Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Helen Brenna & Ebby and Charlie

Who is in the photo at right?

I have pictures of me and lots of pictures of my dogs, but none of my dogs with me. Ebby [photo right] is a 10 ½ year old Flat-Coated Retriever who loves winter. First snowfall and she’s rolling around in the flakes like a little kid making snow angels.

Charlie [photo below left] is a 5 year old Australian Shepherd. He’s supposed to be a miniature, but does he look miniature to you?

I'm Helen Brenna, novelist.

What's brewing?

I know this is crazy for this blog, but would you believe green tea? I love coffee, but it doesn’t love me.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My dogs are spoiled silly. They get coffee, er tea, with me every day! But I guess the occasion for being here, specifically, is to celebrate the release of my three latest Harlequin Superromances, The Pursuit of Jesse, Her Sure Thing, and Redemption at Mirabelle, coming out in July, August and September.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Vet nixed the treats for Charlie as he has a few pounds to lose. I sneak a few to Ebby when her little bro isn’t looking! As for me, I’m sipping champagne. Harlequin, my publisher, sent me a bottle just yesterday to congratulate me on winning Romance Writers’ of America’s most prestigious award, the RITA, at the national conference in NYC in July! (Well, at least I plan to be sipping it once happy hour rolls around.)

How were you and your dogs united?

We lost our beloved Vizla, Mia, to cancer when my kids were 11 and 6. That was tough on all of us, but my kids couldn’t stomach the idea of another Vizla. My daughter, who can recite every breed of dog backwards in her sleep, talked us into a Flatcoated Retreiver. The breeder picked Ebby for us, and we’re so, so glad she did. Charlie came into our home when my son spouted out that he wanted to train a dog. After much discussion about breeds and responsibilities, we settled on an Australian Shepherd. (Mom wanted a smart, easily trained dog since she wasn’t all too sure son would hold up his end of the bargain.) Voila. Charlie!

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Dog names come about by family consensus in our house. The only name both kids liked was Ebby, short for Ebony Pearl. My daughter now think that sounds like a stripper’s name, but, hey, I still like it! Charlie was a tough one. I wanted Chuck, but everyone else hated that name. When no one’s listening, I secretly whisper in his ear.

Have your dogs played any role in your writing?

The hero in my third Mirabelle story, a horror writer, needed a dog. Jamis had isolated himself on the island after he believed he’d caused the car accident that killed his wife and two kids. I knew from page one that only the puppy had survived that accident. Snickers was the first dog character I’d ever written, and it was really fun. So easy, too. When you’ve had dogs your entire life, their habits are second nature.

The biggest role my dogs play in my writing, though, is the break we take for walks at the off-leash dog park. Here’s a picture of them just this morning, as a matter of fact, at that park. They don’t know it, but as they sniff around in the weeds they’re helping me solve plot problems.

Do your dogs have a favorite place to go for walk?

Actually, they’re favorite thing in the world to do is swim at the lake and retrieve water dummies. Charlie, though, is allergic to something in the lake water, so we only go when it’s too hot for walks. Walks at the off leash park are a close second to a swim.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

LOL, all of the above! Ebby is pretty typical when it comes to doorbell ringers and such. Charlie, though, is obsessive (Aussie, remember?) about going after squirrels and rabbits in our backyard. Can’t believe that darned squirrel will still every once in a while risk climbing onto our deck to get at the birdfeeders!

What is each dog's best quality?

Ebby is a lover, the sweetest soul you could ever meet. Charlie is a worker, vigilant in his devotion to protecting me and our family. He lays at the top of the steps outside my office, day in and day out, making sure I’m safe.

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I love this question. They would make me independently wealthy, of course, so I’d never have to work and could play with them all day every day! And, hey, I wouldn’t complain.

What's each dog's proudest moment so far? The most embarrassing?

Interesting to think about this.

I guess I’d have to say Ebby’s proudest moment is the day she learned to leap, and I do mean leap, from the end of a dock and into a lake. That girl gets so excited about water that she can almost fly off the end of docks. Her most embarrassing moment? She’s a tall dog and we had issues early on with stealing things off the countertops whenever we left the house. My husband read about a sure-fire fix. Set a jelly roll pan full of marbles on the countertop, a couple inches of the pan sticking out over the edge of the countertop, and then leave the house. We came back a short while later and marbles were all over our kitchen floor. Ebby wouldn’t come out of the porch for hours. Never had a problem with her snitching things off the counter after that.

Charlie is a very confident, proud dog, so it’s impossible to think of one moment in time. The moment I was most amazed by him, though, happened last summer when I was working upstairs at my computer. All of a sudden, my son, who was playing video games, yelled out in alarm. I ran downstairs to find a hairless, eyes-still-closed something squirming on the carpet next to my son and Charlie a few feet away watching over it. Turns out it was a brand new baby rabbit. Charlie had very carefully carried that baby, completely unharmed, inside and set it beside my son. I think so that we would care for it. If he’d wanted to harm it, Charlie could’ve swallowed it in one bite.

I went out into our fenced in backyard and after much searching found an empty rabbit nest in the middle of our raspberry patch. I’m not sure if my outdoor cat got at the nest and left a stray or if Charlie found it himself and figured the poor thing had been abandoned. I was told that a mother rabbit will come back for up to a week to find a missing baby, so I put the thing back in its nest, kept the dogs and the cat out of our backyard and by nightfall the mom had come for the baby. Hope so, anyway! Hey, I write romance, so the story has to end happily ever after!

Charlie is, like many dogs, afraid of fireworks, but I think he sees it as a terrible weakness. Every fourth of July, after the first firecracker goes off, he looks up at me, his ears down, as if to say, “Sorry, Mom, I just can’t save you from that.” Poor baby.

Visit Helen Brenna's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue