Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Jane Hanser

Jane Hanser
Jane Hanser

I’d like to welcome, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Jane Hanser to Layered Pages to talk with me about her book, Don’t Don’t Look Both Ways. The most common comments Jane receives from people are, “Are you still biking?” and “You can afford to eat anything you want.” The answer to the first is – sometimes, and the answer to the second is “No I can’t.” Since Jane left her position teaching ESL and remedial writing position in Brooklyn, NY to marry Phil and move to Boston, she has focused on her educational software business and thrived living in a medium-sized City, the Garden City, Newton MA. She has had her poetry and essays published in numerous print and online journals such as “Poetica Magazine,” “The Persimmon Tree,” “Every Writer’s Resource,” and others, and she met an amazing dog named Joey, which led to incredulous circumstances that involved her and that resulted in her writing the book, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways. Jane is involved with many and varied local community and civic activities, such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, feeding the hungry, literacy, and environmental safety. She spends way too much time on the computer.

Hello, Jane! Thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about your book, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways: A Primer on Unintended Consequences.

Hello, Stephanie! It’s my pleasure. You make us feel so comfortable. First about the book: Everything described in the book actually happened. That’s why some people consider the book non-fiction. Also, readers have become convinced that Joey is the author: Some insist that his name should be on the cover.

Could you share a brief excerpt?

This excerpt is from Chapter One:

Some dogs live in families where they help guide a family member who cannot use his eyes to see. These dogs work hard to assist their partners and masters with walking down sidewalks, crossing streets, going up and down escalators, going shopping, going to work, and coming back home again. This also would not be me. Dogs who do this important type of work sometimes wear a nice jacket that says, “Do not talk to me. I am working.” Wherever I go, I like to wag my tail and personally greet everybody I see. When my parents and I are outside walking along the sidewalk, I look ahead and see where I want to go, or with my nose to the ground or pointed into the wind I smell where I want to go, and step down from the curb into the street toward that destination. Sometimes I step off the curb at a spot where another road is crossing. That’s when I hear Dad sharply call out, “Joey, stop. Sit. Cars are passing here. Do you want to get hit? Sit until I say it’s okay to cross.” So I stop and force my body to form the “sit” posture, though my bottom doesn’t like to cooperate, hovering and vibrating slightly above the pavement, waiting for some sign that Dad really means what he says. In this position I remain suspended and I plant my gaze firmly on Dad’s face, until he looks back at me and repeats even more emphatically this time, “SIT,” and my bottom finally and reluctantly cooperates. This I do only because he tells me to.

What is an example of how Joey deals with a conflict?

That’s a cute question. Joey knows exactly what he wants, but is not confrontational or aggressive. So he has an array of methods that are aimed at getting him what he wants, without any confrontation. The first example occurs after he, as a puppy, is told that he is no longer allowed to run the long distances he has become accustomed to running, and he has to find a way to revoke that harsh decree. He’s only 8 months old but he succeeds in pressing his point.

Joey also is extremely patient and tries to deal with some conflicts by out-waiting us. He will stand around, look down, up, shift his eyes side to side, try to wait for us to just give up, looking out the corner of his eye to see if we’ve softened. If we haven’t, he starts wagging his tail, first slowly, then more rapidly, then in wider and wider arcs. He times it just perfectly too: just as my frustration is increasing. He knows we can’t be angry or upset with him when his tail is wagging. He has much more patience than we do and uses it to his advantage.

Loud noises don’t bother him at all, but he hates being around interpersonal conflict. If he senses two people are in conflict with each other, he simply gets up, hangs his head down low, and quietly heads out of the room and for the basement.

Dogs don't look both ways with Medallion

And what is his relationship like with his human dad?

There’s a lot of adoration between them. As long-distance running partners, who run miles and miles at 5 am throughout the four seasons, they share a closeness and a world that I can never share with either! His human dad, my husband, has tremendous respect for him.

What are a few of the habits of Labrador Retrievers that people might not know?

Anybody who gets a Labrador Retriever is surprised at how much they like to chew – everything – and at how much they like to dig. Many say that Labs love to eat and will carry their food bowls around with them. This is generally true; however, Joey did not. Many will talk about how good Labs are at swimming. This also is generally true; however, this does not apply to Joey! One habit that is generally true is that Labs love people. Never get a Lab if what you want is a guard dog!

Were there any challenges in creating a voice for a dog?

Sure! The challenge was in channeling the voice for this dog, and getting it into words and on paper. This dog oozes personality and he has a regal quality about him; so the book – the vocabulary, the sentence structure, the punctuation – had to reflect the simplicity of a dog but also convey his unique sophistication and personality.

The other aspect of the challenge was to assure that his voice was not my, or any other human, voice. Here’s a simple example: In the book I had described the utility poles with their white light at the top of each; that line the roads. Then one day in looking out my window, I realized that to Joey, there is no relationship between the two: Although when outside in the dark he passes utility poles as he runs or walks, the light above is, to him, seemingly suspended in air. And the color light we humans see is not the same color that dogs, and Joey, perceives. So I had to question everything that I experienced and ask, “What does Joey experience?” and my writing had to reflect that world of his.

What was it like for you writing the emotional scenes in your story?

I wasn’t attached to my emotions when I was writing the emotional scenes. I was busy getting in touch with the details of what had happened, what Joey was likely experiencing, including how he was experiencing me (or anybody else), and how he was experiencing me experiencing him. And so on. Even re-reading the book, I was more focused on how accurately I was depicting what had happened and from his point of view. As I now read these emotional scenes, I can see that focusing on Joey and chronicling his experience made for scenes that were packed with emotion, whether that was laughter or tears.

Is there anything you would like readers to come away with when reading your story?

The book is full of so many things, but everybody will come away with something different, which is why I love reading readers’ reviews and comments: Each one is different, everybody picks up on something else and takes away something else. But I would like readers to be open-minded.

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways is an honest story about life, boundaries, the need to explore, the need to understand each other and the challenges we – humans and our canine family members – face; it’s about being perfect and being imperfect. I hope that everybody will laugh; in some places they may tear up, but keep on reading and laugh and smile again.

Who designed your book cover?

Jonathan D. Scott. He is a friend from my high school who I had lost touch with; we reconnected after a recent high school reunion. He’s an amazing person and I was blessed. The lesson here is that everybody should go to his or her high school reunion. You never know what friendships you’re missing out on!

Where can readers buy your book?

The easiest is to purchase it online at Amazon or Kobo. They can also order it through their local bookstore.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I like to write at my computer in my home office, which faces west and looks out on the (small) front lawn and road, where people are walking by day and night. I write when I feel like it – no set time. Most of my ideas come when I’m riding my bike, or when I’m in a yoga class and not supposed to be thinking about anything in particular. Surprise! When I write poetry, I often jot down ideas on my iPhone “Notes”, which preserves the ideas but ruins the pleasure of whatever it is I was doing and focusing on and also is ruining my eyes.

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways had its own process: It began with an idea and a goal that I wanted my writing to accomplish. I quickly initiated a blog to keep a record of what was happening day by day and to create the voice, and to determine if readers were responding to the dog’s voice, and they were, so that was encouraging. I also read many books about dogs – scientific, breed-specific, historical – many relevant points of which were incorporated into the narrative. It was also important for me to incorporate a spiritual and ethical component to the book. I did a lot of reading and spoke to child psychologists about animals and their role in literature and myth-making to represent certain human concepts to children and adults. Eventually, I discontinued the blog and just worked on a larger manuscript.

Do you stick with just genre?

My writing reflects the forces that are in my life at that time and the message I’m inspired to convey. Whatever genre or vehicle that requires.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Online, doing searches for people to review the book, and one led me backward to indieBRAG: The original website said we could get “one point” toward earning a review by having a book that was honored with the B.R.A.G. Medallion, and naturally I set about to see what that was.
What are you working on next?

Look at my blogs: I’m very interested in issues of family dysfunction and drug addiction. Subset: among individuals in “nice” middle class families, where it’s least expected. But one of my readers wants me to write more Joey stories. I like my writing to be inspiration and to help people find, and hold onto, the good.

Thank you, Stephanie!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jane Hanser who is the author of, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.