Monday, February 06, 2017

THE DOG WHO WAS THERE - Ron Marasco - One Free Book

Bio: Ron Marasco is a professor in the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His first book, Notes to an Actor, was named by the American Library Association an Outstanding Book of 2008. His second book, About Grief, has been translated into multiple languages, and he is currently completing a book on Shakespeare’s sonnets. He has acted extensively on TV—from Lost to West Wing to Entourage to originating the role of Mr. Casper on Freaks and Geeks—and appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie Illusion, for which he also wrote the screenplay. Most recently, he has played the recurring role of Judge Grove on Major Crimes. He has a BA from Fordham at Lincoln Center and an MA and Ph. D. from UCLA.

Welcome, Ron. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters?
I do not consciously put myself into my characters. As someone who is also a professional actor I have learned that the less you think about yourself, the more you have two good things happen. First, when you step aside, you make room for a creative force beyond yourself to come through you. Second, even when you don’t overtly think of using yourself, un-conscious parts of yourself come through and, as most creative people know, the stuff that comes from the un-conscious is the good stuff. I think it’s the God stuff!

What is the quirkiest thing you’ve ever done?
To be honest, I think this book, The Dog Who Was There, may be the quirkiest thing I have ever done. If quirky can also be considered somewhat serious. The idea of writing a book about a small dog living in Biblical times whose path crosses with Jesus and who eventually witnesses his crucifixion seemed crazy at first. Until I began writing it. As I worked on it, I could feel myself getting swept up in the story in a way that was different from anything I had experienced. I’ve known the gospels my whole life and had even studied the history of the time period for a long time; but when I began looking at Christ’s suffering through the eyes of a small, scruffy, mangy, hungry, opened-hearted dog, I found myself dissolving into very strong emotion as I worked. I knew—and I know—that the idea of the book is fairly “quirky,” but I felt somewhat “guided” the whole time. I kept hearing a voice—and not a voice that seemed my own—telling me to keep going. It was only after I finished and began to share the book with few friends that I realized the reason for the whole project. It was that people who would never have read the Bible or who would have dismissed the Passion of Jesus as something that “only those Christians would care about,” could be brought to the story of Jesus—because a small dog could lead them to it.  I realized that was what the voice was all about. It was telling me to use the story I was writing as a vehicle to bring people to “the greatest story ever told.”

When did you first discover you were a writer?
In a way, that’s a little like asking: When did I realize I was speaking English? Writing didn’t start for me, it’s just always was. It’s a way of being in the world. Writing is very holistic—it involves how you imagine, how you formulate words, how you feel, and how acutely you notice. It’s a process that is going on all the time and happening long before one sits down to write a book. I think it’s like singing in a way. People who sing seem to have always sung. They don’t wake up one day as a grown up and start singing. That’s, at least, how it has been for me. Probably, as an infant, I was in the crib looking around thinking, Hmmmm…interesting…I gotta remember this…someday l write the scene about all these annoying relatives looking down at me making funny faces….

That said, I imagine there are people who suddenly discover they are writers. In those cases, I would think they were writing inside all along; they just didn’t know they were. That must be a very exciting thing for someone to discover. I recently read the book When Breath Was Mortal. I recommend it. In the book, you watch a man who is a surgeon literally become a real writer in the throes of writing his first and, sadly, his last book. There is a quote in the book from John Bunyan that I think describe well what a writer becomes a writer. “He’ll not fear what men say/He’ll labor night and day/To be a pilgrim”

Born or made, to be a writer is to labor night and day. Writers are Pilgrims.

Tell us the range of the kind of books you enjoy reading.
I read very eclectically, very eclectically. At the moment, I am working on a project that involves a particular period of history, so much of my reading these days is non-fiction/historical. But for fun I read a great variety. I get three newspapers every day and about a dozen different journals and magazines. As to books, I love good biographies the best (I’m reading one now about Jane Jacobs). But my interests are so all-over-the-place that the last three books I’ve read have been: 1) a children book, 2) a book from the Christian fiction genre, 3) a novel written in 1945, and 4) history of the town I recently moved to Stamford, Connecticut. There’s always a wide variety on my nightstand. Maybe it’s because I am also an actor, so I like to jump into different and disparate and worlds and characters and genres and time periods.

How do you keep your keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
First of all, I love that phrase of yours: “our run, run, run world.” Well, here’s what I do: I take a nap every day of my life and I take a bath every night.  Anyone who knows me knows that those two things are sacrosanct.  Whatever measure of peace and sanity I’ve been able to maintain in this roiling and unforgivingly-demanding world it is because of those two simple, daily rituals. Neither one of those things—the nap or the bath—can be done while multitasking! (Although I do sometimes do the crossword puzzle in the tub.)

