An Interview with Kathy Nuzum: THE LEANIN’ DOG

sc0204a5c0Leanin’ Dog is a chocolate labrador, half-starved and unable to hunt for herself because of an injured paw, and so, she is forced to seek out humans to survive. Deep, deep in the winter, far back in the mountains of western Colorado she stumbles onto the porch of a tiny cabin.  One chunk of stew meat, one bite of potato at a time, the lonely little girl inside fills Leanin’ Dog’s stomach and heals the dog’s heart and herself learns to trust again.

We had a wonderful chocolate lab/St. Bernard mix named Moot, who always accompanied me on road trips.  She would sit next to me in the minivan, between the front seats. Over the course of the first hour of driving, slowly, slowly, she would start to lean into me, mile by mile, pound by pound, until her full weight rested against my right arm and thigh, eventually rendering them numb. That’s where I got the dog for the story.

The story itself came as I sat, one snowy day, gazing out the window at the huge flakes falling to the ground. Slow and soft at first, then fast and thick they came on.  I looked down at big, brown Mooty, lying on the floor next to me, and a question formed in my mind: What if…there were a big, brown dog out in a storm like that? I grabbed my notebook and pen and started to write.

What came to me was not a novel, but a short story.  After that, months later, I wrote a second short story called The Leanin’ Dog and the Christmas Moon.  The biggest challenge I faced was to discover and excavate the back story that connected the two, and what I found was that the first story was the natural beginning of the novel, and the second fell into place at the end of the novel.

There are no dogs in my first novel, A Small White Scar, only a fine horse, a renegade coyote, and an aggressive, dead rattlesnake. It is a young adult Western, the coming of age story of fifteen-year-old twin brothers, one of whom has Down Syndrome.  The novel traces the boys’ journey through a treacherous external landscape and an equally treacherous internal one in search of their independence from each other.

The novel I am at work on now is a horse story.  It has been the most difficult book I have attempted so far; I think because it is based on the real life story of my best horse, Dan.  I had to try several different POVs and several different voices before I found a combination that didn’t eventually hit a wall.  What I finally settled on, what made the story flow, was third person omniscient/storyteller’s voice. After that, it was still a struggle for a long time to narrow the focus to the very heart of the story and away from the real life facts. In the end what mattered the most was: this horse has a guardian angel.

PIC_0001   I don’t remember the books that didn’t have an impact on me when I was a kid. When I was really young, before I could read to myself, it was a Disney book of Cinderella read to me by my mom as a bedtime story.  I’m not sure this was well thought out on her part because it seemed like every time she read it to me, I would have nightmares about the Bad Fairy chasing me, trying to get me in her clutches, and I would have to wake my mom up.

It was in fourth grade that I discovered Edward Eager’s magic books. They became the favorites of my childhood and remain the favorites of my adulthood. Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Seven Day Magic, Magic or Not, The Well Wishers, The Time Garden, Knight’s Castle; they are all wonderful, and they kindled my imagination, my love of reading, my belief in possibilities.  I only recently discovered that in addition to these classics, Mr. Eager was also a playwright and lyricist.


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