Writing About Dogs, Part 1

Monday, April 16, 2012 | By John R. Erickson


    I am often asked, “What made you decide to write books about a dog?”

    Well, we can begin by saying that it wasn’t planned.  As a university student, I never would have thought about writing humor, especially stories about dogs.  I studied something called Literature, a special type of writing.  Its objective, as I understood it, was to inform the reader that life is dismal and dreary, and that reading about it should be even worse.

    When I left college and went to cowboying, I continued trying to write Literature.  It was the only model I knew.  That’s what publishers were buying.  People in the East won important awards and prizes for literary works.  Foundations gave grants to people who had refined the art of turning boring stories and boring characters into boring books.

    For years I labored at writing stories and novels that were just as depressing as the ones I’d read in college, but nobody wanted to publish them.  And to be honest, I found writing depressing novels a little depressing, and one day in a moment of epiphany, I muttered, “I don’t enjoy reading this stuff, so why should I write it?”

    Shortly thereafter, I wrote a short story about two dogs I had known on ranches, Hank and Drover.  To my amazement, people in my hometown responded by saying, “You should do more of this.”  I did, and that’s when I began working for Hank the Cowdog, a job I have held since 1982.

    I can see several good reasons for writing about dogs instead of people.  For one thing, dogs are funny.  They are funny in every language and in every culture on earth.  Black people, white people, red people, and yellow people laugh at their dogs.  People of wealth and people in poverty laugh at their dogs. 

    When you view the world through a dog’s loony perspective, it’s hard to take yourself seriously.  Dogs are not heavy thinkers.  If they were, they would be just as much trouble as humans and we wouldn’t like them.

    Dogs are serious about being fools.  People are foolish only part of the time, and we feel embarrassed about it.  Not dogs.  They approach foolishness with a dedication we have to admire.  It’s their life’s work.

    Dogs live in an eternal present.  They respond to whatever happens to be in front of them:  a cat, a chicken, a flea, a rabbit, a howling coyote, a passing airplane, a postal employee, a monster in the night.  Something appears and they respond . . . 


*Be sure to leave your comments, and check back next week for Part 2!*


Tags: Hank the Cowdog books
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