Sunday, January 29, 2012

Love Letters...

Every author loves getting letters from their readers! These days, most of the fan letters I get from readers of A Dog's Way Home come in the form of email. But yesterday I received this lovely letter and drawing from Jacquelyn in Texas. We had corresponded a bit on email after she read my book. I was so touched by her passion for my book and for dogs, I sent her a signed copy of A Dog's Way Home. Connecting with readers means way more to me than winning any awards. It really is why I write! Even though, as Jacquelyn says, we are very far from each other, I feel I have a new BFF in Texas.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Thanhha Lai and Pico!

All of us in the library world and, to some degree, the children's author world, anxiously await the announcement from the American Library Association about the year's big winners. So many prestigious awards are announced at their mid-winter conference: The Michael Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King award, and the highly coveted Newbery and Caldecott awards. Every year we all comprise our own lists of winners and honors. Once the awards are announced, we cheer for our favorites and shake our heads over the ones overlooked and the ones not on anyone's radar.

I cheered loudly yesterday when it was announced that debut author, Thanhha Lai, had won a Newbery Honor for her breathtakingly and heartbreakingly beautiful book, Inside Out and Back Again. This is probably my favorite children's book of the year. It has all the elements of a perfect book I look for: spare yet evocative writing, strong voice, bravery, a dash of humor, multi-faceted characters, and honesty. I'm not the only one thinking this is an almost perfect book: Lai's semi-autobiographical novel in verse also won the prestigious National Book Award!

Like Thanhha herself, the main character in Inside Out and Back Again, flees her home in South Vietnam with her family just before the fall of Saigon in 1975 when she is ten. They eventually land in Alabama, where Ha, the narrator of this evocative story, goes from being a secure, brave, and smart girl to feeling just the opposite. It was a pure pleasure to watch Ha and her family, over the course of a year, gradually adapt in their new home. As Lai said in a recent School Library Journal interview, it took her closer to a decade for "confusion to turn to hope" in her new life in America.

It took Lai fifteen years to write Inside Out and Back Again. During that time, she acquired degrees in journalism and writing, a husband, a daughter, and a lovely white Havanese named Pico. I can't begin to tell you how honored I am to have Thanhha and Pico in today's Fido and Friend spotlight!

1. How did you and Pico find each other?  My previous dog, Kiki, just died and the house was so quiet and sad that I knew I had to have another dog, ASAP. The next day, we found a breeder in Brooklyn. She brought out three puppies and one ran straight to us and started biting my sleeves. He was growling and wagging his tail and head-butting me. Oh, that milky puppy smell and those dart-like puppy teeth. I looked at my husband and said, "That's our dog."

2.  What makes Pico's tail wag?  It doesn't take much: door bell ringing. After venturing to the backyard for even a minute, wags for a chicken stick. My daughter (his sister) coming home on the school bus. Any dog. Any human. Any squirrel. The mention of the word "chicken." Package crinkling from any kind of cheese. Anything at all.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  The first book I read in English was Where the Red Fern Grows. The image of two hounds forever resting side by side has been seared into my consciousness.

4. If Pico could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  Oh, he wouldn't be able to pick just one. There's my habit of bringing him along on jogs so he could file down his nails. He would rather be pushed along in a stroller, preferably with the shade down. And the nails, well, why worry about such silly things. Then there's my other annoying habit of cutting his fur and bathing him. He fancies himself a hippie scholar who's above looks and hygiene. This is why he bites professional groomers. Of course, there's the indignity of not sitting at the table with everyone else and not having a steak or chicken fillet all to himself. And the worst offense of all: leaving him home alone to look longingly out the bay window. Goodness, don't I understand he needs to be out and about to deepen his study of all things living and dead, especially sun-baked worms?

5. In five words, tell us what Pico means to you:  He is my only son.

Many, many thanks to Thanhha and Pico for visiting Fido and Friend in Five! I'd say The Year of the Dragon is off to an auspicious start!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Jennifer Jordan and Harry!

Jen at base of K2
Several months ago, I had the great good fortune to share the spotlight with two amazing women at the Utah chapter of the American Association of University Women's annual fundraiser. One of the women, Donna McAleer, you already met in a previous Fido and Friend post.

Today I'm going to introduce you to Jennifer Jordan and her dog, Harry. Let me tell you, Jennifer is one amazing person. Seriously, this woman has done everything! She's an award-winning author, filmmaker, screenwriter, with many years of experience as a journalist, broadcast producer, TV news anchor, NPR anchor and, not surprisingly, motivational speaker. She's also had more world-wide adventures than you can shake a stick and, and she's a great dresser. And she's tall. And gorgeous. If you don't believe all this, check out her website. I'm just giving you the tip of the iceberg here! Oh, and she's lived my fondest fantasy: being interviewed by NPR star, Diane Rehm.
Savage Summit

In 2005, Jennifer wrote the highly acclaimed Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women on K2, which won all kinds of awards. She also created, wrote, and co-produced a documentary based on her book for National Geographic.

