Rubio calls the book a meditation on love, longing and the sacrifices love compels.
At her home in Versailles — adorned with art and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves — Rubio has not a cockatoo, but a canine ball of fluff called Fritz — part Papillon, probably, since he came from a Papillon rescue, but the rest of his genetics the kind of question mark that makes a mixed-breed dog one of nature's wondrous creatures. Fritz trots on his tiny legs after Gwyn and her husband as if they are his treasures to be shielded from intruding reporters and mailmen.
Although she and husband Angel Rubio — former Peace Corps volunteers in Costa Rica — came to Kentucky in what she now admits was a hilariously misguided effort to live off the land, Gwyn Rubio struck literary gold with her book Icy Sparks. The novel was an Oprah Winfrey pick in 2001. Oprah.com describes Icy, the child growing up with what she would later learn is Tourette's syndrome, as "an unforgettable heroine in the tradition of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird or Will Treed in Cold Sassy Tree."
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Cockatoos tend to bond with one person, Gwyn Rubio found while researching the book — which included watching The Life of Birds, David Attenborough's 1999 10-hour show on birds, and PBS shows such as Parrot Confidential.
"They're incredibly bright," she said.
Living with humans, though, "They lose a sense of who they are. They lose a sense of their 'birdness.'"
Caruso is smart and charming because he's a bird in love, but can also be petulant and destructive because he realizes all of it can be taken away in an instant, or his feelings never returned in full measure because he is, after all, a beloved pet and not a man. Rubio said that she wanted to give Caruso "a life ... filled with loss and longing."
Caruso has picked up all the stories that a previous owner told him about his lifelong love, bordering on obsession, with an unattainable woman. The character's name is Pinter, a nod to the late British playwright Harold Pinter. Says Rubio: "I love Harold Pinter, and I just needed a last name."
Rubio, 65, got the idea for Love & Ordinary Creatures over 16 years ago, on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with Angel.
A young woman peddled up on her bike. Gwyn Rubio noticed a sulfur-crested cockatoo resting on the bike with her.
"She puckers her lip, he lengthens his neck and they kiss," she said. "I turned to my husband and said, 'That's one bird in love.'"
From that observation came Caruso, a bravura character who is initially encountered by readers when he is watching his owner, Clarissa, nap. Unless the reader knows that Caruso is a parrot, they would mistake him for a lover whose eyes linger over her alabaster skin and orange toenails, watching the object of his affection in repose.
But he is a parrot. He makes noise, figures out that a boyfriend is a threat to him — that he is the third, weak link in the triangle — and undertakes a heroic magical quest to assure Clarissa's safety.
Quite a lot for a bird.
Rubio constructs her books in a tactile way — pencil to lined tablet, the result of which is then transferred to computer.
She is now working on a book of essays and preparing herself, after the Love & Ordinary Creatures book tour, to move on from Caruso.
Letting go of characters can be wrenching, Rubio said.
About Icy Sparks, she said, "When I had to let her go, I went through an empty nest syndrome."