You have two rescue dogs and a cat, how was introducing them to make sure they got along?
Thankfully, our dogs seemed to know from the start that cats aren’t the same as rabbits or squirrels, which I don’t think they’d ever stop chasing if given a chance. However, we made sure to introduce the dogs to our cat on leash at first and made sure to feed them in separate locations. For the first few weeks, we kept them apart unless we were in the room to supervise the dogs’ behavior. In very little time, the dogs seemed to understand the cat was “off-limits.”
The cat, however, is a toughie at heart and never seemed to care. He’s half Maine Coon and has zero fear of dogs. In fact, if we don’t feed him first, he will force one of the dogs away from her dinner and take first dibs. They’ve all three been together over three years now, and they’re buddies—sometimes they even sleep cuddled together—though they definitely follow a “leader” hierarchy: Hazel (the border collie mix) is in charge, Owen (the cat) is next, and Nala (the pit-bull mix) is at the bottom of the totem pole but too happy and playful to notice.
Follow Debbie on Instagram to see her pets! @_debbieburns
I read you love to garden, what are you growing in Missouri?
I do love to garden! No pun intended, but there’s something very “grounding” about digging in the soil and watching something you’ve started from a seedling grow into a fruit (or veggie)-bearing plant. For years it was something I wanted to do but couldn’t find the time. A few years ago, at the encouragement of my daughter, we dove in and created a fairly large garden and made lots of mistakes along the way. One of the big ones was planting too many similar vegetables too close together, which resulted in some crazy hybrids like watermelon/zucchini crosses. In my few years of gardening, I’ve learned just enough about it to know that I have much more to learn before considering myself a knowledgeable gardener.
My favorite things to grow are tomatoes and pumpkins, though I moved houses last year and now live in the city of St. Louis. I love my gingerbread house and neighborhood, but I do miss having a large garden. This year I’ve been experimenting with container gardening only, and my go-tos have been tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. This fall, my teenage son is going to help build a large raised bed in the side of our yard. I’m also excited to start a native plant flower garden this fall.
Did you have a lot of animal rescue knowledge before writing the Rescue Me series, or was it something you gained during those stories?
This question reminds me of a mug I saw the other day: “Please don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” I almost bought it as a reminder to keep by my desk while I’m writing, but I wasn’t ready to replace my current favorite mug: “Writers Block: When your imaginary friends stop talking to you.”
In all seriousness, every time I write a book, I try to do it with reverence for all that I don’t know about the subject matter portrayed in the story. The truth is no amount of research can ever really make up for hours in the field. I’m an animal lover at heart and have acquired a good amount of volunteer, conservation, and nonprofit experience. Over the years, I’ve worked or volunteered with shelter dogs, abused horses, and certain endangered species like wolves and birds of prey, and I was quite comfortable writing about the non-profit, shelter world.
On the other hand, I am not (by any sense of the means) a professional dog trainer. My two rescue dogs are well behaved enough to fit right into my chaotic life with teens in the house. My dogs know (and perform for treats) basic commands but can be a touch forgetful of them when they want to be, especially Nala, my three-year-old pit-bull mix. But her obnoxious works for us. She likes to sit on laps, shove herself into conversations, beg for food, and hog attention. So…yes, while I have the experience, when writing scenes from characters’ points of view who are great trainers like Kurt Crawford in Sit, Stay Love and Tess Grasso in My Forever Home, I feel like just a touch of an imposter.
What drove you to be a writer?
As a kid, I had an active imagination and was always daydreaming and making up stories. I also loved to read and was hardly without a book. It wasn’t until I was graduating college with a BS in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Conservation that I had the idea to write down one the stories that was going through my mind. After so much science and math in college, the idea of creative writing was appealing, but I had no idea how to do it. My first manuscript took years to complete, but I learned a lot about writing in the process. I also fell in love with creative writing. That first novel wasn’t sellable (by any measure), but I enjoyed the writing process enough that I kept on writing in my free time while raising my kids and, at times, managing a full-time job.
By the time I got serious enough about writing for publication and had learned what I needed to learn to produce something publishable, I had quite a few roughly completed manuscripts and had been writing for over a decade—not a quick or easy path to publication by any measure. But I have no regrets. Over the years, I honed certain skills that make writing at the pace I’ve been maintaining for the last few years easier. I also took long enough getting published that I had become very sure that it was what I most want to do with my life.
Do you watch four-legged movies if you know they will tug at your heart, or do you simply avoid them?
I definitely watch them, and try to read the books beforehand, though sometimes I put off doing so until I’m in the mood for a good cry. Old Yeller was the first movie I saw as a kid that made me really bawl (who didn’t?) and a story I never forgot. I wanted that dog to live forever. Same with My Dog Skip. More recently, I loved reading Art of Racing in the Rain and can’t wait to see the movie, though Marley and Me is a personal favorite.
I love Marley and Me (both the book and movie!
You recently had an amazing announcement in Publisher’s Weekly! How exciting, but a lot of work. How will you tackle such a large project?
My recent four-book deal with Sourcebooks was split between two in the Rescue Me series (which was extended from the previously contracted six books to eight) and two stand-alone Women’s Fiction novels. I’m excited and thankful and a touch daunted! Over the last three and a half years, I’ve completed five Rescue Me manuscripts, and I now have writing contracts for five more that extend just beyond when my youngest child graduates high school in three years from now. And I have day job!
Gosh! I have a day job too! It makes our plates very full!
This pace has only been manageable because I love to write. I love to create fictional characters, create havoc in their world, and watch them muddle through to their happily ever afters. Writing at this pace can be a challenge, but not only is writing my passion, I also recognize it’s a tough business. I’ve been at it long enough to have seen several writers’ ups and downs in their careers, and I’m thankful to have this opportunity. I’m also energized by so many great fans who have been loving the series and are so supportive and encouraging as they await the next release.
Then, too, I have other hobbies like gardening, hiking, and hanging out with my teens, friends, and dogs. Making time for things like this that don’t involve sitting at a desk or the use of a keyboard or monitor is essential for keeping burnout at bay. I’ve also gotten into the habit of meditating (almost) daily. Through this practice and a yoga class or two each week, I feel like my creativity and energy are refreshed enough after a day of work to be able to write a few hours several nights a week and the majority of one weekend day as well. I try to take a full day off from the computer each weekend, though when I’m tight on a deadline that’s not always possible. When it’s all said and done, the only way I meet deadlines is because, in each and every manuscript, I fall in love with my characters (two and four-legged) and get great satisfaction in completing the project.
Thank you, Debbie, it’s been a pleasure to learn more about you and your stories.
Be sure to add Debbie’s Rescue Me series to your Goodreads list. The fourth book in the series, Love at First Bark is available on Tuesday! (July 30th). Love at First Bark is a second-chance romance for humans and dogs alike that celebrates the beauty of love that’s meant to last forever.