Julie Barton wrote Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself and published with a smaller press, Think Piece Publishing.
On the day of her books debut, her book was already sold out in pre-orders! She has received rave reviews from Pam Houston, Cheryl Strayed and the ratings on Amazon and Goodreads are through the roof with joy over this stellar memoir.
Based on Julies struggle with depression when she sought purpose and something to hold onto she met Bunker, a beautiful golden retriever puppy and together they saved each other. Now you can win a FREE SIGNED COPY – by following the contest guidelines below. Enjoy the After The Show Q&A full of great writing tips for aspiring authors.
Press play to hear the first part of our interview on Literary Speaking below:
AFTER THE SHOW Q&A
Do you have a daily routine, or did you during the writing of Dog Medicine?
No real routine to speak of, no. I have two kids who were 2 and 5 when I started writing the book. They’re 8 and 11 now. I was lucky if I got time while they were at school, but even then half the time I had to do things like buy food, do laundry, exercise, find the floor underneath all the toys and clothes, etc.
So I often would find just a moment—an hour here or there—during which I could write. Before kids, I needed a whole day to get into “writing mode.” Now I can sit and get going (as long as I know what I’m writing about) within 5 minutes. But I wrote at all times, odd hours, in coffee shops, at my desk, on the dining room table, in bed, on the couch, everywhere. And often for about two hours or less.
What was the most challenging part of writing a memoir?
Giving it an arc. When you’re living your life, you’re not looking at moments that become crises or climaxes in the book as such. That crisis just felt like a bad day you wanted to survive. The good stuff brought relief that something went well—and wasn’t experienced as the culmination of a story.
So you have to really pull yourself out of the story (your life) and look at it from a bird’s eye view in order to understand the arc of the memoir. That’s why I think memoirs written about events that happened 10 or so years ago are often the most powerful. Perspective is priceless.
During our live interview we discussed briefly the impact your family dynamic had on you. It was so beautiful that writing this memoir actually helped heal the relationship between your brother and you. It was really inspiring to know that the book really brought the two of you back together. Did you worry about what your parents or your brother would think?
I was very worried about what my family would think, but I knew that I had to write this story. Whether I ever published it or not was a whole other issue I figured I’d deal with after I finished it.
There was part of me that knew that my family might not approve, and it could sit in a drawer forever. I would’ve been devastated, but I would have honored their wishes. Not only did they say it was okay, they’re my greatest cheerleaders. So when I say that at the bottom of my family well there is nothing but love, this is what I mean.
Do you have any plans for the portions of the book that were cut during the editing process?
So many! Hundreds of pages and I’m not exaggerating. The book could’ve been twice as long. But I am not a fan of extraneous passages in any books. I often read thinking,
“What’s the point of this chapter? Totally could’ve been edited out.” But I never actually threw my cut-out pages away or deleted them entirely.
I have a “Deleted Scenes” file on my computer with the whole mess of tossed excerpts.
What was the editing process like? How long did it take?
The editing process was the hardest part. It took years. When I started my MFA, revision and editing were my greatest weaknesses.
I remember a professor saying that there is no writing without rewriting.
I didn’t know what that meant until I actually revised this book. Once I got into the revision groove, where my ego was completely checked at the door and I did only what was best for the work, editing and changing became easier and even dare-I-say fun. Like polishing a piece of silver.
When you connected with Think Piece Publishing, how long did it take from writing the book to finished product available for pre-order?
About a year and a half.
How long did it take for the book to be reprinted for the second and third rounds? (After selling out in pre-orders before the book even debuted)
About a month.
What writers really inspire you?
Sue William Silverman, Cheryl Strayed, Ta-Nehishi Coates, Steve Almond, Kay Redfield Jamison, Caroline Knapp, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dani Shapiro, etc. etc. (I could go on for ages!)
Do you have a writers group you regularly commune with to share writing and ups and downs with?
I have two different forms of writing group support. One is through Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing (27powers.org) where I write in person, once a week, around a table with six or so other women. We write by hand for about 15 minutes, three times. Then we read our work aloud to each other and don’t comment at all. It’s fantastic and my complete regular solace.
I also have two writing sisters who are my rocks. We all got our MFAs at Vermont College of Fine Arts. We send work to each other both for accountability and for feedback. And we also share each other’s successes and failures, highs and lows, doubts and hopes. I would be nowhere without them.
When did you know you had a book to write on the subject of depression and how your dog really served as a catalyst for this transformative healing that occurred with Bunkers presence?
When I sat down and thought, “What is the truest thing I know?” And the answer was, “That Bunker saved my life.”
Are you working on anything else right now?
Yes! Always! I don’t know what it will be yet, but I’ll always be writing.
What did you feel was the biggest challenge of producing a book into the world, was it the writing, editing or something during the publishing process?
Writing it was the hardest, for sure. I’ve never done anything that hard in my life. It pales in comparison to the challenges in publishing, etc.
You mentioned that you were able to secure the rights to choose the book cover in your publishing contract. That’s something many authors don’t get to do, the front cover with Bunkers portrait in black and white is perfect. Did you have any resistance from the publisher when choosing the cover photo?
Nope. We did have one conversation about whether to Photoshop out the drool, but we all decided that the drool stays.
How did you know Bunker was “the one” when you went to look at the puppies for the first time?
I try to explain this in the book, but it’s one of those you just know feelings. I just knew.
In the book you mention how you had always felt a sadness but that it became amplified after the break up of your first big love in Manhattan. Depression can come on at any time, but is it true that break ups or the loss of a job, or any life change can really trigger it?
For me my depression was always low-grade, and when I life in the big city sucked as I slowly, agonizingly lost my boyfriend, I was a goner. So for me it was partly circumstantial. But it would’ve happened at some point, I’m sure. I just had a particularly rough fast-track to sorrow that year.
You wrote so warmly about how patient and kind your mother was through the process of packing up your apartment and bringing you home. She really was this sort of rock for you and even when you would lash out she remained by your side and a source of comfort for you. What did she think of the book?
She’s very proud of the book. I think reading it was hard for her at times, but also a relief for her to know how grateful I am for all she did for me when I was so helpless. Sometimes, as a mom, you don’t know if your kid recognizes all you do for them. This was, in part, a way to show her that I noticed all her sacrifices and unending generosity.
I liked the contrast of energy between your mother and father and how differently they both dealt with how they should handle what was happening. There was a great balance of compassion and tough love that brought you back. It seemed like your Dad really had this way of knowing what you needed but instead of forcing you to take medication, he instead gave you the pamphlet of information on it to decide for yourself. What was his reaction to the book?
Same as my mom. He’s extraordinarily proud and though it was hard for him to read certain parts of the book, he is all for me sharing my truth. My Dad and I are extraordinarily connected. We’re similar, and we can read each other’s emotions in a weird, spot-on way.
I’m so lucky to be his daughter. Both of my parents are remarkable people. They’re flawed, as we all are, but when it comes down to it, they’re absolutely extraordinary parents.
What are you reading right now?
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
If there is anything you could tell your early writer self what would it be?
Julie, I think you have done the world a great service writing this book. Thank you.
Julie Barton is a writer, mother of two and animal lover who lives in Northern California. Her memoir, Dog Medicine, How My Dog Saved Me From Myself was published in November of 2015 by Think Piece Publishing.