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

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