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Book World Live: 'Marley and Me' Author on New Memoir

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John Grogan
Memoirist
Wednesday, October 22, 2008; 3:00 PM

In his bestselling memoir Marley and Me, journalist John Grogan told the story of the mischevious yellow Lab that changed him and his family. Now, in a new memoir, The Longest Trip Home, he writes about his life before Marley -- his childhood in a loving, eccentric, devoutly Catholic Midwestern family, and how he found his own approach to faith and family as he grew up. The book was recently reviewed in The Washington Post.

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John Grogan was online Wednesday, October 22 to discuss both memoirs, as well as the forthcoming movie "Marley and Me," starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.

A transcript follows.

Join Book World Live each week for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book Worldor in the weekday Style Section.

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John Grogan: Hi everyone. John Grogan here. I'm happy to have this time to hang out and talk about my new book "The Longest Trip Home" and anything else that is on your mind. The Longest Trip Home is a sort of prequel to Marley & Me, my first book, in that it tells the story of what came before there was John and Jenny and an out-of-control dog named Marley.

The LTH follows my life from my first disastrous confession at age 7 -- an omen for sure that I would never be the good Catholic boys my parents hoped and prayed for -- to my final trip back to my childhood home to say those things to me failing parents I know needed saying before it was too late.

I look forward to your questions. (And excuse my typing as we go... I'll be trying to hammer out answers as fast as possible to keep up...) -- john

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Washington, D.C.: are there any dogs in the new book? Did you have dogs when you were growing up?

John Grogan: This book is not centered around dogs, but my childhood dog Shaun, who I introduce in the preface of Marley & Me, is included in several chapters of LTH.

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Catholic Childhoods: The Post review noted that there is a long tradition of memoirs of growing up in devout Catholic families. What is it, do you think, that makes this such fertile ground? What are your favorite such memoirs?

John Grogan: The Catholic experience is a powerful one, at once somewhat onerous and also comforting and structured. It's an experience many of us Catholics, especially those who have struggled with the faith and the Church's orthodoxy, find impossible to ignore. I loved, loved Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.

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Arlington, Va.: Did your father know of the success of "Marley and Me" before he passed away?

John Grogan: Unfortunately, no. I write about this in the LTH, too. My book was still in the copy editing stage when he died in December of 2004. I was able to read him the first three chapters, and the smile they brought to his face will always stay with me.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: "Marley and Me" is one of the greatest books I have ever read; I highly recommend it to others. Is there going to be a movie made of the book and, if so, have you been involved in the screenplay or providing any advice?

John Grogan: Yes, the movie comes out Christmas Day and stars Owen Wilson as me and Jennifer Aniston as my wife Jenny. They're great together and delivered really strong performances. I acted as a consultant on the script, and am happy how it turned out. It captures the spirit of the book and faithfully reenacts most of the memorable scenes.

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Munich, Germany: Do you think that there's anything to the saying, "Those who want to return to their childhood home aren't looking for their home. They're looking for their youth."? Is it perhaps a feeling of tying up loose ends and figuring out how you got where you are now?

John Grogan: That's a great observation. I went through much of my adult life with this low-level quiet ache in my heart. Nothing too huge most days, but always an awareness that I had disappointed my parents and caused them significant pain. My first reaction, which lasted several years, was to try to bury it and move on. But then I realized it was something I needed to explore further -- a story bubbling up waiting to get out of me. The act of telling that story served as really good therapy for me. By the time I was finished I had a much clearer understanding of how I got from that little Catholic boy on the cover of the book to the man I am today.

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Silver Spring: A friend lent us a copy of "Marley and Me".

Great stuff. My best friend has a 12 year old Dobie who is now deaf and can barely walk. I told him, "I have a book for you..."

What pushed you to write your memoir? And, don't take this personally, what makes you think people want to read about your life? I am just asking as a person who enjoys writing. I just can't imaging someone wanting to read about how I, a plain old guy, grew up.

John Grogan: Fair question, and one I've asked myself often: Why does anyone care about my ho-hum life? But over the years my attempts at honesty about my own life have always -- almost without exception -- been rewarded by strong reader responses. When I was a metropolitan columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers, I always marveled that the more intensely personal the column, the more readers responded and the more heartfelt their responses. That gave me the encouragement I needed to jump off the ledge and dedicate an entire book to my personal experience. And now a second one.

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My great "Marley" story: I have a 10 month old black lab named Pepper. I was reading Marley and Me about 3 months ago while in bed lying on my stomach with the book on my pillow. I was at the end and crying. Pepper came up to me got on the pillow, turned around and sat on the book. She then proceeded to lick the tears on my face. No, I am not making this up. I never was a dog person and now I just can't imagine not having her around. Thanks for the great stories about Marley and can't wait to read the next one.

John Grogan: Awww, that's a sweet story, and one that doesn't surprise me. Dogs are such social animals, and they have amazing empathy skills. When Jenny had her miscarriage, our always-wild Marley went perfectly still, rested his head in her lap and began to whimper. I wouldn't have believed it if I had not seen it myself.

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Washington, D.C.: I gather you are out of newspapering? Was it a career you enjoyed? Is book author better? Would you ever go back?

John Grogan: Yes, I hung up my ink-stained press pass about 18 months ago, in February 2007, and I haven't looked back once. I left the Philadelphia Inquirer at a pretty rotten time there, with management laying off dozens of my colleagues. Marley & Me was successful enough that I could get by without the paycheck, and I was anxious to dedicate more time to books -- especially the just completed one, The Longest Trip Home. So I took my leave. It was actually quite liberating.

Now I get to write what I want, when I want to write it. I'm still busy, in fact busier than I have ever been in my life.

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Lancaster, PA: I loved Marley and Me. I give the book to all my dog-loving friends as birthday and Christmas presents. I can't wait to see the movie. But, then again, I can. The trailer makes me cry. I'll probably be a basket case by the end of the movie! Hope it's a smash hit.

John Grogan: I will only say that Owen Wilson, who is well known for his great comedic skills, turns in a very sensitive and nuanced performance at the end. There's real emotion there, and I think viewers will be surprised and blown away by this more complex, more vulnerable side of the actor.

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Arlington, Va: Comment: I read books to the elderly. I have read one of your books about having to put Marley to sleep. I can't remember if it was Marley and Me or not, but my mother really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading more of your great books, keep up the good work!

John Grogan: Yep, that was Marley & Me, my first book. The Longest Trip Home is my second memoir. I've also done an adaptation of Marley & Me for young readers so kids can have a version that is appropriate for their age. And I have two illustrated books out for young children: Bad Dog, Marley! and, just out this month, A Very Marley Christmas.

The kids books are kind of a lark for me, but very fun. There's nothing as riotous as doing a book reading for 500 third graders.

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Alexandria, VA: I loved "Marley and Me," and can't wait to see the movie. I read your interview in USA Today the other day, and it mentioned you are moving to a new home in your neighborhood. Are you planning to move Marley's resting place to your new home?

John Grogan: Yes, we're moving just a few miles away to an old 1790 farm. Still undecided if Marley's remains will stay in the woods behind our house or if we'll re-bury them on the 19 acres of our new place.

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Allen, Texas: What are the last 3 books that you have read?

John Grogan: I love these kinds of questions.

Right now working through Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan... yes, I know I'm about six years too late, but better late than never. I love Pollan's writing and the way his very bright mind works.

Comfort by Ann Hood. Beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting, all at once.

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, her very charming, evocative memoir of growing up in the 1950s with the Brooklyn Dodgers central to her childhood.

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gotta ask...: any movie star stories from the set of Marley and Me?

John Grogan: Nothing the tabloids would find titillating. The actors were warm and way more down to earth than I was expecting. Owen Wilson played soccer with my daughter during one break in shooting. Jennifer Aniston about gave my two teenage sons cardiac arrest when she walked up to them, stuck out her hand and said with that famous enthusiasm, "You must be Conor and Patrick. I've been so excited to meet you!"

Anyone who is sweet to my kids has won my friendship for life.

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Baltimore, MD : John,

Thank you so much for sharing such a lovely and spirited story about the bond between humans and animals. I have to tell you I purchased "Marley and Me" on a lark... I was looking for a quick and entertaining read. Little did I know what was in store for me. Your family's relationship with Marley helped prepare me for my own life with an incredible and perfectly mischieveous yellow lab who "found" me when she was about a year old (several months after having read M and M). From the moment Dixie Belle entered our home, she and my equally wonderful red-nose "Pitty" Buddha Brown, along with my three cats have been the best of buddies.

I have no doubt that the unconditional love between humans and their animal companions is the closest we can come to a manifest relationship with the Divine here on earth.

I look forward to seeing the movie and wish you all the best with your new book. I know you have heard this before, but I will say it one more time, your writing really touches the heart. lastly, peace to your precious pup, Marley who is anxiously waiting to reunite with his family at the "Rainbow Bridge".

Joan

John Grogan: Thanks for the thoughts, Joan. Animals certainly can enrich our lives and bring joy and laughter even in times of darkness.

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Washington, DC: I greatly enjoyed the listening to the audiobook version of "Marley and Me" during my work commute, and often found myself laughing out loud in my car at Marley's antics. Do the dog actors in the movie look and act very much like Marley?

John Grogan: Well, it took some 25 dogs to capture the essence of our one Marley. There were a lot of puppies, young adults, older adults and senior dogs. The main star, though, was a big, powerful, beautiful and TOTALLY INSANE Lab named Clyde. Even with his professional trainers, he was hard to keep reined in. Clyde definitely was channeling Marley's unbridled love of life, and the outtakes alone will be worth the price of admission.

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John Grogan: I also should add that one of those adorable Lab puppies from the movie (if you've seen the trailer on the internet or in theaters, you know what I mean) is now a Grogan. The producers of the film gave my family a 15-week-old snow white Lab named Woodson. He's eight months old now and we love him. Has Marley's personality without his neuroses. :)

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John Grogan: Thanks everyone for dropping in for this online chat. It was fun. And if you want to follow along with my blog or learn more about my books, please visit me at www.johngroganbooks.com.

You can also check my upcoming events there. If I'm going to be in your neighborhood, please stop by and say hello.

Ciao for now.... John Grogan

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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