Thursday, February 13, 2014

Jessica Swaim & Kiva and Odin

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Jessica Swaim, children's author, poet and dog lover, and the little red dog I'm holding is Odin, my one-year-old, all-boy Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

On this snowy afternoon, we are at home, celebrating a dual anniversary. One year ago, on February 1, I sold a book of poetry, which is about to be released, on the same day that Odin came to live with us.

What's brewing?

My favorite latte, half Oregon Chai, half almond milk, with a glob of Colorado cinnamon creamed honey to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Any treats for you or Kiva and Odin on this occasion?

The training treat du jour is string cheese.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Kiva [photo left] came to us as a rescue dog named Sadie. We decided to rename her to give her a fresh start. I love Native American names and simply liked the sound of Kiva, plus the image of a circle that that word conjures up seems to fit a herding dog. She also answers to Kivie and Kiki.

For Odin, I spent weeks and weeks researching and brainstorming names. The day we got him at eight weeks old, we still hadn't decided on a name. When I told my girl friend that I had sold a book the same day, she suggested that I name the pup something that tied in with the book. I loved that idea. But what? At that time the title of the book was Shaggy Doggerel. Hmmm . . . Shag? Dogger? I went down the list of canine poets in the table of contents: Rover Frost, Dogden Dash, Snarl Sandburg, etc. Nada. A couple of days went by in which our puppy remained nameless. When I explained to my husband that I was searching for a moniker related to the book and read him a word list that included "ode", he immediately said "Odin". We went with the i-n spelling instead of e-n because we liked the connection with the Norse god of the hunt, poetry and wisdom. Odin's nickname is Little O. His registered name is Springvale's Ode to Joy. Can you tell from his photos that this boy radiates joy?

How were you and your dogs united?

We got Kiva from Western Border Collie Rescue at age 14 months. Odin is the only dog I've ever purchased from a breeder. Tollers are difficult to obtain any other way.

Please tell us about your new book.

Classic Poetry for Dogs: Why Do I Chase Thee by Elizabeth Basset Browning And Other Canine Masters is exactly what the title implies, a spoof on well-known verses from a dog's point of view. Some poems are parodies, such as "Sizing Up Shoes on a Soulful Evening" by Rover Frost, "The Maven" by Edgar Allan Pug and, of course, the title poem.

How do your dogs help--and hinder--your writing?

I'm a training junky, so I spend gobs of potential writing time teaching my dogs foundation skills, tricks and moves for musical freestyle and the sport of treibball -- fetch games, walks, play, play, play all the livelong day. But since most of the books I write seem to feature at least one dog, I believe that the bond I enjoy with my dogs ultimately energizes my creative life. Certainly they make me laugh a lot, and that inspires me to make readers laugh.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your books?

My children's book The Hound From the Pound was inspired by my pound dog Tux, a black lab mix who used to plop down and roll on my rough drafts whenever I worked on the floor. Although the main character in that book is a basset hound named Blue, many other breeds, including mutts, romp through the pages. Tux was a handful, so some of her naughty antics got exaggerated and multiplied to create fictional chaos for poor Miss Mary MacIntosh.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

... bird, bunny, deer...

Who are Kiva and Odin's best pet-pals?

That's easy. Each other.

What is each dog's best quality?

Kiva is a tireless fetchaholic, a cinch to entertain, especially if you have a Frisbee or a ball handy or are willing to toss a pinecone, a rock, a stick, a plastic tambourine...

Similarly, Odin gobbles up life and is happy doing anything at all, especially if it involves a squishy ball.

If Kiva and Odin could change one thing about Coloradans, what would it be?

Kiva: "Lose the skateboards and the rollerblades, folks! Slow down, you're makin' me crazy!"

Odin: "Where are the tollers, people?"

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Kiva and Odin could speak, which actors should do their voices?

Kiva: Carol Burnett (with Tarzan yell).

Odin: Robin Williams (multiple manic personalities, all hilarious).

If Kiva and Odin could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Kiva, what's the payoff of staring for hours at a potential fetch object that is never going to move?

Odin, what do you anticipate will be the psychological repercussions if you are never allowed to retrieve a dead duck?

Visit Jessica Swaim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Great interview! I am looking forward to my copy of "How Do I Chase Thee?"

  2. Odin and Kiva sound like such fun dogs. You are so lucky, my dear! Biscuits for everyone!

  3. Great author, great dogs, great trainer!!! Can't wait for "How Do I Chase Thee?" and thanks for the interview!!