Monday, June 30, 2014

R.J. Harlick & Sterling and Miss Molly

Who is in the photo at right?

The silver standard poodle is 6 year old Sterling and the smaller grey, one year old Miss Molly, his baby Sis, although she isn’t really, but she can be bratty enough to be one. As far as she’s concerned he’s her Big Bro. She goes wherever he goes, sniffs whatever he sniffs and steals his favourite ball then waves it in front of his nose. And I’m R.J. Harlick, Canadian crime writer. I write the Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. The fourth book Arctic Blue Death was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award and the 6th, Silver Totem of Shame, has just been named one of the top ten summer crime fiction reads by the Globe and Mail.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Caffe latte overflowing with foamy milk is my morning reward for having been persuaded, more like forced by two sets of pleading brown eyes to walk through rain, snow, sleet, but thankfully more often sun, though in winter it can be a tad frigid.

What's brewing?

My coffee connoisseur husband ensures I have only the best. He is particularly partial to coffee roasted by Bridgehead, a local Ottawa coffeehouse that specializes in fairly traded coffee. For my latte he uses the decaffeinated espresso. And since I am a bit of a klutz with the espresso maker, he makes it for me. He’s especially adept at foaming the milk. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg, chocolate or cinnamon, depending on my mood, and I have one perfect latte.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Too many treats may spoil the child, but they sure make for well-behaved dogs…well almost. Their extra special treat is a piece of the granola cookie my husband has with his afternoon tea. The minute they hear the paper rustling as he removes the cookie from the bag, they both come running.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Sterling came with his name. He fit it so well with his sterling silver coat, we decided to stick with it. But he has been known to be called Sterls and Bro and in extremis, Bad Dog, which doesn’t really happen often, since he is basically a well behaved dog. We tried many name variations with his Sis when we got her as a puppy. Being a poodle, we felt she should have an elegant name, but she didn’t act elegant, more like a scruffy puppy. A week or so after we got her, Molly popped out of my husband’s mouth, so Molly she became. Then we felt perhaps we needed to give her a chance at being a lady, so we added Miss. She has yet to act like a lady. Jointly they are the Guys and will even respond to the word.

How were you and your dogs united?

Sterling is our second standard. We waited only a few months after DeMontigny, our first standard passed on before seeking out another furry family member. Initially we were going for another puppy, but after seeing Sterling’s almost smiling face on the Internet, decided to check him out. He was a two year old show dog who had been intended for breeding, but a genetic test identified a problem, so that was the end of his life as a stud. I think that was his lucky day. Last year when Sterling was five, we thought it would be fun to have another dog and so Miss Molly came into our family as an 8 week old ball of squirming fur and a female to boot. The first female dog in the seven dogs I have had in my life. And what a charmer she is. Sterling thinks so too.

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

Other than getting in an uproar over squirrels or dogs passing by the windows they don’t generally bother me. Or if they want something, like dinner, going for a walk or being let outside, more Molly than her bro. Then the paw pesters and the nose prods and she won’t let up until I give in often at a critical moment in my writing.

But I tell you those morning and afternoon walks are great for the writing muse. While they are sniffing this and that and doing their de rigueur business, my mind is focused on sorting out the latest antics my heroine, Meg Harris, is getting up to.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?

Readers often ask if any of the characters in my Meg Harris mystery series are based on a real person. And I say Sergei, Meg’s black standard poodle, is the only one who has a counterpart in real life, at least he did until DeMontigny passed on. And it looks as if Miss Molly will also be making an appearance in the Meg Harris book I am currently working on.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel. I can’t even say the word without getting a reaction. In our household these critters are commonly referred to as the S-word. Sterling is ever on the watch for them. Unfortunately Miss Molly has learned from him that they are more than fun to chase.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Each other. It’s amazing how attached they have become. Though Sterling tries to remain aloof, he will search her out and she of course clings to him, when she isn’t attacking him. She particularly likes grabbing onto one of his long ears or the scruff of his neck.

What is each dog's best quality?

Sterling has the patience of a Buddha and is just as calm. He will stare at his favourite ball for what seems like hours hoping someone will come along and throw it or wait longingly with his mournful eyes beside the door as walk time approaches. And nothing seems to bother him, other than squirrels, and his little Sis when she is being particularly bratty.

Miss Molly is everyone’s friend. Wagging her tail she runs up to other dogs to play or to people for a pat. She doesn’t have an aggressive cell in her body. In fact she is a bit of a scaredy-cat and will come running back to ‘Momma’ at the least hint of a threat.

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

What me change?! I’m perfect. But I suppose they would say I don’t play enough with them, particularly Sterling. After dinner has become playtime. The minute I put the fork down on the plate, Sterling is running to the living room to wait patiently by his ball for me to come and play grab-the-ball. But sometimes I’m too busy and will ignore him or will play only for a few minutes. He never complains, just gives me one of his mournful stares.

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

Sorry, I’m not much into movies, so I’m not up on my film stars. Maurice Chevalier is the only one who comes to mind for Sterling, but that is reaching back in time a little far. I don’t know who of today’s star contingent would be able to roll his ‘r’s with equal panache. Similarly for Miss Molly child actor Haley Mills immediately jumped to mind. But it is many, many years since she was a child.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Whenever Sterling or Miss Molly raise a quizzical eyebrow in my direction I do wonder what is going on inside their furry heads. Are they asking me for something or are they making a comment on life. I have asked, “What are you thinking?” but so far haven’t received an answer.

Visit R.J. Harlick's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nick Jans & Chase, Brisa, Loki and Sal

Who is in the photo at right?

That's me, Nick Jans, with Isis, a captive born but very wild in her heart purebred Alaska wolf, three years old. I've known her since she was four weeks. She lives at the Kroschel Wildlife Park north of Haines, a few miles from my place. No mistake about it, a wolf, even tame to the max as she is, is far more than a big, ultra-smart, ultra-strong dog. It's a wild thing that thinks for itself, no matter what you do. So it's not a dog most folks would expect to see here. But you did say coffee with a canine--and a wolf, canis lupus, surely is that. I've had coffee before and after walking or playing with Isis, but you can't just carry a bunch of loose items, like my favorite steel spillproof cup, around a wolf, captive or not. They want to investigate everything with their mouths, which have an uber-canid bite pressure to match their will and intelligence. Hard to keep my camera gear away from her with both hands. And she gets snippy once she thinks she owns something and you try to take it back. Not good with a wolf.

So, I'm a full-time Alaska nature writer, photographer, and wildlife advocate; lived here 35 years, 20 in ultra-wild country in the upper left-hand corner of the state. I'm a contributing editor to Alaska Magazine and a member of USA Today's Board of Editorial Contributors. First thing I ever published for pay was a short poem in Rolling Stone, in 1986, I think. They paid 20 bucks. Paul McCartney was on the cover, and I still know that poem by heart.

I've published 11 books, ranging from collections of personal essays to a kids' photo book to texts for others' photo books to full-length nonfiction. A Wolf Called Romeo, out with Houghton Mifflin July 1, is the most recent. It may be the reason I was born, to witness this story and tell it as best I could. It was one of those transformative experiences you don't get over.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Well, it's the publication of A Wolf Called Romeo. The quick version of the book goes like this: a 120-pound, totally wild black wolf shows up one day on the edge of wilderness and Alaska semi-suburbia, and wants to play with our dogs And everyone else's. He's oddly tolerant of humans, gentle with our pooches, and still a wild wolf who hunts for his own food and comes and goes as he pleases. He even seems to bond, to a surprising extent, with a few humans. This went on for six years, his life hanging by a thread the whole time, and this is the story of the wolf the people of Juneau, Alaska, came to call Romeo. This book explores, among other things, the boundaries between us and the wild. That includes thoughtful comparison between wolves and the domestic, genetically engineered canines we call man's best friend, all of whom carry 99.98 percent of a wild wolf's genetic package. But that .02 percent difference looms huge.

What's brewing?

I like my coffee strong, with big flavor and not anything in it besides coffee. On the side of my coffee machine's carafe, it says eight cups, but I knock it down in two big mugfuls, in the same steel spillproof cup I've had for over a decade. Sometimes another big cup follows in the afternoon. Coffee and writing are pretty much fused into my daily life. I don't do one without the other. And naturally, since I work at home all our dogs hang with me while I write, and keep me company. Currently, we have four--two blue heelers, Chase and Brisa, and two mixed breeds, both rescues from north central Florida, where my wife and I (and critters) spend the winter these days. Loki, a straw-colored, big-eared, short-haired terrier mix, was raised in a Tampa area crack house as pit bull bait, and eventually tied to a tree and left for dead in a homeless camp. Sal, our little black and tan hound thing, we found starving by the side of a country road a few miles from our Florida winter home. They're all great dogs--very smart, physically talented, and well-trained.

Chase, age 13 and nearly blind and deaf now, holds an AKC Master Agility Championship, called a MACH.

Loki [photo right] just qualified for the 2014 CPE National Championships in dog agility competition.

Sal is an up-and-coming beginner in the sport.

Brisa, arguably the most talented of the bunch, told us she doesn't want to compete, so she just watches and keeps the others in line.

Down in Florida, they all take morning walks with me around our five wooded acres while I drink my first cup of the day and slip them slivers of granola bar. It's a ritual. Since I'm a professional photographer, I seem to end up on the other side of the camera most of the time.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

They love me, I have no doubt, but they're always on the wait for what I might divvy their way--those bits of granola bar, bites of apple or carrot, dried Alaska salmon treats. Robert Frost put it this way: "better to go down dignified, with boughten friendship at your side, than none at all. Provide, provide!" Treats for me amount to making a horse's arse of myself on such celebratory occasions.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Can't say exactly, other than we always give each name long thought and mull over the possibles before deciding, just like naming your kids.

[photo left: the pack, before Sal came along]

All dog owners have aliases for their pooches, don't they? Chase also goes by Ticey (a derivative of her name) or Old Lady. Brisa (which means 'breeze' in Spanish) most commonly goes by Poke Chop--that on account of her thick muscled thighs. Loki (the Norse god of mischief and fire) is also the Loke-a-Lope, and my wife Sherrie calls him Buddy, because they're such good friends, enough to make me jealous sometimes, how many times he gets snuggled and smooched. Sal (a name we picked almost instantly after we found her, because we just liked the feel of it) most often goes by Hound...which she undeniably is. Especially in her voice. She yodels.

How were you and your dogs united?

Well, I already told you the story on Loki and Sal. Chase, we found as a puppy in an Anchorage, Alaska pet store. Our old Lab was dying and I wanted to get Sherrie something to distract her; and I'd long been interested in Heelers, AKA Australian cattle dogs, ever since I traveled to Australia years ago and watched them working livestock, jumping on and off of motorcycles or right under horses' hooves. They're 2/3 dingo, and not a dog for beginners, especially the girls. You might as well have a coyote living in your house. Smart, stubborn, and an odd mix of fearlessness and neurosis. Plus incredibly bonded. Once one likes you, you're stuck for life.

Brisa we got as a semi-rescue from a top breeder who wanted to get rid of her because she was too shy.

One more thing about Sal--not only did we find her starving by the side of the road, when we stopped and opened the door to check her out and see if we could help her, she basically came running over and hopped right into the car like she'd been waiting for us. Hard to say who chose who.

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

Absolutely, they help. Writing is by nature a solitary business; and with the dogs curled up around my desk, the two cattle dogs generally right under my feet, it's impossible to be lonely. They also give me excuses to take breaks--oh, I gotta go throw some frisbees for the dogs, or go for a run with them--any excuse will do.

Did your dogs ever meet the wolf who is the focus of your new book, A Wolf Called Romeo?

Nose to nose, more than once. Chase, at the time 18 months old and almost psychotically dog-reactive, once charged Romeo, 15 pounds against 120, and got gently pinned and play-mouthed for her troubles. But also, when Romeo started getting a bit too interested in Brisa, brand-new at the time, Chase jumped right in the wolf's face, curled back her lips, and told the wolf to back off...which he did. As for Loki and Sal, they came along after Romeo was long gone. We did have two other dogs then who both met and played with the wolf--Dakotah, the yellow-white Lab on the book cover, and Gus, a retired Seeing Eye black Lab [photo left: with Romeo and Chase]. Matter of fact, my wife Sherrie gave Romeo his name because he seemed so enamored of Dakotah. She murmured one day, 'well, there's that Romeo wolf again,' and the name stuck.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Brisa and Loki adore each other. Sal adores every dog she ever met, and can disarm the most aggressive dog with her nonreactive, submissive cheerfulness. Chase, being a cattle dog to the core, doesn't think much of other dogs. She's bonded to me, though she loves Sherrie of course. Even now, mostly blind and deaf and 13 plus years old, she follows me around everywhere I go and is seldom farther away than at my feet--which she is, right now. Brisa is the same way with Sherrie.

What is each dog's best quality?

Chase has always been incredibly courageous--which doesn't mean she's not afraid, but that she overcomes fear. A couple of autumns ago, she charged two black bears that were chasing Loki, right on his tail and incoming toward us, 20 feet away, and they turned tail and ran after she rushed them, jaws popping.

Brisa is the same way, especially with Sherrie. She guards her and if anyone tried to hurt her, The Poke Chop would be in their grill straight off.

Brisa is also an incredible athlete--even at age nine, she does these gravity-defying leaps to snag frisbees that seem impossibly out of reach. In another life, she'd have been an NFL wide receiver. Sal, well, she's just a sweetheart, an incredible optimist, cheerful in all weather.

Loki has this unbelievable drive and acceleration. Dog agility is a very competitive sport, full of wonderful, hard-driving border collies and so on. And Loki still stands out. Once he gets a bit more experienced, the sky's the limit. And at the same time, he's such a soft, sensitive dog.

If your dogs could change one thing about Alaskans, what would it be?

Well, Alaskans tend to love dogs. Everyone seems to have a few. I think they like Alaskans just fine the way they are. Maybe they'd change the leash laws in Juneau, where we lived 15 years.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

That's easy. What's it like to be you?

Visit Nick Jans's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 23, 2014

Eleanor Kuhns & Shelby

Who is in the photo at right?

That's me, Eleanor Kuhns, author of Cradle to Grave and other historical murder mysteries, and Shelby, an eight-year-old golden lab chow chow mix.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Shelby and I had just gotten back from a walk. I am an avid hiker and Shelby always likes to accompany me.

I am drinking iced coffee, my drink of choice during the summer. Shelby had just finished eating a dog biscuit.

How did Shelby get her name? Any nicknames?

Shelby is a rescue. She came with her name but we all call her Puppers. We usually only call her Shelby when she is in trouble.

Are there any Shelby-inspired dogs in your novels?

I based Munch, a dog in Death of a Dyer, on Shelby. I made Munch a black male but otherwise that is Shelby. I named him Munch because, outside of chasing groundhogs and rabbits, eating is Shelby's favorite thing.

What is Shelby's contribution to your writing?

Usually, when I am writing, she lies a few feet away, flopping down with a long sigh.

Who is Shelby's best pet-pal?

We have friends who have two dogs, Ella and Pepper. (Their last name is Mintz). She enjoys playing with them but is clearly the alpha.

Where is Shelby's favorite outdoor destination?

She loves hiking but we go to the Heritage Trail mostly. That is not a hike, more of a walk, since the Trail is a converted railroad bed.

If Shelby could change one thing about New Yorkers, what would it be?

I think she feels there are too many runners who are not running with her and too many bicycles.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Shelby loves all people except bicyclists. I suspect she does not see them as people but as some strange creature. She'll play ball but prefers to chase a toy rabbit or squirrel.

And she keeps guard on her yard [photo right] to make sure no little creatures creep in.

What is Shelby's best quality?

Shelby loves people, even the UPS man.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Shelby could speak, which actor should do her voice?

