Gaithersburg, Md.-based author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has 145 books to her name, so you’d think she could churn out a new work in her sleep. Yet the 82-year-old still considers the writing process to be “agonizing.”
“When the book is done, you want it to read like it just came effortlessly, and I think the only book that ever came that way to me was the first ‘Shiloh’ book,” she says, of her 1991 Newbery Medal-winning novel about a young boy’s fierce love for his dog. “For that, it was like Marty was sitting on the arm of my chair, telling it to me. And that was a gift.”
Now, Naylor has a gift for readers: September’s “A Shiloh Christmas,” her first “Shiloh” book since 1997. The series, which is set in the 1990s, follows the boyhood antics of 11-year-old Marty Preston and his beagle, Shiloh, whom he rescued from an abusive owner.
In “A Shiloh Christmas,” set a year after the last book, Marty continues to romp with his pup and mend fences with his neighbor, the once-cruel but redeemable Judd Travers. Meanwhile, Marty’s family discovers that all is not well with some new members of the community.
Naylor says the book ventures “not only into the story of Marty and the dog, but into a fire-and-brimstone preacher and then a gray area between discipline and child abuse.” The Preston family must tread the fine line between helping others and interfering.
Naylor says she doesn’t like to prescribe morals into her books, or try to teach a lesson. All the “Shiloh” books, she says, “deal with gray areas — legal and illegal, right and wrong, love and hate, and in this one, forgiveness and resentment, exaggeration and lies.”
Though “A Shiloh Christmas” takes place around the holiday, it doesn’t advocate for religion or suggest faith should be absolute. Instead, Marty and his sisters voice their questions about God and morality to their parents.
Coming from a religious upbringing, Naylor says that she was reticent about asking questions as a child, and wanted the book to allow the Preston kids to think independently.
“It took me a long time as an adult to simply say, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a god. I don’t know if there’s life after death,’ ” Naylor says. “I opened up the door with Marty to … ask or think questions that readers might think, ‘I’ve wondered about that too.’ ”
Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park, Md.; Tue., 7:30 p.m., free.
More things to do: