Friday, June 25, 2010

Jeffrey Marks & Scooter and Penny

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Jeffrey Marks, and I’m the author of a number of literary biographies of some of the mystery writers of the 1940s and 1950s (Who Was That Lady?, Atomic Renaissance, and Anthony Boucher). I’m currently working on a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, the man who wrote the Perry Mason series.

I have two dogs, Scooter the West Highland terrier (white) and Tuppence (aka Penny), the Scottish terrier. Scooter is a 2 year old male, and Penny is a 5 month old female.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Saturdays tend to be pet days around here. Penny is taking an obedience class at the local petstore and so we sometimes stop and shop when we can. This week we’re working on the “leave it” command. Penny has very good taste in literature. She ripped off the covers of two of my Josephine Tey paperbacks. So today’s command is a very welcome one.

What's brewing?

Dunkin Donuts coffee, black and steaming hot. I won’t go as far as to say that we bought a house near there on purpose, but it is definitely one of the perks of our house. It’s also what’s in our cupboard at home.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

On a good day, no. I try to watch what I eat. On a bad day, it’s a marble-frosted donut. They are my Achilles’ Heel of healthy eating.

Any treat for Scooter and Penny on this occasion?

Another nice thing about the neighborhood is that the local petstore is in the same mall as the Dunkin Donuts. No treats today because Penny will be getting treats as rewards for her training, but normally they don’t want for much in the way of treats.

How were you and your dogs united?

We got Scooter after our first Scottie passed away. We were very sad about it, and suddenly I won the NCAA basketball pool and more than enough money to buy a new pet.

Both of the dogs came from reputable breeders near my family’s hometown in eastern Ohio. When I went to pick up Scooter, he jumped from the breeder’s arms right inside my coat and stayed there all the way home. He’s always been a cuddler. We picked up Penny in the midst of a nasty thunderstorm; she’s one who likes to make an entrance.

How did Scooter and Penny get their names? Do they have any aliases?

Scooter was named Scooter when we got him, and the name has stuck. It definitely fits. He is always on the go and scooting from place to place. I only wish I had a fraction of his energy.

Penny is short for Tuppence. My Scotties are named for famous mystery detectives. My first was Ellery (for Ellery Queen) and currently for Tuppence Beresford, an Agatha Christie character.

I like the unusual names. Any reason for them?

Well, my grandmother had 6 rat terriers and named every one of them Buster. It was very easy to remember their names, but I didn’t think that they were very original. So I like picking a name that tells you something about the dog and about the owner. For me, it’s my love of mystery. My friends made a game of coming up with mystery names for Penny.

Do your dogs have any influence on your writing?

Not the actual writing, but the process of writing and my love of mystery are tied to my love of dogs.

My first two mystery anthologies involved dogs. Canine Crimes and Canine Christmas came out about 12 years ago. I bought my first Scottie with the royalties from the first book. As I mentioned, he was named Ellery, after Ellery Queen who had written a book called The Black Dog Mystery, which was about Scotties. I also have a copy of The Kennel Murder Case, which is a S.S. Van Dine book that also involves Scotties. So he was a very literary dog, and he actually did some television interviews with me, which was great fun.

In terms of my actual writing, I get up early to write. In the very early hours, the dogs are still asleep and the house is quiet. So I get a lot more done than if I try to write later in the day. Then one of them always wants to go out or play. I’m finding that Erle Stanley Gardner was a dog lover, so it’s been fun to research and write about another author’s love of my favorite animal.

Where is their favorite place for an outing?

Currently it’s our backyard. We just moved into a house with over half an acre from a condo, and they can’t get enough of their own space. They just got a nice little wading pool for the sunny days, and they just chill out in the pool and have fun. Penny with her all black coat gets hot fast and so she’s always the first one in the pool.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Birds. Scooter is fascinated by birds and always wants to run up into the middle of any flock he sees. It frustrates him when they don’t want to stick around and play with him.

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

Scooter is obsessed with squeaky toys. He gets into the coat closet and tries to find one buried in a pocket. Penny has figured this out and torments him with squeaky sounds whenever she can. Last night, she decided to find a squeaky toy after we’d all gone to bed. So there was a bit of chaos last night.

Penny is enamored of sticks. Nothing suits her more than to proudly carry a stick around in her mouth in the backyard.

Who is each dog's best pet-pal?

Scooter and Penny are like an old married couple. They bicker, but they can’t stand to be away from each other for very long. They love to play together and chase each other around the house. Carrying a cup of coffee can be a challenge if they’re at top speed down the hall.

What is each dog's best quality?

Scooter is the loyal one. He’s always at your side, checking things out and being your best friend. He’s the one who curls up at the foot of the bed at night and you know he’ll be there in the morning. He’s a great cuddler and likes to curl up and watch TV with you.

Penny is the comedian. When we play, she gets this cute little smile on her face. It’s so funny to see her try to be a big dog, even though she’s not at all. Penny will never want for self-confidence.

If Scooter and Penny could change one thing about you, what would it be?

Probably that I get rid of this pesky little thing called a job and stay home to entertain them all day. I am going to Austin in two weeks on a research fellowship, and I’m going to miss them terribly. I’ve been known to stop strangers on the street and pet their dogs when I’m touring for a book, so I do miss them when I have to go away.

What is each dog's proudest moment? The most embarrassing?

Well, right now, Penny is being potty-trained, so every day that we go without an accident is a proud moment at our house. It’s rather like the old 12-step mantra, “One day at a time.” I’ve been told that female Scotties are among the hardest dogs to housebreak, and I can believe it.

Scooter definitely holds the record for most embarrassing moment. We lived in a condo building prior to this house with four units meeting in a common area. One day when Scooter went out in the common area, he ducked into one of the neighbor’s homes without warning. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to knock on a door and say “Hello. I believe my dog just came in here.” Fortunately, the neighbors were very kind about it. Over the two years we were there, he managed to do that to all 3 other condos in the building.

Visit Jeffrey Marks' website and check out his posts on the Little Blog of Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue