I’ll never forget the names of those I’ve loved: King, Chico, Dylan, Asta, and now Willy and Sonoma. They were and are the furry canines I’ve had in my life (or did they have me?). They’ve loved without condition, rushed to me after a long day, curled up next to me as I wrote into the wee hours. Author Teresa Rhyne knows of what I speak. Her memoir The Dog Lived (And So Will I) tells of the cancer battles fought by both her and her rescue beagle Seamus. Funny and poignant, the book speaks volumes about the love humans feel toward their pet companions…and vice versa.
Lori: You’re a full-time attorney. How do you fit your writing life and a book tour in with your day job?
Teresa: That’s getting more and more difficult, since the last quarter of the year is the busiest time of the year in my law office. But one thing I learned when I was in treatment for breast cancer, is that with a lot of focus and prioritizing it is possible to handle two or more giant tasks at once (fighting cancer/ keeping my law career going; then, writing a book/ keeping my law career going; then publicizing a book/ keeping my law career going!). Let’s just say lots of nights and weekends are involved!
How surprised were you to hear relatively quickly from an agent?
I was elated, thrilled and ecstatic but not entirely surprised, if that’s okay to say. I knew I had a good story and that I was the one to tell it. And I’d received a really good response from just about everybody I talked to, so I thought agents might be interested. I was glad to know I was right! Having said that, I was still of course speechless and happy to not only have had an agent respond, but to have a choice of agents. A writer’s dream.
What was your purpose in writing this heartfelt yet funny memoir? Did it help you cope with your own experiences as well as that of your beloved canine companion?
When Seamus was diagnosed, I looked around for books on canine cancer. I was looking for personal and practical experience on what to expect. I couldn’t find much and that was hard–I’m an avid reader and reading and writing is how I process things. So I knew then there was a need. Much the same happened when I was diagnosed. There are breast cancer books out there–medical as well as memoirs, but not a lot that had humor. And for me, things are tough enough in cancer treatment; laughter is needed and appreciated. I set out to write a book that shared universal (sadly, all too universal) experiences but with a humor and sensibility that made the experience manageable. The biggest compliments I’ve received from readers are that I’ve made them feel that if they had to, they could indeed handle cancer treatments. And I’ve also heard from oncology nurses and breast cancer resource center employees who’ve told me how much I helped them understand what the patient is going through. Can’t get better than that!
How is Seamus doing now? And how are you? Do you indeed feel that Seamus came into your life for a reason? How have you changed as a person as a result of this experience?
Seamus is doing great–he is steadfastly Seamus, the diabolically cute beagle. He had a setback recently when he was diagnosed with an eye melanoma. We tried having the tumor surgically removed without removing the eye, but unfortunately the tumor grew back. In September we had to have his left eye removed. He was howling for food and jumping for the treat bowl before the anesthesia even wore off! He seems to have adjusted very well. (I’m thinking he wants a sequel). I do believe we came into each other’s lives for a reason. Without me, well, Seamus probably wouldn’t be here. And without him, I think my own cancer experience would have been a lot more frightening. And who knows, I may have even delayed getting the care I needed if I hadn’t been “on alert” about cancer in the first place. It’s just icing on the cake that he now gets to accompany me on book tour. The biggest change in me since this experience is that I am far more likely to focus on the positives in life instead of the negatives. Not always, of course (old habits die hard!) but certainly more than ever before. But Seamus? Nope, he’s still Seamus! (Thank goodness.)
What advice do you have for memoir writers?
I believe voice is extremely important in memoir. The reader has to connect with you and care about what happens to you (or your super cute dog!). Tell your story like you are telling it to a friend. Don’t think about strangers or your mother reading it, which will just make you self conscious. And as encouragement, I can tell you from my experiences promoting this book at many book events and in many bookstores–memoirs by we unknowns are alive and well!
Any new book projects in the works?
I have a couple of different projects I’m working on. And I’m pretty sure Seamus has more to say (AAAARRRRROOOOOOO!!), so we’ll see what happens next. It’s an exciting time!