Her second book, Last Man on the Mountain, was released in 2010. Her book tells the story of Dudley Wolfe, the first man to die on K2 during an ill-fated 1939 expedition. Now I have to tell you just a bit about how she literally stumbled across Wolfe's story. In 1999, Jennifer was hiking on a glacier below K2 when she came across Wolfe's remains--sixty-three years after he disappeared on the mountain. Can you believe that? This is just the way her life is. Jennifer is currently at work on a screenplay based on this book.

So as you can imagine, I was thoroughly intimidated by this larger-than-life person the evening I met her. Until the subject turned to dogs. I asked Jennifer if she had a dog. Her face turned all soft and tender and she said, "Oh yes, I have the most wonderful, beautiful dog named Harry." I knew we'd be okay. Not surprisingly, Harry is a Border Collie--probably the only breed who could keep up with this woman. Jennifer has written a delightful children's story about Harry. She and Harry share their life and home in the foothills of Salt Lake City with Jeff Rhoades, cinematographer, adventurer, and husband.

Harry's Eyes
1. How did you and Harry find each other?  Harry and his brother were left in a box on the steps of the Pocatello pound when they were just weeks old. My husband, Jeff, saw him first and called me saying, "You are not going to believe the eyes on this puppy. He's going to be a great dog." He was right.

2. What makes Harry's tail wag?  Greeting his friends, both two and four-legged, doggie walks, car rides, and the mailman.
Hiking with Mom

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Good Dog, Carl, a children's book with less than ten words. As a writer, I love filling in the story for whichever child I'm reading to. And the illustrations are priceless.

4. If Harry could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  He would love if I became a recluse, leaving the house only to take him on doggie walks in the hills above us.

5. In five words, tell us what Harry means to you:  Love, kindness, acceptance, sweetness, heart.

Boating with Mom
Thanks so much to Jennifer and Harry for taking time out to visit with us. We're all looking forward to your next adventure!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Life With Shelties Means..." winner Tina Towers and her pack!

All dogs, but (in my humble opinion) particularly shelties, do so much to brighten our lives. They seem to not only understand our moods, but to know just what to do to make us feel better. Whether we've been gone for five minutes or five days, they make our home-coming all the sweeter. U.K native, Tina Towers, captured this perfectly in her winning poem, "Life with Shelties."

Tina's BFFs: Amy and Bella
Life with a Sheltie

Life with a Sheltie is a special time,
I thank God that I have mine.
They brighten up the saddest days,
with all their funny Sheltie ways.
The love we share is just the best,
having them with me I feel blessed.
I love to watch them run and play,
living together just makes my day.
If ever I am feeling low,
they show me how they love me so.
All they want is to be by your side,
having them in my life fills me with pride.
Shelties are so loyal and your best friend,
they will always help your heart to mend.
They are without a doubt the best-est breed,
just your love and kindness is all they need.
I just cannot wait to come back home,
because with my Sheltie friends I am not alone.
Their Sheltie grin and the way they run,
fills our lives with such great fun.
They can do tricks and love to give you their paw,
some will pick up your mail coming through the door.
They are so loyal and they love to please,
living with them is such great ease.
The best-est thing that I do know,
is how much I really love them so.
So if your life feels empty all you need to do,
is to get a Sheltie to share life with you.

Thanks so much to Tina for sharing her love of shelties! Tina and her two gorgeous girls, Amy and Bella, have received a signed copy of A Dog's Way Home. So happy to know Tam and Abby have found a home "across the pond."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Alan Lazar and His Pack of Poodles!

 One of the things I've enjoyed so much about doing this blog over the past ten months is all of the interesting new friends (both four-footed and two) I've made. So I'm happy to start out a whole new year of Fido and Friend in Five by introducing you to a very special Fido and Friend guest!

Alan Lazar didn't start out as an author. Alan was born in South Africa where he played keyboard and produced with the multi-platinum selling band Mango Grove. The band had the distinct honor of performing at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. He later traveled to the U.S as a Fulbright scholar and got his MFA at the USC Film School. Alan has scored more than 30 films and TV shows including (hold on to your hats) Sex in the City and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Seriously! Didn't I tell you I've met the most interesting folks through this blog?
Love this cover!

