I have recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert J. McCarty, author of the Planet of the Dogs Series. The series includes:
Castle in the Mist ; (review coming soon)
These delightful children's chapter books tell the story of the world before dogs, how they first came to the earth from the planet of the dogs, and how they save humankind and teach them many important things such as love and loyalty. The books are beautifully illustrated by Robert's wife, Stella, who graduated from the art academy in Helsinki, and currently teaches painting and drawing at the Vantaa, Finland, Art School.
Lisa: Hello Robert, Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for my readers.
I understand that the Planet of the Dogs series was inspired by stories that you made up to tell your children and grandchildren. About how long ago do you think you told the first story that involved the Planet of the Dogs?
Robert:My children are adults, many of them with children, I started making up stories and songs a generation ago.
Lisa: Was there something in particular that inspired these stories: an event, desire to teach something to your children, or a certain beloved canine friend?
Robert: There was one dog in particular, who inspired the stories. She was a rescued toy poodle, who had struggled for many years to survive in a cramped house with 12 other poodles -- most of them bigger. We named her Miss Merrie. There were so many problems and so much cruelty in the world that people had created. We thought that people could learn a lot from Miss Merrie, who was so loving, loyal and courageous -- and the world would be a better place.
Lisa: When you sat down to write the books did you already have most of the material ready from your oral story-telling, or where they more vague ideas that you had to flesh out for the books?
Robert: Certain ideas were clear: dogs and children could communicate, the dogs would find non-violent solutions to problems, the dogs would be examples of unconditional loyalty and love, and the dogs would help people to heal. Most of the stories had to be worked out.
Lisa: Did you have encouragement from your children to write down the stories that they knew and make them into a book for others to enjoy?
Robert: I was encouraged to tell their children stories, but not to write them down.
Lisa: The dogs in your series have very distinct personalities. Are the dog characters in your books taken from dogs you have known or owned in real life?
Robert: In most cases, they are based on dogs we have had, or dogs of family and friends. In addition to Miss Merrie, Lucy is based on a specific dog who came into our lives after Miss Merrie passed on. Buddy is based on Dafi, our current family dog.
Lisa: The setting for the villages and forests in the books are beautiful, both the descriptions of them, and the drawings by Stella, they sound like somewhere I would like to live. Is there a particular place that has inspired the scenery, or do you have a certain place in mind when you are writing?
Robert: Much of the background world comes from books relating to the history of early peoples, and the settlement and development of Europe. Much of Castle In The Mist takes place in a setting much like early Finland, a country of forests and lakes. The setting for Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, has many similarities with Lapland, in northern Finland. Stella is a Finn and teaches drawing and oil painting in a Finnish art school. We are currently living in Helsinki during the school year.
Lisa: Why do you feel that this is such an important message for children to hear today--the love, peace, and loyalty which dogs can teach us?
Robert: Wherever there is literacy in the world, there are TV, film, computer games and the Internet. These media are filled with dramatic violence. The world has always had a great deal of violence, but now the scale and repetition of violence is far out of balance. Hopefully, the Planet of the Dogs series will reach many children at an impressionable age, offering non-violent solutions to fearful situations. It is our hope that the books will one day serve as a basis for an animated film, like the Lion King, and reach children throughout the world.
Lisa: I know that you are working with dog therapy reading programs, how can people who are interested learn more about this?
Robert: Libraries in many locations around the country have these programs. The Internet will take you to programs. And there are organizations like www.therapyanimals.org/read (the R.E.A.D. program); http://www.readingwithrover.org/, and Therapy Dogs International, www.TDI-dog.org/childrenreadingtodogs.html.I use Google Alerts to learn more daily about ongoing therapy dog reading activities.
Lisa: Before you began writing, what did your professional life entail?
Robert: I produced, wrote and directed film and video -- primarily documentary, training and education, and marketing. A short film, Rooftops Of New York, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Lisa: And, finally, are there any more Planet of the Dogs books in the works?
Robert: Yes. As you know, dogs are always ready for adventure and they love children.
Lisa: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I appreciate the opportunity for readers to learn more about you and your books.
Robert: Thank you, Lisa. We appreciate your interest and your warm and insightful reviews.
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