Local author Bobbie Pyron wins awards from the Dog Writers Association of America
Park City-based author Bobbie Pyron said her children’s novel "A Dog’s Way Home" is a personal love letter to Shetland sheep dogs and the classic dog adventure tales like "Lassie, Come Home" and "The Incredible Journey."
"Those stories meant so much to me as a child," Pyron told The Park Record. "When I was growing up, I was really shy and my best friends were books and dogs and those movies."
The book, which was published in 2011, is about a girl and her Shetland sheep dog, who share an amazing bond.
"They are coming home from an agility competition, 400 miles from where they live, and they get separated in an accident," Pyron said. "The book covers the next six months as the dog attempts to return home to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The girl is holding strong to her beliefs that he is coming home, even though others tell her to give up."
The story struck a nerve with the Dog Writers Association of America. It honored the book last week with the Maxwell Medal of Excellence for Children’s Literature and the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award during its annual banquet in New York.
The Dog Writers Association of America, sponsored by the American Kennel Club, was established in 1935, in New York City. The organization’s goal of encouraging quality writing about dogs hasn’t changed throughout the decades, and has continued to keep the writing competition open to all writers, amateur and professional, alike.
Pyron, who works as a librarian for the Salt Lake County Library System, heard about the competition and asked her publisher (Harper-Collins) to submit the book for the Children’s Fiction category.
"A lot of the award categories are for newspaper and magazine articles and so forth, but they do have some categories for fiction," she said.
The association notified Pyron in November that the book was a finalist for the Maxwell Medal, named after the late Maxwell Riddle who worked as a syndicated columnist who wrote about dogs for the Cleveland Press.
"The awards banquet was Feb. 12, and I went to New York City for the event, which is kind of the kick-off for the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show," Pyron said. "That’s when I found I won the medal, and then they announced the Merial Award, which was a big surprise to me, because I had no idea the book was considered for that award."
The Merial Human-Animal Bond Award honors writing "that best highlights the unique relationship between a dog and its owner and best brings to life the concept of the human-animal bond," according to the Dog Writers Association of America category rules.
"These mean a lot to me coming from peers who are just as passionate about dogs as I am," Pyron said. "They received more than 500 entries for all the different categories this year, and it was a big deal kind of like the National Book Award for dog writers."
Although Pyron previously wrote a teen book about amateur boxing called "The Ring," "A Dog’s Way Home" is her first about animals.
"When I started writing ‘A Dog’s Way Home,’ I wanted to celebrate the Shetland Sheep Dog, or as we call them, Shelties," she said. "I’m a Sheltie person and have two that I adopted from Sheltie Rescue Utah."
Pyron said she is passionate about the breed.
"Other than being Celtic in their origins they come from the Shetland Islands in Scotland they are extremely smart and known for their loyalty and they are tough little dogs," she said. "In fact, when I was trying to sell my book, before I got my agent, someone said they loved the story and that I was a terrific writer, but also asked me to change the dog to a golden retriever, because, he said, no one knows what a Shetland sheepdog is.
"I just couldn’t see a golden retriever making his way through 400 miles of wilderness, because a golden retriever would find the first person who crosses its path and would go, ‘Oh, gosh, you want me,’" Pyron said with a laugh. "The Shetland sheepdog is the opposite. They bond with their person like no other breed I have seen, and my obsession with Lassie when I was little had something to do with my feelings, too."
Pyron also wanted to set the book in the Appalachian Mountains, because she loves the music and culture.
"There is something magical about it," she said. "There is such a strong heritage of music and family and love of the land. There is a strong connection between the people and their animals and their land, and I’m sure that idea comes from the people who moved from Scotland and Ireland to settle in the area. Again, you get that strong Celtic and spiritual connection.
In addition to being recognized by the Dog Writers Association of America, "A Dog’s Way Home" is also going to be published in Poland, Germany and Russia, Pyron said.
"My agent just sold the foreign rights, which is really exciting, and a paperback and audio book will come out this summer," she said. "We also sold the film-option rights for the book, and if a film is made from the book, the soundtrack has the potential to be amazing, because the book contains a lot about the music of the area. In fact, the girl’s father is musician."
Not one to rest on her laurels, Pyron is working on a new book, called "The Dogs of Winter" that will be released in October.
"It’s very different than ‘A Dog’s Way Home,’ because it’s a fictionalized story based on true events and takes place in Russia in the mid 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union," she said. "It’s about a young boy, who like thousands of children, lived on the streets of Moscow after the change in the government."
The boy survived for two years living with a pack of feral street dogs, and the book is about those two years, Pyron said.
"The real child was four years old at the time, but I made the character just a little older," she said. "The book is being published by Scholastic, which publishes the ‘Harry Potter.’ series."
Pyron wanted to write another dog book because she loves the fact that dogs in general are non judgmental.
"They love you no matter if you’re a published author or not," she said with a laugh. "I think they’re great teachers of unconditional love and living in the moment. I learn so much from them every day."
She also loves the response she gets from readers.
"Writing is a lonely job because you spend so many hours sitting in front of a computer living in this whole fictional world with these fictional people," she said. "What makes it worthwhile is that I get emails from children who have read ‘A Dog’s Way Home.’ They tell me how much they love the book and tell me how much they love their dogs. Sometimes they’ll send me pictures of their dogs or of them reading my book.
"Just knowing someone is hugging the book and saying they love it makes all those hours and rejections, before I found my agent, worth it," she said. "I love connecting with those readers."
For more information about Bobbie Pyron, visit http://www.bobbiepyron.com .
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