Archive for September, 2005

A new friend in Florida…

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

A couple of hours ago I received this great e-mail from Julie H., a bookstore employee in northern Florida. She writes:

Dear Mr. Grogan,
As a part-time employee, I am offered advance copies of books that will be published in the near future. This way, when new titles are published and put on the shelves, we can recommend them to customers, having read them in advance. This being said, I plan on consistently recommending your book, Marley & Me, which had me in tears as I finished it on the couch today. Your writing style is so captivating and comical – I often found myself turning to my husband and saying, “Babe, you gotta hear this part…” Both my husband and I could relate to the first half of the book, since we are a young, married, working couple, who currently have two dogs; Sadie is 2 and Gunnar is 12 weeks, both are Italian Greyhounds (a far reach from huge Marley, but similar in devotion and antics). I found myself laughing (out loud!) with you as you described Marley’s pursuits. I snickered at the chapters involving Boca Raton – we live in the Jacksonville area, but are familiar with the south Florida culture that you wrote of. And I cried when your wife had her miscarriage and found comfort from her loyal Marley, as I did too about one year ago from my Sadie.
Your book has touched me and affirmed my belief in the wonderful canine spirit that strives to be “man’s best friend.” I hope that, should you make any appearances in this area in the future, I will be able to meet you and personally thank you for writing this tribute to your dog Marley. Thank you for giving the public an honest and personal look at what life can be like with a dog, and a huge Lab at that! Through this story and your life with Marley, you have reminded me to take in the little pieces, to not take my life for granted, and to enjoy every moment with my husband, future children, and my loyal dogs.
– Julie H.

Thanks for the great feedback, Julie. I loved your letter. I’m so gratified that my book struck a chord and touched you. What better compliment could an author possibly receive? If I’m ever in the Jacksonville area, you can count on me stopping in to talk “bad dogs” with you. — John

Hot Off the Press

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

My editor, Mauro DiPreta, on Monday sent me the email I’d been breathlessly awaiting for weeks. The header on the message: “Books are here!” Finally. The finished product, the hardcover version of my book, the one I have been babysitting in one form or another for the past 18 months, was off the press.
“I just received a few beautiful copies of MARLEY from the printer. You’ll be receiving them tomorrow,” Mauro wrote. And, sure enough, a truck pulled up to my house Tuesday with two copies of Marley & Me. My hands were actually trembling as I opened the package and pulled them out. Now I know how a new mom feels after a long hard delivery when the nurse places her child in her arms. I almost put the damn thing to my chest and tried to get a burp out of it.
Just as a mother would count fingers and toes, I flipped through the pages, counting chapters and checking type. All pages present and accounted for. No obvious typos. The printer didn’t screw up and put a poodle on the cover. No, on the cover, below the words “world’s worst dog,” right where he belonged, was Marley, staring up at the camera with head cocked and that “Who? Me?” look on his face. On the inside covers are a dozen or so photos showing him at various stages of his life.
And so it’s official. The book is done. The book is real. It looks great. It even smells great. And on October 18 it will be in bookstores across the country. Now, that will be another trip and a half.
Can you tell I’m slightly excited?

Book Lovers Rock!

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

My publisher, Wm. Morrow/HarperCollins, over the last few months has shared a lot of advanced bound galleys of Marley & Me with booksellers across the country. The theory: If the people who sell books open this one and start reading, they’ll finish it — and want to recommend it to their customers. The strategy appears to be working. I’ve been hearing from a number of booksellers who seem to be doing just that. The most recent e-mail arrived today from Karen C., a bookstore manager in Tennessee who also happens to be the owner of a Marleyesque incorrigible-yet-irresistible shepherd mix she affectionately calls “Knucklehead.”

She writes: “I read the ARC [Advanced Reading Copy] in one sitting; what a terrific tribute to a beloved pet! I am the manager of a bookstore and will be featuring Marley & Me as my recommended title for the upcoming holiday season. Thanks for such a hilarious and moving book.”

And thank you, Karen, for the great note — and for recommending my book to your readers. I’m starting to love booksellers almost as much as those crazy librarians. Book lovers rock!

Galley Talk

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

In this week’s Publisher’s Weekly, the Galley Talk column features Marley & Me. Amanda Snook, marketing manager at Schuler Books in Lansing, Michigan, writes in the column:
“I cried like a baby at the end of John Grogan’s Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (Morrow, Nov.). We’ve been passing this galley around, and everyone loves it so much that we’ve started calling it Tuesdays with Marley. I have a feeling it will appeal to people looking for a good, simple story with honest emotions. Some books today are so complicated that we forget the power of a good story well told, and that’s what this book is all about. … It’s not something I would have normally picked up, but Grogan’s funny and moving story grabbed me. Good books evoke an emotion from you, and this one certainly does that.”

And a review that uses the words “funny and moving” and “everyone loves it so much” evokes a certain emotion in me — pure joy! The responses from early readers continue to roll in, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Make that awed and humbled. Counting the days till the Oct. 18 release. Pins and needles.

Speaking of responses from early readers, I also received this note from Sue R., a bookstore manager in Tennessee: “Our general manager asked me today if I had read anything else lately that I wanted to recommend to our other store team leaders and to our corporate office, other than Marley and Me, and I told him thatNOTHING is going to compare to that book! …[A] great, terrific, heartwarming, adorable book.”
Wow, now that’s enthusiasm. And what better trait could an author ask for in a bookseller? You go, Sue!

