Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Dog's Way Home: An Editorial Love Story

(2011 marks the year that books that I've both acquired & edited begin making their way out into the world, so consider this the start of a new blog series: editorial love stories! Hope you'll enjoy reading some behind-the-scenes tidbits about these books I've been busy making.)

Today's a special day. It's the official publication date for Bobbie Pyron's middle grade debut, A Dog's Way Home! I like to say that A Dog's Way Home is a love story, the kind that warms your heart and leaves you happy for days after reading it. But it’s a tween book, so this isn’t about sparkly vampires, or dark, sexy werewolves; this is about the love between a loyal dog and his beloved owner, both of whom are determined to find one another after being separated at opposite ends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Daddy says, "Most folks got a north star in their life—something that 
gives their life extra meaning. Mine is music." 
Without even thinking, I say, "Mine is Tam." 

Abby knows that Tam, her Shetland sheepdog, is her north star, and she's pretty certain she's his, too. But when an accident separates Abby and Tam, it feels as though all the stars have fallen out of the sky and nothing will ever be right again. As the days between them turn to weeks, then months, dangers and changes fill up Abby's and Tam's lives. Will they ever find their way home to each other?
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, A Dog's Way Home is an unforgettable tale of the many miles, months, and mountains that divide two loyal friends—but that can't possibly keep them apart. 

To celebrate the publication of this positively wonderful book, I thought I'd share some bits of the book-making story-behind-the-story of A Dog's Way Home, from the editor's side of the desk. I first met Bobbie, and read the opening pages of the book that would become A Dog's Way Home, at the Utah SCBWI Conference in 2008. Yes, this is one of those wonderful SCBWI Conference success stories! As I recall it, I actually didn't have a lot of comments to offer to Bobbie, and I was worried she might think she wasn't getting her full money's worth at her manuscript critique session. But the reason for my lack of comments was a good one, at least in this editor's mind: Bobbie had given me some of the most polished manuscript pages for critique that I've ever seen (and I've seen hundreds and hundreds)! We talked a little bit about starting the story in the exact right place: the pages she'd given me began the story with what is now Chapter Two, where (mild spoiler alert!) Something Tragic Happens. I suggested to Bobbie that such a scene might have more impact if we saw a bit of the "Before" for the characters first, so that we'd already know and care about them, and thus be more affected as readers, when that Something Tragic Happens to them. At the end of our session, I told Bobbie that I'd like to read more of her manuscript when it was ready, and she replied that she'd been thinking about trying to get an agent. I told her that based on what I'd read of her book, she was absolutely ready for that step.

Months passed. Actually, more than a full year passed. (Publishing means patience on both sides of the desk!)

During that time, though I didn't know it, Bobbie found and signed with a literary agent who loved her story, and they worked hard to make parts of it even stronger. When her agent submitted the manuscript to me, it had a different title than it had when I first encountered it (though neither of those ended up as the book's final title), but something about the description sounded familiar, and within a few pages, I knew why! It was the same story I'd read pages of at that Utah Conference, and I was delighted to finally get to read more. There was so much I instantly loved about the entire story: the southern flavor, the mountain musicality to the writing, the descriptive language, the vivid imagery, and most of all, the way two voices (first-person Abby and third-person Tam) alternated chapters to tell a story that, when blended together, was more complete than it ever could have been with just one point-of-view. I was even more delighted when my boss loved the story as much as I did, and when our Acquisitions Committee did, too. All of us could see this book being one that readers would read over and over, in the same way generations of readers have loved other stories about animal loyalty, like The Incredible Journey or Lassie Come-Home, and we were proud and pleased when Bobbie accepted our offer to publish it. Editors are often asked about their "wishlist," about the themes and topics they're seeking. Just as often, you'll hear us reply that it's hard to know exactly what we're looking for--until we find a story that we know we can't live without! I didn't know I was looking for a dog book, but I couldn't be prouder to have this one on my list!   

Now here's the funny thing. I like dogs. But I’ve never quite been what you’d call a dog person. We had a dog growing up, but he was more my brothers' dog than mine. And I've had friends whose whole lives have been changed by getting a dog, but that's something I never imagined would happen for me--especially living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn with a firm "no pets!" rule. Working on A Dog's Way Home changed something for me, though. Somewhere in the midst of the rounds of editing it, I realized I was starting to pay attention to dogs differently. I was noticing them in a way I never had, seeing them sitting outside of coffee shops and restaurants, and on street corners, as they often do in a walkable neighborhood like mine. And I was doing more than noticing them: I was pausing to say hello; I was wondering what inner dialogue was going through their minds as they waited patiently (or not) for their owners. Most of all, I was stopping to observe their interactions with their owners on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. That’s the power of A Dog's Way Home—it makes you understand, so vividly, the bond that exists between dogs and their people. And really, that's the power of a good book, right? It changes something inside of you, so that you're not quite the same person you were before, once you've read it. And so I thank Bobbie Pyron for changing me--for turning me into more of a dog person than I ever dreamed I'd be, all through the power of her storytelling! A book-dog like Tam...perhaps that’s the dog for a city girl like me. It doesn’t need me to walk it, or a big apartment—it just needs readers who will find it and take it home and love it as much as I do. And oh, I hope that you'll be one of those readers, because I think everyone should have the chance to fall in love with this book and its tribute to loyalty, to perseverence, and to having profound faith in those we love.

Want to help celebrate the publication of A Dog's Way Home? Well, then, here's a few things you can do:

1. Follow Bobbie Pyron's blog: currently she's running a great series of interviews with children's book authors and publishing types about the dogs in their lives! (You can read about Gary Schmidt's dog, Kathi Appelt's dog, Kathryn Fitzmaurice's dog, and more!)

2. If you're in the Utah area, make plans to attend Bobbie's first book signing for A Dog's Way Home at The King's English on Saturday, March 12th. I'm told that there might even be some shelties at the event, so it's going to be quite a party!

3. Buy a copy of A Dog's Way Home for an animal lover in your life, young or old. Buy another copy for yourself, and settle in for a heartwarming read. Yes, there will be some tear-jerker moments, but don't worry, all those scarred by books like Where the Red Fern Grows...this dog doesn't die!

4. Spread the word! Great books need great readers to be their champions, and to help them live full lives in bookstores and libraries and in the hands of young readers. So if you read and love A Dog's Way Home--or any book, really--let the world know about it!

5. Go snuggle a pet you love. Or a person you love. Or a book (or manuscript-in-the-making) that you love!

6. Follow Bobbie Pyron on Twitter and wish her a very happy publication day for A Dog's Way Home!


  1. I love this novel! It's only March 1st but I can already say it's one of the best books of the year, and one of the best dog stories I've ever read.

  2. Great post. I have this book and I look forward to reading it especially after reading a bit about it's origin and how much you adore it.

  3. Nothing tugs at the heart strings more then a dog either finding their way back (Lassie come home) to their master or being loyal till the bitter end (Grey Friars Bobby)
    I'm a sucker for a dog story of any kind.