First of all, I can’t imagine a world without dogs, whether you’re from Texas or Timbuktu.
In Texas, lots of dogs belong to the working class. They herd sheep, guard goats, or retrieve game. Fortunately, my own two poodles are small, and they don’t have to work. Too, they’ve been given strict instructions never to ride in the back of anyone’s pickup truck. They ride in the back seat of my Honda Element buckled up with their own special seat belts, just like the two poodles in Dog Nanny. And no foo-foo clips—strictly Texas big-hair.
But of course! So where did the idea of this book come from?
Though I’d written other novels, Dog Nanny was my first attempt at romantic comedy. I’ve always heard you should write about what you know and what you love, so dogs immediately came to mind. The scenes involving the two standard poodles, Noche and Blanco, were great fun to write.
Also, I’d moved from the dry stretches of West Texas to Waco in 2002 and had immediately fallen in love with the blue lake, the green grass, and the live oak trees, which stay green year round. I wanted to capture some of my initial awe of the beauty by showing it through an outsider’s eyes, in this case, Julie, the “dog nanny.”
The first scene I wrote was actually the second scene in the book. A young woman with a fear of flying, trapped, so to speak, in the cockpit of a small plane with a handsome pilot.
Let’s talk about that handsome and charming pilot in your book, be honest, is he your ideal man?
Ah, Nick. Let me begin by saying in all honesty that my husband is my ideal man. But he belongs to me, and I’m not willing to share him. So for the rest of the women in the world, there’s Nick.
Well we certainly thank you for that! How about the heroine, are you two anything alike?
Well, she’s from a wealthy family, and I’m not. And she’s 32, and I’m not. And I’d never talk back to an officer of the law. But, yes, there are parts of me that are like her, especially her dislike of bigotry and her wacky sense of humor. I’ve also been known to let my imagination run away with me and do things on impulse.
The fun part of writing from Julie’s point of view was that I could say and do things I’d never say or do in real life, though I might think them. I love assuming a persona and being outrageous and absurd within the safety net of fiction.
Mexico is a huge theme in your book, what about the culture fascinates you?
All of it. I think it’s impossible to live in Texas and not be influenced in some way by the Mexican culture, even if it’s on a subconscious level. I love Mexican music, the cadence of the Spanish language, the architecture, the artisanry... Equally fascinating are the strong sense of family, traditions, and customs. I also wanted to touch on some stereotypes and prejudices without being too heavy-handed. I hope I’ve done that while maintaining the comic elements.
Since this book is filled with vivid cultural images of Mexico; did you have anything around you to inspire you?
I’d taken some Spanish classes the year before I began the book, so I was listening to a lot of music in Spanish, talking to my dogs in Spanish…well, trying to talk to them in Spanish. Fortunately, my dogs didn’t care if I messed up.
There’s a house near where I live that sits on a hill overlooking the lake. It’s white with a red clay roof, and I’d always been fascinated by it. So, for the story, I modernized it and called it “Casa del Lago.”
Some of the décor in the novel is similar to odd and ends I’ve seen in other people’s homes or picked up for myself, like the wooden crosses covered in milagros. In Texas , the Mexican culture is inescapable, and I think it’s a large part of who we are, even those of us with Anglo roots.
That's a lot of preparation, how long did it take you to write this book?
I spent about six months writing the first draft, but I didn’t write every day. I guess you could say I dabbled at it. I was still educating myself about the romance genre at the time, so my original intent was merely to see if I could write romance at all.
Prior to that, I’d written women’s fiction with comic and romantic elements. Little did I realize the romantic parts would prove the most difficult for me because they were so personal.. And people I knew might someday read them!
After I wrote the first draft, I added a subplot and edited and reedited ad nauseum. At some point, you just have to let go and hope for the best. But even now, I think of things I’d change given the chance. My editor practically had to pry the manuscript out of my hands, no small feat considering it was a computer file and I was in Texas and she was in New Hampshire !
Some writers say that they write their novels and scripts with a lead character in mind. If you could have any movie star play the two lead characters in this book, who would they be?
I really believe it’s important that readers envision characters for themselves. I’d much rather read the book before seeing the movie. My publisher was gracious enough to ask for my input, so I requested that any characters on the cover be “headless.” I am thrilled with the cover Kimberlee Mendoza designed. The heart-shaped leash was the perfect touch.
Considering the genre of this book, would you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
Actually, I’m pretty much a realist—these days. Until I met my husband in 1983, I’d had it with men and had given up on love. Like Julie, I’d always fallen for the wrong ones. I think I finally “grew” into love, which is much more satisfying than falling. The 26 years we’ve been together have been the happiest of my life.
When I was teaching, my high school students would always ask what my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day. “Every day is Valentine’s Day at our house,” I’d tell them. Is that hopelessly romantic? For me, it’s simply the truth.
If you could be any kind of dog, which one would you be?
Well, I took a test the other day on Facebook that said I was a poodle. I know some people say we look like our dogs, and since I have naturally curly hair… Actually, I don’t mind looking like a poodle. It’s better than looking like a Rottweiler. Not that there’s anything wrong with Rottweilers. I just don’t want to look like one.
Anyway, this was supposedly a personality test. Poodles are pretty high-maintenance, and if you saw me around the house, you’d laugh. My at-home “uniform” consists of gray yoga pants, black T-shirt, and flip-flops. No makeup. No bra. When I quit teaching I threw away all my pantyhose and swore I’d never wear them again. And I haven’t. I do fix up a little when I go out (I consider jeans dressing up these days), but I really love the days I get to stay home. After decades of getting up at 5 a.m. and grading papers into the wee hours (I taught high school English), I’m just loving this stage of my life..
What type of author do you want to go down in history as? What would you want people to say about you?
I’d be happy knowing something I wrote made someone laugh or lightened someone’s day. The world has enough tragedy and sorrow.
Are you currently working on a book?
My work-in-progress is called Desire Daily. It’s the story of a young woman who works as a nightside editor for the Desire Daily Democrat, Desire being the name of a mid-sized Texas town. When she loses a promised promotion to a man with Kennedy hair—a damned Yankee at that—she tells herself she’s taking revenge by making him the unwitting hero of her romance novel-in-progress. But will she get the last word? She also has a 190-pound mastiff named Carl who plays a minor role. As minor as a dog that size can play.
So Ann, if you could only choose one word that sums up Dog Nanny, what would it be?
And I'd agree! If there’s one book everyone needs to pick up, it’s Dog Nanny. It’s become an instant favorite of mine. Well I’d like to thank you Ann for chatting with me!
Thank you so much for having me here, Shannon. I’m glad you enjoyed reading Dog Nanny.