I first wrote about animals when I wrote about my two labs—Julius and Stanley—in Running to the Mountain, the first in a series of memoirs about gradually escaping New Jersey and moving to a remote corner of upstate New York.
When you write about animals, of course, you are really writing about the people who love and live with them. Animals mirror and reveal us. Dogs in particular are often reflections of us, and what we need them to be.
When I wrote about media and technology, I had a lot of lonely, even intimate book talks. Since writing about dogs, I have a lot of company at book signings.
A reporter asked me recently why there are so many dog books. I told him I always wondered why there aren't more, since so many people want to read them.
Dogs and other animals—goats, donkeys, cows, a grumpy rooster—continue to change my writing life.
Julius and Stanley helped me write my first book about living upstate and sparked my memoirs. A border collie named Orson inspired me to buy a 110-acre farm with four barns and a sheep. That led to a series of books about Bedlam Farm and about dogs, rural life, lambing and herding sheep.
Since coming to the farm in 2003, my workaholic border collie, Rose, has helped me survive and keeps order. Has graced the cover of two of my books, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm and Soul of a Dog. Now she is involved in a third. Watching her grow, make decisions, evolve and support my life led me to make another major writing change.
I am returning to fiction. The book, called Rose in a Storm to be published by Villard Books in 2010, is about a working dog (not the real Rose) left alone on a farm with sheep and cows and chickens during a crippling blizzard.
Rose has been making decisions since she was six months old, and the novel's central character is a dog confronted with many decisions, some of them awful.
Rose not only inspired the book, but watching her these years gave me the confidence to try writing it. I can't remember trying anything quite so challenging as a story narrated by a character who can't speak in words and has no spoken language.
Other things about my work have changed.
A little more than a year ago, I got a black Labrador puppy named Lenore. As is common in her breed, she changed the farm by her persistent wooing of every creature here, from the donkeys to the notoriously standoffish barn cats.
Her loving ways inspired me to take on children's books, and I am doing several of them for Holt. The first is called Lenore Finds a Friend and is the true story of Lenore's burgeoning friendship with an irascible ram named Brutus. Seeing the two of them nuzzle one another and hanging out together all summer in the pasture led me to realize the appeal of capturing the lives of animals for kids.
I'm not sure anybody really knows why they write. I have some clues, though.
In part, I write these books because I am open to the ways in which animals challenge and transform us. And I know that when I take up fiction and children's books, the change is about me, not the dogs.
|Jon Katz is the author, most recently, of Soul of a Dog: Reflections on the Spirits of the Animals of Bedlam Farm (Villard).|