Author L.B. Johnson has travelled the world, knows exactly how to fly a jet and crack tough cases, but she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she adopted Barkley, a beautiful Labrador with a wide grin. In a tribute to her dog, she wrote a memoir, The Book of Barkley - Love and Life Through the Eyes of a Labrador Retriever. Today she chats with us about what inspired this memoir, her surprise when it became a #1 Amazon Bestseller and how Barkley changed her life.
Please give us a short introduction to The Book of Barkley for our readers who haven't heard about it yet?
The Book of Barkley is a Memoir – a story of a young woman’s life, a woman that could be your next door neighbor (except it’s the next door neighbor that drops the “bodily fluid clean up kit” out by the shared mailbox.) Yet it’s centered around a pivotal point in it that changed everything – the addition of a black lab to my somewhat lonely house. I thought it was going to be easy but I went from serious, stoic law enforcement professional to chasing this dog through a subdivision wearing wonder woman pajamas or singing karaoke into a dog biscuit on what should have been a solitary drive with my pet. It was hilarity; it was deep loss, both within my family and within our country, it was the healing power of laughter. The book chronicles family, the losses that come from loving, and the rebuilding of a heart, all with a LOT of dog hair.
Why did you decide to write a memoir now?
I wrote The Book of Barkley – Love and Life Through the Eyes of a Labrador Retriever after losing my only brother and my beloved dog within a few weeks of each other, both to sudden, aggressive cancers. It was written as both a memoir and a eulogy to them both, one I wanted to capture while their memories were still fresh, although the book ends before my brother passes.
Your book is much more than just a story about a dog. What do you hope that your readers will take away from it?
The book chronicles my life and an early heartbreak that changed how I looked at others and the world, until I brought a little black bundle of fur in my life. It’s something anyone that’s ever lost their heart to a beloved pet will understand. As a single world traveler and a successful pilot for several years before I went back to grad school to pursue a childhood dream, I thought how hard can raising a little black lab puppy be? I was in for a surprise. With Barkley, though numerous hilarious adventures and times of somber reflection, paths that not only healed me but brought me to my husband, I learned to look at the world as my dog did, finding a powerful humanity in that. I hope the book brings both good memories and healing to anyone that’s ever lost someone they loved.
How were the readers' reactions to this book? Was it anything you expected?
I expected to sell a few copies to my Face book friends and family. To have it go #1 in Sales in Amazon was more than I could possibly imagine. It’s not a quick beach read, and is deeply personal and reflective but it really struck a nerve with all the people who love their animals as I loved mine and totally get how a small creature can become both family and best friend. I also got a lot of feedback that my recounting of growing up in a houseful of kids and pets in the late sixties, such a great time to be a kid, brought them some wonderful memories of their own.
In which way is this book a tribute and eulogy?
The book is about more than a dog – it’s about anyone we bring in our lives and love deeply. In writing about Barkley it brought back so many memories of times of family, or previous dogs we had loved, and how they all shaped how I ended up as an adult. I wanted to remember Barkley – but just as deeply I wanted to honor the love he gave me, as it opened me back to love again.
What did Barkley teach you about yourself?
I had pretty much turned into a loner, for a lot of reasons, heartbreak, moving several times, my Mom’s and later step mom’s deaths. Being a total type A person on the job, it was easy to just take everything too seriously Barkley taught me to relax, steal that piece of pizza off the counter, take a nap and have all my two legged friends over to play in the yard. He restored my faith in much of the world (and even introduced me to my husband, but you’ll have to read the book for THAT story).
Labradors are lovely dogs. What do you like about this breed?
They have the most joyful, rambunctious personalities, and are very loyal as well as great with children. One of my favorite pictures of Barkley is him in a tiny wading pool packed with friend’s children as they all tried to play with him in the water at once. When it was time to get another dog after we lost Barkley, we went with a Lab again, but we got a Senior Lab rescue that had been left at a high kill shelter very sick, scared and heartworm positive. She’s now sleeping in a giant pile of stuffed animals on the couch as I type and her name is Abby, after the character in NCIS.
Many readers report that this book is a real tear-jerker - did you intend for that to happen?
It’s hard to discuss losing a member of your family (or in this case – two) without it being a tearjerker and the first chapter should probably have a “Kleenex warning” but I made an effort to make the majority book an uplifting one, recounting all the hilarious adventures we all shared. One reader said “after reading this book you will NEVER look at squeaky toys and white carpeting in the same way.”
Besides writing, what other skills do you have?
I spent quite a few years working as a commercial pilot so that’s a skill I’ll always have though I crashed the little space shuttle simulator in the children’s section at the science museum much to the amusement of the kids who heard my best friend say “SHE’S a JET PILOT?” I can’t golf and if I sing cats gather on the porch, but I’m a pretty good scientist and investigator (I didn’t have permission to write about the specifics of my work in the book, but it’s like many of the popular shows on TV, just with less cleavage and we NEVER solve the case in an hour). I’d like to say I’m good in an emergency, but still, in the courtroom, when someone calls “Dr. Johnson” I look around, expecting someone else, as I will forever feel like the six-year-old in a grown up’s body.
What inspires you to write?
I look at things, whether just a landscape, or something surrounded by crime scene tape, in great detail. I like to recreate those places, even events in my life, good and bad, in words. I’ve had several reviewers say I “paint with words” (probably a kind way to say “run on sentence") but that is the highest complement as I wish to write the world as I see it, with all of the detail, colors and emotion.
What are you working on right now?
My Second Book, Saving Grace – a Story of Adoption was recently published and was also a No. 1 Best seller at Amazon. I am taking a few months off as I have a 96 year old Dad, who adopted me quite late in life that wants to spend more time with me as he’s outlived his other two children and two wives. But there will be a third book in spring of 2017 – A Fiction piece called “Small Town Roads”.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m on Twitter as LBJohnson8 and have an author page www.lbjohnsonauthor.blogspot.com. The blog also mentions some of the animal rescue the books support as 100% of all of the books’ profits go to animal welfare groups that support and protect those that can’t do so for themselves as well as Search Dog Foundation and Kevlar for K9s (which provides Kevlar vests for canine police officers that otherwise wouldn’t have one).