Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Best Creatures on Earth

Back in the early 1980s your first three books for young adults had done well and your agent was able to ratchet up your advances to levels you would not again see for nearly 25 years. But then you produced a slew of books -- some real clunkers included -- that didn’t sell well enough to merit the advances you were receiving.

Worried that your future as a writer was at stake, you worked extra hard to create a new batch of proposals for really cutting-edge, hard-hitting YAs that, you believed, were sure to be newsworthy advance re-earning award winners. Then you went to your editor’s office (not Ferdinand Monjo, who had sadly passed away) and pitched the books passionately. You provided your editor with extensive outlines and sample chapters. You described key scenes and plot points. You put everything you could think of offering into this effort.

After listening to your proposals, your editor sat back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling. He pressed the tips of his fingers together thoughtfully for several moments. Then he leaned forward, looked you straight in the eyes and said, “Todd, I think you should write some books about dogs.”

This marked the beginning of the end of your first adventure as a YA writer. Soon thereafter, you would chuck the whole book-writing business and spend two years in the literarily (is this really a word? Spell check seems to think so) rarified world of daytime television drama. Close to fifteen years would pass before you would see, or speak to, that editor again.

Shortly after that editorial meeting, your daughter was born. If her first words were not, “Can I have a dog?” then they followed soon. You were living in New York City and pets weren’t allowed in your building, so you gave her Gund dogs, and promised that you would get her a real dog as soon as you “moved to the country.”

One day a few years later you moved to the suburbs. An adorable pudgy little yellow lab, Mac, arrived shortly thereafter. Mac grew to be 75 pounds and taught you many things. He taught you never to leave food on any flat surface less than 5 feet off the ground. He taught you to get him an extra-long leash so that when he took off after squirrels he wouldn’t yank your shoulder out of its socket. He taught you that a large dog can eat a pound of dark chocolate and survive (barely). He taught you that when you’re a dog, love is never conditional.

You had never had a dog before Mac, but you now believe they are the best creatures on Earth (Even better than YOU, Mr. Bill). Since then, you have written 13 books about dogs (The 3-book Furry Mason Mysteries was not published in this country). You hope to soon write more books about dogs. Even better, you hope that someday soon you will have another dog.

Mr. Bill says, “Arf! Arf! Hey, maybe I’m a bull dog!”

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