When former newspaper journalist John Grogan sat down to write his first book -- a memoir about life with a lovable maniac of a yellow Labrador retriever named Marley -- he never imagined that he was tapping into a national reservoir of affection for crazy dogs. Marley & Me, published in 2005, spent 76 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list -- 23 of them in the number one slot. The film version, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, opens in theaters on Christmas Day. Ladies' Home Journal recently caught up with the author by phone at his home in rural Pennsylvania.
Ladies' Home Journal: Somehow I feel compelled to tell you about the time our puppy tried to shred my husband's shoe -- while he was still wearing it.
John Grogan: Everybody who has a dog has a story! What's funny is that so many people are clearly proud of how bad their dogs are. [Loud crashing sound interrupts.] Hear that? That's my new puppy, Woodson, picking up his steel bowl and then smashing it onto the floor.
LHJ: Was there something about Marley's absolute joy in being bad that you secretly admired?
JG: Most of us play largely by the rules -- we're responsible employees, spouses, and parents. But I think we all have a little streak in us that says, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could do everything I ever wanted to do without worrying?" Marley didn't care what people thought of him.
LHJ: When did you realize that the story of Marley's free spirit would make a good book? Perhaps the time he dragged that wrought-iron cafe table halfway across a Boca Raton shopping center?
JG: Pretty early in Marley's life I figured out he was good material. I would tell stories about his escapades at dinner parties or at the office, and people would always laugh. But after Marley died of old age, in 2004, I wrote an emotional column about him in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The reaction was so strong -- like 25 times the usual e-mail response -- that it gave me the confidence to see the bigger story. The book isn't just a collection of funny anecdotes about a dog. It's really about the journey we make through life, with our pets at our sides.