Friday, March 19, 2010

Sonya Chung & Pax

Who is in the photo at right?

This is me, Sonya Chung, and Pax, when we lived in Seattle. (We live in New York now.) I had a garden, and anyone who knows about growing zucchini knows that if you turn your back for a day or two, it grows into a pumpkin.

The second photo [below, left] is Pax the night before we left Seattle for New York in 2003. We stayed with friends, so we bunked on an air mattress with lots of blankets.

Pax is a Rottweiller mix — I don’t know what the other breed is, but definitely something smaller than a Rottweiller. He is almost 10 years old, but still acts like a puppy (says everyone who meets him).

I am a novelist and fiction writing teacher. My first novel, Long for This World, has just been released by Scribner. It’s the story of a female war photographer who is forced to take a break from her workaholic life to face her own emotional and relational life. The novel spans the globe — New York, Korea, Darfur, Iraq, Syria — but is essentially an intimate family story. You can read more about it here.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Coffee is the morning ritual in our house. Usually while the coffee is brewing (French press, because the drip coffeemaker broke), I feed Pax. In about 6 seconds, he’s done, and ready for his cookie.

What's brewing?

When we had a drip maker, it was always Bustelo. Now, with the French press, we get it coarse ground from wherever. I like Porto Rico coffee in Greenwich Village. At the moment, it’s Dunkin Donuts brew. No sugar, a little soy milk (I am lactose intolerant).

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Jalapeno cornbread with homemade peach jam (my s.o. John makes the jam). Sometimes 7-grain bread with peanut butter.

Any treat for Pax on this occasion?

He loves pig ears. I’m not sure if they’re good for him, though. He’s in his senior years, so I try to watch what he eats. Thankfully, he loves baby carrots.

How did you and Pax come together?

Pax came from a Rottweiller rescue organization in eastern WA state, he was about 5 months old. He lived with a foster family for a long time; because he’s a mixed breed and doesn’t look like a “real” Rottweiller, no one wanted him. Can you imagine? The foster mom said that he and his sister were the only two escapees from a farm that went bankrupt; the farmer shot all the dogs. Pax and Jasmyn were found wandering in the woods. Jasmyn was adopted by a lovely woman who was able to take her to work with her every day.

Does Pax have any influence on your writing?

Hmm... I honestly think Pax got me through the very difficult time of working on Long for This World. It was a pretty harrowing, isolating time. There is something about a quiet, warm, completely uncynical presence that is exactly what you need when you are alone a lot. Dogs provide for us “unambivalent love” someone once said to me.

Also, read here, my essay at The Millions about dogs and writers and Richard Yates.

How did Pax get his name? Does he have any aliases?

Hmm... hard to say. It just stuck. He was very calm and mellow, even as a puppy. Pax = peace, of course. Sometimes (am I really going to admit this?) I call him Cookie, Bud, Poopy, Pups, Doggie, Paximus.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?


Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

Tennis ball, endlessly.

Who is Pax's best pet-pal?

When I lived in Brooklyn, he had a lady friend, a Boxer. When we go to the country, he frolicks with a dog named Ben. In the Bronx, he got beat up pretty bad by a pitbull named Ginger. We recently moved, so we’re finding new pals for him.

What's Pax's best quality?

He thinks he’s a lapdog, when actually, he weighs almost 60 lbs.

Also, he’s a terrific traveler; he’s been cross country twice, camping and backpacking, and is generally used to being on the road. I don’t think I could be compatible with a dog who wasn’t adaptable to various environments, and Pax is great at this.

What’s the most bad-doggie thing Pax has ever done?

Once, we set a plate that was piled high with a mound of roast duck on the table. We turned our backs for just a minute, and it was gone. Pax ended up having the runs all night long and all the next day and night; I was taking him out every hour, and we lived at that time on the 4th floor of a walk-up.

Among the early praise for Sonya Chung's Long for This World:
“An intricately structured and powerfully resonant portrait of lives lived at the crossroads of culture, and a family torn between the old world and the new, Long for This World marks a powerful debut from a young writer of great talent and promise.”
–Kate Walbert, National Book Award finalist and author of A Short History of Women
Visit Sonya Chung's website and become a Facebook fan of her work.

--Marshal Zeringue