Monday, September 14, 2009

Holly Goddard Jones & Bishop and Martha

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Holly Goddard Jones, college professor and author of the short story collection Girl Trouble (Harper Perennial). I’m with my two children, Bishop (6-year-old cocker spaniel, male) and Martha (1-year old Bassett/beagle/mystery dog mix).

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Coffee is the bridge between our two morning walks. The first walk happens when I’m still grouchy, bleary-eyed, and pajama-clad, and I step out with the dogs long enough to get them to do their business. The second walk, after coffee, is for exercise and quality time. In-between, we usually pile up on the couch together, or they hang out under my desk while I’m on the computer checking email.

What's brewing?

Lately, it’s Earth Fare (an organic grocer in Greensboro, NC, where we just moved) Whole Bean House Blend. On weekends, my husband and I like to pick up iced lattes at Tate Street Coffee, a great local shop near the university.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

When I’m enterprising enough, I have homemade granola on hand, which I serve up with Greek yogurt and fruit. Peaches are my favorite. Lately, because I haven’t had time to make a mess of granola, I’ve been eating boxed cereal. This is disappointing, because I really do depend on the quality of my morning rituals to get me out of bed.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Bishop and Martha always get treats when I leave for work shortly after walk #2. They like anything chicken- or peanut-butter flavored.

How did your dogs come to be united with you?

My husband and I adopted Bishop in Columbus, Ohio, from the Capital Area Humane Society, a wonderful, privately owned no-kill shelter. He was already a year old. I’d never had a pet before, so falling for him—I often say this—was like a religious conversion, complete with me suddenly allowing behaviors (such as face licking) that I formerly detested. We brought Martha home last summer. She was being given away at a farmer’s market in Murray, KY, and I couldn’t resist her. At the time, she was 10 weeks old and about 10 pounds, with a bright pink, spotted belly and soft fur sticking out straight all over her body [photo, above left]. Now she and Bishop, at about 30 pounds each, are very nearly a matched set.

How did they get their names?

Believe it or not, Bishop’s namesake was the android in the movie Aliens. I was watching it with my husband back in our undergraduate days, and I told him that Bishop would make a nice dog’s name. We knew we had the right dog when he matched the name; he’s solid black with a clerical collar. Martha is named for the Beatles song, “Martha, My Dear,” which was about Paul McCartney’s sheepdog.

Do any of your stories include dogs? Do your dogs have any influence on your writing?

Well, they do—and in Girl Trouble, things usually don’t end well for the dog. It’s become, embarrassingly, something I get teased about (or accused of?). The only thing I can say in my defense is that I wouldn’t write about a dog’s death if the idea of my own dogs dying wasn’t so horrifying to me. Interestingly, the book deals several times with female victimhood—there’s rape, murder, a coach who takes advantage of a student, a grown man who tempts a 13-year-old into drinking wine coolers with him—but most readers fixate on the dogs instead of the people. “Why did you have to kill the dog?” they ask me, but never, “Why did you have to kill the girl?”

Stick, frisbee, tennis ball...?

Bishop goes psycho for a tennis ball. He would go after them until collapsing if we let him. Martha, who’s quirkier, doesn’t go nuts for anything, but she has been picking up sticks about twice her length lately and dragging them through the park. She also has two rubber ducks that she carries around and brings to bed at night the way a child would a favorite blanket.

What's an ordinary day like for Bishop and Martha?

An ordinary day includes at least two good walks around our neighborhood—we’re renting this year in Greensboro’s Lindley Park, and there’s a terrific green space just around the corner from our house—two meals (Science Diet, plus some overpriced mix-in: they like Merrick products, canned pumpkin, cottage cheese), treats, and lots of chasing and wrestling. Martha tends to torment Bishop. She’ll push her duck into his face until he finally takes the bait and tries to grab it, then she’ll run away from him.

Who is your dogs' best pet-pals?

I guess they’re each other’s best pals, though Bishop prefers me to Martha, and Martha prefers my husband to me and Bishop to all of us.

What are their best qualities?

Bishop is loyal and earnest; he has a serious, sometimes mournful face, and he wants to be wherever I am. Martha is sassier, more demanding, but she’s also much less high-strung than Bishop. She likes other dogs—Bishop is more of a loner—and she adapts well to everyone. She’s the family’s court jester. The dogs are miniatures of my husband and me. I’m earnest, high-strung, inclined to worry; my husband, Brandon, is laidback, very funny.

What are their proudest moments? Their most embarrassing?

Bishop was so spoiled, and so uncertain around other dogs, that we had serious doubts about bringing home another animal. And he was depressed when Martha first joined our household—stopped sleeping in the bed with us, went off to hide and mope, went off his regular eating pattern. But he’s always been gentle with her, has yielded to her physically, and now they’re a great little pair. I think he’s glad she’s around. We boarded them together last month at place that offers doggy daycare, and we were able to check in on them by webcam whenever we wanted. It was so funny how often they were together on screen; I was proud to see that.

Martha’s most embarrassing moment was also on that webcam. I tuned in one day on our vacation just in time to see her pause in the middle of the frame, “saddle up,” as my good friend puts it, and do her business right in the floor, many months after she’d learned not to “go” indoors. There it was, broadcasted on the World Wide Web for all to see.

Holly Goddard Jones was born and raised in western Kentucky, the setting for her fiction. Her short stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, Epoch, and elsewhere, and they’ve been anthologized in two volumes of New Stories from the South (2007 and 2008) and in Best American Mystery Stories 2008. She was honored with a Peter Taylor Scholarship at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in 2006 and was the winner in 2007 of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a prize of $25,000 given to only six emerging women fiction writers each year.

A graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Ohio State University, she has taught at Denison University, the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference, Murray State University, and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Her new book is the highly acclaimed short story collection, Girl Trouble.

--Marshal Zeringue