Archive for December, 2005

Meet Max, a dog who deserves his own book

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

I’ve been getting just a ton of really great, wonderful e-mails from readers of Marley & Me. The good news is that I just love hearing from all of you; I laugh at your funny stories and share your ache at the inevitable goodbyes all dog lovers eventually face. The bad news is that I just cannot possibly answer each one personally, as I would like. I started out trying valiantly to do so. But with each week, the backlog grows. And as my agent keeps reminding me, ahem, I’m supposed to be working on a proposal for my next book, not spending all day chatting away. So instead, I want you to know that I do indeed read every single e-mail I receive, and that I’m enjoying them even if I can’t respond individually to most of them. Every now and again I will post one here on my blog that particularly resonates.

Which brings me to this very funny and very touching note I received from a medical doctor about his late, great (well, OK, that term is open to interpretation) dalmation, Max. As you will read, Max was a total character. Like Marley, he was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs you never forget. Here’s his story. It’s long but worth reading to the end. From Tony C.:

Dear Mr. Grogan,

I bought your book, Marley and Me, this afternoon while waiting to board a flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York. I don’t know what drew me to it- perhaps the subtitle, “The world’s worst dog”. I laughed and thought, “no way.” I’ve already finished the book. Couldn’t put it down.

I wanted to thank you for bringing back a rush of memories about my old Dalmatian, Max. He was my Marley.

I got Max when I was just finishing my first year of medical school in St. Louis in 1991. I drove 180 miles to a place near the Lake of the Ozarks, to a backyard breeder my dad had told me he had found in a newspaper. Dad figured I needed some company.

Max was one of only two pups in his litter. His three other siblings were stillborn. I was told originally that I couldn’t have him, because he was already promised to another family. However, when it became apparent that he had a “patch ear”- Dalmatians are born completely white, with no spots- and they didn’t want him, because a patch ear is a disqualification flaw for a show Dal. It’s a totally black ear. Their loss became my lifetime gain. Boy, did it.

I went to the kennel to meet him, and was immediately greeted by a rambunctious black and white ball of fur who would not stop climbing on me. I knew he was for me. I paid for him, the best 190 dollars I have ever spent, and drove back to St. Louis with my new companion. I had already chosen his name.

I suppose I should have known I was in for trouble when on the drive home, he wouldn’t stay still unless I allowed him to climb up into my lap. Once there, he would curl into a ball and go to sleep. Occasionally, I’d try to move him to the passenger seat. I’d set him down, and he’d immediately crawl across the parking brake and into my lap, where he’d once again fall asleep.

I wasn’t as forceful with him as you were with Marley. When I put him in his box the first night, the whining drove me crazy. I went to the kitchen, and moved Max and his box into my bedroom so he wouldn’t disturb my roomate. The whining wouldn’t stop. Finally, I relented, and put him in the bed with me. Not quite good enough. He finally quieted down and fell into a sound sleep when he was right next to my head. This started a tradition. He wouldn’t settle down until I let him next to my head.

He was a wild puppy. My roomate and I would go out for an evening to douse the pressure of medical school. Upon our return, we’d be greeted by Max jumping up and down on the couch, with the garbage strewn all over the house. It was as if he had to spread the garbage so that it would cover the entire floor. And when we came home, he’d be standing on the couch with his tail flying around, looking at us with his bright brown eyes as if to say, “Hey! Look what I did while you were gone! Isn’t it great?”

We took to keeping him in the kitchen when we were out, to limit the damage. We built a small barricade, about three feet high. That kept him out of the rest of the house for about two weeks. He’d climb right over it. The barricade gradually grew in size to nearly seven feet tall- we left six inches from the top of the doorjam. People who would come into the house thought we were holding King Kong in there. They were pretty much right.

Max found some new playthings while in the kitchen. His favorite was taking down the dishrack. He wouldn’t do anything with the dishes, but we had steak knives with wooden handles. For a while, at least. He’d get them down on the floor and chew all the wood right off them. We couldn’t afford new ones, so our guests thought we were like Aboriginies or something.

