Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Johnson

The most challenging interviews for me are those where even if I’ve read an author’s book, I actually don’t know much about the author and so have to think very hard about what questions to ask. Unfortunately, those questions are like shots in the dark, because maybe the author will find a connection and maybe he won’t. So, I admit my ignorance when it comes to Hy Conrad, beyond that he is best known for his work on the television series Monk and the online site Mystery Net. I appreciate that he still gave me an interview.

ALLISON: Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know is, obviously, a book all about what dogs don’t want their owners to know: What is one thing as a child that you didn’t want your parents to know?

HY: My parents are no longer around, so I guess I can say this. I hated my name. I used to spend hours in my room, trying to come up with a better name, trying out names in the mirror and signing autographs for my fans.

ALLISON: What is one thing as a student that you “didn’t want” your teachers to know?

HY: I didn’t want them to know I was lazy. I could usually hide it. But every now and then they’d catch me writing a two-week assignment five minutes before handing it in.

ALLISON: You must like/own dogs to write an entire book about them: What is a brag moment you have about your dog?

HY: Our 15-pound Schnauzer once treed a bear. One day, Charlie was barking incessantly at the base of a tree.  He wouldn’t stop. Finally, a medium-sized black bear dropped down and ran away. Charlie chased it. I don’t know what he would have done if he’d caught it. But he didn’t.

ALLISON: What is the most embarrassing thing your dog has done?

HY: We had a dog with limited use of his hind legs. Once I was carrying him out of a hotel and stopped to talk to the manager. That’s when Jake pooped in my hand. No one else saw it. I somehow managed to finish our conversation, then took Jake outside and tried to clean us up. Plastic baggies only go so far.

ALLISON: What is your favorite animal besides dogs?

HY: I’d have to say a rabbit. Both Jeff and I had rabbits in backyard pens when we were kids. I guess it was the thing to do back then.

ALLISON: You dedicate your book to Florida Keys SPCA and open door shelters everywhere. How did you get interested in this cause?

HY: That particular shelter is located near our Key West home. Their building is in a floodplain and all the animals have to be evacuated every time a hurricane even comes close. It’s a terrible situation. Right now we’re involved in a capital campaign to buy a piece of land and build a new shelter.

ALLISON: What other “causes” do you support?

HY: We give a fair amount of time and money to the arts, especially non-profit theatre.  We’re also involved with Equality Florida, an organization fighting for gay rights.

ALLISON: Both of you have other writing credits. What has been your best writing experience?

A promotional image for the first season of Monk.

A promotional image for the first season of Monk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HY I can’t speak for Jeff.  But if I could, I’d say this book. His previous work was a self-help book, which I can’t imagine being as much fun.

Personally, my best experience was my eight years writing for the TV show “Monk”. To show up every day and sit around with a bunch of funny guys and think up ways to kill people…. Doesn’t get much better that that.

ALLISON: How did the two of you team up? What was the funniest moment of your partnership?

HY: Jeff and I have been life partners for decades. If I said how long, then you’d do the math and suspect that we’re old, which we’re not. We’ve always wanted to do a project together and when we came up with this idea, it seemed perfect.

I think the funniest moments are the ones that weren’t funny at the time, like Charlie treeing the bear, or Jeff being chased by hordes of kids through the streets of Marrakesh when he tried to give money to just one of them.  Actually that was funny at the time–to me.

ALLISON: What has been your worst interview question? Why?

HY: This one! No, I’m kidding. The hardest are the ones that seem too serious.

Ooh, here’s a funny one. I was doing a radio interview over the phone and the host came on literally five seconds before we started. “Hy Conrad?” he asked. “This is he,” I replied, sticking to the grammar I’d learned in grade school. A second later we were on the air and for the entire interview, he called me “He.”  “He Conrad.” I didn’t have the nerve to correct him.

ALLISON: What is one thing as a worker that you “didn’t want” your employers to know?

HY: Once on “Monk”, I had a salary dispute and threatened to quit. It went on for a week. What they didn’t know is that I would have worked there for free.

ALLISON: What are your interests outside of writing?

HY: Jeff likes to build things. We’ve had a summer place in the woods for decades (Again, I’m not going to let you do the math.) Over the years he’s built a gazebo, a pool house and a huge deck cantilevered over a hill. You can probably see it from space.

Me, I love travel and history and languages.

Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know by Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson is a cute and funny book designed to entertain. For the most part, the comedy works. And while you’re unlikely to turn to Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know for reference, it does make a great addition to a bathroom shelf or any place you might need some relaxed readings. Sometimes, you’ll even learn a few things about man’s best friend. Oh, and it’s mostly safely for the entire family to read.

