Change the Word: How did you come up with the idea for Dog Days?
Elsa Watson: I was sitting in a coffee shop, watching people walk by with their dogs, when I thought “I wonder if I could write a story about a woman who turns into a dog?” And then, seconds later, I thought “Wait, what if they switched bodies? Could I pull that off?”
That last question took me a while to answer. I got to work on the book right away, but it took time to sort out Jessica’s character and storyline. Zoe’s fell into place pretty quickly, but a lot of my early thoughts about Jessica wound up on the cutting room floor.
CTW: What was writing from an animal's perspective like?
EW: Really fun! Zoe’s sections of the book came so easily that I sometimes I felt like my dog Kota was channeling to me. I spend a lot of time talking for our dogs, putting words in their mouths, so writing Zoe’s sections was like doing that but with more time to elaborate. And, because Zoe turns into a person, she has a lot more to talk and think about than just trying to remember where she lost her squeaky toy. She really has a lot on her plate.
CTW: How did you go about capturing a dog's voice?
EW: There’s a moment right after the switch when Zoe starts to realize that she’s in the wrong body. She looks down and thinks, “Hey, these are the wrong feet!” That was the first Zoe line to pop into my head, so that was where I began. It may seem like a simple line, but it sums her attitude up in many ways. Even in the face of something crazy and earth-shattering—something that would cause a person to freak out—she accepts it with a shrug of her doggy shoulders, notes what happened, and moves on.
Other parts of her voice were conscious choices. I decided early on to use the present tense for Zoe, since dogs live so much in the moment. I also thought that would help distinguish her sections from Jessica’s, which are in past tense. I knew that I wanted her to think in short sentences and to use active verbs. The biggest problem I had was in toning the writing down. At first it was tempting to end every sentence with an exclamation mark, especially when Zoe was excited.
CTW: Tell me about your pets. What are their names? Personalities?
EW: Our shepherd mix Kota was the inspiration for Zoe. Kota finds all kinds of things funny. She thinks it’s hilarious when the cat is on the other side of the French doors, or when she finally finds us after she’s been hunting for us all over the house. And she chases her tail to get our attention, doing this adorable circle dance. Curiously, she’s shy at the dog park – that’s one way in which she and Zoe are different.
Lucky, our senior dog, feels things very deeply. We adopted him when he was three, and he’s never been as carefree as Kota. He worries more, and he likes to be next to his dad at all times. But Lucky also has buckets of confidence. At the dog park we call him the referee, because he’s always running around making sure the other dogs are following the rules. Whose rules? Beats me—his, I guess!
CTW: How did they help you with the story?
EW: Kota was hugely helpful with Dog Days – Zoe wouldn’t exist without her. Whenever I hit a tough spot or wondered what should happen next, I just sat back and thought about what Kota would do in that situation. The answer was almost always easy to find. (She’d look for muffins! She’d move in on the cat! She’d ask Max the vet to rub her ears!)
Lucky is the inspiration for the dog in the book I’m working on next, The Love Dog. It features a dog named Apollo who’s the star of a reality TV show called the Love Dog. On the show, Apollo mends broken relationships. Behind the scenes, he’s a deeply caring dog who feels it’s his mission to create love wherever he can. That’s so like Lucky. Still waters run deep with that one.
CTW: What is up next for you and your writing career?
EW: As I mentioned, I’m finishing up The Love Dog — Tor-Forge will publish it in February 2013. I’m also working on two e-novellas. A Christmas Tail picks up where Dog Days leaves off, following the same characters through a holiday adventures. The Puppy Trap is about a pair of look-alike dogs, Sasha and Zipper, who work together to repair their owners’ relationship. These shorts are a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying writing pared-down, shorter stories—it’s an interesting challenge.
CTW: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
EW: Write what you feel passionate about, even if it feels zany. I knew I was taking a risk with Dog Days, since it isn’t a typical romance. You should have seen the strange looks some people gave me when I described it. (A dog and a woman switch bodies? Whaaat?) But risks can pay off.
Also — and I say this more as a reader than as a writer — pay attention to voice. I’ll devour a book in which the voice is great, even if not too much happens. If, on the other hand, the plot’s exciting but the voice doesn’t grab me, I’m more likely to put it down. This is just my personal preference, but since I love reading, I hope all aspiring authors will do this so I can adore their books.
CTW: Anything else you would like to share?
EW: Thank you so much for reading this. And I hope you have a wonderful summer coming up with lots of great books in store. My reading list goes on for miles, and I’m excited about every single title on it!
Check back tomorrow for my review of Dog Days.
Struggling café owner Jessia Sheldon volunteered to be the chairperson of Woofinstock, Madrona’s annual dog festival, to overcome her reputation as “number one dog hater” in her dog crazy town. Determined to prove her dog-loving credentials, Jessica rescues Zoe, a stray white German shepherd—and in the process the two are struck by lightening.
Jessica wakes to discover paws where her feet should be, and watches in horror as her body staggers around the town square…Zoe and Jessica have switched bodies. Learning to live as a dog is difficult enough, but Jessica’s real worry is saving her café from financial ruin. To complicate matters, she’s falling hard for Max, the town veterinarian.
About the Author
From 1996 to 1998, Elsa Watson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, where she began writing novels, all in longhand. She now lives in Washington State with her husband, cat, and two dogs. Her short work has appeared in the Writers Journal, Snowy Egret, and Renaissance Magazine. Elsa is proud to live by the motto: any day on which you pet a dog is a good day.
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