Meet Gwen Cooper, Catster Mom and Author of "Homer's Odyssey"

 |  Dec 3rd 2009  |   20 Contributions


homers-odyssey-by-gwen-cooper
If you're looking for a book to give a pet-loving friend this holiday season, look no further than "Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat." It's the entertaining, heart-warming, and sometimes heart-wrenching story of Homer--the little blind cat who could--and his owner, Gwen.

It's kismet that brings Homer and Gwen together--she'd vowed she couldn't add another cat to her household. Homer turns out to be both teacher and inspiration, transforming Gwen in ways she could never have imagined when the wee sightless cat first entered her life. Homer doesn't acknowledge limitations, and shares his gentle lessons with Gwen.

This is not just another cute cat story. It's an amazing tale of a fearless and devoted companion who saves Gwen's life by attacking an intruder who breaks into her house and her bedroom. He lives through the terror of 9-11 in an apartment at Ground Zero. Throughout, Homer entertains with his insatiable curiosity and joie de vivre, and even helps Gwen weed out loser boyfriends and find true love.

I couldn't put the book down and I read half the passages aloud to my husband. I guarantee you'll find the book as engaging as I did.

And, Catster members, you'll be thrilled to know that Homer is also a Catster, so add him to your friends list!

I caught up with Gwen between book signings, and we talked about Homer and her inspiration to write the book:

Karen: Gwen, tell me a little about yourself and Homer!

Gwen: Lets see Im a full-time writer (which is soooo much nicer to say than aspiring writer!), originally from Miami and living in New York for the past eight years. Im technically not a newlywed anymore, having just celebrated my one-year anniversary, but it still feels pretty new. Homer is going on 13, and is the most affectionate and most hyperactive little cat you can possibly imagine!

Karen: In addition to Homer, you have two other cats, Scarlett and Vashti. Can you tell me a little about them?

Gwen: Scarlett is a 15-year-old gray tabby and the grand dame of our family. Shes the eldest cat, and pretty much rules the roost. Shes very much a one-person catshes loving and playful with me, but has absolutely no interest in anybody else. That usually makes people think shes a lot more aloof or sullen

than she really is. I always say that Scarletts just misunderstood!

Vashti is 14 years old and our resident beauty queen. Shes all white, with this long silky fur and big green eyes. My husband swears that its physically impossible for any other cat to be prettier than Vashti (and this is coming from someone who used to say he wasnt a "cat guy!")

Vashti is incredibly sweet-tempered, and is particularly fond of men. She laid claim to my husband when we all first moved in together and has pretty much refused to share him with the other cats. She even gets upset when hes paying attention to me!

Karen: How did your writing career begin?

Gwen: Writing was something I always knew I wanted to do, but that was mostly in the back of my mindI didnt have a strong idea for a book, and I didnt know if it was realistic that I could support myself as a writer. About five years ago I woke up one day with an idea for a novel and began writing like crazy. When I realized that I was truly going to finish it, I decided to try to get it published. I Googled how to find a literary agent, and the rest is history.

Karen: I've always felt that you don't choose your cats; they choose you. You weren't really in the market for adopting another cat when Homer came into your life. Did he choose you?

Gwen:
I think it isnt so much that either of us chose the other as that we were meant to be together. This wasnt a situation where Homer turned up on my doorstep one day; I got a call from my vet asking me to come down and meet him because nobody else was willing to adopt him. And I really feel like during that first meeting at my vets office, that moment when I picked him up for the first time, we both knew instantly that we were meant to be together. I tried very hard in the book to describe what that moment felt like, but some things are almost beyond wordstheres just this instantaneous flash of knowledge thats deeper than words or logic or anything else. I think probably a lot of people with cats (or dogs) know exactly what Im talking about.

Karen: Tell me a little about that moment when you had the inspiration to write a book about Homer.

Gwen:
There wasnt one specific momentit was more like there were several epiphanies along the way. The idea actually originated with my husband, who found Homer and the stories about him fascinating and, since I was a writer, felt I should write them down. I didnt really know, though, if you could write a whole book about a cat. And then a few months later I read about the Dewey sale, and I thought: Okay, I guess you can write a book about a cat! But I still didnt know what that book would beif it was just going to be a series of anecdotes about Homer with no larger narrative, I didnt want to write it.

It was when I got into planning my wedding that the lightbulb finally went on over my head. I had adopted Homer right after a major breakup, and now I was getting married, and I realized that the story was about the journeyreal and metaphoricalthat the two of us had been on together during the 12 years in between. It was a story about how the person I was when I adopted Homer was very different from the person who was now getting married, and how much Homer had to do with that transformation. Again, it was one of those instantaneous flashes of knowledge where I suddenly knew exactly how I wanted to write the bookand everything I thought in that moment ended up being almost exactly how the final manuscript turned out.

Karen: What was your reaction when Homer's Odyssey made the New York Times Bestseller list?

Gwen: Speechless amazement. I think thats still how I feel, to tell you the truth!

Karen: I was raised with a blind Siamese cat named Freda, so I'm familiar with how well blind cats acclimate to their environments -- and how special they are. Freda lived in a household run by a raucous pack of dachshunds, and you'd never know she was blind.

Yet, even with my experience owning a blind cat, I was still astonished at some of Homer's antics -- not just his ability to navigate his environment, but going so far as to attack an intruder, saving your life. Does he know how special he is? How different would your life be without him?

Gwen: Well, I like to think Homer knows how loved he is, and that being able to take that level of love and protectiveness as an absolute given in his life lets him be courageous enough to do all of the (sometimes crazy) things he does. His attacking the intruder still ranks as the most reckless thing hes ever doneand I often wonder if he attacked because he literally had no concept that anything bad could happen to him as long as I was there, or if it went deeper than that and was a purely instinctive response that didnt even weigh the risks.

I truly cant imagine my life without him, to the point that its hard for me to say how different it would be if he werent in it. So much of who I am now, and the choices I made along the way to get to this point, come back to things I either did for Homer or because I was inspired by Homer.

Karen: One of the most difficult parts of the book to read was your account of the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, and not being able to get to your cats in your apartment at Ground Zero for such a long time. I was in tears. How did you and your cats recover from the trauma of an incident like that?

Gwen: I dont know that you ever fully recover, in the sense that living through something like that really does end up changing you. What happens is that time passes and the trauma recedes until its not something you think about very often. Ill tell you, though, that writing those chapters brought it all back in a way I wasnt prepared for. There were times, while I was writing, when I started to cry so hard that I had to stop. It was weeks before I could even go back to read what Id written so I could edit it.

Karen: Homer's Odyssey may be a story about a cat, but I think its success is at least in some part attributable to the fact that it's also a story about love, the power of optimism, the realization of dreams and other universal themes that don't appeal solely to crazy cat ladies. Have you heard from people who claim to not be "cat people" who have read and loved your book?

Gwen: I have, actually! Ive gotten emails from people who say that theyre strictly dog people, or people who say they arent animal people at all, whove loved the book. Its hard for me to relate to people who are firmly anti any specific type of animal (Im an equal-opportunity animal lover, myself), but Ive always believed that a good character is a good character and should, in theory anyway, transcend any preconceived ideas an audience might have. I never doubted that Homer was enough of a character to be interesting to anybody, even if theyve never lived with a catthe only thing I worried about was whether I as a writer would be able to capture all the things about him that make him such an amazing little guy.

Karen: One of the chapters that had me howling -- because I'd lived through the same thing myself -- was when you and Laurence (your then-boyfriend/now-hubby) made the decision to move in together.

The first night in your apartment, Vashti peed in Laurence's overnight bag. Now, I had a territorial tortie who peed on every item that my husband, Jeff, owned in the months after we first moved in together. (This convinced me that if he could put up with that, Jeff was a "keeper.")

When I read that Laurence had the "revelation" that your cats each had different, distinct personalities, I remembered the moment when Jeff had that same epiphany. And like Laurence, Jeff always gives me a birthday card from all the cats in their "handwriting." Do you get similar reactions from your readers?

Gwen: Definitely. Ive heard from a lot of people who say that their spouses or significant others were initially very reluctant to live with a cat (or cats), until he or she really got to know the letter-writers cats.

I always think that there are three kinds of people: There are people who are just born animal lovers, and even if they grow up without any pets, they always know that someday they want to live with them. Then there are people who just really dislike living with animals altogetherI dont fully understand those people, but I recognize they exist. But I think most people probably fall somewhere on that continuum in between. They may think that they dont care for cats or dont care for dogs, but thats only because theyve never lived with or gotten to know any.

In the end, though, I think any person who truly loves you is going to make an effort to care about the pets you love. And I think youre absolutely rightits the sign of a definite keeper!

Karen: Do you get a lot of crazy cat ladies at your book signings?
Gwen:
HmmmI definitely get a lot of "cat people" at my signings, although I honestly cant say if any of them are any "crazier" than I am. I mean, who am I to judgeI wrote a whole book about my cats! What I do get a lot of, for example, are people who email me to say that theyve read the book, and theyre going to be in New York soon to visit family, and would I mind if they came over to my apartment to meet Homer? That always strikes me as a bit odd.

And there was one person who sent me a very long email insisting that my husband was trying to poison my cats, and was probably cheating on me, and I should hire a private detective to follow him around. Laurence and I both work from home (hes a writer too), and I was like, "Follow him where? Down the hall when he goes to the bathroom???"

Honestly, though, the people whove read the book have been overwhelmingly great, and meeting and hearing from them has truly been the best part of writing the book!

Karen: If readers specifically want to sponsor or adopt blind cats, is there a charity that you recommend?
Gwen:
My favorite is Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary [www.blindcatrescue.com]. Theyre a wonderful organization that does a lot on behalf of blind cats. Im donating a portion of my royalties from Homers Odyssey to them.

Karen: Do you have another book in the works?
Gwen:
Yes! Im actually on deadline as we speak for the proposal for my next book. Im turning it in to my publisher the second week of December. I cant say too much more about it now, but Ill make you this promise: If and when the proposal is sold (and hopefully that will be sometime in late December/early January), Ill give Catster an exclusive!

Karen: I'm gonna hold you to that! Who would you like to play you and Laurence in the movie?

Gwen: Oh, goshI have no idea! You know, there are currently some "discussions" going on about film rights, but my hope has always been that it's made into an animated film. Id love to hear Homer "talk." That, actually, is what I think the real question is: Who could possibly play Homer?

Cat-Fashion-Show

You can read an excerpt from Homer's Odyssey here, and the book is available for purchase from all major booksellers, including Amazon.com.

Here's a video of Gwen and Homer:


In a reader? Click here.

Links:

[Photos courtesy of the author and photographer Jessica Hills]

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