By: Lisa Philippart
If you are a dog lover, then this story will make perfect sense to you. If you aren’t, then you will either have no clue what I am writing about or think I have completely lost my mind. Either way, I would like to share with you my connection to the most human-like dog I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Several years after my divorce, my daughter and I decided that we were ready to add a dog to our family. I had always loved golden retrievers, because of their pleasant, easy-going, I-love-everybody dispositions. When Shadow joined our family, he instantly became my daughter, Kate’s, brother. And we treated him like her brother. For all of his life, Kate would say to me, “talk for Shadow.” We gave Shadow a voice that matched his personality, and he truly seemed to understand and communicate with us through my characterizations. We played games with him that he actually picked up on quite quickly. For example, we used to play a silly game where Kate and I would hide under the covers in the bedroom, and he would be waiting outside the door. As soon as we called, “Shadow,” he would come bounding in (all 100 pounds of him), jump on top of the bed, and try to find us under the covers. The entire time we were laughing hysterically. I have so many stories to tell about Shadow. It is my hope that What’s My Name? will be book number one in a series of books that traces Shadow’s life. He was truly an amazing dog.
One wintry evening in mid-January 2003, Shadow and I went for our nightly walk. It still hurts me to remember that by the next afternoon, he was gone. Shadow’s spleen had ruptured that next morning, and following an ultrasound, our worst fears were confirmed. Shadow had pancreatic cancer that had spread to all his digestive organs. My husband and I went in to the vet’s office to say our goodbyes. The depth of my grief was and is still indescribable. I knelt down next to Shadow and whispered into his ear that I would never forget him. I promised him that I would write a book, sharing his life and telling his story. Someday. And then he was gone. Some people cannot possibly understand how a dog could touch our lives so deeply. But Shadow especially connected with me in such a profound way. I grieved intensely for over a year.
By mid- 2006, I was ready to fulfill my promise to Shadow. There was only one problem. I had no idea how to write a children’s book. So, I hopped on the internet and started my research. I purchased a book entitled, Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. I put together a list of publishers. And then I started writing Shadow’s story. It took me about 8 months to get my manuscript together, crying off and on throughout. In 2007, publishers only accepted hard copy manuscripts, so I spent another few months printing out copies of my manuscript and then mailing them off to various children’s book publishers recommended in my Dummies book. I waited and waited.
Most publishers did not respond at all. Some came back with a “thanks, but no thanks.” Some told me that I couldn’t write and should not waste any more time trying to get something like this published. A few were kind, and simply said that this type of story was not what they were looking for at the moment. Rejection hurts. And every response or non-response seemed to be telling me to just forget it. So I did…for a while. Actually a long while. But I didn’t forget about my promise.
In 2016, I felt ready to try again. So much had changed technology-wise, since my first efforts. Now, all submissions are done online. The process was much faster, which also meant the rejections came in faster too. But finally, last July, I found a publishing company willing to take a chance on me. I learned quickly that getting a book published is much more difficult than I ever imagined. There were so many decisions to be made. I thought I could just hand over my manuscript and “they” would do the rest. I believed they would send me the finished copy in a couple of months, ready to submit to the printers. Not. I had to make ALL the decisions about how I wanted my book to look. I am definitely illustration-challenged, so I depended heavily on my illustrator to recapture the images and spirit of Shadow. Fortunately, I had pictures for her to use, since I struggled to describe all the details for each illustration. For example, I forgot to share eye colors, background images, styles of fencing, floor patterns, kitchen appliances, and the list goes on. One detail in particular had to be corrected immediately. In the final image, the illustrator had included “my husband!”
Once we established the templates for each illustration, we moved on to the text. My editor was really harsh, but now I’m glad he was. (Of course, I took everything personally.) He made positive “suggestions” about how to make the story more readable and purposeful. One of the best ideas he proposed was to “let go” of needing to stick to real-life situations and details. He encouraged me to just tell the story as if I were reading it to my daughter, Kate. My original manuscript in no way resembles the finished product. And I am grateful. I was finally ready to create the front and back covers. Book secret: I was originally going to call the book, Shadow’s New Home. But as the story evolved, it became more about finding a name for our sweet puppy. For the back cover, I knew I wanted to include a picture of the “real” Shadow. The problem I ran into was finding an appropriate picture that did not have copyright restrictions. I am so pleased with the picture I chose, which captures the loving relationship between Shadow and Kate.
When I first saw the completed book online, I cried. The story and illustrations stirred up so many memories of years of love for this special and wonderful ‘golden.’ I was still trying to believe that Shadow’s story was really and finally happening. What’s My Name? is to be read using “Shadow’s voice,” however that sounds to you. This is Shadow’s story told by the adult Shadow, just as Shadow “talked” to my daughter over 25 years ago. I found a golden retriever puppet to go with the book, which really enhances Shadow’s story, truly connecting the reader (parent) to the listener (child.) If you are interested in purchasing the book, I will be at the Athens-Limestone Library on January 14, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. for story time. I will read Shadow’s story with my puppet of course, and sign copies afterward. If you can’t make story time, you can purchase my book and puppet online at:
https://www.facebook.com/whatsmynameLPP/ or contact me at 256.326.0909. I look forward to sharing Shadow’s story with you!
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor