WE’RE BACK, AND THANKFUL!


Poor dad. He hasn’t been available to help me post in several weeks and here’s why. As he explains in GIMME SHELTER, it was 30+years ago that he left day-to-day teaching to follow a different drummer and pursue his artistic calling. Although he’s been sub-teaching at the local juvenile probation camps, working with incarcerated teens, nothing prepared him for a recent gig, filling in for an ailing  AP English teacher at a local high school. After two weeks, my black belt dad looked like he’d gone 5 rounds with UFC champ Anderson Silva: his eyes were glazed, his heart was racing, and his stomach was in knots. With another month looming, dad showed the better part of valor and tapped out, agreeing to take a greatly reduced workload. He’s sorry that he couldn’t push through, but mom and I are happy to have him back home with us and smiling again. Want to see just how thrilled I am to have my ‘big dog’ back? Here’s a video of us hanging at home, playing my favorite game, ‘ Jump’.
Congratulations to our dear friend and pup-lover Jennienne LeClercq of NYC. When her beloved Stella passed away, she wasn’t sure she’d ever share her life and love with another pooch. Enter, Darla, who’s already captured Jenniene’s heart…and most of the bed. The only tough spot so far – getting this discrete, 15-month-old country honey to squat on the New York sidewalks!
Jenniene and ‘Darla’ Darling @ the Central Park Boathouse
The fabulous Stella
Since it;s Holiday Season (and seemingly has been since July), we thought we’d share a Buzzfeed heart-warmer about Leo, a down-and-out Cambodian pooch and the guardian angel that turned his life around. If this evokes a ‘Bah, humbug!’, you’d best go see your cardiologist.

Leo with his angel, Meagan

ITALY – SOME LAST THOUGHTS

Mantova, as seen from the lake boat

Last month’s trip marked our 7th visit to Italy since we were married there in Verona in 1988. The pictures speak for themselves but here are a few casual, decidedly unscientific observations from our travels: 1) Italians love their dogs and take them everywhere, even to grocery stores, restaurants and cafes. 2) Along with dogs and children, they cherish artists as gifted, special beings whose work elevates us from the base grasping of the marketplace. 3) Like Americans, Italians have adopted technology, especially smart phones. Yet they seem to spend less time online that most of us, and more time actually talking, which makes sense, given their generally garrulous nature. 4) As a writer, I was happy to see that Italy still has lots of book stores. For them, Kindles and iPads haven’t replaced real paper books – yet. 

outside the Duomo, Modena

5) As with phones and tablets, there are also more fast food restaurants, particularly McDonalds. In what could be a related issue, the natives seem to be getting heavier. Not grossly overweight like too many Americans, just a little paunchier than we remembered. 6) The old church based standards of ‘proper’ behavior are on the wane if not dead; kids dressing less modestly, the girls showing more skin and the boys affecting a ‘gangsta’ look, albeit with droopy, tight, skinny jeans! In several towns we saw young couples making out on the cathedral steps. In years past, such brazen public displays would have garnered a stern ‘disgraziato!’ from the elderly, black clad  ‘signore’. No more.7) Sadly, grafitti is on the rise in once pristine small towns like Brescia and Camogli where it’s not uncommon to find tagged-up walls and buildings. Guess the desire for ‘recognition’  at any cost is worldwide. 8) Along with burger joints and tagging, there are now more immigrants, too. While the beach towns held mostly Italians and tourists from the UK, France, Germany and the U.S., immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East now call cities like Bergamo, Brescia and Milan home. Having lived in NYC and L.A., two great ‘melting pots’, it seems normal to us. Not so much for the Italians, who grouse that joining the EU was ‘un disastro’. 

playing with my food in Marina Di Pietrasanta

On a personal note, while some people flock to Italy hoping to become more urbane,  sophisticated, and alluring (read Luigi Barzini’s 1964 classic The Italians), for me the opposite takes place. Instead of morphing into a suave, stylish casanova in the vein of Marcello Mastroianni, I channel Roberto Benigni. I trip on sidewalks, stumble over thresholds, spill soup and gelato on my shirt and slacks, drive down one-way streets, going the wrong way. I routinely ask directions to churches, hotels and museums – ‘Scusi, signore. Puo dire mi dov’e…’ while standing directly in front of the location, prompting WTF! stares and chuckles from the natives, who gape at me as if to say, “Poor thing, he looks normal but I guess he’s not quite right”. It’s humbling, but also great fun. 

lunch @ Trattoria Ermes, Modena

I wasn’t alone; Eugenie had her ‘aha!’ moment, too. For years, she told anyone who’d listen that her dream was to live in Italy, where ‘family’ and ‘connection’ still matter. During our sojourn, she suddenly realized that she already has those things here at home, where she’s surrounded by loving friends and relatives. While living in Italy would be fun for a while, without the anchor of work or family we’d just be ‘the American couple’  who stop by every morning for coffee and pastry,  strangers yearning to be ‘in it’, but never truly being ‘of it’. A great observation from a great trip. Ciao!

Camogli
Eugenie’s Italian sportscar

Abbey of San Frutuoso near Camogli

DOGS, ART, & CASSIDY WILLIAM VEIT!

Before Tanner resumes his role as blogger-in-chief, I thought I’d mention a few more reasons we have to be thankful for our dolce vita. First, there’s good friends like John and Robby Mazza, and their pups, Lola and Porter, whose friendship we cherish and whose efforts to Preserve Malibu from over-development we deeply appreciate.

John Mazza & Lola @ Our Lady of Malibu’s Blessing of the Animals
Living with such a talented artist, I sometimes take Eugenie’s sculpture for granted. That’s why it’s great when other artists, like David Brady from Santa Monica’s super cool Studio FIVE08 Gallery, acknowledge her work. Eugenie has two of her ‘face-flowers’ in the current show. Saturday’s opening included a surprise visit from some other talented and beautiful friends. If you’re in the area, drop by and enjoy this inspired collection of amazing painters, photographers and, yes, sculptors. Studio FIVE08, 508A Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401, 310-994-9400.

Lisa Rinna, Eugenie and Harry Hamlin

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing creation that my niece, Krissie Veit and her husband, Billy, gave birth to this week…their son, Cassidy William. Eugenie and I are thrilled and can’t wait to meet the handsome little hunk.

Krissie and Cassidy William

I CANI DELL’ITALIA (THE DOGS OF ITALY)

The Duomo, Milan
Poor Tanner! His parents went to Italy for 3 weeks and all he got was some lousy pictures of Italian dogs. Before you feel too sorry for our canine blogger, he spent his vacation at Sandpiper Kennels, hanging out in the office with Patti, Paul and Ignacio, and romping with the pack in the play yard. We came home to find him looking lean and fit, and very, very happy to see us. Since we’re with him every day, it’s tough to notice just how much Tanner has changed sine he first joined our family. That’s why we were thrilled to hear Patti say…When I first met Tanner, he was meek, nervous and shy…with your persistence and devotion, Tanner has blossomed into a real dog! A fun loving, bouncing around, tail wagging, food gobbling, happy puppy!!!!! He is an absolute joy to behold!”  Thanks to Patti and her crew for taking such good care of him so we could rest easy and enjoy our vacation.

Mantova

During our trip we visited Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Garda (Sirmione), Mantova, Modena, Pietrasanta, Marina Di Pietrasanta, Camogli, Pavia, and Milan. Along the way we saw lots of dogs. Most were mixed breeds but we did see several Labs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles, Shepherds, English and Irish Setters and a dozen or more pit bulls, bull terriers, cane corsos, and dogo argentinos. In Bergamo, we struck up a conversation with a young man from the Netherlands who was strolling with his family and his Staffordshire Terrier, ‘Bus’. We told him about Tanner and gave him a card for the book. He took one look and said, “I know GIMME SHELTER; I follow you on Facebook.” Seems the world, or at least the dog world, is a very small place indeed. It wasn’t possible to photograph every dog we came across all but here are a few we did get:
‘Maria’, Piacenza
‘ZEUS’ (Cane Corso), Mantova
Jack Russells, Pietrasanta




‘BIG BANG’ IN THE ‘BU…COOL Y.A. WRITERS

Every day I wake up and pinch myself I’m so grateful to be living in Malibu with my mom and dad. It’s a magical place and so, sometimes, we forget just how special it is. Take last night. We were all lounging together on the bed when we heard a loud ‘bang’ that sounded like a gunshot. Thankfully, it wasn’t the neighbors run amok but the prelude to a spectacular fireworks show at Paradise Cove that lit up the ocean and the highway. The shelling lasted for 20 minutes. By then, this pit bull was beyond freaked (loud noises and wind storms still take me back to my scary days as a homeless puppy) but Eugenie and Lou said it was the best show ever in the 23 years they’ve been living here. When they saw me shaking and quaking, they hauled me up onto the bed and spooned me until I settled down.  

Chill-axing after the ‘Big Bang’


Lou and Eugenie wanted me to mention that several friends have recently published Y.A. (Young Adult) novels. K.V. Flynn’s ON THE MOVE takes place in the SoCal skater culture, while Justine Fontes’ DEADLY DRIVE and BENITO RUNS offer gritty ‘high-low’ tales (advanced stories, accessible vocabulary) set in an urban Texas high school. If you’re looking to spur your kids’ interest in reading, give these gems a look-see.


DOG WRITERS – A NEW TAKE ON ‘ANIMALS

Lou and I just received the Summer 2014 issue of Rough Drafts, the Dog Writers Association of America newsletter, and what did we find inside? A profile of my favorite dog writer and pit bull dad, and a very nice feature on GIMME SHELTER. Thanks to Ida Estep and Elaine Gewirtz for sponsoring us, and to Vicky Clarke for the great job editing Ruff Drafts.

A couple weeks ago, we had the honor or emceeing Malibu Methodist Church’s ‘Blessing of the Animals’. Every animal guardian received a medallion of St. Francis and a card with this very cool message from naturalist/writer Henry Beston: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err. For the animals shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth.”
Tanner & Porter listening to ‘other voices’

A DOG DAY BLESSING – SCULPTURE ON DISPLAY

We rarely post photo blogs (Italians would gladly launch 1,000 words instead) but I wanted to share some highlights from yesterday’s Blessing of The Animals at Malibu Methodist Church. Tanner and I were the volunteer emcees and we toured the vendors booths, interviewing some exotic non-profits, like the Gibbon Conservation Center, that is dedicated to helping the world’s most endangered primate, and Ghost Fishing: Ocean Conservation, whose mission is to find and remove from our seas the discarded deadly plastic fishing lines that claims the lives of fish and marine mammals. There were local favorites, too, like Dr. Lisa from Malibu Coast Animal Hospital, Healthcare for Homeless Animals, Master dog trainer and Shorin Ryu karate sensei Robert Cabral, of Bound Angels and Black Belt Dog Training, and groomer and animal activist par excellence, Sherman, whose new venture Peaceful Pets Aquamation offers a sensible, kind and environmentally smart way to help our departed 4-legged companions cross over with dignity and peace. The whole morning was a blast but my personal fav was Tanner quaffing an entire bowl of holy water while Paster Sadhi Liddell blessed his thirsty dog self. If you missed the event, highlights will be posted at Encore Streaming in the near future.

Tanner polishes off the holy water as Pastor Sandhi Liddell of MMUC looks on

After a brief siesta, it was off to Malibleu Gallery  for the opening reception of the ‘Wavelength’ exhibition. The place was jammed with art lovers, who sipped wine, nibbled snacks and grooved to the funky blues of The Country Legends. Several friends showed up to admire Eugenie’s superb stone sculpture, and we got to meet some of the other talented artists, including fellow sculptor Jill McDonell, painters Brooke Harker and Adriana Guidi, and husband/wife photographers Consuelo Veri and Przemek Domanski of PhotoBox.comhttp://www.photoboxinc.com.

Eugenie with her stone sculptures
With painter Adriana Guidi ® and her mom, Louis (l)

with photographer Consuelo Veri

WORLD BLOG HOP…HUH?

Instead of cool dog news or updates on Tanner’s latest exploits, this week we’re doing something different. We’re joining a worldwide blog hop for readers and writers called “The Writing Process World Blog Tour.” I’m not the guy who put the social in social media but I was invited to join WWBH by a hot new YA writer, K.V. Flynn, whose debut novel, ON THE MOVE (the first book in a middle grade/YA trilogy that really lives inside the world of skateboarding and boys’ friendships), will be published in early September. Be sure to add it to your must buy” on Amazon/Kobo.iTunes/B&N (notice I didn’t say must read,” since we writers have to eat – BUY it for yourself, or you teenage son/brother/friend). K.V. lives in the Manhattan-Huntington-Malibu Beach area. His favorite ride is an 8.25″ Krooked deck, Independent trucks, and 53 mm Spitfire wheels. He is half Spanish and half Irish and has a dog. K.V. and he and his bros regularly cruise Venice, Stoner, Skatelab, and Van’s. Check out the book here:www.OnTheMoveBooks.com.

About me and my book
I live in Malibu with my wife Eugenie, the love of my life, and our rescue dog, Tanner. I’ve written for film, TV, stage, magazines and newspapers. GIMME SHELTER is my first book. When I’m not writing (which is way too often these days), I work with juvenile inmates at the L.A. County Juvenile Probation Camp Schools in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. For fun (read the book, and you’ll see the kind of guy who thinks it’s fun), I teach Okinawa GoJu Ryu (“Wax on; Wax off”) Karate and Tai Chi. In our downtime, Eugenie and I travel to Italy where we were married and where we have dual U.S.- Italian citizenship. 
                                                              ~ ~ ~
Today we’re answering four questions:
1) What are you working on? 
I’m currently juggling several projects. There’s a Stand And Deliver-style film script set in a juvenile probation camp (prison), a gritty urban short-story collection set in NYC and Northern NJ, and a stage play with music about the only soldier to ever successfully challenge the U.S. military’s ban on gays. In addition, I’m always outlining potential stories, scripts and articles that will probably go unrealized unless I live to a biblical age.

2) How does your work differ from others in your genre? GIMME SHELTER takes the feel-good dog story and stands it on its head. On my Amazon page, I say that GIMME SHELTER is… “The Sopranos meets Marley & Me: with a twist when a volatile, chronically ticked-off writer from a “Goodfellas” family struggles to help an abused, timid, big-hearted shelter dog. Unlike Marley, ours was a case of good” dog (a homeless pit bull) vs. bad owner (me). We made an odd couple and, for us to thrive, I had undergo a wholesale—and very challenging—personal transformation. Tanner, our dog, was the teacher who saved me from myself. Like me and much of my writing, GIMME SHELTER blends the raw emotion and sensibility of the street with more conventional, refined elements. This is coupled with a strong angermanagement theme, which is one of the reasons why the book has been well-received by the officials and juvenile inmates at local probation camp schools.

3) Why do you write what you write?
In the case of my film work, I usually stumble across an odd or intriguing story and then marry it to events and people from my personal experience. Since I have a darksensibility, my work is often too gritty for the YA audience. GIMME SHELTER was an exception, but then it was an accidental book. I say accidental because it started as a diary that I kept during Tanner’s first year with us. For some reason that I can’t explain, I diligently charted all of the mundane things that happened during that time. For more than twenty years, my wife, Eugenie, had bugged me to tell our story from the POV of the dogs we’d owned. Like a typical husband, I’d resisted fiercely. When she started bugging me about the Tanner diary, I said I’d think about it. Because I hadn’t planned on doing anything with it, the journal was a hodgepodge of 500+ pages with no structure or apparent theme – hardly the kind of thing to turn into a book. It took me eighteen grueling months and countless drafts to figure out that the real story wasn’t me savingTanner; it was Tanner saving me from my decadeslong battle with anger. Once I came to that realization I was able to chisel a book from the diary.

4) How does your writing process work?
I tend to let things simmer for a very long time. Then, once things reach critical mass (or my wife can’t stand it any longer), I get to work. I always outline extensively when I’m writing screenplays or short non-fiction. GIMME SHELTER was my first stab at narrative non-fiction and working without an outline (or any plan at all) caused me a lot of headaches. In the case of the aforementioned short story collection, I haven’t learned my lesson since I’m working mostly without an outline, although many of the stories have been percolating for years.  
                                                              ~ ~ ~
I’m very excited to introduce the 3 writers who will be joining the blog tour on August 19:

Shea McIntosh Ford is an author of openminded fiction.” Her latest book, THE STONE OF KINGS will be published on August 12 from Astraea Press . Shea blogs at: http://sheaford.wordpress.com/,  https://www.facebook.com/SheaMcIntoshFord 

Justine Korman Fontes has over 700 published titles, earning her the title “The Queen of Licensed Children’s Books” from Writer’s DigestJustine is the author of THE GRUMPY BUNNY series for Scholastic and the new CHEDDAR’S TALES series for Barron’s. She and her hubby Ron Fontes have written for all of the major publishers, adapted screenplays for major film studios, and created a host of original works including graphic novels. 
 http://www.sonicpublishing.com/about.html

 Teresa Howard Teresa writes several romance genres.  From historical romance, to contemporary romance, to time travel/paranormal romance, her abiding belief that love conquers all leaps from every page.  Her latest work, FOR LOVE ALONE, is a historical romance with a southern belle turned royal duchess as the heroine. It will be published on August 12 from Astraea Press. All of Teresa’s novels are available on Amazon.com and can be ordered directly from her webpage: www.teresahoward.net

DO JEALOUS PIT BULLS DREAM OF ELECTRIC CATS?…HONORING A ‘JERSEY BOY’

I sometimes overhear Lou & Eugenie saying that I was running in my sleep and having another ‘doggie dream’. Until recently, the idea of canine dreams was largely dismissed as another case of humans anthropomorphizing their pets. New research, however,  suggests that we may, indeed, be doing just that. In a recent Parade Magazine article, Your PetExlained: The Truth About Cats & Dogs, veterinarian Melissa Bain, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, says that “we don’t know…but we think they dream.” That’s because their brain-wave patterns resemble those seen in people. “Dogs go through sleep cycles very similar to humans’, with periods of deep sleep and periods of rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep,” says Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., an applied animal behaviorist and science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of ­Cruelty to Animals. “Dreaming happens during REM sleep, which is also when dogs twitch their legs, move their lips, or vocalize.” ­Wonder when your own dog might be dreaming? As a dog starts to doze, and his sleep becomes ­deeper, his breathing will become more regular, says canine ­behavior ­expert Stanley Coren in his book How Dogs Think. “After a period of about 20 minutes,” Coren writes, “his first dream should start.” (read the entire article).

Tanner and his newest ‘baby’ (Thank You, Aunt Robby)

Not only do we dream like our two-legged partners, it seems we get jealous like them, too. As reported by CNN online, “a study by scholars at the University of California, San Diego found that dogs showed jealous behaviors when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail. The dogs snapped at and pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to get between it and the human. This may come as no surprise to any owner of multiple pooches who has seen them jostle for space on someone’s lap.”

Joe Long, far right

Thanks to the billion dollar stage hit and recent movie, JERSEY BOYS, millions of younger Americans now know the music, and tumultuous story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a quartet of street smart ‘goombahs’ who mixed music with the Mob. Well, it turns out that Lou has a personal connection to one of the Seasons, #5, Joe Long (photo, far right). Joe was born Joe LaBracio, in Elizabeth, NJ. His mom and dad, Mary and Joe, lived on High Street, a scant half-block from Spirito’s Restaurant, the landmark eatery founded 80+ years ago by Lou’s grandfather. They were such close friends that Lou’s mom and dad chose Mary & Joe to be Lou’s godparents, a big deal for Italians. When the Seasons tabbed Joey, a talented, classically trained bass player, to replace the disgruntled Nick Massi, Joey became an instant hero in  the city’s Italian Peterstown neighborhood. Fifty years later, Joe’s hometown has decided to honor him by renaming High Street Joe Long Way. It couldn’t happen to a nicer, humbler or more deserving guy. (listen to the interview).

SURF’S UP…A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW

On July 10, Lou read from GIMME SHELTER and followed up with a Q & A for the juvenile probation students at Camp Miller. While they know him as a motivational substitute teacher, this gave the boys a chance to ask about the book, the writing process and his battle with anger. Afterwards, he visited the classrooms and talked about the opportunities available via KDP and CreateSpace to self-publish for no, or very little money. He tossed out a few intriguing story lines and offered to ‘give’ them to any student willing to run with the ideas. His presentation went so well that he was invited to do an encore this week at Camp Gonzales. In the fall, both camps will be using Gimme Shelter as part of a scholastic unit on the theme of ‘Discovery’.

Tanner & Lola (“‘She Was A Show Dog..”) Mazza

Switching hats on the fly, Lou went from speaker/writer to concerned citizen when he addressed the Malibu City Council, urging them to put an initiative intended to control local retail development on theNovember’s ballot. While he’s rarely at a loss for words, Lou admitted to being taken aback when he was asked to follow actor/writer/director and producer and Malibu resident Rob Reiner (All In The Family, Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally), who sponsored the initiative with his wife. In classic ‘dad’ style, Lou joked about having to “one-up the famous guy”. Then he made an earnest, humorous appeal to the council to honor the democratic process.
Rob Reiner
While most of our news involves dogs, books and related matters, we’re happy to give a hearty ‘Bravo!’ to our dear friend, John Mazza. A lifelong surfer who has amassed an impressive collection of boards, John generously loaned 15 of his vintage ‘sticks’ to the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park in San Diego for an exhibit on Surf Craft. Richard Kenvin designed and organized the show which continues through December.

John Mazza, surfboard collector and historian

Here’s a YouTube tour of John’s Collection at the Pepperdine University Library. Below are some of the reviews and media coverage of the Balboa show: