Welcome to my stop on the Litfuse blog tour for The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco. I’m delighted to welcome Ron to the blog, as it’s not every day I get to chat with someone from two of my favorite TV shows (I’ll leave you to guess which ones) who also happens to be an author!
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.
Find out more about Ron at http://www.thomasnelson.com/the-dog-who-was-there.
Ron’s book, The Dog Who Was There, released in January from Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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.
Hi Ron! Welcome to the blog! I start all of my guests out with a fast four:
Ron: Oranges. Because of a story I once heard from an elderly Irish lady who I know and love. When she was a little girl, the family was so poor they never had fresh fruit. But one year, for Christmas, when she was about 5 years old, she got an orange in her stocking. But having never seen one before, she assumed it was a ball and walked around kicking it. So sometimes when you give me a choice between the two I’m partial to the one that bring up imagine an old lady as a young girl kicking her Christmas orange down a road in Ireland.
If a writer has a choice, he or she will chose the one that comes with a story.
Carrie: Of course!
Ron: Winter. It brings up the image of being inside–in warmth, in a lamp-lit room, with a fire going and me reading a book while wind and winter rage out the window. It’s an image that I—and probably a lot of readers—savor. A book is many things, most often a comfort. A book can feel like a place to duck into escape from the coldness of the world.
Carrie: Absolutely! There’s always “beach reads” of course, but something about winter just beckons one to read.
Ron: Given my book, how could I say anything but dogs? I must say I have a lot of respect for cats: their self-sufficiency, their exactitude, their attitude. But at home I want to be around a dog. I’m touched by their need. Maybe I’m nuts, but I see a faith in their eyes that makes me want to be a better person than I am.
Carrie: Confession – my dog Zuzu was holding my copy of your book hostage until such time as she deemed your answer to this question ‘satisfactory’. I am happy to report that I am now back in possession of said book. I hate to think what would have happened if you had elaborated any further on the ‘cats’ thing. 😉
Ron: Here I have to draw the line or this will be like the caffeine version of Sophie’s Choice! I love [coffee] and tea equally and have a number of cups of each every single day.
Carrie: You are the first author to invoke Sophie’s Choice on this question. LOL!
Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Ron: Words. Not just reading because I am an avid talker as well–which a lot of writers are not. But I talk all day long to anyone and everyone—including my dog and, around the house, to uncooperative appliances. I am addicted to words and have a love of words. My favorite software on my computer is one they don’t even make anymore: the full version of the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary. Words are gems, to me. I’m always on the hunt for rare and valuable ones. I found a good one today. “Thrum.” It means to make a continuous, rhythmic humming sound. I can’t wait to use it! (As a matter of fact, as I am typing this, I noticed that on my desk, my paperweight was pressing up against my external-hard-drive apparatus and actually making a somewhat annoying thrumming sound!)
Carrie: I’m so glad I’m not the only who talks to her/his dog and uncooperative appliances. Especially when they thrum.
Other than the Bible, what are five of your most cherished books?
Ron: 1) Any Dictionary….so long as they have word-origins in definition. I think of word-origins as the souls of a words. For example the word “redemption” means to “re-give” or be “re-given,” like redeeming a coupon. So within that word-origin is the notion of being given something a second time. (We’re in a world that doesn’t give many second chances and, for many people, the world doesn’t even give a first chance.) Entire notions of meaning are embedded in a word’s etymology. So I have dictionaries everywhere and I never tire of browsing them.
2) The Collected Works of Shakespeare—including, and maybe especially the poems. Very few people know his tiny poem “The Phoenix and Turtle” very well. But I think it is one of the greatest Christian poems of all times.
The thing I like most about Shakespeare is not only his truly incomparable ability to put words together. What I love about him is his humanity. Of the few things said about him by contemporaries who knew him, one is that he was said to have “a fair and open nature.” I think you can see that in his work. If you spend time with Shakespeare will become a better person: deeper, more humane, and oddly, more spiritual.
3) The Wind in the Willows
It’s a sweet, simple fable about animals–with the title “Mr.” in front of their names—who live in nicely furnished burrows and nooks alongside an English riverside. The characters spend a lot of time visiting each, and having tea and sharing wonderfully-caloric British meals with each other. Basically, I think it’s a book about how to be hospitable to people, how to treat people well, and the deep human importance of making those we love feel comfortable and like they belong. I believe in that. At my house I always have well-stocked cupboards and fridge. There’s always good things for guest: cookies, cheese, a freezer-full of defrostable comfort food, and every sort of coffee and tea imaginable. And I have fresh linens and good blankets in the guest room–just like Mr. Badger in The Wind in the Willows! Some of this tendency I learned from my Grandmother but, when I need a refresher course in how to treat loved ones, I reread The Wind in Willows. In the ancient Greek society, hospitality was considered one of the most important virtues. I agree with that. Fables teach us. In a way, my book, The Dog Who Was There is a fable. Fables try to weave a spell that takes us to a place in our imagination where complex empathy and simple meaning come together.
4) The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was a Preacher and a Poet—so his prose has the spontaneous flow of speech but the eloquence of lyrics. But, mainly what comes through is this wonderfully alive personality. There is a picture of Emerson hunched over, reading in his study. Go on Google Images and have a look. It makes you want to pull up a chair and sit next to him and chat with him about what he’s reading. That’s how great writers make you feel. Like they are right in the room with you.
5) Don Quixote, or, to be exact and do it the way Cervantes wanted: The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant Don-Quixote of the Mancha
All the time the main character in this novel was seeing the light of virtue in other people it was because the light was in his own eyes. The world will often call the light in someone’s eyes madness—they did it to Jesus. But when that light goes out, it darkens everything it had been looking at. People need to be seen as virtuous to be virtuous. And this is what I think Don Quixote, the first great novel in the history of the world is about. The main character’s epitaph is: “He had the fortune in his age/ To live a fool and die a sage.” One could say a similar thing about Jesus.
Carrie: I find your answers fascinating … because none of these books/authors would make my favorites list. BUT seeing them the way you’ve described them makes me want to go back and find out what I missed the first time I read them. And this – “Fables try to weave a spell that takes us to a place in our imagination where complex empathy and simple meaning come together.” I love this.
Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write?
Ron: Oddly one of my favorite places to work—especially in the early stages of a project–is outside, walking, at night. I walk and think and ruminate and occasionally jot. (I’m always having to take my coats to tailors because the pens I keep [in] the pockets poke holes!) A book is a journey, so the actual walking-motion mirrors narrative momentum and propels thought. I tend to do a lot of work in my head; so much so that I can often “work” on something without being at a desk and in an odd place: while driving or doing errands. I retreat into this place in my mind where I can write. Then I put it on actual paper later on.
When I finally sit down to write-write, I like to work in proximity of the kitchen. As the great suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark once told me many years ago (I’m proud to say she lived in my hometown of Washington Township, New Jersey) “the kitchen is the womb of the house.” In her early days of writing Clark always worked at her kitchen table. In my place I have an open kitchen dining/living-room set up. My writing desk looks out of a large window at the far-end of my book-filled living room–but it’s close enough to hear and smell what’s cooking. I like to work at night, and sometimes I have other late-night writer friends over for what I call “Midnight Pasta.” But most nights it’s just me at my desk at the window, writing into the night, tea-kettle on the boil.
Carrie: Not gonna lie. A little jealous about the Mary Higgins Clark connection, the book-filled living room, and Midnight Pasta.
Describe your main characters in one sentence each, and tell me who you would cast in their roles if Hollywood wanted to produce The Dog Who Was There as a movie!
Ron: Barley the main character of my book, The Dog Who Was There is a small dog who–like most dogs–can spot when a human being is or is not kind. So can you imagine how Barley feels when he encounters the kindest man who ever lived: a Teacher from Galilee? As to casting: I don’t know who I’d would choose to play Barley. But I would know it the moment I saw him. They way we do when we chose our pets. I took one look at the face of dog I now have and in one second I knew. She was mine and I was hers. (She’s been by my side for 15 years! I’ve written four books with her curled up on an easy chair across the room from my desk.)
Two important characters in the early part of the book are Adah and Duv. They are the older couple who first raised Barley. They represent “home” to him and are very decent, simple people. Warm and real and down to earth. As to who would play those roles: I’d maybe want them played by non-actors, real people. Like when the director Martin Scorsese would use his old parents in cameos in his movie. His mother was so heartwarming!
The main character of the book, besides Barley, is Samid. He’s homeless man and part-time petty cut-purse who has a tough exterior but an inner nobility and kindness. I could see him being played by somebody like Christian Bale.
The great female role in the story is, I think, the character of Prisca—a friend of Samid’s and Barley’s. She is beautiful as a woman cam be who has lived on the street of Judea her whole life and never had a home. The actress I could see playing her is my friend Patricia Clarkson. Patty is the person to whom I dedicated this book. We have been friends for many years. She has a beauty and elegance but, as an actress, has an immense ability to show you the raw depths of a character’s pain. I could surely see her playing the role of Prisca. She’s my dearest friend on earth. The dedication of The Dog Who Was There reads: “To Patricia Clarkson, whose gift for friendship borders on the miraculous.” And it does. She also just happens to be a drop-dead brilliant actress, and would bring to Prisca the heartbreak and heroism that I see in the character.
Then, of course there’s Micah. He’s a little boy and Barley’s first friend. When I think of him, no actor comes to mind, but I do have an image. Sadly, I think of that little boy who–God rest his soul–was tragically killed by those two domestic terrorists at the Boston Marathon. His name was Martin Richard, and he was only 8 when he was so cruelly murdered by those two idiot brothers. Martin had a sweet smile and slightly crooked little-boy teeth, and in the days after he was killed they showed a picture of him holding up a sign he had once made in school. It said “No more hurting people.” To me, that boy is Micah. And as pieces of writing go, the words, “No more hurting people” is a gem of earnest poetry for the ages.
Then, above all, there is the character of a Teacher from Galilee whom Barley never refers to as anyone other than “the Kind Man,” but whom we would know as Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Ron, for taking time to chat with me today! Such great and thoughtful answers!
What about you? What’s a new word you’ve learned recently?