Back at the height of the Marley & Me craze – just as the movie was coming out in December 2008 – City & Shore magazine, a slick glossy catering to South Florida’s monied waterfront set, ran a cover story on me. I had been a writer and columnist at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale for a dozen years before moving on, and the magazine thought it would be interesting to tell the story of my journey from local scribe to bestselling author.
The piece was written by Jonathon King, a former colleague of mine whose work I have always admired, and I remember thinking he had done a good job. (You can read it here: http://www.cityandshore.com/archive_pages/JonathonKing.html )
Flash forward to last week when the magazine got back in touch with me, looking to run a short update via an email interview.
Here is our back and forth:
Q – I saw the recent Newsweek “dogoir” piece [in which the magazine credited Marley & Me with spawning a new publishing niche]. Is Marley still a “phenomenon”, or has that phase ended?
A – The Marley rollercoaster ride has certainly slowed down, but I still receive emails everyday from readers all over the world telling me how the book touched them. The book is now out in more than 40 languages, including Vietnamese, which I find eternally surprising. The thought of a family in Hanoi relating to my story about an American couple in Florida makes me smile. Who could have ever imagined?
The Marley & Me movie also continues to find new viewers who reach out to me. Of course, they assume I look like Owen Wilson, am married to Jennifer Aniston and am best friends with Eric Dane, but hey, it’s all good.
Q - Sales topping 6 million. Is that accurate?
A - Yes, something like that, in all languages.
Q - Has the Marley enterprise taken over your life, or have you been able to move beyond it? Do you even want to move beyond it?
A- No, it hasn’t hijacked my life at all. I’d say for a couple of years it did. But, even amid all the excitement of the bestseller lists and the movie’s making and release, I managed to write my second book, The Longest Trip Home, which is now out in paperback. I also wrote five Marley-themed children’s books and continue to oversee the release of a string of I Can Read books that I do not write. But that only takes a small percentage of my time. Very early on in the process, right after Marley hit the bestseller lists, I knew I did not want it to take over my life or to define me as a writer. And it hasn’t. The Longest Trip Home, my growing-up memoir, has nary a mention of a pet in it.
Q - The next children’s book is coming out in October 2011. Anything else on tap, children’s or adult? A novel maybe? Basically, what’s next for you?
A - I’m writing for myself and exploring a few possible projects. I took the summer off after a busy spring book-tour season, and since then have been journaling and sketching and outlining. I’m simultaneously building files of copy and notes for what I hope will turn into future projects. At a certain point I will have to decide which one to get serious about.
Q - How old are your kids now?
A - My children, who were babies in Marley & Me, are now 18, 17, and 13. How did that happen? My oldest headed off to college this year.
Q - Any major life changes, personal or professional, in your life since C&S cover story in December 2008 that you care to share?
A - No major changes. Your cover story came out just as the Marley & Me movie hit the screens. In the intervening couple of years I have mostly worked at finding a good balance between work and home, publicity and privacy, celebrity and anonymity. I grew a huge garden this year, the first time since 2004 when I was writing Marley & Me; to me that’s a sign my life is getting back to normal. Ask me about my prize-winning tomatoes!
Q - How do you sum up, if you can, what Marley — the dog, book and movie — has meant to you and your family?
A - Marley taught my wife and me a lot of life lessons during his thirteen years — mostly about what really matters in life and what does not. He also taught us a lot about patience and accepting those we love flaws and all — not bad lessons for any parent to absorb. But in his second life as a posthumous book and movie star, he has taught even bigger lessons. I have made friends with good, kind, decent people all over the world because of that dumb dog, and I have had my eyes opened to the fact that, despite all our cultural and national and ethnic differences, we humans are all basically the same, with the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Because of Marley’s ambassadorship, I feel much more optimistic about the world as a global village.
Q - What’s the dog situation now? How many do you have, what are their names?
A – We have two Labs now. Gracie, whom I call “the anti-Marley” because she is so sweet and calm, is six. We got her about 9 months after Marley died. Woodson, who is two, was one of the puppy stars in the movie. He was a gift to us from the producer and director on the last week of shooting. He’s got Marley’s goofy spirit, but is not nearly so wild.
We also have two cats and eight chickens.