Interview with Jon Katz, Author of 'Rose in a Storm'




Jon Katz has written nineteen books—seven novels and twelve works of nonfiction—including Soul of a Dog, Izzy & Lenore, Dog Days, A Good Dog, and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Rolling Stone, Wired, and the AKC Gazette. He has worked for CBS News, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Katz is also a photographer and the author of a children’s book, Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm. He lives on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York with the artist Maria Heinrich; his dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore, and Frieda; and his barn cats, Mother and Minnie. Rose in a Storm is his latest book. You can visit Jon Katz’s site at www.bedlamfarm.com.  

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Jon. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing professionally and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Rose In A Storm?

I am an author, a photographer, and a writer of children’s books. I write about dogs, other animals, and rural life.

I’ve been writing professionally for 23 years, and this is my nineteenth book. I wrote novels, mysteries, non-fiction books about media and popular culture. Then I got a crazy border collie and wrote A Dog Year, which became an HBO movie of the same name starring Jeff Bridges.

Rose In A Storm is my first novel in a decade, and the first triggered by life on my farm, Bedlam Farm, in upstate New York where I live with my wife, Maria Wulf, an artist, four dogs, two donkeys and two barn cats. The real Rose – to whom the book is dedicated – is a ferociously intelligent and determined farm manager. She runs the place while I shout various commands, usually too late.

The novel was inspired by Rose, a working dog and by my desire to write a book that captured the way dogs really think, rather than the way we want them to think. I’ve seen Rose grow, and I often wondered what the limits are to a working dogs’ instincts, training, genetics, and sense of responsibility.

I think dogs have emotional landscapes, and I talked to many behaviorists to shape this narrative, which is, very faithful to the mind of a working dog. The book is the natural outcome of my life on the farm, living with Rose through many dramas – storms, coyotes, wild pigs, rabid raccoons and skunks, charging rams and savvy goats.

Dogs are believed to think like autistic children, according to many behaviorists. They use images and instincts to act and react and getting into the mind of a border collie was the toughest creative challenge of my writing life.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

My editor Jennifer Hershey chose it. Very simple, I think, captures the idea of a dog lost in a storm.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

You have to believe every book you write will be published, or it’s hard to survive the process. But editors and agents and marketers decide that, not me. I think everything I write should be published. How else could you write?

In this case, I wanted to explore the mind of a dog, and be faithful to the true nature of a dog. They don’t think like us, and they don’t have our language in their heads. We emotionalize and anthropomorphisize dogs so much. I think this one reflects the way dogs really think.



Q: Can you tell us the story behind your book cover? Did you choose it or did your publisher, Random House have full control? Were you happy with the decision or did you have something else in mind?

I love the cover, and was very happy with the decision to put my photo of my dog Rose on the cover. Random House does have full control, but they consulted me every step of the way. It’s a wonderful use of my photography, and it meshes the two disciplines – story-telling in images and narrative. I think the cover is quite lovely and perfectly captures the eerie feel of a farm in a big storm.

Q: How have you approached marketing your book? Do you have someone doing it for you or have you had to do most of the marketing yourself?

I use my blog, http://www.bedlamfarm.com/ which has about 300,000 visits a month. Very important tool for writers, and post to the blog several times a day, every day. I think it is critical to offer fresh content and it is so hard to get your message out with all the electronic and other clutter. I highly recommend blogs as a Godsend marketing tool for writers.

Besides, the idea of the writer holed up in his retreat is crumbling. Readers have expectations, they want and expect a dialogue with us. And I enjoy in engaging in one that is continuous – e-mail, texts, Facebook, blogs. Part of the great conversation, and it makes me a better writer with a keener sense of my readers.

I hear a lot of whining about the death of writing, reading and books, but that isn’t what I see. I think writing and reading is being liberated, even reborn.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I think my portrayal of a dog is different than other dog books. This isn’t a Disney dog. She isn’t cute. She’s not Superdog.

The fictional Rose is a real dog. She doesn’t talk, or think in human terms. She isn’t emotionalized, and she is admirable but not heroic. She does the things a real working dog might do. I think I’ve faithfully captured what I call the emotional landscape of a dog that gets the chance to live the life of a dog – as working dogs do. Few dogs get to make decisions or learn how to think independently. But working dogs do, and the fictional Rose certainly does. But within the real limits of a dog. She is not a superhero, and I did not put a human narrative or emotional structure inside of her head.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

Rose is sitting at the bottom of a hill, guarding her sheep as a pack of coyotes begin coming down the hill to pick off the starving, freezing ewes and lambs. Rose is alone on the farm, her farmer has been injured and helicoptered away. It is her responsibility, and she has to now make some decisions. The question is – can she make these kinds of decisions? This is my favorite part of the book.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

I’ve just finished a short story collection called “Dancing Dogs,” out next year from Random House. And I am finishing a book on grieving for animals: Going Home. Help when animals die. My first children’s book, Meet The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, will be published by Holt next Spring.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Jon. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Thanks back. My website is http://www.bedlamfarm.com/  and Rose In A Storm is available everywhere books are sold online or in bookstores.
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