Carlie Sorosiak wrote her first middle grade novel, I, Cosmo, from the perspective of a family’s golden retriever. Leonard, the titular narrator of her second novel, is a cat—but he’s not just any cat. He’s actually an alien who crash-landed on Earth, intending to take human form but accidentally ending up as a cat. Now a girl named Olive might be his only hope of returning home to the stars.
How did the inspiration for this book come to you?
A cat came first. I’d just finished writing a book about a dog, so I thought that a cat book would make for a natural follow-up! At the same time, I really wanted to write about a friendly alien. It occurred to me that I could blend the two characters together. (Aren’t cats sort of alienlike anyway?) The idea made me giggle. When I start to giggle about a story, I know I’m headed in the right direction.
How did you approach inhabiting both Leonard’s alien mind and his feline form?
It was certainly a challenge! I write chronologically, so I began with Leonard’s moment of arrival, when he finds himself transformed into a cat on Earth. I wondered what would shock him about his body. His tail? His claws? What would delight him? Leonard’s perspective bloomed from there. He has these catlike instincts (to destroy the curtains, for example), but for the first half of the novel, he actively fights against them.
My own family has two polydactyl cats, Bella and Duncan. Duncan has big Leonard energy, and I drew a great deal of inspiration from the way he moves and the way he approaches the world so curiously. The cat on the cover of Leonard even looks quite a lot like him!
What was fun about writing from Leonard’s perspective? What was challenging?
Writing this book was a perpetual balancing act. The narration is mostly alien, but every once in a while, the cat slips in (as cats tend to do). During the initial drafts, I found it difficult to maintain a balance between them.
"At the beginning of the book, when Olive rescues Leonard in a storm, she’s feeling exactly the same way I did at 11: incredibly odd. An outsider on Earth."
However, that never took away a single ounce of fun! It was joyous to write from Leonard’s perspective—partially because it was so intellectually challenging and partially because I loved thinking about human customs that might baffle or delight an alien. For example, poetry! While I was writing, I was also preparing to teach an undergraduate poetry class, so Leonard’s variation on William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” found its way into the novel. I can’t tell you how much I cracked up just thinking about an alien cat writing poetry.
Leonard is fascinated by seemingly mundane objects such as cheese sandwiches, raincoats and Swiss Army knives. How did you decide which objects would catch his attention?
Honestly, I just really love cheese sandwiches! As for the rest of the objects, many of them represent simple pleasures and general humanness. At one point, I think I also Googled “funny human objects.” During drafting, Google is my best friend.
Tell us a little bit about Olive. How did her relationship with Leonard develop as you wrote?
At the beginning of the book, when Olive rescues Leonard in a storm, she’s feeling exactly the same way I did at 11: incredibly odd. An outsider on Earth. And she’s absolutely obsessed with all kinds of animals, including cats. Throughout the novel, Leonard and Olive start to bond in deeper and deeper ways. They’re both outsiders—in Leonard’s case, quite literally! They’re both curious and compassionate and a little bit scared of what life might bring. But now they have each other.
What do the concepts of home and family mean for Leonard and Olive? Did your own understanding of home and family evolve as you worked on the book?
One of my favorite lines in the book is, “You don’t have to be born into a family to call it your own.” I believe that wholeheartedly, and over the course of the novel, Olive and Leonard come to believe that, too. They develop this found family, together on Earth.
I’ve always been interested in what constitutes a home, as I’ve moved a lot over the years and I often have trouble feeling grounded. But compassionate people ground me. Animals ground me. Friends can be your home.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that my understanding of home and family changed as I worked on Leonard, but the book did cement many of the things I feel. Hold your loved ones close. You can be weird around them, and they’ll still adore you. In fact, they’ll adore you because of your you-ness.
What do you think—and what do you hope—could be out there among the stars?
As a storyteller, I’m particularly fascinated by the Voyager golden record and the sounds of Earth that NASA chose to capture and send into space to represent humanity. Aliens are definitely out there. It’s a statistical probability. Whether they’re fluffy, catlike and dream about cheese sandwiches . . . well, that’s perhaps another story!
Author photo courtesy of Carlie Sorosiak.