-old coyote pup whose parents had been shot for killing sheep. 

When writer and photographer Shreve Stockton moves back to New York City from San Francisco, she makes the trip across the country on her Vespa.  Along the way, she stops in the hamlet of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, population 300, and the wide-open spaces of the land and the beauty of the Bighorn Mountains capture her spirit.  After a few weeks of trying to settle back into her old city life, she listens to her heart, packs up her belongings and moves to Wyoming.

She develops a friendship that eventually turns to romance with a Wildlife Services employee whose job it is to protect lifestock by killing coyotes.  When he finds an orphaned coyote pup, he brings it to Stockton, who now has to make a decision.  She can either have the death of this pup on her conscience, since he is too young to survive on his own, or she can raise this wild animal in her twelve foot by twelve foot cabin, were she lives with her cat Eli.  With no experience raising and training a domestic dog, this fiercely independent city woman and the coyote she names Charlie forge an incredible bond, which is tested by Charlie’s sometimes unpredictable and even frightening behavior and his inherent wildness.  Despite some setbacks, the relationship between Shreve and Charlie deepens and evolves through mutual respect and becomes a testament to the strength of the bond between human and animal. 

The author turned her diary of the daily challenges of raising Charlie, along with her breathtaking photographs illustrating the account of Charlie’s first year, into a successful blog, which became the basis for this book.  The book is a combination frontier adventure, love story, and a unique celebration of the bond between human and animal.  It is also a reflection on the nature of wildness versus domestication, as the author teaches the coyote to live with humans (and a cat) while Charlie settles Shreve’s wandering spirit. 

And if you can’t get enough of Shreve and Charlie after reading this wonderful book, you can find daily photos of Charlie on the author’s wildly popular blog at http://www.dailycoyote.net .

An Interview with Dawn Kairns, Author of “Maggie: The Dog Who Changed My Life”

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It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Dawn Kairns, the author of Maggie:  The Dog Who Changed My Life.

This book is a deeply moving story of the powerful connection between the author and her soulmate dog Maggie. This kind of a relationship tends to happen only once in a lifetime, and those of us who have been fortunate enough to share such a special relationship with an animal will find ourselves going down our own memory lane as we savor this book. Maggie enriched the author’s life in ways she never could have imagined when she took that little black Lab puppy home with her. Maggie’s joyful exuberant spirit touches all who come into contact with her. Maggie opens the author’s heart and teaches her about trusting her intuition and listening with her heart. Interspersed with well-researched information about pet health care and advice on how to deal with the grieving process following the loss of a pet, this book shows us that animals are so much more than just pets. They are spiritual beings who are on this planet to teach us about joy.

Please join me in welcoming Dawn Kairns to The Conscious Cat!

Dawn, “Maggie” is your first book.  How did you become a writer?

Writing was always a natural way for me to express myself, really, even as a child.  When I felt my parents didn’t understand me, I wrote letters to express my feelings in ways I couldn’t always do verbally. I had a diary, of course! I have written informally in journals for years, more as a spiritual and personal growth practice. In my 30s I began the practice of writing all of my dreams in notebooks.
   I did write and have published several articles in nursing and health journals when I was an R.N. and as a family nurse practitioner. After Maggie died, I began writing articles about dog behavior, and of course began my book in her honor, even though in those first days after Maggie died, I didn’t realize I was starting a book. I was merely writing everything I could remember about her as a way to cope with my grief. It was only over the next several months that I decided to turn my writings about my life with Maggie into a book.  It was in that time that I knew my writing needed some work, and I took a course through the Institute for Children’s Literature. But I think it was in the writing, editing, and re-editing of Maggie that I found my voice as a writer.

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

Writing about Maggie was a Godsend after she died. It was the way I stayed most connected with her; it is what got me through those first excruciating days. I loved the writing of it, and the editing of it less so because I had to be more objective.

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

I have several hopes for readers. I hope readers will begin to look at dogs/animals as equal or different beings, not lesser than or below humans, to see them as the incredible spiritual beings of light that they are; I hope readers will open themselves to the sixth sense communication our animals are capable of if they don’t already recognize that their animals are capable of reading their thoughts.
   My hope is for readers to trust their intuition with their pets even if their inner voice is in disagreement with an expert’s diagnoses. No one knows our pets like we do and I want readers to trust themselves enough to advocate for their pets with their veterinarians.
    I really want readers to question commercial pet food and recognize its potential role in the health problems many of our pets develop; I want them to explore alternative diets such as balanced home-cooked foods and healthier, holistic pet foods with meat ( not meat byproducts) as the primary ingredient, and with minimal or no carbohydrates.
   I want readers to become aware of the messages their dreams can hold for them; and to recognize that they, too, probably have clairvoyant dreams but may just not be aware of it.
   Finally, I want those suffering from that deep pain of losing a cherished pet to feel understood and supported in their grief, and that yes, it can be as bad as or even worse than losing a loved human. I want them to know that intense pain will ease in time and they will love again.

