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


  1. Hi. I really enjoyed my brief visit on your site and I’ll be sure to be back for more.
    Can I contact your through your email?

    Please email me back.


  2. "all of whom he knows by name," now that is a great line! Nice to meet you and Ivan through this site, thank you.