Where else would I meet a fabulous pet prognosticator other than the dog park?
Since I have no dogs, I brought a bunch of hot dogs, which seem to be causing a problem with all the other guests.
After climbing a tree to safety, I give up the goods. Laura arrives with her pet Pippin, the star of her latest book The Corgi Chronicles. Pippin politely didn’t try to eat me.
We sit on a bench and converse.
You have published several articles about animals in national magazines thanks to your veterinary background. How did that get started?
I published my first national article in 2001, in Veterinary Forum, a magazine which accepted unsolicited submissions. From there my career expanded into other veterinary magazines, and then to publications for pet owners, and then finally to science-based magazines for children.
What early books influenced you to take the leap and begin word-smithing? A particular book?
I love James Herriot’s books about veterinary practice in Yorkshire in the 1930’s. If you haven’t read them, you should. He was a brilliant storyteller; his characters and settings are gloriously rendered. Although he writes about his patients, the animals are really secondary to the human stories. Anyway, I’ve read his books several times over my life, and one time was when I was off work for six weeks after knee surgery. I started to think, “If he could do it, so can I,” so I began writing down stories of my clients and patients. Very few ever saw the light of day, but it got me started.
What interested you about children’s fiction?
I didn’t read much children’s fiction when I was actually a kid; I was reading Agatha Christie and Stephen King by age twelve. It was only after I had kids of my own that I started reading a ton of kids’ lit. I love picture books, although my kids have outgrown them. And I think the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s magnificent Harry Potter series made it socially acceptable for adults to read middle-grade and young-adult books. There are so many really talented MG and YA authors out there that I read a lot of YA even without my kids.
What was the most surprising benefit to writing?
Not sure it’s a benefit, but one side effect of writing is a much greater awareness of writing and editing. I’ve thrown away books because they’re poorly written or edited, but a well-written and well-edited book can keep me captivated for days.
What do you think makes a good story?
Genuine emotion and character progression. For example, in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, two of the most interesting characters in my opinion are Egwene and Mat, because they both mature in unexpected ways as they progress along their arcs.
Do you have any weird writing quirks?
I don’t think they’re weird, but I do most of my writing on my little old netbook, sitting cross-legged in my green recliner, listening to classical music, and drinking Earl Grey tea.
What book are you reading now? Or, what do you like to read now?
Currently I’m reading Robert Jordan’s enormous Wheel of Time series (epic fantasy). I started reading the series over twenty years ago and re-read many of the earlier volumes multiple times, but never read the final volumes until now. After Mr. Jordan passed away in 2007, the series was finished by Brandon Sanderson, and he did a great job of not mimicking but honoring Mr. Jordan’s writing style and legacy.
Lately I’ve also been trying to read more nonfiction. I feel guilty for not taking more history classes in college so I’ve recently read several books about WWII.
What are you most afraid of?
That’s a loaded question, Erika! Afraid of related to writing? Not much; when you deal with life and death on a daily basis, rejection from agents or editors loses its scariness. But afraid of in life? Losing my mind in the literal sense. I had a concussion a few years ago. When I came to, I knew my husband and knew that I was a doctor, but couldn’t remember anything else. I knew I couldn’t practice medicine if I didn’t remember, and it scared the crap out of me.
Tell us a bit about Corgi Chronicles. How did it come to pass?
First, some back-story: corgis are a breed of dog with short legs, big ears, and foxy faces. They originate from Wales; in Welsh mythology, fairies ride on corgis’ backs because they are too small to ride on horses. My family has had corgis for several decades, and my current corgi is Pippin (named after the hobbit in Lord of the Rings).
Now the story about the book: I have two daughters, and for some reason they love everything sparkly, pink, princessy, or fairy-related. (I’m more of a blue jeans and fire engines girl myself.) A few years ago they were watching the Tinkerbell movie for the hundredth time, and I started idly typing about Pippin and fairies. The idea of Pippin, household suburban pet, secretly acting as a steed for fairies, developed into the book.
How long did it take you to write Corgi Chronicles? In dog years, human years or fairy years?
In human years, I wrote the majority of the book in just a few months, but revisions took longer, and then of course the endless cycle of submissions and rejections.
Tell us a bit about Pippin!
Pippin the real dog is a six-year-old male Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He is bossy but loyal, and keeps us all safe. Pippin the fictional character is unsure of himself but also fiercely loyal to his fairy. Both Pippins are talented writers; the real Pippin maintains his own Facebook page.
What was the most surprising thing about writing or publishing Corgi?
That you can do it yourself! I submitted it to a gazillion agents and no one was interested but I knew it was marketable. The publishing house, Alternate Universe Books, is actually just me and some writing/ editing/ graphics designer friends. If you have access to talented editors, artists, and graphics designers, you don’t need a traditional publishing house.
Every book brings out lessons learned from past experiences. What experience led you to writing Corgi Chronicles?
For some reason, it seemed natural to write in the first person from the dog’s perspective. Pippin’s insecurity probably reflects my own insecurity as a veterinarian, especially during the first few years of practice.
You work full time as a doggy doctor. How do you balance that with writing?
Balancing parenthood with writing is actually harder than balancing a job with writing. My work schedule is four 11-hour shifts per week, and I usually have a couple weekdays off. When the kids are at school, those are my writing hours.
Laura is a veterinarian, mom and writer. She has published many nonfiction articles in magazines for children (AppleSeeds and ASK) and adults (including Veterinary Economics and HealthyPet). The Corgi Chronicles is her first novel.
Corgis are a big-eared, short-legged herding dog breed from Great Britain. (The Queen of England has had dozens of corgis over the years.) In Welsh mythology, fairies ride on corgis because they are too small to ride on horses. My personal pet corgi, Pippin (named after the hobbit in Lord of the Rings), inspired the story. Check out Corgi Chronicles here!
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