If she could talk I imagine she would sound like Kevin Clash or Ryan Dillon (the voices for Elmo). No kidding. Very high and excited.

If Shelby could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

I would ask her why she keeps trying to escape from the yard. Does she think there are more exciting things outside?

Visit Eleanor Kuhns's blog and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dyer.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dyer.

Writers Read: Eleanor Kuhns (July 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 19, 2014

K.V. Johansen & Ivan

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m K. V. Johansen -- I’m the author of twenty-some books ranging from picture books to literary criticism, but lately I’m mostly known for fantasy, most recently, three epic fantasy novels published by Pyr: Blackdog, The Leopard, and coming in December 2014, The Lady, all of which are set in the same world and history, but only two of which (The Leopard and The Lady) need to be read together.

The dashing white canine is Ivan, who’s a six-year-old beast of indeterminate pedigree, though his ancestry is mostly German Shepherd and Siberian Husky, with a dash of Lab about the corner of the lip.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The daily coffee date involves me staggering downstairs in my housecoat at an ungodly hour to put a mug of milk in the microwave, to which I then add instant coffee. Ivan generally condescends to look up, yawn, twitch his tail, and have some ear-scratching. Then he goes back to sleep for an hour or two on his bed near my desk while I do some writing. He’s not a morning person. Eventually we go for a walk in the graveyard before breakfast.

What's brewing?

Aside from my shameful addiction to the morning insta-cafe, I’m more of a strong tea person. But for real coffee, what I prefer is coffee from the Full Steam Coffee Co. in Guysborough, NS, made in a proper percolator on the stove. Ivan seems to enjoy any kind of coffee or tea, particularly out of the good china at my in-laws’, when there are cups left unguarded on the coffee-table.

Any treats for you or Ivan on this occasion?

A little hot buttered toast is always appreciated in the early hours of the day.

How were you and Ivan united?

After my dog Pippin died, it was over a year before my husband and I were ready for another. I had started looking at the SPCA website for German Shepherd-ish possibilities, because I like a dog that thinks. They had a litter of shepherd-mix puppies. We went to look; they had that curly husky teacup tail, and Pippin had been in appearance an Akita/Shepherd mix, so the curly tail was just that extra pull at the heart. “Neige” was the one who seemed fascinated with us, so we chose him. He was twelve weeks old and was the only one from the litter who had never been fostered out. They’d been born there, and he’d never really been out of his kennel. He found the world utterly overwhelming, plus he had health problems, which have left him with IBS. As a puppy he was a lot of work! But once we figured out what was going on with both his digestion and the way he was so overstimulated by the world, we were able to work with that and he’s turned out to be a great dog, never a cuddly dog but very friendly and extremely intelligent. It took us a couple of years to find a food he could eat without it making him sick, though. Obedience training was tricky. I had to use bits of clementine as a treat, because it was one of the few things he liked and one of the few things that didn’t upset his insides. Try carrying bits of clementine around in your pocket all the time...

How did Ivan get his name? Any aliases?

We named him Ivan after a character in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga science fiction series, hoping it would inspire him to turn out to be a laid-back, Drones Club kind of dog. Instead he ended up like Ivan’s cousin Miles, the moody, hyperactive, military genius. Online, I generally refer to him as “Mr Wicked” or “WickedDog”, because I figure even a dog needs some distance between real life and his social media persona, and we call him Ivan the Wicked because, though he’s not so terrible since he got over being a puppy, he still likes to steal the shoes of visitors and gallop defiantly around the house with them.

Does Ivan do more to help or hinder your writing?

I like to go for long walks to think and let the book simmer. Ivan likes to go for walks to stop and chat with everyone and socialize with every dog and small child in the neighbourhood, all of whom he knows by name. These two intentions in walking aren’t really compatible. He’s the village gossip. However, he’s very good about just napping while I’m writing. He knows it’ll be time to do something fun before long.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your published work?

The real Pippin (named after Eleanor Farjeon’s minstrel Martin Pippin) was the inspiration for the dog in my Pippin and Mabel picture book series in his enthusiasm for life -- and also the bit about burying a bone under the tomato plants and carefully putting the plants back, but upside down. The dog Yah-Yah in Torrie and the Pirate-Queen is a tribute to Lucky, the dog we had when I was a child, who a year older than me; that’s why she has this attitude that she’s the old, wise, sensible one on the adventure. I’ve tried to put a bit of both Pippin and Ivan into Jiot and Jui, the dogs one of the heroes acquires at the end of The Leopard, as a way of keeping them honest dogs even as they begin to become something more in The Lady -- they’re very responsive, shaping themselves to what Ghu wants of them and being shaped by him, even when he doesn’t realize it, but they’re somewhat independent-minded too. The Blackdog, though -- a man possessed by a goddess’s shapeshifting guardian dog-spirit -- is entirely his own dog.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Ivan likes cats, though we don’t have one. He always wants to go into a neighbour’s house to see the cat. He likes delivery people, because he’s nosy and likes to investigate parcels. I found him curled up small at the back of his box one morning recently -- he usually sleeps on his pillow -- and discovered it was because there was a squirrel ricocheting around the house. Outside, though, squirrels exist to be chased up trees.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

All of the above. He used to bring home a stick from every walk and leave them in a pile on the deck. He’s cut back on sticks lately. Now he steals all the soccer balls kids leave on their lawns, or tries to. We generally tell him not to, but he has a small collection none the less. And gloves. You lose your glove or mitten in this neighbourhood ... it’s probably at our house.

