Thursday, October 31, 2013

Interview with Something Furry Underfoot Author, Amy L. Peterson

Purrkins getting a drink from the bathroom sink.
Pumpkin eating peanuts.
Amy L. Peterson was kind enough to do an interview with me this week for her memoir out now, Something Furry Underfoot. In the memoir she discusses her and her husband's passion for animals. They have a huge array of pets, and each one is quite interesting. The animals have unique stories that she brings to life in her memoir. The great thing about her memoir, Something Furry Underfoot is that some of the proceeds from the book are going to help animal rescue organizations.

1. What inspired you to write Something Furry Underfoot? I started off just wanting to document what it was like in a home dominated by pets my spouse kept bringing home, but as I wrote I realized how every pet had its own personality: one of our mynah birds likes playing “catch” with a wad of paper; the other would just assume sit on my shoulder pulling at the strings on my hooded sweatshirt; one hamster loved sunflower seeds, another hamster’s favorite was Spanish peanuts; one dog loved to play, the other preferred long walks followed by a belly rub. The other thing I realized was that while every pet has basic needs, the real challenge is figuring out how to spoil them. For example, it took me six months to figure out that if I want to spoil my cat, Purrkins, I need just allow him to jump up on the bathroom sink and drink fresh water from the tap. What inspired me to publish my story was the desire to help other people see how unique every animal is and perhaps,--by knowing a little more about some pets--helping people make more informed decisions when they decide to get a pet. 

Mynah bird Little Buddy.
2. How was writing Something Furry Underfoot different from writing your other non-fiction book, From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds? My book From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is about becoming a stepmom to four kids, ages 3, 5, 13 and 15, and my primary concern was how the kids would react to it. I waited to finish the book until the kids were all 18 and older, but when one of the four kids was still uncomfortable with my telling part of the story, I changed all of the kids’ names to fake names. I also intentionally de-personalized my husband’s ex-wife by calling her “Ex.” In Something Furry Underfoot I’m writing mostly about pets and my husband. The pets are well-represented, and my hubby, Mark, really is the softie with puppy-dog eyes I portray him as in the book.

3. You've published several photo books for children before journeying into non-fiction. What led to you beginning work on non-fiction after releasing the photo books? The photo books were my first attempt to pull together the stories of four of the pets that Mark and I raised: Purrkins, the Cat (about a stray cat); Dusty, the Angel Pup (about a very special guard dog and pal); Bumpkin Gets Big (about a domestic duckling we raised inside our house); and Goodnight, Big Wuzzy (about a ferret and his ferret pals). I quickly learned that the cost of a photo book made it unlikely that the books would “take off”—in fact, most people read through them on and didn’t buy. So last spring, I converted all four of the books to e-books and re-wrote them so they rhymed, making them more fun to read. Once I got those photo e-books done, I finished work on Something Furry Underfoot, which is more humorous in nature, though quite touching in spots, and includes a lot more animals.

Dusty the Angel Pup and Little Dipper
4. The topic of Something Furry Underfoot deals with pets that vary in all types of animals. How did you decide to focus on this aspect of your life for your next memoir? The sad fact is that my life hadn’t been worth documenting until I married a guy who had four kids and a propensity for pets. If I look beyond stepmother hood and pet caretaking, I could write My Lovely Life in a Cubicle, about working in state government, but I don’t think that would be much of a seller. Beyond that, the only other thing worth writing about are vacations we’ve gone on because I sort of tend to get into trouble sometimes--I was accused of touching a seahorse in Bonaire, accused of teaching a dolphin to bite in Honduras, and accused of driving too close to the middle of the road in Yellowstone National Park in December when nobody but me, Mark and a single park ranger were around.

5. How has your life changed in the past couple of years since you became a published author? In April 2012, I released From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds and I went on an intensive, focused marketing stint which meant every evening after work, I sat at the computer marketing my book and ignoring everything going on around me. This year, ever since I released the paperback version of Something Furry Underfoot in July, I’ve been singularly focused on marketing again. And when that happens, more pets show up. For example, our 15-year-old dog, Dusty, died in mid-August and two nights later, I just sort of nodded when Mark found a puppy online that he was interested in, a Lhasa apsa-Bichon frise mix the same as our 15-year-old dog. The fact that we live in Michigan and the puppy Mark found was in Pennsylvania didn’t matter at the time Mark mentioned it, because I was happily Tweeting and lining up people for a book tour. But when Mark called me at work the next day and said the puppy was available, it finally hit me that he was serious about this puppy. So I left work at noon on Monday, drove 8 hours to see the puppy, and on Tuesday met the puppy. Turns out, the puppy went catatonic when the kindly Mennonite lady brought him out for us to see—he was scared of everything. We thought perhaps he had issues and asked if he had a sibling perhaps? Out came the second puppy, a little fella with an under-bite and a scratch on his eye who nudged the first puppy and brought him to life. Well, since the first puppy needed the second puppy, guess what? We brought home both puppies.
New puppies Snickers and Winston with Amy L. Peterson.

Indeed, since being published, I market, blog a bit, and try to listen to at least half of what my husband has to say, because otherwise, who knows what pet will show up next? Other than that, I’m afraid my life hasn’t changed much at all yet.
6. I've been writing a novel to hopefully publish in the future. What advice do you give aspiring writers? Plan to spend a whole bunch of time marketing. And let your family know you’ll need some focused marketing time so that they don’t, like, bring a sheep into your house when you’re not looking. Mark hasn’t tried bringing a sheep home yet, but I never know.
7. What is your favorite thing about writing? I’ve heard from a few people that read my book that they were inspired to write their own memoir about their pets. One person named and shared the behaviors of all sorts of pets she’d rather forgotten about and had half a book written by the time her note ended. I like it when people share their stories because it seems perhaps my book might have touched them somehow.
8. As a photographer and aspiring writer I find it hard to sometimes juggle the two creative endeavors. How do you manage to put focus on both, so one isn't lost beneath the other? I usually am not too far from a camera except at work. Every time I go fishing or hiking or on a trip, I have a camera with me; when I’m writing at the kitchen table, my camera is on the table next to me in case something nifty shows up in the backyard, like, most recently, a chubby groundhog. I’ve also been very fortunate to go to some amazing places. With a camera pretty much with me all the time, I can shoot lots of photos. As far as balancing things--I blog about nature, pets and life at, and if there’s a story behind a photo I like, I blog about the photo. If I want to blog about something that requires a photo, I try to make time for the photo I need. As long as I don’t put pressure on myself to write about or photograph any particular topic, I don’t get stressed about it. It’s only when one or the other doesn’t work out that I stress a bit and then get frustrated . . . about the fact I have to work for a living.
Smokey Joe in his Coconut Ball
9. What do you hope readers will take away from Something Furry Underfoot? The message of my book is that every animal has a story and our job as humans is to make that story as good as possible. My book contains tips about pets and also factoids that will help people make good decisions about pets. For example, while most guinea pigs live about 8 years, we had one that lived 12 years and that meant I had to care for the guinea pig in its senior years because the child we got the animal for had gone off to college. So I try to get people to think about those types of things. Also, the whole concept of caring for and spoiling pets. Take my cat, Purrkins: by ignoring his third day in a row of Mariner’s Catch cat food, I learned that two days of that food is all he’ll eat and that I should offer some Mixed Grill to break things up. The two puppies might suggest that we add more hamburger with their soft puppy food. And I’m sure our rescued, wild mouse named Smokey Joe--who was released from our barbeque and caught a second time before we made a retirement home for him in an aquarium in our bathroom—well, I’m sure he’d like larger bits of Vanilla Wafer or graham cracker I offer along with his regular mouse food. Indeed, we’re trying to give all our pets a good life, and continue to learn each day. And that’s what Something Furry Underfoot is all about.
Smokey Joe in his excercise wheel.

When Amy married a biologist named Mark, she knew a few pets were likely in her future, but she had no idea the number and kinds of pets Mark had in mind. It began when Mark purchased an aquarium for his son, Conrad, to keep a few frogs in. Amy’s mistake was responding by catching flies with Conrad and cheering as the frogs jumped across the aquarium to the catch the flies. When the frogs were released, Mark bought Conrad two iguanas, which Amy also helped care for until Mark found them a permanent home.

After that Mark saw an African pygmy hedgehog he said he wanted, and not only was Amy charmed by the prickly creature, she wanted a pal for the hedgehog so it wouldn’t get lonely. Mark took this to mean a male hedgehog and soon Louie, the male hedgehog from St. Louis, Missouri, became a member of the family. Louie escaped three times from his cage for flings with the female hedgehog, resulting in several unplanned litters of baby hedgehogs.

Amy’s positive response to hedgehogs opened the door to a ferret; soon there were four. The ferrets dug up house plants, climbed in and out of cupboards, ripped up tiny bits of carpet stole, and hid pens, Beanie Babies and shoes. The ferrets were joined by several mice, gerbils and hamsters, some of which were kept on the kitchen counter. A white frou-frou puppy named Dusty came next, followed by another puppy, Little Dipper, to play with Dusty. Of course, Little Dipper preferred long walks and snuggling over playing with Dusty. Some proceeds go to benefit rescue organizations

You can find Amy L. Peterson's book at Smashwords and Amazon as an ebook and in print. It's available at Smashwords  and Amazon as an ebook for $2.99.

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