An interview about the writing of my novel, JACK OF HEARTS: A fictionalized account of the mayhem that ensued after I discovered my master’s infidelity.
What are some of the challenges you encountered in writing JACK OF HEARTS?
It was really daunting to contemplate writing about infidelity. I found it to be a vast, complicated topic. I had to muster my courage, I think, to take that on. More than anything I wanted to render it in the right way, and explore it from the standpoint of a dog. I mean, loyalty is everything to the canine, no? That was the other big challenge: writing in the canine voice…inner voice actually. Initially, that was intimidating. I would go to bed at night and wake up worrying about it. What thesaurus translates the wag in its every definition, for instance? But in the end, I felt so compelled to do this. It’s a subject that affects every member of the family, right down to the lowly cat. I think you just have to listen to that place inside yourself as a canine writer. It’s just a creative knowing. Like knowing which piece of undergarment to shred, where to bury a bone, or what part of the garden to ruin. I just took a breath and decided to take it on, write in my imagined voice, and trust it to be authentic.
Where do you like to read?
I have several spots. When I’m in the country, I read usually in the afternoon, under the chestnut tree off the patio – a short reading time, usually poetry. Ogdan Nash, Carl Sandburg, and Robert William Service. I love Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, DOG SONGS. Who wouldn’t? I read in bed every night. I usually get in bed pretty early with an iPad (with no opposable thumbs, it’s easier to swipe the pages), and I read until the management turns off the light. When in Rome, I sit in a lounge chair on my balcony overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. I love to be outside when the weather’s right. I can stay there pretty much all day––unless the squirrels demand attention.
What is your favorite word?
There are just so many beautiful words. Come, stay, car, park, rat, squirrel. Treat is probably my favorite. In Italian it’s regalo. A little more romantic, don’t you think? And covers so much more than simply the edible. Then there’s Bolognese, spaghetti, fromaggio. But I digress. It’s a shame the book couldn’t be written totally in Italian. Everything sounds better that way. Even veterinario. I think the word “chase” is beautiful, “inseguimento” in Italian. Not so much in its phonics, but just in the power of the word itself.
What is the first book you remember loving?
Go, Dog, Go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. I still have the first copy I read (although, somewhat tattered along the binding…). I remember reading it as a pup, outside, under the chestnut tree, just lying in the grass, one eye on a squirrel, the other on those glorious words in large type.
If you could recommend just one book, what would it be?
Travels with Charlie. Probably because I’d love to see America. The Incredible Journey was a great read, too, but a bit unbelievable. I mean, teaming with a cat?
The novel that probably had the most impact on me was, Lad, A Dog. Canine heroism is a huge motif in my book. It goes back to the roots of what makes up a dog in mind and spirit, and the first sparks that ignited the path for dogs, from the Neanderthal campfire to the service dogs of today. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, “a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood.” I like to think of myself in the same way…except the collie part. It’s a period piece, but charming in its language, even if it is written in English.
And I do prefer print books. Hard covers are better for sinking one’s teeth into. Alas, because of my handicap (no thumbs), I am confined to the electronic device. At the end of the day, I would prefer to hold something concrete between my teeth. There’s something about the weight, substance, and concreteness of the words. The taste of the binding, scent of the glue, texture of the paper.
There is an alchemy to books. I mean, how else might dog tell a story?
(With apologies to Huffington Post and Sue Monk Kidd.)