I am a big fan of Canadian middle grade author Rachelle Delaney. Her books are breezy, delightful, and a great example of classic children’s literature with a modern narrative voice. Click here to check out my review on her latest treat, The Metro Dogs of Moscow. I decided she would be the perfect subject for my first author interview ever!
VV: First, the obvious question. Are you a dog person?
RD: Through and through. My family always had dogs while I was growing up, and for a while I was totally obsessed with learning about all the different breeds. When I was 10, I had almost as many posters of Great Danes and Weimaraners on my bedroom walls as there were posters of horses. I have particular a soft spot for really big dogs.
VV: I have this great image of you observing dogs in their natural habitat, aka the dog park. What sort of dog research did you do for the book?
RD: I guess I’m always observing dogs, even when I don’t realize it. I’m the kind of person who will always take note of a dog but rarely the human holding its leash. So yes, I continued my usual dog observations while preparing to write the book, but I also read some really interesting books on animal behavior to help me get inside a dog’s head and understand its motives. My favourite was the aptly named Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.
RD: The inspiration came from an article I read three or four years ago in the Globe and Mail. It was just a tiny article, basically stating that in Moscow, there are about 35,000 stray dogs. And some of them have started to take the metro to get around the city.
Obviously, I was intrigued. So I hopped online to do more research, and sure enough, there were entire websites dedicated to these Russian metro dogs. They know where to get on and where to get off to get the best food, and they navigate around the city by listening to the announcer’s voice (which, I discovered on my trip to Moscow, is actually quite helpful. When you’re headed toward the centre of the city, the announcer is male; when you’re headed out, it’s female).
Growing up I was a huge fan of 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp, so I immediately saw the potential to create that kind of a charming adventure inspired by this great premise.
VV: Tell me about your trip to Russia, and how that affected your writing.
RD: I traveled to Russia after the novel had already been accepted for publication. The setting I’d written was lacking in good, sensory details that can only come through experiencing a place firsthand. And I love travelling more than practically anything, and I was so curious to explore Russia.
It was an eye-opening trip. I’d originally described Moscow and kind of a jolly place, where people stopped to pet the stray dogs in the street. I have to laugh at that now. Moscow is huge and chaotic, very polluted and colder than I ever thought possible (and I grew up in Edmonton!). I got a taste of the crazy traffic, the crush of the metro, and distinctly un-Canadian cultural rules like never, ever smiling at strangers. Details like these changed the tone of the story, and also made it richer and more authentic.
VV: Did you have a favourite character to write about in the book?
RD: I love my main character JR. He’s a Jack Russell terrier (hence the name) who is driven by energy, curiosity, and a need to explore. He tries hard to be good, but sometimes his human George is just so maddening that JR—being a terrier—just has to destroy something. I’ve really enjoyed giving him a voice and trying to put his canine sentiments into words. I also love Pie, the submissive and innocent Australian shepherd JR befriends.
VV: What were your favourite books as a child? Do you think you’ve been inspired in any way by these books in your own writing?
RD: My favourite books were usually about animals, so yes, they’ve definitely inspired me. I loved Black Beauty, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web, and Bunnicula. I was also drawn to large casts, like in The Story Girl and Little Women, which might explain why I can’t seem to write a novel with fewer than 15 or so characters. And I loved feisty, funny female characters, like Pippi Longstocking and Alanna in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness books.
VV: Like many Canadian writers, you have a day job. How do you find time to write?
RD: Right now I’m lucky enough to work four-day work-weeks, so that certainly helps. I basically dedicate about three hours a day, Friday through Sunday, to writing. If I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll also sneak in an hour of writing before work (usually without actually leaving my bed), but that gets exhausting after a few weeks. It takes a lot of self-discipline, but I’ve been doing it for years, so my writing patterns are very much ingrained now.
Thanks very much to Rachelle for being my first-ever author interview! If you are a Canadian resident and would like to receive a copy of Rachelle’s wonderful book The Metro Dogs of Moscow, please say so in the comment section! The winner will be selected at random next week.