Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author Interview + Giveaway: Anne Calcagno (Love Like a Dog)

Today on the blog we are fortunate to have Anne Calcagno in to answer a few questions. Anne teaches in the MFA in Writing program at the School of the Art Institute. She lives in Chicago, is married, and the mother of two tireless young people. She can be seen walking her Am Staff & her German Shepherd.

Her short story collection, PRAY FORYOURSELF, received the San Francisco Foundation Phelan Literary Award, an NEA Fellowship and two Illinois Arts Council Awards. LOVE LIKE A DOG is her first novel. 

What inspired you to write Love Like A Dog (LLAD)?

I wanted to write a love story.  My past writing explored the silencing of women, and struggles between siblings and in marriage.  I wanted to know if I could write about hope and love and responsibility and trust.  Then two things happened; first, my daughter wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter but, being a minor, she couldn’t unless I joined her.  We started volunteering at C.A.R.E. in Evanston, just north of Chicago.  Our first night, a fought pit bull was brought in.  Pit bulls?  My head began to swirl.   I began researching dog fighting.  Being a writer, I knew I had found a powerful story about the ends to which humans will go against, and for, this misunderstood 
breed, but it wasn’t a love story – yet.

My upset and curiosity led me to
 D.A.W.G's (Dog Advisory Work Group) a court advocacy program, where, for over a year, I followed a core of ardent volunteers who track animal abuse and dog fighting cases on different cases.  Subsequently, I interviewed police officers working Chicago's Animal Care & Control (then headed by Sgt. Steve
 Brownstein), following them on raids of suspected dog fighting rings.  It was striking to see the boredom and complacency in those communities where dog fights went down in next door in the basement or garage.  Dog fighting remains a successful underground economy.

Then a second thing happened; we got our first dog and all of her ninety pounds.  My son, Lucien, was a lively 6 years old.  He wanted a dog more than anything, and we did not realize that she was fear-aggressive toward children.  I had so much hubris I ignored the vet’s warnings and the private trainer’s.  Then she attacked Lucien, from behind, splitting his arm open down to the bone; I was there; he had done nothing to provoke her.  Lucien still has a large scar on his arm from her bite.  But, right away, that night, all bandaged up, Lucien began begging me, “She didn’t know. It’s not her fault, mommy.  Don’t get mad at her!”  (I never told him we had to put her down).  His love for her was greater than his fear or pain; that’s what dogs can bring out in us.  This became my love story.  Dirk’s love story.

How did you decide on Dirk’s characterization?

When I started writing LOVE LIKE A DOG, my son, Lucien, was only seven.   But he loved animals and he loved math.  His sister had been quite the spitfire, so I was very intrigued with Lucien’s very different inward gentleness, his tender heart.  Also, as these things do, I found that an urgent boy’s voice filled my head, wanting me to listen.  I had to record this voice.
How long did it take to write LOVE LIKE A DOG?

Over seven years.

Did you have to do any type of research?

I read anything I could get my hands on about pit bulls, from underground magazines devoted to dog-fighting logs, to histories of the bully breeds, to theories about training.  I interviewed former dog-fighters, police officers on the Animal Care and Control teams, and, as mentioned above, followed D.A.W.G.’s court advocates to animal abuse and dog-fighting trials.  One of the most amazing defenders of the bully breeds was the late Vicki Hearnes.  “Adam’s Task; Calling Animals By Name” is brilliant.  Of course, I have Qalilah, my own pittie girl, who is now eight years old.

What was your path to publication?

As my previous agent did not like the novel, I sought a new agent, Stuart Bernstein.  He began marketing the novel.  I had a fantastic experience with the senior editor, Judy Sternlight, at Random House, who almost bought the book.  After I had spent six months revising the novel with her, and the editorial board okayed the book, Judy found a publicist.  She and my agent were getting ready to negotiate my contract, when her boss declined my book. This was a few months before Random House cut its staff in half.  I had a second close call with Vicking.  When that fell through my agent & I had a long discussion.  He felt that the next tier of publishers paid such small advances in general that it would be better for me to self-publish.  Which I did, with much trepidation.  Right now, as my husband says, I am on the bleeding edge of this adventure, in the sense that no one quite knows what to make of the new digital age, and the new publication options.

Are you working on any current writing projects?

Yes, I am working on a novel, set in the Horn of Africa, about Italy’s failed colonization attempts.  It is about a family, caught in this territory and its historical turmoil.  The novel does include a monkey and some cats.

Follow Anne Calcagno:

 Win a copy of Love Like a Dog!

Check out my glowing review of this amazing book!

For US or Canadian addresses only. Ends March 25th.

Fill out THE FORM to enter.


  1. The link to your form is not working. I will ck back later to see if working. Thanks. Would love to win the great book.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  2. I think that Blogger/Google is glitchy right now.. Sorry! :(