Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host New England author and dog-lover Ellen Cooney on our Spotlight blog! Ellen’s most recent novel is The Mountaintop School for Dogs And Other Second Chances.
Thank you for joining us, Ellen! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m one of those writers who never “became a writer.” I just always was one—I was a child poet and playwright, and in my twenties, I started trying out fiction as a way to avoid deciding if I should spend my life writing poems or plays or even both. I had the idea that stories and novels are places where everything can happen, elements of poems and drama are naturally inside story-telling, and that’s what I still believe and what I do. I grew up in a Worcester County town, Clinton, and went to college and grad school in Worcester. After many years in Boston and Cambridge, I now live in mid-coast Maine.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from The Mountaintop School for Dogs?
All my novels are different—I’m always trying new things, new ways of telling stories, new subject material. But it’s always about the characters: being human, being alive, coping with struggles, trying to break away from limitations and negative influences, trying to be fully one’s self. The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances is sort of an adventure story, combined with a story about being willing to try believing in the thing we call “hope,” and not only believe in it, but act on it. It takes place at a sanctuary for rescued abused dogs: a sort of school where very lively and engaging things are going on all the time. The dogs aren’t the only ones who are on a journey toward a new life. The human characters are too. One thing it really gets into is the whole question of empathy—the amazing thing of making connections outside yourself in real, genuine ways.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process?
Writing is my favorite part of being a writer! I mean by that, the act of composing, of making a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book. It’s a building process, in a way. My most favorite thing about it is the part at the very beginning of a new work, when I have some basic clues concerning what it’s about, who’s in it, what’s going to happen. There is always a wonderful sense of perfection before the writing begins, when the novel is an Ideal. I guess that fuels the writing efforts in a big way. The process of writing, then publishing, is all about Reality. My favorite part of the publishing process is working with outstanding editors who enter into the manuscript the same way you’d go into a house that’s under construction and point out the places with problems, or, like, a support beam that’s too weak. Also of course a favorite thing is when the finished book arrives in the mail, and there it is, a book.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
In writing, never make the error of trying to please anyone but yourself. Listen to criticisms of your manuscript with an open mind, but only follow suggestions for rewrites and changes if you know in your own instincts they are necessary. I think we often underestimate the power of our instincts, our own voices and styles.
I have three dogs, rescues, who are one hundred percent behind The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances, especially my middle one, Skip, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who came to me through a rescue group in the South. He’d been an abandoned stray, living on the streets for God knows how long. He was found in a very needy condition in a mall parking lot, and he was pretty much like a feral creature when he arrived. I became his teacher, besides his human. What I learned in that process became the foundation of my novel. So in a way, the teaching, and all the interactions, in my fictional sanctuary are actually pretty personal. This is Skip and me, and I wish he knew what an inspiration he was to me.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
My recent books are pretty much everywhere; all of my novels are in libraries. Details on finding my work, including a novel that was published as an e-book only, are on my website, http: ellencooney.com.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I can be contacted through my website. And I run a blog: ellencooney.tumblr.com.