Who is this in the photo?
That’s me, Laura Lane McNeal, author of the novel Dollbaby, letting my dog Abby have a go in my mother-in-law’s garden after her morning walk. I live in New Orleans, where in mid-October it’s still eighty-eight degrees, so we’re about to head inside and enjoy the air-conditioning and a cold drink. Too warm for coffee, I’m afraid.
Abby is a three-year-old West Highland white terrier. My family fell in love with the breed after visiting Scotland about fifteen years ago. We stayed on a farm outside of St. Andrews where sheep and Westies roamed wild on the property. My kids were three and six at the time, so they loved chasing the animals around. There were even horses for them to ride. While on the trip, I promised them we’d get a dog when we got home. Abby is our second Westie. Our first dog, Max, became ill and died about a year ago. I was glad that my youngest son talked me into getting a second dog to play with Max. Sadly, he was only around for a year with Abby. Now my son, who is in college, is trying to get me to get another dog to keep Abby company. I’m about to acquiesce.
What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine? Any treats for you or Abby on this occasion?
I just gave Abby her own copy of Dollbaby, my novel released in July by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. Set against he backdrop of civil rights era New Orleans, Dollbaby unlocks the secrets of Old New Orleans through the eyes of five women whose lives are inseparably intertwined. Through their struggles, they ultimately reveal that family can be found where it’s least expected.
I failed to mention to Abby that there aren’t any canines in the novel. Do you think she’s enjoying it? I promised Abby that when she finished the novel, we’d go down the street to the dog park and let her play with her favorite buddies. I think she’s speed-reading.
How did Abby get her name? Does she have any nicknames?
Abby is technically my son Will’s dog, so he was given the opportunity to name her. I had good Scottish names picked out like Fiona, or Isla, but Will said they were too hard to say. Besides, Fiona would probably turn into Fi-Fi he noted, and he argued that he couldn’t see himself calling that name out loud for all the neighbors to hear when the canine let loose down the street chasing a cat. I have to say I understood his point. How he came up with the name Abby I have no idea, but it seems to suit her. She has lots of personality. As for nicknames I sometimes call her Too-too, don’t ask me why. I’m not sure which is worse, though, Fifi or Too-too. I’m just glad my son is off at college so he doesn’t know what I call her when he’s away.
Does Abby do more to help or hinder your writing?
Abby loves to sit at my feet under the table where I do my writing. She likes to snuggle against me, whether it’s on the bed, the couch, or on the floor next to my feet. I like having her close, so I’d say she’s helps me write, kind of like a writing buddy. The only problem, from her point of view, is that when I get in the writing zone, I can work for four or five hours without getting up,. After a while, Abby will come from under the table and sit a few feet away and start staring at me. That’s her signal that she needs to go out. If I’m not paying attention, she’ll either come over and paw my leg, or give out a yelp. At one point during the writing of Dollbaby, I had to start leaving the back door open so that she could go out at her leisure. That was fine remedy until birds and squirrels starting coming into the house. I’m going to have to find another solution, I guess.
Who is Abby’s best pet-pal?
Abby is a friendly dog so she has lots of pet-pals on the street.
The white dog [photo below left] is named Bijou. They often take walks together.
The black dog [photo right] is a labra-doodle named Bo.
Missing from the picture because she's camera-shy, is Ethel the English bulldog, who lives down the block.
What is Abby’s best quality?
Abby is a very friendly dog. She loves people, dogs, cats… any living thing that will give her attention. Except squirrels. She hates squirrels.
She also loves to ride in the car. I take her for car trips daily where she spends time staring out the window and wagging her tail. We drive to North Carolina every summer, a ten-hour car ride and she does just fine. If we go out to the driveway, she comes running out of the house and waits by the car. If you open the car door, she’ll jump right in. Her favorite spot is the front seat. She’s no back seat dog!
She loves water, but hates the rain. She won’t go out to play when it's raining, which in New Orleans is most likely a daily occurrence.
If Abby could change one thing about New Orleanians, what would it be?
Not a thing! Like Abby, New Orleanians are friendly people. We are known to carry a certain joie de vivre despite any given circumstance. That’s what I set to prove in my novel Dollbaby. Like Queenie says in the novel, ‘you got to dance even when there ain’t no music’! We love parties, parades. festivals, food, drink and life. And we love to help each other. Does it get any better than that?
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, in which Abby could speak, which actor should do her voice?
Well, being the good native that I am, I’d have to pick a New Orleanian to do her voice. That could be anyone from the soothing drawl of Patricia Clarkson, to the esoterically funny Ellen DeGeneres.
If Abby could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?
Only one? That’s a toughie. I’d like to get her opinions on many things, such as where did I leave my keys, or my phone? Is it hot in here? What’s her favorite food? Does this dress make me look fat? Do you love me? Is it too hot outside to go play? Should I have this brownie or be good and pass on it? You know, all the same questions you’d ask your best friend and expect an honest answer.
But if I got to ask her only one question, I guess I’d ask her this -- do you want me to get you a new friend, a puppy, to play with?
I think I know what she’d say.
What is Abby’s favorite toy?
That’s a tough one! Abby is a toy hound! I’ll let this picture [photo right] speak for itself.
Visit Laura Lane McNeal's website.
My Book, The Movie: Dollbaby.
Writers Read: Laura Lane McNeal.
The Page 69 Test: Dollbaby.