Mia Geiger

The Denver Post
“Marley” author is surprised at ruckus
By Mia Geiger

Often when John Grogan visits bookstores to sign copies of his best-selling book about life with his Labrador retriever, Marley, he has to compete for the spotlight.

Seems people eager to meet the author of “Marley & Me” bring along not only a copy of the book but also their own dogs, some of whom attract more attention than the newly popular author.

“One dog jumped up on a big table, knocked the table over, knocked my water over, just to lick me all over,” Grogan says of a recent signing.
It’s just another of many unexpected events for Grogan, whose memoir about life with his mischievous-but-lovable Lab rocketed to the top of national best-seller lists faster than a cat scurrying up a tree.

“Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog,” which debuted at No. 10 on the New York Times best-seller list in mid-October, has become the top-selling book in the country, with 1.3 million copies in print. Foreign rights have been sold to about 14 countries. Fox 2000 bought film rights to the book for “a substantial sum.” And Grogan is writing a children’s picture book based on Marley to be published next year.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride. A heady, terrifying ride,” says Grogan as he considers his sudden rise to fame.

Little wonder. The author, who just turned 49, wrote the book thinking it wouldn’t be read by a lot of people.

“No one is more surprised than I am at what’s happened with this book,” he says, sitting in his office at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he writes a thrice-weekly column. “I wrote this from my heart. I always saw it as a little story, the story of a fairly typical American family – a young couple trying to figure out what their life is going to be – and they bring this puppy into their life and this rambunctious, out-of-control, exuberant dog changes the equation without them even realizing it.”

A “practice” baby
The yellow Lab, which the couple brought home as a “practice” baby, chewed the couch, swallowed a gold necklace, flunked obedience school. But he lived life with abandon, relishing every moment and showering Grogan and his wife, Jenny, with affection.

Grogan believes it is not just the dog aspect of the book, but the sharing of his and his wife’s experiences as a young couple, including Jenny’s miscarriage and postpartum depression, that resonates with readers.
While the author knew he had a tale to tell, it wasn’t until he wrote a column about Marley dying that he began writing the memoir. The column, which appeared in The Inquirer in January 2004, sparked about 800 people to offer their condolences.

The book has elicited so many e-mails, letters and calls that response to the book has outpaced reader feedback to his columns.

“My comfort zone is being a columnist with my own audience within this region, and everything is changing very rapidly for me,” says Grogan, dressed in a rustic-orange henley shirt, legs crossed in neatly pressed jeans with argyle socks peeking out above black shoes, his eyeglasses twirling quickly from his hand resting on the chair’s armrest.

Instead of going to work, writing his column, then coming home to dinner with his wife and three children, he has makeup artists and fashion experts from People magazine at his house, readying the family for a six-hour photo shoot. Instead of walking in the woods behind his house, he’s jetting around the country on a book tour. Instead of a few calls from friends and neighbors, he’s fielding calls from fans across the country who have found his home phone number and want to chat.

“Seems to be resonating”
The book has sparked something more than just a best-selling book, something more like The Marley Phenomenon. People seek him out, wanting to share their dog stories. Hundreds of people write on his website’s message board. People post lengthy anecdotes and photos of themselves and their dogs on the “Share Your Story” section of his website.

And when fans go to his signings, many bring him gifts, ranging from homemade dog treats, to a hand-sewn kerchief for his new dog, Gracie, to a plastic beach bucket filled with dog toys.

“I tell people do not ask me about advice, but what I can offer is consolation and sympathy for the experience because I’ve been there, and that’s what seems to be resonating with people,” he says. “There’re a lot of people out there with less than the perfect dog. People will tell me, ‘My dog’s worse than yours or is just like yours or not quite as bad.’ They relate.”

Next up for the Detroit native is a memoir of growing up in a “strong Irish Catholic family,” with particular emphasis on the influence of his father, who died in December 2004.

Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.


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