Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A letter from Monica Kulling about her book Merci Mr. Dash

Merci Mister Dash!A few weeks ago I reviewed a book called Merci Mr. Dash which was written by Monica Kulling. I was curious to find out how Monica got the idea for the book, so I asked her to write to us to describe how the book came to be. Here is her letter.

Dear TTLG readers:
Where did I meet Mister Dash, and how did he find his way onto the printed page, dressed to impress and ready for his adventures with the French lady he lives with, Madame Croissant, and Daphne, her granddaughter whom he tolerates?

I was walking our two big dogs in High Park, a gem of green space in the heart of downtown Toronto where our dogs — Charly, a Golden Retriever, and Roxy, a Black Lab/Shepherd mix — love running wild and free on its leash-free portions. Suddenly, on the trail ahead of me a woman called her dog, “Da-ash! Mister Da-ash!” What kind of dog will answer to that fun name, I thought? And then he materialized, jaunty and bouncing, like an actor making his appearance on stage. Mister Dash seemed so proud to be a black Standard poodle. The rest of my walk was spent conjuring up a picture-book story for this, to my mind, wonderful character that had landed in my lap.

By the time I got home, I had the bare bones of a simple story. Mister Dash, well mannered and cultured (aren’t all poodles well-mannered and cultured?), has an extensive wardrobe and can read the newspaper, but doesn’t speak because he isn’t a cartoon character. Madame Croissant is also well-mannered and cultured. She comes from Paris and owns and operates a gift store specializing in items from France. Their well-ordered life is “turned into a whirlwind” every weekend when Madame Croissant’s granddaughter comes to visit. The clash of the two temperamentally disparate characters, Mister Dash and Daphne, is the heart of the story.

I wrote the first draft quickly and easily; after my two trusted first readers (Nancy and Susan) provided me with their always reasonable, useful comments, I revised the story and sent it off to its first publisher where it was met with an odd reception. The editor turned it down flat with the comment: “I don’t like stories with poodles in them.” Huh? Okay. In response, I decided to flip the character on its head and turn Mister Dash into a mixed breed dog. Suddenly the character opened up to other possibilities. Mister Dash could now rely on five different breeds in his makeup to help save the day.

And just how would Mister Dash save the day? I drew on my life’s experience for the “disaster” Daphne winds up in and from which Mister Dash must rescue her. When I was six, my sister five, and my brother three, we were playing outdoors. (In those days kids were allowed a longer leash.) I was pedalling a fire truck with my brother sitting behind me, and my sister was pedalling her tricycle. We started down a steep hill at the end of our block. I managed to keep the fire truck on track. But a tricycle wasn’t so easy for a five-year-old to manage on a hill. My sister quickly lost control of her pedals and went careening down the hill, to be rescued by my father.

And what about Daphne? Where did I find that character? That was the easiest bit. Daphne, c’est moi!

Thank you so much for writing to us Monica. You can read my review of Merci, Mr. Dash here.

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