Interview with Leigh Somerville, Author of “It All Started with a Dog”

What are your books about?

Both of my books (IT ALL STARTED WITH A DOG and the sequel ALL GOOD THINGS) center on the character of Rachel Springer and her discovery of love, late in life. The catalyst for this development comes in the form of a stray dog, Ralph, who teaches her about intimacy and attracts friends and romance to her as a result of the opening of her heart.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

I have been a writer all my life and a professional journalist for ten years before the desire to write a long piece of fiction hit. I was doubtful that I could sustain my interest in a project long enough to accomplish a novel, but one day at a time, I did the work. The idea for the plot and characters, themselves, evolved during the writing process.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I was inspired by Jan Karon’s characters and the way they made me feel. As I read, I began to develop friendships with them and enjoyed spending time with them. In response, I started to work with my own character, Rachel Springer, growing her into someone I liked and then watching her friends and community develop around her, each with their own stories.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I am a part of each character, including Ralph, the dog.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite?

Rachel Springer is a 62-year-old single lawyer, living in Washington DC. I admire her ability to be happy alone and yet willing to brave romance late in life. Georgia Payne, her devoted secretary, is the loyal, hardworking employee/friend we all want. Susan, Rachel’s quirky best friend, is the playful woman I wish I were. And the romantic hero, John Turner, is strong and yet sensitive, not afraid to admit his mistakes and allows Rachel to make her own.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

Susan writes poetry on demand at the Eastern Market in DC. She tap dances her way through life but in the sequel faces a challenge that brings her to her knees and shakes Rachel’s belief in love.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I wrote the first draft on both books in about a year each. Rewrites of both took another six months to a year, off and on.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

With the first book, I had no story until the characters began to come to life. With the sequel, I had the story from the first book to begin the process. I write like I live life — one day at a time. No five-year plans or goals in mind. Carpe diem!

Did you do any research for the book?

The “research” for both novels was living life. The novels are set in Washington, DC — specifically Dupont Circle — where I spent three years, working as a legal secretary. The dog in the books was inspired by my own story of finding a dog named Mercy. He did, in fact, change my life and I miss him.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

My characters, while fictional, are like real people to me. They grow as I get to know them. They laugh and cry in response to what their stories toss their way. Each comes from a different place and reacts to the story in very different ways. While Susan tap dances and writes poetry, the homeless mother, Belle, expresses more fear and pain. Hopefully, this collage of characters makes for realistic and well-rounded books that feel like real life to the reader.

Where can we learn more about your books?

From Second Wind Publishing, who published both It All Started with a Dog and All Good Things.

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