Opinion

Commentary: A case of canine writer's block

"Yo! Jasper!" I commanded, using a voice originally concocted to discourage peeing on the floor. "Do something literary."

As an inducement, I held out an all-natural dog biscuit, an overpriced gourmet treat clearly meant for erudite animals that command special entree into the book publishing world (possibly with their own agents).

Yet, I was ready to lavish an organic dog cookie on an unpublished mutt. All I wanted in return was inspiration. A heartwarming anecdote. A few biting remarks.

My canine muse did not amuse. He assumed his usual hang-dog expression and sat back on his haunches – his lone trick other than a frenzied response to the distant sound of a FedEx truck. "Not exactly a compelling portfolio," I muttered. "Not quite the stuff of a can't-miss book proposal."

Meanwhile, whole packs of dogs are fetching fat book deals for hack writers.

A certain golden retriever has given a famous thriller writer another cushion against the recession with Bliss to You: Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life, by Trixie Koontz as told to Dean Koontz. Other dog collaborators this year include Rick Bass, Denis Johnson, Jon Katz, Abigail Thomas and Antonya Nelson.

There's Nan Martin's memoir of a former street dog named Squirrel: A Dog's Life: Autobiography of a Stray. (I'd like to note that I also have a former street dog, a rotund black creature of indeterminate breed that despite a literary name [Zora] has produced no memoir of her days roaming the mean alleys of Miami).

Washington Post columnist (and former Miami Herald editor) Gene Weingarten joined the chase with Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs. Former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen countered with Good Dog, Stay, in which her dog, unlike mine, imparts great lessons. "What I learned from watching Beau over his lifetime: to roll with the punches (if not in carrion), to take things as they come, to measure myself not in terms of the past or the future but of the present, to raise my nose in the air from time to time and, at least metaphorically, holler, 'I smell bacon!'"

Jasper, meanwhile, has taught me to bark at the UPS man.

I suppose what makes Jasper's literary failure so galling is that this latest outbreak of dog genre started with John Grogan's much-too-heartwarming Marley & Me. Grogan used to be my counterpart as a local page columnist for the Sun Sentinel. He struck me back then as a nice writer without a lot to say. At least not in the way of biting, pit bull commentary worthy of our local shenanigans.

But what Grogan had, apparently, was a dog bent on making him rich. His dog stayed on the bestseller list for 52 weeks.

Walk into a bookstore lately and two more Marley books (for children) pounce on you. And the Marley & Me movie opens Christmas Day with Grogan's character paired up with Jennifer Aniston.

"Jennifer Aniston, for God's sake," I yelled at Jasper. But Jasper, a vague imitation of a Dalmatian, still refused to indulge in either funny-but-poignant or teary-eyed maudlin – necessary tricks for a doggie bestseller.

I might take him to the vet. She'll ask, "What's the problem?"

"My dog's got it bad," I'll explain. "An acute case of writer's block."

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