In your book, you share the emotional toll Maggie’s diagnosis took on you.  What was most difficult for you during that time? 

The most difficult part for me after learning Maggie’s diagnosis was that I simply couldn’t begin to imagine her not being in my life – we were so much a part of each of our souls. (Even as I speak these words, tears come from the memory of that deep connection, even though it’s been 8 years since she passed!) What made it harder was that I felt some part of me had known she had cancer and I hadn’t honored my intuition, and that I was losing Maggie several years earlier than I otherwise may have.

How did you deal with the many challenges such a diagnosis brings? 

Maggie’s cancer was pretty advanced by the time she was correctly diagnosed. She was a dog so full of life that doing anything at this point to compromise her aliveness, such as radiation and its side effects, was not a choice we were comfortable with. What seemed most important to both my husband and I were making Maggie’s remaining days as loving and quality as possible, and spending as much fun time together as possible.

Do you have any tips for others who are faced with a cancer diagnosis for their pet? 

First, I want to talk prevention. So many things about whether or not our pet gets cancer are out of our hands, like genetic and environmental causes, but the diet we feed our pets is one element we can control. My first tip is to really educate yourself about pet nutrition and feed a diet of whole, quality foods (this can include a high-quality pet food) to support your pet’s immune system and overall health, rather than feed a highly processed, even veterinary recommended commercial brand.
   Once a cancer diagnosis is given for your pet, I would definitely research and explore all of your “traditional’ treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation depending on the age of your pet. Know who you are and who your dog is and what choices you can and can’t live with. Occasionally, a surgery can be “curative” (three years without recurrence is common with thyroid cancer if caught in the nodular stage) as it very possibly would have been in Maggie’s case had she been diagnosed correctly. Some of my reading has suggested that chemotherapy in animals does not have the negative effects that it often does in humans. Talk to cancer experts, including an animal oncologist and organizations like the Morris Animal Foundation and Canine Cancer Research who devote themselves to finding cures for cancer.
    If you choose to do surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation with your pet, I encourage alternative treatment modalities to support your animal’s natural healing abilities. These can include Reiki therapy, acupuncture, Tellington Touch, and massage therapy. I recommend these complementary modalities even if you choose not to do surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, as they support your animals’ overall sense of well-being and health. At this point I’d seek out a vet or practitioner with a vibrational medicine approach to work with the energy frequencies of the health issue.
   Finally, be sure you get the support you need because the grief process can begin the moment your pet is diagnosed with cancer. Nurture yourself with the type of body and energy therapies I recommended for your pet. Turn to loving, supportive friends and family.  Create quiet and alone time to feel what’s going on in to listen within. Spend as much quality time as you can with your pet.

Who or what inspires you?

Oh, so many things inspire me!  Animals inspire me in their glorious presence and unconditional love. Nature is one of my greatest inspirations: hiking through the heart of the mountains and hearing and seeing her streams, meadows of wildflowers, hummingbirds, songbirds, the breathing in and out of the ocean, a sunrise, a sunset! Synchronicity  and messages from the other side inspire me. People helping people, people helping animals, animals helping people, animals helping animals – these all inspire me.
   I know I can’t possibly name all the people who have inspired me in my life, but to name a few, I’ll start with my father, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, & Wayne Dyer.

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

At my library presentation earlier this month in Parker, Colorado, it was the way the audience came into their hearts and opened up with their own stories during my book presentation of Maggie: the dog who changed my life; and the way most of them stayed seated even when my presentation was finished. I experienced once again how speaking of our animals magically brings people to a level of genuine being with themselves and each other, a place no one is in a hurry to walk away from.

Are you planning on writing another book?

I do have an idea for a next book, but no immediate plans to start it as I am still pretty busy with MAGGIE!

What are you reading at the moment?

It’s always been hard for me to read just one book at a time, so I have several going: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Handbook for the Soul edited by Richard Carlson & Benjamin Shield, & The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle awaits me on my nightstand, but I don’t dare start it yet!

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Dawn!

Thank you, Ingrid, for your time and interest in my journey with MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life!

dawn
You can learn more about Dawn and her book on her website and on her blog, Dawn Kairns and Maggie the Dog .