Cute and funny require a delicate balancing act. Lean too far left or too far right and your juggling balls might all tumble down around you. Case in point: sometimes I laughed at the revelations of the eleven canines who tell all in letter form; other times I didn’t understand what had happened. One of my favorite dogs is Axelrod. In one letter, he reacts to the fancy new collar he received after he started scratching his ear and the whole side of his face got red. At first he tells his owner, “The good news is I don’t really mind the itch because the collar annoys me in so many ways.” As he elaborates, Alexrod comes to realize that there are so-called good points to the collar such as “the collar makes it more fun to drink water ‘cause I can scoop it up from the bowl then carry it around with me for a while.” One of my least favorite dogs is Moonbeam, who was adopted by a New Age follower. One letter tells how Moonbeam’s owner and a life coach lived in a guest cottage. Edgar the life coach used to secretly feed beef jerky to Moonbeam. When Edgar dies, the owner locks up the cottage but Moonbeam chews through a rotting board to find a way back into the cottage. The owner unlocks the door and calls out, “Edgar is that you?” She repeatedly does that, until one day she instead pulls out a crystal ball. Hmm, now that I’ve taken time to write out the episode, I understand it—but personally still find the scenario to silly to relate to and therefore laugh at. In contrast, most dog owners will understand that Alexrod is talking about an Elizabethan dog collar and know the agony it causes him. They’ll also relate when Axelrod concludes, “I may even miss this lovable thing when you take it off. You are going to take it off, aren’t you? Because it’s not lovable. I made that up.” Funny stuff!

With no single unifying plot, the series of two-page stories in Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know will allow you to dip into the book at any spot at any time. Each of the eleven dogs has their own unique stories which develop over time and are interesting to read. For example, there are letters from new parent Dimples, who recently gave birth to Mutt Junior and Runt. Naturally, each of her letters focus on some aspect of her owners’ dog-parenting techniques until the two puppies are raised and trained. I loved her final note, in which she concludes, “All of that is over, and the boys have turned into regular, boring dogs…. I guess the only solution is more puppies—not that I’m volunteering.” However, each dog’s letters are interspersed with those from other dogs. For instance, I opened to a random page and found these consecutive stories: waiting for table scraps, puppies know they’re cute, the reason I ate the sofa, and days at the junkyard. This eclectic approach left me feeling restless  before I’d finished all the tales. That may be because I assumed I was getting a traditional plot structure, whereas if you view this book as a collection of short stories you should avoid this problem. 🙂

My last point regards the targeted audience. I agreed to read Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, because it was being marketed as being suitable for the whole family. There are many stories such as those about Gabby—who is at that age where she’s beginning to notice boys—which are not only appropriate for all ages but could easily appeal to young people. However, I also consider some parts of the book as best suited for adults only. Bandana likes cigarettes and alcohol, Sarge got fired from his job as a police dog because he took a shine to cocaine and other drugs, and Tinkerbell likes to pop pills to get a buzz. Aside from these “positive” drug references, there’s also the talk about our canine friends being attracted to dogs with testicles, having their balls removed, and being sexually active in a van with a random dog. While I admit that many of these ideas would’ve gone right over my head as a child, that won’t be the case for many kids. For that reason, I’d recommend parental guidance.

As for adults, I intend to share this review with my dog-loving friends. A few of them may frown at or feel confused by some of the stranger tales. In reflecting back upon the stories, however, I can easily think of dozens of tales that will delight many of my friends. So check out Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, then come back and post which dog letter was your favorite.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson both have expertise in the writing field. What caused them to write a dog book? Do they have any special knowledge of dogs? The answers to these questions you’ll have to find out by checking out their book which I’ll review on September 8 and my interview with them which I’ll post on September 17.

If you like mysteries, you may have already heard of the one of the authors of Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know. Best known for his work in mysteries, Hy Conrad was one of the original writers for the television series “Monk” and worked on the show for all eight seasons. Other television work included serving as head writer for “Little Monk,” a series of short films featuring Adrian Monk as a ten-year-old. His most recent television job involved being a writer/consultant for the USA Network’s crime-based “White Collar” show.

Even before my husband and I became fans of the show, however, we were familiar with the name. Hy Conrad is also the writer of mysteries at Mystery Net, featuring mini-mysteries that my husband and I used to love to try to solve. Conrad is also the author of ten books of short whodunits, aimed at both young and older readers, which have been translated into thirteen languages and included in many anthologies. He’s currently working on the second novel in his Abel Adventures mystery series.

jeff_johnsonThe other author of Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know was a previously unknown name to me. Jeff Johnson has spent most of his working life in advertising agencies. He is the author of The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life and co-authors a national online advice column called “Short Answers”.

Audio Interview

One of the golden rules of blogging is to keep your readers on your site. In other words, don’t post a link that sends readers to another site. Well, I’m about to break that rule. In that classic “Miracle on 34th Street,” our hero sends shoppers to the best store, even if it’s not the store by whom he’s employed. By the same token, I’m now going to send you to the best interview I could find with Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson, authors of Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, even if it’s not here at Allison’s Book Bag. Go ahead, click on the link, and listen to the interview at CBS Pittsburgh, but then please come back and tell me: What does your dog want YOU to know?

Extras

Are you intrigued about reading Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know? Download a chapter excerpt by clicking here.

On the website for Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, you can also submit a photo of your dog and receive expert advice here.

To close off my teasers for this doggy week, I’m posting a brag photo of our dog in honor of him winning his Teacup Agility Dog Champion title. Do you have any brags about your dog?


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