Monday, May 24, 2010

Kris Neri & Annabelle

Who is in the photo at right?

This is my dog, Annabelle, and me, Kris Neri. I'm the Arizona-based author of Revenge for Old Times' Sake and High Crimes on the Magical Plane, and other mysteries, as well as a bookstore owner and writing instructor. Annabelle is a five-year-old, female, cocker spaniel.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I mainline coffee, and I like it to be as black as tar. On this occasion, we'd stopped for coffee before my first signing at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. This picture was taken in the Festival food court, but we often have coffee together at our favorite local brew place, Jerona's Cafe, in Cottonwood, Arizona, and everyday at home.

What's brewing?

Strong French Roast. I've started mixing a bit of decaf into it lately, since I can't keep peeling myself off the ceiling at night. But caffeine does keep me going. I might not need it if I could take dog naps throughout the day.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I had a banana nut muffin on that day, but I usually just have coffee. Normally, I don't like eating too early in the morning.

Any treat for Annabelle on this occasion?

Annabelle gobbled up her dog biscuits as soon as we arrived there. At home, it's kibble and noni juice for her breakfast.

How did you and Annabelle come together?

My husband and I had lost two old dogs within six months of each other, and we were devastated. But we had also recently opened a new business -- The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona -- and we weren't sure whether we would have enough time to devote to a new pet. But we were dog-lonely, and our cat, Philly, who has only lived with dogs, not cats, was, too. But we also had no employees at the time, and we worked every day, so we couldn't even take time off together to go to the shelter to look for a dog, only separately. We'd been visiting the shelter separately for a few days, but neither of us really felt we connected with any of the dogs, and choosing a companion was something we felt we should do together. There was just a short window of time after the Sedona Humane Society shelter opened, before our store did. One day, before the store opened, we went back together for a quick look. They've built quite an elaborate animal shelter there now, but when we went in search of a new friend, it was a more humble affair, with runs visible from the parking lot. When we pulled into the lot, a sweet little face that we hadn't seen on any of our other visits, just connected with us. Apparently, someone had abandoned a six-month-old cocker spaniel outside of the shelter during the night. Unfortunately, several other people also wanted to adopt her, including a shelter employee. The woman in charge told us to call back later, and she'd let us know her decision. Somehow she chose us, though we never knew why. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have this sweet little dog in our lives.

Does Annabelle have any influence on your writing?

She's convinced me that, when I get stuck during my writing, I can overcome the block if I hold her on my lap, while sitting in our backyard, staring at the view. I have worked out some writing problems like that, and it always makes us both feel better, so maybe she's onto something.

How did Annabelle get her name? Does she have any aliases?

I named her for a character I was developing for a novel I planned at the time. The Annabelle I was writing -- who now appears in my published, Lefty Award-nominated urban fantasy, High Crimes on the Magical Plane -- is a genuine Celtic goddess who works as an FBI agent. Since I didn't know either the dog or the character too well when I named them, I didn't know if the name would fit. But it fits them both, and I'm surprised by the many common traits they share. My pooch also has some aliases, including Bits and Pizza Louie. I've frequently named pets for my characters, or named characters after my pets, or put descriptions of my pets in my books and stories. My cat is named for Uncle Philly in my Tracy Eaton mysteries.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

None of the above. Other dogs passing in the street are what make her crazy. How dare they walk past her house! We don't have many squirrels here in Arizona, but she came nose-to-nose with one on the UCLA campus at the Festival of Books. Only the leash prevented her from chasing it up a tree.

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

She prefers doggy stuffed animals with squeakies in them. She has dozens of them and they all have names, and she can make them squeak for ages. Sometimes I think that endless squeaking is how she talks. She also likes rawhide chips and sticks.

What's a typical day like for Annabelle?

After we go for a good walk, Annabelle spends the morning sleeping in splashes of sunshine that stream in through windows around the house. While she dozes, I write. Then, we go together to work in our bookstore, The Well Red Coyote, in the afternoon. Evenings are usually devoted to long naps and some rawhide chewing, along with chasing our cat, until we all snuggle together in bed.

Where do you walk?

We live in a rural area, so we prefer to take long walks on unpaved hillside roads. We both have our favorite streets, and we alternate those. I pick mine for great views; I guess she goes for the good smells.

Who is Annabelle's best pet-pal?

Our cat, Philly, is her best pet-pal. They're absolutely devoted to each other. He grooms her head and ears and makes her fur stick out, so maybe he's also having a little fun with her. But she also likes another cocker spaniel named Mickey, who lives a couple of blocks away from us. Mickey isn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, and I keep telling her she can do better, but she's still rather taken with him.

What is Annabelle's most endearing quality?

Since she's frequently at our bookstore, she meets lots more strangers than many dogs do. And she has an uncanny ability to pick out people who are hurting, or who might be feeling lonely, and who would benefit from a little one-on-one time with a gentle dog. She also seems to know the people who are traveling and who really miss their dogs. She has some amazingly positive energy and people really connect with it.

If Annabelle could change one thing about you, what would it be?

She'd probably like me to work less and take longer walks with her.

What’s the most amusing thing Annabelle does? The most frustrating?

The most amusing...? We host a monthly book club meeting at our store, at which we serve wine and pizza. She certainly doesn't get any wine, but I know quite a number of the book club folks give her little bits of pizza. My husband sets up the folding table for the group, then leaves to pick up the pizzas. Annabelle used to wait at the front door of the store for him and the pizza, while he was gone. But she only started waiting when he left, naturally. Now, when she sees him setting up the table, she runs to the front door to begin waiting, even though he hasn't left yet to pick up the pizza. That she drools on the floor while she's waiting is pretty funny. During the book club meeting, she scoots back and forth under the table grubbing for pieces of crust. There is a reason why we call her Pizza Louie.

As for frustrating, I find it frustrating that she insists on barking at a small minority of customers who come into our store. They usually seem like nice people, though some are offended by it. But given how nice she is to most people, I suppose she has her reasons. Maybe she has a better take on their character than I do. But it's not the ideal way to greet customers in retail.

Is there anything else you and Annabelle do together?

Once when I presented a writing workshop in my bookstore, she sat next to me as if we were delivering the material together. She was with me when I organized the workshop, so maybe she wanted to be involved at every stage of the operation.

Kris Neri's latest book, Revenge for Old Times' Sake, is the third book in her Agatha, Anthony, Macavity Award-nominated Tracy Eaton mystery series. She's also recently published High Crimes on the Magical Plane, a Lefty Award nominee and the first book in a new paranormal series.

Visit Kris Neri's website and The Well Red Coyote bookstore website.

--Marshal Zeringue