Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Michaela Muntean, Beau and Tess!

Sit! Stay! Read!
The talented Michaela
I just love books that make me smile and also bring a tear (or two or three) to my eyes, don't you? That's the way I felt when I came upon Michaela Muntean's gorgeous, wonderful, funny, and inspiring new picture book, Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs. Of course, it was the cover that grabbed me first. You can see why. But then I read the story behind that wonderful cover and I was in love. And in case you think otherwise, no, I don't fall in love easily.

Stay is the true story of ten dogs rejected by their owners as hopeless for one reason or another, and adopted by the extraordinary Luciano Anastasini. Now Luciano is not an ordinary dog lover with an over-sized heart. No, Luciano is a renowned circus performer. He came from one of those multi-generational circus families. He had every intention of carrying on as a trapeze artist, until a fall almost took his life and ended his career. Undaunted, Luciano reinvented himself as a clown. Always a dog lover, Luciano saw hope in every single one of these "hopeless" dogs. With love and patience, he trained them to be proud, happy circus performers like himself. What an uplifting tale (ha ha) of love, acceptance, and picking yourself up when you're tossed to the ground.

Michaela has had an interesting journey herself. She has a degree in comparative literature and taught Russian literature as well. She's also worked as a magazine and book editor. She edited and wrote many of the "Sesame Street" books, and wrote over twenty-five Golden books. She's also the author of the widely acclaimed picture book, Do Not Open This Book! Stay is her first non-fiction picture book.

Let's meet Michaela Muntean and her trick-less but-loveable-nonetheless mutts, Beau and Tess!

The lovely Tess
1. How did you and your dogs find each other?  For a number of reasons, I took the death of our beloved Flynn four years ago especially hard. I've lived with dogs most of my life, but this time I actually thought maybe that's it. After nearly a year, though, my husband said he didn't think he could go on much longer without a dog bowl on the kitchen floor, and I decided he was right. We headed to a Long Island rescue center that had just taken in twenty dogs from overcrowded shelters in different parts of the country. Metal crates were stacked five-high. In the bottom crate was a three-month-old foxhound curled up on a scrap of blanket. We were told he came from Virginia. "Ah," said my husband. "A Southern gentleman. Then you shall have a southern name," and he dubbed him Beauregard, after the Civil War general. We've never had a dog who loved other dogs as much as Beau. Flynn didn't give a toss about his fellow canines. We heard about a group of volunteers who took in dogs too traumatized to be put in a shelter. They provided foster care and much-needed transition time and attention. That's how we met Tess, a nine-month-old collie mix who indeed had a rough start in life. She and Beau got along famously, are both now three years old, and come to work with me every day (to a small cottage at the back of our property, where I write). I call them my staff.

2. What makes Tess and Beau's tails wag?  A wild run on the beach, rousting up a flock of seagulls.

The handsome Beau
3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, by Farley Mowat. The image of Mutt wearing his driving goggles while spitting out cherry pits makes me laugh as much today as it did  when I read it for the first time at age ten.

4. If Beau and Tess could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  They would like my husband and I to get up at first light. Both dogs are morning enthusiasts. They wake up seemingly saying, "Hey! It's a new day, and we're still here! Together! Let's do something to celebrate!"

5. In five words, tell us what Beau and Tess mean to you:  Energy, enthusiasm, laughter, life, love.

Thank you, Michaela, Beau and Tess for taking time out from writing and seagull rousting to visit with us on Fido and Friend in Five! And special thanks to Michaela's book-loving niece who recommended A DOG'S WAY HOME to Michaela and gave it a five-star rating. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Lauren MacLeod and Elvis!

Lauren MacLeod
Man's best friend may be his (or her) dog, but a writer's best friend is their agent! Let me tell you from my own experience, a good agent is worth their weight in gold. They recognize that diamond in the rough and help the author polish it until it shines. Then they take your "baby" out into the world, guarding it every step of the way like a pit bull. And they get to handle all that icky contract minutia that makes artistic types weep. That's why I happily have agents and their dogs on Fido and Friend in Five. I think pretty much all of the authors who've graced this blog have agents; all of us would agree we wouldn't be where we are without them.

Lauren MacLeod is one such agent. She's passionate, tenacious as a terrier, and smart as a, well, sheltie. Lauren has worked for the Strothman Agency for several years, straight out of college. I know, she looks like a baby, doesn't she? Lauren agented one of my favorite mermaid books, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, by Helene Boudreau. And yes, the book is as funny as the title implies. Lauren has a real sweet spot for humorous books, by the way. Just sayin'. Oh, and she has a thing for sunken ships. As a matter of fact, she may have been the youngest member of the Titanic Historical Society when she was a tween. Yep, she's a Titanic geek.

Lauren is also a proud dog mom to Elvis. When I first approached her about being on Fido and Friend, she did worry just a tad that being in the spotlight might give little Elvis an even bigger head than he already has. We decided to take that chance. I mean after all, he is The King!

Elvis's head
1. How did you and Elvis find each other?  Elvis was a Valentine's Day/oh-no-let's-get-a-puppy-before-we-move-into-a-new-place-so-we-can-start-potty-training-on-these-floors present from my husband and I to each other. We'd initially wanted a basset hound (I'd grown up with one) but decided on a minnie dachshund because we needed a good city dog. My best friend has a mini doxie named Oscar Heinz whom we both adore. We knew instantly we'd name him Elvis because we got married in Las Vegas with, you guessed it, Elvis assisting!

Are they gone yet?
2. What makes Elvis's tail wag?  Puppy cheese wiz! Actually, I think it is chicken flavored, but it's this puppy treat paste made by Kong. We fill one and give it to him every time we leave. You can just see him thinking, "Come on guys, hurry up and go! No more dawdling!" He also adores the dog park next to our building. I think he perhaps likes all the attention he gets from fellow dog owners than from other dogs.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Because of Winn Dixie! I'm not sure how anyone could pick anything else. I may be slightly biased though because I grew up across the street from a dog named Dixie who was just about the world's sweetest dog, and I do project my Dixie onto Winn Dixie.

What, me chew?
4. If Elvis could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  I'd get up earlier, especially on the weekends. Poor Elvis, all he wants is parents who think 6:00 a.m. is absolutely the best time of the day to play. I'm hoping this is a puppy thing and he'll eventually grow out of it, and eventually become the snooze hound I was promised.

5. In five words, tell us what Elvis means to you:  Snuggles, kisses, friendship, ruined carpet.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Barbara Bagley and Dooley!

Dooley, Delany, and Dad
The emails started first thing Monday morning on March 5th. People from all over the country--people I didn't even know--were emailing me the story of Barbara Bagley and her missing-- and then found-- sheltie, Dooley. Everyone kept asking, "Have you seen this? It's life imitating art! It's just like A Dog's Way Home."

And in many ways, it was. Dooley and his much beloved Girl, Barbara, were torn from each other in a terrible car crash, just like Tam and his girl, Abby, in my book. Dooley was lost for fifty-three days in the west desert of Nevada, surviving however he could, just like Tam. And Barbara, just like Abby, never gave up on hope for finding her beloved Dooley.

But Barbara and Dooley's story was much harder than my made up tragedy in A Dog's Way Home. When Barbara and her husband crashed on Dec. 27th, her other sheltie Delany, was killed;  her husband, Brad, died later from injuries sustained in the crash. Barbara herself sustained numerous injuries including broken ribs, a shattered wrist and a concussion. Dooley was no where to be found. He had vanished into the vast and bleak desert. No one believed he'd ever be found, and certainly not alive.

The bleak Nevada desert
Humane traps set for Dooley
Except Barbara. She told reporters, "Something inside me told me Dooley was still alive out there." And realizing what finding Dooley could mean for Barbara's recovery, dozens of volunteers and friends began searching for Dooley. Finally, after 53 days, Dooley was found about five miles from the crash site. Barbara couldn't believe it when friends called her to tell her they had Dooley. You can just imagine that the tears were flowing during that reunion! As Barbara said, "It's a message from my husband who was looking out for him."

Dooley & Barb reunited
Needless to say, I was floored by the story. It was so similar to A Dog's Way Home. Since Barbara and Dooley lived in Salt Lake City (not far from where I live), I debated on reaching out to her. So imagine my astonishment when she contacted me via FaceBook! Her message began, "You probably don't remember me, but I actually bought a copy of that book from you just before Christmas. You signed it to give to my husband." Chills ran through me. But the connection was about to get even more powerful. "That book," she said. "was actually in the car at the time of the accident. My son was totally freaked when he saw that book cover in the mangled mess that was our car." After reading this, I was in tears. I sobbed. But then later she said to me, "My son was actually very hopeful when he saw the book in the wreckage. He kept saying to me, 'I think it means Dooley is coming home." And he did.

I've been blessed with many connections with people because of A Dog's Way Home. And I've been gratified (as authors are) that my book has touched so many people. But the fact that my book--that beautiful sheltie face and hopeful title--gave Barbara and her son hope that there would be joy despite all the sadness they had experienced means more than I could ever, ever express.

Barbara and I plan to meet soon in Salt Lake. Again. I want to hug her and look into Dooley's eyes. Until then, I wanted to celebrate their special bond by spotlighting the two of them in today's very special Fido and Friend in Five.

1. How did you and Dooley find each other?
 When I met my husband he had a Lhasa Apso that was 4 years old named Oliver. I had 3 kids, the youngest was also 4 years old. We blended our family very nicely. My kids became his and his canine kid became mine. 5 years ago Oliver died. He was 20 years old when he passed.  I was, as you can imagine, heart broken. My husband ordered Dooley from a kennel called “Heartfelt shelties” from Akron Ohio, and he arrived on an airplane around the 24 of July.  He was at that time 13 weeks old and he and I bonded immediately. He healed my broken heart. My husband was the most thoughtful person in the world.

2. What makes Dooley's tail wag?
He loves to kiss and wag his tail when you return home from anyplace! If you say his name quietly his tail wags. If you offer anything from your plate his tail wags.
Home and safe at last

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?
This a really hard question because there are so many really great books out there. Here are some that I love, A Dog's Purpose, and also Southern Fried Divorce  with the brown dog.  All Creatures Great and Small, really anything James Herriot. (Barbara has not been able to bring herself to read my book yet).

4. If Dooley could change just one thing about you, what would it be?
That he would want me to change my mind about the dangers of chasing things. I think he would want me to let him run and chase all the bikes and cars and skateboarders to his heart’s content.  Also, he would want to eat anything and everything if I would let him. This is actually new since his time lost and starving in the desert.

5. In five words, tell us what Dooley means to you:
Dooley, my dog of hope.

Seriously, is there a dry eye in the house? Thank you so much to Barbara and Dooley for allowing me to share their remarkable story with you.