If you’ve watched much television during the past 20 years, chances are that Merrill Markoe has made you laugh. As the original head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, she hatched Stupid Pet Tricks and garnered five Emmys for comedy writing. She was a regular contributor to Sex in the City, Not Necessarily the News and Moonlighting, to name but a few of her television credits. She is also the author of several books, including What the Dogs Have Taught Me, How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me and a children’s book, The Day My Dogs Became Guys. Recently, Bark’s Alison Pace spoke with Markoe about her new novel, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and the dogs who inspire her.
Q One of the things I loved most about Walking in Circles Before Lying Down is that the dogs actually speak to your protagonist, Dawn. You’ve vividly brought to life the thought that so many dog owners have had: If only I knew what my dog was thinking. What sort of literary decisions, hesitations and big leaps went into deciding to make the dogs converse with Dawn?
A One of my favorite things to do is write conversations with my dogs. I get a kick out of imagining a serious backand- forth on topics like “Why did you pull the face off of the brand-new stuffed frog? We’ve only had it less than 10 minutes!” Or, “How can you possibly have to pee so many times in a row? We just went 30 seconds ago!” There are a number of these kinds of conversational pieces in What the Dogs Have Taught Me.
Before W.I.C.B.L.D. was published, when I was trying to figure out what to write my next novel about, I realized that I had never really gone the distance with the complexity of my feeling for dogs as a long-form topic. So I decided I wanted to flesh it out and go on record in a bigger way.
Q In your essay collection What the Dogs Have Taught Me, many of the essays were based on the life you share with your dogs. Are the dogs in Walking in Circles Before Lying Down based on real dogs—specifically, your dogs? If not, who and/or what provided the inspiration for the characters of Swentzle and Chuck?
A Swentzle was based on Lewis, one of my favorite dogs ever. Lewis was kind of a Flatcoated Retriever, or maybe a Golden/Newfie mix, which I read is what a Flatcoated Retriever was to begin with. I dedicated the book to Lewis, and I wrote the piece “Greeting Disorder” [in W.T.D.H.T.M.] about Lewis. He was the greatest guy.He’s one of those dogs I’ll never get over.When you came in the door to my house, he was so happy to see you that he greeted you in a way that was, for some people, occasionally confused with assault. And then, after you had been greeted to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, Lewis was still so glad to see you that he would go downstairs to my living room and have sex with the sofa for the whole rest of the time you were at my house. That is just how welcome he felt you were! In a way, he was a litmus test for friends—those who were utterly grossed out by this display were doomed to the discard pile. (And probably happier there.) I used to think that if Lewis was a songwriter, his hit tune would have been called I’ll Never Stop Saying Hello.
Chuck is based on one of my four current dogs, the incredibly hilarious and very smart Puppyboy. Puppyboy is kind of a Shepherd mix.He is very attentive and obedient and interactive, but he has that doggy fetch-obsession to the point of mania. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, Pupp is bringing you stuff he hopes you will throw.He is dropping them into your lap and staring at you. And he never stops staring at you in this way until you go home. (Sometimes he keeps it up after you leave.)