“Let me tell you what I wish I'd known /When I was young and dreamed of glory / You have no control / Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” —“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from “Hamilton”
I’m in the storytelling business. That’s what I do here, and it’s what I’ve done with part of my time ever since I read “Bunnicula” in the second grade and started writing stories narrated by dogs.
There is an entire series of these stories in my mother’s cedar chest. They are the life and times of a Scottish terrier named Peanut, so chosen because I didn’t know what a cairn terrier was and mistakenly thought that the dog who played Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” was a Scottish terrier, and also there was that funny little Scottish terrier in “Lady and the Tramp.”
These were children’s stories because I was a child, and I suppose all storytellers heed the advice of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, whether intentionally or not: “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
I can’t claim that the life and times of Peanut had not been written. In fact, I’m certain it probably had been. Originality has never been my long suit. But another thing about children is that they love repetition, and as far as I was concerned, there could never be enough books narrated by dogs because they couldn’t be written faster than I could read them, and that was a serious problem.
In middle school, I wrote a very trashy serialized drama called “The Peach Fuzz Plantation” which I mimeographed (yes, in purple) and distributed weekly. The characters were so scandalous and such thinly disguised versions of real people in my school that if I tried it today I would probably be sued for libel.
I was 13, though, so I guess people figured that was a lot of trouble to go to in order to win an Australian Shepherd, a Schwinn Stardust, and a sticker collection.
Also, I’m fairly certain that had I unwittingly written about a believable scandal, no one would have bought it, jumbled up as it would have been with such unlikely occurrences as the “Coach Sawyers character” flitting off to Monte Carlo on his private jet. I seem to recall that my choir teacher owned a vineyard or some such.
I had spent a lot of the previous summer with my Aunt Juanita, and she had me watching “Another World” and “Falcoln Crest.” Thus, everyone in the fictional town of Peach Fuzz, Georgia was very, very rich.
Again, not especially original. But now that I think about it, neither were “Another World” and “Falcoln Crest.” The prime time soaps were all so similar that it’s hard now to remember which one was which. I’m fairly certain the Ewings on “Dallas” were oil money, but I can never remember which one was a vineyard and which one a real estate empire. Joan Collins was on one of them, and there was a different blonde on each, and eventually they all featured a cat fight and an alcoholic who frankly didn’t seem to drink any more than every single other character, but always seemed to be drunk.
And don’t get me started on the daytime soaps. Marlena Evans being possessed by the actual devil on “Days of Our Lives” was both the only original soap opera plot ever produced and also the stupidest. That’s how far the writers had to go to do something that hadn’t been done in the soap opera business before.
Ever since the Fonz literally jumped over a shark on his motorcycle, television fans have been talking about shows “jumping the shark” when they go too far afield looking for original storylines. In the soap opera world, the “shark bar” is 412 feet in the air. It’s a flying shark; you have to get really high to jump it.
Over the years, I’ve written all kinds of stories, from literary short stories to narrative poems to lengthy non-fiction profile pieces. And never think that just because a story is factual that it isn’t “written.” What you choose to quote, to reveal, to leave out, and to juxtapose is just as much an act of storytelling as making things up out of whole cloth, maybe more so because it must do justice to a real person or event.
I’ve been thinking about my childhood writing recently because, as luck would have it, I seem to have come full circle. A few days ago a good friend contacted me about collaborating on a book about shelter dogs to benefit the local animal shelter.
I’m all in, of course. And I hope you’ll buy it when it hits the market.
Because I have always believed that there can’t possibly be enough books narrated by dogs.
Well, maybe not always, but ever since I read “Bunnicula” in the second grade.
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