Hi Eric and welcome to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. Congratulations on your new book, THE WIZARD’S DOG, scheduled to be launched next week. I’ll have a review later this month. First off, how did you decide to become a writer?
I actually first became interested in writing because of acting! In middle school, I was in every single play and musical. I was a waiter in Hello Dolly, a butler in Annie, and a popcorn vendor in State Fair. I was usually in the chorus, and frequently service-people, and I would have been fine with that if I’d thought the plays were a little better. But as much as I loved the art of acting, I didn’t like the material that I was acting.
A friend of mine (who is also a writer today) suggested that we could write our own play to act in. This had never occurred to me. We wrote film scripts and a few short plays. By college, I’d written a full play that I was really proud of, but I couldn’t get a production mounted anywhere. Plays took money to produce, and I was unable to produce any money. If this play were instead a novel, I realized, it would cost me about 10¢ a page to print it out at Fedex office and I would have a complete work of art.
That’s what turned me to book writing and ten years later I’d transformed that play into my second novel, The Zoo at the Edge of the World.
Very cool beginnings! Your books are often based on your own experiences like THE BULLY BOOK. Where did the idea come from for THE WIZARD’S DOG?
My wife and I have an adorable Chow Mix called Bowser. In our first apartment together, I noticed Bowser’s intense fascination with the sounds our neighbors made in the hallway beyond our apartment door. He would stare at the door and get very excited whenever I opened it to let someone in or to go out for a walk.
I don’t know if this is typical, but in our household 30% of the conversation between my wife and me is talking in Bowser’s voice. The voices and concerns of the Bowser character have changed over the years, but early in our relationship I had him speaking like a young British boy who was endlessly fascinated by the Magic Door that sealed our apartment off from the world. I imagined he saw me as a wizard for my door opening and food producing powers and joked about it endlessly.
But it wasn’t until years later when I was desperately searching for a new book premise that this joke came back to me and I saw what fertile ground it was for a story. I’d always dreamed of writing a book from the point-of-view of a dog and it felt so good to finally have an angle from which to approach it.
And it came off great! What challenges did you have writing this fantasy adventure?
Nosewise’s character voice was hard to pin down. He is the first-person narrator of the book and therefore uses language to tell his story, so some anthropomorphizing of Nosewise was necessary. Yet, I wanted him to maintain the point-of-view of a dog, so early in the book, though Nosewise accurately relates events to readers, he doesn’t really understand them. For example, in the first scene, Nosewise’s master Merlin is instructing his apprentice Morgana in the art of casting magical light. Nosewise sees Merlin acting similarly to how he did when he taught Nosewise to Sit, Stay, and Roll Over, and conflates the dog tricks he learned with the spell-casting skills Morgana is acquiring. He wonders why the tricks Merlin taught him are so lame in comparison.
Keeping his narration funny, balanced and plot-driven was very difficult and probably the reason why I rewrote this novel about ten times before finally getting it right.
I’m glad you kept at it! Your main character, Nosewise, sounds like my kind of dog. What are some of his endearing traits that readers will surely become attached to?
Nosewise was born into an abusive household and abandoned like so many dogs in our world today. Merlin rescued him from a dire situation and gave him a loving home that Nosewise treasures above all else. He wants to be in the same room as Merlin at all times, always doing what he is doing, and he hates being separated. That’s why when Merlin is kidnapped, Nosewise travels through danger and over great distances to rescue him.
But he is also frustrated by the limits of a dog’s place in the world. He hates the un-openable doors that block Nosewise from the study when Merlin and Morgana are studying magic, from the food in the fridge, and from the “bathroom” in the garden. He can’t go into all of the places where humans can. Nosewise’s acquisition of magic and the freedom and agency it brings him is one of my favorite aspects of the book.
Now that you are a seasoned veteran in the writing trenches, what aspect of publishing has been the most difficult?
Not writing! Some authors have dozens of book ideas in the pipeline and they just pick up the next one whenever they finish a book. I’m not so lucky. Luckily, I’ve been giving the opportunity to work on a sequel to The Wizard’s Dog so I get to stay in this wonderful world and keep hanging out with these characters. But someday, this series will come to an end and I’ll need to look for another idea!
I love writing everyday, but when you’re searching for a new idea, you’re not really writing. You’re brainstorming. You’re grasping at straws and you’re trying new stuff out. Sometimes you might even think you’ve hit on a great idea only to discard it a day, or a month later. Then you’re right back to not writing. And that is the worst.
Writers will have empathy with your answer. So… Nosewise is up for more adventure. Any hints as to what comes next in The Wizard’s Dog series?
I wish I could write Nosewise novels for the rest of my life, but I think I’m going to have to settle for three. I’m in the process of finishing up The Wizard’s Dog’s first sequel and I’m loving it so much. The fantasy is bigger, brighter and deeper with lots of new Fae characters and an adventure that takes our heroes through several layers of the Otherworld. I can’t say much about it now except that they’re searching for a certain magical cup in hopes of saving a dying friend.
Thank you Eric for your thoughtful answers. You can find more about Eric at his website.
And… Wait, what’s this? Here’s the trailer for THE WIZARD’S DOG: