Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Susan Coll & Zoe

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s Zoe. Or Zoey. Sometimes even Zooey. We are embarrassingly inconsistent in the spelling of her name. She’s a chocolate lab, about to celebrate her 12th birthday. And that’s me, Susan Coll, leaning into her in Riverside Park, in New York. The picture below was taken this winter during the snowpocalypse in Washington DC.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I have coffee and read the newspapers every morning with Zoe in what doubles as our kitchen/dining room area. She’s getting pretty old and creaky, and although we take two good walks each day, Starbucks, or any of the other local coffee shops, is a bit of a hike for her.

What's brewing?

I need coffee each morning, but I’m not much of a connoisseur. I usually brew the already ground Pleasant Morning Buzz blend from Whole Foods.

Any goodies to go with the coffee? Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

A piece of fruit and/or a slice of toast for me. Unfortunately for Zoe, nothing too exciting. If she’s well, just a scoop of Purina One with Lamb. If she’s having stomach issues (which is a lot of the time with a 12-year-old dog) she gets chicken and rice.

How were you and Zoe united?

There’s no great romantic story behind Zoe’s arrival in my life, apart from having three young kids at the time who were taping pictures of puppies to the mirrors and windows and doors of the house in a not very subtle ploy to wear down their parents. We finally drove out to the Maryland countryside and found Zoe on a farm. She was the only puppy left from a recent litter, and neither her mother nor father was around. She seemed a bit forlorn, and was also a complete mess, really mangy and smelly. We fell in love with her on the spot!

Does your dog have any influence on your writing?

Zoe is my constant companion. Novel-writing is about as solitary an occupation as they come, so she’s pretty much my office-mate and only colleague.

You have dogs in your novels: what's a dog signify about his or her human's character?

In my new novel, Beach Week, there’s one heavy symbolic dog reference, and then later, a Labrador retriever cameo. First, the dog that belongs to the family at the center of the book has recently died, and their only child is about to go off to college. The fact that the family is paralyzed over the issue of getting a new dog is meant to show that they are in transition, weary of locking into the future. In a later scene, a very happy dog wanders somewhat randomly through a dark, chaotic scene, meant to add a bit of levity, like an exclamation point or a smile emoticon.

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

Zoe is not a very meaningful name. While my kids might have a different answer, I suppose I gravitated toward a cute, girly name as part of an attempt to satisfy my desire to have another baby.

Where is your dog's favorite place for an outing?

Zoe absolutely loves New York. Nothing makes her happier than Riverside Park. I think it has to do with the brilliant trash can design: they are made of metal with a lattice pattern, which is to say you can stick your dog nose in and get a great whiff, but you can’t actually eat the trash.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Squirrel!!!! Her one great desire in life is to catch a squirrel.

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

There’s a chocolate lab puppy stuffed animal that she likes to carry around. I guess she has baby issues, too.

Who is Zoe's best pet-pal?

Sadly, since we moved houses about three years ago, she no longer has any best-pals. She used to play with our neighbor, a Wheaton terrier, but they haven’t seen each other for ages.

What is your dog's best quality?

Zoe is extremely gentle and sweet. Everyone loves her and she loves everyone back, except when she’s being overly affectionate--which happens.

What is your dog's proudest moment? Her most embarrassing?

Zoe did have a humiliating and scarring moment as a puppy. She went into a swimming pool, and while she had a blast paddling around, she couldn’t find her way back to the steps, and she panicked. After that, she wouldn’t go back in the water, even if we stood in the middle of the pool with a hunk of meat. Seriously. So it’s always embarrassing to take her for a walk where there’s a creek or any body of water and other dogs are having a swim, and I have this big, sturdy-looking retriever who will only get her ankles wet.

Susan Coll is the author of the novels Acceptance,, Rockville Pike, and the newly released Beach Week. A film adaptation of Acceptance, starring Joan Cusack, aired on Lifetime Television in 2009.

Visit Susan Coll's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue