Hi guys! I am absolutely thrilled to have J. Paul Henderson on the blog today. Three years ago (THREE years already!) I read and incredibly enjoyed his novel “Last Bus to Coffeeville” (here you can read my review) – I can still tell you what the book was about and why I liked it so much, and it is really a sign of a VERY good novel. This year the author is back with another book and already it had me at the title: “”Larry and the Dog People”. I am right now looking at this novel, it is on my TBR pile and well, I am so sure that it’s going to be one of my next read. In the meantime, though, I have a great Q&A with Mr. Henderson. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about Larry and the Dog People and what inspired you to write it?
Larry MacCabe is a well-meaning man who unwittingly drives people nuts and can’t get anyone to befriend him on Facebook. He’s a retired academic, a recent widower and apparently a person born to lose: a man who walks along the hard shoulder of life with an empty gas can in his hand and unlikely to make it to a service station without the help of another.
Fortunately for Larry, the administrator of a care home he’s been banned from visiting takes pity on him, and at her suggestion he adopts a Basset Hound and joins her at a local park one Saturday. He becomes a regular visitor and, for the first time in his life – and largely on account of his dog – finds acceptance. It’s the idyll he’s longed for, but one that proves to be of short duration.
While his new companions prepare for the annual Blessing of the Animals service on the Feast Day of St Francis, Larry puts the finishing touches to a conference paper he’s due to present in Jerusalem and arranges for someone to house-sit his dog while he’s away. Neither the service nor his visit to Israel go to plan, however, and on his return Larry is inexplicably charged with conspiring to blow up a church and complicity in the deaths of four people. All that stands between him and conviction is a personal injury lawyer – and things for Larry aren’t looking good!
I have friends who live in Georgetown, a suburb of Washington DC, and they exercise their dog in a local park that doesn’t enforce leash laws. I used to accompany them there and I was struck by the strange mix of dog owners who frequented the park. Volta Park was the ideal setting for a story of oddball characters, but for a long time I was lacking a central character who would act as the cornerstone for the book. And then I hit upon Larry, a character I based on a long-winded professor I’d known in Mississippi, and the novel started to take shape.
The plot came in fits and starts, but the key element of the story was always for Larry to be the victim of circumstances. I was already familiar with the Desert Land Act of 1877 and the story of Masada, and I was lucky enough to stumble on other subjects that I could weave into the story – dyspraxia, animal blessings, waterfall tuning and Christian Buddhism, for instance. I always knew how the book would end, but I was never sure just how I’d get there. It turned out that dyspraxia, animal blessings, waterfall tuning and Christian Buddhism were good vehicles to get from one chapter to the next.
What was your favourite chapter in Larry and the Dog People to write, and why?
It was probably chapter 10: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch… For the plot to be believable I had to find a way of bending the equivalent of iron bars, and the toughest of these are to be found in this chapter: Wayne’s completed back-story, the re-appearance of Kevin, and the logic – if there was any logic – to their decision to blow up a church on the Feast Day of St Francis.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
Both are important. It’s like love and marriage or a horse and carriage: you can’t have one without the other. Or, at least, you shouldn’t have one without the other. I don’t like plot-driven books where the characters are wafer-thin and seemingly there for the sake of being there, and neither do I enjoy entering the world of well-rounded protagonists who do little more that eat pizza and contemplate the world between slices. If I don’t invest in the people then I’m unlikely to invest in the plot, and if I don’t invest in the plot then I’m unlikely to invest in the people. It’s one of those love and marriage things, one of those horse and carriage things: you can’t have one without the other. Or, at least, you shouldn’t have one without the other. (This is like answering an exam question where you say the same thing three times and hope that the examiner only notices the length of your answer).
Do you have any writing rituals or routines?
I always write in the same room and at the same desk and usually from 11am. The day starts gently. I’m not a big fan of silence and so I listen to music while I write, usually Planet Rock which, for a man of my generation, is the equivalent of easy listening. This is about as interesting as it gets. I don’t go in for ritual.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
Don’t get an agent.