Favorite Season

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

Labor Day is now past, which means we have just entered my favorite eight weeks of the year. This is my season. From the day after Labor Day until Halloween is the divine time. It’s still warm, but the humidity has left the air. The nights are cool enough for a blanket. Sunset, that late-night, forever delayed celebration of summer, is again coming at a more civilized hour. Tonight by 7:30, dusk was already upon us; in July, the coals for dinner would not even have been lit.
Out in the garden, the sunflowers and tithonia and Joe Pye weed are in full, lusty bloom. The goldenrod has turned the meadows to yellow. The roses have put out their second, late-season bloom. An endless supply of ripe tomatoes and pungent basil and fresh pole beans and squash and peppers are there for the picking. Life is good. A few weeks ago I harvest several dozen heads of garlic; they are now dried and papery and perfect, hanging in the garage where I can pick a head at will, crush cloves into olive oil, add diced tomatoes and basil, spread it over crusty bread. Bliss.
With each week now the days will grow shorter, the nights crisper, the signs of another season of slumber fast approaching. It will be time to split and stack the firewood I cut last year out deep in the woods behind my house. A fallen cherry tree, a dropped walnut, a couple poplars…they will be the blazing good-cheer of winter nights to come. Soon frost will nip at dawn, leaving its hoary silvery crust upon the grass. I’ll be out there at midnight, covering the tomato plants with old blankets, trying to squeeze a couple extra weeks out of them.
The light is different this time of year, golden and slanted and full of hope. A light you’d expect in Tuscany, and yet here it is on a sleepy hillside in Pennsylvania, shafting through the white pines, bathing the towering cornfields in gauzy gold, dancing over the soybeans. A happy light.
A happy light, and yet this is the very same light of 9/11. The light of that brilliant and dreadful day. And so the heart’s surge is tinged with sadness. You see that light, you smell the earth’s fecundity, you take in the bountiful harvest in the fields, and it all comes back. And it will always come back. The gentle season forever will hold this now, too. At least for this lifetime, it will stand as the most eloquent memorial to that day. Nature’s way of saying goodness and gentleness will in the end prevail.
It is the kind season, the season of blinding light. My favorite season of all. And yet, now, it too is something more.

Hurricane deja vu

Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Like just about everyone in this country, I’ve been watching the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans and surrounding areas with horror and awe. Lest anyone think modern man can dominate nature, Katrina is a yet another reminder of just how frail and helpless we are in the face of natural forces. Giant oil platorms surging loose across the Gulf of Mexico, huge earthen dams giving way, new buildings, constructed to the latest codes, shattered. Man, it’s humbling stuff.
As this natural disaster unfolds I keep having flashbacks to Hurricane Andrew, which swept into South Florida in 1992. We lived in a small but solid bungalow a block and a half from the Intracoastal Waterway (read my description of it in Chapter 1 of Marley & Me at ). Our first child had just arrived three months earlier. We had a wild dog — yes, good ole Marley — who went totally postal at the first rumble of thunder. Even sprinkles on the windowpane threw him into a panic. Many of our friends and neighbors were evacuating. We decided to stay and stick it out. It was probably a rash decision, but we had our reasons. Our house was built like a bunker, solid concrete block with a raised floor three feet off the ground and heavy Dade County pine roof trusses tied into the concrete. The previous owner had custom made heavy lumber shutters for each window. We figured we were as safe there as just about anywhere, even though a storm surge likely would have engulfed the house. As dumb as it sounds, we knew we couldn’t take Marley to a shelter with us, and we couldn’t find any boarding kennels with openings. We couldn’t just leave him alone in the house. “Hell yes, you could have,” you’re probably saying. Yeah, we could have, and probably should have, but we wouldn’t.
Besides, this was one of the biggest news stories of the decade bearing down on South Florida, and I was a newspaper reporter. I had to work. We agreed Jenny, the baby, and Marley would sit tight, and I would get home to them before the hurricane made landfall. Before leaving for work, I hoisted the heavy shutters in place, an exhausting job that left me drenched in sweat, emptied the yard of all potential projectiles, filled the bathtub and every spare container with water, and loaded fresh batteries into the flashlights and radio. Then I drove to Fort Lauderdale to cover the evacuation. Talk about weird experiences: As I drove south on I-95, the oncoming northbound lanes across the median were bumper to bumper with traffic heading out of town. On my side, I was totally alone. Not another southbound car in sight. Uhhh, what’s wrong with this picture?
I filed my copy and, taking side roads, made it back home by nightfall. For a while, Andrew’s eye was predicted to make landfall just north of our home, and I was increasingly second-guessing our decision to stay put. What had we gotten ourselves into? But with each hour, the hurricane turned southward, and when it finally roared ashore in the middle of the night, it was south of Miami, 70 or so miles away from us. We got hammered pretty good nonetheless; many trees and tree branches came down, powerlines crossed the streets, roof tiles had blown off. And, I would soon learn, that was nothing compared to what lay to the south of us.
The next day I made my way into the hard-hit areas of Dade County and was flabbergasted at the destruction. For miles and miles, homes were reduced to piles of splinters. And then right next door, inexplicably, a house would sit barely damaged. I remember whistling to myself and saying, “It’s going to be months and months before these people get their lives back.
Now, watching the coverage of Katrina, it’s Andrew all over again — times 10. For so many of the survivors, there is nothing to rebuild. Nothing at all. And they are the lucky ones. They have their lives. It won’t be months. It will be years, if ever. Humbling, indeed.