Sunday, July 5, 2015

The taming of a cat (and much more!)

Anne Kaier has written a lovely memoir about rescuing a stray cat, bringing him home to her new house, and building a relationship that helps make her house a home for the both of them. She has been on a blog tour with her book, and I invited her to Sunday TOAST so she can share her process with us.

JB: Anne, can you tell us what compelled you to write this delightful book, Home with Henry?

AK: Curiosity played  a large part. I had literally picked up a wounded feral cat after someone had hit him in a busy road. I had no idea what to do with him. After the vet checked him out, I brought him home to live with me. However, he hid under the bed and hissed every time I approached. Who, except for my dear vet, would give me advice about how to tame him? It was 1997. The internet was in its infancy, so I couldn't go online to get help. I kept a journal to record Henry's daily progress--or lack of it--so I would have a record of what happened. I thought it would be interesting to reread in later years. When I stopped keeping the journal, I realized I had a manuscript that people might enjoy reading. When a publisher approached me, I thought a cat memoir would reach a broad audience. Home with Henry is now my publisher's best selling book.

JB: What are the themes you explored in this memoir? Did they emerge organically in writing the draft, or did you purposely choose the themes before you began writing?

AK: Life as a single woman is a major theme. How do you construct a kind of "alternate family" when you are single and, as in my case, have no children? I purposely included my adventures with my friends and my nephew Tommy, a frisky ten-year-old, to show how I have brought people into my life. The human-animal bond, with all its joys, is obviously a major theme. The importance of work friends is also a biggie. I wanted to include scenes set at work because my work friends helped me as I was taming Henry. The city dweller's need for a natural world also figured in the book. Some of these themes appeared in my original journal entries, which became the first draft of the book. Others, such as the emphasis on the natural world, emerged organically in later drafts.

JB: You are a poet, an essayist, and a memoirist. How do you select a genre for a particular subject? In particular, why was Home with Henry told in journal entries rather than a series of essays or a poetry chapbook?

AK: When I wrote journal entries as I was trying to domesticate Henry, I didn't know how the story would end. Would Henry spend his life hiding under the bed? Would he run away? I wanted the reader to have the same feeling of suspense as I did. So I kept it in chronological journal format.

JB: What was hardest or most challenging about writing the book?

AK: One of the hardest things was to weave all the themes together. I wanted to keep the primary focus on the cat, but sub-themes entered the story. I rewrote several times to get a good balance between the cat scenes and the nephew scenes, for example.

JB: One of the reasons people write about their life is to make sense of it. You once said in an interview published in Wordgathering: "When I'm writing about my life, I feel that I can partially define how I am perceived--and perhaps, influence how I see myself." Can you expand on this statement?

AK: As a single woman and a person with a physical difference--I have a skin problem like psoriasis--I can easily be stereotyped. Especially in a cat story. I wanted to be perceived as the fairly complicated, intelligent woman I am. However, this is a pet memoir, so I saw it as lighter in tone than other essays and poems I've written. I worked to bring the nuance and humor into my self-portrait. 

JB: An editor once told me that you have to give up a piece of yourself for a story to be more than a nice, or funny, or sad, or horrific memory turned into a story. Do you think it takes courage to write from one's life? What parts of yourself did you give to the reader in Home with Henry?

AK: Your editor had a great insight. It does take courage to write an honest memoir. It's always hard to reveal your vulnerabilities. I wanted to be honest about my life as a single woman. I also wanted to celebrate the choices I've made. And I wanted to celebate Henry himself. That was the easy part--to write about his quirky ways and his innate sweetness.

JB: Thank you, Anne. Now... for my loyal readers, you can purchase Home with Henry: a memoir by Anne Kaier online at www.barnesandnoble.com or at www.amazon.com. It is a book you will want to share with your friends and your children, for it is a classic in the making.

And, if you are inspired to write your own cat story, Anne has authored "Tall Tails: How to Write about Your Cat." It's free and available on her website: www.annekaier.com/.