Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Carolyn J. Rose & Bubba

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Carolyn J. Rose, author of Hemlock Lake. With me is Mike Nettleton, the co-author of The Big Grabowski and other mysteries, and Bubba. Or, as she’s called when I really want her attention, “Bubba Jeanne Rose.”

Bubba is 10 and, despite her name, is female. She’s a “pound puppy” so the breeds that contributed to her “mix” are unknown, but the best guess is that she’s miniature Schnauzer and Yorkie. We refer to her as a Schnorkie.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I can’t even get dressed, let alone write, without a cup of coffee and a little something to go with it. When I get out the coffee cup, Bubba knows that toast and peanut butter can’t be far behind and takes up her position beside my chair in the dining room to await her tribute. Being Bubba, she feels that tribute is always due.

What's brewing?

Colombian dark roast with plenty of milk at home. When I stop in at my favorite bookstore (Cover to Cover Books in downtown Vancouver, WA), I ask Mel Sanders for the special of the day. Unfortunately, the bookstore has a cat named Smedley that outweighs Bubba, so I err on the side of caution and leave her at home.

If we’re on vacation, I let Mike use his imagination and am never disappointed. Chocolate with cinnamon, caramel and hazelnut. It’s all good. On hot summer days I like an iced decaf in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes with a little dash of something from the “adult beverage” cabinet in the buffet.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Mike makes terrific scones filled with chocolate chips and nuts, but I’m watching my cholesterol, so I indulge in low-fat blueberry-walnut-oatmeal cookies that I make myself. Or a little dark chocolate.

Any treat for Bubba on this occasion?

Let’s face it. Bubba’s day revolves around what Mike calls “the cookie train,” a steady supply of biscuits from the jar on the counter. We admit that we’ve spoiled her, but we plead that it was out of our control.

On her first visit to the vet, he asked me if I’d ever had a small dog before, then gave me a piece of advice: “Small dogs get up every day with one thought in their minds—I will bend you to my will.” He was so right. Bubba has practiced will-bending since day one and generally gets a piece of any food-related action. She and I are very fond of cheese curls. To balance that, she also indulges in carrots, celery, and lettuce.

How were you and Bubba united?

I’d always wanted a small, cuddly dog. But Mike, who’d had his ankles assaulted by a friend’s tiny mixed breed, argued that small dogs were always yapping and biting and didn’t like men.

Back in the 1990s, I had a reaction to medication and was quite sick for a week. Mike was so worried about me that he caved in and agreed that we could have a small dog—but not until the last member of our mid-sized fleet of three passed on.

We take excellent care of our dogs, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the last dog died at age 15 1/2. About that time we sold our house in Portland, Oregon; dogless, moved across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington. While we were in the process of unpacking, a reporter I worked with called to say, “Turn on your TV and check out the pet of the week.”

There she was, a bit of gray fluff with a pink ribbon in her hair, sitting on the anchor desk of our local cable channel. Five minutes later I’d prodded Mike into the car and we were on our way to the Southwest Washington Humane Society.

When the woman behind the desk told us there would be fees totalling about $90, Mike laughed. “You could charge us $590,” he said, “and we’d still get that dog.”

I took that as a sign that there would be no carping about pet toys, bowls, collars, and leashes, and I thoroughly scorched the credit card at a pet supply store on the way home.

Does she have any influence on your writing?

Well, she’s constantly interrupting me to let her out (we’ve had coyotes stalking the neighborhood so we plugged the doggie door), or come see which of the neighbors’ dogs she’s barking at, or roll my chair away from the desk so she can lounge on my lap.

Thanks to all her interruptions—and many others such as the need to clean the house, weed the garden, or go to work to earn money for more dog biscuits—I’ve learned to make good use of my writing time. I guess you might say that I write like a sprinter instead of a marathon runner. Revision, however, is a different matter. I take my time with that, usually while Bubba is downstairs supervising Mike’s writing.

By waking me up in the heart of the night to take care of business, Bubba also seems to spark those lightning strikes of inspiration that often come to writers while they’re thinking of other things—like why small female dogs must circle at least a dozen times before ... Well, you get the drift of that. Anyway, I keep a pack of index cards and a pen on the nightstand to jot down my thoughts while she’s getting comfortable again in her chosen zone on our king-size bed. (That zone being about 3/8 of the total expanse, carved out of the middle. By stretching out, she can keep both of us on the edges of the mattress.)

If the book finds a publisher, Bubba will be honored in No Substitute for Murder. The protagonist’s dog, a ten-pound ball of orange hair and attitude, is a man named Cheese Puff, but everyone who’s acquainted with Bubba will know she was the model.

Bubba is an unusual name for a female. How did she get her name? Does she have any aliases?

Bubba’s first human companion had named her Belle. But when the folks at the Humane Society told us that, Mike shook his head and pulled me aside. “I’m caving in on the small dog issue,” he said, “but no way am I having a dog named Belle with a pink bow in her hair.”

“Okay,” I agreed, anxious to get her home and settled. “The bow goes. And Belle goes. But let’s pick a name that begins with B so we don’t confuse her.”

For the next hour he suggested he-man names. Bruiser, Butch, Bonehead. When he finally came up with Bubba, I snapped at it, afraid I’d never get a better offer.

As time went by, she shed her timid personality and grew into the name.

Like many small dogs, she believes in what I call the “pre-emptive first strike theory of getting along with other canines.” When she spots a dog she doesn’t know, she hurls herself to the end of the retractable leash and barks as if her tail was on fire. One large-dog owner on our daily walk route calls her “Killer.”

Despite that bravado, she’s easily frightened. She fears electric hair clippers, the sound of the garbage disposal, the vacuum cleaner, and moles that pop from the ground when she’s peering at the mounds they’ve pushed up.

What's the story behind Bubba in the motorcycle outfit?

We have a friend who, before we drew a line in the sand, loved to give presents. It was always an adventure to open her gifts. They were almost always unique, and almost never practical.

Bubba wasn’t eager to try on the outfit but, knowing there would be a cookie at the end of the modeling session, bore with us. She still has it, but would be delighted to trade it in for a box of dog biscuits. Any takers?

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Bubba finds squirrels interesting, but not worthy of being chased—perhaps because they’re also small and gray, but mostly because they don’t get in and eat her food. Our neighborhood cats all have the cool gaze of old-West gunslingers and stand their ground when Bubba makes a foray, so she’s abandoned thoughts of chasing them. But she is interested in the postman.

We’d had her about three months when the small TV news operation I worked for folded and I was laid off. For the few months I was unemployed, in between painting the interior of the house, I worked at trying to teach Bubba a few tricks.

She refused to jump hurdles, but did learn to sit, roll over, and give me a high five. On her own, from watching me go out to get the mail, she began to keep watch from the back of the sofa and bark a special bark—a single yip—when she spotted the white van.

Often I would toss her over my shoulder (like a baby being burped) and carry her out to the box where the young woman who distributed the mail would pet her. Recently we got a new postman who, to Bubba’s delight, carries dog biscuits—huge dog biscuits. Bubba is now more vigilant than ever.

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

Her favorite toys are the teddy bear we bought for her on the way home from the Humane Society, a plush squeaky bone, and a small stuffed dog that was a gift from a friend. She often brings Little Doggie to us after she’s eaten. Perhaps it’s a thank-you gift. We accept the drool-covered dog politely and wash our hands when Bubba isn’t looking.

Where is Bubba's favorite outdoor destination?

We walk a loop every day and, although Bubba loves to visit with all the residents along it, her favorite destination is the garage where a neighbor named Denny does his woodworking. At the corner of his workbench is a jar of dog biscuits and she heads right for it, sits, and begs. Denny thinks she’s adorable and, like an indulgent grandfather, often tries to slip her a second biscuit.

On days that Denny isn’t home or has the garage closed up because of cold weather, I have to drag Bubba from his driveway. She keeps looking over her shoulder until we’ve gone a block or more.

Who is Bubba's best pet-pal?

Right now she’s an only dog, but she’s had a succession of buddies, including a gray cat named Dust Bunny who was just about her size, and the dachshund/Labrador mix we inherited when my father died. Dudley had also been an only dog and never got the hang of playing. Bubba would run in circles around him and he would turn and bark at her as she did. That was it. He also had a bad habit of chewing her toys to death—sometimes in a matter of minutes. She always forgave him by bedtime when they’d curl up together.

If Bubba could change one thing about your husband, what would it be?

She’d fix it so he never sneezed again. He has these explosive, full-body sneezes. When she’s asleep on his lap and he lets loose, she levitates, feet running in the air like a cartoon character.

What is Bubba's best quality?

She’s always been fair about dividing her attentions so Mike and I aren’t jealous of each other. From the first day she was a lap hopper and she’s very affectionate with our friends.

She also seems to believe that the family unit should stay together. She refuses to come downstairs for her walk unless we’re both ready, and will “herd” the party who’s lagging behind by nudging ankles.

What is the most amusing thing Bubba does? The most frustrating?

The most amusing thing she does it to run around at top speed, racing along the back of the sofa like a motorcycle taking a tight turn, then jumping to the floor, rolling over several times, and taking off again.

The most frustrating thing is an old Dudley trick—she refuses to come in unless she sees that a treat is being offered. She’ll stand one step below the doorway and wait us out. If we go after her, she’ll dart into the garden and hide among the lilies. If we use our “I’m-not-amused” voices she sits and juts out her lower jaw, showing us her teeth. Fortunately she can be fooled. All we have to do it rumple a potato chip bag and she’s in the house like a shot.

View the video trailer for Hemlock Lake, and learn more about Carolyn J. Rose and Bubba at the website, Deadly Duo Mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue