A Dog Named Christmas
by Greg Kincaid
As most of you know by now, I am sucker for a good dog story. So when I saw the picture of the black lab on the cover of this book, I knew that I would some day have to read it. My fellow students also know my affinity for dogs, and last week a very kind and anonymous student gave me a copy of the book. What a glorious early Christmas gift. I came home and immediately read this short, yet poignant story from cover to cover.
As an added bonus, the author, Greg Kincaid, was going to be at my local library giving a brief talk and autograph session this past Monday. I managed to rearrange my schedule so that I could attend. What a special evening. I will attempt to give a quick summary of his presentation along with a glowing book review.
First of all, the author graduated from the same high school that my daughter currently attends. I had no idea that he was "local" I knew the story took place on a farm in Kansas, but who knew the farm was so close my "city" --- yes, it cracks me up but the residents here consider Olathe (pronounced O -laa - thuh) the city, with a population of around 125,000. He is a lawyer by day, and a writer at night (and he claims that he has no intention of giving up his day job). The story has evolved over several years, beginning when he married his second wife. They had a blended family and he wanted a story to which all the kids could relate. His own children loved stories about the old family farm, and his wife's children loved dog stories. Greg Kincaid does a lot of legal representation of children with disabilities, so Todd was a logical character choice. This blending of story lines to appeal to the masses worked well not only for Kincaid's immediate family, but for all of us as well.
While the story was enjoyed and appreciated by its first listeners, the original ending of the book allowed the father to be "victorious" that is, at the end of the holiday season the dog was returned to the animal shelter. His own children complained so bitterly at this ending that he revised it for the next year's storytelling session.
At first the story was only about a half hour long, approximately 20 pages. When he decided to try to publish the work, he knew that he had to add some details, so he doubled the length. The story was eventually picked up by Capper's magazine. Kincaid later wrote another story and while shopping it around was told that he had a good writing style, but the story was not marketable. He mentioned that he had a "dog story" and interest peaked in the book publishing world. At this point the dog story was 60 pages long, and Random House said they would be interested if he could (yet again) double the length.The book was first published in 2008 with an initial run of about 15,000 copies. It has currently sold between 100,000 - 125,000 copies.
While the book received favorable reviews, some of the more critical notes made mention that the story read like a long Hallmark Card. Well, as it happens, Hallmark's headquarters is located in Kansas City and the author knew several executives there. Using his marketing savvy, he sent a few copies of his book to these friends, mentioned this pervasive criticism, and asked if it might be a good story for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. After much discussion and transferring of books across the country, the one in charge of these kinds of decisions finally agreed with the critics: this is exactly the kind of story that Hallmark would want to produce.
Originally the movie was to air in 2010, but the popularity of the book within the company pushed production to the 2009 season. The story aired on Sunday, November 29 and 20,000 copies of the DVD were released the following Tuesday. All those DVDs were sold in two days - forcing an immediate release of 20,000 more. As of last night (December 7) all those DVDs had been sold and another 20,000 have been produced. This is a story that resonants with a large audience -- not just dog lovers!
One of the most inspiring notes of the evening is the success that animal shelters across the country are experiencing as a result of this book. Hallmark has partnered with Petfinder.com to initiate a holiday adopt a pet program across the country. Initially Kincaid had hoped that 300-400 shelters would participate in the program; currently more than 2,000 animal shelters have signed up, with the goal of offering 1.5 million pets a good home for the holiday season.
The author was asked if he has plans for a sequel. To the delight of all in the room, he is currently working on a Prequel - the story of George circa 1962 when he first brings Tucker home - which is due to be released in November, 2010. He also wants to write a sequel that tells Todd's story after he is hired by the shelter. But, as he told us last night, "I have the setting -- I have the characters -- I just need a plot." Somehow I think this talented author will not have a problem developing a viable plot that all will want to read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is in the mood for a feel good Christmas story that has believable, developed characters who truly care about one another and humanity. Unlike most dog stories, this one has a happy ending where the dog lives in the loving company of his newly adopted family.
If you have not yet purchased your own copy of this heart-warming holiday tale, consider entering my give away for an autographed copy. The contest is open through Tuesday, December 14, 2009.