In July 2022, I tweeted a photo of my damp and hopeful-looking black labrador, Jet, after we got caught in the rain on our bedtime walk around the block.
A few days later, author and publisher Anne van Gessel replied to my tweet with a proposition:
Hi there! I’ve just come across your page looking for the best dog pics on Twitter. I’m a published author currently putting together a coffee table book featuring dog pics and short stories. Jet would be a sweet addition! Would this be something of interest to you?
I immediately responded that I would be interested, and so would Jet if he could read tweets (and it involved treats).
Over the next few months, Anne and I struck up a correspondence via Twitter and emails about her proposed coffee table book, The Dog Collective. And in her first email, she outlined the writing brief for the book:
We’re hoping for a short story, ideally 500+ words (and we can help with the writing process), and a high-quality photo of Jet. Something about a cute or funny moment with Jet, a lesson you’ve learned from having him or similar, would be a great addition to our book.
Feel free to share your ideas or drafts with me, and I’m happy to work with you on the story. We don’t want the 500 words to be daunting and are here to help with the writing if needed. As you know, dogs bring so much joy to life, and we think it’ll be fun to share some of that joy in a coffee table book!
As a regular Furious Fiction short story writer, book reviewer and blogger, I didn’t find Anne’s 500-word story requirement “daunting”. And I’ve shared several articles about dogs on the Tall And True writers’ website.
So I asked Anne if she’d like a fictional short story based on my eleven-year-old rescue dog, Jet. Or a true story about him joining our family, like the piece I wrote to celebrate his second “adoptaversary”, A Forever Home (Tall And True, 2016). And she responded:
Your real-life account of Jet joining your family would fit with the theme of our book! You could pull closely from your blog post or write something new along those lines! Detailing how you came to get Jet, things you enjoy doing together, his personality, lessons you’ve learned from having him etc., would all be suitable!
Encouraged by Anne’s feedback, I started writing my contribution for The Dog Collective in late July and had a first draft by early August. But as I admitted in my email to Anne:
I’ve drafted a piece on Jet that also encapsulates my previous labs, drawing on two earlier Tall And True articles, My First Dog, about my boyhood dog, Duke, and My Good Dog Muse, about Harry, my last dog before Jet.
However, looking through our correspondence, I see you wanted a “500+ word story”. At this stage, I’m up to 650 words. Is that too much?
Before hearing back from Anne, I trimmed the first draft by 20 words and emailed it with the photo I’d chosen for the piece of Jet resting his head on my lap. She responded:
I’ve read your recent draft — you are a gifted writer! I loved the backstory of how Jet became a part of your family by discussing your past experiences with dogs. It will be a great addition to our book!
No need to worry about the word count – 630 is just fine. And I agree that the photo of Jet on your lap makes for an ideal connection with your story!
The initial writing deadline was August, but Anne’s schedule for page proofs slipped, and I squeezed in a few last-minute edits in September. I tightened up the early parts about my old labs, Duke and Harry, and rounded off the ending with Jet to reflect my feelings for him as we’ve aged together.
Despite these changes, the length of the piece was still 630 words, close to my first draft. But I retitled it from My Third Labrador to My Three Labradors to reflect its broader focus from Jet alone to encompass Duke and Harry.
A few days later, I received an email from Anne confirming my final edits:
Thanks so much for all the work you’ve put into the story of your three labs! I love how it’s turned out and become a wonderful tribute to the dogs who’ve been a part of your life. All looks great with the final draft, and we can update it with the new title.
Xmas Gift Book
Anne emailed updates and final proofs through October and November. And in early December, she announced The Dog Collective would be available from mid-December to purchase as “the perfect Xmas gift for a dog lover.”
I bought a copy of the book to put under my Xmas tree and one for my dad in Perth, WA, with whom my first lab, Duke, spent most of his life. And I’ll admit to feeling a surge of pride and shedding a tear or two when my book arrived, and I opened it to the photo of Jet and read the story of My Three Labradors.
You’ll have to buy the book to enjoy the photos and read the stories of Jet and two dozen other contributors to The Dog Collective. But as a teaser more than a spoiler, I’ll end this post with my closing lines:
As with my dear old labs, time with Jet has flown by, and he turns eleven this year. But thanks to my wise young son, Jet found his forever home with us. And as the years have passed, his loyal companionship has meant more and more to the middle-aged me.
I reflect on this and Duke and Harry whenever Jet rests his head on my lap.
By the way, I wrote these lines in 2022. Jet turns twelve this year!
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website.
N.B. You can see more photos of Jet at @mydogposts on Twitter and @mydogposts on Instagram. You may also like another blog post about my writing process, Reworking Both Sides (April 2020).
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of a dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead. A writer-editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in various print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.