Who is Ivan's best pet-pal?

He has a large number of friends. Mika, another German Shepherd-mix on the block, was his first friend. She seems to regard him as her personal possession, possibly her pup, and gets very jealous of other female dogs being friendly with him. There are about eight or nine dogs in the neighbourhood who are his friends. I think he’d like to form a gang with them, with a secret hideout and passwords. They’d let all the four-year-olds in as honorary dogs, and steal the big kids’ soccer balls.

What is Ivan's best quality?

He’s very intelligent and has a large vocabulary, so he pays attention all the time; he’s very focused on what the humans are doing and saying. There’s continual interaction and learning.

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

I suspect I would be a person who invented more new and exciting tracking games and spent less time writing. I would also cook steamed broccoli for the dog every night and not just sometimes.

If Ivan could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

My husband, looking over my shoulder, wanted me to ask, “What is it about shiny floors and why do you think it’s safer if you cross them by walking backwards?” I, however, want to ask, “Can you tell me about smells?” It would be fascinating to really understand what the scent-world is like to him.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Ivan could speak, who should voice him?

It would have to be someone with a very expressive voice that could be by turns charming, insouciant, arrogant, commanding, impassioned, enthusiastic, impulsive, and deadpan funny. I’m not sure modern Hollywood is up to the challenge. David Niven, though -- I think David Niven might have managed it. Plus, they have an affinity, because when Ivan is wet, this thin black moustache shows on his upper lip.

Visit K. V. Johansen's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Leopard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jeff Bauer & Bear, Sadie, Snickers, Poncho and Melinda

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Jeff Bauer, an ardent dog lover, part-time writer and volunteer pilot for Pilots N Paws.

My wife, Jacki, and I share our lives with five (count ‘em - five) Chihuahuas - Bear (male, 6), Sadie (female, 7), Snickers (male, 5), Poncho (male, 4) and Melinda (female, 12+). Snickers is the dog in the photo to the right, looking up at me with the sun behind him.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I’ve written two novels about scuba diving. Actually about cave diving, which is going underwater and underground at the same time. Not for the claustrophobic and something even only a tiny number of scuba divers even attempt. I couldn’t resist putting Bear, my black 12 lb Chihuahua, as a character in both. He even rescues the protagonist in the second one. I suppose having a chihuahua constantly on my lap (Poncho’s on my lap right now) while slamming out these novels over the past three years inspired me to write my third novel with a dog as one of the two main characters. Thus my just-self-published novel, Sadie Sapiens was borne, inspired by the real-life Sadie (often in the prime lap position).

What's brewing?

I’m quaffing a nice breakfast blend, freshly ground, from a local roaster named Lucky Goat. The dogs’ nostrils quiver when the grinder fires up but that’s the extent of their interest in coffee.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

They’ll get a ride in the car after a couple of hours of me hammering away at the keyboard, working on Sadie’s sequel. Job could learn lessons on patience from these dark-eyed beauties. They do love their rides.

[photo left: Jacki with Bear, Snickers, Poncho and Melinda]

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

We used an uncreative method of laziness and obviousness when naming our dogs. They didn’t seem to care. Bear looks like a miniature black bear when we picked him up from his litter as a rescue; thus his name. Sadie came to us via owner surrender and was already comfy with that name. Same with Poncho, the three-legged rescue. Snickers actually looks like a snickers bar come to life in a canine body and Melinda got her name at the shelter after coming in as a found dog with no owner to claim her.

How were you and your dogs united?

Two (Bear and Snickers) were from the same trailer park litter, skinny, flea bitten and ready to bond. Sadie came from a wonderful young couple who “upgraded” to a human litter. The other two, Poncho and Melinda, popped up out of the woodwork of the local animal shelter during one of our volunteer stints.

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

I love having a small dog on my lap while writing, although sometimes when they shift for comfort I have trouble reaching the mouse. Sometimes they vie for the coveted lap position, other times they jump up in single file, as if they’ve worked out the day’s sitting order in advance secretly amongst themselves. I actually have a second chair with a dog bed in it bumped up against mine, usually with one or two dogs curled up in them. The others are nearby, napping in beds on the tile. They want to be near me while I, to them, appear mesmerized by the funny glowing wall of white light with black letters on them. I want them nearby, too. Some of the best characters and plots come from walking, watching or just being with them.

[photo right: Bear at the table, Sadie on the floor]

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?

More than I initially thought. I wrote Bear into my first two books as just a plain dog, one with great manners, superb intuition and cleaner than real life. Easy to do in fiction. I even gave him more action in the second where he rescues the human protagonist by finding him through his sense of smell, lost deep in the woods. I made the leap of doggy faith with Sadie Sapiens, where I transform my sweet little girl into a dog that learns to communicate with her teenage girl “owner” and put her through all sorts of doggy trials and tribulations. Boy, was that fun.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

Chihuahuas aren’t going to run down and kill anything, at least not that we’ve seen yet. Bear did find a tiny shrew one day but didn’t know what to do with it, which was cute. He just watched as I gently caught it and released it over the back yard fence. They’ll chase a squirrel or bird out of the back yard but we consider them to be potential targets by larger predators, like hawks or owls. Bear’d give them a run for their money but 3 pound Sadie needs to be protected. Where they really shine is in barking at strangers that come to the door. Five chihuahuas in full-bark mode can scare away any human or animal predator. Most of the time, though, they don’t bark as much as you’d think, given the penchant for barking by this breed. I suspect we’re labeled the crazy dog people house by our neighbors, but so far no hoarders reality TV show crew has shown up yet -- our dogs would let us know if they did.

[photo left: Melinda at the beach]

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Me and my wife, Jacki. They have each other as well. Poncho’s the social glue that all of them interact with. Losing a leg due to multiple breaks that didn’t heal right early in life didn’t slow him down physically or emotionally. What a great little tripod trooper.

What is each dog's best quality?

Bear’s a big black cream puff with the softest fur and cleanest dog smell ever. Sadie has “cute and composed” down to a T. Snicker’s the little worrier and loves his (and our) food. Poncho’s the happiest and most carefree with absolutely gorgeous teeth and eyes and Melinda is the crotchety old lady with a big bark and bigger heart.

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

I’m sure they’d want me to write less and drive more. More impressive is how they change me to be more patient and grateful that my wife and I get to share our lives with them.

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

Snickers - Steve Buscemi, Sadie - Scarlett Johansson, Bear - Bear Grylls (naturally), Poncho - Neil deGrasse Tyson and Melinda - Judi Dench.

Of course my dogs would want the option to use their own voices, if Hollywood would allow and people could understand them.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Why do you love me so much?

Visit Jeff Bauer's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rachel Toor & Helen

Who is in the photo at right?

The less attractive one is me, Rachel Toor. My new novel, On the Road to Find Out, is being released by FSG this month. The hottie with the big ears is Helen. She’ll be four on August 23. She’s expecting a big party.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

On Sundays I don’t go to the cafĂ© where I write every other morning so we do our usual poop walk and include a stop at the Rocket Bakery where I get a decaf Americano and Helen waits outside tied to a chair while the people inside coo, “What a cute dog! What great ears!”

How did Helen get her name? Any nicknames?

Helen is named after a beloved great aunt who was at the same time fierce and gentle, a Rosie-the-Riveter kind of person who at a young age left her family on the east coast and went to California.

How were you and Helen united?

I haunted the local shelters for months. I did not want a puppy. I had a long list of requirements, in fact, about what I wanted. Not a puppy. Helen’s mom had gotten knocked up, arrested, and then was taken in by a woman who fostered litters for the Spokane Humane Society. I told her what I was looking for and she said, “I’ve raised 500 puppies. This is the best litter I’ve ever seen and this is the dog for you,” and pointed to Helen, who was not even the most attractive of the bunch. She said Helen was a thinker; she was curious, but also cautious. She was really, really smart. So I brought home an 8-week-old puppy who is the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

Are there any Helen-inspired dogs in your new novel?

No. The best character in my novel is Walter, a rat. He was inspired by Iris, the rat I had before I got Helen. In fact, Iris was so wonderful and dog-like that for a while I was disappointed in Helen, thinking I would never love her as much as I loved Iris. Iris was sweeter, more of a pleaser, and also very smart. She’d stand next to the refrigerator and twirl for broccoli. She’d follow me around the house and greeted every new thing as if it were a treat, including the plumber.

Does Helen do more to help or hinder your writing?

Helen has listened to me read my novel out loud three times. She rolls her eyes when I say, “Can I read this to you?” She actually rolls her eyes at me. She’s an eternal teen.

Who is Helen's best pet-pal?

Helen knows the names of all of my friends. Whenever I tell her who’s coming over she goes to the window and waits. She loves my students and I sometimes bring her to class with me. She has a bunch of dog friends—Nadine, Roxy, Sancho—and she has other dogs she wants to eat. She hates golden retrievers and anyone with a little bit of heeler (she’s probably got a bit of heeler in her). Except for the dogs she hates, she makes friends easily.

Where is Helen's favorite outdoor destination?

The Sunday morning long run from Dean’s house when we’re in Missoula, Montana. Helen likes to run with the fast guys. We run most days. If it’s hot, we run near the river so she can swim. (She loves water and is an incredible swimmer. She does the breast stroke, not the doggie paddle.) She did her first race, a half marathon, last winter and was fourth dog. If she hadn’t been leashed to me, she could have won it.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?


Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Ugh. Now it’s time for true confessions: her kill card is one squirrel, six marmots. The marmots, which are like squirrels on steroids, squeak just like her toys. And they’re fat and not so fast. As someone who loves rodents, I have a hard time with this. We’ve had a lot of discussions about the fact that she needs to work on suppressing her prey drive. She rolls her eyes during these discussions.

What is Helen's best quality?

Her fierce intelligence. And of course, her athleticism. And her wit. She has a great sense of humor, though it’s still a little on the adolescent side. And the fact that she has to sleep on top of me.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Helen could speak, which actor should do her voice?

Actually, the same kind of actor who would play the lead in the movie version of my novel—a younger Jennifer Lawrence or Ellen Page, someone who projects intelligence, fearlessness, and wit. With a deep voice.

If Helen could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

I don’t need her to speak in English. I know exactly what she’s thinking. She’s not subtle.

Visit Rachel Toor's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: On the Road to Find Out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 9, 2014

Jass Richards & Taffi

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s Taffi and me (Jass Richards) out kayaking. (Sure I’m there – see those feet? Those are my feet; ergo, I’m there! Knew that Philosophy degree would be useful one day!)

We’re on our way to Starbucks.

No, that’s a lie. There isn’t a Starbucks here for hundreds of miles. (Thank god.) We’re just out kayaking.

No, that’s a lie too. We aren’t out kayaking. I always think that’s what we’re doing, but we’re actually out muskrat hunting. Apparently.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We’re letting people know about my new book, Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun. (People who will probably enjoy it. No point in letting the other people know about it.) It’s a collection of funny, feel-good, happy-ever-after dog stories (or a novel ... in any case, fiction) told by the ever-quirky, ever-sarcastic Brett from This Will Not Look Good on My Resume. Also featured are her own two dogs, Kessie and Snookums, and her four regulars, Chum, Hunk, Little Miss, and Spunky Doo. It’s available in print and as an ebook, at the usual online stores…

What's brewing?

Iced chocolate mint coffee.

No, that’s a lie. I do have a drink, tucked in beside me on the right, but it’s a bottle of watered-down juice. Usually one part Dole’s Paradise Blend, one part regular iced tea, and one part tropical iced tea.

[photo left: muskrat hunting]

Any treats for you or Taffi on this occasion?

Yeah, there’s a bag of treats tucked in beside me on the left. I use them as bribes to get her away from the little goslings she wants to kill. Doesn’t always work.

No, that’s a lie. Doesn’t ever work. (That’s the nice thing about hunting muskrat: it satisfies her really, really strong predator instincts, but no one gets hurt: within minutes of her starting to dig at the front door, the muskrat swims out the back door. And I get to just sit there and stare at the pretty sparkles on the water.)

How did Taffi get her name? Any nicknames?

I just made it up; liked the sound of it; knew I’d like calling her that.

Actually, though, I initially called her ‘Tassi’ but I realized early on that that was too ‘fragile’ (tassel, glass), she needed something more mischievous, hence Taffi.

How were you and Taffi united?

After my first little sweetheart died, I wanted another small (portable), female (stay-at-home) dog, and I wanted a puppy because I really like to bond; I wanted to be there from the beginning…. But I discovered they’re really hard to find unless you want a little frou-frou dog. I just wanted a mutt. (Interestingly, the only mutt puppies I could fine were big breed mutts. There’s a hypothesis in there about people and whether, when, they neuter/spay their dogs…)

Finally I decided to adjust my wish list and consider a small, male puppy, and ended up finding one through the Moosonnee Pups – it’s a rescue operation for dogs way up north (where they’re so populous, often no one owns them or looks after them -- or neuters/spays them…). Had to wait, though, because they have to fly the dogs out, then put on a train, then—I dunno. I just know that one day, oh happy day, a van pulled into my driveway, and it was full of puppies! Imagine! A van full of puppies!

One cute little one trotted up the driveway like she was home at last, and I said ‘Please tell me she’s available’ (it wasn’t the small, male, puppy I was supposed to be looking at), and she was!! Available!!

I was so happy, moreso because when the van left, that little puppy was so perfectly content to stay, with me—she didn’t even try to join the others, going back into the van. And I thought ‘She feels the same way! She’s chosen me as much as I’ve chosen her!’ (I realized a couple months later that she suffers so acutely from motion sickness, she’d rather run in front of an oncoming snow plow than get into a car. Or a van. So even if I’d been the Psycho ax-murderer guy…)

Are there any Taffi-inspired dogs in your books?

Of course. Snookums is Taffi.

Does Taffi do more to help or hinder your writing?

I don’t think she knows I write.

Who is Taffi's best pet-pal?

She doesn’t have one anymore. She had several when she was younger, but they’ve all moved or died. She insists on saying ‘hi’ to all the dogs in the ‘hood, though. Well, not saying ‘hi’ exactly, more like subordinating herself to them. (Literally: she still rolls over belly up to kittens. I figure it’s part of the strong predation thing: she’s very aware of her role in the pack, and she’s a happy little beta dog. Even when we’re out walking, she walks behind me, she will not take the lead. She loves it when we have another dog with us, because then she’s part of a pack!!! And then she’ll go ahead of me, but always, always, behind the other dog.)

Where is Taffi's favorite outdoor destination?

Out our front door. The lake.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Squirrel, muskrat, rabbit…. And shoe.

What is Taffi's best quality?

When she buries her one of her dead bunnies, she chooses the perfect spot for it. Even if it takes half an hour and several ‘changed my mind’s to find it.

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

Oh please. I’m perfect.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Taffi could speak, which actor should do her voice?

Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory alternating with Darth Vader.

Visit the official Jass Richards website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Melodie Campbell & Frankenpoodle

Who is in the photo at right?

The Star is Frankenpoodle…the dawg Dr. Frankenstein would have created if he’d had a chance. Now eight, Frankenpoodle got his start as the klutzy giant of the litter. To qualify for standard poodle status, a pooch must be at least 15 inches at the shoulders. Frankenpoodle is 30. We call him a “Giraffe in a dog suit.”

Oh yes – me. I’m Melodie Campbell, the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada. I’m also the author of a funny mob goddaughter series (latest book, The Goddaughter’s Revenge, has just won the 2014 Derringer Award!). And the author of the wacky time travel series, Rowena Through the Wall. And a few more in there. Okay, 200 publications. I’ve won 9 awards for short fiction.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Every day is ‘take your dog to work day’ at Casa Franken! Together, we have slogged through seven novels, me at the keyboard, him on the worn brown chaise beside me. Both of us snarfing snacks and looking forward to walk time.

What's brewing?

Kenyan AA. (I’m a purist.) Usually from Starbucks.

Any treats for you or Frankenpoodle on this occasion?

I will beg for cannoli. Frankenpoodle is quite happy with cream in a bowl.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

His kennel name was Soleil de…(huge long impressive French royalty sounding words here, long forgotten.) The first word translates to Sun, so Sunny is his quick name. But he also answers to Dammit, as in ‘come here, dammit!’

How were you and Frankenpoodle united?

When our former pooch crossed the rainbow bridge, we were inconsolable. We lasted two days. Then I started searching for dawgs that were looking for homes.

Frankenpoodle was being held back for breeding. But when the breeder saw how big he was (at least 1/3 bigger than the rest of the males in the litter), she got worried that she would be breeding giants. So he came available just when we needed him.

Does your dog make any contribution to your writing?

You bet, he inspires me. Dogs are in all my books! In The Goddaughter’s Revenge, a black standard poodle with a Mohawk hairdo is a star. In the fantasy series (latest book: Rowena and the Dark Lord) Rowena is a vet. She has dogs in our world, and a pet wolfie when she goes through the wall to the fantasy world.

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

On the boat! (We have a 28 foot cruiser.) Frankenpoodles are water dogs. Bronte Harbour is close to our house. We live on the edge of a giant provincial park.

Who is Frankenpoodle best pet-pal?

Miller, his little shi-poo cousin, who lives close by with my daughter Natalie. [photo left]

What is Frankenpoodle's best quality?

He is the best natured big guy you ever saw. Talk about a gentle giant. No killer instinct at all. Just ask the bunnies under the birdfeeder, ten feet from where he is lying right now.

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

To go outside more. The brown chaise is fine for a few hours, but this working 8-10 hours a day is for the birds. Er, cats.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dog could speak, which actor should do his voice?

The one who does Scooby Doo. No question about that.

If Frankenpoodle could answer only one question in English what would you ask him?

More than that, I’d like to thank him. For all the delivered slippers, protection from evil geese, and generally good natured patience. Also the joy. Oh yes, the joy of reuniting after a few hours apart! Thank you, dear pooch, for teaching me those simple joys.

Visit Melodie Campbell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 2, 2014

Janet Kellough & Joe and Smidgen

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Janet Kellough and I write The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries, a series based on mid-19th century Canadian history, the latest of which, The Burying Ground, will be released next year. With me are Joe, the more-or-less Boxer and Smidgen, the Blue Heeler –Something Else Australian cross. They’re both shelter dogs, so we don’t know for sure how old they are, but we figure seven or eight.

What’s the occasion for Coffee With a Canine?

Joe and Smidgey patrol the area around the house while I’m writing, but we all spend a lot of time outside. I have 50 acres in Prince Edward County, an island community on the north shore of Lake Ontario. We’re very rural, so there’s always lots to do, and when we’ve finished our work for the day we have a coffee on the veranda if the weather permits. Nothing fancy – just plain old coffee and water from the more-or-less bottomless pot.

How were you and your dogs united?

I had, sadly, reached the end of a dog cycle – the last old guy of the previous contingent died at the ripe old age of 14. But for me, home isn’t home unless it smells like wet dog, so after a few months I was ready for someone new. I like shepherding dogs so I went to a shelter that specializes in finding homes for Australian breeds – they’re super-intelligent and need lots to do, so sometimes it’s hard to place them. I knew I wanted Smidgen right away, but while there I realized that she was best buds with a woebegone boxer who had ended up at the shelter too. I didn’t know anything about boxers, but couldn’t bear to part them, so they both came home with me.

How did your dogs get their names?

Smidgen’s shelter name was “Midgey”, which I morphed into “Smidgey” because she’s such a little smidgen of a shepherd. Joe was already Joe and it just seemed to fit him. They have many other names, depending on the circumstances. Smidgey particularly loves being called “Sweetie Pie”.

Who are your dogs best pet-pals?

They sometimes play with their Golden Retriever friend Lola, but Joe and Smidgey really are each other’s best friend. They are always together. They spend a lot of time grooming each other. And on cold winter nights, they sleep curled up together in front of the woodstove.

How do your dogs help your writing?

While I’m lost in a world of my own making I count on them to let me know what’s happening in the real one – if the coyotes are too close, or the wild turkeys are ambling down the laneway again, and especially if a courier truck has arrived. (Some of the drivers have dog biscuits!!!!) One of the lovely things we do nearly every morning is walk down our country road. When it’s not tourist season only local traffic goes by, and people wave or honk, or sometimes pull their cars over for a chat. It’s one of those things that helps make our country township a real neighbourhood, and it puts me in a good mood before I start work.

What is each dog’s best quality?

Smidgey takes her job very seriously and supervises everything. I sometimes think she would like a clipboard and a whistle to help her organize everybody. Joe is a lot more impulsive, but he can be counted on to back her up. Unless it’s something really scary. But he’s the original King of Smoosh. He loves being hugged.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?

I don’t like to put dogs in my stories, in case I end up in a plot corner and have to make something bad happen. I’ll bump (fictional) people off at the drop of a hat, but having something terrible happen to a dog is just way too upsetting! Even if it’s make-believe.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

You remember why we don’t go near skunks, right?

Visit Janet Kellough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue