Today I’m grabbing a latte and sitting down with Amy Peterson author of Something Furry Underfoot.
Amy, thanks for joining me today! Let’s dive in shall we?
Me: What books/authors have influenced your writing?
Amy: Back when people still wrote books on typewriters, Beverly Cleary was the primary author influencing me; Erma Bombeck was the primary author who influenced me after that.
Me: How did you come up with the title(s)? I came up with a couple of titles, my friends shot them down, and we settled on Something Furry Underfoot.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Amy: My book is a humorous, touching memoir, so it’s about my experiences raising a whole bunch of animals I knew nothing about and how I figured out how to care for and spoil each one. Of course, some readers will think the book is about how all the animals trained me to spoil them.
Me: What books have most influenced your life most? Erma Bombeck’s. I love her wit and always thought it’d be nifty to write like her.
What book are you reading now?
Amy: Detour Trail by Joy V. Smith.
Me: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Amy: Marketing a book takes up all my spare time–which is time after work where I manage a grants program, after taking care of my pets, after trying to pay some attention to my husband, and after an occasional run through the woods to put feeling back into my butt, which I sit on all day.
Me: What are your current projects?
Me: I’ve hired a book promoter to help get the word out about my book. If this book takes off, I’ll work on my next book, which will be about how I tend to get into trouble whenever I travel somewhere: like getting scolded for touching a seahorse in a marine park; getting pulled over by a park ranger for driving too close to the center lane in the dead of winter in Yellowstone National Park; and getting lost while backpacking in Montana.
Me: Do you see writing as a career?
Me: Not unless I get really, really lucky. The thing is, just about anyone can write a book; not many people can do well enough at it to make it a full-time gig.
Me: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Amy: Gosh, I hope not. Do you think I should? Now I’m going to worry about it….
Me: How did you get started with the writing venture?
Amy: I was encouraged by a teacher to enter a Law Day essay contest in grade school and won second place. My prize was $50 and the chance to meet a judge on Law Day. I realized then that writing took a lot of time and the money wasn’t very good. I also realized I didn’t want to be a judge, because the one I met was really grumpy.
Me: Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
Amy: Finding quality time to write is a challenge most days, because when I do sit get down at my computer, that’s when my chatty hubby wants to tell me about the fishing lures he just ordered and what lake he hopes we’ll use them on. Then our two puppies want to go outside, the cat meows for his treats, or the mynah birds need to be tucked into their cages. Most days, I write in half-hour stints, nodding to my husband and going “Uh huh. Oh really?” along the way. I think that has something to do with all the pets I have—I inadvertently nodded and another hamster showed up the next day. We have 7 hamsters.
Me: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Amy: If you have to self-publish and don’t have the money for a book promoter, plan to spend as much time marketing on your own as you did writing your book. And be sure to thank the people like Heather who make the time to help get the word out. This is a great service! Thank you!
Me: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Amy: My goal in writing Something Furry Underfoot was to bring people into my messy, animal-dominated home and show them what it’s like to try to figure out how to care for and spoil each pet, and how each one is special and has different personalities and needs. Besides, where else can you read about a male hedgehog that escaped several times to hook up with our female hedgehog and fathered several litters of baby hedgehogs? Where else can you read about a domestic duck named Bumpkin that out-pecked two dogs and a cat? Where else can you get great advice in the form of tips? Consider Tip #28: It is important (although not easy) to know a boy gerbil from a girl gerbil. I should also mention that some proceeds from Something Furry Underfoot will support animal rescue organizations, so the more books I sell, the more we are all supporting such organizations.
Me: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Amy: One challenge was waiting—waiting for my book converter to convert my books for me; waiting for updates to my web page; waiting for people to review the final draft; and waiting to have the money to pay for marketing I can’t do on my own. I’m a terrible waiter. Probably not a good waitress, either, though I’ve never been one.
Me: What genre do you like writing the most?
Amy: So far, it’s been humorous, touching memoirs. My first book, From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, was of that genre and is about becoming a stepmom to four kids. I included a whole bunch of tips for stepmoms in that book and just continued with the idea of including tips when I wrote Something Furry Underfoot. Hopefully, that makes my memoir more useful than the average memoir.
Me: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Amy: I haven’t so far, probably because I write memoirs and am still experiencing new things to write about. For example, after my old loyal dog, Dusty, passed away in August, my husband found a puppy he wanted in Pennsylvania. Now Pennsylvania is a bit of a drive from Michigan, but off we went anyway, and well, one puppy turned into buying two puppies, giving me yet another story to tell. I blog at amylpeterson.com.
Me: Do you write an outline before every book you write?
Amy: Both From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds and Something Furry Underfoot were chronological for the most part. From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is how I blundered my way through meeting my four step kids for the first time, cooked my first dinner for them, avoided and eventually met the Ex, endured the under-rating sport of planning a wedding, and took a humorous, yet horrible family “vacation” in Disney World with my new family and my siblings’ family. Something Furry Underfoot covers 18 years caring for and falling for pets. In writing this book, I just had to figure out the year we got each of our pets, and wrote the chapters in that order. So, I had a general outline for both books based on the general order in which events happened.
