Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author who lectures on Toy and Small dogs, Wellness for pets including nutrition training and behavior. She’s a lively guest expert on radio and television.
Time to chat with Darlene!
Welcome, Darlene. I’m delighted to have you at the chateau. Please tell us how you became a certified animal behavioral consultant. You’ve written several wonderful books on pet care, including The Complete Cat’s Meow which I read and enjoyed few years ago. Can you tell us about your different titles before I overwhelm you with questions about animal behavior?
My first book, The Irrepressible Toy Dog, (Howell Book House) was the first book of its kind, written about dogs 21 lbs and no matter which Group they fit into with any dog registry. The readers dubbed it “The Bible for Toy Dog Owners,” and veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, called me “The Toy Dog Authority.” The publisher kept my working title even though it wasn’t totally accurate. When I updated, expanded and revised it several years ago, the title was changed to, Small Dogs, Big Hearts.
Among my other titles are The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs (MacMillan) was written with the cooperation of the hospitals staff and the president of the Massachusetts SPCA. The hospital is world renowned. The book is out of print but still available as an e-book. It is as accurate today as it was the day it was published because they are so far ahead.
Unfortunately, my agent didn’t retain e-rights. No one really was expecting this e-book revolution so soon. Rover, Get Off Her Leg! (H.C.I.) is a behavior book written with my warped sense of humor. It’s solid behavior information but I believe that we learn best through humor; we retain it. Animals are very sensitive to us and they will pick up on our stress and frustration. In that book I list the most common behavior problems, what to do, what not to do and I give real-life examples of what happened to someone else with the same problem, so laugh and let’s get on with resolving the issue. At the end is a chapter on everything you can do with your now well-mannered dog. I changed most of the names to protect the guilty. People who don’t own a dog have read it and loved it. Go figure. There were other books along the way. The full list is on my website.
My first cat book, The Complete Cat’s Meow, was written to do for cats and cat owners what I had done for small dog owners. I had been pitching a cat book for years. When I finally heard “Yes,” from Howell Book House, I thought they said no! It won three awards even though I never entered it or promoted it for anything except cat owners.
My latest book, Beautiful Cats is a coffee table book published by Ivy Press in England. I didn’t realize that some of the information I would need was not readily available so I asked if I could bring in a British co-author. With permission, I brought Nick Mays aboard and he was able to fill in the blanks. When the coffee table book arrived I was more than a little surprised to see that it was soft cover. It is, however, beautiful.
My dog gets jealous every time I show my cat affection, but she couldn’t care less if I show him any affection. Is this typical? Is it ever the other way around?
Yes, it can happen the other way around. It depends upon personality and bonding. Your cat may very well care but will show it in other ways. Watch their body language. They are masters at reading our body language, but we’re not as good at reading theirs.
Why do dogs go completely crazy after a bath?
They want to dry off and, frankly, they prefer to roll in something smelly. Unlike cats, dogs don’t bathe themselves. Considering what they roll in given the chance, they have to be bathed or we probably couldn’t tolerate the smell. They also get dirty and need a bath. They also need weekly groom unless they have a long coat. In that case, daily grooming is required.
Everyone laughs when dogs greet one another in the most interesting ways. Thank goodness humans don’t do this. Why do dogs sniff one another’s butts?
They learn about each other that way. That’s also why dogs in the home sniff crotches. It’s perfectly acceptable behavior for dogs but not humans so we teach them an alternate greeting behavior.
Some dogs get very frightened by thunder, lightning, fireworks, etc. What can the owner of a neurotic dog do to reduce the trauma? Along the same lines, what can a pet owner do to reduce separation anxiety?
It would take more space than you have to answer that. Dogs with separation anxiety are stressed. Steps should be taken to prevent it as soon as you bring the dog or puppy home. You want them to bond but you also want them to feel secure and confident at all times.
Is it early-on training, innate characteristics, or some other trait that allows different species of animals to become best pals?
Every species has different characteristics that appeal to different people. And there are differences and characteristics even within a species.
What makes some rescued animals become fun and sweet while others stay fearful and mean? Is it the degree to which they have been abused?
Michael Vick’s dogs were turned around but, like people, some are more sensitive than others. Some can never trust again, while others, with time, patience and love can be turned around. They all need positive training. Aversive training is more abuse.
When some people hear a bird’s morning song, it conjures up pleasant, good-day vibes. I’ve heard, though, that every note is a message to other birds in the area, kind of territorial warning. Is this true?
LOL! I have no idea. I’m a certified animal behavior consultant for dogs and cats. I don’t know anything about birds except that I had a parakeet when I was a child.
Many people don’t believe that indoor cats need to keep their claws. I disagree. What do you think?
They absolutely have to keep their claws! Declawing is animal abuse. It’s the equivalent of cutting off each of your fingers at the first joint. Do you think you’d enjoy that? It also causes behavior problems, most frequently litter box issues since they can’t tolerate the feel of the litter. There are alternatives. HUMANE ones! The cat can be taught to use a scratching post. They also need a tall, sturdy cat tree so they can stretch out to their full body length. There are claw caps that can be put on so the cat doesn’t feel anything when she scratches. If someone’s furniture is more important, then they don’t deserve to have a cat. Did you know that this procedure is illegal in Europe? The Mass. SPCA will not perform it. I wish it were illegal here. I hate big government and I don’t like the government interfering in our lives but I will put up with it to end this abusive, painful, hideous practice.
What is the most common question you’re asked about animal behavior?
Depending upon the species: small dog owners ask about housetraining, while cat owners ask about litter box issues.
What advice would you give to someone going to the pound to rescue a dog or cat?
Remember that these pets usually come with “baggage” and will need time, patience and love. You have to treat them as a new puppy or kitten no matter what their age when you bring them home. Spend some time getting to know the potential new family member in the room they have set aside to get acquainted. Does the pet follow you, does the pet want to be touched by you, near you, will the activity level fit in with your lifestyle? Expect a period of adjustment. It usually takes a full year before the pet feels he is truly “home.”
Is your recent book part of a series?
No. All of my books are stand-alones meant to help pet parents, except Beautiful Cats. It has breed information and pretty pictures as well as a description of British cat shows and cat history.
If you were to advertise your book(s) on a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Building the Bond Between Pets and Owners
What else have you written?
More magazine and newspaper articles than I can count! They are mostly celebrity profiles. I was a travel writer for awhile. I’m a true eclectic. Of course I’ve also written about dogs and cats.
After working for a very long time on a book, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
I stay pretty focused. Once I get the galleys I can look at it as a brand-new project.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
I wish I knew. Even in non-fiction I see some really dangerous information out there because self-promoting “celebrities” get a big bucks advance and then more money is thrown at the book for publicity in order to justify the advance. That leaves some really good authors and books out in the cold. Shameless self-promoters also get attention. That doesn’t mean that what they write is good.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Don’t expect anything and be prepared to do a lot of promotion yourself. It’s a second full-time job.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
I’m a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. I started with magazine articles and never really cared about writing books. Really. It was while I was writing an article I had pitched on the AKC Gazette on Toy Dogs that I realized I really didn’t have enough space. It hit me like the old V8 Commercial. I muttered to myself: This should be a book. And then sort of hit myself on the forehead and said THIS should be a book! I ultimately wrote a book proposal and pitched it to a niche imprint and sold it.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook where I have a Timeline, a fan/public page, a Group, and a page to represent the Donor Directed Behavior Fund I started at the American Kennel Club’ Canine Health Foundation in my Mother’s memory. I did everything wrong when I joined Twitter. Now I just stumble along and sort of enjoy it. I’m on Pinterest and I’m still not sure if I’m doing it correctly. I’m also on LinkedIn and Google+. It can take entirely too much time but I think it’s useful in book promotion and getting to know readers.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I like losing myself in fiction and accurate information in non-fiction. The least would be the self-published books that haven’t been properly edited. That drives me nuts. I’ve seen it happen with publishing houses, too, when they throw the book online without formatting it properly.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
There’s a tremendous amount of research that goes into writing each of my books. All except the coffee table book took a year each to be written because of the extensive research. I go to the best experts I can find in the field and interview them. I also use my own experience where appropriate. My name is on each book and my reputation is on the line with each of them.
Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?
I don’t know what the question would be but the answer is that The Chicago Book of Style drives me crazy! They insist that when writing a dog or cat breed’s name that you only capitalize the word representing the place. For example: toy Manchester terrier. It is correctly written as Toy Manchester Terrier since it is a proper noun. Dog and Cat writers have fought for this and you’ll see it in books and magazines but not in the mainstream thanks to CMS. How can we change that?
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
No. My editor reads it. Unlike fiction, there has always been trouble when I’ve allowed someone to read even part of a manuscript. Some of the comments I have received from some veterinarians are enough to make me bang my head against the wall. I asked them to check accuracy and someone will invariably make comments that are something other than helpful and miss the point that I’m writing for the layperson, not for veterinarians.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
The positive: The Complete Cat’s Meow won three awards and I never entered it for anything. The negative: The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs received a review from a dog writer in which she pushed her own opinion of one topic that was not something Angell Memorial would promote and complained about something else that was in committee when she knows that a book takes an entire year in production so it almost felt as if she was attacking rather than objectively reviewing the book. On Amazon someone complained that The Complete Cat’s Meow didn’t teach how to toilet train your cat. To begin with that’s an unnatural position for a cat. There is also the issue that you only have X number of pages and I prefer to fill them with what is useful and helpful.
Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?
No. My mind races ahead of my fingers and I always have to go back and correct what I’ve typed.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I could always write but never thought of it as a vocation. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I sort of fell into writing.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
I don’t have a novel but social networking is one of the least expensive ways but, frankly, I think the best thing is a reasonably priced publicist unless you can shamelessly self-promote without feeling as if you want to slap yourself in the face.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
Forget it. Remember that the people who write negative reviews, especially on Amazon, are sad little people who feel brave behind a computer screen and make themselves feel more important by knocking someone else. If they could do what you do, they wouldn’t be sitting around writing negative reviews.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
To an extent. I give away a signed book to a charity using it as a fund-raiser. The charity is invariably my audience; they are dedicated to dogs or cats. When they see the book they will often buy it. Or when someone sees the signed book in the winner’s house they will occasionally buy it. I also realize that a signed book will bring in more money than I could afford to contribute.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
Night owl, always. Since I’ve developed insomnia I find it very useful because there’s less chance of my train of thought being interrupted. I’m an avowed coffeeholic.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I place a lot of importance on a book cover. It’s what will often make a potential book buyer pick up the book or select it online. Think about celebrities on magazines or singers on albums (are they still called that?). They are looking off the cover at you. The reader makes eye contact with the cover.
How would you define your style of writing?
I write in my own voice as if I were talking to a friend.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
For every written review there are many people thinking the same thing who don’t say it. This is what tells publishers what to buy, including promoting the author to publishers and it helps other readers choose books they will also enjoy.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
Doesn’t everyone? I put it away and drive to a quiet place or a coffee shop and stop thinking about the book so I can come back to it with a fresh eye and attitude.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Spend some money on publicity. I’m sure there’s much more than I need to know but we usually find out the hard way because no one shares this information. I’m grateful to you, Lisette, for giving us a place to share through interviews with authors.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I’ve spent my life in New England. I’d like to be someplace where I’d never have to deal with snow and ice again.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Planes before they became so cramped.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
I hate surprises but the day my “chosen sister” flew in without telling me was the world’s best surprise!
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Loyalty and a warped sense of humor.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I hate to write.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
Typing. I learned more on my own than in school or college. Typing was practical and I never stop using it.
If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
Film: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I can’t choose just one book.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
Love and trusted friendship.
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