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10 Questions for K.A. Nuzum:

Who or what inspired you to write THE LEANIN' DOG?

My son napping on Moot
A heavy snowstorm in the canyon lands of southeastern Colorado was half of my inspiration, and our fudge-colored dog, Moot, was the other half. Mooty was a St. Bernard and chocolate lab mix - very large, very loyal, and very jowly. She and I were staying in my friend's ranch house (built by his father in 1918), out in the middle of his family's 20,000-acre cattle ranch - my favorite writing retreat for over twenty years now. It was late fall, gray November, and I was sitting huddled in my bed upstairs in the east bedroom - no heat on the second floor except for an electric blanket. It was early in the morning, Mooty sat on the floor next to me. I had my spiral notebook open, favorite pen in hand, ready and waiting for inspiration to strike. I gazed down at Moot's big, square head, into her gentle golden eyes and then turned to look out the window. As I studied the bare, gray branches of the elm trees outside, HUGE snowflakes began to fall. Only a few scattered ones at first, but then more and more, thicker and thicker they came, until there were so many, coming so fast, the trees and everything else disappeared completely - there was only snow, snow, and snow to see. I smiled down at Mooty, she smiled back at me, and suddenly, a question popped into my head: What if there was a big, fudge-colored dog out in that storm? And I began to write.

2.) Describe your writing process. Is there a typical day of writing for you? Does writing come easily to you? Do you have a special spot at home where you write?

Ranch house where I wrote the original Leanin' Dog story
Really, there isn't a typical day of writing for me. There are a lot of days when I don't write anything more than a grocery list. When I do sit down to work on my stories, though, it is usually either in the morning or the evening. Never the afternoon, it just seems like I'm never inspired or feeling particularly creative then. Maybe it's like how photographers avoid shooting pictures in the middle of the day because the light is flat; my brain is flat in the afternoon. Sometimes the writing just flows and sometimes it is like pulling teeth. I have learned to enjoy the flow, but not to count on it, and learned also that when the going is tough, it is important to keep on, work right on through, knowing that I'll eventually get to a place where the writing comes easily again. I have a couple spots in my house where I like to create; actual scene writing I do at the computer desk I have set up in my bedroom. But if I am brainstorming, or trying to understand why a certain character is acting a certain way, or trying to figure out the next part of the plot, I usually work with my spiral notebook and pen in the middle of my bed (surrounded by at least one of three cats and at least three of five dogs).

Christmas star
3.) The Christmas decorations (the Advent calendar, the Christmas stars, the pinecones with ribbons) in THE LEANIN' DOG are priceless creations. Did you ever actually make any of them?

Nope, haven't made any of them myself; I'm not real crafty. The Advent Calendar is loosely based on a Christmas calendar my mom bought for my boys when they were little. It has Velcro instead of snaps, and there's a cloth Santa, sleigh, reindeer, elves, and toys to arrange rather than a manger scene. The Christmas stars Dessa Dean describes are just like the ones my pal, Mary Ann Louden, makes from the tops of cat food and dog food cans. She spends hours snipping and shaping the tin lids into beautiful stars and then hangs them in the windows of her work area in her living room, it always looks like Christmas there!

4.) Who is your best-loved dog in books, movies, or television?

I gotta say it: Lassie. Never has there been such a dog as Lassie. What a beautiful collie! In the early 60s, she had her own TV show -- except she was really he. All the dogs that played that part were males. If you've ever caught the reruns, you know Lassie was always trying to tell her boy, Timmy, that there was an emergency and someone needed help. Well, when any one of our dogs comes up to us when we are sitting around in the living room and sets her chin in our laps and looks imploringly into our eyes, we always ask, "What is it, girl? Is there a fire?" Of course, our dogs never watched the TV show, so they have no idea what we're talking about. They always think we're asking if they want to go outside.

5.) Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk?

Oh, brother, no! I keep my distance. However, my father, when he was growing up on his parents' farm in Nebraska, was always searching for ways to avoid going to school. One day he came up with the brilliant idea of getting himself sprayed by a skunk so no one could stand being close to him. He set a live trap that very evening, and found, when he checked it the next morning, that he had, indeed, captured a skunk. He made sure he was in very close range when he released it and got thoroughly drenched in its perfume. Then, he went on to school. The teacher ordered him to leave immediately, so he got to play hooky that day! (Do not try this at home.)

6.) Do you know your 12x12 times table?

I sure had the twelves down when I was writing THE LEANIN' DOG, but now I'm back to only remembering them through 12x5 (that's 60, right?), and then I have to skip up to 12x12, which is 144 - I never forget that one! The ones in between I have to figure in my head.

7.) Can you read the "morning news"?

I can identify rabbit tracks, raccoon, our dogs, the neighbor's cat, foxes, and some birds...and it's easy to tell when the neighbor's horses sneak over to our place for a midnight stroll.

8.) Tell us about the animals on your ranch. What are their names?

Our two horses are Dan and Kestrel. Dan is a quarter horse, white with a dark brown mane and tail, big mule ears, and yellow goat eyes. He's a beaut! Kestrel is half quarter horse and half Appaloosa. Instead of having real defined spots on her hind end like a true Appaloosa, though, she is kind of a smeary gray and black all over - what's known as a roan. We have five dogs. Fawn is part husky, part German shepherd, she is the alpha dog in the pack, and one of the gentlest souls in the world. Kiwi is an Australian herding dog, she drives all the other dogs nuts cause she treats them like sheep. Merlin is a schnauzer, talks constantly. Toto is a cairn terrier, a beautiful blond who sits, staring into the trees at the squirrels for hours on end. And little Elizabeth is a shih tzu; she is very shy cause she knows she's much smaller than anybody else. We have a pot-bellied pig named Tom Roy, Pig of Destiny. He used to live in the house in our laundry area, but he's a bit of a bully and sometimes wouldn't let me in to do laundry, so he became an outdoor pig. We have one chicken, an Aracana hen that sometimes crows like a rooster. Molly, Peach, and Pharaoh are our cats - all stay indoors and all have a habit of talking too loud in the middle of the night. One lone fish inhabits our 10 gal. fish tank. We plan to repopulate it as soon as we have time to go fish shopping.

Landscape of the ranch
9.) In your lifetime you've been a ballroom dancer, master gardener, radio show host and writer. Is there anything else that you would like to do that you've never done?

I would like to be a private detective, and also do chimp research with Jane Goodall in Africa.

10.) Are you working on a new book now?

Yep, it's called THE LITTLE SKULL, and it's a sort of a ghost story and mystery combined. It opens on the Day of the Dead in northern New Mexico circa 1918. There are a lot of interesting characters; one of them is a talking concertina (a small accordion).

10 Questions for artist Katy Schneider:

1.) Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Manhattan, close to Grand Central Station.

2.) At what age did you start painting?

I began oil painting in high school but got serious with it as a sophomore in college, when I was 19.

3.) Who were the greatest influences on your painting while you were growing up?

I didn't know many artists. I saw some paintings I liked a lot in the houses of a couple of families for whom I used to baby-sit. I went to MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) with my elementary school class pretty frequently, and I really liked Picasso. At home, my father had some posters of lithographs by Kathe Kollwitz. I looked at those and drew from those a lot.

4.) You paint portraits of dogs. When did you start doing this? Are dogs difficult subjects?
Do you paint from a photograph or do dogs actually "sit" for you?

I began painting dogs when I got my dog, Baby Earl. Some dogs are easier to paint than others. I had a German shorthaired pointer named Rudy who slept in positions long enough for me to paint him from life. He would sit for chicken and cottage cheese, and I would paint, feed, paint, feed from my hand. I don't have a dog now, so I do work from photos. Nothing compares to working from life, though. Soon I'll get a dog and work again from life.

Cover for Once I Ate a Pie
5.) Do you sketch, draw or paint everyday?

Yes, I do draw or paint every day. If I miss a day I'm either out of town or I decided to bake a lot.

6.) For the book jacket of THE LEANIN' DOG, did you paint from your imagination or use an actual dog as a subject? Did it take a long time to paint the jacket?

I used an actual dog, my puppy, Rudy, to paint the original painting of the dog for the cover. I then did a second version for the book jacket in which I aged him. It took me about two weeks to do it.

7.) Do you have a favorite color?

I don't have a favorite color, but I have a favorite palette - black, white, ochre and burnt sienna. I start many paintings with these four colors and then add more.

8.) Who are your favorite artists?

My favorite artists are Vuillard, Bonnard, Degas, Matisse, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Ryder, Ter Borch, Piero della Francesca, to name just a few.

Cover for Painting the Wind
9.) What is the first book you illustrated?

PAINTING THE WIND is the first book I illustrated.

10.) What are you working on now?

I'm working on my third book with author Patricia MacLachlan and her daughter Emily Charest MacLachlan. It's a book about puppies. All the illustrations will be oil paintings.