Sharon Kay Penman at the Chatty Cat Cafe

Posted by Susanne Saville at Wednesday, November 05, 2008 8:00 AM

imageWelcome to the Chatty Cat Cafe, where we drink caffeinated beverages and natter with fascinating people.  image

We are really, truly honored in the Cafe today because my guest is New York Times Bestselling author of Devil's Brood, Sharon Kay Penman.

If you like historical fiction and haven't read her yet, do yourself a favor and pick up one of her books. You'll thank yourself, trust me.

Here she comes!  (OMG I'm going to start bumping into the furniture now, you watch.) 

Hi Sharon, thanks for coming to visit.  I've got both tea and coffee here, which would you prefer?     

Tea; I never drink coffee.   
And how do you like it served? 

Sugar, lemon, no milk. 
Cool, there you go.  Okay, first introduce us to your dogs. What are their names and breeds?

At the present time, I have two dogs, Cody, a German shepherd and Chelsea, a miniature poodle.  I have had as many as three dogs in the past, and I am a cat lover, too; in fact, when I was growing up, I preferred cats to dogs.

I'm sure my cats are purring over that. image  I hear Cody is a rescue dog - please tell us the story behind that.

Cody's full name is Dakota, because when I adopted him, I was told his name had been Duck, and I was looking for a name that sounded like Duck—which is a ridiculous name to foist upon an innocent dog. 

Cody is a big boy, slightly smaller than an SUV, and they were delighted at the shelter when I adopted him as they told me it is hard to place the really large dogs.  They'd offered Cody to the local police dept, and they came out and tested him.  But he flunked the test—they said he was too nice!  Apparently they prefer police dogs with an edge. 

I adopted Cody in April of 2001, and not a day goes by that I don't feel blessed.  I read once that if we are lucky, we get one great dog in our lives.  I have had three, my first two poodles and Cody, who is protective, intelligent, funny, well behaved, and delightfully mellow.  Even when he steals food, he does it with such panache! 

When I adopted him, I had my elderly poodle, Caitlin, one of the "great" ones, and Randy, a neighbor's dog that had been abused and neglected.  I ended up taking her in temporarily—for 12 and 1/2 years!  When I took Randy in, I had a Norwegian elkhound, Kristin, who got a little literary immortality in my book  When Christ and His Saints Slept. Kristin was a bit of a bully and Randy was smart enough to indulge her; otherwise I could not have brought her into the family.  But Kristin died of cancer in January of 2001 and Randy developed delusions of grandeur.  She never tried to boss Caitlin around; Caitlin had a steely self-assurance that the other dogs didn't dare to challenge.  But as soon as Cody joined the family, Randy was determined that he understand she was the queen bee and he was only a drone.  That first week, she started several fights to assert her dominance.  Randy was what I called a G.K. breed, or God Knows, a medium sized dog about 50 pounds, less than half Cody's size.  Fortunately for her, he would sigh, roll his eyes, and then seize her by the loose skin at the side of her neck, holding her immobile so she couldn't continue to bite him, while waiting patiently for me to break the fight up.  Meanwhile, Randy the Drama Queen would be squealing as if she were being killed, but she eventually realized that Cody was not going to go away and she grudgingly accepted him.  She'd occasionally test him by shoving in front of him as they went out into the back yard, but he continued to regard her with amused indulgence.  Interestingly, his trainer told me that male dogs will usually defer to a female, as long as nothing really important is at stake!  And of course I thought, Hmm, just like males of our species. 


Chelsea is a sweet but very insecure little dog.  My first two poodles were from the wrong side of the tracks, purchased from pet stores back in the days when no one knew about puppy mill dogs.  JZ and Caitlin were both puppy mill dogs, and while JZ had a congenital heart condition, she still lived to be 11, and Caitlin lived to be 14.  They were wonderful dogs, as unlike as chalk and cheese, but I figured I'd pushed my luck and I'd better get my next poodle from a bona fide breeder.  I couldn't adopt one because Randy would never have accepted another female dog; it had to be a puppy.   Well, Chelsea is a poodle princess, with an impeccable pedigree, but she is also one of the most neurotic dogs to ever draw breath, and neither training nor lots of love nor dog tranquilizers has really helped.  Fortunately she is very sweet and loving, not a fear biter, and she absolutely adores Cody, her pal and partner in crime. 
What is each of your dogs' favorite really-shouldn't-be-fed-to-them treat? Or are you good about not giving your dogs People Food?

Cody is an ice-cream freak.  Chelsea adores cheese.  And you mean dogs aren't supposed to get People Food?  
Which of your characters would you say is most like Cody, and which is most like Chelsea, and why?

Very interesting question.  I don't ever mold fictional characters after real-life people, so it wouldn't even have occurred to me to use Cody or Chelsea as role models!   Cody might be like the heroic Norwegian dyrehund in Saints, though, who comes to his owner's rescue with dramatic elan.  I could see my Cody doing that.   And now that I think of it, in The Reckoning, the wife of the Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd had a little pet dog that looked like a feather duster with feet, a one-woman dog who adored his mistress and only grudgingly tolerated Llewelyn's presence in his own bedchamber.  Yes, that could be Chelsea.
Hiraeth!  I remember that dog. image  You're so talented - you create characters that stick with the reader long after the book is finished.  Speaking of your characters, if you had complete control and budget was no object, which one of your books would you make into a movie and whom would you cast in it?

Well, we optioned the film rights last year to a British production company and they are seeking to get funding for the project, no easy task in our current global economy.  I think Here Be Dragons would make an excellent film.  But I will leave the casting questions to the producers or my readers!  I do think, though, that Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn were the perfect choices for Henry and Eleanor in The Lion in Winter.  Such a pity that they'd not be available if Devil's Brood is ever made into a film.

My sister Elisabeth and I agree with you.  She suggests Christian Bale as Llywelyn the Last and Ioan Gruffydd as Davydd.  Elisabeth is also a huge fan of yours, as you might have guessed, and she wants me to ask - Considering all the research you've done for your books, would you be willing to live in the Middle Ages? If so, which era would you choose?

Oh, no way!  I like my creature comforts too much, central heating and air conditioning and anti-biotics.   I would not have survived a medieval childhood, as I had several bouts with pneumonia in my first years, and of course that would have been fatal.   I would love to do some time traveling, though, as long as I could come back to our time.
Yeah, that would be the best of both worlds. image   Well, I know you're very busy working on your next project, Lionheart, so lastly, what is the one thing you think is most important to tell someone who is considering getting their first dog?

I would hope that they would consider adoption.  If they want a particular breed, there are any number of breed specific rescue groups, easily found via the Internet.   I adopted Cody from a shelter, but I'd also signed up with a German Shepherd rescue group.  But then I saw Cody on-line, and once I learned it was a kill-shelter, there was no way I was going to leave him there.  

And I would also hope that people remember that this is a lifetime commitment, a minimum of ten years of care.   Dogs and cats are not disposable items, and it is very traumatic for them to be uprooted from their homes, even though sometimes there is no other choice.  I've had Cody for more than seven years, and yet he still becomes very nervous in a shelter-like setting, for he ended up in shelters twice before I adopted him.  So when he goes to the groomer for his yearly bath, he cannot be left in the cage by himself, must have Chelsea there to reassure him; otherwise, he tries to stage The Great Escape.  On some unconscious level, he remembers being abandoned and it awakens a dormant fear.   I've been lucky in that I've never had to place him in a kennel when I travel; my nephew, bless him, comes over to dog-sit for me.

One more thought.  Please don't keep your dogs chained out in the backyard all the time.  They are pack animals and it is a form of cruelty to separate them from the family, their "pack."  The people who took Cody to that shelter had chained him outside 24-7, which must have been an awful ordeal for such an intelligent, curious, affectionate animal.  I've never understood why people do this. 
Sharon and Cody

Thank you so much for being here, Sharon!  Have another cuppa while I tell our readers, for more information on Sharon Kay Penman's books, please visit:

Sharon's Website

Sharon's Blog

Sharon on YouTube

Devil's Brood on Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Shop Local - Find Devil's Brood in an Indie Bookstore Near You

I could go on, but I suppose that's enough to get y'all started. image