Friday, June 19, 2015

Ellen Cooney

Ellen Cooney’s ninth novel, The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances, has been recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and many literary journals. A fiction fellow of the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment For the Arts, she was a longtime writer in residence at MIT, and taught creative writing at the Harvard Extension School and Boston College. She lives in Phippsburg, Maine. Visit her website at and her blog at

What are your ties to Maine or the Boothbay Peninsula?

20 years ago I left my old life in Cambridge MA to homestead on the Phippsburg Peninsula--a watery world, where my road is bordered by a large pond and the Kennebec, and Popham Beach is a short drive away. It was supposed to be a getaway place where I could write and read in quiet. But it quickly became my home, as if force of gravity had pulled me here. It's hard for me to believe this now, but in my first few years of life surrounded by woods, I was sort of afraid of the dark and the silence. Now I'm so very much here, I forget what my urban self was even like.

What are the most important themes in your work?

I’ve published 9 novels and lots of short stories, and they’re all different from each other in big ways. I never think consciously of “themes” when I’m working, but I think in all my fiction it’s a big deal that people become willing to take a chance on something they never tried before—maybe it’s a belief, or a hope, or some kind of adventure, either a physical one or an emotional one. Also there’s the power of storytelling, when, if I’m doing my job right, a reader can have the adventure of reading, and it’s the kind of reading where you forget you’re reading, and you’re having your life along with the characters. “Having life” is a pretty broad category for a theme, but that’s my favorite one.

Tell us about the book you will be signing at Books In Boothbay this year.

It’s a novel, The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances, published last years by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and newly out in paperback. It happens at a very unusual sanctuary for rescued dogs in a place that was once a ski resort.  A young woman who actually doesn’t know anything about animals goes up there and---through all sorts of trials and errors—becomes a “dog teacher.” The rescued dogs make up most of the cast of characters, but there are several other humans too, all of whom find themselves with chances to have fuller, more interesting lives. It’s an adventure story.  It’s about making connections and making a future that’s free of awful things that took place in the past. And, it’s often funny and quite dramatic.

What do you hope readers will discover in your latest book?

A good, absorbing read! And, emotional ups and downs and some solid connecting and caring.  And, dogs, dogs, dogs, busily being who they are, while the humans around them are so involved in their rehab and in getting them ready for new lives with humans who won’t hurt them. All the animals are based on dogs I’ve known personally, and I did a great deal of research in training and rescue. What readers won’t discover is violence or graphic scenes of abuse. Rescued dogs can’t tell you what happened to them; they can show you their past hurts through different types of behavior. My book is about the healing part of the process, with all its complications, patience, effort, and triumphs large and small.

What do you feel about the future of our local libraries?

I belong to 2 Maine libraries and I’ve been all over doing readings for many years now, and I can say first-hand I feel happy and optimistic. Our libraries are not only surviving but thriving. I grew up in a Massachusetts mill town without a bookstore—not that my family could afford to buy books. My town’s public library was everything to me. I’ve never stopped feeling grateful and I know I never will. My favorite verb for libraries? Love.

Meet Ellen Cooney and a room full of other authors at Books in Boothbay on July 11!

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