Friday, September 18, 2009

Louise Penny & Trudy

Who is in the photo at right?

Trudy and her mother, Louise. I'm at my computer, writing the next novel and Trudy is in full supervisory mode. She's a three year old Golden Retriever.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The occasion is my deep insecurity, which is apparently bottomless. I try to fill it every morning that I write with a big cup of cafe au lait and cookies, or in this case a pastry. A mille feuille, as you might be able to see. When I first moved to Quebec I fell in love with mille feuilles - it has everything I look for in a pastry. Cream, icing and pastry. Yum. My first real linguistic humiliation came thanks to a mille feuille. I was at the pastry shop in Quebec City, my French still rudimentary, so I pointed to the pastry and said, mille fois. I thought that was the name of the pastry. I was wrong. Mille fois means, 'I will take a thousand, please.' The woman behind the counter blanched the shade of custard and repeated. 'Mille fois, madame?' Now, I knew something was wrong. She had the look like she was in the company of a madwoman. Eventually we sorted it out, and I went on shortly afterward to order flaming mice in a very nice restaurant, for dessert.

At home Michael and I have a cappuccinno maker, one of those Nespresso's. With a milk frother. Basically you put a cap of coffee in the machine, close it, press a button and out comes rich, full-bodied espresso or cappuccino, or cafe au lait. Couldn't be easier! So every morning at 11 I make Michael and me a large cafe au lait. And Trudy joins me on the sofa in hopes a miracle will occur and I will suddenly let her have some. It is nice to have a dog of such limitless faith. She has as much faith as I have fear.

What's brewing?

Can't you smell it? For me its a Roma, with its toasted, woody notes, mixed with a Capriccio, with its rich bouquet. Michael has a Decaffeinato Intenso, with subtle hints of cocao and intense body, and a Ristretto with its pleasantly lingering taste.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Most days we dip biscotti into it. I love one made with candied orange rind. But they have disappeared. Trudy? Of course, one of the many wonderful things about having a dog is being able to blame all sorts of strange things on her. From the disappearance of food, to sudden noises, and smells.

Any treat for Trudy on this occasion?

No, we try not to feed her, because while she has completely forgotten what 'no' means, she never, ever forgets when she gets a treat - and expects one every day at exactly the same time. If we feed her from the table, or the sofa, all is lost.

How did your dog come to be united with you?

We had just lost our first Golden, Bonnie. She was our wedding gift to each other, and a beloved family member. We were inconsolable, as was our surviving dog, Maggie. Now, Maggie adored Bonnie, but Bonnie until the day she died kept expecting Maggie to go back to her real home.

It was so strange having just one dog and we decided we would try to get another in about a year. But knowing how rare it was to have our breeder with a puppy ready when we wanted it, we decided to call and see if they had any plans. They didn't, but a friend of theirs had just had a litter and there was one left. A little girl. We called - knowing in our hearts what that would mean. We went to visit ... still kidding ourselves that we could 'just look'. And, of course, we came home with tiny little eight week old Trudy.

Maggie - a very competitive, alpha dog - adored Trudy from day one. They played and Maggie even let Trudy, who was the size of one of Maggie's ears, knock her down, stand on her chest and have a go at her throat.

Ironically about a week later old Seamus lumbered up our dirt road and into our lives. He was lost - having run away from an abusive and neglectful home. And he was a Golden as well. We took him in and our home was suddenly filled with them. It was a riot. We have since lost Seamus and Maggie. But Trudy remains.

How did Trudy get her name?

Michael names all our dogs and frankly I'm always baffled. As is he. God knows, I've asked him. But the puppies (we always think of them as puppies even when they're very, very old) get all sorts of nicknames. Bonnie became Bonnie B Huggabug. Maggie became Magoo. Seamus became Seamie. And Trudy is T-pup. Or Giggler.

Has Trudy influenced your writing in any way?

In every way. Many of the characters have dogs including Clara and Peter, who have a golden. And Chief Inspector Gamache has Henri, a German Shepherd he adopted.

What's an ordinary day like for your dog?

Trudy puts her fluffy, stinky, filthy ball into our faces starting at about 5:30. At about 6am we relent and let her up onto the bed. By 7 we're up, getting her breakfast, and taking her around the pond for a walk. She has two 'treat' stations - one by the bench at the far end of the pond, and the other close to the house. We toss a ball with a chuck-it and the Giggler chases it. Often she gets distracted by the bass in the pond, or by 'frogging'. She has yet to catch either. She sleeps, and plays with her toys, and goes for a few more walks, including after dinner at 5pm. Her last out is before bed and that's into a fenced run, where the skunks can't get her. Once you'd have a Golden skunked you never forget it. And it never quite goes away.

Who is Trudy's best pet-pal?

Logan. He belongs to Pat and Tony - friends who also come and look after Trudy and stay at our home when we travel. He's a Golden Retriever and is about 4 years older than Trudy.

What's your dog's best quality?

She's very kind. She never fights and will always give up anything to any person or other dog who wants it.

What's Trudy's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Well, her most embarrassing was when we had a couple over for dinner. We didn't know them well and I was, of course, trying to impress them with my cooking, which is a lost cause really. But I was trying my best and things were going quite well until suddenly there was a retching sound from beneath the table. All four of us froze, then continued to talk as though nothing could possibly have happened. Until the smell, which practically melted the table, appeared. I say 'appeared' because it was almost visible.

Trudy had thrown up all over Dom's foot. Now, Trudy eats not just her kibble but any bit of 'merde' she can find, which in the country is quite a bit. And it all came up on his foot. In the middle of dinner.

That, I believe, was also her proudest moment.

Louise Penny is an award-winning journalist who worked for many years for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her bestselling first mystery, Still Life, was the winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards; her second, A Fatal Grace, won the 2007 Agatha Award for Best Novel; her fourth, A Rule Against Murder, was a New York Times bestseller.

She lives in a small village south of Montréal where she writes, skis, and volunteers.

The Brutal Telling, her fifth Armand Gamache novel, releases this month.

Visit Louise Penny's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue