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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More Than a Dog’s Life

Local author’s canine hero

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Dogscan bring great joy to their owners, but can they change lives? They do in storybooks, especially the canine chronicle called Sandy & Garbo. According to Milwaukee author Chuck Hajinian, Sandy, the literate and well-spoken yellow Labrador of the title, is an imaginative re-creation of his own dog.


Sandy & Garbo has struck a chord among dog lovers since its publication last summer. Hajinian claims sales of more than 1,400 copies. The book was distributed regionally by Wisconsin Southern News and is on sale at Little Read Book, Martha Merrell’s Bookstore, Oconomowoc Books & Co. and elsewhere. It can be ordered directly from the author at hajinian@yahoo.com.

You were known as an Impressionist painter before you wrote Sandy & Garbo.
I’m a dentist and my background was math and science. In 1990 I was dragged by my wife to the Monet show in Chicago and experienced an epiphany of beauty in the colors of the sunlit canvases. I was so moved that my left brain turned off a little, allowing my right brain to kick in.

And your paintings were exhibited?
I was in several group shows and a very successful one-man exhibition at David Barnett Gallery in 1995. I also exhibited at the Armenian Library and Museum in Watertown, Mass.

What inspired Sandy & Garbo?
Although it was inspired by John Grogan’s best seller, Marley & Me, it’s a unique story. It has a lot of ethnic humor, lots of comedy. Marley & Me has been optioned for a movie by Fox. I think Sandy & Garbo would make a great sequel to it.

Any luck in Hollywood?
I talked to an agent who told me, “I’ve been shopping a Pulitzer Prize-winning book for three years. I can’t sell it. How can I sell yours?”

Describe Sandy.
Sandy is a dog who roamed the neighborhood, getting inside people’s homes, eating their food. We’d get an annoyed phone call, “Your dog is in our kitchen!” and by the time we’d come to claim her, she’d have won the neighbors’ hearts. The lesson I learned from my Labrador is that she doesn’t care about a person’s economic or religious background or political status. She just loved everybody. She broke down the barriers that should shame us all. She viewed each person as special, deserving her attention and interest. Wouldn’t it be something if the whole world had a Sandy, making us feel a neighborly bond?

Sandy & Garbo was published by Dog Ear Publishing, a pay-to-print operation. Why not just take the book to Kinko’s and produce it yourself?
They edited it, helped pick out font styles, set up an ISBN number. They got me into Barnes & Noble online and Amazon and helped me set up a Web site for it. They set up a Google search engine for the book. It’s print on demand. They can run off one copy. If someone orders it, three days later it’s printed and shipped. The one thing they don’t do is market the book for you.

Any advice for writers?
Everybody has a talent for something and all of us should develop that talent. No one will knock on your door and do it for you. You just have to have the courage to put down your thoughts, go with your dreams and not worry about what the rest of the world says. My heroes are the Impressionists, whom nobody liked at the time. Now their paintings go for millions of dollars. The public’s taste is not necessarily the true gauge of what’s good or bad.

Chuck Hajinian | Photo by Don Rask

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