Warriors and Guardians of Ga’Hoole fans have a new animal adventure series to sink their teeth into!
When a hurricane forces his family to evacuate without him, Shep the German Shepard is confused. Where is his boy? Will he ever return? And what will Shep do in the meantime, now that the extra bowls of food — not to mention all those tasty things he found in the big cold box — are gone?
Then another dog shows up at Shep’s window and convinces him to escape. There’s food outside, and a whole empty city to explore. Shep just wants to go home . . . but the adventure of a lifetime is just beginning.
“Curl up with your kibble and savor this incredible story of dogs left behind when a hurricane sweeps through their city. The page-turner follows stalwart Shep and intrepid Callie, who despite her ‘yapper’ size is up to her muzzle in courage, as this extraordinary canine duo braves their new environment and forms a new pack. Dayna Lorentz has delivered a book with bite – and a great heart.”
-Kathryn Lasky, Author of the bestselling Guardians of Ga’Hoole and Wolves of the Beyond series
“If a dog wrote a book about the adventures of a dog, it would sound almost exactly like this…”
“[T]he scenes are highly descriptive and the action is steadily paced… Youngsters will appreciate Shep’s scrappiness as he fights off his vicious opponents and will undoubtedly be waiting for the next two installments for the conclusion.”
-School Library Journal
“Lorentz effectively tells her tale from a dog’s perspective… The humor and adventures throughout make this on a page-turner.”
The Dogs of DOGS OF THE DROWNED CITY
Shep the German shepherd is the hero of DOGS. Shep is a young dog who was rescued from a dog-fighting ring and adopted by a boy and his family. They live in an old apartment building in a city near the ocean, but more importantly, mere blocks away from Shep’s favorite place to play: the dog park!
Fun fact: The character of Shep was not always going to be a German shepherd. In my earliest notes, I thought my main character would be a pitt bull/boxer mix, or some other kind of young mutt. But as I thought more about my character, I knew he was a German shepherd. There’s something noble and fierce about the breed that resonated with the dog whose story of survival was developing in my imagination.
Shep was always, however, going to be a rescue from a dog fighting ring. I thought that as an escapee from a terrible life in the fight kennels, he would value his life as a pet in ways that other dogs would not understand.
Zeus the boxer is based on my parents’ dog…Zeus the boxer.☺ Unlike my parents’ dog, though, Zeus is bored by his life as a pet and dreams of going on a thrilling adventure. Until that time, however, he finds excitement playing chase and tackle with his best friend Shep at the dog park.
Frizzle the French bulldog is based on my best buddy, Peter the pug mutt. Frizzle shares Peter’s tough-guy attitude, though my little buddy is more of a cough potato than rough-housing brigand.:) Frizzle may be a small dog, but he would never let that stop him from claiming the best perch in the park.
Kaz, Queen of the Wild Dogs, is a dog wholly formed in my imagination. I imagine her as kind of an all-black German shepherd mutt, maybe with some Rottweiler mixed in. She’s tough and wild and likes toying with her opponents before soundly defeating them in battle to defend her turf.
Callie the pug-mutt is based entirely on my little girldog Kerry, who we think is a pug-Jack Russell terrier mix, or Jack Puggle Terror, as we call it. Callie is a young girldog who was also adopted from the shelter (do you see a trend here?;) and lives in the apartment next door to Shep’s. She is feisty and friendly and her nemesis is the Red Dot! When she appears on the fire escape outside Shep’s window, she leads Shep on the adventure of a lifetime.
Those are the first few dogs you’ll meet in the story. Check out my blog for details on the rest of the characters in The Storm!
Dogs of the Drowned City began for me as a picture in my mind. I saw a dog alone on the streets of a ruined city. This fascinated me because it was so very different than the average animal story—this was not a story of a dog learning to survive in nature, but of a dog learning to survive in the ruins of a human landscape. Primal instincts would have to adapt to modern, unnatural surroundings. However, for a pet, wouldn’t this human world be more familiar than a natural one? Wouldn’t the dog, of perhaps all creatures, be best equipped to survive in such a world? (More on that Thursday!)
As I began to outline this dog’s story, I had to figure out what exactly had destroyed the city and left my dog in its ruins. This involved some pretty morbid thinking, I warn you. I quickly discarded the possibility of some kind of weapon or war—anything that ruined the city in that manner would destroy both humans and dogs. A plague would not necessarily leave my dog alone in the city. But a devastating storm—I realized that a hurricane would drive the humans out of the city, but might leave my dog and those that would form his pack in it. This was unfortunately the case for many dogs during and after Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Many pets were left behind in New Orleans when their owners were forced to evacuate.
The next task was to find a city that faced the risk of devastating hurricanes and faced it often. In an instant, I knew what city to use.
My parents live north of Ft. Lauderdale, which is a city in south Florida. One time, when I was visiting them, I noticed a sign in their elevator listing their designated hurricane evacuation shelter. Underneath the name of the location were the words “No Pets Allowed.” At the time, my parents had Zeus the boxer (he unfortunately passed away in 2010; my parents now have two rescued Boston terriers). I wondered what my parents would do with Zeus if a hurricane forced them out of their home and into a shelter—leave him home alone? Find some inland emergency boarding location? Try to escape the storm by car together? These questions helped pinpoint the setting of Dogs of the Drowned City.
Shep and his family do not live in Ft. Lauderdale. I set the story a little farther south, down the Florida coast, in Miami—albeit in a fictionalized version of the city. What that means is that where the map did not serve my purposes, I changed it. You can do that as a fiction writer. ☺
Why Miami? Well, first of all, Miami actually was nearly destroyed by a devastating hurricane in 1926. A fifteen-foot storm surge left much of the city under water and 125 mile-per-hour winds tore apart buildings. Miami is situated on flat land between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. The only things separating Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean are a few thin barrier islands. On average, the land upon which the city rests is only six feet above sea level. This means that if there were a storm surge of over six feet of water, not including waves, most of the city would be flooded. The city also has a hurricane season, meaning they expect these storms. For this reason, the city has evacuation plans, so Shep’s family would not be shocked when told they would have to evacuate. The city and barrier islands are also riddled with canals and inlets and rivers and waterways. These kinds of facts provided my imagination with a vast playground of possibility.
Once I knew that I needed a storm to destroy my city and that my story was set in Miami, I knew I had to design a massive hurricane. But what constituted a massive hurricane? And how do hurricanes work, anyway?
I started with the basics. A hurricane is a super strong storm system characterized by high winds, violent thunder and lightning, and torrential rain. Another name for a hurricane is a tropical cyclone: the “tropical” referring to the fact that the storms form over warm ocean water in the tropics and the “cyclone” referring to the spinning nature of the winds—hurricanes normally look like a swirl of white cloud around a circular, cloud-free “eye” of the storm. They pose a great danger to coastal regions because they maintain their strength by drawing moisture from warm water. Once a hurricane crosses onto land, it loses its strength.
When I say high winds, I mean high winds! The lowest category of hurricane—a category 1—has sustained winds of more than 74 miles-per-hour, and a category 5 hurricane—the highest category—has sustained winds of more than 157 miles-per-hour. As if the gusting winds and pouring rain of a hurricane aren’t damaging enough, the cyclonic nature of the storm can result in tornadoes. Also, the hurricane’s strong winds can cause storm surges, resulting in devastating floods.
I used storms that actually happened to help design my “perfect storm” for the series. Specifically, the storm that attacks Miami in The Storm is meant to be a combination of Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma, actual storms that tore through Florida in 1992 and 2005.
My storm begins as a Wilma-like storm crossing over Florida from west to east. By the time is reaches Miami, it has been weakened from crossing over land. But instead of passing over Miami and heading north into the Atlantic Ocean like Wilma did, my storm stalls over Miami because of the approach of a second storm—an Andrew-like storm driving west toward Florida across the Atlantic. As the first storm stalls over Miami, it pulls in moisture from the ocean and regains some of its strength. Then the Andrew-like storm approaches landfall in Miami and forces a huge storm surge of water over the land. Finally, the two storms combine into a SUPER STORM!
As I revised The Storm, I created an hour-by-hour chart to keep track of my storms’ progress with respect to the plot. Watch for the different phases of the storm in the story—its arrival, the crossing of the calm “eye” of the storm… I hope you enjoy all the havoc I wreak!
Because I was writing from the point of view of a dog, I knew that some aspects of my writing were going to have to change, but the more research I did, the more I realized that not only my writing, but my entire worldview needed to shift to even begin the process of creating a dog’s perspective on the world.
The first and perhaps biggest change that I had to make was that I had to learn to “see” the world nose-first, meaning I had to think about everything from a scent perspective. Try it yourself—smell your way around your house or room. Try to imagine everything from a scent-first point of view. It’s super hard, but when you do it, the spaces around you change dramatically. Suddenly, your laundry hamper or stinky gym shoes or the garbage is the most interesting thing in the room. Gross, but true. ☺
This is how dogs sense the world—smell-first. Dogs smell MILLIONS of times better than human beings. That’s right, millions. They can smell trace amounts of sugar dissolved in the equivalent of swimming pools of water. They can smell when someone is about to have a seizure. They can smell the difference between one petal of a rose from another because a bee landed on one and left a dusting of pollen. One author posits that they can smell the time of day. How awesome would that be? But what a different way of experiencing the world from our own! For most of us humans, our primary way of experiencing the world is through sight. This bias is evident even in the way we talk about things. When you agree with someone, you might respond, “I totally see what you’re saying, dude.” Would a dog say, “I totally smell you, dog”?
Dogs can also (obviously) see, but they see differently than we do. They see a slightly muted color spectrum because of how their eyes are structured. Dogs’ eyes only pick up blue and greenish-yellow light, so they only see a color when it is in the range of blue or green. They also see “faster” than we humans do, which is why they can catch a flying Frisbee mid-air.
All of this research into how dogs sense the world changed how I wrote my scenes. When I thought about my main character, Shep, interacting with other dogs, I had to think about how he would smell them first, and then see them. What would he be able to tell from the other dog’s smell? I decided that he would be able to tell a lot about him or her—that she was a girldog, that she was a young dog, etc.
Through my research, and using some common sense, I knew that dogs communicate not only through barks and growls, but also through their body language. For example, once Shep saw this girldog, he would notice more than just whether there was a smile on her snout. He would see how the other dog held her tail—was it up and wagging, friendly, or flat and rigid, or between her legs, showing fear? He would notice how the dog held her ears, whether she was crouched down or standing proud.
On the subject of communication, I wanted to capture on the page a uniquely doggy kind of language, a dog-dialect. The book is written from a third-person close point of view, meaning that I tell the story from over Shep’s shoulder. The reader hears his thoughts and the story is told in his voice. I thought of what human words Shep might understand—Go, Car, Walk, etc.—words my own dogs understand. I also thought of how Shep might describe human things that he didn’t know the human words for—what would he call the vacuum cleaner? The refrigerator? A television? What kinds of metaphors would a dog use? Shep might compare something he really liked to a big bowl of kibble with gravy or a squeaky toy. How might he describe something he didn’t like?
Sometimes I had to depart slightly from the dog’s eye view of the world. For example, even though dogs live in a smell-first world, us human readers need some visual details to picture a setting. And so I describe certain locations as a human might experience them—I say what Shep sees around the room, give details of colors he might not really be able to sense. I also made some assumptions in writing the book, like that dogs would know what glass and plastic were. All of these choices required me to balance the authenticity of the “dog’s eye view” against what would best serve the story, and ultimately the reader.
As you can tell, I really got into all this dog research. It’s fascinating! If you’re interested in learning more about how dogs sense the world, check out Alexandra Horowitz’s amazing book, Inside of a Dog. She does a great job of talking about complex science in an easy-to-understand way. Or watch the great NOVA special, Dogs Decoded. You’ll never see your dog the same way again!