One night, we came home, and he had learned a new trick. He’d managed to pull up a corner of the linoleum tile in the kitchen. Once he got a corner up, it opened up a whole new world. We let him out, and to our horror, he had stripped the entire floor of the linoleum tile. He was quite proud of himself. Suffice to say, our landlord was less than pleased.

Like Marley, he turned into a monster. Dals usually reach about 55 pounds at maturity. Not Max. By the time he was a year old, he was already 75 pounds of pure, unadultered fury. Windows? Forget it. He would crash right through them. Screens? Lasted about 10 seconds. Tug toys designed to last three months? Lucky if they lasted three hours. He could unwrap the cover and core of a softball in about 10 minutes.

Max had his peculiarities. He could be resting on the couch, and I’d say, “Max, want to go to bed?” and he’d leap up and sprint into the bedroom. By the time I got there, he’d be lounging on the bed with a “what took you so long?” look in his eyes. When I had to study, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He’d climb up in my chair with me and put his paws and snout right in my textbook. He was a real character. I bought a harness for him. I’d take him to the nearby park, attach his harness to him and lace up my roller blades. He’d pull me around the park until I made him stop. But, like Marley, when I was sick or just not feeling up to it, he knew when it was time to shut it down. In those instances, he’s simply climb onto the couch with me, lay in my lap and go to sleep.

I moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1995 to go through my surgical residency. My then girlfriend, now my wife, moved with me from Long Island. Max became the third member of the house. Or, perhaps, the first member. Cathy would freak out when he climbed in bed with us, so he had to be broken of that. It took a while, but he did it. He’d sit with his head on my side of the bed while I scratched him. When he had enough, he’d saunter off into my den and climb up onto his new “bed”.

We never did totally break him of his love for sleeping on the furniture. Cathy and I would go out, and he’d go to sleep on a couch we allowed him on in the dining room. When we came home, the pillows on the living room couch would be tossed around. It was obvious he had been up there. He never could hide his guilt. When he did something he knew he shouldn’t, he’d “smile” at us when we got home. He’d pull his lips back and sort of snarl- it’s called a “smarle” and is a peculiarity of the breed. We’d go over to the living room couch and it would still be warm.

We moved to Florence, South Carolina when I finished my training. Max was eight at the time, and like Marley, was beginning to slow down. He’d still play whenever I wanted. We’d play tug, we’d play fetch, we’d wrestle, whatever I wanted to do almost every night. And as soon as I wanted the roughhousing to stop, I’d just say, “OK, buddy, that’s enough,” and it would end, and he’d come over and lick my face and plop down in my lap to get a belly rub. He knew exactly what the game was.

Gradually, he slowed. He started having trouble with his hips. He began to drag his back legs a bit, and the outside steps that he had once bounded up with consummate ease became his nemesis. As he started pushing 12 and over, he really slowed. He started doing things like messing in the house, which he never did. I never scolded him. I knew it wasn’t his fault.

He started to fall down on the wood floors. Cathy would call me and tell me he couldn’t get up. I’d come home, and as soon as he saw me – much like Marley was with you – he’d spring right up to his feet and greet me as if nothing was wrong. I told Cathy he was just being lazy- but I knew all was not right.

I spent more and more time with him. I’d just lay on the floor with him for hours on end. He loved it. He would curl up right next to me and go to sleep. I’d rub his belly and scratch his ears- oh, man, how he loved that- for hours. I knew the time was coming.

On November 29, 2004, the time came. He was having a terrible night. He was pacing fitfully and wouldn’t lie down. When he finally would lie down, he’d whimper as he tried to get up. I spent all night on the floor with him trying to comfort him. I took him outside, and I couldn’t get him to come up the stairs- not even with a bait of hamburgers. He just stared at me with this forlorn look in his eyes, as if to say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it anymore.”

I called my vet, who was kind enough to come over and take him to the hospital. I was afraid I couldn’t get him into the car. I cradled his old muzzle and gave him a kiss. About an hour later, I got the call – I knew what was wrong. His hips were OK, but he had a spur on his lumbar spine that was compressing his spinal cord. There were two options- operate on a 12 and a half year old dog, or- do the right thing. Which, sadly, I did.

