Friday, July 3, 2009

Julia Buckley & Simon

Who is in the photo at right?

That's me, Julia Buckley, a mystery writer and English teacher, and Simon. Simon is half Jack Russell, half Beagle. He is officially my son’s dog, because we got him as a birthday present when my son turned seven, but Simon decided long ago that he loved me best. We might conclude that this is because I feed him, walk him, and talk to him. My sons do that too—sometimes.

Do you have Coffee with Simon?

I must admit I don’t drink coffee and never have, although I love the smell of coffee brewing. That admission lost me a job at Starbucks when I was young. But my husband is a coffee addict and Simon knows that the minute he smells those Colombian grounds percolating in the morning, food and water will be available—and maybe the occasional extra scrambled eggs.

How did Simon come to be united with you?

My son had longed for a dog ever since he could talk (which was early). He would always trap me into “I love dogs” conversations. When he was about four, he asked me what a “feline” was. I said, “That’s another name for a cat—a sort of scientific name. The name for a dog is ‘canine.’” And without a pause he said, “Awww. I wish I had a canine.”

So I scoured the papers looking at dogs for many months before Ian’s seventh birthday, and found that dogs, especially purebreds, are expensive! Then I found a little kennel about an hour and a half from us that had reduced the price on Beagle/Russell puppies because they were six months old. So I guess you could say I chose Simon because he was on sale. I am ever thrifty.

How did Simon get his name?

We named him in the car on the way home. We said that Ian could choose, because it was his birthday, and then we started listing suggestions, starting with men’s names, because the dog was male. We got to the name Simon, and Ian said, “That’s it. His name is Simon.”

If only I were that decisive.

Where do you usually take Simon out for fresh air?

We have a big and wonderful back yard that is Simon’s domain. We can let him out there to bask in the sun, chase the dog next door (they run along the fence, as you can see in the picture at left), or snap at gnats. He hates them with doggie passion.

We also take him for walks around the neighborhood or (rarely) to a park.

Is Simon's bark worse than his bite?

Yes. He barks and howls, like Snoopy. But he is a total faker, as we see whenever visitors come over. Those who take the time to pet him find that he falls in love easily.

He only bit anyone once, and it was because I read something on the internet, one of those “how come” sort of philosophical lists people send around, that said “How come dogs love sticking their heads out the windows, but they hate it when people blow in their faces?”

I read this to my sons to make them laugh, but of COURSE my boys decided to immediately go and blow in the dog’s face. My little one was only about three years old, and I think Simon couldn’t decide what he was exactly, and when Graham squatted and blew in Simon’s face, Simon snapped. It was very instinctive, and only one of his teeth caught Graham on the lower lip, but WOW—you wouldn’t believe the blood. And then Graham touched his mouth, and cried and screamed and walked around the house touching the walls, and it was like the set of Macbeth.

Graham recovered quickly and didn’t need any treatment other than some Neosporin, but poor Simon looked like he felt guilty all day.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, stick, ...?

Simon loves tennis balls, and he’ll even bring one back to you. The problem is getting him to give it up.

Would Simon rather chase a squirrel, a cat, a car, his tail, the mailman, ...?

Squirrels, yes, and birds and rabbits. And other dogs. We live on the alley, and so every dog walker in tarnation comes past our house, and Simon has a busy time of it, running through the shrubbery and pursuing those passing canines.

Which TV dog is Simon most similar to?

He has standard Beagle coloring and features, so he looks a lot like Shiloh; but the Russell in him makes him slimmer than the average Beagle, and his snout is narrower, and sometimes he reminds me of Wishbone, from PBS.

What's the most embarrassing thing Simon ever did?

Simon does a lot of things that can be termed disgusting, because what he loves to smell the most are the things we like to smell the least. So the most embarrassing things I can’t even print here. But I’ll give you a vague idea: one Thanksgiving we had a big extended family gathering at my parents’ house. Five children and all of their spouses and children. My parents are very traditional, very Norman Rockwell, and at one point they asked us all to join in a big family prayer. We were all there in silence, thanking God, and Simon inserted himself into our midst, began rolling around on his back (which always itches) and moaning loudly while he did so. A bit distracting.

Then, at dinner, my husband shot me a look that said, “Emergency!” I looked over to see Simon trotting down the stairs toward the table with something he’d dug out of the upstairs bathroom garbage. We’ll leave it at that. I managed to get it from him before people noticed and were horrified.

What's the weirdest experience you've ever had with Simon?

Simon is officially "married," because a nearby town recently sponsored a dog wedding. I kid you not. A friend of mine at the high school wanted to make a documentary about it, so he asked if Simon would "marry" his miniature Pinscher, whose name was Bina. We said okay. When we got there we found that Simon was one of the few dogs not in a costume. Some people were taking this wedding VERY seriously and spending a lot on tuxes, dresses, "just married" mobiles. It was rather surreal.

When the pets got married, they had to walk down this white carpet together and then receive their certificate. It seemed every dog was so polite and well-trained, except for mine, who bucked and strained on his leash and walked backward down the carpet while he scanned the crowd for me. You can see in the photo that he looks absolutely horrified, while his bride looks downright disgusted with him. Some beagles just aren't meant for marriage, and he and Bina haven't talked since.

Has Simon worked his way into any of your writing?

He has. In my latest novel (currently with my agent and awaiting its fate), the protagonist lives alone with a Beagle, and Simon was utterly the inspiration for all of that little fellow’s behaviors. If the book sells, I’ll have to give Simon a small take. Or at least a hamburger or something.

“The Dark Backward” was Julia Buckley’s first mystery and is available at your local bookseller. Her novel “Madeline Mann” was called “A bright debut” by Kirkus, and Library Journal has dubbed her “a writer to watch.” She posts at three online blogs: Mysterious Musings, Poe’s Deadly Daughters, and The Inkspot.

--Marshal Zeringue