My cat, Ting—the subject of my book—is a Korat. They’re the “good luck cat” of Thailand. So there’s that. But, as the book goes on and bad things happen, the term becomes ironic…until, at the end, it comes to represent all the good fortune that comes from loving and being loved.
Your cat has a human pacemaker, yes?
She does. When she was 14, Ting was diagnosed with second degree AV block—a heart condition that’s often fatal if left untreated. The cat cardiologist—yes, such people exist—told us that she needed a pacemaker. They don’t make them for cats, though, so a human pacemaker was the only option. It’s big. Like, silver dollar big. But thicker. And she’s little, only seven pounds. But they managed to find a place to put it, and hook the electrodes to her walnut-sized heart. She hasn’t had a fainting spell since.
Ting is 19 now, and still doing well. She can’t feel the pacemaker when it fires, and seems completely oblivious to it. We’d forget about it, too, were it not for a pronounced bump near her ribs—like the face of a watch atop a tiny wrist.
In The Good Luck Cat, you talk a lot about poets and painters. Did you study them in college?
Poets, yes. I got my MFA in poetry from Bennington College—two glorious years spent writing, and immersing myself in the writing of others: Anna Akhmatova, E.E. Cummings, Jane Kenyon. One of my professors, David Lehman, introduced me to the work of Frank O’Hara. Another professor, Thomas Sayers Ellis, acquainted me with the work of Elizabeth Bishop. A fellow student taught me how to write a paradelle. It was a magic time. I left the program changed and broadened. I left it with the Louise Glück poem “Violets,” in which she says of the human soul “either you never have one / or you never lose one.”
As for the painters, that’s all self-taught. I read Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, and Rilke’s letters on Cézanne. I studied the lives of Modigliani and Klimt, and other painters whose work I find appealing. I made multiple visits to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, where I learned Monet’s haystacks have shadows made of pink.
In the epilogue to your book, you present the concept of “the beautiful ordinary.” What is it, exactly?
It’s the little things we all hold sacred at the same time we take them completely for granted. For me, it’s knowing the name of every seashell, and the difference between a warbler and a finch. It’s growing basil on the porch in the summer, and the sound of the snow plow on a cold winter morning—especially when you’re still in bed. It’s undercooking brownies on purpose and using a soup spoon to eat them hot. The beautiful ordinary is different for each of us, but the concept is universal.
You’re a book publicist by profession. What’s it like being on the other side?
It’s fun to be the author for a change, to be the one giving the interview instead of the one scheduling it. But I have to say, it’s just as much work. I always tell my authors to expect to spend as much time promoting their book as they did writing it.
How would you respond to someone who says he likes dogs more than cats?
My first animal was a Cairn Terrier named Oregano—so I’d say I like dogs, too! I’d say that dog and cat people have a lot in common—that family is family, and love is love. I’d also say give cats another try. Really get to know one; take the time to gain her trust. I promise you, it’ll be worth it.
LISSA WARREN’s new book is The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family and a Family Saved a Cat (Lyons Press, October 2014). She’s also the author of The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity: A Comprehensive Resource—From Building the Buzz to Pitching the Press. She holds a B.S. in English Education from Miami University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Bennington College. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as Quarterly West, Oxford Magazine, Black Warrior Review and Verse, and she serves as a Poetry Editor for the literary magazine Post Road. She works in Boston as vice president, senior director of publicity at Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.