The thing about the journalism world, it’s a pretty tiny planet. When I started at my first newspaper job in 1979 I was surrounded by a lot of other young kids just out of college. We all followed similar trajectories, starting at small dailies and moving up to bigger papers as we progressed. What that means is that, 30 years later, I know reporters and editors at just about every large paper in the country. People I worked with in Michigan and in Florida — at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (featured prominently in the Marley & Me movie) and the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post — are now at The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and on and on.
Now that I’m writing books full time and spending a good part of my life on the road, my old colleagues and I keep bumping into each other. One of them is David Beard, who worked beside me in Florida and is now at the Boston Globe, where he is editor of the paper’s online edition, Boston.com. David is a smart and curious guy who loves to ask questions. Recently, he peppered me with a handful of them by email and this is what ran in the Globe on Sunday:
Marley author dogged with Aniston questions
January 17, 2009
By David Beard, Globe Staff
John Grogan is no Hollywood actor, but the Marley & Me author is having a Hollywood moment — and getting teased by guy friends about his cinematic ”wife,” Jennifer Aniston. We e-mailed back and forth with Grogan, who replied from his eastern Pennsylvania home.
Q. Can your year get any better? No. 1 movie in America for two weeks, and great reviews for your new book. How has your life changed since the Christmas premiere of Marley? Any doubletakes/weirdness at the supermarket checkout counter?
A. No, not really. The beautiful part of being a writer and not a screen actor is no one really knows or cares what you look like. Even though there is a major motion picture out there about my life and my family, we remain mostly anonymous once we get outside our immediate community.
Most of our friends and neighbors are naturally curious, so we get a lot of questions from them — and are happy to answer them. And of course every guy I know has made the same lame joke about volunteering to help Jennifer Aniston learn about the real John Grogan. Get in line guys!
Q.When an actor has a series role, they’re often identified with that role if they do a movie part or another series? Do you feel people will think you and your wife Jenny are ”just like” Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in the movie’s broad-brush adaptation of your book?
A. That doesn’t really concern me, and the reason is because I have two memoirs out there now — Marley & Me and my new book, The Longest Trip Home — that paint a detailed portrait of our lives in my own voice. The movie is not quite my book and not quite our real lives, and I think moviegoers, at least those who have also read or will read my books, understand that. It’s a fictionalized movie inspired by my book, not a documentary. The director and screenwriters took liberties, invented characters and scenes and fudged some facts to make the story work for screen. I’m fine with that, especially because I have my books as a public record of the real story.
I should add that I think the director David Frankel made a really beautiful film that captures the emotional truths of my family’s experience.
Q. I recently saw you and your wife on “The Dog Whisperer” on TV. Looks like you two still have some obedience issues with the new dogs?
A. Yes, to the charge of being the world’s most hapless dog owner, I hereby plead guilty. Cesar Milan from National Geographic Channel’s The Dog Whisperer, came to our home to work with us and our female Labrador retriever Gracie, whom we got after Marley died. Gracie’s basically a good, calm dog, but as Cesar pointed out, “She loves you but does not respect you.” My life story.
Now we have a second Lab. As shooting of the movie was wrapping up last May, the producers presented us with one of the puppies used in shooting. His name is Woodson and he is a handful of puppy antics and mischief. In one week alone, he ate a television remote (not chewed, ATE), raided a large bag of cat food, staged hourly raids on the toilet paper rolls, and snatched my father-in-law’s hearing aid and ran off with it. We’re working on his canine manners, and he’s making progress. But as my wife, Jenny, says on a daily basis to him: “It’s a good thing you’re so stinkin’ cute!”
Q. Was there a point where you thought, writing Marley, that maybe your family and neighbors would be the only people buying this book? That it would be an interesting experiment, but then you’d get along with your newspaper job?
A. I like to say I don’t so much pick my writing topics as they pick me. And so it was with Marley. It was just a story bubbling up from inside me, trying to get out, and I finally surrendered and began writing it down. I believed in the story and my ability to tell it, but always thought of it as a “little book,” a simple story about my own ordinary life. …
I pictured it finding an audience, but a modest one. Then it came out on The New York Times bestseller list … I never dreamed Marley’s final gift to me would be a book successful enough to allow me to quit my journalism job to focus full time on book writing, a vocation I truly love. Good dog, Marley!
Q. What’s next? Studios, publishers pressuring you for Marley II?
A. Well, my new memoir, The Longest Trip Home, came out this past October, and it was a more ambitious book for me to write than Marley & Me. I poured a lot of myself into it, and I’m very proud of it. But now I’m ready for a long exhale. …. I’m looking forward to spending the next couple months with my family, recharging my batteries, clearing brush, chopping firewood, and planning my spring garden.. …
I’m also finishing up a third illustrated children’s book, and will be starting a fourth after that. And yes, there’s another book for adult readers percolating, too, and I’ve been doing a lot of journaling and outlining about that. I’m not ready to talk about it in detail yet, but it’s welling up from inside me … Fortunately, writing does not feel like work to me. It’s all good.