Ghosts of Bergen County: Dana Cann

If you’ve ever been in a writing group, here is what you know: Some of the best stories ever written have not actually been published. Their pages are shared — consumed — by the rest of the group. A year passes. Two. We ask after a character whose life we have followed, but whom no one else has had the chance to meet.

How’s Symphony? How’s Cara? Hey, what’s up with Miranda these days?

We think: Come on, Writer Friend, finish up.

We think: Come on, Publishing Industry. Recognize!

Sometimes, it never happens, and the group members (or former group members) remain the only people fortunate enough to read and be changed by these manuscripts. But sometimes, we get lucky and we are able to say: Finally.

That’s what I’m saying that today because Dana Cann’s Ghosts of Bergen County, (Tin House) is out in the world. That’s why I’m grabbing you by your virtual shoulders and saying: Read this.

I can’t tell you exactly when I first met Ferko, Mary Beth, Jen and Amanda in Ghosts because these last years have gotten blurry, along with my vision. But I can tell you that these characters and their intersecting lives have never left me, and that seeing Dana’s debut novel published is one of those all-is-right-with-the-world moments. The book is out next week, though you can find some copies now. I hope it soars.e82f2d_a16ed648e163407e8a89bf098f7d8659

I normally use this space to write about kidlit, so I should probably note that Ghosts is for adults. You can check out Dana’s website to find out more, or follow him at @dana_cann.

And to the rest of you whose manuscripts I’ve read and admired and loved: Keep going. Finally is one of my favorite words.

Dana will be reading from Ghosts at Politics and Prose on April 30 at 6 p.m. and at Barnes & Noble (Bethesda Ave in Maryland) on May 6 at 7.


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The Westminster Peep Show

Every year, the Washington Post hosts its annual Peeps Diorama contest. It’s our favorite magazine spread of the year. We’ll never be as over-the-top as some of our favorite entries (which seem to be wired with electricity) but the kids and I do like to spend our spare time daydreaming in marshmallow fluff. Then, of course, the deadline sneaks up on us, and we’re all: Wait, what? The deadline is TONIGHT?

Last year my Star Trek entry made it in with only five minutes to spare. This year, we had four whole hours of breathing room. The idea for our 2016 diorama came from our friend Anamaria Anderson at Books Together, who thought it was an obvious choice given the recent publication of HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW and our February trip to the Agility Trials at Westminster. So I give you: The Westminster Peep Show.

The gallery of the 45 semifinalists (nope, you won’t find me there, but you will find writer/uber-crafter Sheri Goad) is here. Especially loved the Hamilton entry and the pinball machine. The final winners are here. And our own pics follow:


Perhaps a little reminiscent of Frankenweenie, but sometimes, that’s what you have to do.


An overview of the field.


The judge, near the sensor, and the handler, with a treat.


A handler with her sheep dog. (Peep dog?)


Photo is a little washed out, but the sign is a nod to sweet Rexie from How to Behave at a Dog Show.


Should have gone over to the neighbors to borrow some fishing line, but went with straight up thread to show our beagle going over a jump.


Overview again.

Our announcers, as seen through the hoop, accompanied by a Peep Tzu.

Our announcers, as seen through the hoop, accompanied by a Peep Tzu.

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Skyping and Reading

Wednesday was World Read Aloud Day, one of my favorite days of the year. It’s a reminder that no one is too old or too young to listen to a story. Not me. Not my husband. Not my eye-rolling teens. People may take the day as a reminder to read to a partner or to a child who seems, on the outside, past the snuggling stage. They may read to a parent who has forgotten certain aspects of daily living, but who still understands the power of a story. (My favorite article related to this subject is Sally Jenkins’ essay in the Washington Post about reading to basketball coach Pat Summitt. The article also involves Mary Karr and Phil Jackson, and it is so worth a read if you love basketball or Mary Karr or someone who can’t take off and fly anymore, due to oppressive fog.) It may mean children reading to animals, stuffed or real. (Thanks to Lisa for sending me this story about kids reading to dogs to get them over shyness and ready for adoption.)

Schools celebrate World Read Aloud Day by bringing in authors or mystery readers. This week I visited classrooms in Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina via Skype (which is key, as I don’t always travel well by car). The only technological glitches were the fan in my computer, which started whirring at one point and made me feel like I had to shout to the kids in Maryland, and one of my cats, who decided he wasn’t getting enough attention.

The appearance of a cat during a Skype visit isn’t quite akin to the appearance an Obama dog during a visit to the White House, but kids love it when a tail or a pair of pointy ears suddenly appears on the screen. In part, it’s because my cats are pretty darn cute. But the cats also remind kids that they are talking to a real person. She has cats! She writes! She has a messy dining room! (Yes, I show them that, too.) Which I hope will lead them to realize that one day they, too, can write in a messy dining room with cats.

Anyway, during one visit (hello, Nashville!) my cat knocked over my glass of water, jumped on top of my hutch, and opened a cabinet and started pulling out the contents, which crashed down, one by one. I snapped a picture while he was still going through the cabinet:


Here are a couple of other photos from Wednesday, courtesy of the amazing teachers and librarians who invited me in. (If you look around the internet and use the hashtag #WRAD16, you will see many similar photos of giant author heads and the backs of children. I think we all look like Oz.)

I look like Kilroy

I look like Kilroy


That's a little better.

That’s a little better.


Every classroom I visited this year was different. I read and talked and when my kids came home from school, I read some more. The cats listened, too.

Here’s hoping that your read-aloud day turns into a week or a year or a lifetime.

Many thanks to Kate Messner, who provided a match-making service for teachers and authors on her blog this year. And thanks to all of the teacher and librarians, for all they do every day. You can learn more about World Read Aloud Day on the official web site.

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How to Behave at a Dog Show: Live and In Person

I was in New York for a quick family visit last weekend. We celebrated a birthday and ate about a zillion bagels and duck soup with home-made noodles. We also headed out in 2-degree weather (“coldest day in New York in 22 years”) to Pier 92 to see the Westminster Agility Trials.

In my book, HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW, Rexie has his own, Rexie way of doing things once he enters the ring. The same was true here. Some dogs raced through the course. For others (Marge and Jerry!) it was more of a stroll. Some barked, tails wagging. Some were silent, concentrating. My favorite competitor was Twinkie, who sat down in the middle of the timed event to scratch an itch. I also loved the dog who stopped, during the finals, to nibble his handler’s pants. Rexie thoroughly approved. We also liked Keebler, the rescue-Corgi who won the 12″ category. The agility trials also allow mixed breeds, each labeled “All American Dog.”

The event included a meet-the-breed component, where I fell in love with the Swiss Mountain Dog. We approached each pooch slowly and gently, like the instructions suggested. And we learned a lot, for instance: these Shih Tzus are brushed for 40 minutes a day. Each.

agility8use We admired these floral designs (more detail if you follow the link) :

agility5flowers agility4flowers










And we cheered some more:


I love how there’s a one-line elevator pitch for each breed. There was a banner over the Great Danes, for instance, that said: Great Danes: The Apollo of Dogs. In Fredericksburg, where I talked to breeders while I was researching dog shows (and learning how to behave), I heard things like:

“These were the dogs that were on the pyramids.” (Mexican Hairless)

“In some cultures, this dog is considered holy.” (A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who had a spot in a perfect circle right in the middle of her forehead.)

There was also a dog whose claim to fame was “Odorless!” (but I have to dig out my notes to remember which breed.)

The snack of choice at the Westminster event? Hot dogs, naturally. Though for a vegetarian option, I recently saw this lovely poodle made out of broccoli. (I’m pretty sure that’s on our dinner list for tonight when we tune into the finals of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Remember that no matter who is designated “best,” the real best is likely living in your house, right now, about to gnaw up the couch.

Enter my Goodreads Giveaway for a chance to win a copy of HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW or order it online or through an indie bookstore near you. (If you order this week, send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send you one of my new HOW TO BEHAVE bookmarks.)


When it’s 2 degrees, sweat pants make a fine scarf

Posted in dogs, how to behave at a dog show | 3 Comments