Hi dear friends,
You’ll have a second interview today and what an atypical one!
Atticus, fantastic dog and hero (yes I know this is about Hazel but …) of “Atticus: A Woman’s Journey with the World’s Worst Behaved Dog” has been gracious to answer all my questions! And his mom Sawyer Bennet gave me something really priceless. She also generously provided all the pictures!!!!
I laughed reading their answers and my heart was about to explode when I read who the real Sawyer Bennett is, never hesitating to give a chance at homeless people. Truly a gem! Both of them.
Here is how it went ….
Hi Atticus, Hi Sawyer,
Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!
I had so much fun first following you on Instagram then reading your book that I really wanted to ask you some questions.
I’d like this interview to be told from a dual POV like your book: one being Atticus the one from the “real life” and one from Sawyer.
I always add some context when I ask questions but the main one is in bold. Answer only the ones you feel comfortable with please!
Now let’s begin the fun, the floor is all yours!
Atticus, can you tell me how you met Sawyer? What was your first encounter like? Dramatic like the book or classical as in Sawyer went to the dog breeder?
No drama involved, unless you count my mom going bananas over me when we met. See the pîcture below! She got me from a wonderful breeder in South Carolina. She’d always had Golden Retrievers and was big into working with one of the local rescues, but I was sort of her dream dog and there’s not a lot of us out there to rescue.
Sawyer if you went to the breeder, how did you choose him and not one of his brothers or sisters?
This calls for a picture of Atticus’ when he was a baby. I picked him because of that look on his face. It says, “I am going to cause all kinds of mayhem and destruction in your life, but you will be so much better for knowing me.” That picture sealed the deal.
What was your first night like in the Bennett’s family? Were you afraid? Already confident? I recall my pup hid under the table and did not pretend moving as she was all intimidated…
The long drive back home, I was a little afraid and whined a lot. My mom held me in her lap the entire time. When we got home, it was awesome because there was another dog for me to play with. Her name was a Piper and she was a Golden Retriever and she was really cranky all the time with me. I would jump at her and grab onto her tail. I’d follow her around everywhere, even when she curled her lips in disgust at me. But she grew to love me as all creatures do.
**Of note, the book cover of Atticus is an actual picture of me taken my first night in my new home. Mom had an artist friend do a watercolor painting of it and then it went on the cover.
Atticus was it easy to train your mom? And your new family? I know human think they train the dog and it’s usually true but I am under the impression that it was different with you ….
Training my mom means I had to get her to accept fairly quickly that I was a bad dog and I was never going to grow out of it. I started off with a little chewing of her drywall, but that’s only because I overheard her say she didn’t like the wallpaper that was covering it. I moved on to door casings and baseboards, and then took a crack at the mattress on her bed. I made a pretty big hole in the middle of it and she cursed for a really long time. But in the end, she always ended up laughing at me. It didn’t take long to train her at all.
Sawyer can you give us the most endearing and the most infuriating character’s trait of Atticus?
Atticus is totally mischievous, and that’s his most endearing trait. I can absolutely see it in his expression when he wants to be up to no good. Even at six years old, which is getting up there in age for a Berner, he still has the spirit of a puppy. His most infuriating trait is his stubbornness. Like in the book, my Atticus is extremely smart but he’s also a little asshole when I want him to do something. That scene in the book where he wouldn’t come until there was a treat involved… that’s every day in my house.
Atticus likewise: what still despairs or annoys you with your mom?
That she doesn’t pay attention to me 100% of the time. So annoying.
What was Atticus biggest mistake or prank so far?
Oh, gosh… so many. I think my favorite is when he snuck a feather pillow out into the yard—he could push open my back porch door—and next thing I know, I see white stuff flying around outside. I thought it was snowing in the middle of summer. I eventually realized it was feathers and went outside to find him and his brother playing tug o’war with my feather pillow. That was the first of many feather pillow incidents.
Sawyer, in the book Atticus did change Hazel’s life. He helped her to become more confident, self sufficient and a better version of herself. What did Atticus accomplish in your life? Did he change you or your family?
Atticus definitely taught me patience. Because he’s so smart, it’s hard to understand why he misbehaves all the time. Most importantly, he reminds me every single day about the joy of laughter. I mean every day he does something to make me laugh.
Sawyer how did you write from a dog’s POV? I know you talk from Atticus POV on IG in the captions but how did you do it? Sleep on the ground? Crawl on the ground? Tried to fetch a ball? Tasted some dog food? Something else? Did you struggle more in this story than in your other stories?
This is a really good question. I started the book off and wasn’t going to do a dog’s POV. But I got a few chapters in and realized I had to do it. I needed his insight and take on things. I was surprised how easy it was, but then I realized, the real Atticus has such a big personality, it was pretty easy to derive an actual point of view from him. Plus… again… that face of his is so expressive. I know what he’s thinking most of the time. I did not struggle with this story at all. It flowed so easy but then again, I’d been thinking about this book for a few years and had lots of ideas to work with.
Why choose writing from a dual POV and not the whole book from Atticus’s POV? I’ve read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein years ago and the whole book was written from the dog’s perspective. So why this choice?
I love The Art of Racing in the Rain. Wonderful book. I didn’t do that here because this story is really about Hazel, not Atticus. I mean, Atticus is crucial to the story as he’s directly responsible for many of the positive changes in Hazel’s life and he provides much of the humor. But ultimately, this is a story about a woman finding herself and becoming strong. I love strong heroines and I always thought of Hazel that way. She just had to figure it out.
Atticus, do you think your mom did a great job writing your POV? Do you think she missed something?
I’m not sure. I mean… I chewed on one of the books to try to gain insight, but alas, I only have my mom’s thoughts on the matter. She loves this book and loves how my POV turned out. I suspected as much because of how much she snorted and laughed while writing it. **Of note in this photo, I tried to look ashamed of my actions but I really wasn’t.
Sawyer why decide one day to open an IG account for Atticus and later write a story with him or his namesake in it? What pushed you to write it?
So I’ve been posting for years about Atticus on my personal Facebook page under my real name. He has quite a following of fans there and I was constantly told I needed to write a book about Atticus and all his antics. I didn’t think I could carry off a book just about Atticus. It had to have a deeper and more emotional story to it. It was about a year ago that I planned this book and put it into my publication schedule.
With the book coming out, I opened up a Facebook and Instagram page for him a few months ago but I wish I had done it years ago when I started posting all of his stuff on my personal page. He has kept people laughing on a daily basis.
Sawyer, who inspired your characters? Hazel went from loser to winner, she had a huge character’s growth. Then Dr Peele grouchy on the outside but marshmallow on the inside, Bernard homeless, intelligent and selfless… How did you build them?
Hazel was an unknown to me. I started at the end of the book with the concept I wanted to show a woman overcome adversity to make something of herself. I then just re-wound and built her character’s backstory up so that she was at the lowest point in her life when the book started. I don’t know anyone like Hazel. She’s purely fiction, but I think we all have a little bit of Hazel in us at some point.
Dr. Oley Peele might have a little bit of my dad in him. The whole grouchy on the outside, soft on the inside thing. There’s a personal connection to colon cancer as well, and I often write about it as a PSA type of thing. I wanted some strong secondary characters that would help Hazel grow, but that she would help to grow in return. Oley changed as much as Hazel did in the end.
Bernard is real. He’s a homeless man I met on the side of the road at a busy intersection. I’m the type that gives panhandlers the benefit of the doubt and always give money, no questions asked. Over a period of several months, I got to know Bernard through small snatches of time while waiting for the red light to turn green. I don’t see him a lot. Maybe once a month I go through that area. I saw him this past January and he was all smiles when I pulled up. I rolled my window down, and he said, “I got something for you. Been carrying it around for a long time.” He ran to his bag and pulled out a card. It was a Christmas card he got me and in it was a really long, handwritten letter from him about the impact I had on him and how much my generosity helped him. Every time I stop, he always leans in my car window and gives me a hug and I always think that the other drivers behind me think he’s trying to attack me or something. The other thing about Bernard’s character in the book that is personal to me is the issue of veteran’s mental health. The real Bernard is not a veteran to my knowledge, but I wanted to put that in the story. I’ve written about this issue before. My father is a retired Marine and I have many, many friends who are veterans. Anytime I can showcase something about PTSD I jump on it.
Atticus tell us all about your mom’s work and her little rituals. Can she write everywhere? Does she need music? Does she rant? Speak to her characters? Something else? Does she write the plot first or the characters first? Or is everything different with each book?
So my mom moves around the house a lot to write. Sometimes it’s in her office, which I love because it’s in the basement and the floor is cool on my tummy. Sometimes she sits outside on the porch. Other times in the living room. My favorite is when she writes from the bed because I like to nap there while she does it.
As far as how she writes, she’s very much writes by the seat of her pants. No plotting. No outline. She does in depth character summaries with back story development. She has an idea where she wants the book to go and how she wants it to end, but then she lets the characters drive the story.
Sawyer does Atticus behave when you write?
Actually, he does for the most part. He and his brother Scout like to be in the same room with me, but they usually just sleep. Sometimes though, I’ll look up and one of them will be gone. I have to jump up and find out what mayhem is being caused. Usually it’s sneaking into the bathroom to pull the toilet paper off the rolls.
Do you both have a special moment together each day? Or each week? Some favorite things to do together?
We do!!!! It’s in the morning. Atticus doesn’t sleep in the bed during the night although he’s more than welcome to do so. But he usually jumps up about an hour before I’m due to wake up and snuggles into me for a little. When he’s ready for me to wake up, he lays on top of me and starts giving tiny “woofs” to get me out of bed.
Another moment I love is for his evening meal. He comes to me around 4:30pm and will just sit and stare at me. It’s slightly accusing… like I’m letting him starve. Then he’ll start “woofing” to get my attention. He won’t let up until I make his meal for him.
Atticus I saw you very protective of “The Little One”, would you say that you are a friendly and easy guy? Would you welcome a new addition to your home, being a human, a dog, a cat a … Or are you insanely jealous? And for the rec stop giving advice on what “The Little One” chooses to wear she’ll never take it well and will ignore it at best. Better spare your saliva!
Bernese Mountain Dogs by nature are leery of strangers and protective of their home. When someone comes to my house that I don’t know, I back away from them a bit until I’m sure. But then once I know that you like me, I am all over you.
I am a bit jealous of the Little and sometimes I try to get in between her and mom when they’re snuggling. Mom was worried about how I’d react to the Little when she came home from the hospital. I was about two years old at the time but I was a really good boy. We’re definitely pals now [See Photos F and G] but I love my mom the most.
Some easy and light questions for both of you now:
A: Definitely food. Oh wait… you want a type of food? Okay. Steak.
S: Thor: Ragnarok
A: Agreed. Thor is kick ass.
A: Winter. I’d live in snow if I could.
S: My daughter.
A: That hurts my feelings. Steak.
A: Snakes. One got in the house once and Scout tried to attack it. I ran like a little baby.
*favorite male model for a book cover?
S: Jay Byers… hands down.
A huge thank you to both of you for your time and for the absolutely gorgeous book you sent me!
Now dear readers I hope you enjoyed this unusual interview and that you will give this book a chance (I adored it). You can read my review HERE. Follow Atticus on IG too @atticuscrazydog!