Even a feral cat who has never lived indoors can find love, a family, and a home.
The Story of Little White
Faye Rapoport DesPres and I share a publisher, Buddhapuss Ink. I know from reading Faye’s memoir, Message From a Blue Jay, that she loves cats. I also know that she’s passionate about conservation and animal protection. When I learned she was getting ready to launch a children’s book about a feral cat that she had adopted, I wanted to know more!
Here is our Q and A:
Q. How did Little White become a part of your life?
A. About a decade ago, my husband and I moved into a house in a suburban area of Boston. I noticed that there were quite a few feral or abandoned cats wandering in the neighborhood, and I worried about their welfare. After I spotted a cat with kittens in our backyard one evening, I called a local organization to see if there was anything I could do to help them. That started a long journey of learning how to take part in a trap, neuter, release program and be a volunteer caretaker for a feral cat colony.
In the end, most of the cats in that neighborhood turned out to be abandoned tame cats. Another volunteer helped me humanely trap them and provide them with the veterinary care they needed, and we managed to get them all adopted. Little White was the last, and wildest, cat to remain outdoors. She had very little experience with humans, if any. How and why I finally brought her inside is the subject of the book.
Not too wild to adapt
Q. What makes Little White special?
A. We rescued 18 cats from that neighborhood. I’ve also adopted cats in other ways throughout my life. Each one was special and touched my heart in its own way. Little White’s story inspired me for several reasons. The children’s book touches on the main elements of what happened, but I have told the story in more detail on Little White’s Facebook page. She managed to survive freezing New England winters and hot summers, and even a hurricane before I was able to get her indoors. She faced some danger that none of us expected, and a hero saved her life. Some people told me Little White was too wild to ever live in a house with a human family, but she proved them all wrong. She’s just an unusual and amazing cat.
Like the cat, the writer also adapts
Q. What drew you to write a children’s book, as opposed to an essay or non-fiction book for adults?
A. My first book, Message From a Blue Jay, was a memoir-in-essays. I had been writing creative nonfiction and personal essays for quite a few years before it was published, and after the book came out I struggled a little with what to do next. I wrote some new essays and tried my hand at fiction, writing a few short stories. Then life got in the way in the form of a demanding new job, and I started searching for something new to work on that I could handle in the limited time I had for my writing life. I also felt like I needed a change from the intensity of essay-length creative nonfiction. I had always been interested in children’s books, and Little White’s story felt like something that would be perfect to share with children. It was also a true story, so it fit into my CNF background. It was an enjoyable change (and challenge) to learn how to tell a story in a new format. I have really loved the process of working with an illustrator, too. I am considering writing about some of the other cats and developing a series.
Q. What challenges as a writer did you find writing a children’s book?
A. I had no idea how to write a children’s book when I started. At first, I tried it in verse. Then I tried to be creative and wrote the story in a poetic form called a ghazal. Neither idea worked. Finally, I settled on prose with just a few touches of occasional rhyme.
I had to learn to tell a story in less than 900 words and to consider what parts of the story images could tell without words. I learned to imagine illustrations as I wrote. Then I had to adapt what I’d written to a layout. It was all new territory for me, and I had a lot of help from children’s book expert, MaryChris Bradley, an editor who has had a hand in publishing both of my books.
In the end:
Q. What would you say is the message that a child might get from reading about Little White?
A. In the end, Little White’s tale is a story about love. It’s a story about how powerful love can be – both giving it and receiving it. Love can change lives forever. It definitely changed both Little White’s and mine.
Illustrations by Laurel McKinstry Petersen
Faye Rapoport DesPres is a graduate of the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. Her personal essays and short stories have been published in numerous literary journals, and her first book, a collection of personal essays titled Message From a Blue Jay, was published in 2014. As a friend of animals and an advocate for environmental conservation, Faye has taken part in efforts to protect wildlife and improve animal welfare throughout her life. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, Little White, and two other adopted cats.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell her truth without shame.
2017 New Apple Book Awards Official Selection
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage
“With tenderness, but without blinking, Linda K. Sienkiewicz turns her eye on the predator-prey savannah of the young and still somehow hopeful.” ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, Deep End of the Ocean
Publication announcement: Linda’s essay “My Horrible Celebrity Crush” is included in this new anthology from McFarland Books!
IDOL TALK: Woman Writers on the Teenage Infatuations that Changed Their Lives
In the midst of acne, social anxiety and training bras are the teen idols that make adolescent life a little more bearable. Whether their cutouts are plastered on bedroom walls or hidden behind locker doors, there is no denying the impact of these stars on young women. This collection of new essays explores with tenderness and humor the teen crushes of the past 50 years who have influenced the choices of women, romantically or otherwise, well into adulthood.
IDOL TALK makes a terrific gift for a woman of any age. Included are deeply personal musings about such stars as Elvis, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Davy Jones as well as some nontraditional idols including Bobby Orr, Baryshnikov and Raymond Burr and more.
Edited by Elizabeth Searle and Tamra Wilson, Foreword by Peter Noone. 252 pages, 70 photos