I was a wreck for about six weeks. I had to take one day off work, something I’ve never done, not with 104 degree fevers, not with having my gallbladder out, not with multiple sinus surgeries. Each day, when I would drive home, I’d pass the animal hospital. I would cry each time. About six weeks after I put him down, I went to thank my vet for his help in Max’s last hours. I got about three words out of my mouth and my voice started to break. Dr. H. just put his hand on my shoulder. He didn’t have to say anything. He knew what I wanted to tell him.

Last February, we got a new Dalmatian puppy, Casey. He is a lot like Max, but different. He has his destructive tendencies; he’s already dug through the dry wall in three different spots in our laundry room, which is “his” room. But I never scold him. Never even crosses my mind. Even if it does look like a scene from “Escape From Alcatraz” in there. I know he’s not trying to be destructive. And I know, much to my chagrin, that his time will come, too. But like Max, I’m going to make the most of it. We have no children. He is our child. Just as Max was.

I haven’t had time to vent much after Max’s death. I feel sort of stupid about it. I see human suffering every day, but not one instance, not one, has touched me like that dog’s passing did. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wonder if something’s wrong with me.

Now, after reading about Marley, I know there’s nothing wrong with me. Like you, I’m totally normal. Thanks, Mr. Grogan. Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane. Something inside me can rest more peacefully tonight.

Sincerely, Tony C.

Whoa there now, Tony. My wife would definitely like to disagree with you about using me as a standard for normal. But let’s keep telling ourselves we are. :) Thanks for your story… I loved it, especially the part about Max racing into bed at the slightest invitation. Such a guy!

USA Today and the Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Two great media hits for Marley & Me

On the front page of the Life section in today’s USA Today, staff writer Carol Memmott wrote about the popularity of the book. Her opening paragraph: “There’s a reason that tissue packets are sometimes handed out at author John Grogan’s book signings. His Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (William Morrow, $21.95) may very well be the feel-good book of the year. It’s definitely the dog lover’s book of the year.”
She says “word of mouth and glowing reviews” has propelled Marley & Me into its 15th printing, with 550,000 copies in print. The story appeared beneath the headline, “Marley & Me: Bad dog makes good reading.” And it ran with a photo of me getting attacked by the Phantom Frencher herself, Gracie the new Lab. Gracie has a tongue like a heat-seeking missile and when she spots an open mouth she makes her move. The photographer snapped the shutter just as she was smashing her mouth into mine. It’s a pretty funny shot.

And last Friday, the Wall Street Journal ran a positive review in which writer Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg called Marley & Me “a riotous memoir,” and added: “Mr. Grogan may have questionable skills as a dog owner — he finds himself completely overmastered by Marley’s superior will — but he sure knows how to write, employing a chatty style that brings to mind that of fellow book-writing newspaper columnist Mitch Albom.”

The Gift Effect

Friday, December 16th, 2005

I’ve been doing a lot of book signings these past several weeks, and I’m beginning to better understand why Marley & Me is entering its eighth week on The New York Times Bestseller List (#5 this week) — people are buying multiple copies to give as gifts. I braved a sleet and ice storm last night to do a signing in North Wales, Pennsylvania, about 45 miles north of Philadelphia. About 35 hardy souls ventured out to meet me there. But what amazed me was that only a few of them bought single copies. The rest purchased multiple copies, two, four, seven. And then today a woman stopped by my office and asked if I could take a minute to sign copies she had bought for each employee at her horse farm. Sure, I said, thinking three or four. Then she brought in two big bags containing 25 copies. Wow, I told her. HarperCollins should make you an honorary board member or something.

A reporter for USA Today this week asked me to explain the phenomenon that was keeping Marley up on the bestseller list, propelling it into its 15th printing, soon to have more than half a million copies in print. I didn’t do a very good job explaining. The following letter, which I received today, I think gets closer at the dynamic than anything I was able to come up with. The writer, a teacher from Caifornia, knew nothing of the book, spotted it in her local bookstore, picked it up…and you’ll have to read to the end to see what happens.

