EllenCooney

The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances is my ninth novel. My life in fiction officially began with the publication of Small Town Girl, in 1983. Since then I’ve published with big, small, and university presses, plus an adventure in e-publishing with my eighth novel, Thanksgiving. My short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and many literary journals, but I haven’t done any stories lately. With my last several novels, each time I finish, I feel I want to write stories again, but then I start missing the thing of a long haul and find myself itchy to start a new one.

I was born in Clinton, Massachusetts in 1952 and lived for many years in Boston and Cambridge. I taught creative writing at Boston College, Northeastern University, the (former) Seminars at Radcliffe, Harvard University Extension and Summer School, and most recently at MIT, where I had a long, excellent gig as a writer in residence in the writing program. My life in books and writing has also included jobs as freshman comp teacher, copy writer, freelance journalist, film reviewer, bookstore clerk, and even, way back in the day, as an assembly-line packer for a book manufacturer in my home town.

As I like to say at my public appearances, and to anyone who asks about my career, “I’ve been around.” I was a child and adolescent poet and playwright. My first poem was published in a local paper when I was eight and then I just kept going. My schools put on my plays as a matter of routine. One year, in high school, when I’d been feeling a little lazy, I was insulted to discover a Thornton Wilder play might end up being chosen for a yearly drama thing, but it got me to hunker down and write a new one. I finally began writing fiction as a graduate student in English at Clark University in Worcester, MA, working on a thesis about Virginia Woolf, which I needed to take a break from. I was supposed to go on from my master’s to a Ph.D. in literature and a career as an academic who also wrote plays and poetry: my old fantasy.

But fiction took over. I don’t feel I “found it.” It was more that it just happened. I didn’t even know what I was doing when I started writing a semi-autobiographical piece about a girl obsessed with bomb shelters in the Cold War days of my youth, but it became that first novel. Sometimes I think I became a fiction writer after eliminating poet, playwright, and academic, as if the whole thing were logical. Mostly, I think I became a fiction writer because fiction is where you get to do everything, and that’s what I hope shows most in my work.

I write fulltime now and live in mid-coast Maine. I welcome inquiries and comments from book groups and readers of all sorts. One of my greatest pleasures is finding email from someone who just read one of my books and wanted to say they felt moved, or inspired, or connected, or less lonely or misunderstood, or even upset about a turn of a plot or something I described.

Now that Mountaintop is making its way in the world, I especially welcome comments from people who share my experience of living with animals who were rescued from lives of neglect, abuse, tragedy. My own three dogs inspired me to write about the profound and life-affirming things that happen when humans have the chance to truly connect with animals: comedy, really, because comedy is the opposite of the tragic. My dogs drive me crazy at least once a day. But they make me laugh a whole lot more, and while I hope and trust they’ve forgotten their earlier experiences of being in terrible situations, I never stop remembering that at any given moment, somewhere, for every animal being loved by a human, another is being hurt by one. I like to think it’s not a mere fantasy that maybe a reader or two of Mountaintop will want to go to a shelter and bring home a homeless pet.

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