Weekly feature by: Michael Prihoda
My dog is writing a horror novel and sometimes he asks me if parts make sense.
The basic premise involves a human who goes apeshit and starts serial killing escaped zoo animals around the country. The killer is so hard to catch because he keeps moving, transferring IDs. He’s got passports for different countries and driver’s licenses from four different states (including New Mexico) but he generally prefers Greyhound buses for the irony. He carries a pitchfork, miniature-sized, so he can hide it in the special-made inner lining pocket on his double-breasted suit.
I ask my dog if he’s ever worn a double-breasted suit. He tells me not to be ridiculous. Does he look like a fop?
I tell my dog most writing workshops tell you to write what you know.
He says only amateurs do that.
When pressed, he goes to his kennel and pulls out a stack of rumpled pages that he hands to me. Upon reading, I realize it’s a manifesto concerning his life with me as owner.
He’s already written what he knows and is moving on like any artist worth his salt and pepper.
His manifesto is not flattering to me. I only read part of it and immediately make an excuse to go out and run to the store for better quality dog food. How he even knows which brand is good is beyond me but it costs more than how much I spend on food for myself in a week.
I guess seeing my dog as an artist makes me think of him differently.
He shows me a new chapter he wrote about the newest closest call the serial killer has with the cops. They almost catch up to him in Reno and I ask my dog if he’s ever been to Reno? Because his scene at the courthouse (which becomes a chase through darkened Nevada streets, culminating in a pseudo-showdown which the anti-hero [his label, not mine] clumsily escapes, vowing never to repeat his mistake again) seems oddly visceral and insider, as if my basset hound worked as DA in Reno for a stint right after passing the BARR.
Eventually he tells me he’s thinking about sending his manuscript to agents. It’s not long until some agents are emailing him back and he’s glued to my computer screen, sorting through his offers for representation. His preferred publisher is Vintage, though how he earmarked them I don’t know.
Toward the end he stopped asking me to weigh in on plot changes, character development, or the rhythm of a scene. I take it as a bad sign of his independence. I still pay for his dog food.
The agent he emails back comes over to our house and my dog tells me not to be a square, to offer the woman something to drink. All I have is sparkling water or milk. She opts for the water, then barely touches it. My dog and her talk shop all afternoon and he signs a contract.
Three months later my dog says he has someplace to be. Doesn’t give me more details. I see an interview of him on Ellen a couple days later. Then he goes to our local library for a reading. His agent leaves messages on my machine almost daily, giving him updates for book tour locations, quotes from reviews of his book, etc. She has a voice like a parakeet but I don’t know why I think that because I’ve never heard a parakeet definitively ever in my life before.
My dog has signings and readings lined up for the entire summer and fall. Apparently spring release with a summer tour is the way to do it nowadays in the book world.
I fly out to New York for the first reading of his tour, realizing when I land that I haven’t bothered to pick up a copy of the book yet, though it’s been out for weeks and it’s all the rage among contemporary horror/literary fiction. One of the messages his agent left on my machine said someone from The Times called it “a breath of fresh air for a lagging genre.” Somebody from The Washington Post noted how “it is a landmark in fiction: finally something from a non-human perspective. Just what literature has been waiting decades to sink its teeth into.” In another life I imagined my basset hound sinking his teeth into my copy of War and Peace. Or was that already my life but just in the past?
I pick up a copy of his book before the reading and browse through it as I wait in a plastic chair some intern probably set up. I’m waiting to see my dog for what will be the first time in weeks. He’s too famous and busy to call me let alone stop in for a quick pet and evening watching Seinfeld.
Something bothers me while paging through the book but I can’t place it until my dog finally comes out to wild applause from an audience whose demographic I can’t place. Then he starts reading and it hits me: the killer has the same name as me.
After the reading I wait in line for two hours to get my copy signed, when actually I just want to confront him about why his killer ended up with my name, when all the drafts he’d shown me left him nameless.
Finally, I’m at the front of the line and I flop the book on the table. His agent beams at his side, smiling and waving at the fans and cameras.
“What the hell?” I say.
“What are you talking about?” he says, his voice impassive, exactly like how basset hounds usually look when they are resting.
“You know what I mean.”
“You know what they say,” he says, red eyes meeting mine, “write what you know.”