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THE BIG CHILI: An Undercover Dish Mystery by Julia Buckley, $7.99, First in a New Series, Berkley, paperback.

9780425275900Or how the dog I made up for my cozy mystery ended up inspiring me to get a dog of my own.

The Big Chili, my cozy mystery which debuts in early October, was a book that I hadn’t planned to write. That happens a lot with books—they start out as one idea in your head, and then they morph into something entirely different. The same is true of characters: sometimes the ones you think you’ll like end up fading away, and the ones you barely think about end up taking over your imagination.

For me, this was true especially of Mick, my main character’s dog. Mick is a chocolate Labrador; I’m not sure why I initially chose that breed for his sweet character, but as the books progressed (I’m now halfway through book three), I found myself growing more and more fond of Mick, and even getting a little jealous of Lilah because she has this sweet companion in her life.

I had my own canine friend, a beagle named Simon, but he was quite elderly and could no longer do the things that Mick could do—take long walks on crisp fall nights, run and romp in the yard, sit shotgun during long autumn rides in the car. Simon was, by his old age, a stay-at-home-and-sleep sort of doggie, and that was fine. Sadly, his health declined in the summer and in August we had to put him down.

This was more devastating than any of us could have anticipated, and initially we didn’t even want a new dog. But gradually we all realized that we are the type of family that likes to have canine companionship, so “The Dog Talks” began. Inspired by the sweet Mick in my books—my own dear creation, yet so real to me!—I wanted a chocolate Lab. My family voted this down because not only are these pups very expensive, but we would have to wait several months for a litter to be born and weaned. My younger son got to a point where he wanted a dog SOON. (And by “younger,” I mean seventeen!)

We started studying the website of an animal rescue site in Chicago. We found a litter of puppies who had recently been born on a Kentucky farm and had been surrendered to the rescue facility. They were “Lab mixes,” meaning Lab and who knows? We fell in love with a little puppy face on the site and made an appointment to see him at the facility. He was named Emory, and we adopted him on sight, but we soon changed his name to Digby, or Sir Digby, if we’re being formal.

Digby, like Mick, will soon be able to accompany us on long jaunts around town. He is very inquisitive and playful, and he LOVES to bite things with his little puppy teeth, especially—despite about forty dollars’ worth of puppy toys in his bed—our hands and toes.  He has puppy breath and a puppy bark and true puppy affection, and we have fallen in love with him more each day.

Right now he’s sort of in quarantine, waiting for his puppy shots so that he can take walks and encounter other dogs. He’s investigating our house and finding interesting hiding places to take his naps in, and those naps are very long, since he is still essentially like a human baby.

If it hadn’t been for Mick, the dog of my imagination, we would never have found Digby, who will now spend the next ten to fifteen years with us. And someday, if we decide to get him a companion, it’s going to be a chocolate Lab!

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