Monday, April 25, 2016

Paula Treick DeBoard & Baxter

Who is in the photo at right?

This is me, Paula Treick DeBoard, with my dog, Baxter. He’s a ten-year-old purebred beagle, and we’ve had him since he was six weeks old. His life is slightly more relaxed than mine. I write novels (my latest, The Drowning Girls, is now available) and teach writing at the University of California, Merced, which is a nice drive from where I live in Modesto.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

This is morning coffee before the world (or we) are fully awake. Usually we sit on the couch together and read the news while we’re getting it together for the day. My husband and I have another dog, LG—but she’s a late sleeper, so she’s not pictured here.

What's brewing?

Home brew! It wasn’t possible to hold both Baxter and my mug of coffee for this picture, but I’m drinking Tully’s Coffee, Breakfast Blend. It has to be seriously hot before I switch to iced coffee—I hate to water it down!

Any treats for you or Baxter on this occasion?

This is right before breakfast, so it’s just a morning snuggle. Baxter knows that in a few minutes, we’ll be going outside, and when we come inside, he’ll be fed, and then after another half hour or so, we’ll be on our morning walk. So he’s in his getting-ready-for-the-day phase here.

How were you and Baxter united?

Baxter was a gift from my in-laws, who had been listening to me talk about getting a dog for years. My sister-in-law had a friend with two beagles and a litter on the way, and I was promised my pick. I got to see them when they were just a few days old and a squirming mess of adorable puppiness, but I spotted the one for me immediately. The owners said I could come back to visit any time, but they seemed a bit surprised to see me take them up on that offer—I went back at least once a week to take pictures for six weeks. It was amazing to see how Baxter grew between visits.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

At the time, I had a student whose last name was Baxter, and that stuck in my head as a great name for a dog. I grew up with a beagle named Bailey, and sometimes I do confuse the two names. Baxter’s remarkably adaptable; he responds to his name, as well as Baxto (the way my niece pronounces his name) and Bax and Honey.

Does Baxter do more to help or hinder your writing?

He definitely helps. On our walks, I’m usually thinking my way through a story, so I use that time for brainstorming or working through a plot hole. Also, I tend to proofread everything I write out loud, with Baxter sitting next to me. He seems appreciative.

Have any actual dogs inspired the creation of fictional dogs in your books?

I’ve had dogs in each of my novels. In The Mourning Hours, the family adopted a dog named Kennel, who is completely loyal, but bears the marks of a previous abusive owner. In The Fragile World, the family has a basset hound named Heidi. And in The Drowning Girls, there’s a dog named Virgil who becomes a symbol of the way that things go wrong in the story. I love dogs, and I explore the intricacies of family life in my writing, so it seems natural to have a dog wandering through a scene.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Not cats so much anymore, although as a puppy, Baxter would chase after every cat he could (including the two in our house). Every day, without fail, he gives the postman a few ferocious howls. And we’ve only ever seen one squirrel in our neighborhood, but he’s a feisty little guy who has hung around for years. Baxter either doesn’t notice him or has made his peace with him at this point.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

He used to love his giant rope toy, but now he seems to have outgrown it. He will chew on any type of rawhide he can get his paws on, and he loves to dig through the bathroom trash. It’s not unusual to walk through the hallway and follow a trail of shredded Kleenex to find him.

Who is Baxter's best pet-pal?

Baxter has a little “sister,” LG, our adopted rat terrier. He likes her quite a lot, but she’s not the most friendly dog in general. He knows all the dogs in our neighborhood who are walked on a regular basis. His favorite is Howser, a terrier mix. Baxter can smell her from half a block away, and immediately starts whining to see her. Their exchange of deep sniffs is one of the highlights of his day.

What is Baxter's best quality?

He has the best temperament of any dog I know. He loves to be petted, and when I’m sitting on the couch, he’ll jump up right next to me. (My husband and I had this brief, idealistic fantasy that we wouldn’t allow pets on the furniture, but that went out the window with Baxter.) In the mornings, he’s up a few minutes before my alarm clock every day, nudging my with his wet nose. Once I’m up and we’ve cuddled, he starts on my husband. I think he just likes to have us around, and the feeling is mutual.

If Baxter could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?

Baxter loves his daily walks, so I think he would encourage people to exercise with their dogs. We pass a lot of homes with dogs barking and whining behind fences, and I bet they would give just about anything to join us.

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

He’s getting a bit older now, and sometimes it takes him a while to find the right place to situate himself. I wish he could tell me when he was comfortable, or explain specifically what was bothering him. I hope we have a good, long time together ahead of us.

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

That’s a tricky question, since he’s a medium-sized dog with a large-sized bark. I’ll have to give more thought to this, but my on-the-spot answer would be Morgan Freeman, for no other reasons than I love his voice, and there’s a certain amount of dignity and gravitas that matches Baxter’s character, too.

What advice would Baxter give if asked?

He would definitely tell me to relax. He’s got that down, and I’m wound somewhat tight.

Visit Paula Treick DeBoard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

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