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"Life and Death at the Dog Park"

The story behind the story...

The story behind the story...

Somebody smarter than me once said, “write what you know.” I spent a lot of time hanging out in a non-sanctioned dog park near Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. The characters in the novel are all based on real people – as are the dogs. The park is located near the sight of an unsolved mystery involving the death of congressional intern Chandra Levy, whose remains were found nearby.

The people who frequented the park were an interesting cross-section of individuals whose paths would probably never cross were it not for their love of dogs. In my mind, I had character sketches of interesting people, and a ripe setting – all I needed was a plot.

I started with a dog finding a bone in the park. In this case, a human leg bone and then just tried to stay out of the way while the charters did their thing. The point of view comes from two characters, Vivien Szabo, a retired Secret Service agent who finds herself drawn into the mystery and her dog, a black Labrador Retriever named Mooky.

I thought it would be a fun writing challenge to give Mooky a voice while keeping her strictly within a dog’s frame of mind. I wrote a chapter as Mooky, just to see what it would sound like and I kind of liked it. I’m a member of a novel group where each month we submit pages and gently critique each other’s work. The group accepted Mooky and encouraged me to write more for her.

I wrestled with how much Mooky could say, how often we should hear from her and how to keep her integral to the plot without the novel turning into an episode of “Lassie. I questioned the wisdom of my decisions but tried to reassure myself by acknowledging other dog-centric works of fiction, starting with one of my literary heroes, Jack London who penned a couple of furry tales called “White Fang,” and “Call of the Wild."

The most problematic section of the book for me was the ending and I still wonder if there was a better solution than the one I chose. I wrote three different endings, one a bit more bloody and another a bit more tidy. I worked all of them through the group and picked the one that the members had the least complaints about.

“Dog Park” was shopped around to agents and publishers for years. I was about to give up, read the book once more and was proud of the work which inspired me to form Big Gorilla Press and learn the publishing business. I’m currently 100 pages into the sequel and have another title, without any dogs in it, ready to go off to the editor.

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