Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Kate O'Shaughnessy & Mo

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Kate O’Shaughnessy, a middle grade author, and in this picture I’m having coffee with my stalwart writing companion, Mo. She’s pretty lazy as far as writing assistants go, but at least she’s pretty cute. I’ve been obsessed with dogs my whole life—when I was twelve, I for some strange reason decided to memorize every dog breed recognized by the AKC to prove to my parents that I was ready for a dog—so this blog is totally my jam.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The first thing I do every morning is make a giant mug of coffee and take it to my desk, which overlooks our garden. Whenever I sit down, Mo joins me in the office in the big armchair directly behind me.

What's brewing?

On vacation in Big Sur this past October, my husband and I tried Verve Coffee Roasters for the first time and were immediately obsessed. Before we left, I made sure to write down the bean variety the hotel served (Seabright!), and the first thing we did on our drive back to Berkeley was a stop in Santa Cruz to pick up a bunch of bags. Our car smelled like coffee in the best way for two days, and we haven’t brewed any other kind of coffee since!

Any treats for you or Mo on this occasion?

As I write this, I have leftover cake in the freezer from The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane book launch last week. I just may have to reward myself with a slice if I get enough writing done today. As for Mo, we spoil her. She’s not really food-motivated, but the words “chicken” or “bone” will get those giant ears of hers to perk up.

How were you and Mo united?

We first spotted Mo’s profile on the website of a local rescue, and were immediately taken by her incredible smile. When we reached out to see if we could meet her, we were told that she was actually a part of their international program—and was located in Taiwan! At first we didn’t feel comfortable adopting a dog without meeting them first, but the rescue continued to send us videos of Mo and we fell increasingly in love with her. Finally, we decided to go for it—and picked her up at the San Francisco airport! It was a rough adjustment—she had a ton of trauma in her past, including abuse, abandonment, and the loss of her puppies—but with a lot of love and patience she’s completely bloomed, as you can hopefully see. The picture above left is Mo when she was first picked up off the streets and the second [photo right] is after about a year with us. We love her so much!

How did your dog get her name? Any aliases?

The rescue had randomly assigned her the name “Mona,” which we liked but didn’t love. So instead of giving her an entirely new name, we shortened it to Mo. We’ve also given her endless nicknames. She’s Mo, Mo Mo, Mosephine Dingus, but more than anything, we call her “Piggy.” She got that nickname because when she stretches out on the couch, she sort of thrusts her belly forward so she looks a little chubbier than she really is [photo left]. Sort of like a pig!

Does Mo do more to help or hinder your writing?

She’s a great help. I love her company—usually she’s sleeping in the armchair behind me—and when I’ve been sitting for too long, she jumps down to come nose me for pets and beg for a walk. She reminds me it’s okay to get up and stretch my legs every now and again.

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

The dog in The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane, Pickle, is definitely one of the most important characters. He’s a dachshund with special needs, and shows Maybelle that sometimes it feels good to take care of other people—which opens her up to letting other people take care of her. Pickle was treated badly and neglected by his previous owner, so while Pickle wasn’t inspired by a real life dog, he somehow inspired me to become ready to adopt one of my own. We got Mo about a year after I finished writing Maybelle.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

She loves to chase squirrels, the postman is her mortal enemy, and she’s extremely interested in but unsure about cats.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

None, sadly. When we first got Mo she had no clue how to play with toys. Now she only likes to play with soft things. Her favorite thing to do is to attack the tags on blankets. The most fearsome predator!

Where is Mo's favorite outdoor destination?

The beach!! Mo turns into the most joyful version of herself on the beach. She rolls in the sand, gets the fastest, most wild-eyed zoomies, and says hello to everyone there. She loves the sand but hates the water.

Who is Mo's best pet-pal?

There’s a dog in our neighborhood, Rufus, who Mo one day decided to become obsessed with. She can be standoffish with other dogs, but she just fell in love with Rufus—every time we see him, she cries, wags her tail, and strains on the leash to get to him. His feelings toward her are lukewarm, but Mo is persistent in her love.

What is Mo's best quality?

So many! She’s incredibly chill, and happy to relax on the couch for hours. At the same time, she’s always up for adventure.

My first book is about a road trip, because I love going on them—and luckily Mo does too! She’s the most loyal companion you could imagine.

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

That we don’t live every second of our lives at the park, on a walk in the woods, or on a beach.

Mo lives for walks and doesn’t understand why people don’t take them 20-30 times a day instead of just twice.

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

Are you happy? And I hope her answer would be yes!

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

Given that Mo is originally from Taiwan, I would choose Constance Wu, whose parents emigrated from Taiwan.

What advice would Mo give if asked?

Don’t trust the postman. Or FedEx trucks. Or any delivery truck in general. Or people that walk by on the sidewalk minding their own business. They’re all up to no good. Stay vigilant!!!!

Visit Kate O’Shaughnessy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Richard Fifield & Frank and Oscar

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Richard Fifield, and I’m an author and a designer, and this is Frank. He’s a male, a basenji, and our best guess is that he’s eleven or twelve. He is an anomaly—he seems to be aging in reverse. More spry, no gray, and the vet was astonished that he had less tartar on his teeth than at his first examination, six years ago.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I’ve taken my two dogs, the aforementioned Frank and my elderly chihuahua/dachshund mix Oscar on a walk to the gas station. Where I live, there are no coffee shops, and the streets are filled with feral rabbits, all black. We enjoy walking to the gas station, Frank and Oscar because of the rabbits, and me because of the gossip I get at the counter. Even though I keep both dogs on a tight leash, they pull in opposite directions, and the leads tangle around my legs so often that I’ve gotten used to stopping to unwind every block. There have been a few occasions where the tangle actually caused me to fall, but thankfully, never any injuries!

What's brewing?

At the gas station, the coffee is cheap and plentiful. I love gas station coffee, and at the tiny store, the owners allow me to bring Frank and Oscar inside with me. I must drink my coffee while I gossip with the cashier—walking two dogs on leashes and a cup of hot coffee is a recipe for disaster. Especially with wild rabbits dashing everywhere.

Any treats for you or the dogs on this occasion?

I always carry dog treats with me—every coat (and I have a lot of coats) has a dog treat, even when I’m without my dogs. I’m like a mailman! Because Oscar is sixteen years old, I carry Milk Bone Pill Pouches, because they are soft and it helps when I need to give Oscar his medications every morning. For years, I tried peanut butter, but it was messy!

How were you and Oscar and Frank united?

Oscar and Frank are both rescue dogs—I adopted them from Animal Control, instead of the Humane Society. Animal Control takes the dogs that nobody wants to adopt. Except for me. I want to adopt the most unlovable, difficult cases. I think this is because I see myself in them.

You also had Blanche with you until very recently. Sixteen years is a good, long life for a dog, I know, but.... Are Oscar and Frank adjusting well enough with Blanche gone?

Last year, my third dog Blanche had to be put down. She was sixteen, and she was the first dog I ever owned. I adopted her as a puppy, and she was a bizarre mix of corgi and border collie, so she had a really long body and tiny legs. She had a personality like a disapproving grandmother, even early on. Border collies like to herd, and Blanche was always barking at her brother and sister for being rambunctious and not following her directions. Putting her down was not an easy decision, but it was the right one. Due to her long body and tiny legs, she had a lot of hip and spine problems, and the last year of her life, she had to be lifted to be brought outside to use the bathroom. It was an honor to take care of her, and an honor to be there with her when she was finally at peace. Oscar took it the worst, as he had spent the most time with her, and when I returned from the vet without Blanche, he was scared of me for an entire month. He was confused, and I completely understand. I was confused, too.

How did the dogs get their names? Any aliases?

I named Blanche after Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Oscar already had his name when I adopted him. Frank was a street dog, and didn’t have a home, but the people at Animal Control called him Klaus. I did not like that name, and had recently published my first novel, which featured a wild dog named Frank, who serves as the heart of the book. It seemed too much of a coincidence, so his name became Frank, and it suits him. My dogs always have nicknames—many nicknames, but the most used is “The Tank” for Frank, and because Oscar was covered in scars when I adopted him (he had a hard life), I call him “Oh-Scar.”

Do your dogs do more to help or hinder your writing?

My dogs actually don’t seem to notice when I’m writing or designing. They are very autonomous creatures, and they do what they want all day. They are both burrowers, so you can usually find them at the bottom of a bed. I gave up making my beds a long time ago!

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

In my fiction, I’ve only featured one canine, the aforementioned Frank. When people meet the real Frank, they assume he inspired the fictional dog, but after spending time with him, they quickly realize that my Frank is not cut out for therapy.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

All of my dogs despise anybody with a package of any kind. They are very, very protective of their fenced yard, and mail delivery and I have an understanding. They leave packages outside of the fence. Just in case there is a new delivery person, I have a sign on my gate. Frank, despite years of obedience school and one-on-one training, goes for the ankle of any person he is unfamiliar with that dares enter the yard, carrying a package. Basenjis were the first dog breed, and pharaohs in Egypt trained them to take down lions, and were buried with their favorite hunter. That DNA is still strong in Frank. He also does not share—he likes to take things from the other dogs and bury them in the yard. We don’t have any toys as a result, just sticks. He can’t dig up the yard to bury a giant stick.

Where is your dogs' favorite outdoor destination?

My dogs love the forests around Montana, but they are both terrified of water. They prefer to walk on the streets of our small town, because they are fascinated by other lives and other homes. They are just like their owner.

What is each dog's best quality?

Oscar’s best quality is his devotion—he is the type of dog that follows you around (when he’s not burrowed in blankets) and needs to know where you are at all times. Frank’s best quality is his personality—I’m sure your readers picture a vicious little creature, but he is the most affectionate dog I’ve ever owned—basenjis are very much like cats, and they like to nuzzle your chin. He is unlike any dog on earth—every person that watches my dogs remarks on how strange Frank is. They all love him, and want to take him home, because he is such a mystery.

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

I would ask Oscar and Frank both to tell me about where they came from, and what their lives were like before they came to live with me. I’m sure they have stories. Both are fighters, and indomitable creatures.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Oscar, Frank and Blanche could speak, who should voice them?

Oscar would be voiced by Patrick Stewart, as he is very self-assured and proper.

Frank would be voiced by Billy Eichner, of Billy On The Street, as he is a comedian and instantly recognizable. 

What advice would Oscar and Frank give if asked?

I think both dogs would give the same answer—accept the love that is given to you, and have faith that you will be taken care of. It’s an honor to be their person.

Visit Richard Fifield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Elizabeth Atkinson & Obadiah

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Elizabeth Atkinson, a middle grade author, and here I am having my morning coffee with my writing partner, Obadiah, an adorable 10-year-old Australian Labradoodle. Obadiah insists we take refreshing walks during the day, listens as I read rough drafts out loud, and Skypes with me during virtual Author Visits… so I couldn’t work without him.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I’m usually in my bathrobe reading and drinking my morning coffee, but on this particular morning, I’m dressed early as I’m heading out on a school visit. Obadiah’s waiting for me to hurry up and finish my coffee so I can take him on a quick walk before I leave.

What's brewing?

I always look forward to my morning coffee! I grind my favorite beans from Little Wolf roasters in Ipswich, MA, then brew my coffee in a small Cuisinart coffee maker. I drink coffee only in the morning – later in the day I have a cup of green or herbal tea, and occasionally I indulge in Godiva Hot Dark Cocoa at night.

Any treats for you or Obadiah on this occasion?

In the top photo, you might spy a tiny treat waiting for him on the counter. A little something to give him after his walk and before I leave on the school visit for the morning. Obadiah would eat dog cookies all day if you could.

How were you and Obadiah united?

After our sweet lab, China, died almost 11 years ago, our family wanted to adopt another dog to be part of our lives. However, both of our kids and my husband had been allergic to China all the years she was with us. So we knew we had to find a dog that was guaranteed to be hypoallergenic. Someone recommended Barksdale Labradoodles in Magee, Mississippi to us and that’s how this hypoallergenic puppy joined our family.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

Actually, that’s a funny story. At the time, we had an original portrait of my husband’s great-great grandfather, Obadiah Eames, hanging on the living room wall. He was a Mississippi River Boat Captain in the mid-1800s and the portrait had been passed down through the generations. Prior to our little puppy’s arrival, we had written down a bunch of possible names as everyone does. But when he arrived, there was just something about his eyes and expression that reminded us of our ancestor on the wall. And since they were both associated with Mississippi, we all agreed on Obadiah. His most common nicknames are Obi, Obes, Obester.

Does Obadiah do more to help or hinder your writing?

He’s almost always helpful, because I structure my writing schedule according to his schedule. The only time when he isn’t helpful is when he insists on a walk (according to his schedule) while I’m in the middle of a great writing streak and can’t stop.

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

The only actual dog inspiration appears in my new novel, Fly Back Agnes. The terrier mix, Tutu, is inspired by Toto in The Wizard of OZ. But I adore dogs and usually include them in my stories. Dogs provide companionship and unconditional love like no other living being, which kids really need. Dogs also help children develop so many important qualities, like empathy, responsibility, and patience. So I believe dog characters greatly enrich children’s literature.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Oh my, anything small and furry that moves fast. Six months ago, Obadiah tore his CCL (similar to a human ACL tear) chasing a cat – and even after he tore it, he kept chasing the cat on three legs!

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

We have a basket full of beloved squeaky toys. Sometimes Obadiah will choose one to sleep with on his bed.

Who is Obadiah's best pet-pal?

To be honest, he’s more of people-dog than a dog-dog, because he loves cuddling. And my daughter is definitely his favorite cuddler. But his best dog pals are probably his dog friends at his doggy day care, which he attends about once a week to have fun. When he’s off leash at the local dog park, sometimes he and another dog seem to know each other, and then I find out the two dogs go to doggie daycare together. It’s funny to think your dog knows dogs you don’t know.

What is Obadiah's best quality?

He is very loving and loyal, but I have to say, his best quality is that he’s such an easy-going dog. We can take him anywhere! It’s wonderful and calming to live with such a relaxed, happy-to-be-alive creature.

If Obadiah could change one thing about New Englanders, what would it be?

People always like Obadiah but he loves people, so I know he wishes New Englanders would just stop what they’re doing, bend over and snuggle him, and then give him a treat. He lives for attention and dog biscuits!

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

I’ve been intrigued with Christina Hunger’s method of teaching her dog, Stella, to communicate using voice buttons and I follow them on Instagram. So I guess I would ask Obadiah, “Which words do you understand so far?” because we’re about to try the voice buttons.

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

Haha! We’ve kind of thought about this before… My son thinks Chris Pratt has Obadiah’s voice and I have to agree! Plus, I see a little resemblance.

What advice would Obadiah give if asked?

Love is all that really matters… and cookies.

Visit Elizabeth Atkinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue