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"How I Got Published" -- Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson, Authors of NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE, AND A MIRACLE

This installment is with Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson, authors of the New York Times best-selling book NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE, AND A MIRACLE (Little Brown, 2009), a story about marine Brian Dennis and a feral dog in Iraq that found a home in America. GIVEAWAY: Mary and Kirby are excited to give away 2 free copies of their book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina and T.Rob won.)

In preparation for my forthcoming humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL (Running Press, July 2012), I will be featuring interviews with other dog book writers each week. It's very exciting to shine light on books from other writers who also share a love for canines.

This week it's Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson, authors of the book NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE, AND A MIRACLE (Little Brown, 2009), a story about marine Brian Dennis and a feral dog in Iraq that found a home in America.

Mary Nethery is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of many picture books for children, as well as books for readers of all ages. She has collaborated with her dear friend, Newbery Honor recipient Kirby Larson, to write Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. NUBS is a New York Times Best Seller and recipient of the Christopher Medal; the National Parenting Publication Gold Award; is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and has received six state Children's Choice Awards.

Kirby Larson is the author of 10 books for young readers, including the 2007 Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky. In addition to her historical fiction (The Fences Between Us; The Friendship Doll), Kirby has partnered with Mary Nethery to write two award-winning nonfiction picture books. She also owns a tiara.

GIVEAWAY: Mary and Kirby are excited to give away 2 free copies of their book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina and T.Rob won.)

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Currently own dogs? Tell us their names, breeds and one amusing fact per dog.

Mary: Well, I’m a cat mom to Dashiell Asta Nethery, named after Dashiell Hammett and Asta the dog from The Thin Man. So I guess that gives him some doggy street cred!

Kirby: After writing two books featuring amazing dogs, I decided to be owned by one. For three years now, Winston the Wonder Dog has been my writing muse, making sure I get to the office every day. A Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Winston’s a party boy who cries whenever any of our guests leave.

In one sentence, what is your book (or latest dog-related book) about?

Mary: Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle is about a dog who so fell in love with marine Major Brian Dennis that he trekked 70 miles across a barren desert in the dead of winter with a punctured lung, just to find and be with Brian.

When did it come out? Publisher? Any notable awards or praise for it?

Kirby: Little Brown brought the book out in 2009; it earned a starred review from Booklist and quickly landed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 14 weeks running. In addition, the book was honored with a Christopher Award, established in 1949 by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” And we are delighted that Nubs has won six state Young Readers’ Choice Awards.

What inspired you to write this book?

Mary: We had such an awesome experience writing our first book together, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival that we wanted to write a second book. One day I had the thought that we should write a story set in a war zone, to explore the idea that love can flourish in even the most dire of circumstances. No more than two minutes after having this thought, my husband came out of his office with a newspaper in his hand, saying, “I think you and Kirby should read this.” It was the story of Nubs.

What kind of writing, if any, were you doing before the book?

Kirby: After writing several chapter books, I found my true passion: historical fiction. In addition to Hattie Big Sky, (2007 Newbery Honor), I wrote the kick-off title for the re-launch of the Scholastic Dear America series, The Fences Between Us. My newest title is The Friendship Doll (Delacorte); a sequel to Hattie Big Sky is due out in spring 2013. [See all Kirby's books here.]

Mary: I write fiction picture books. My newest is titled, The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star, out from Clarion. My agent now has my first novel.

How did you find your agent? (If you don’t have an agent, how did you secure a book deal?)

Kirby: I sold Hattie Big Sky without an agent but quickly realized a writing career required an agent. The Newbery Honor gave me access to agents who might not have been open to a midlist author like me otherwise. After careful research, I selected two agents to interview in person. Right before I flew to New York for the interviews, my fellow Newbery Honoree, Jennifer Holm, called and said I simply had to speak to her agent. I was annoyed – didn’t Jenni realize I’d done all this research?! But I did meet her agent and it was love at first sight. I am so grateful for Jill Grinberg, of Jill Grinberg Literary Management, for her good advice and listening ear!

Mary: I have a wonderful agent -- Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency, who was previously the Assistant Publishing Director for Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers. I’d submitted to her, in her previous editorial position, over the transom, and always respected and appreciated her feedback. I then queried her when I learned she’d taken a position as a literary agent.

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Left: Larson. Right: Nethery.

What has been the biggest surprise or learning experience you’ve seen through the process of seeing your book(s) get published?

Mary: For me it was learning how to meld Kirby’s and my two distinctly different voices into a spare style that allows the animal’s voice to be heard.

Kirby: Mary and I have writing processes as similar as Neiman Marcus and Target so I worried a bit that we might not find our stride. But it’s actually a blessing that we approach things so differently. That’s been a key in our ability to capture and share the hearts of the books we do together.

Tell me about a fun moment or proud experience you’ve had with your book and readers since the book was published.

Kirby: Two proud moments: a signing I did at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and a visit to Department of Defense Schools in Germany. I was overwhelmed by how military families felt supported and honored by Nubs.

Mary: Initially, we were surprised at how a true story in picture book format was loved by people of all ages, a children’s book reaching the adult audience in a very powerful way.

What are you doing to reach out to readers and dog enthusiasts?

Kirby: Our capable publicity team at Little Brown reached out in so many ways to market the book outside the children’s book world (pieces in People Magazine, Reader’s Digest, AKC Family Dog, and Guideposts; and interviews on "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien," for example). Our publisher made a generous donation to the ASPCA in honor of the book’s release. Our wonderful editor, Nancy Conescu, came up with the fun idea to include Nub’s actual pawprint on the front cover.

Think of your dog (or a past dog perhaps). If you could compare them to one celebrity, who would it be?

Kirby: Oh, Winston is definitely Jimmy Stewart.

Mary: Hmmm, we’re talking cat here. I’d say Dash is channeling Cary Grant—“dashing”, adorably charming, and funny!

Favorite of these dog movies? --- “Best in Show,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Shaggy Dog.”

Mary: I love the quirkiness of the Guest and Levy screenplays, so “Best in Show.”

Kirby: “Best in Show” gets my vote, too!

Where can people find you on the Internet? (Websites, etc)

Mary: www.marynethery.com

Kirby: www.kirbylarson.com. Kirby’s blog: www.kirbyslane.blogspot.com

What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Kirby: I’m fortunate to be working again with my Scholastic editor, Lisa Sandell, on two historical novels for younger readers.

Mary: We are looking for our third book together! My agent has my new middle grade novel — a mystery set in Paris — and a synopsis for a second novel.

GIVEAWAY: Mary and Kirby are excited to give away 2 free copies of their book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina and T.Rob won.)

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RED DOG / BLUE DOG is a humorous photo collection of
dogs doing stereotypical liberal and conservative things,
assembled all in good fun. It releases July 2012 from
Running Press.

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