Friday, July 17, 2009

Chris Grabenstein & Fred

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Chris Grabenstein, an author and my writing partner Fred D. Dogg. Fred is four years old and spent his first year on Broadway as one of the canine stars of the musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." We have no idea what mix of breeds Fred is. Probably some Pit Bull, maybe some Retriever or Boxer. He weighs 65 pounds but likes to sit on laps. Fred was abandoned as a puppy up in the Bronx and was doing time in an animal shelter when he was given the opportunity to try out for the Broadway show. He had to compete with dogs from other shelters all over the city for the role that would, basically, save his life. He had been in a kill shelter, but went on to slay ‘em on Broadway!

What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Fred and I go out for coffee every morning. Usually around 6:30 a.m. I sip as we circumnavigate the American Museum of Natural History. He sniffs and reads his morning mail -- a.k.a. the pee markings on trees, poles, and curbstones, left behind by the six million other dogs in Manhattan. On the morning walk, I usually daydream about what ever scene or story I will be writing that day. Fred’s a good listener. He sits patiently while I hold my paper coffee cup with my teeth and scribble down a note on a card.

What’s brewing?

A home brewed cup of the Coffee People’s Jet Fuel dark roast. As the name implies, it gets the heart and brain pumping at 6:30 a.m. The Jet Fuel is freshly made on a home Keurig single cup dispenser because I was grossed out when I saw how grungy the innards of our 12-cup drip machine get after a few months of heavy use. I first discovered the Keurig concept in a hotel on a book tour to promote "The Crossroads" and became a huge fan.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Not for me. Hey, I lost 80 pounds a few years ago. I know they are looking to find me again.

Any treat for Fred on this occasion?

Yep. There are two doormen on West 81st Street who always have their pockets full of treats and hand them out to all the dogs in the neighborhood. I give them books (they got copies of "Mind Scrambler" today) to say thanks and may name a character after one of the guys in my next John Ceepak mystery.

How did Fred come to be united with you?

My wife works in animal rescue. When Buster, our dog of fifteen years, passed away, I lasted two months without a canine companion to take on long, contemplative walks so I could daydream about story ideas. Bill Berloni, the top dog trainer on Broadway, volunteers one day a week at the Humane Society of New York matching people with dogs. Fred was living with Mr. Berloni and about twenty other dogs, cats, horses, rats, etc. (all creatures from Broadway or touring shows) at a farm up in Connecticut but really wanted a home of his own. We were a perfect match!

How did the dog get his name?

I’m not exactly sure…since he came with it. But, everyone agrees: Fred is definitely a Fred.

Where do you go for your strolls?

We live about a block from Central Park so at least one walk a day includes an amble through the greenery. Fred is very much a creature of habit. So, we have routes for our 6:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 9 p.m. walks. Fred also has an internal watch. He shows up in my writing room at 11:25 a.m. to remind me that we have an upcoming appointment.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, stick…?

Fred has a squeaky green ball with feet (makes the bounce unpredictable) that we play with up on our roof deck after every walk. Indoors, Fred plays a mean game of Tug with a rubber tug toy.

Any siblings?

Fred shares our two-bedroom apartment with three cats. At first, he thought they might be fun to chase. Then Tiger Lilly, our seven pound rescued street cat, swatted him on the snout. Now, everybody gets along. Fred and Parker, our boy cat, sometimes lounge on the floor directly in front of the window air conditioner and chill together.

What’s the most embarrassing thing Fred ever did?

Fred came to us with bladder control issues. He used to be taken out the stage door right before his entrance so he could relieve himself. During the first few weeks with us, he would pee freely whenever somebody new came over. And once, he peed right in front of the elevators. When the building’s board president was waiting with us. Fortunately, once we got into that scheduled walking routine, Fred has conquered his control issue … even without taking those meds they advertise every night on the news.

I guess this might be one reason Fred never asks for coffee in the morning. You can’t buy it. Only rent it.

Who had bigger book parties, you or Fred?

Fred. You can read his story in Bill Berloni’s "Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars."

When the book came out, Fred was part of the launch party down at the Public Theatre. Bernadette Peters had not come to any of my launch parties.

Has Fred ever appeared in one of your books?

My third Ceepak mystery "Whack A Mole" was dedicated to Fred and Buster, “one man’s best four-legged writing partners.” Fred is also the inspiration for Zipper, the dog in my YA books "The Crossroads" and "The Hanging Hill" (coming August 11th). In fact, in "The Hanging Hill," I wrote a couple chapters from the dog’s POV. Fred had a lot of input about what I should say when describing the effort required to find the perfect sunning position on a bed.

Chris Grabenstein’s most recent John Ceepak novel "Mind Scrambler" was released last month.

His next YA Ghost Story
"The Hanging Hill" goes on sale August 11th.

Learn more about the author and his work at Chris Grabenstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue