Thought for the Day:
“Good observers have the manners of trees and animals, and if they add words, it is only when words are better than silence. But a vain talker profanes the river and the forest, and is nothing like so good company as a dog.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
Gifts for My Writer Friends: Writers Helping Writers has an interesting post HERE on using anger to deepen your character.
Alexander Gordon Smith visits Adventures in YA Publishing and gives some good advice HERE on writing what you know. And it’s pretty entertaining.
Writer’s Digest has a great article on writing dialogue you can find HERE.
Last Sunday, I promised one of you a signed, hardback copy of The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier. Our winner this week is Nancy! Congratulations, Nancy. I will be sending this out to you this week. I know you will enjoy it. I have another great giveaway this week, so stay tuned.
I read a lot of non-fiction, but I seldom review it here. I don’t know why. I do it now and then, but not as often as I should. But I have a non-fiction treat for you. I met Nancy Castaldo last November when I went to the Whole-Novel Historical Fiction Highlights Workshop. Nancy was on the faculty and I learned a lot about research (and other things) from her. I heard about her book Sniffer Dogs, and when I had a chance to review it for San Francisco Book Review, I jumped at it. I contacted Nancy and asked if she would be willing to do an interview as well, and she graciously answered all my questions. Here are the 5-star review I wrote for San Francisco Book Review and the interview with Nancy.
People casually speak about dogs being man’s best friend, but in fact there is a great deal of truth to that little phrase. Author Nancy Castaldo has written a wonderful middle-grade book that takes a close look at dogs and all they do for people. Young people will find this a fascinating overview of the many ways dogs help us. What makes dogs so special?
“By that one sniff your dog can tell where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. It might surprise you, but your dog probably knows more about your health than you do.”
As Castaldo explains in her book, one of the ways dogs are special is they smell the way people hear – everything that is there. Dogs’ noses have 300 million sensory neurons while humans have only 6 million. And dogs are smart. They can be trained to use their sniffers for many important duties. Some find living people buried in disaster areas such as building collapses or after storms. Some find corpses. Some are trained to find explosives or drugs or accelerants in arson fire sites. Others work with scientists tracking wildlife while some are trained in medical applications such as recognizing dangerous blood sugar levels in diabetics. Castaldo’s excellent research and lively writing along with great dog photos make this a book kids will love, and they won’t even suspect they are learning.
RH – I really enjoyed reading your new book, Sniffer Dogs. How did you happen
upon the idea for this book?
NC – I learned about a moose population study that was being assisted by sniffer dogs in the nearby Adirondack Mountains. It fascinated me! I was very familiar with the traditional methods of obtaining information on various species and knew this could make a huge impact for conservation. I had to learn more and once I did, I wanted to tell the world!
RH – I know you have written picture books and activity books. How did you decide this should be written for middle-grade readers?
NC – I wanted to tell the story of these amazing dogs and their handlers in a way kids could understand and I wanted to delve into the subject matter more than a picture book could do. This was the perfect format for this subject.
RH – I know your research is always impeccable. Tell us a little about your research process for this book.
NC – I love sleuthing! It’s the best part of a book for me. The research for sniffer dogs brought me to the woods of North Carolina, the tunnels of Grand Central Station in NYC, the desert of California, and many other spots where these dogs work. I wanted to share the stories of different sniffer dogs, so I needed to spend time with them and watch them at work. Meeting the handlers, scientists, and trainers was just as important. I also read up on everything about dogs, their anatomy and history.
RH – You focus on several areas of work dogs can do. How were you able to find these different working dogs? What was your greatest challenge gaining access to the dogs and their trainers for your interviews?
NC – My first contact was with the organizations that employ these dogs. I then needed to connect with the dogs themselves. The handlers, trainers, and scientists who work with these dogs were wonderful. They love their dogs and respect their abilities. They were all very giving of their time. My greatest challenge was connecting with some. The conservation dogs, for example, spend most of their time in the field in remote regions. I wish I could have hopped on a plane to Africa or one of their other work sites to meet up with them. Most often when they are in the field their work is confidential guaranteeing no outside influences in their reports. There were also dogs that have passed on, like Sage and Sunny, who I would have loved to have met.
RH – What messages do you hope your young readers will find in your book?
