It’s quite an honor to be speaking today as both a guest and a participant. I am asked to speak at a lot of dog shows by fans of my mystery series, but rarely do I get the chance to speak in my own hometown, and even more rarely do I get to speak at a show where my own dog is also a contender. Perhaps you’ll indulge an old woman if I tell you a bit about how I came to write the “Fluffems” series.
Readers are always tickled pink when I confide that I don’t like dogs. Everyone seems to find it quite simply hilarious. Journalists, too, love to quote the author of sixty-two books in the “Fluffems the Softest Dog” series as admitting that she doesn’t even like dogs! Well, I’m not trying to be cute, I can tell you that. I don’t care for dogs. I’m not trying to be funny. Everyone seems to find it perfectly hilarious that the creator of the adorable little white terrier Fluffems shouldn’t like dogs. If you ask me, dedicating your entire life to a subject in which you haven’t the least interest isn’t very funny at all. But I’m an old woman, so I suppose I see things differently.
Well, as I’m among friends, I might as well tell the truth. I started the whole thing as a joke. I heard about a series of mystery novels where a cat solves the mysteries, and it just seemed so ridiculous, and I thought, well, why not a dog? If a cat can solve mysteries. I started with my first one, Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Wicked Wicket, and it sold like hot cakes. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so easy. After that, I settled into a routine, and before you know it, six books were done. The sixth was the most popular at the time, Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Purloined Pudding. It’s important to have catchy titles.
Anyway, I came upon it all quite by accident. I don’t like dogs, but I do like mysteries. Everyone enjoys a little light reading now and then, and for a woman of a certain age it’s better to be seen on an airplane with a decent mystery than a romance novel like you sometimes see women just reading right out in the open, which I think looks tacky. Some people have tried to find all sorts of literary meanings in my work, especially in the later books like Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Tempting Trifle. I think they just feel guilty about reading mysteries and want to dress it up to justify it to themselves. Like people that call any old thing art so they can go to galleries and look at smutty pictures in public.
But anyway, I like mysteries. I like their structure, and I like the idea that things should have a cause. I think people should take responsibility for things. And I’d like to think I have a logical mind. I was told that, as a girl, and I always did well at science and math, which after all are puzzles, like mysteries. I’ve come to look for mysteries everywhere. I don’t mean, of course, that I go around snooping through people’s medicine cabinets or looking for dead bodies, like that woman on TV. I just mean I like to look for clues, and the cause of things. Sort of a whodunit. I’m seventy-three years old, all my friends are dead, and I’ve never been married. I’d like to know who did that.
Of course, my own little dog looks very little like Fluffems. I copied the idea for Fluffems’ appearance from a greeting card sent to me by my sister, God rest her soul, who loved dogs and sent a card with a dog on it every year for Christmas. My own dog isn’t white or fluffy and he doesn’t have blue eyes. He’s a dachshund, and I introduced a dachshund briefly as a sidekick in Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Captured Cozy but a lot of my readers didn’t like it. They said it drew attention away from Fluffems.
It may surprise you that although I have never liked dogs, I do like dog shows. That is because I have always appreciated perfection. My own dog is really a superior specimen. I acquired him as a present from a reader, in fact. That was around the time that Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Daunting Dagger won the Poirot Prize for Best Mystery in a Series. A fan wrote me the kindest letter about my work. I get so many letters these days and my eyes are bad, I have a little Indian girl from the college who reads most of them for me, but she passed this one on to me, it was so nice. A gentleman fan—most of my fans are women—with very nice penmanship. He particularly liked Fluffems the Softest Dog and the Case of the Spilled Soup. That’s the one where Fluffems learns to ride a motorbike.
Well, I kept up a correspondence with this gentleman for quite some time. He was living in Virginia with his daughter; his wife had passed away. I believe he had once been a military man, but he loved a good mystery. He was the one that gave me the idea for Fluffems to use the computer in the later stories, to communicate with Mrs. Peale. I met him only once. He said he would be near Greenville to visit his other daughter, and did I want to have dinner. We went to the Ivy Room, which used to be a lovely place, but now they have one of those live bands that could wake the dead and the food’s not what it used to be. He ordered wine, and after dinner he insisted we drive back up to his hotel so he could give me a present. It was a dog. Can you imagine that? A little dachshund, with a ribbon around its neck. I thought it was extremely importunate to give someone a dog as a gift and I told him so, but he really insisted. I am too old, I told him, to start in caring for something like that. Later I found out his other daughter lives nearly fifty miles from Greenville. I suppose that was a clue, but I’m an old woman and I don’t much notice things like that anymore. He went on back to Virginia, I think his mind is going a bit now.
Well, my apologies, I do run on a bit sometimes at these speaking engagements, and I know there are many dogs here to put through their paces. Who would have thought when I was just a girl getting high marks in science at Greenville High that I’d be back here today with my own little dog and a shelf of stories. Well, I guess it’s a mystery.
Summer Block has published essays, short fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of publications, including McSweeneys, The Rumpus, Wheelhouse, Identity Theory, PANK, Small Spiral Notebook, Tarpaulin Sky, DIAGRAM, San Francisco Chronicle, Monkeybicycle, Newsweek Select, and Tripmaster Monkey. Find her work at www.summerblock.com.