Friday, July 29, 2011

Jacqueline West & Brom Bones

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Jacqueline West, and I am a writer. I’ve published a lot of poetry and several short stories, but these days, I’m mostly occupied by my dark fantasy/mystery/comedy series for young readers, The Books of Elsewhere.

Leaning photogenically against my knees is Brom Bones, our not-quite-three-year-old dog. We got him from a shelter, so his pedigree was uncertain; he was obviously part Springer Spaniel with something even larger and bouncier thrown in, so for a long time, we simply called him a Springer Surprise. Then my husband’s parents gave us a doggie DNA test kit for Christmas. It turns out that Brom Bones is a Springer-Shepherd-Beagle mix. I know. I don’t see it, either.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Coffee is part of our daily routine. I brew a pot, we all have breakfast, and then I settle down to work at the computer with a second, third, and fourth cup while Brom enjoys his second, third, and fourth nap of the day nearby.

What's brewing?

CityKid Java, half French Roast, half Colombian decaf, with a sploosh of skim milk. CityKid Java is based in the Twin Cities, just an hour to the north of me, and 100% of its profits provide programs and services for at-risk inner-city kids in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Plus, the coffee is tasty.

Any treats for you or Brom Bones on this occasion?

For me: Sourdough toast from Hanisch’s Bakery right here in Red Wing, Minnesota. For Brom: Hanisch’s dog treats, which smell so good even to a human nose that I’ve been tempted to dip them in coffee and nibble them like biscotti. Maybe if I run out of sourdough...

How were you and Brom Bones united?

In the fall of 2009, a couple of months after having to have our wonderful sixteen-year-old Border Collie put to sleep, we decided we were ready for another pet. We used to look at the dogs in our area, and Brom’s photo appeared among the listings at the Faribault humane society: tongue lolling, doggishly smiling, completely unaware of the word URGENT looming in red capitals above him. He was only a year old, but he had already been abandoned twice and had lived briefly as a stray before being returned to the shelter. Now he’d been back at the Humane Society for two months, and his time was running out.

When we first set eyes on him, he was trotting in tiny, frenzied loops around his cage, a bony streak of nervous energy. Once we got him into the play room, he opened a plastic bin with his nose and swiftly tore two stuffed toys to pieces before throwing himself across our laps. We fell in love.

Is your dog named after Ichabod Crane's nemesis on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?" Any nicknames?

He is indeed! My husband and I had gone to the shelter with a list of potential names in mind, but once we met our boy in person, none of them seemed just right. He was brown and lanky and bony, which made me think of the name Abraham – because of Abraham Lincoln, I suppose – and then I remembered that ‘Brom’ was a nickname for Abraham, and with Halloween just a week away, Brom Bones sprang immediately to mind. Washington Irving describes Brom’s namesake as having ‘more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and, with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at the bottom,’ which also describes the four-legged Brom to a T. We generally just call him Brom—although we do occasionally call him Abraham Van Brunt, which is the literary Brom Bones’s full name, but only if he’s been seriously naughty.

Has Brom Bones played any role in your writing?

Not exactly, although I love his companionship during long workdays when I’m alone at home. It’s funny: three of the main characters in The Books of Elsewhere are talking cats, but I would never—could never—have created them as talking dogs. Dogs don’t really have an interior life, as far as I can tell. They have no hidden motive, no mystery—they’re just these open conduits of love and curiosity. Brom would give up all of his secrets for a piece of cheese. If he had any secrets to begin with. Which he doesn’t.

Does Brom Bones have a favorite place to go for walk?

Anywhere. Everywhere. Anytime.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

Sightings of all three have resulted in toppled furniture, tangled leashes, and screaming delivery men.

What is Brom Bones's best quality?

Pure enthusiasm. Everything he loves, he loves with an almost overwhelming intensity: walks, toys, food, the car, visitors, looking out of the windows, lying between us on the couch. He is the cuddliest dog I have ever known. He weighs about 62 pounds, but there is no place he would rather be than in someone’s lap (at least, as much of him as can fit). He also has an excellent memory. He’ll bark to alert us about a spider on the ceiling, and even after the spider has been removed, he’ll check the same spot for days afterward, just in case it has magically returned.

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

Brom wishes that I loved throwing his ball as much as he loves chasing it. But I’m not sure that this kind of love exists in the human world.

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

When we play fetch with his flying ring, Brom makes these amazing, six-foot, salmon-style leaps into the air, and every time he catches the ring, he absolutely glows. If he misses the ring (or if he overcorrects in midair and lands on his backside instead of his paws), he hides his embarrassment by shaking the ring extra hard, growling vociferously all the while.

Visit Jacqueline West's website and the The Books of Elsewhere website.

--Marshal Zeringue