Who is in the photo at right?
The three amigos? In the center is me, Suzanne Johnson, who writes urban fantasy as myself and writes paranormal fantasy and thrillers as Susannah Sandlin. I answer to anything. My partners in crime are Tanker Abbott (left) and Shane O’Mac (right). Tank is a 14-year-old black chow/retriever mix. Shane is a 15-year-old Irish Terror, um, I mean Terrier, mix.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
We’re getting antsy waiting for our two releases coming in June (Allegiance, #4 in the Penton Legacy series, and Lovely, Dark, and Deep, #1 in The Collectors series, in which Shane and Tank are both characters). And what better thing to calm the nerves than…caffeine? (Yeah, we’re sorta backwards down here in Ala-freaking-bama.)
A cup of Community Coffee with Chicory, in honor of my New Orleans hometown, and a big bottle of sugar-free Italian Cream Coffee Mate, in honor of my redneck heritage.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
Always. Since they prefer their coffee without, you know, actual coffee, Tank is chowing down on a small mountain of Milk Bone MaroSnacks and giving the Chow Chow evil eye to Shane, who’s daintily smacking on Beneful Beef and Cheese Baked Treats, which Tank wants—badly—but can’t eat because they upset his delicate constitution. And when his constitution is upset, mama is upset.
How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
They were both acquired during an unfortunate period in which I was unhealthily fascinated by professional wrestling. But shhhhhh… they think Tanker and Shane are old family names.
How were you and your dogs united?
Shane was acquired by subterfuge. She’d escaped wherever she originally lived and followed home the child of a coworker’s illegal immigrant neighbors. They threw away her collar but then proceeded to neglect her, locking her up in their overgrown backyard and leaving her to play with old beer cans and sleep on a wet, molded mattress. My coworker staged an intervention. In the dead of night, after getting me to agree to take the poor little terrier named Flicky, he stole her. We made the handoff on a street corner in New Orleans’ Mid-City the next day. She was totally unsocialized. Have you ever met an unsocialized 1-year-old terrier? Oh my God. I had no idea what I was in for.
Fortunately, about three months into our harrowing relationship, she made friends with a shaggy, emaciated stray, who proceeded to sit outside my fence for days--until I let him in and fed him while calling animal control to take him away. He cried when they put him in the truck, breaking my heart, so I followed them to the pound and paid $50 to adopt the dog I’d just turned in. Welcome home, Tanker [photo right], and thank you for socializing Shane. The nine-month-old had heartworms, weighed 35 pounds, and had been living on leaves, which he still has a fondness for. He gained fifty pounds in six months, and is now, fourteen years later, a creaky old man. He’s still my baby, though.
How do your dogs help--or hinder--your writing?
They are great help. Being master escape artists and fearless adventurers, they provide a lot of fodder for book material, leading me into parts of New Orleans I would otherwise never have visited and thus giving me new places to set scenes in my Sentinels of New Orleans series. You know, like the bar of the Columns Hotel, after they escaped my yard and entered the hotel on the pretense of being with a hotel guest. After they’d enjoyed happy hour hors d’oeuvres for a half hour, the manager figured out they were begging from complete strangers and got my phone number off their collars. Or the CJ Peete housing development, notorious for its drug culture and violence, where I made a cash-for-dog exchange outside the Godbarber salon with an enticing backdrop of razor wire and graffiti. You can’t make this stuff up.
Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?
My best friend’s beloved dog Jagger died while I was beginning to write Lovely, Dark, and Deep, so I named my main character’s best friend Jagger. Then I made it an all-pet book. Almost all the characters in the book are named after my and my friends’ dogs. The main character is Shane, and the heroine’s dog is a black chow-lab mix named Tank.
Squirrel, postman, cat....?
I’ll let them answer.
Shane (lifts head from treat): Cat? Where? I want a cat! You promised you’d get me a cat. Hey, a cat passed within a mile of here recently! I must find it! I won’t kill it. I’ve only killed one and it was an accident, I swear. I want a cat.
Tank: You and your cats. I’m telling you, postmen are evil. They want to break in and steal things. They wear uniforms. UPS men are bad enough, but postmen are sneakier because their assault is daily. When’s the last time a cat tried to come in the door? If not for me, everything we own would be in the hands of a postman by now.
Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?
Shane recently lost her play-buddy Jagger, a black lab three times her weight and height. (Don’t tell her she’s short; she doesn’t know.)
Tanker does not associate with animals other than Shane, being convinced they are only a step above postmen on the food chain. He particularly hated Jagger, with whom he was forced to live while we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina.
What is each dog's best quality?
Shane [photo right] is a problem-solver and absolutely tenacious, which has its good and bad points. She’s really funny and a bit of a show-off. Tanker is endearing because he loves me and me only. He’s funny and affectionate with me; surly or aloof with everyone else. I kind of like that in a pet. By God, we all deserve to be special to someone!
If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?
I would stay home with them all day, stop working on the computer when I am home, and would constantly serve them chicken. Did I mention Shane would commit murder for chicken?
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?
Remember those old Barbara Streisand movies where she played these totally annoying, fast-talking, hyperactive women? That’s Shane. Vin Diesel has already contacted me about doing Tank.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
To Shane: Why are you obsessed with cats and chicken?
To Tank: Remember the drunk guy who stuck his hand through the fence and then you came trotting in the house with his glove dangling from your teeth? Did you chew off the index finger of the glove before or after you pulled it off his hand?
Visit Suzanne Johnson's website.