Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview with Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, authors of Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle

I'm thrilled to welcome Kirby Larson (right) and Mary Nethery (left) to Diary of an Eccentric today to discuss their latest book, Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle. The book was released earlier this week by Little, Brown, and it caused a lot of excitement in my house when I received a review copy last month. Nubs is the story of Major Brian Dennis and the dog he befriended in Iraq. After trekking across the desert to be with Brian, Nubs was later relocated to the United States. What an amazing dog, and a beautiful story of the rewards one can reap from being kind to others. [If you haven't read my review with The Girl, click here.]

I want to thank Kirby and Mary for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer some questions. Since the book was just released, I can only imagine how hectic things must be for them, and I truly appreciate their generosity.

How did you get involved in the writing of Nubs? Did you have a chance to meet Nubs and Major Brian Dennis in person?

Kirby: Mary and I had written Two Bobbies:  A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival and found we loved the collaborative writing process. The moment we finished that book, we began to look for another friendship story we two dear friends could tell together. Mary was convinced we would find such a story set in Iraq and just as she was thinking about that, her husband handed her a newspaper article about Brian and Nubs. The rest is history!

We knew we wanted to tell this story, but it was important to get Brian's (and Nubs!) approval. Mary and I flew to San Diego in June 2008 to meet with them both. Brian had warned us that it usually took Nubs awhile to warm up to new people but Mary armed herself with some Bow-Wow-Wownies and instantly won him over. We clicked with Brian, too, and he with us and we set right to work interviewing him.

Mary: When Kirby suggested the idea of us writing a book together about unusual, cross-species friendships, I had two responses. One, I've been passionate about animals since I was a small child and this seemed like a perfect match of two best friends writing about best friends. And, two, it seemed as if the decision had already been made, in another time and place, that we would write together. It felt like it was meant to be. I just jumped in and swam! There's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for the treasure of working with Kirby.

Meeting Nubs for the first time was the most fun thing ever! One look at him and you know he's quite special. Brian said Nubs hasn't been the same since we spent a day and a morning with him -- he meant that in a good way! Sometimes I just find myself missing Nubs and wishing he lived a lot closer.

Could you tell me a little about yourself? For example, what books have you written previously, what things you like to do when you're not writing?

Kirby: I am a Washington state resident and have lived here nearly all my life. Along the way, I've acquired one husband, two children, assorted cats and, as of May, a dog named Winston. Though I was a history-phobe most of my life, writing Hattie Big Sky (2007 Newbery Honor Award) changed all that. Though I had written chapter books and picture books previously, that book led me to my true passion: historical fiction. I love the research -- digging around until I have enough information to set a fictional character in another place and time. It's detective work -- without the danger! I will have another historical novel coming out in Fall 2010 and one in Spring 2011.

Since I've had several book deadlines, I haven't done much but write lately! But I do love to travel (because of HBS, I got invited to visit schools in Doha, Qatar and Beirut, Lebanon last April), read, walk on the beach and drink lattes with friends.

Mary: I'm a California girl, born and raised. I’m married to Harry Arthur Nethery III (Han) and have one son, Harry Arthur Nethery IV (H.A.). We have a brand new kitten, a Bengal named Dashiell (Dash for short.) Dash came to us from an Atlanta, Georgia, foster home. He has a little heart of gold.

The first word I learned to read was "stop." But that didn't stop me from picking up a pencil and starting to write in first grade. My goal was a novel. With lots of pictures. I never finished the novel, but since then I've seen three of my picture books published:  Hannah and Jack, Orange Cat Goes to Market, and Mary Veronica's Egg; plus the two narrative non-fiction books that Kirby and I have written together:  Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival is the recipient of the ASPCA's  Henry Bergh Children's Book Award and the SIBA Book Award (Southern Independent Booksellers' Association). Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle has just received the 2009 National Parenting Publication Gold Award. Kirby and I are radiantly proud of these two books.

When I'm not writing or doing "writing" things, which is mostly what I do, I love reading, travel, Pilates, shopping, movies, watching Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, and enjoying beautiful desserts, especially frosting!

What other projects are you working on?

Kirby: Just a week ago, I turned in an historical novel set during WWII, taking place between fall 1941 and spring 1943. Right now, I'm writing another historical novel, which intertwines the stories of 4 girls and takes place between 1929 and 1941. What can I say? I'm hooked on history!

And, of course, Mary and I are on the hunt for another nonfiction picture book to write together.

Mary:  My newest picture book, The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star is illustrated by John Manders and published by Clarion, and will be out in the spring of 2010. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! In preparation for his work, John studied the paintings of John Singer Sargent who lived in Venice at the same time Nini did. My favorite is the double-page spread of Nini blessing the Pope! This is a story of a real cat named Nini who became a celebrity and rose to the world stage in Venice during the 1890's, capturing the attention of doting visitors such as Giuseppe Verdi, Pope Leo XIII, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Italy, Czar Alexander III, and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. The Author's Note contains a photograph of the cafe´ he lived in which still exists today.

I'm also working on an adventure fantasy novel set in the 1920's, The Curse of the Amber Baboon, with authors Barbara Kerley (Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins; Walt Whitman: Words for America; and What To Do About Alice?) and Natasha Wing (The Night Before Series, and her newest book An Eye for Color).

What have books have influenced you most and why?

Kirby: I'm not sure there's a particular book, but there are certainly authors who inspire me:  Karen Hesse, because she takes great risks in her writing; Karen Cushman, who is the queen of historical fiction; Katherine Paterson, for her topics; Barbara O'Connor, for her story telling; Rodman Philbrick for the characters he creates; Dave Patneaude for his ability to weave detail and description into narrative; Mary Nethery, for her brilliance at plotting and story structure; Ann Whitford Paul, who is the queen of poetic picture books; Helen Ketteman, for her outrageous and crazy-fun use of language. . .the list is too long for this interview but I can't sign off without adding all of the people whose diaries and journals I've read. These latter were average folks who never made the headlines but without their stories, I would not be able to write the books I write. It is the real life details from times past that help me write books that connect with contemporary readers.

Mary: Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, and the works of James Marshall were early influences on my own work. One of my favorite novels is How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.  I admire how she drips in the back story as if it were on an IV.  That book has haunted me ever since I read the last line, closed the book, and said goodbye to her cast of characters and the dystopia she so artfully created. I also love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy (especially the animal daemons); Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions and Framed because I admire his ability to create unforgettable characters; and M.T. Anderson’s Feed because it’s so visionary and written in such a cohesive style.

I love books that make me laugh and are wicked in some way! My favorite picture book is Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh—I adore the sentient Martha! I also like Graham Oakley’s Church Cat books; Mark Teague’s Dear Mrs. Larue; Jack Gantos’ and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph books; and Maira Kalman’s Ooh-la-la (Max in Love).

Thanks, Kirby and Mary! I wish you much success with Nubs, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

To watch a video about Nubs, click here.  To learn more about Kirby and Mary's previous book, Two Bobbies:  A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, click here.


Serena said...

This is a great story of how two writers work together and how they continue to write and have success.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I love so much of this story, Anna. Thanks for bringing it to us.

I've posted about it at Win a Book for you.

Lisa said...

What a sweet story about the dog and the marine! And great interview. I love the idea of bestfriend/writers who collaborate on such a heartwarming kids book!

Suko said...

What an interesting "double" interview! I've heard good things about this book and it's a pleasure to go behind the scenes and learn about these writers.

Staci said...

I am truly drawn to this story. I will have to read it for sure. There's another story about some US Soldiers befriending and taking care of a dog while in Iraq. The title eludes me right now but you know animals have a way of calming our fears. Great interview!

Esme said...

What a wonderful interview you posted-thanks for sharing.

xo E.

Unknown said...

Hello Anna – I’m an author and a fellow member of the Bookblogs site, and I wanted to invite you (and your readers) to join in my Blogsplash – there’s more information at Thanks for listening!

bermudaonion said...

What a great interview. I flipped through this book at SIBA and thought it looked fantastic!

Anna said...

~Serena: I thought it was neat that they're best friends. I didn't know that until the interview.

~Susan: Thanks so much!

~Lisa: Thanks! I love how the story appeals to so many people, but it's especially perfect for kids.

~Suko: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read the book.

~Staci: Thanks! Let me know when you read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Esme: Thank you for taking the time to read it.

~Fiona: Thanks!

~bermudaonion: Thanks! I thought of you when they mentioned SIBA.