Both Henry and Kate Feiffer make one thing absolutely clear: in real life Henry was never sad, like his character in the new book Henry the Dog with No Tail.
In the book, Henry starts out wanting a tail more than anything. In real life, Henry never missed it. So what if he had nothing to chase? He had nothing that could be stepped on either. And there were rugs and couches and sweaters to chew.
At least so he says, in a voice which sounds remarkably like that of his owner, Kate.
Ms. Feiffer’s latest children’s book comes out this week, and we met author and subject to talk about it on the Oak Bluffs Land Bank property where Kate and Henry have come for morning walks all his life.
Henry made it clear he was well-adjusted and happy, even without a tail. He wagged from the waist down and wore a big doggie grin.
Ms. Feiffer also was happy, although she struggled to get her Henry voice going as she answered questions on his behalf. She’s got to get into channeling her dog’s thoughts, though; starting this week, he will have his own Web site and blog (henrydog.net).
Said Kate-as-Henry: “I was rather annoying as a puppy because I chewed everything. Because it tasted good. They didn’t seem to like that. But I don’t chew things any more and now I’m hoping the sales from the book will buy a new rug and new couch and some new sweaters.”
Then, lapsing into her own voice, “I would leave open [her daughter] Maddy’s sweater drawer by mistake and somehow get in there and know which was the one that someone made for her. Or the rug from my grandmother, the good rug. He targeted the things we care about.”
The idea for the book came to Ms. Feiffer several years ago, a couple of years after she found Henry — an Australian shepherd, born tail-less as part of a New Year’s Day litter almost five years ago — as a result of a story in the Vineyard Gazette
The premise of the story is simple: dog is sad without tail, leaves home to find one, gets one made (by a tailor, of course) and learns through dealing with the complications to accept himself as he is.
“The story came pretty quickly,” said Ms. Feiffer.
Then, realizing she had slipped out of Henry’s voice, she added, “so she tells me...”.
“One thing just led to another. It evolved fairly quickly. It was really fun to write, she says.”
The first draft came together in only a day or two, although there were weeks of tweaking and restructuring after.
The characters were ready made. They are based on real Martha’s Vineyard dogs, and reflect “their real personalities,” Ms. Feiffer said.
Grady the black lab, who is Henry’s best friend in the book, was his real best friend as a puppy. They gambolled in this very place. The same with Pip the pug.
Sadly, both those dogs now have moved on to the big land bank property in the sky, but they are at least fondly remembered. Not so Larissa the snooty poodle.
“She,” said Kate-as-Henry, “was another real dog I met here who wasn’t always so nice to me.”
Indeed, the whole book is as much real as imagined. Even the illustration of Henry’s family looking wistfully out the window as he goes off on his quest for a tail depicts Henry and Kate’s real house and family.
And Ms. Feiffer’s father, Jules, the celebrated cartoonist and illustrator who drew the pictures, went to vast lengths to ensure the cartoon dog looked like Henry.
“My grandfather wanted me to pose,” said Kate-as-Henry. “But I don’t really like to pose. Posies pose. I’m not a posy, I’m a dog.
“So then they had to take pictures of me, so they made me run around for a day while they took pictures. They took movies of me. Then we brought those over to my grandfather’s house so he could draw me.
“He would freeze-frame the movie and draw from those. They look pretty much like me. He even got the blue eyes.”
Indeed he did. And when the book is launched this Saturday at 3 p.m. at Riley’s Reads, people will be able to make their own comparisons, for Henry will be there. And there will be tail drawing competitions for the kids. And tailless dog cookies. And Ms. Feiffer reading from the imagined story about her real dog.
Kate and Henry Feiffer will read and sign copies of Henry the Dog With No Tail tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Riley’s Reads and next month, Saturday, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m. at Bunch of Grapes. Both bookstores are in Vineyard Haven.