Monday, October 5, 2009

Christina Baker Kline & Lucy

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Christina Baker Kline, a novelist (my new book is Bird in Hand), and my floppy-eared companion is Lucy, a five-year-old English Springer Spaniel.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Lucy and I both love our routines. I often write in my sunny corner office on the second floor, and Lucy sits in a big wingback chair (and, it must be said, tends to fall asleep and make funny noises). When I’m ready for a break I'll pad downstairs, with Lucy close behind. I make coffee and she gets a dog biscuit. We often sit in the shade on the bench in our garden, as you can see in the picture. It's one of our favorites times of the day.

What's brewing?

My favorite coffee is Irving Farm Exotic ("rich, intense, and nutty" -- which, now that I think about it, sounds like some people I know). Irving Farm is an actual farm in upstate New York, and the proprietor, David Elwell (who happens to be a friend of mine and Lucy's) roasts the finest beans in the world.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Depending on the time of day and my mood -- all right, any time of day and any mood -- I might steal a piece of dark chocolate from a stash I hide from my husband and three boys. (And, of course, from Lucy.)

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

As I mentioned, Lucy munches a dog biscuit. She prefers small bone-shaped ones; go figure!

How did your dog come to be united with you?

We rescued Lucy from a bad home. It's kind of a sad story until its happy ending: Five years ago our beloved Springer Spaniel, Maggie, was hit by a car when she was a year old. (We live across the street from a park with a pond; it was a snowy day, and kids were skating on the ice. The road was covered with snow, and Maggie probably thought she saw our three boys over there, skating around, and dashed across the street.) We had gotten Maggie from a well-known breeder -- a dog of hers won Westminster the following year -- and felt we should tell her what happened, so my husband and I went to the Secaucus Dog Show to let her know. Another breeder overheard our story, and asked us if we were interested in taking in another Springer Spaniel, also female, black and white, and a year old. This dog had been badly mistreated -- starved and kept in a crate for up to 18 hours a day -- by her owners, who were going through a divorce; the breeder was removing her from the home. We were a little nervous about it, but the breeder assured us that we could try it for a weekend, and if it didn't work out we could return her. Of course when we saw Lucy for the first time, matted and starved (we could see every rib) and pathetic as she was, it was love at first sight.

How did she get her name?

Lucy had been named "Ceci" by her mean owners. We changed it to Lucy, a name that sounded similar enough that we thought she'd adjust to it quickly (which she did) and which we'd been saving in case we had a human girl (which we didn't!).

Does she have any influence on your writing?

Every morning, Lucy roams around trying to get a feel for whether anyone will be at home, and in which rooms. She tries out one spot – splayed on the hall landing, a watchful eye toward the front door – but soon abandons it for another. She jumps on an unmade bed and turns around three times, sinks down, curls into a ball. After a while she stretches out long, her belly as rounded and freckled as a cow’s.

I have my own version of this routine: a mug of hot coffee, a comfortable chair – no, perhaps the old chaise in the sunroom window – a college-ruled notepad (faint blue lines on white paper, a firm pink margin), an old-fashioned micro-point Uniball pen. Circle three times, curl in a ball, settle in deep.

Stick, frisbee, tennis ball...?

The mean owners didn't teach Lucy to fetch when she was little, so she's not so good at it. (She likes to run after sticks and things, but she rarely brings them back.) She does carry several objects around the house all day long: a stuffed squirrel, a mallard that used to squawk, an orange rubber bone.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

My sister's dog, Scout, was also rescued from a bad home. Scout is a part German Shepherd, part Husky, and Lucy used to be afraid of her. But now they're the best of pals. They hang out in Maine together in the summer.

What's Lucy's best quality?

This will sound cliched, but her loyalty and endless capacity for love.

What's your dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

When Lucy gets very excited she sometimes pees a little. She's always extremely embarrassed about it afterward. And her proudest moment, I think, was befriending a small boy who came to visit and was very, very shy. She brought him out of his shell and made him feel comfortable.

Christina Baker Kline is the author of four novels, including, most recently, Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be. She is Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University and lives outside of New York City.

Richard Russo called her “a relentless storyteller. Once she sets her hook and starts reeling you in, struggle becomes counterproductive. The narrative line is too taut, the angler at the other end too skillful.”

Learn more about Christina Baker Kline's work at her website and her blog, A Writing Life: Conversations about the Creative Process.

--Marshal Zeringue