NC – What I loved about these dogs was that many of them were saved from shelters. I worked in a shelter as a teen and it was heartbreaking to see some marvelous dogs lose their lives there. Raider was on death row when he was rescued and brought to the Search Dog Foundation. Wicket was also rescued from a shelter. The fact that these dogs got their second chance and have enriched our lives in the process is colossal. It is also humbling to see these sniffer dogs at work. They’re never wrong. Its no wonder their human partners trust them with their lives.
RH – How long did you work on Sniffer Dogs before it was acquired? Did you have the help of an agent or did you sell the book directly to the publisher? Please tell us something of your journey.
NC – I met my editor at a SCBWI retreat. The picture book she critiqued there was not for her, but she wanted to see more of my work. After sending her a proposal for a book on conservation sniffer dogs she asked if I could expand it. I was happy to! My agent handled the business end of things.
RH – The photographs are quite wonderful, and I know kids will love reading this book. You were able to use some of your own photos for the book. What kind of obstacles did you face for the photos you couldn’t take?
NC – Thanks, Rosi! It was a great pleasure to shoot most of the photos for this book. I have been a photographer for years, but haven’t had the opportunity to use my own photos for a book before. It was terrific because I was able to take the photos while I was with the dogs. I could capture them in training and at work. The major challenges were weather, time and locations.
RH – As writers, we hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once your books are acquired? What’s it like working with your editor?
NC – When I have a non-fiction book accepted, it means that I then have to write it. The editor has received a proposal and sample chapters. We’ve talked about the direction. Once I have a contract, I am given a deadline and then go off to complete my research, take photos, and get to the task of writing. Once it is delivered to my editor, I am eager to get notes back from her to make the book better. She goes through it more than once before she gives it to me. After that revision, I submit it back to her with the photographs. It then proceeds on through copyediting and design. After months it arrives in first pages. The first pages look like the book – they are typeset with photos in place. Everyone reviews it and more editing takes place before it goes off to the printer. A photo might be replaced or moved. Captions are written. It gets more exciting as more people from the publishing house get involved. I’m always so anxious to see what the designer comes up with. I think the designer on Sniffer Dogs did an amazing job.
RH – I promise not to tell Gatsby, but did you have a favorite of the dogs you wrote about, one you just hated to leave behind when your work was done?
NC – Oh, how can I pick a favorite? It’s like picking a favorite child. Each one was unique and special. I loved spending time with Raider in California. He was at the beginning of his career, and I know he’s going to be a fantastic search dog. Zuma’s quietness and thoroughness was so special. She was a dog with an old soul. I hope I captured the personalities of each of them in their photos. Their eyes say it all. They are loyal and hard-working. I felt honored to get to know them and keep in touch with most. I watch the news to see if any of the dogs I met are participating in a search at a natural disaster. Like a proud aunt, I love hearing about their accomplishments.
RH – What is next for you? Are you working on something now we can look forward to?
NC – In addition to a book on polar bears that will be released in November from National Geographic, I am working on another book for Houghton Mifflin that tells the story of biodiversity and seeds. It’s been very different from Sniffer Dogs. My subjects aren’t moving around as I photograph them (for the most part). It’s an important book and I am eager to share it with readers next year.
RH – What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?
NC – Stay true to your writing. Believe in yourself. Develop your craft. Don’t write for the market. And READ! Even though writing is a passion for most writers, it is also a business. Learn about it. Don’t send out work to publishers or agents until you can put your best foot forward. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great resource. Not only will it provide you with tons of information, but will also give you a great sense of community and support.
RH – Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to tell us?
NC – Thank you so much, Rosi. This was fun! I have had a great time so far with Sniffer Dogs, and I can’t wait to begin sharing it in schools this fall. Teachers and other readers can find out more about my books and curriculum tie-ins at my website: nancycastaldo.com
If you would like to have a chance to win my gently-read hardback copy of Sniffer Dogs, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower (fee and easy — look in the right hand column), and leave a comment. If you want extra chances, Tweet about this post with the link or post the link on Facebook or your own blog or some other social media. Tell me what you have done in your comment and I will give you extra chances in the drawing. And don’t forget it isn’t too late to leave a comment on Wednesday’s post for a chance to win Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner. You have until next Sunday for that.
Don’t forget to stop over at Shannon Messenger’s wonderful blog for more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. You can find it by clicking HERE.