How do you chose your characters names?
A name is like a song, to me. It has to have a tone, a key, a melody that makes you feel how you want the character to make readers feel.  In The Dog Who Was There, for example, there’s the sweet older couple who had raised Barley. The woman’s name is Adah. I wanted a name that was soft, comforting, homey. Adah has a quality of “ahh” in it: the sound we make when we relax and feel comfortable or safe. But there is another character in the book, one of the supporting characters, who is crass, selfish, unpleasant to be around, and a little bit comic. His name is Hog. Now, of course, there is the obvious, visual imagery of that word which conjures a pig. But, more important, to me is the song of the name, that “ugh” sound: the sound we make when we find something repugnant or roll our eyes at the ridiculous.

What is the accomplishment are you most proud of?
I did a movie in which I played a wonderful role opposite the Hollywood screen legend Kirk Douglas. He is a great human being and a great actor. And also a man of immense personal spirituality. Playing those scenes with him in that movie was an experience I will treasure forever. On a somewhat less personal level, I am very proud of the book I co-wrote on the subject of grief (About Grief: Insights, Setbacks Grace Notes, Taboos Rowman and Littlefield, 2010, co-written with Brian Shuff). I hear all the time from readers what a helpful companion that book has been to them on their long walk through the rocky desert of grief. The great writer James Baldwin once said, “Suffering has everybody’s number.” And it does. If a book can know that, and be there for somebody when they are alone and in pain—well, that’s a thing to be a little proud of. And I guess I am, now that you’ve asked.)

If you could be an animal what would you be and why?
I would want to be a dog owned by me! Because I give my dog steak or organic chicken—every night of her life. And she is totally spoiled and overly adored. And now that she is older and can’t quite jump up on furniture like she used to, I have little ottomans all around the house so she can hop up easily on her favorite comfy chairs and couches—ottomans that I regularly crack my shins on as I maneuver through the house! So, if I had to be an animal, I’d want to belong to someone who cooked me organic chicken and sacrificed his shins for my comfort.

What is your favorite food?
I tend to like what food-writer MFK Fisher called “honest food,” meaning simply prepared meals but with ingredients that are as good as each ingredient can be. When ingredients are themselves good, all you have to do is prepare them honestly and the meal is splendid. Just think how sublime a perfect piece of fruit tastes, or fine cuts of meat, or just-right and just-ripe salad vegetables. It’s hard to improve upon nature, and sauces can only compensate so much for lousy core ingredients. Which, in a metaphoric sense, is true for a lot of things in life.  In fact, it may not be a bad motto: “Less sauce, better ingredients.”

Tonight, for example, I am having a thin pork chop broiled in sea salt and butter, Yukon potatoes, a salad of tomatoes and yellow peppers, and bread from Arthur Avenue—the street in the Italian neighborhood of the Bronx—a bread well worth the effort it takes to get it. A good ingredient.

What is your greatest writing roadblock and how do do overcome it?
This may sound odd, but I think the best thing to do with roadblocks is to ignore them. Or just turn around and, maybe, take another route. Or kind of tip-toe over them, perhaps. Thinking about them too much is not good at all. Obsessing is the work of the mind, not the soul. So I try not to bring up so-called roadblocks. It’s like saying to the pilot of an airliner before he enters the cockpit: “Hey Captain, I hope are thinking about how horrible a crash would be!”

Pros don’t think about crashing, they are too swept up in focusing on the interesting details of flying the plane. That’s what they think about. Further, the feeling that you are at a roadblock can be a sign that you should take a slightly different path. Oddly, as is true of most spirituality, if you are on the correct path, it feels good and flows easier than it does when you are on the wrong path. Of course, even the right path requires our stamina and effort and many Fitbit’s worth of steps on the journey. But it doesn’t require our frustration. The term “roadblock” to me bespeaks frustration. Frustration is not a spiritual force. The proper path is usually not bumpy—just very specific.

In Matthew 7:14 it says, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only few find it.” It doesn’t say the road has roadblocks. And I think this is true for writing. The key is to find the right road, however narrow it may be. That sort of discernment is often more fruitful that trying to power your way through a block. Forcefulness is not talent. In fact, maybe its opposite.  Talent is always about grace. And grace to me is the ability to flow freely and smoothly around and over obstacles. When you are writing well it feels graceful as opposed to pushy, if that makes sense.

Tell us about the featured book.
The Dog Who Was There is rooted in my belief that—sometimes, truth be told—dogs are more virtuous creatures than we human beings are. Thus they have a good deal to teach people about how to love as unconditionally as the Christian message asks us to. A dog doesn’t care if we are good-looking or have money or got a high score on your SATs or are unemployed or physically challenged, or ill, or even just a huge screw-up in a zillion different ways in life.  All they know is if we are kind enough for them to approach us. All dogs ask is for a few basic things:  some food each day and a person or “pack” of people they can belong and who will accept them into their family or home. To me, that right there is the essence of The Lord’s Prayer. “I need food and I need understanding,” and then life is good. In exchange for that, dogs give to us their loving presence.  All people with dogs know how healing that presence is. Anyone who has ever taken a dog to a nursing home or a hospital—as I used to do with my dog—know how transformative a dog’s presence can be for someone who’s sad or broken or needy. Just their presence is all it takes to feel better, to be notionally healed. That’s why the book it’s called The Dog Who Was There. The only gift Barley can give to Jesus, as he stands far off and watches this Kind Man (as he calls him) suffering, is just his presence.  All he can do is just be there, and stay nearby someone who he likes. As I am writing this, across the room my fifteen year-old dog is snoozing on the couch. She’s had her dinner. She’s happy. She belongs—she to me and I to her, here, in this room as she lay sleeping while her nutty master types. At times like this, those of us blessed with dogs, share end-of-day moments with them that have a quiet solemnity and peace that can be a kind of meditation for us, almost a prayer. Dogs can lead us into a place where we are more open to the prompting of the spirit.

Book Blurb:
No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.

He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

Please give us the first page of book.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” —Mark 10:29–30

Barley was lying with his snout resting on the hearth, looking up with his alert brown eyes, watching Adah cook dinner. She was sitting, as she always did at this time of night, on her small stool and stirring a pot of something that, to Barley, smelled delicious. It was nightfall in the small home that Duv had built, all by himself, when he and Adah first became husband and wife, many years before Barley had come into their lives. The walls of the homey, one-room house were thick, made out of light-colored stone and coarse mud, from the region of Judea they lived in…

How can readers find you on the Internet?
I hate to say it, but I’m not too much of a social media person. So I am not on Facebook and rather than Tweeting, I prefer to express my opinions, face to face, over coffee.  So, if you want to have coffee with me you can e-mail me. My e-mail is: . Everyone asks what the 154 is. My favorite poetry on earth are the Sonnets of William Shakespeare. And he wrote 154 of them, the rmarasco154. I guess the reasoning behind that makes me a nerd, a wonk, an eccentric, lol. (But also a writer.)

Thank you, Ron, for sharing this book with us.

Readers, here are links to the book. By using one when you order, you help support this blog.
The Dog Who Was There -
The Dog Who Was There - Amazon
The Dog Who Was There - Kindle
The Dog Who Was There - Audio

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. You must follow these instructions to be in the drawing. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory or country if outside North America. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)

Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.

The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 4 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.

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rubynreba said...

I love stories about dogs! Looking forward to this one!
Beth from IA

Jamie Bryant said...

Your books sounds very interesting. Anytime you can get the gospel out in a unique way it's a blessing.

Melanie Backus said...

I am intrigued by The Dog Who Was There. I would love to read it.

Melanie Backus, TX

kam110476 said...

Hi Ron & Lena! I love dogs with a passion! I have a Chihuahua and I say she's my daughter/dogter, because she is the only baby I've had and raised since birth - as I have not been blessed with children. You are right that dogs only really want is to daily be fed, loved, and given a home/family. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Dog Who was There. I've always wondered what it would have been like to be one of the animals in the stable the night Jesus was born, or watching Joseph teaching him the trade of carpentry, or watching as He dragged His cross through the streets, beaten, whipped and bloody on His way to die - now I can.
Kristen in OK

Bonnie Engstrom said...

Fascinating interview! I would love to win this book for my husband, the daddy to our two dogs. We both usually read on our Kindles, but this book in print (hopefully, autographed) would be a keeper among my special books. If I don't win, I know I will buy it.


Edward Arrington said...

I enjoyed the interview. The book sounds unusual and inviting. I would love to win it.
Edward A in VA

Connie said...

I am intrigued by the description of this book. Thank you for sharing.
Connie from KY

Cindy W. said...

I would love to win a copy. Thank you for the chance.

Cindy from Indiana.

Caryl Kane said...

Great interview! I would love to read this one.

Caryl K in TEXAS

Melody B said...

Love the interview! And The Dog Who Was There sounds really interesting. I would love to read it. Thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

Melody B (Quebec, Canada)

Sharon Richmond Bryant said...

Enter me!!
Conway, SC.

Anonymous said...

I would love this book. I love animals. I know this book will be wonderful to read. Please enter me in this contest. Thank you.

Barbara Thompson

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.