My name is Nan Marino. I write middle grade books. My debut novel Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me was released in May 2009 by Roaring Brook Press.
Next to me is Tai Chi Marino. Chi is a mixed breed, which is my favorite type of dog. She’s probably around 9-years-old. That’s the Barnegat Bay in the background.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
There doesn’t have to be an occasion. Having coffee with Chi is part of my morning routine and one of my favorite parts of the day.
I drink a half decaf/half caffeine blend. This way, I can drink copious amounts and pretend I’m not a caffeine addict. I add a little milk and way too much sugar.
Any goodies to go with the coffee?
No. Coffee with sugar and milk is the perfect food.
Any treat for Chi on this occasion?
Coffee time for me is breakfast time for Chi. As soon as I pour my coffee, she goes straight to her bowl. Every time I refill, she gets a little more breakfast. I drink coffee while she noshes.
How did you and Chi come together?
One day, I told my husband I was going out to see if I could find a new table for our dining room. Instead I ended up in the local animal shelter. I’d never been there before and had no idea why I decided to stop by. The moment I saw the scrappy-looking dog in the first cage, I knew why I was there. She was meant to be part of our family.
Before we went into the meeting room, I was warned that dogs are often way too excited to get out of their cages to pay attention to the visiting humans. Chi scrambled round, sniffing everything in sight. I called her, but all those smells in that room were way too tempting. Finally I said, “If you come over and sit down, I will take you home.” As if on cue, she did.
I realized immediately that I’d made a promise to Chi without talking it over with my husband and broke every rule about the proper way to bring a dog into your family. While I don’t recommend a spontaneous trip to the dog shelter, it was one of my best decisions.
How did Chi get her name? Does she have any aliases?
As you can imagine, phone conversations where you tell your spouse that you found a dog and he says, “I thought you were shopping for a dining room table?” are a little awkward. My husband has a second-degree black belt. I thought that naming her Tai Chi after a martial art would help convince him that it was a good idea to bring a dog into our home. Fortunately, he didn’t need much convincing. Chi and my husband are best buddies.
How has Chi influenced your writing?
Chi is my writing companion. She likes to sleep curled around the bottom of my chair. It’s very difficult to get up without stepping on her or tripping so I really have to think twice about getting out of the chair. It keeps me writing. Also, no one rips up a rejection letter faster than Chi.
Squirrel, cat, snowman...?
Moving lawn ornaments. They drive her crazy. She doesn’t know what to make of them.
Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?
She loves squeaky toys that have the fluff inside them. It’s not the squeak, it’s all about the fluff. When she first came to live with us, she chewed up our down comforter while we slept. We woke up to feathers everywhere. Nowadays, she confines her chewing to her own toys. But she still loves to pull out that fluffy stuff.
Who is Chi's best pet-pal?
Chi has a dog boyfriend who lives in the house behind us. It’s very sweet to watch their courtship. They run up and down the fence together. Puppy love.
What's Chi's best quality?
She is intensely loyal and will never let you be by yourself if you are feeling ill or sad. But my favorite thing about Chi is that she’s a good talker. She makes so many sounds and has so many different types of barks that it’s almost like she has her own language. Her expressions are wonderful. She even sighs when she doesn’t get her own way. She’s a terrific listener too.
What's Chi's proudest moment so far?
One day I was in the kitchen when Chi circled round me. At first I thought she wanted a treat. She cried and begged. Then she began to nudge me toward the stairs. I stopped midway, but Chi refused to let me turn around. When I finally got up the stairs, my husband was lying very still with his eyes closed on the floor of our bedroom. It turned out that he was practicing a yoga pose called Savasana (also known as Corpse pose). He told me that Chi nudged him, but he was trying to focus so he ignored her. Chi thought he was in trouble so she went to get help. If something really was wrong, she would have saved him. And yes, now I know how silly those people in the Lassie shows feel when they don’t pay attention to Lassie.
Her most embarrassing?
The moment I got a book deal, Chi became a valued member of my marketing team. She is featured in my school presentations, and there are pictures of her all over my website and blog. Sometimes the photo shot calls for her to wear a special hat or strike a certain pose. I suspect her most embarrassing moment was when she had to wear a hat with Happy New Year stars for my blog post on resolutions this past January. The first time she saw hat with the star ears, she sighed.
Among the praise for Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me:
“Nan Marino may be a debut author, but she's obviously a born storyteller. You will immediately feel at home with her characters, you'll ache right along with them, and you won't be able to leave their stories behind.”Read an excerpt from Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.
–Patricia Reilly Giff
Learn more about the book, the author, and Tai Chi Marino at Nan Marino's website and blog.