I walked into Border’s Books today to buy a gift for my daughter’s third-grade teacher, and I saw Marley watching me from the book display inside the main door. “Life and love with the world’s worst dog…” There were two copies on the shelf, and I grabbed them both. For the past two weeks I have been reading exams and papers and calculating grades and somehow I just knew that a book about a really awful yellow Lab was just what the doctor ordered. And it was. I started reading it in the long checkout line. With a tinge of guilt, I bought only one copy and decided I would read it and share it with a friend. But I am keeping my copy. I can get another for a friend.
We put down our beloved almost-16-year-old black retriever mix on November 2. We got Ricky when he was 7 years old. I don’t think his tail ever stopped wagging as long as he was awake–until the very last day. I miss him so, so much. But he was such a mellow old guy. The worst thing he ever did was continually feast on the neighbor’s cat’s poop buried in our yard and then chase away the cat.
The year before, we lost Queenie, a floppy-eared red Queensland heeler mix with one blue eye and one brown eye, who was at our doorstep one day when I brought the kids home from school in 1997. Queenie downed a whole package of Costco hamburger buns, bag and all, and put herself in her never-used doghouse for it. While a landscaper ripped up our yard, we sent her next door to Grammy’s yard, but she somehow jumped the six-foot fence to get back home. I could never figure out how she did that. Whenever my husband dumped her out of his (her) recliner, she would strut out to the yard, come back in with a dried clump of poop, and drop it at his feet…and stare at him, eyeball to eyeball.
We have had other dogs, too. And now, for the first time in years, we are dogless, in a clean dogless house that is just…empty.
But reading your wonderful book about Marley has made me smile and cry and has so touched my heart, and I know that someday, somehow, another loppity what-not with a cold and very wet nose will find its way into our family.
Thank you for sharing so articulately and with so much heart, your journey through life with your wonderful dear friend. Thank you for sharing the joys and the sorrows. Your tribute to him is helping my heart heal.
And I am buying a copy of Marley & Me for my friend who just had to put down her yellow lab, Iris…and for my friend who has a loppity old shepherd who can scarcely see anymore…and for my friend who has a 9-month old mutt who is always in trouble for the dangdest things, and for our vet and his wife. What a beautiful gift you have shared with the world.
Jackie H., Walnut Creek, CA

Come chat with me

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

My newspaper, The Philadlephia Inquirer, lately has been sponsoring online live Web chats. The chat sessions bring readers together with staff writers and columnists to discuss whatever is on everyone’s minds. On Thursday at 11 a.m., it’s my turn. For an hour, I’ll be holding court at www.philly.com in a live chat, talking about Marley & Me, dogs, writing, columnizing, newspapers, publishing…whatever. We’ll go wherever the discussion leads us.

You know I’ll feel pretty darn dumb, sitting there alone if no one shows up. Or even worse, just me and one lonely crank who wants to know why his paper arrives wet in the morning. So if you have some free time, drop in and keep me company. I’ve done these things before and they’re actually a lot of fun.

So remember: Thursday, Dec. 15, 11 a.m. at www.philly.com. You’ll see the link for the Live Chat. Hope to see you there. And for those who can’t make it, philly.com archives these discussions so anyone can go in and read the transcripts after the fact.

Marley Mambos into Minneapolis

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

The Minneapolis Star Tribune gave Marley & Me a great review over the weekend. Book reviewer Rochelle Olson writes that she picked up the book, hoping it would cure her of her own lust to bring a dog into her quiet, well-ordered life.

She writes: “I came to the book as a skeptic. Who hasn’t heard enough stories about friends’ pets? Grogan doesn’t mess around with sentimentality. The story barrels directly ahead and never flags. He seamlessly weaves tales of the rambunctious, irrepressible Marley with those of his growing family — at the same time providing a strong sense of place in south Florida and rural Pennsylvania. Grogan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, writes with a reporter’s eye for detail and respect for words.”
Olson continues, “Grogan provides numerous laugh-out-loud, jaw-dropping anecdotes about his ‘triple-espresso’ fueled dog: A bouquet for the Mrs. is swallowed whole in the back seat of the car, the family garage is shredded during a storm. We won’t spoil the book for you by detailing the other Things Marley Ate. The author’s love never falters, even as Marley costs the family enough money to buy a small yacht.”
She concludes: “The book is a joyful trip, even to the inevitable — and yes, tear-jerking — end for Marley.”

