Thursday, December 12, 2013

Author Interview-Susan Wilson-A Man of His Own + Review

For my longtime readers you'll remember this fantastic storyteller from when my Barnes & Noble forum featured her last novel The Dog Who Danced as a month long book club discussion. Well Susan's back with another poignant tale starring both man/woman and their best friend.
This would make a fabulous holiday gift for that dog lover/reader on your list.

  • ISBN-13: 9781250014368
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 368

Rick Stanton was a promising professional baseball player with dreams of playing in the major leagues and starting a family with his young wife, Francesca, when World War II changed everything.  Rick returns from the war with his body broken and his dreams shattered.  But it was not just body and spirit he sacrificed for the war. He and Francesca volunteered their beloved dog, Pax, for the Army’s K-9 Corp, not knowing if they’d ever see him again.
Keller Nicholson is the soldier who fought the war with Pax by his side, and the two have the kind of profound bond that can only be forged in war.  Pax is the closest Keller has to a sense of family, and he can’t bear the thought of returning him to the Stantons.  But Rick and Francesca refuse to give him up.

Wilson's point of view jumps from Francesca, to Rick, to Keller, to Pax and sometimes to the third person, but it's not so overdone as to be off-putting. A Nicholas Sparks–ian romantic drama, with an "everyone loves a dog" twist. Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Dog Who Danced
"Susan Wilson dishes up another captivating story that will keep you hooked until the last page is turned." —Modern Dog magazine
“I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to dog lovers and "non-dog" people alike.” —BellaDog
"The Dog Who Danced simply can't be missed." —The Augusta Chronicle

“An emotion-packed story. As with Marley and Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain, it’s hard not to like a book where a dog is a major player.” —Kirkus Reviews

Read an excerpt:

The men’s room stinks so badly that Rick walks past it and out the open back door of the tavern. He’s in an alley, a brick wall conveniently placed, so that he conducts his business in privacy. Today was the last day of play for the Waterbury Comets, and Frederick “Rick” Stanton has just spilled his good news to his teammates. Despite the C-league Comets’ losing season, he’s pitched well, and in the spring he’ll report to the minor-league AA team, the Hartford Bees. It was surprisingly hard to say, and he was a little embarrassed to have gotten choked up, especially when they all raised their beer mugs and toasted his good luck.
He’s finally going to be able to say good-bye to cobbled-together amateur teams, and all his years of hard work, from sand lot to high school to playing in college, have paid off. Sacrificing steady employment in a respectable profession like his father’s, banking or accounting, in favor of menial jobs he has no compunction about leaving when practice starts up has been worth it.
Still, he’ll miss these guys, the oldest among them the catcher, “Foggy” Phil Dexter; the youngest, a kid of sixteen who cheerfully takes all their good-natured abuse, lugging most of the equipment, always riding stuck between two bigger players, fetching for the rest of them, and enduring persistent razzing about the state of his virginity.
Finishing up, Rick feels the first drops of rain on his bare head. Those few drops are quickly followed by a complete cloudburst, but he stays where he is. It’s hot inside, and the cool rain feels good. Rick raises his face to the sky and opens his mouth, taking in the taste of fresh rain. “I’m the luckiest man on earth,” he says to the sky, and in that moment, he’s pretty certain that he is. Well, he should get back in. Eat another couple sandwiches, toss back one more beer; laugh at a few more tired jokes. The season is over and no curfew tonight.
Thoroughly soaked now, Rick turns around and trips over something, nearly pitching headlong onto the brick pavers. That something yelps.
It’s a puppy, and rather than running away after being tripped over, it stays put, and for a hard moment, Rick thinks he may have accidentally killed it with his big feet. In the weak light of the open back door, Rick sees the glint of life in its eyes. “Whoa, fella. Where’d you come from?” Rick squats down and the wet and trembling puppy inserts itself between his knees as if seeking shelter. It sits and rests its muzzle on Rick’s leg. As quickly as the cloudburst started, it fades away, the rivulets trickling down the side of the wall, pooling in the interstices between the bricks. “Where’re your people, little guy?”
The puppy shakes, spraying Rick with a thousand droplets. Rick scoops it up and heads back into the tavern. In the light, he can see it’s a boy, silvery in color, with a darker saddle across narrow shoulders and along ribs that poke out like the bones of a chicken. His ears flop over at entirely different angles, as if they belong to two different puppies. Probably a German shepherd, or at least mostly shepherd. The bartender doesn’t say anything when Rick comes in carrying a puppy, so Rick holds him up. “He yours?” The barkeep shakes his head no.
The barkeep’s wife swings a new pitcher onto the table and considers the dog on Rick’s lap. “Probably got dumped out back. You found him, you keep him. Don’t leave him here.”
The puppy has settled neatly on Rick’s lap, gently taking the bits of meat Rick offers without nipping those important fingers with his sharp teeth. He can’t keep a dog; he’s living in a boardinghouse. In nine months, he’ll be at training camp. In a year, with luck, he’ll be pitching for the majors.
“Got to name him if you’re keeping him.” Dan Lister, their manager, spreads a gob of mustard on his third corned beef sandwich. “How ’bout Spot?”
“Too common. Besides, he doesn’t seem to have any spots, and who said anything about me keeping him?” Rick fingers another tiny bite of sandwich into the puppy’s mouth.
“Lucky.” Foggy has slumped in his chair, so that his chin is barely above the edge of the table.
“Well, he is a lucky dog if one of you bums keeps him.” Rick holds the wriggling fur ball up as if offering the puppy for auction.
“Darby?” This from the kid.
“I had a dog named Darby. My dad’s Irish. It’s how they say Derby over there. Darby was a real good dog, never left my father’s side all the time he was sick with tuberculosis. We even let him come to the funeral.”
The group grows silent. No one had known that the kid was a half orphan.
“Maybe I’ll call him Rin Tin Tin. He looks like he might be shepherd.” Rick scratches the puppy under the chin. “What do you think? You gonna grow up to be some kind of movie star hero dog?” The puppy yawns, drops his head, and is instantly asleep. Rick realizes what he’s just said. If he names this puppy, how will he ever drop him back in the alley? It’s not even fair to keep the dog on his lap, to allow the little thing to accept a few minutes of comfort, let him think that humans are trustworthy. The party will break up soon, and what then? Abandon the tyke to the elements? His first trust in humans to do right by him destroyed, and maybe he’ll never trust another human being again. Rick can feel the puppy’s beating heart in the palm of his pitching hand. The fluff of baby fur feels like the softest mink of his mother’s fur stole as Rick strokes him, lifting the spatula-shaped paws and feeling the thick bones of a puppy with the potential to become a large dog. If he’s not hit by a car or starved to death.
Dan Lister pushes away from the table. “I’m done in. Go to bed, gentlemen. I bid you farewell. Keep healthy and see you”—he looks at Rick—“most of you, in the spring.” The manager presses both hands on the table, suggesting that he’s more sober than he is.
The bartender hands Rick a length of string for a leash, but Rick carries the ten pounds of soft fur in his arms. Foggy is bumbling into chairs and tables while trying to find the front door. “Come on, Phil, throw an arm over my shoulder.”
Foggy Phil Dexter gladly slings his arm over Rick’s neck and leans into him. “You’ll be great. Bees need a good curveball pitcher.” His breath is rank with beer and pastrami, but Rick doesn’t mind. Phil’s been a good friend and taught him a lot about the game. “By God, you’ll be in the majors in a year.”
“Your mouth to God’s ear.” Rick bears the weight of the man and the small burden of the puppy as they walk the few blocks to their boardinghouse.
Everything that he’s done has been fed by his lifelong ambition to play for the majors. Rick has never wanted anything else in his life. As a kid, he asked Santa for gloves and balls and bats; as a teen, he paid his own way to baseball camp, using the money he earned from a paper route. He never learned to sail, letting his father practically adopt the next-door neighbor’s kid to crew for him. Tomorrow, he’ll head down to his parents’ Greenwich home. He wonders if, when he gives them his good news, his extraordinary and long-awaited news, they’ll finally respond with some pride and enthusiasm.
The puppy in his hand wriggles himself up and under Rick’s chin. Well, so what if they don’t. He’s a grown man, he’s stuck to his plan, and now, at very nearly the last minute, at age twenty-seven, he’s finally there. Almost. He doesn’t want to be the world’s oldest rookie when he finally gets the call to major-league baseball.
Maybe this will be the last winter keeping fit by any means possible while substitute teaching or doing temporary work at a busy accounting firm. In eight months, he’ll be back in training, a hardball in his hand, sensitive fingers feeling for the seams, the magic of that perfect throw. The future spools out in front of him: a winning season with the minor-league Bees, then getting the call to the majors. His first appearance in the National League. Rick sees himself doffing his ball cap and waving at cheering fans. He’s paid his dues, by God. Forfeited job security and Mary Ann Koble, who didn’t want to be a ballplayer’s wife.
The puppy yawns, burrows his tail end deeper into the crook of Rick’s arm. Why not keep him? He could be a mascot. A lucky charm. A companion on all those miles of roadwork.
There is a church along the way, more beautiful than any other building on this defeated main street; its all-white marble facade glows softly in the newly rain-freshened air. Picked out in gold leaf on the pediment are Latin words: Gloriam Deo Pax In Terra.
“Pax. Peace.” Rick looks at the puppy in his arms, now sleeping with utter trust in the man carrying him. It’s started raining again, a warm drizzle that makes the wet pavement shimmer beneath the sparse streetlamps. “I’m the luckiest man on earth.”
Pax. The puppy in Rick’s arms suddenly wakes. He reaches up with his baby muzzle and his long pink tongue comes out to lick Rick’s nose. Pax.

Susan welcome back to The Reading Frenzy. It’s great to have you back!
It’s great to be invited back.  I love having the opportunity to ‘meet’ with readers. 

Tell us a little about A Man Of His Own.
The book revolves around the lives of three people and one very special dog.  Rick Stanton is an up and coming baseball player and Francesca is his new wife.  Before he met Francesca, Rick adopted Pax, a mostly German shepherd he found abandoned in an alleyway.  Pax accepts Francesca as part of his pack and the three of them are a devoted trio when the advent of World War II changes everything.  The war means that not only does Rick enter the service, but, as part of the Dogs for Defense program, Pax is enlisted as well. 
Keller Nicholson is an orphan who has been to reform school and is at the mercy now of a crusty old uncle who sees the boy as free labor.  For Keller, the war is a reprieve from a life of drudgery.  Pax and Keller are assigned to one another and a new bond is formed between man and dog, a bond forged under fire.  Fast forward to post-war.  Rick comes home severely wounded in both body and spirit.  Keller and Pax come home more or less unscathed and it’s time for Keller to return the dog to his rightful owners.  This is breaking his heart, Pax is the only creature who has ever shown him love; so, Keller jumps at the chance when Rick suggests he stay on as his aide.  Francesca is skeptical at first, but then finds herself attracted to Keller.  Thus is formed a rare four-sided love affair. 

Why did you choose this time and this program?
I think that the time chose me.  My second novel, Hawke’s Cove, was set primarily during World War II and I’ve always loved the period.  The Dogs for Defense program came as a complete surprise to me.  I was researching war dogs and happened upon the very compelling story of how the dogs that saw service during this war weren’t specially bred, they were people’s very ordinary pets donated to the military.  The War Effort, my capitals, was the rallying cry for the people of the United States.  From Victory Gardens to rationing to collecting tin cans, every act and decision, no matter how minor-seeming, was made against the backdrop of conquering the evil that had thrown the world into the worst conflict in history.  When the Dogs for Defense program was conceived, there was great reluctance on the part of the military which didn’t see the need for them.  Wiser minds prevailed and the call went out for volunteer dogs.  Thousands were donated, although not every dog was accepted.  The most interesting thing to me—and a key plot element—is the fact that, assuming they survived, the dogs were returned to their owners. 

Susan in this novel you dealt with some very real, very frightening realities of war.
Do writing these scenes take as much of an emotional toll as reading them does?

Writing those scenes was incredibly difficult.  However, having said that, the most difficult part, given that I’ve never been to war, was to conceive of the individual war scenes.  I certainly wasn’t “writing what I know.”  I didn’t want to be sketching out scenes from every war movie I’d ever seen so I had to really drill down into my imagination and come up with a more sensory experience than write with any military exactitude.  I guess the answer to your question is that I don’t necessarily feel the same emotion as the reader because I’m mired in the technical challenges. 

You write about the complicated relationships between dogs and their people and I swear when I read your voice of the dogs I get the uncanniest feeling that it’s real.
How do you do that?
Gosh, I wish I had a logical answer to that.  I think with my first dog-centered book, One Good Dog, I was just channeling Chance’s voice.  I don’t think I made a change to anything that dog said.  With my third person POV canines, Mack and now Pax, I just try to imagine a world through a dog’s eyes.  I also am blessed to hear from dog people and I really listen to what they are saying about their relationships with their pets. 

Susan I love to know author’s personal journey to writing stories.
Will you share yours?
I started pounding out stories on a little manual typewriter back when I was maybe nine or ten.  I didn’t make up characters, I ‘borrowed’ existing characters from my favorite television shows.  Now they call that kind of writing fanzines.  Who knew?  Through school and into my early twenties I hammered out a number of practice novels.  These weren’t ever meant for publication, they were for my own entertainment.  I pretty much stopped writing (fiction) for years while I was busy raising kids.  It wasn’t until I was in my forties when I finally got serious about writing and had the incredible good luck to be introduced to my agent.  The rest, as they say, is history. 

In your many novels do you have a favorite story?
Aw, Deb, that would be like telling you which of my daughters is my favorite.  Depends on which one I’m with.  However, it’s like that old song:  Love the one you’re with.  I tend to fall in love with the current project and characters. 

Susan are you a reader?
Fiction or non-fiction?
I always say that in order to be a good writer you have to be a good reader.  If you don’t read, how are you going to learn to write?  All of my life I’ve been the designated bookworm.  Maybe it’s because I am so nearsighted, and have been since childhood, but my favorite place to be is in a book.  I tend to read fiction, but enjoy a good biography now and again. 

What’s next?
I’m in the middle (quite literally) of the next book and your readers will be surprised to learn that it’s got a dog in it.  Actually, two dogs.  Cooper Harrison is a former police officer who has lost his canine partner, Argos, in a terrible event.  He’s also lost his mojo, so to speak, and, because of a lingering disability, finds himself back in his home town as the animal control officer.  While trying to avoid his alcoholic deadbeat dad and drug-dealing brother, Cooper is faced with solving the mystery of a lost and very much abused dog’s past. 

Okay Susan one last question and let’s get a little personal.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Probably when I skip writing to go on a trail ride.  I’m usually extremely disciplined about writing time, but sometimes the saddle and a beautiful morning just beckon.

Thanks Susan, much continued, deserved success for you!
My pleasure and thanks again for having me.  I wish you continued success with The Reading Frenzy.

Connect with Susan – WebsiteFacebook- Twitter

Enjoy an audio sample of the novel

My Review of A Man Of HIs Own

Pax may have started life as an ordinary dog but the two distinct lives he led, the lives he saved and the people who loved him and he them made him one extraordinary canine.
Rick Stanton had three great loves in his life and almost lost all three because of WWII.
Just as his big break as an aspiring albeit aging professional baseball player happened war broke out and he left his wife, Francesca and his dog, Pax to serve his country.
Francesca sent her husband and her dog off to war, she’s grateful to have her husband home and alive and when she learns that Pax made it out alive as well she’s hoping the reunion between man and dog produces miracles she’s been unable to create.
Orphaned and unwanted as a young boy Keller Nicholson’s solitary existence ended the day he was paired up with Pax in the war dogs program.
He has Pax to thank for surviving the war and when it’s time to send Pax home he decides to deliver him personally and hopefully leave with him again.
But who will win and who will loose when tragedy and fate bring these lives together?

Susan Wilson has outdone herself with this incredibly poignant story about loss, courage and the power of love. She spotlights the WWII war dogs program by telling the before, during and after story of not just this very special dog but also his people. Her narrative will bring the horrors and joys of her tale to life, and will let readers visualize a time of battlefields, big bands and of a country united in the efforts of war and the aftermath. Her special talent in giving voice to her dogs is an amazing feat and when she entwines that voice with those of her human characters it’s a symphony in perfect pitch. Her star characters all shine each in his or her own unique way, all play their parts to perfection and readers will wish just one more chapter when the tale ends.


  1. I love the time period for this novel, it sounds interesting. I have added it to my list!

    1. I think you'll really like it Kim. I hope you're feeling better :(

  2. Wow that would have been quite the surprise read for me. I wouldn't have picked up on hardly any of that from the cover (which I love by the way). It really sounds fascinating. Very nice post Debbie!