Now Alan has turned author. His first book, Roam, just came out with Simon and Schuster. Roam is an adult novel after my own heart. It's the story of the amazing bond between a young dog, Nelson, and his Girl. One day, a young, curious Nelson follows his nose through the gate, out of his yard and away from his beloved Girl for eight years! You'll be amazed how many miles that dog travels during those years! And the really cool thing about Roam is Alan wrote a seven-part soundtrack to go along with Nelson's adventures which is embedded in the text. Can you believe that? 

Alan lives in Los Angeles with his family and three poodles, Nelson, Chicky, and Milan. Let's meet this Renaissance man and his pack of poodles in today's Fido and Friend in Five.

1. How did you and your dogs find each other?  We have three dogs--the "real" Nelson, Chicky (short for Chiquita Lulu) and Milan. All three are poodles--Nelson and Chicky are apricot in color, and Milan is white. At the time our dogs entered our lives (Chicky is almost 20 now), we regrettably didn't know much about animal rescue efforts, and so Nelson and Chicky were purchased from pet stores. Discovering poodles was a big deal for me, as they're hypoallergenic. I adore all dogs, and regularly find myself sneezing from hugging long-haired dogs I shouldn't. So finding out I could live with poodles quite happily was big news for me. 

Nelson and Chicky bred, and had five pups, one of which we kept: Milan. She was first out in the litter and a voracious eater. Shortly afterwards some friends educated us about why breeding was not a good idea, and all three of our dogs were fixed. Although we wouldn't breed again knowing what we know now, it has been special seeing Milan grow up with his mom, Chicky. They still sleep together every night, and Milan often lies on her back and lets Chicky lick her just like when she was a pup.

2. What makes your dogs tails wag?  Seeing one of the family enter the kitchen is generally enough to get our dogs' tails wagging furiously in the hope of a tasty morsel. Hearing their leashes clink as we take them out of our special dog closet is also enough to cause an eruption of happiness from our three pooches in anticipation of a walk. But most of all, it's a family member close by, ready for a cuddle, that makes their tails wag.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog book?  101 Dalmatians. I loved the story when I was a kid, and still love it! Cruella da Ville remains one of the most awesome villains (villainesses?) out there. I love the way the smart canines outwit her. If it wasn't for my allergies, I'd own a Dalmatian.

4. If your dogs could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  I think all three of our dogs would prefer I didn't have to work, and could just spend all my time with them. 

5. In five words, tell us what your dogs mean to you:  Daily reminder what love is.

Thanks to Alan, Chicky, Nelson and Milan for visiting with us today! Be sure and check out Alan's website to find out more about him. You can also see the different jacket covers for ROAM for the foreign editions, and see what Alan's doing to help dogs less fortunate than his.

Chiquita LuLu, We'll Miss You
Sadly, Alan just informed me that Chicky recently passed away. He and the rest of the family miss her terribly. I want to dedicate this post to the sweet Chiquita LuLu, always and forever in her humans' hearts.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Life With Shelties Means..." winner Cynthia and her pack!

As you may recall, in December I had an essay contest for sheltie lovers. Teddy chose three winners who all received a signed copy of A Dog's Way Home. I'll be posting the winning essays (plus some of the others I received) from time to time so we can all enjoy the joy of sheltie life!

Here is Cynthia Anderson's winning essay about her life with her three shelties: DunKen, Jim Dandy, and Jadie. I think you'll find yourself smiling and nodding in agreement as you read along. Enjoy!

Jim Dandy, Jadie, DunKen (L-R)
I will start back when I got my DunKen, who is 11 and 1/2 years old and whom I brought home when he was 8 weeks. My husband had died in 1990 and after trying to put my life back into some kind of order for the following 9 years and not really being very happy on my own, I decided to get a dog. I had always loved collies but had a small place so I decided on a sheltie after I had researched their temperament and needs. That sheltie was my DunKen and he has been my heart dog and protector for all these years.

What I want to say first is, life with a sheltie means a lot of hair. Brushing and grooming is a priority and no matter how well that is done the house still has wispy sheltie decor along the edges of the floors and on anything where it can cling. It also means having responsibility for another little life; feeding and exercising, training in good sheltie manners and having thought for this little soul when you travel and work. DunKen was lucky because he could go to work with me for the first four years of his life and this time together cemented the close bond we have had.

Life with a sheltie though, more than the day to day needs and chores is most of all, the adoration I see in his eyes when he seems to look right into my soul. And the happy little dance, complete with a squeaky for accompaniment, whenever I come home. It means never being alone, and having a loving companion to whom I can pour out my deepest thoughts and who is never judgmental, but always giving and forgiving, because I am not always the very best human he could have chosen but he never lets me know that. He loves without conditions and has taught me volumes about loyalty. I have three now and they have very different personalities but as all shelties they are so very loyal and loving. This is LIFE with a sheltie.