|Article Author: Nicole Feliciano|
Alison Pace delivers a perfect summer read for dog lovers by Nicole Feliciano
Alison Pace is 34, single, lives in New York City and has held some glamorous jobs (stints at Ralph Lauren and Sotheby's auction house to name a few). It's no surprise her novels have been lumped into the genre known as "Chick Lit" (think Bridget Jones's Diary orBergdorf Blondes). But don't be too quick to pigeonhole this promising writer. Pace has plenty of dog gifts to offer readers beyond fashion foibles and man troubles. For one thing, she loves dogs.
Dog Lit? It could be a new literary trend. And if it is, Pace deserves to be a founding member. In each of her novels, Pace has applied her talents to developing memorable canine characters.
A literary romp through New York City
Pug Hill, the latest work by Pace, follows the escapades of an unhappy human, Hope McNeill. Hope is a dedicated member of the Metropolitan Museum's artwork restoration team. The job keeps Hope sequestered in a subterranean cave. She rarely has time to look up from the canvas she is repairing to examine the choices that have left her life empty. Hope selects restoration not only because of her love of art, but because at a more subconscious level the job enables her to avoid interacting with others. An unrequited crush on a handsome coworker intensifies the workplace awkwardness for this shy loner.
When she leaves work, Hope drags herself to dates with her uptight and judgmental boyfriend or returns calls to her equally unsupportive mother. Things are looking grim for our heroine: An unsettling work environment, an unsuitable boyfriend and a mother-daughter dynamic that could keep a therapist busy for months.
Let's face it; this girl is in a major funk. Her only brief bouts of happiness occur when Hope heads to Central Park to watch the city's pugs frolic and play. A certain hilly knoll on the eastern side of the park is unofficially designated "pug hill". Owners and their exuberant pups gather at this meeting spot to let the pugs race off some of their chow and be free of the confines of small apartments, dog leashes and the like. Hope connects with the free-spirited pugs she encounters in Central Park and longs to adopt their joie de vivre.
Hope decides to take inspiration from her pug friends and shake things up. Prompted by her promise to offer up a toast at her parent's upcoming anniversary gala, Hope signs up for a public speaking class. This small act gets the ball rolling. Next step? Get rid of the dead-weight boyfriend. Slowly Hope develops a backbone and a pug-like zest for living.
Pace nails the frenetic pace of New York and its pugs in her book. Don't expect huge epiphanies or shocking plot twists — no new territory is covered in the romance department. The themes seem quite familiar: a 30-year-old woman with a successful job who can't find a good man. Thankfully Pace livens up this well-worn storyline with delightful dog characters, which wind up stealing the show. Pace is at her best when fawning over the dogs in the book. Obviously a dog lover, she perfectly captures the cadence and mannerisms of pugs (plenty of other breeds are given their fair shake).
The woman behind the pugs
When I settled in to a Manhattan cafe with Pace to discuss her new book, her love of dogs and the possibility of coining a new genre, she was candid and engaging. With her glossy brown hair swept into a neat ponytail and her twinkly brown eyes she resembled a well-groomed J Crew model.
The amiable young writer shared her career path with me as we sipped tea. After graduating from American University with an Art History degree, Pace found work with some of New York City's most coveted employers. She spent time at Ralph Lauren (she looks the part) working at the flagship Madison Avenue store before moving on to Sotheby's. Though the world of fashion and art entertained her for a while, she felt she had a novel brewing inside of her.
While working at a downtown art gallery, Pace started to feed her desire to write. During breaks from work, she penned chapters of her first novel and then e-mailed them to her home computer. When she was let go from her position at the gallery she took a chance. Rather than brushing up her resume, she decided to complete the novel (If Andy Warhol had a Girlfriend) and find an agent.
Now a full-time novelist, Pace fills her day with work she loves. She has found that one of her favorite subjects — dogs — seems to deeply touch her audience. The author confides that she and her character, Hope, share a few traits: fear of public speaking, distastes for certain body parts, and a love of dogs. Pace tries to keep office hours when writing, putting in 8-hour workdays when she's in what she terms, "full novel mode". Yoga and dog watching provide welcome breaks from time at her computer.
Writing about the relationship between pet and human comes naturally to Pace. Growing up in Long Island, Pace was surrounded by canine love. Her family usually had four or five furry members of the family at any given time: Boston Terriers, Jack Russells, Mastiffs, and Shar-Peis to name a few. While she would hesitate to disparage any breed, Pace tells me her current favorite is the pug. "They're so interesting and charming," says Pace, "Plus, they make great city companions." When describing dogs, her writing has fluidity and grace.
In If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend, dogs are prominently featured. Set in the art world, the story line involves a miniature Schnauzer. Pace recalls a chapter dubbed "Pass the Schnauzer" as her favorite part of the book. Her publisher and editor were pleased with the début performance and offered her a second deal.
There was an actual, though unofficial, pug hill in Manhattan's Central Park until recently. For years the pugs and their owners gathered informally, but the fun was brought to an end when recent leash laws prevented the free rein of pups. Pace admired the pugs and made friends with some of the owners. Now those friends are coming in handy. Zoë, a friend's pug, provides a plug for the Pug Hill on Pace's website www.allisonpace.com. "Pug people are so welcoming and embracing," says Pace.
Fans are welcome to share in Pace's world by viewing her website to check out her comings and goings between publications. She responds to most emails and updates her blog two to three times per week.
Friends and work keep the author busy, but Pace admits one thing is currently missing from the equation: a dog. She's promised herself that she'll relocate to a dog-friendly building in the next few months and finally get a pug.
Until she's ready to take on housebreaking a puppy, she's keeping busy working on a third novel (tentatively titles Through Thick and Thin). It's a safe bet there will be tail wagging involved in that plot too.