Who is in the photo at right?
This is me, Tamara Ellis Smith. I am a children's book author. I recently had my debut middle grade novel come out – Another Kind of Hurricane. I live in Vermont with my husband, four kids, seven chickens, two cats and this guy, Winn-Dixie. Winn is a border collie mutt. We're not sure exactly how old he is, but we think about 9.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Because I am a freelance writer, most of the time I work from home. But sometimes I work from our local bakery, Sweet Simone's, for a change of scenery, to be away from the mounting dishes in the sink and laundry in the upstairs hall, for a mocha latte. They've got a lovely outside area with tables and because today is unseasonably warm here in Vermont, I thought I'd take Winn-Dixie for a coffee date!
Sweet Simone's makes the most delicious mocha lattes around. It's delicious, and there's this heaping sludge-like pile of chocolate sits at the bottom of the cup when you're done.
Any treats for you or Winn-Dixie on this occasion?
We might just grab ourselves a Morning Glory muffin. Chunks of candied ginger in a carrot-bran type muffin. Also delicious!
How were you and Winn-Dixie united?
Winn-Dixie came to me late one night off of a plane at airport in Burlington, Vermont. The flight attendant opened his crate and he walked over to me and put his head in my hands. Love at first touch.
I spent a long time before that on Petfinder.com. Boy, is that website addicting! I was looking for a very specific dog, modeled after my good friend, Kara's dog Cody, who was part border collie, part who knows what. (We used to say he was part Holstein cow, because he was this huge black and white guy!) When I saw Winn Dixie's picture I knew he was the one because of his eyes. They stared straight into the camera. Straight at me. I showed him to Kara and she said, "Yup, he's it." He has the same eyes that Cody had.
He was in a shelter in North Carolina. So that's why the plane ride.
How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?
Winn-Dixie came with the name Windsor. But that definitely felt too formal for him. He's playful and also a hard worker. It didn't take long to come up with Winn-Dixie – from Kate DeCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie. Both dogs are strays. Both came from the south.
My brother, who is the ultimate nicknamer in the family, sometimes calls Winn-Dixie either Windex or Window.
Does Winn-Dixie do more to help or hinder your writing?
Winn-Dixie is the quiet supporter-type. He lies down under the kitchen table, where I work when I'm at home, and emanates good energy.
Has Winn-Dixie inspired the creation of any fictional dogs?
He hasn't…yet. My first novel does have a dog in it. His name is Brae and he plays a pivotal role in the story, but Brae is based 100% on Cody, actually. Winn-Dixie's turn will come! And of course, the funny thing is that the reverse is, in fact, true for Winn. A fictional dog inspired him (or at least his name!)
Who is Winn-Dixie's best pet-pal?
Winn-Dixie's best pet-pal is probably our cat Bantam. They're a little bit like ships passing in the night – Bantam is a night owl and Winn is a morning kind of guy – but they rub noses as they pass.
What is Winn-Dixie's best quality?
His best quality is, hands down, his loyalty. Winn sticks by me no matter what. He waits for me if he goes way ahead down the trail, he waits for me when I am out of the house. It's nice, being the mom of four kids with all of the watching and worrying that comes along with that, to have someone else doing the watching and worrying over me!
If Winn-Dixie could change one thing about Vermonters, what would it be?
I don't think Winn-Dixie would change anything about Vermonters, but I do think he'd change Vermont ever-so-slightly. He is from North Carolina after all, so I think he would probably change the weather. Maybe not a lot, but I know he'd love to get rid of the 4 feet of snow/-10 degree weather combination. Ice chunks on his feet are not his favorite things.
If Winn-Dixie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
Who did you live with before we adopted you? And what was it like? (I'd hope to squeeze that follow-up question too!)
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Winn-Dixie could speak, who should voice him?
My husband, Derek, used to voice both Winn-Dixie and our old chocolate lab, Fundy. It was hysterical. And then my oldest son wrote a one-act play starring both dogs and that was even more hysterical. Based on both of their takes on Winn, we'd need to find a voice that emanated wisdom and just a little bit of superiority over the rest of the canine world. Maybe Alan Rickman? Or Danny Glover?
What advice would Winn-Dixie give if asked?
Be present and connect.
Visit Tamara Ellis Smith's website.
My Book, The Movie: Another Kind of Hurricane.