To read the whole review, go to: http://www.startribune.com/stories/384/5767219.html

Behind the Bestsellers

Friday, December 9th, 2005

Marley & Me has risen to #5 on Publishers Weekly’s Nonfiction Bestseller List. And the magazine, which is the bible of the publishing industry, this week featured my book in its Behind the Bestsellers column. Wrote PW:

“Woof–this dog is hot. Morrow’s MARLEY AND ME, published October 18,
started out with a first printing of 50,000 copies and is now up to
400,000. Good reviews, solid media coverage and a successful
seven-city tour were some of the ingredients that gave the book some
bark. The publisher helped build the buzz with lots of advance copies,
doo-dads like stuffed animals, Frisbees and special tissue boxes, plus
appearances at all the regional shows. Beyond that, word of mouth has
really been building at both chains and independents. Morrow plans to
send Grogan on a spring tour.”

Successful media tour? Uh, did no one tell Publishers Weekly about me arriving in South Florida just in time to get hammered (and my signing canceled) by Hurricane Wilma? About the hotel windows blowing out and my rental car getting squashed by a tree? Did no one mention Atlantic City, where I showed up but the books didn’t? Or being marooned in Cleveland, killing time? Actually, yes, the book tour went off pretty much without a hitch, or maybe more accurately without many hitches unrelated to weather. And I’m ready to head back out again. But it will be coming a lot sooner than spring. With Marley & Me now at #3 on the Barnes and Noble Store Nonfiction List and #5 at both the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly lists, and about to go to #5 on The New York Times Bestseller List a week from Sunday, my publisher is anxious to get me back out on the road.

My next tour will probably begin in late January or early February. If you’re interested in coming out to meet me, you can check the “upcoming events” link in my opening note on the home page. Or here it is: http://www.harpercollins.com/authorevents.asp?ACT=AuthorEvents&EAuthorID=29441 HarperCollins keeps the site up to date and it shows every city I will be in. I’d love to say hi to you in person.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, I woke up this morning to eight inches of white fluff covering the hillsides outside my window. The temperature here in eastern Pennsylvania was in the low 20s, making for perfect powder, and, with school canceled, the kids were suited up and outside on their snowboards before I had even finished my first cup of coffee. My friends in Florida, where Jenny and I lived for 12 years and where much of Marley & Me takes place, ask me if I miss the year-round balmy temperatures. Sometimes, usually around late February when I’ve had enough of the cold. But I’ll take a fresh snowfall any day. I even (and this may sound warped and perverse) enjoy shoveling the stuff.

Moving up the lists

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

This past week was a very good one for Marley & Me. Those of you who have been following along know already that my book debuted in its first week out at #10 on The New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller List. The next week it dropped to #15 as several celebrity books came out of the chute. In week three it popped up to #9, then #8 in weeks four and five. And this coming Sunday it will move up to #7.

That general trend is being mirrored on The Barnes & Noble Store Bestseller List, where it has steadily notched up. Three weeks ago it was #6, two weeks ago #5 and last week, I just learned when the updated list was released last night, it clicked up two more spots to #3. Frank McCourt and Jimmy Carter were the only two nonfiction books selling at a brisker pace at B&N stores around the country last week, which is almost too crazy to comprehend.
As Laurie my agent said to me this morning: “A former president and a Pulitzer prize-winning memoirist; not bad company to keep.” Gosh, I guess not.

And finally, I also moved up on The Book Sense National Bestseller List, which tracks sales at independent bookstores across the country, and I’m now at #5 there.

Before signing off, let me tell you about a very cool Internet community I just discovered. Do I even need to say, it’s a community of over-the-top Labrador retriever owners and lovers? Actually, they discovered me. They’ve been talking about my book and one of them emailed me and invited me to drop in to chat. Man, they really now how to make a guy feel welcome. I wish my family reunions were this much fun. The site is worth checking out for all the goofy Lab photos alone. You can find it at: http://www.lab-retriever.net/board/ … If you search for “Marley” you’ll see what the talk has been about.
Over and out for now.