This dog is on a mission!
2nd Aug 19

This dog is on a mission!

Cosmo needs plenty of bacon, some smooth dance moves, and a big heart if he's to stop his family from falling apart. Luckily, Cosmo is a Golden Retriever and he has all of these and more! Author CARLIE SOROSIAK tells us more about I, COSMO.

Cosmo's family is falling apart, and he knows it's up to him to save it. All he needs to do is win a dance competition and then he and Max will always be together.

Cosmo is Golden Retriever with a big heart who knows more about what family means than most humans, and who is full of wisdom and warmth.

Author CARLIE SOROSIAK tells us more about I, COSMO, a story about best friends, belonging, and bacon...

Q: When did you start to write for children?

A: I sold my first novel, If Birds Fly Back, right out of graduate school. At the time, I was working as an editorial assistant in the children's department at Faber and Faber.

I guess you can say that my creative writing career really began there; I had the privilege of working with so many amazing authors, from Alwyn Hamilton to Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, and I learned a great deal about the craft in the process.

Q: As I, Cosmo, is about a dog, can you begin by telling us a bit about your own dog, an American Dingo, and how it came to join your household?

A: Absolutely! This is perhaps my favourite subject. I adopted Dany (short for Daenerys Dogaryen, the first of her name, true heir to the iron bone) from the Atlanta Humane Society.

She was the last puppy left at 5 pm on a Saturday, partly because her skin was in terrible shape; I took her home right away.

The shelter claimed that she was a "German shepherd mix", but as she grew, my husband and I really began to scratch our heads. Those ears! That tail! A German Shepherd, she was not.

The vet told us that she might be an American Dingo (also known as a Carolina dog) - a rare breed discovered in the 1970s. Sure enough, that was right!

Dany is, for all intents and purposes, a wild dog: incredibly smart, incredibly shy, and now incredibly spoiled.

Q: Did any of your dogs help inspire your latest book, I, Cosmo, about the inner life of an elderly dog?

A: Every one of my dogs - from Sally, the German shorthaired pointer of my childhood, to Ralphie, the golden retriever of my teenage years - was an inspiration for this book.

Like Cosmo, Ralphie knocked down our Christmas tree and was fond of eating large quantities of dirt. And like Max (Cosmo's human), I'd talk to Sally when it seemed like no one else was listening.

My parents also adopted two elderly golden retrievers when I was in college; I was inspired particularly by those dogs' resilience, and how much love they gave to us - even though we were strangers at first. The heart of a dog is unmatched.

Q: I, Cosmo is, as the title suggests, narrated by Cosmo. How hard was it to find Cosmo's voice?

A: Cosmo's voice came naturally and immediately; he has a lot of Ralphie in him. One of my family's favourite things to do over dinner is imagine the voices of our dogs - what they would say, if they could speak human words.

We've been doing this for as long as I can remember, so I had plenty of practise before I even started writing Cosmo! In many ways, writing a dog's voice is more natural to me than writing a human's.

Q: Cosmo's mix of wisdom and innocence about humans results in many funny observations. Do you have a favourite?

A: It's so difficult to choose! But I'd probably have to say his observation about babies: "I had perhaps naively assumed that humans were born with a full body of fur and, as they aged, shed their outer layer."

A close second is his remark about the difficulty of going to potty on command. Writing these, I was really just channeling all the dogs I've ever known; they're so expressive, if you understand what to look for.

Q: Dogs' lives are also very narrowly focused - they are at home or on walks. Did this make it harder to write?

A: In a lot of ways, it actually made it easier: I had set guidelines and a very specific point of view.

But I'd also counter that, for humans, it's the same thing. We're either at home or out and about - and we're not even able to detect a quarter of the smells that canines can! Many dogs' lives are, quite possibly, richer than ours.

Q: And why did you focus the story on the relationship between Cosmo and Max?

A: Growing up, my dogs were always my best friends; and honestly, this is still true. When I started writing about the Walker family, I drew on my relationship with my childhood dog, Sally, in particular. We were incredibly, incredibly close.

To me, there are few things more powerful than the dog-human bond, so focusing the narrative on Max and Cosmo's closeness just felt right.

Q: Their relationship is reflected in the training Cosmo and Max do in some special moves they work on - what's the hardest thing you've ever trained a dog to do?

A: Firstly, let me say that I wish my dogs could dance like Cosmo! Dany does try with her wiggle-walks, but alas. I also wish that I had something much cooler to say, like: I've taught my dogs economics and the art of papier-mache.

Yet the best thing I can come up with is training our dogs to interact nicely with our cats. Although, to be perfectly frank, the cats played the largest role in the instruction!

Q: Underlying their story is the tension at home between the children's parents. Why did you decide to explore this side of family life?

A: As a kid, one of my biggest fears was the potential of separation from Sally. My parents fought a great deal, and it became engrained in my head that, if they divorced, Sally would live with my dad and I would live with my mom.

No one told me this, of course, but I one-hundred percent believed it. Max has the same fear in I, Cosmo. I also wanted to explore how much dogs understand fighting in families, especially since canines can smell emotions.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away from I, Cosmo?

A: Dogs listen. Dogs understand. And families are always evolving.

Q: Can you tell us when you write and describe your favourite writing place?

A: Lately I've been writing between teaching classes: a little bit here, a little bit there. Ideally, I'd write every morning with a cup of tea, or late at night, listening to indie folk music.

My favourite place to write is at the desk my grandmother gave me, while overlooking the North Carolina woods.

Q: What do you like to do most when you're not writing?

A: Over the last couple of months, I've started hiking with my dog - and I can't get enough of it. We're up to about thirty miles a week, exploring the Georgia mountains together.

Q: Are there any books you've read recently that you'd be able to recommend to our ReadingZone members?

A: Yes! I recently finished Catherine Doyle's The Storm Keeper's Island, and it reminded me of all the best middle-grade novels from when I was younger: full of magic and wonder.

I'm currently reading Gillian McDunn's Caterpillar Summer, which is so gentle and kind, and I'm deeply wrapped up in the ocean air of it.

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