J.F. Englert, author of A Dog Among Diplomats (May 6-20)

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J.F. Englert, author of A Dog Among Diplomats (May 6-20)

Editado: mayo 6, 2008, 12:05 pm

Join us here to talk to J.F. Englert, author of A Dog Among Diplomats (which was also an Early Reviewers book!). He'll be on LibraryThing to discuss his work and answer questions from today, May 6th through May 20th.

mayo 6, 2008, 5:15 pm

Thanks for the heads up, Abby! I actually haven't read A Dog about Town yet. I bought it because I saw the second one as a Early Reviewers book and thought the premise would be nifty and decided to start with the first one.

I'll try to make an effort to read it before the 20th!

mayo 6, 2008, 8:55 pm

It's always interesting when authors base their characters on real people, er...canines. Can you tell us in what ways Randolph resembles your dog?

mayo 6, 2008, 9:57 pm

I'm looking forward to your thoughts ... so go ahead and read that book.

mayo 6, 2008, 10:34 pm


You raise an important point about Randolph. Where did he come from? I've asked myself that question many times and I'm still not certain that I can answer it.

It's true that I have a Labrador retriever. And many of the insights I gained on life in the Manhattan dog scene no doubt are the result of this. R. Englert got me out of the house and onto the dog run where I encountered strange dog and human behaviors that demanded reporting. In New York we typically learn a dog's name before we learn its owner's. We also learn the intricate off-leash rules of Central Park and are kept in line by rumors of horrific fines for breaking the rules. And, of course, a Labrador retriever is a Labrador retriever. Both R. Englert and Randolph respect the virtue of ample amounts of food and modest-to-no amounts of exercise.

But from the beginning Randolph was something quite different. This might seem disingenuous as if I'm trying to distance the creation from the inspiration for that creation, but, really, it's true.

It was just before Christmas several years ago and I was working a night shift in a law firm's word processing department in midtown after the advance from my first non-fiction book had run out and I needed to earn some money to get through the fifth draft of that book.

There wasn't much work coming into the center and I began typing on the computer and found myself looking at the first lines of what would become A Dog About Town. I wrote the first five pages of that book in a "white heat" over the following thirty minutes and was very aware that the narrator, Randolph, was a distinct personality and moreover this distinct personality had a story to tell. And, as I suggest above, it wasn't until I finished the book a year and a half later that I even really connected R. Englert, my Labrador, with Randolph, the Dante-reading cerebrotonic, detective-by-default dog.

I hope this serves as an answer. One other similarity is --not to get too Manhattan-centric-- that Randolph is definitely an Upper West Side dog (that is both in his sensibilities and his neighborhood...and I think R. Englert is as well).

mayo 6, 2008, 10:56 pm

Thanks for taking time out of your day to stop by and discuss A Dog Among Diplomats.

I had never heard of your books before (I'm fairly new to the mystery scene), but when I was perusing LT's ER offerings last month, and read the synopsis of the book, I knew it was for me. I have a black Lab of my own named Mame (you can see her pic on my profile page), and after discovering you had previously published A Dog About Town, rushed right over to my local B&N and had them order it for me.

**possible spoilers ahead!!**

I loved A Dog About Town. There was so much of Randolph that I could see in Mame (obviously not the sentient bits; I love my dog dearly, but a genius dog she is not), but many of the dog attributes that you described from Randolph's POV I've often attributed to my own dogs. I found the book very funny and laughed out loud a number of times, and the mystery (both the self-contained mystery in the book and the continuing mystery of Imogen) were well constructed and paced.

What impressed me the most, and I don't want to give too much away, was the way you handled the feelings of loss that Harry and Randolph felt for Imogen. I really felt like you had a real connection with your characters and were able to express that emotion quite clearly. I know the basis for the book is the mystery, but I really felt like the mystery sometimes took a backseat to the human emotions that you handled and how Harry and Randolph measured themselves as individuals in the year after Imogen's disappearance.

Unfortunately, I wasn't selected to read A Dog Among Diplomats, so had my local B&N order that as well. I just picked it up the other day and have just reached the halfway point in the book (Pollop), and can't wait to see how this all plays out.

What made you decide to write a mystery? Obviously, as you said before, you wrote the first 5 pages on a whim, but had you decided from there that it was going to be a murder that Randolph had to solve, or did you take a step back and let the story write itself? Was it an idea you had bouncing around your head, or did it all come to you spontaneously?

Sorry for the long, rambling post, but this is one of those rare opportunities (and one of the reasons I love LT) where I can "talk" directly with an author.

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us!

mayo 7, 2008, 1:41 pm

I'd like to add my thanks as well. I did receive the book as an Early Reviewer -- having both lived on the West Side for awhile as well as owned a labrador/German Shepherd/Irish Wolfhound mutt -- I loved the idea of having a dog as the narrator. One of the areas that really struck me was the situational sense of humor you brought to the book. The bums drinking formal tea under a Currier and Ives original is a incisive image. Do you consciously incorporate humor in your books, planning it, or does it just find its way in?

mayo 7, 2008, 2:07 pm


Thank you for your enthusiasm for Randolph and the series. It's good to hear and know that it's backed by solid insight into the books.

I hope I can answer your questions by way of tackling the mystery question first. Genres are great in so far as they help readers and writers focus on a particular area/approach to literature. But sometimes I think we've become over-genrified (if that's a term I can use)...In other words, there is a risk of falling into a kind of myopic devotion/adherence to a genre and not knowing what to do with anything that doesn't quite fit. The Randolph books don't fit too snugly into any category and it's good to hear that you welcome this (i.e., "the feelings of loss that Harry and Randolph felt for Imogen").

I would say that the first five pages weren't so much written on a whim, though, as with a sense of necessity, but not quite knowing where it would be going. The murder was suggested in the first paragraph so the mystery element was present from the beginning...but so was the sense of loss of Imogen which probably drives the narrative forward as much as the mystery. The short answer is that those first pages were spontaneous and not from any idea bouncing around my head...but as the writing began in earnest then many different ideas and observations --mainly on the life of dog's in New York-- began bouncing around and needed to be incorporated.

Please keep the comments coming and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Diplomats.

mayo 7, 2008, 2:22 pm

Thanks Chef Lindsay-
These books begin with Randolph and what I do is try to listen to what Randolph has to say about whatever situation he finds himself in. There is no planning. But Randolph has a way of looking at the world which brings these comic things out. I'm particularly fond of the nuanced way he responded to becoming a main course in the United Nations International Kitchen in A Dog Among Diplomats. If only I could respond with the same cool-headed, literary-mindedness at the prospect of my own demise as the easycook option.
I think humans just seem inherently comedic to Randolph, especially when contrasted with the more ideal forms that he finds in his beloved literary reading.


mayo 7, 2008, 3:50 pm

>5 JFENGLERT:. Okay, I still haven't read the book yet, but I did want to make one comment.

I don't think it's just a purely Manhattan occurrence that you often know the dog before the owner. I work in a Barnes & Noble that allows pet owners to bring their dogs into the store (probably because we're in a very residential area and our customers often stop in on their daily walks - but I digress). There are many dog/owner couples that come in and I know the names of the dog, because the owner either volunteers the name or talks to the dog by name, and it's some time before I find out the owner's name (sometimes only through purchases and I sneak a peek at the name on the credit card).

One of our regulars is often surprised that I know his name and remember him even when he doesn't have his dog with him (a big beautiful Burmese (sp?) Mountain dog named Cooper). Now Alex will walk past our store and knocked on the big windows to get my attention so I can go out and play with Cooper (such a slobberpuss!).

So that was longwinded, but you get my point. People are often much more forthcoming about their pets than themselves.

I'm still going to try to read the book!

mayo 7, 2008, 4:31 pm

You are right. This is not a purely Manhattan occurrence and an owner talking to a dog is the first way many of us learn the name. In some sense, the streets of Manhattan sound like a Barnes & Noble --a community with repeat customers. And Cooper sounds like a dog that Randolph would appreciate with the exception of the slobberpuss element.


mayo 10, 2008, 10:44 am

This is a general question for Library Thingers... And Randolph and I would appreciate the thoughts.

Publishing seems to have become increasingly genre-based --i.e., books are marketed/sold in easily classified categories. I have never looked at literature or writing in this way and certainly didn't write A Dog About Town or A Dog Among Diplomats with a marketing category in mind. In my opinion, Randolph could have just as easily appeared under the umbrella of "general" literary work than under that of mystery... Also, in all honesty I had never heard of the term "cozy" until I started hearing it applied to the books which I don't see as cozy at all.

This is a long way of getting to the general question(s)? Do Library Thingers think in terms of great books, good books, mediocre books and bad books? Or is genre the primary way that books are judged/embraced/cherished? There is no single answer to this I guess, but we'd like to hear some thoughts (Randolph has taken some umbrage at being considered the literary equivalent of deerskin slippers, a cup of hot cocoa and a crackling fire and I'm trying to give him some perspective).

Editado: mayo 10, 2008, 11:47 am

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Do Library Thingers think in terms of great books, good books, mediocre books and bad books? Or is genre the primary way that books are judged/embraced/cherished?

Interesting question. I often seek the more unusual books and tend to avoid those that are pre-categorized by genre. As an example, I'm a person who tends to avoid all those books categorized as "detective mystery", yet when I find such a book hidden among general fiction in a used book store, I sometimes surprise myself into finding out I can actually enjoy such a mystery now and then. Examples of authors I've discovered that way are Natsuo Kirino, Con Lehane, Greg Iles, and John Burdett.

If I have an inkling ahead of time that any book is deemed "great" by LT readers, I'd be willing to overlook my prejudicial way of not choosing a book by genre.


P.S. I like that you, the author, asked us LT members a question - particularly since I'm not familiar with your book or writing. I'll need to look for your book now!

mayo 10, 2008, 12:07 pm

Actually, "cozy" isn't really a proper descriptive term for the category the word defines. A cozy is a mystery featuring an amateur detective without explicit violence or sex descriptions involved in the writing or plot. There are many books that could be classified as a cozy that don't make the reader feel warm and fuzzy while reading. :)

Speaking only for myself, I judge or cherish books by their impact--their writing style, their addressed topic, what they mean to me at the time I am reading them. However, I do think about genre when I am deciding what book to read at what occasion. I find that mysteries, because they have a somewhat set format, are easier to jump in and out of, making them good commute books.

Is it the publisher's marketing decision about how to classify a work or did you choose the label "mystery" to market your book? From your comments, it seems that you disagree with the decision or at least think that it might harm your book by boxing it into a limited category. Is that the case?

PS: I didn't get your book for early review, but I'll have to look for it now!

mayo 10, 2008, 12:09 pm

Seeing this particular thread I was encouraged to try your book,'A Dog About Town',and although I am still in the early stages of reading,I am enjoying it greatly.Randolph is a magnificent character and I look forward to meeting him again in your second book.
I must say that I much admire you for entering into these conversations with LT members,and really do think it will help both you and us.Hope that more authors will do this in the future.
Best wishes.

mayo 12, 2008, 9:23 am

Well, I admit that generally, I have a tendency to read more "genre" based books, mostly Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I don't try to look at it as a genre, though, it's just what I prefer to read. I also have a tendency to get stuck in a particular reading trend, where I'll focus in on one "type" of book for awhile, which right now happens to be mysteries, and Agatha Christie in particular. I haven't read a lot of mystery before, and quite frankly beyond your 2 books which are found in the mystery "section" and Christie, I probably won't delve too far into that genre (I'm reading Christie because my grandmother used to read her regularly and my Aunt and I are giving them a try and your books I actually would have bought if they were in the "general" fiction section as I was more attracted to the idea of a dog lead character as opposed to it being a "mystery.")

However, I don't limit my reading to a "genre" exclusively. If someone tells me a book is good, I'll give it a try. I like almost anything I read (it has to be really REALLY bad for me to truly not enjoy it). And I admit that I do buy a book based on it's cover. If the cover catches my eye, I'll usually pick it up (I think this is due to the graphic designer in me that anything else). I try to avoid the "hot" books of the moment, as sometimes I think that a book will get wrapped up in it's own hype and not live up to that hype.

I'm just about done with A Dog Among Diplomats. My work week became jolting-ly busy this past week, and my reading time became exponentially smaller as the week wore on. I should be able to finish it tonight, and I'll let you know what I think (thus far, I'm enjoying it just as much as A Dog About Town.

mayo 12, 2008, 9:52 pm

My apologies for the delay in this response... It was good to read what you said about overlooking genre when LT readers deem a book worth reading because of the writing. For me a book is the thing itself and genre comes much later --but I also agree with you that if something is "pre-categorized" that can be offputting. It can also be distracting. I remember once coming across an edition of Faulkner's Intruder In The Dust in 1950s dimestore novel size and "packaging" that made it look like a thriller ... it made me realize that in that case at least marketing was totally unrelated to the experience of the book. That didn't stop the packaging from having an effect on the reading experience. What was funny was that the lurid cover and the dramatic blurb haunted the experience of reading that book. As familiar as I was with Faulkner and the way his work builds in a very undramatic fashion, every time I put the book down, saw that cover and then began reading it again, I had the jarring experience of expecting the novel to begin to move faster and live up to the expectations of that cover.

Editado: mayo 13, 2008, 12:20 am

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Now that you mention books covers, I just realized that's quite often the beckoning I need to look a book over. Cover art or cover graphics can be really important in calling out to a potential reader to look through a book. The last book I read that called out to me in that way was Troll by Johanna Sinisalo.

I must add that the cover on your book is quite eye-catching as well. Although I didn't choose it as an ER selection (mysteries are not my genre), I did remember the cover art! I just might give it a try, though, since I've been here to chat with you. :)

mayo 13, 2008, 9:53 am


Your nuanced response on genre is good to hear and reminds me of Eliot in his essay on the use of criticism (a reckless paraphrase: that the good reader can like something while knowing it's bad which means avoiding the pitfall of labeling something good or even great just because we "loved" it --as if we have to justify our tastes at the literary banquet table).

In terms of your last paragraph... This is my take: the business of publishing is very different than the business of writing. I taught nonfiction writing for several years with a focus on long-form features, travel writing, profiles, and one thing I always found myself saying (and please excuse any teacherly tone creeping into my answer here) was how little control a writer has over his or her writing even when you are only dealing with a single editor at a newspaper or magazine.

But book publishing raises this loss of control to a whole other level since you add dozens of people to the mix (agent, editors, sales people, marketing people, publicity people. production people), a corporate culture and structure, bookstore chains in which shelf space must be bought like distributors buy shelf space for cereal or soda in supermarkets, the filters and disruptive variables to poetic/artistic vision go on and on...

It's not as bad as movie making where making a great movie is something close to a miracle as you cobble together the money and a team to make something happen, but it certainly is not anywhere close to the concept --a fairly romantic one-- that the manuscript with nary a comma change is transmitted pure and intact to the world.

This is a long way of saying that a writer's happiness has got to be one of relative happiness if he or she is going to have any happiness at all. In my case I am happy with many of the elements that my publisher provided. Editorial guidance has been supportive and enlightening. I think the covers of both A Dog About Town and A Dog Among Diplomats are superb and convey better than I could ever have the quirky, strange, comedic, reassuring universe inhabited by a Labrador retriever who relishes Dante and his dogginess and would favor a smoking jacket or a tuxedo if only he could wear them.

On the other hand, I understand but am not happy with the idea of the book being classified as a mystery in so far as it serves as a barrier to the general reader or shapes their critique/understanding of the book --one reviewer --well-rounded and solid in her critical abilities-- liked the book but because of its classification as cozy couldn't seem to see other elements in the book that are plainly there. If this didn't limit the audience for the book, I would be fascinated by what it says about the way we perceive things (like I mentioned with the way the cover of Faulkner's book affected my reading of that book).

Oh no, another long answer. I'm sorry if I still did not answer your question.

Short answer: both happy and unhappy at present but confident Randolph will prove a tenacious dog and a believer in the audience (people like you and other Library Thingers) and the power of word of mouth.

Actually, all this talk convinces me that I would like to get even more books out to Library Thing readers. So Christiguc, SqueakyChu, Devenish and Tapestry100 (though I think Tapestry100 you already have both books), I will be happy to send you copies if you send me the best mailing address to adogabouttown@hotmail.com (or adogabouttown@gmail.com).

Also, I will give out an additional thirty books to LT Readers on the simple condition that I would like to hear more feedback (even just a sentence) from the recipients.


mayo 13, 2008, 9:55 am

Excellent to hear! Thank you for your appraisal of Randolph --I will not tell him lest it undermine him, make him overconfident and commit some error of judgment that will end the series prematurely.

mayo 13, 2008, 9:59 am

That's good to hear. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think when you're done with A Dog Among Diplomats. I hope your work week slows down from the "jolting-ly busy" pace.

mayo 13, 2008, 8:24 pm

I just caught up with this thread, and actually it struck a nerve as to why I, at least, spent the time to catalog all my books on LibraryThing. Specifically, it allows me to catalog my books as I wish, and not as dictated by a bookstore shelf or even the old-fashioned Dewey Decimal system. One of the great liberating elements of the web is that it enhances finadability by allowing its participants to personalize and create their own search elements. And, indeed, I would certainly not have initially categorized A Dog Among Diplomats as a mystery. My first thought would have been humorous fiction--a category in which far too many authors strive to fit in, but actually don't really achieve.

mayo 13, 2008, 11:06 pm

Well, I just finished A Dog Among Diplomats and enjoyed it just as much as the first! I like to see you progressing Harry and Randolph's characters and their feelings over Imogen, letting them consider the fact that they may need to move on as opposed to wallowing in self-pity. I also liked seeing how Randolph handled situations away from Harry, giving him a little chance to grow on his own. The mystery portion was just as all well-paced this time as before, and even though it was a prominent portion of the story, it was good to see it almost take a backseat position to the story as a whole.

And speaking about genre, I can see where ChefLindsay would not categorize these as mystery. After some thought, I would have to agree. There is a mystery in these books, but that isn't the sole focus of the story. It can be classified as humorous fiction, but I think these are also good character studies on what the loss of a loved one can do to a person and the steps that they need to go through to mend those feelings of loss. There are so many aspects that are touched on in your books, I can see why it would be hard to categorize them to one genre specifically.

I can hope, by the ending, that we can see more of Randolph and Harry in the future?

mayo 14, 2008, 12:00 am

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That's very generous of you. I'd be delighted to give your book a try! Email on its way...

mayo 14, 2008, 10:08 am

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Yes,many thanks from me too.Have emailed you details just a moment ago...

mayo 14, 2008, 10:41 am

"Liberating" is the right word for it. Recently, I received my cuecat from LibraryThing and though I haven't had too much time managed to begin a little scanning of my library. Your point was driven home as I found myself scanning books indiscriminately --at least by any genre/Dewey Decimal measures... Part of Randolph's mission --if he has one beyond naps in a sunlit corner of the apartment, the consumption of Chinese takeout and saving Harry-- is to reinvigorate the notion that the literary banquet table runneth over and frequently mushes together on a single plate without those little compartments designed to keep the sweet potatoes from mixing with the greens.

Editado: mayo 14, 2008, 10:49 am

That's great to hear and I appreciate that you've picked up on a number of the elements (like character studies and the difficulty of genre classification b/c of this and other aspects) that I think are there too.

I also hope to see more of Randolph and Harry in the future too and since Randolph has always been a persistent voice in my ear I think this is very likely. The third book which is in the works as we speak (Randolph has strict instructions on sticking to deadline) will see Randolph and Harry go to sea on a singles cruise for dog lovers with their dogs and various characters like the dog mutterer who uses a Tourettes-based approach to communicate with canines and other worthies who give Randolph plenty of food for philosophical and comedic observations on the human species. It will be called A Dog At Sea.


mayo 14, 2008, 12:15 pm

Mr. Englert,

While I can't say that I've read either of your books just yet, this thread has convinced me to give them a go, and I'm looking forward to it. Dogs and human emotions and humor and a touch of mystery? I'm in!

Addressing your question of genres, though, it's always something that's frustrated me. I do think of my books in terms of the ones I love and the ones I don't, as opposed to mystery / fantasy / thriller, etc. My books don't like to be pigeonholed, which is, as ChefLindsay pointed out, one of the great perks of LibraryThing. My library is so assorted that I hesitate to choose a favorite genre, and even in the book shops I tend to float around from shelf to shelf, looking for anything that catches my eye. In this respect, book covers do play more of a part in my book selection than they really ought to, I suppose... at least when I'm in a brick-and-mortar store. Part of the beauty of the Internet, and of LibraryThing, is the ability to find out what others have thought about the books that I'm interested in buying, and obtaining recommendations based on what I've already read and loved. Even recommendations, though can become frustrating -- about a month a go I finished a book that I simply adored and was telling one of my friends about it. "What kind of a book is it?" she asked. And I had to hesitate, because there were so many elements in the novel that I had a hard time labeling them. I ended up telling her that it was part historical fiction, part mystery, part chick-lit... and I could tell that she immediately wrote it off as soon as "chick-lit" passed my lips. Perhaps it wasn't the best description of a novel with a headstrong young female character, but without going into a twenty-minute synopsis of the book, it was the best I could do. And I fear that, for my poor categorization skills, she's missing out on a great book.

Oh, wow, I seem to have rambled on terribly, and I hope you'll forgive me. As I said before, though, I do look forward to reading your books. Thank you for your time, and might we convince you to come back and chat with us again after A Dog At Sea is published?

Editado: mayo 14, 2008, 1:35 pm

Dear Alynnk:
I didn't detect any rambling above at all! What you said captures the problem very nicely, doesn't it? That the book is the thing itself and classifying a good book can often make readers give it a pass. The cover art judgement isn't a bad guide because of one important fact...if the artist has read the book and understood it then the cover art is often doing alot more than simply positioning the book in a genre...it is transmitting to the reader important messages about the book. For example, Randolph standing up in both covers tells the reader that the experience inside is a bit fantastical and lighthearted ... it is a wink at the audience which also hints at other qualities of the book (Randolph's innate formality represented by the smoking jacket, etc.).
Again, I hope you do read these books since I suspect you will enjoy them. And please don't hesitate to take me up on my offer of getting a copy of A Dog Among Diplomats sent to you (please see above for details).

Editado: mayo 14, 2008, 1:41 pm

This morning, Randolph has made a contribution to our discussion on his blog http://www.adogabouttown.com/ that I think is worth pasting below. It entails a fairly harsh criticism of A Dog Among Diplomats from the LT Early Reviewers program. Randolph assures me that he will endure (as I think his own words below suggest).

Here is Randolph's post:

Ah, the critics. Who are they and what do they want from me? Well, apparently, one critic doesn’t want anything at all from Yours Truly. She calls me “annoying” and is looking for the exit.

Of course, any sentient creature with an ounce of introspection and humility will upon looking at him or herself in the mirror consider this “annoying” possibility about themselves. But on balance I think I am more genial than annoying, more helpful than hindrance and more open to the wonders of being alive than not. I also wag my tail quit a bit and seem happy whether it is a black Monday in my soul or not.

Yet my critic is right. Being a dog is a handicap and I have other qualities that do not make me an optimal detective, but really I was thrust into this role by events rather than having hung a shingle on the door as a coke-enthused Sherlockian equipped with an Oxbridge education. Certainly my critic is also correct that far more happens to me than is affected by me. Of course, it seems to me that this is a better reflection of how things actually work in this universe of accident, happenstance, incompetence and long stretches of non-events with dramatic climaxes and disappointing anti-climaxes and fires to put out not of our own making.

I post an excerpt of her scathing indictment on this Labrador below and re-reading it realize that, in fact, it is one of the highest (unintentional) compliments. I almost wish this could be the new back jacket blurb for A Dog Among Diplomats since it captures many of the virtues of the book. My critic wishes to return with delight to her world of police procedurals with their slick doses of action-hero realism. All the best. Meanwhile I will remain here in the imperfect but often delightful world where we are fat, flawed and soulful, loyal but not sugary, and a true and firm companion to my readers who ‘get me’.

“Being a dog seems to be much more of a handicap than an advantage. He did very little to discover facts or influence events, became a victim several times over, and kept annoying me. He talked about ways to communicate with his owner by spelling words with alphabet cereal, or using a laptop computer, but he never actually did it, missing several important opportunities to convey information or ask for help. He did use the computer to order books online, and was delighted about that, but it was irrelevant to the plot. The crime plot is very complex and far-fetched, with various spies trying to kill somebody and deceive each other, a possible bomb attack at the UN, and the dog’s owner missing since the last book, but perhaps still alive and about to reappear. More attacks occur and Randolph is in danger, but he has to depend on others for rescue, and does not really solve the crime.”

For the rest of this review and many others, please visit http://www.librarything.com/work/5290127/book/29530791

mayo 15, 2008, 5:05 pm

The response to my last question was very interesting so I'd like to pose another. This is not a question about my books or books per se... but, again, I'm curious: how do you think readers perceive writers these days (in other words, how do you perceive writers or think other people perceive writers?)? (approachable, just another profession, distant figures, et cetera)?

mayo 15, 2008, 8:30 pm

I'm in awe of writers! I perceive them as others perceive of rock stars. :)

I think whether or not they are approachable varies with the writer. Most writers whom I've met in person have seemed very friendly and easy to talk to. I often wonder, though, if authors tire of having to be in the public eye so much in order to promote their books.

mayo 15, 2008, 9:13 pm

I had the pleasure of meeting you and R. during a sunny stroll in Central Park. You were eager to talk and exceptionally polite which as we know is rare in New York... as least that's how i feel, being a dog walker. I'm either getting snubbed by prissy owners, fellow nasty self employed dog walkers, or the ederly upper west side snobs!!! LOL!!! Anyway, after a short conversation, and the pleasure of watching our dogs play, you gave me a copy of A Dog About Town, and i absolutely loved it!!! I read it in 2 days and passed it on to friends and co-workers!!! Since that day I have not seen you, but ran into your wife a few weeks ago who told me about the website. I'm sooooooo excited to hear about a new adventure starring Randolph!!! Congratulations!!!

mayo 16, 2008, 8:43 am

It has been my experience with every author that I have had the opportunity to meet that they are all approachable and very generous with the their time. I have attended several books signings at one of my local book stores (I've met Libba Bray, Elizabeth Kostova and David Petersen and each was willing to take a minute to talk to each person that came up to have their book signed - I met Corey Doctorow there, too, and he was nice if not a little on the odd side), a friend of mine worked for a writer's workshop at our local college, so I was able to sit in on some readings by the resident authors (that has been awhile, and I couldn't tell you who I met there), I bumped into Stephen King at a book store in Florida once (I'm rather sure I stared in awe for a moment until he smiled, said hi, and continued shopping) and my best experience was meeting Fannie Flagg, who was a speaker at the Florida English Teachers Assoc meeting one year in my hometown, and I got to sit and talk to her for about 20 minutes. She was absolutely charming.

I've had a couple of great conversations here on LT with some authors (James Dashner and yourself included, JF) and I'm hoping for as equally a good conversation with Meg Waite Clayton here on LT as soon as I get her book finished this weekend (it was an LTER offering). In fact, all the author's that I've had contact with on LT so far have been through the LTER program.

I have only ever had one occasion where an author has been approachable but not very friendly overall, but it was through an online forum, so I don't really count that as the norm, at least in my experience.

I think in the case of Stephen King, I've always perceived him as a "distant figure," but he was just a normal guy, shopping for books, and didn't act weird when I was the one just standing there, like a fool, staring at him. I think that's one of the occasions where it is just as awkward for the author as it is the reader, and I'm really ashamed of myself for staring, but I was a little awestruck at that particular moment.

Soooooo, another long answer that could be summed up as: I feel that most authors start out in my head as something of a "distant figure" but only because they have their name in print, and have done something that I can only dream of doing, but the reality is that they are real people, friendly and approachable and are just as much appreciative that we, the readers, have taken time to read their books and come to see them as we, the readers, are of them giving up their time to come and talk to us. Does that make sense?

mayo 16, 2008, 9:43 am

Dear xojanenexo:
It is great to hear that you enjoyed A Dog About Town! And I look forward to hearing what you think of A Dog Among Diplomats.
You might not have read it above, but I enjoyed this forum so much that we are giving away some of the new books (Diplomats). There has been a strong response but please feel free to claim yours by emailing adogabouttown@hotmail.com!

mayo 16, 2008, 10:09 am

I'm in awe of readers, SqueakyChu! Because it is the readers --especially the insightful, enthusiastic and discerning ones-- who will preserve the dialect of the tribe in the end and, in fact, inspire literary work.

I remember meeting James Merrill, the poet, when I was in high school and particularly one thing he said --something that for a writer starting out was I think a very sad and discouraging thing (but also a kind of heroic challenge)... he said roughly this that literary writing and poetry had retreated to the university in the same way that thinking and scholarship had retreated to (and been preserved by) the monasteries during the dark ages.

I understand the sentiment, but I continue to hope that he was quite wrong. He could afford to be, of course, because he was independently wealthy (i.e., Merrill of Merrill Lynch) and not dependent on his writing to keep him fed. Library Thing and its animated and enlightened crew of readers is evidence that he was wrong!

Editado: mayo 16, 2008, 11:39 am

I'll share two wonderful experiences that I've had in person with authors.

Situation # 1:

This past year, I attended the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I needed a place to rest so I sat in the back of a tent in which an author speaking - although I did not know who she was. I only caught the last 10 minutes of her talk and felt sorry then that I had missed the rest of it because I found it to have been very engaging. The speaker was Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust. Later, I accidentally ran into her while walking around the festival, and we started to talk. I found her just delightful and even dared to ask her for a personal book recommendation - which she gave me! It was quite fun.

Situation # 2:

I love to promote (midlist) local authors who write well. As a Bookcrosser, I was part of a booth at the International Day of the Book festival in Kensington, Maryland, in 2007. There I had an author, Con Lehane, approach our booth to ask if he could donate his own book for a Bookcrossing bookray. I, of course, gladly accepted. I read the book and especially enjoyed the lead character's personality. This year, at the same festival, I wanted to find the author and tell him how much I liked his book. I couldn't find him so I returned to our BookCrossing booth - where the author was waiting for me to give me a copy of his newest book! :)

Bottom line: Authors are great!!

I continue to hope that he was quite wrong.

I certainly hope that Merrill was wrong as well!

mayo 16, 2008, 1:11 pm

I haven't often had the opportunity to meet very many authors, but two particular instances stick out in my mind.

The first was a chance happening across a local author / celebrity participating in a meet-and-great in a local book shop to promote his memoir. I wasn't terribly familiar with him, knowing him by name recognition only, but there weren't many people around, so I stood in line to meet him. I had hoped to ask him a few questions, but the ones that I was met with terse replies of "well, I discuss that in my book." While an understandable response -- my questions probably weren't very different from ones he had been asked many times before -- it wasn't the attitude that I had hoped to encounter, and it certainly wasn't doing anything to make me want to purchase his book. I did end up checking it out from the library, but the entire time I was reading it I had this memory of his attitude in the back of my mind.

On the other hand, an author that I've come to follow more recently has claimed me as an even more loyal fan through the way that she interacts with her readers through her website and blog -- she regularly responds to questions asked and suggestions, well, suggested. Her whole personality is wonderful,and she seems to embrace her readers. And it's always nice to be appreciated.

On the whole, though, I do tend to admire authors for the talents they posses and hope that they would be the approachable type. Maybe their approachability lies in the extent of their fame? I think I might have an easier time trying to strike up a conversation with, say, Jennifer Donnelly, as opposed to, oh, Jeffery Deaver. But I can only hope that they're both equally wonderful.

I feel I should add, Mr. Englert, that you have that wonderful air of approachability down pat. :)

Editado: mayo 16, 2008, 10:55 pm

Maybe their approachability lies in the extent of their fame?

I think not necessarily. I exchanged a few emails with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, before he became a well-known author. I wrote to him simply because I found The Kite Runner on the new book shelf of my local library and thought the book was excellent. I had a few questions for him. Although I have not had the chance to meet him in person, when I did attend a talk of his at the National Book Festival, he seemed just as humble and grateful for his success as he seemed in our email exchanges.


One thing I know for myself is that I feel much more willing to read a book written by someone whom I consider a truly nice person and who is as interested in his readership as he is in himself.

mayo 16, 2008, 3:02 pm

I admire anyone who has an artistic talent, especially if it’s a talent that I don’t have! And I consider writing—at least the writing I enjoy reading—an art. So I think of writers in the same category as a musician, sketcher, performer, etc., whether “professional,” expressing talent as a hobby or using their talent within a different chosen profession. An artist's talent can be in music, linguistics, logic, agility, etc.

I haven’t gone to many author signings/events, but for the ones I have attended (e.g., the last three being Peter Lovesey, Sarah Dunant, and Denise Mina), the authors were great and quite approachable. And this conversation has further strengthened my opinion that authors are great and approachable! :)

Editado: mayo 16, 2008, 9:55 pm

Dear Alynnk:
Thank you for that kind observation. In my case, I think the approachability is partly a function of my gratitude when upon shimmying down the rope from my garrett window and my writing I find inquisitive and good minds in the real world outside.

I am sorry to hear about that experience with the author at the reading. My only suggestion is to keep asking questions --which I suspect you will be doing!
Also, just one observation from the other side of a reading...readings can be dispiriting since they are often not heavily attended and you mentioned that this one didn't seem to be. One reading I did for my first nonfiction book in Milwaukee attracted four people (no, make that five including my ride). Needless to say I was disappointed. The bookstore manager consoled me by telling me that the writer of the Kite Runner --before his book grew-- had only gotten two at the same store. In any case, ever since I have heard again and again how readings are poorly attended --even celebrity readings-- and I think that if this was this writer's memoir you might have caught him in a particularly vulnerable moment. After all, those kinds of public events always put the writer somewhere between delivering their "barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world" and peddling their wares. When the crowds don't show a certain existential dread enters in.

Maybe that happened to your author... but who knows. I, for one, think the interaction with readers --especially the kind made possible by the Internet-- is terrific and am happy for it --especially in the LT environment.

By the way, just read that about Khaled in SqueakyChu's post --sounds about right. And Christiguc --keep going to those readings...most authors appreciate it!

mayo 16, 2008, 10:54 pm

--> 41

my first nonfiction book in Milwaukee attracted four people

...but, hey! You can always say you attract double the crowd of Khaled Hosseini. :)

As a bookstore patron, that makes me feel really uncomfortable and bad for the author. I almost feel as if I *have* to buy a book just to make the author feel better - even if I attend with no previous intention of buying the author's book. However, *should* I even attend a reading if I have no intention of buying an author's book at a reading or book discussion?

mayo 16, 2008, 11:22 pm

Fascinating thread and I found the question, what do you think of authors? to be curious. Obviously they're people, and the various experiences related above show they're vulnerable to having the same good days and bad we all have, as well as the same feelings of insecurity we all have. In fact, however, writers have probably a lot more bad days since they get a lot more rejections than most people get in their chosen occupation. As a pedestrian participant in the writing field -- writing about food on a website -- I confess to an absolute envy to people who can truly write creatively, soaring, entertaining, or anyway that makes it impossible to put down a book--whether it's a collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, enthralling fiction, a unique character (much like Randolph, which is why I enjoyed the book so much). So count me in as a little jealous.

mayo 17, 2008, 8:22 am

Thank you. I never looked at my Milwaukee experience like that before but will do so from now on.

As for your thoughts about buying the author's book... of course, they would love it if you buy their books but I, for one, would rather have more people at the reading whether or not they buy the book on that occasion.

There are three practical reasons for this. The bookstore manager/owner --especially if it is a small, independent store (by the way, the kind of store I like to support) will be happy for the additional foot traffic even if it doesn't directly translate into sales of the reading-author's book; two, this will show the bookstore that the author speaking has a following (people who are interested in his/her work) and that will support the bookstore's enthusiasm for the author and his work going forward; and, three, a larger crowd --particularly filled with readers (people who appreciate words and books)-- will make for a better reading experience all around for both author and audience (four listeners, my ride and a cricket did not bring out my best in Milwaukee).

Oh, also Q&A is a welcome part of the reading for me and I, for one, would enthusiastically welcome someone who asked questions but didn't buy a book that night. And I bet alot of authors feel the same way.

Thanks for your thoughtful reflections on this part of the reading experience!

Editado: mayo 17, 2008, 11:37 am

Dear ChefLindsay:
Thank you --and Randolph (and I) confesses to an "absolute envy" of people who can cook artfully and then write about it artfully. In Randolph's case, he is also envious of anyone who has unprecedented and unlimited access to good food (any food for that matter, as far as Randolph is concerned, and any access to said food is a welcome boon for those who believe in the virtue of the belly).

mayo 18, 2008, 8:28 am


I got A Dog About Town in the mail yesterday! You wouldn't believe how excited I was to have an author mail me a signed book! Of course, I had to start reading it right away.

I think the book is so cute (although I'm not sure you'd especially like me using the word "cute" to describe your book!). After reading the beginning of the book, I find it especially appealing in its humor, setting (Manhattan is growing on me), and the idea of talking, highly intelligent animals.

When I'm finished, I'll be keeping my copy as part of my permanent collection. I will be looking for another copy to circulate among my Bookcrossing friends (to introduce them to your writing) and also for a copy of your newest book to read as I see I do enjoy your brand of mystery. This is a good thing as I usually don't "do mysteries"!

Many thanks for sharing a copy of your first book with me and also sharing your thoughts on Author Chat with me and other LT members over the past two weeks. It's been fun.

mayo 19, 2008, 11:12 am

That's very good to hear... and thank you for helping to make the chat as good as it has been.

mayo 19, 2008, 8:00 pm

A Dog Among Diplomats arrived today! Thank you for sending it to me--it'll be the next book I start.

Since your author chat goes through tomorrow, I don't know if I'm going to be able to come back with feedback before then, but I'll put up a review when I am finished.

Thank you for talking with us in the author chat. Hopefully you'll be back to chat about Randolph's third before too long!

mayo 19, 2008, 11:28 pm

Thank you Christiguc...and I look forward to your feedback (alas, after the chat ends)!

mayo 20, 2008, 8:58 am

On arriving home today,your book 'A Dog Among Diplomats',with it's superb cover showing an elegant Randolph,had arrived safely here in England.
Thank you again for sending the book which I look forward to reading,When I've done so I will put a review on the Review page.
All the best.

mayo 20, 2008, 6:54 pm

Dear Devenish:
Randolph in England...I'm sure he will enjoy it there --especially among your impressive 10,000+ library (many of his friends are there, no doubt). And thank you...I look forward to the review.

This is our last day and I want to thank everyone for stopping by and your many insights... but if they keep this forum open I will stop by from time to time to check out and discuss any new postings as they arise.

Again, many thanks to all!