Barbara Lampert is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in relationships. She’s been in private practice in Brentwood, California for over twenty years. She considers her work a calling and loves what she does. She has a doctorate in medical sociology and two master’s degrees – one in psychology and one in sociology. Barbara has adored dogs her whole life. They’re her passion! She notes that for a lot of people, their dogs are their best friends. She loves helping people know that’s ok – that a soul-satisfying relationship may be found with any being and needs to be treasured. Besides her love of dogs, Barbara is an avid gardener and finds herself gardening in much of her spare time. She sees her garden as a work of art. She loves being in nature – the miracle of growth, the ever-changing landscape, its beauty. Today Barbara lives happily in Malibu, California with her husband David (married twenty-eight years!) and their six-year-old Golden Retriever, Harry. Barbara hopes that Charlie: A Love Story will be a tribute not only to a magnificent dog but to all dogs everywhere. You can visit her website at www.charliealovestory.com.
ABOUT CHARLIE: A LOVE STORY
Charlie: A Love Story tells of the beautiful love between Charlie, a Golden Retriever, and the author, Barbara Lampert. It takes place in Malibu, California. When Charlie turned eleven years old and started having some health problems, a journal Barbara was keeping about her garden quickly became mostly about Charlie. Charlie: A Love Story is an intimate look at an incredible connection between a canine and a human. And as a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, Barbara brings that sensibility and understanding to Charlie’s story as well. Charlie was Barbara’s loyal confidante and best friend. He was indomitable, had a zest for life and an uncanny emotional intelligence. Charlie: A Love Story is about devotion, joy, loss, and renewal, about never giving up or giving in. But mostly it’s about an extraordinary dog and an extraordinary relationship.
Thank you for this interview, Barbara. Can you tell us what your latest book, Charlie: A Love Story, is all about? And how did you come up with the idea for your book?
Thank you so much for having me on your site! I appreciate this opportunity to connect with your readers and to talk about my beautiful dog Charlie and how his life story turned into a book.
Charlie: A Love Story came to be in a very unusual way. I had no intention of writing a book. I’d been keeping a gardening journal while landscaping almost an acre of land at my home in Malibu, noting what I had done each day, what needed to be done, what plants to buy, and so on. But when my eleven-year-old Charlie, with whom I’d been extremely close all his life, began having some health problems, that journal quickly became mostly about him. I wrote about Charlie because I was so upset about what he was going through. But what really caught my attention was his Buddha-like attitude about his life and troubles. He would literally bounce out of one situation after another with what appeared to be a smile on his face and a renewed energy, ready to live each day to its fullest and leave the past far behind. I started taking my cues from him, and knew I was in the presence of a very special being. I could not not write about him.
So my book is a journal of Charlie’s day-to-day life after he turned eleven, with a number of reminiscences of his younger years and a few anecdotes about his pack members. But mostly it’s a story about how Charlie conducted himself when he got older, about our very close and deep relationship, and about what it takes to have a good life, no matter what is going on. And as a psychotherapist specializing in relationships, I bring that sensibility to Charlie’s story. Though there are many mostly subtle messages in Charlie’s story, my book is mainly about a being unlike any other I’ve ever known.
What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?
I was going to say that I didn’t do any research for my book, but that’s not quite accurate. Let’s say I didn’t do any formal research. But I did and do read almost every dog memoir that comes out, not as research but because I just like reading them, because I passionately love all dogs. So I am very well-versed in the dog memoir world. Most of the writing of Charlie’s story was finished in 2003, long before the plethora of dog memoirs came out, but reading other dog memoirs has given me a valuable perspective about my own book. For one thing, I know that Charlie’s story is different from any other dog memoir I’ve ever read.
Another aspect of my book that I researched involved my garden. Because Charlie’s story comes out of gardening journal, and because I mention a variety of plants and what many of them need, I asked an extremely knowledgeable horticulturist at the local nursery where I’ve purchased a great many of my plants to read my manuscript, to make sure I had my gardening and plant facts straight. Incidentally, this horticulturist’s main love is of animals, for whom he devotes the lion’s share of his energy, in many wonderful ways. I also called a well-known horticulturist who specializes in grasses about the care some of my grasses need.
If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
That’s a difficult question, only because implicit in my book are so many messages. Actually, I recently did a fifteen-minute online radio interview on Conversations LIVE! in which I discuss the many messages in Charlie’s story. The link to that interview is:
Nonetheless, here are some of the more important messages in my book:
- Hold dear any good relationship, whether it’s with a human, a dog, a cat, a bird, or any being. Relationships can comfort and heal. It’s the connection that’s important in life. Try to connect with beings who are good for you. For animal lovers, take pride in your good relationships with your pets. Those can be as important as the relationships you have with humans. And for some people, maybe more important.
- Have hope, no matter what. Because you just never know: there’s so much that’s out of our control.
- Forge ahead, try as hard as you can, and don’t give up until it makes total sense to do so.
Can you give us a short excerpt?
Here’s an excerpt, from my book’s prologue, that describes Charlie:
“Charlie’s a big dog, not just physically but in every way. He has a big heart, a big smile, lots of courage, a big appetite, and a great, big, generous spirit. Charlie’s the emotional core of our family, the most solid being I have ever known, and wise beyond his years.
Charlie and me. It’s a great love affair, a once-in-a-lifetime connection.”
In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?
Yes, it’s unreasonably hard. How did I do it? Basically, perseverance! But here’s a little more detail.
The route I took is probably similar to that followed by a lot of authors, particularly first-time ones like me. At first I attempted to get an agent. I had a few bites, but from my perspective no one was a good fit. Then I tried to get a publisher interested without using an agent. I found a traditional publisher and was just about ready to sign his contract when I got a funny feeling about him and his publishing business. So I decided I did not want my very special story to be in his hands – I would have lost almost complete control over how my book was produced. I withdrew right at the very last minute and am so glad I did.
I continued looking for a small press publisher, this time focusing on one who would allow me to retain some control. I sent letters to a number of them, and a few were interested, but I was impressed with the flexibility of Langdon Street Press. They first asked for a chapter and then later for the complete manuscript. While they had a number of editing and cover design requirements, I appreciated their openness to my thinking about many aspects of my book that were most important to me. And I now can say that those requirements proved to be very good for my book.
What’s a typical day like for you?
As I said above, I’m a psychotherapist specializing in relationships. Very often before I go to work, I spend some time with Harry, my six-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever, mostly playing ball. I think I love the ball game almost as much as he does. I love seeing how earnest he is about it. Our game’s simplicity is beautiful (most of its rules were developed by him), and it means so much to him. Needless to say, he can play endlessly. I have to stop the game when I see him get too out of breath.
Every morning, I go for a one-hour brisk walk along the beach. And then if I have time on my work days, I’ll garden. If I’m in a writing mode, I’ll generally do that in the afternoon in my office, between patients. If I write at home, that can be at any hour. But by nighttime, after seeing patients, I usually just want to relax and do mundane chores around the house.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m so busy promoting my book that I’ve not given much thought to what’s next. I do know that I have to have a passion for something before I can write about it. I have to need to write in order for the next book to happen. I love dogs and do love writing about them, and I also love gardens and gardening, so who knows. I also love the work I do as a psychotherapist – it’s my calling – but so far have not felt the need to write about it.
When the need to write strikes again, there will probably be another book!
Thank you so much for this interview, Barbara. We wish you much success!
My pleasure! Thank you so much on both counts!