Monday, February 22, 2010

Leslie Larson & Leyla

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Leslie Larson, a writer who lives in Berkeley. My second novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam, came out the first month of 2010. Slipstream, my first novel, came out a couple of years ago. I’m working on the third, of course! I’m holding Leyla when she was a young gal. Now she’s seven. They told me at the shelter that she was a rottweiler mix, but I think she’s mostly shepherd. A guy on the street told me she’s a World Dog. If every dog in the world mated, their offspring would look like Leyla.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

After we’ve walked for an hour or so, we usually have coffee at home. Leyla lies under my chair while I read the paper. It bugs her if I get out of the chair. Once in awhile we have coffee outdoors at Hudson Bay in Oakland. Trouble is that Leyla is protective, and if anyone gets within five feet of the table, she barks.

What's brewing?

Trader Joe’s Bay Blend dark roast from my stove top espresso maker if we’re home. Double latte if we’re out and about.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Toast with avocado. Oatmeal if I’m feeling fat. If we go out for coffee I have a bagel.

Any treat for Leyla on this occasion?

Nope. She has her own breakfast before I have mine. I avoid giving her treats while I’m eating so she won’t learn to beg—with mixed results. And she wants to maintain her girlish figure.

How did Leyla get her name?

I wanted to name her Lila or Lola, but my partner objected. There were only two vowels left and I didn’t want to copy Eric Clapton, so she became Leyla. (Though I do play the song to see if she’ll react.) I think it’s a beautiful name. I later realized, though, that with those two “L’s” I was naming her after myself. Disturbing.

How did you & Leyla come together?

We had gone to an appliance warehouse to look at refrigerators. On the way home I casually suggested we stop at the SPCA—just for fun. Leyla and her five brothers and sisters were romping in a room together. They were six weeks old. Who could resist? Leyla and I locked eyes and that was it. I think stopping at the shelter was like couples who get pregnant “accidentally on purpose.” I fell deeply in love right away. I honestly fantasized about being stranded on a desert island with her.

Who is Leyla's best pet-pal?

Her sidekick Jade, who came to live with us when she was a puppy and Leyla was five. No question Leyla’s the boss, but she protects Jade, who’s terrified of other dogs. Leyla loves to tease her by “accidentally” dropping a toy or chew right in front of her, then snatching it up the minute Jade makes a move for it. They spend pretty much every moment together.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

Retrieving is not her thing. She can squeak her toy approximately two thousand times per minute. She runs to get it when the phone rings, then stands next to me and squeaks while I try to have a conversation.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

She’s not allowed to chase squirrels or cats. When the postwoman comes, Leyla sticks her head out the cat door and barks. Same with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the UPS guy. It scares the heck out of them. Neighborhood kids bring their friends by to see her. She looks like a mounted head.

What does Leyla do while you’re writing?

She and Jade pretend they’re wolverines. They wrestle and snarl on the floor beside my desk, then they take a nap, then they go outside and bark, then they come in and expect a treat. I would say they interrupt my writing about every 20 minutes.

How has Leyla influenced your writing?

If I get stuck or frustrated with my writing, I lie on the floor next to her. Her dog energy pushes my reset button.

What secret about you does only Leyla know?

How much time I spend walking aimlessly around the house, spying on the neighbors, and reading “Dear Abby” when I’m supposed to be writing. She doesn’t tell anyone that I constantly sigh and curse at the keyboard and ask her questions like, “What in the world am I doing?”

What's Leyla's best quality?

Hard to say. Her beauty? Intelligence? Devotion? Sense of humor? Maybe the way she looks me in the eye like she recognizes my divine essence. Can you tell I’m besotted? I’m afraid to say any more because someone might try to kidnap her.

What's Leyla's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Her proudest moments come when I send her to her room, hide her toy somewhere in the living room—between the cushions of the couch, in a houseplant, or under a chair—then scream, “Find the drugs!” She comes running and searches madly until she sniffs out the contraband. She takes the job very seriously and is extremely proud when she prances over and drops the toy at my feet.

Her most embarrassing moment is gross but not unusual. It’s when I caught her snacking in the cat box. She was mortified. She knew that it was not only forbidden, but beneath her dignity.

Among the early praise for Breaking out of Bedlam:
"Few women have kept me as worried and curious and awake at night as Cora Sledge…. Read Breaking Out of Bedlam to see redemption."
—Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon

“Delightful… Plenty of heart and humor.”
Publishers Weekly

"Heartwarming and funny with nary a slip into sentimentality."
Kirkus Reviews
an excerpt from Breaking Out of Bedlam, and learn more about the book and author at Leslie Larson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Breaking Out of Bedlam.

--Marshal Zeringue