The Dog Got My Book Deal

The Sweetest Meatball

So fuzzy! (Photo:  Kate Kelly Photography )

So fuzzy! (Photo: Kate Kelly Photography)

A few days after the terror attacks of September 11th, I adopted a dog.

Jubilation in canine form.

Jubilation in canine form.

I had gone to the Massachusetts SPCA and fallen in love with a six-month-old pit bull. She was like a little white meatball on legs, and my polar opposite: I'm very reserved and introverted, but this dog jumped and jumped (and boy, did she jump) when I approached, wagging every part of her muscular little body at me and licking in-between my fingers, in greeting.

So naturally I brought her home with me. It was just one of those things that I knew.

I named her Macey, and we walked and rode buses and trains together, all over Boston. I didn't train her very well, so she always pulled me—really hard—down sidewalks and concourses like the happiest little ox in town, introducing me to far more people than I'd otherwise meet. In public parks, she would get low on her belly and gently approach babies (little ones!) so that she could lick their faces until they laughed and sputtered—and their parents did, too. She also kissed nearly every homeless person we met, and she came to my office with me for awhile, to boot. My colleagues (and our clients!) could often be caught cooing and talking in silly baby voices during meetings. She was my icebreaker, my hype-man, my snuggliest and slobbery-est fan.

Macey died of bone cancer in early 2015. I couldn't bring myself to announce it on social media, or to write about it at all. But about six months later, still mourning her loss, I started writing a book set in 1819, and I gave my heroine Caro a pet dog who is "half-bulldog, half-terrier." And while I knew this was essentially an early pit bull, I thought I was making him just like any other pet dog: He sniffs and licks things he shouldn't, drools and sheds on the best furniture he can find, and gets a little too excited about squirrels. He was meant to be a minor character.

Toby! What a prince. And a very cute cover-doggo.

Toby! What a prince. And a very cute cover-doggo.

But early readers of my book fell in love with him—far more than I expected. My editor asked me to add more of him to the story, and my publisher is putting him on the cover. In other words, what I thought of as a small, side-element was in fact a major attraction, and to the very people who were investing in my book! Realizing this, I had to smile: Here was another pit bull who knew how to make friends fast.

So while the dog in the book is named "Toby," it might as well have been "Macey." I hadn't intended to write it that way. It's just that...Toby doesn't walk well on a leash, either. He drags Caro down the sidewalk, inspiring another character to describe him as a "small, hornless ox."

"Thank you...for miraculously infusing my book with your considerable charm..."

And he walks with his beloved Caro—a privileged young miss—through many a London neighborhood, kissing babies at will. He helps her meet people she might otherwise never meet, making everyone around him a bit richer, and a bit wiser, as a result. 

Just like my Macey.

So here's my belated acknowledgment to my own late, great, pit bull: My May-may, my Moe-moe, my "Albino Rhino." Thank you for teaching me about exuberance. About defaulting to love. About not wanting or needing to fight. And thank you, my dearest, furriest friend, for miraculously infusing my book with your considerable charm from somewhere beyond the grave. You quite likely helped me achieve my dream of becoming a published author. I miss you like crazy.

My book EVERYTHING BUT THE EARL comes out July 3rd but you can pre-order it here, and find it on Goodreads. To find out more about these wonderful dogs, I recommend checking out the advocacy organization BAD RAP.

I can't tell you how much I miss that face. Or how much I cried while writing this. (Photo:  Kate Kelly Photography )

I can't tell you how much I miss that face. Or how much I cried while writing this. (Photo: Kate Kelly Photography)