Me: Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Amy: I wrote a response to some questions posed for my high school reunion a few years back when I was going through a low point. I regret having filled that out at all because anyone who read it probably would have whispered, “I bet she’s on Prozac.”
What is your favorite color?
Right now it’s bright orange because it’s a vibrant, happy color. Not that I’d want a bright orange dog or anything, but for clothes, bright orange is good.
What’s your favorite food? Whatever my husband cooks that allows me to get back to writing and marketing quickly. (I looove that he does the cooking!) When we go out: it’s Mexican food with a tall glass of beer in a frosty mug with a slice of lime bobbing in the froth.
Puppies or bunnies? Nothing is cuter than a baby bunny but nothing is more fun than a puppy. I’ve raised both. Hm. That’s a hard one. Can I choose both? We’ve done that before in my house.
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. I need it in small, daily doses, sometimes to provide a lift at around 2:30, sometimes right after dinner, sometimes just because it’s there.
Where you can find Amy hanging out:
- Landing page for Something Furry Underfoot: http://www.amylpeterson.com/something-furry-underfoot/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amy.peterson.1447
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/@amylpetersonblg
Where you can buy Something Furry Underfoot:
“Want to know what it’s like living with a houseful of pets while still holding onto your sanity? Then you’ve got to read Something Furry Underfoot, Amy Peterson’s warm and funny book about her experiences coping with and caring for all manner of animals. Not only will you get a lot of laughs but you’ll also pick up some valuable tips about co-existing with your own critters!” – Bob Tarte, author of Enslaved by Ducks, Kitty Cornered, and Fowl Weather.
Excerpt: from Chapter 7, Bumpkin:
Tip #37: A domestic duck can have as much personality as a dog.
By 2007, word about the number and kinds of critters Mark and I had raised had spread far and wide, or at least among my co-workers. One co-worker was a bright-eyed and very smart student aide by the name of Nicole. In fact, Nicole was smarter than me, because she only stayed with state government long enough to graduate from college and head to eye doctor school in Chicago.
It just happened that in early April 2007, Nicole was still in East Lansing and attending Michigan State University when she discovered a duckling in somebody’s yard, just wandering around. Nicole knew that the duckling would not survive in the “wilds” of East Lansing on its own, so nabbed the duck and asked if I could provide it a more permanent home. Without hesitation, I said, “Sure.”
I had no idea what kind of baby duck Nicole was bringing me, and when I sat back and became momentarily logical, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know anything about ducks except that they, like all creatures, need food, water and shelter. But I felt that perhaps I had a leg up on raising ducks by having watched dozens upon dozens of mallards in my back yard. Besides, how hard could it be to raise a baby duck?
Mark was excited about the prospect of raising a baby duck, because he’d had one for a brief time when he was a child. And all he did was provide it with food, water and shelter. Perfect!
I also had going for me the fact that in Mark’s former life—on 10 acres of land with four children and a lawyer for a wife—he had raised turkeys from eggs. No record exists as to why Mark went to a place called Van Atta’s Greenhouse in the Lansing area one day long, long ago and got himself two baby turkeys that grew up and started dropping eggs. But drop eggs they did, and more the next day, and when all was said and done, they had dropped over 40 eggs, which Mark put in an incubator and raised. The story is that the baby turkeys imprinted on Mark and followed him up and down his ½-mile driveway and all around his yard. Mark had such a good time watching those turkeys grow that it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that perhaps he was the very guy I needed to help raise a baby duck.
On April 17, 2007, at around 3:00 p.m., Nicole approached me at work with a large shoebox, the contents of which was peeping. Word had gotten out that I was taking possession of a duckling, so with my new charge in hand and a half dozen co-workers gathered `round, I lifted one corner of the lid. Before I could see inside, the creature pushed upward on the lid of the box, and within seconds, we were face to face with a bright yellow duckling with orange feet and an orange bill. I heard several people say, “Oh, how cute.” One person asked, “What are you going to do with it?” but all I could do is wonder, “What kind of duck is this?” My next thought was that the little duckling would jump out of the box, so I had no choice but to replace the lid and carry my peeping charge out of the building and to my car.
Because the height of the box was only half the height of the duckling, I couldn’t bear to keep the duckling inside the box if I didn’t have to. Once I was seated inside my car and the door closed, I lifted the lid, took the duckling in my left hand and held it against my chest. It blinked, looked around, but made no attempt to wiggle or get away. So, using one hand to hold my duckling and the other to drive, we made our way the 10 miles home. The duckling never did wiggle; it was as if sitting on my chest was his or her preferred method of travel.
As we drove through the streets of Lansing, East Lansing and into Haslett, I was amazed by the heat coming off its little feet. Duck feet look rubbery, so I wasn’t expecting them to warm my chest. And when we took the turn into my neighborhood and I held the duckling close to my face, I wasn’t expecting its beak to be warm, too.
Once safely home, I carried the duckling inside where we were greeted by two curious dogs and one meowing kitten. The duckling blinked and peeped once in response. I told the three curious fuzzies that this was our new pal, and they would have to get used to it being around.
I carried the duckling down to the bathroom and placed her in a cardboard box I had retrieved from the local grocery store the day before. The box was lined with newspapers and soft towels, the former to throw out each day, the latter because a nest would likely have been soft and fuzzy, or at least not hard, I was thinking, and, well, okay, it was totally irrational to put towels in there, but I did anyway.
Above the box was a trouble light, which provided the primary source of warmth for the little duckling. The proper height of the light was very important—if it was too close to the bottom of the box, the duckling would bake; too far away and it wouldn’t be able to stay warm enough. What constituted too far and too close was completely beyond me and I had to trust that Mark would adjust it based on the fact that he had not baked any of his baby turkeys.
Everything looked to be in order, less the matter of food, and I was contemplating my next move when Mark appeared. Looking at the duckling he remarked, “Oh my, what a cutie. Do you know what kind?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
We stood there and stared at the duckling, who stared back at us, blinking every now and again. Finally, it peeped. Mark began talking to it, introducing himself and telling the duckling it had fallen into good hands. He picked it up and the duckling stopped peeping. As he was babbling on to the happy little duckling I asked, “So, uh, what do baby ducks eat?”
“Duck starter,” he said, and he turned as if snapping out a trance. “They’ll have it at Soldan’s.”
Since Mark had immediately assumed the role of the alpha male duck, I assumed the role of the alpha female duck, meaning, while he took up vigilance of the duckling, I found myself driving the fifteen minutes or so to a pet store in search of something I didn’t know existed. As I drove, I had plenty of time to ponder why anyone had named the substance I was looking for “duck starter.” The word “food” worked for just about every other species of animal, and the duckling I was going to feed had already started out in life without the substance I was looking for, so what I really needed was “duck keep growing.” On the other hand, I pondered, why isn’t human baby food called “kid starter”?
After wondering if anyone else has these types of issues, I asked the Soldan’s staff if they had duck starter. I was directed to the back corner of the store where, sure enough, there were five and ten pound bags of this pulverized pale tan-looking stuff labeled so that even I could determine what it was. The store also had turkey starter, which is probably how Mark’s turkeys had started out and why Mark knew duck starter existed.
After I found the duck starter, I wondered what other things I might find in the store for ducks, so I wandered up and down the aisles looking for duck grower, duck finisher, duck preening supplies, duck bathing gels, something else for ducks. I found row after row of stuffed toys and bones and food and kitty litter and even horse supplies, but nothing for ducks. To be sure I hadn’t missed something, I asked the clerk at the desk. She was a long-haired brunette with a narrow, horse-like face, a neck like a Rottweiler and a rear end like a hippo.
“Do we have what?”
“Anything for ducks besides duck starter?”
“Like—?” she asked, turning her mane sideways and snorting like a piglet.
“Like, you have all these squeaky toys and beds and bones and everything for dogs, so, what do you have for ducks?”
“Ducks only need food and water and to be kept safe and warm,” she said, waving a fat panda-like claw.
“And ducks are different than dogs, then, in what way?”
“Dogs are fuzzy and loyal; ducks are feathery and messy?” she asked, her face wrinkled like a perplexed monkey.
“And that explains why you don’t have anything else for them besides duck starter?”
As I drove home with my little bag of food, I couldn’t help but count the number of stuffed toys we’d given to my childhood dogs, Candy and Ashley—God rest their souls—the plush beds they didn’t use because they’d slept with me, and the rawhide bones that once littered our house. How ridiculously spoiled our beagle and cocker spaniel had been, since all they needed was food and water, safety and warmth. And of course, we’d taken spoiling to a new level with Dusty and Little Dipper.
But rather than pondering the hundreds of dollars wasted on dogs, as I pulled into the driveway with my first of what would be many bags of duck starter, I came to appreciate ducks for their simple needs.
“Have any problems?” Mark asked. He was sitting on the bathroom floor while the duckling was running about, pecking at the newspaper.
“Walked right to it,” I smiled.
After tucking the duckling in the box, Mark took the bag and sprinkled some of the powdery stuff on top of the water bowl. This created a circular pattern of spinning tan speckles.
“That’s fascinating,” I said. I turned my attention to the duckling, who was also watching the water spin around.
“See, ducks are attracted to things that move,” Mark explained. “In the real world, it’s stuff like bugs and worms. But here, when powdery food is placed on water, it creates movement. The duckling will peck at it, realize its edible, and in no time, start eating the Purina duck starter.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow and waited for Mark to stop adding duck starter to the water, for the water to almost stop moving. I was about to sneer when the duckling stepped up to the bowl, dipped his head in the bowl, mucked up his beak and began to eat. And while it ate, it peeped. It was the cutest thing to hear a duck happily peeping away while eating. At times, it peeped with its head in the food-water mixture and made bubbles.
Convinced that the little duckling would survive we named her Bumpkin.