Animal lover and writer Anne Calcagno never intended her new book “Love Like A Dog,” for a young adult audience, yet since publication, it’s been hailed as a cross-over book in the vein of classics “Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Ultimately a love story, her novel depicts a boy torn between his love for a pit bull and a desire to please his money-hungry father. Chosen by the Rolling Meadows High School as a featured book for their students, “Dog” marries animal cruelty education and riveting familial conflict, creating a reading experience both informative and engaging. Below, Calcagno discusses her novel’s inception and what it means to “Love like a Dog.”
Our Town: Describe your book’s genesis.
Anne Calcagno: I wanted to write a love story. My past writing explored the silencing of women; the human struggle to maintain any relationship at all. I wanted to know if I could write about hope and love and responsibility and trust. But I didn’t have a love story – yet. Then we got our first dog, a 6-month-old Mastiff. My son, Lucien, was a lively 6-year-old. He wanted a dog more than anything, and we didn’t realize Dee was fear-aggressive toward children. One evening, she attacked my son, from behind, splitting his arm open down to the bone; I was there and saw he had done nothing to provoke her. Right away, that night, bandaged up, Lucien began begging, “Dee didn’t know. It’s not her fault, mommy. Don’t get mad at her!” His love for her was greater than his fear or pain; that is what dogs can bring out in us. This became my love story.
OT: What’s your writing process like?
AC: Not anything I would recommend! I am a very slow writer, and revise extensively. This small, tightly knit novel took me seven years to write. People tell me, as a compliment: “I read it in two days!” Think about it; seven years for something the other end of the equation, my reader, finishes in two days. But athletes know all about this, don’t they? Practicing for years and years for those few highlighted races, tournaments or games. Devotion to the work is all, in any case.
OT: You researched extensively, even joining the Chicago Police’s Animal Abuse Control Team on raids.
AC: After I interviewed police officers, [I followed] them on two raids of suspected dog-fighting rings. It was striking to see the boredom and complacency in those communities where dog fights went down in basements or garages. Dog fighting remains a successful underground economy, taken as a given in many parts of the city. I relish research; seeing facts gain a new experience of meaning through imagination is terrifically inspiring to me. Facts need imagination and imagination needs facts.
OT: What do you hope people take from your book?
AC: More than anything I wish to reveal the intense love the bully breeds engender for those who look past stereotype, bad information, and breed profiling. These dogs were once called “America’s babysitter.” I hope “Love Like a Dog” reinforces Gandhi’s well-known statement: “The moral progress of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals.”
Anne Calcagno reads this Sunday, September 26 at 4:30 p.m. at Women and Children First. She will also appear at the C.A.R.E Bake Sale/Evanston Farmers Market on Saturday, October 2 from 9 .am.-12:30 p.m. at University Place & Oak Avenue.
Find her here or here.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.