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Ann Garvin's latest novel explores complex relationships and drooly dogs
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BOOKS | ANN GARVIN

Ann Garvin's latest novel explores complex relationships and drooly dogs

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It seems cliché to say that a book has “everything,” but there is a lot going on in Ann Garvin’s latest novel “I Thought You Said This Would Work,” which takes place partly in the author’s home town of Madison and on a cross-country road trip.

As one friend, Katie, is hospitalized with relapsing cancer, her two other best friends (though themselves not currently friendly) agree to travel to California and drive back Katie’s long-lost dog who is currently housed at a shelter. Garvin, who is a former UW-Madison professor, has written five novels, and “I Thought You Said This Would Work” was released in trade paperback on May 1.

Q: There are multiple themes in “I Thought You Said This Would Work”: friendship, adventure, loss and loneliness. What inspired you to write it?

A: I think there is probably a simple and very complicated answer.

I see the world as funny and sad. I thought I was writing this kind of funny send-up when you stick two friends — who loved each other once but now don’t even like each other anymore — in a car with a really drooly dog. But, once I got into writing this book, I saw that this was a deep exploration of how friends are made and what glue keeps them together.

I love a good weirdo and because of that, relationships can get complex. I love to write about these complexities. It’s what makes life interesting.

Q: Talking about weirdos, I was hoping you could talk about the function of the character Summer. The two women from Madison meet her on the plane, and she randomly joins them on their cross-country trek while also doing things like renovating their camper and analyzing their auras. She’s described at one point as a mix of “teen girl, part wise elder.”

A: When I sold this book, Summer wasn’t even in the proposal. Once I started writing, she showed up, just like a stranger on a plane does. They sit down, strike up a conversation and before long you are in a journey with them. This book is about two former best friends on a mission, but no reader wants to spend a whole book sitting with two women who are mad at each other. I needed a foil flexible enough as a character that she can be both friend and foe for the two main characters.

Q: The book takes place both in Madison and California. Do you live in Madison but also spend time in L.A.? What is your connection to the two settings?

A: I spend a lot of time writing in L.A. It’s really hard to write funny when it’s gloomy and snowy out in Madison. This is the one of the first times that I’ve had characters move cross country. The characters are deeply Midwestern and setting them against the backdrop of California and Hollywood was a great juxtaposition.

Q: A central character in this book is a dog, but not just any dog, a diabetic Great Pyrenees named Peanut. Do you have a big dog like this?

A: I don’t. My dog is a tiny nervous thing. I needed a really, sloppy, bath towel of a dog for the book. A charming, hairy dog with a big smile and a wonderful personality. A Great Pyrenees is the perfect dog for this.

Q: This book tackles big issues of cancer, abuse and depression in honest but not overly heavy ways. Was that a goal?

A: Conquering big, hard topics with humor and humanity is the goal of all of my writing.

I don’t believe that hard topics need to be covered with grave language and situations. That’s not life. Life is filled with humor and hardness. With joy and sorrow. I can’t imagine writing in any other way. I want people to feel human and heard when they read my words, and I do this best with a little giggle.

Q: What would you like people to take away from your book?

A: What I really want is for people to feel a little better about being human, even if that means being a little flawed. I want to acknowledge that women derive so much love and satisfaction from their friendships, and we should honor and care for them. I wanted to honor my friends with this book, and hopefully that will resonate.

Q: In going through your website, you seem to have a pretty active blog. Do you find that a good way to stay connected to readers?

A: It has kept people aware that I am out there writing. When I was working full-time at the university and the kids were little and I was a single mother, it took me a long time to get a book out. The only way I could keep in touch with people or keep people interested in my voice was to do a newsletter. I write one blog post per month. It’s been nice. When I first started the blog, each update was like sending it out into a world of crickets. Now I receive some really lovely responses.

Q: How long have you been writing full-time?

A: Just recently. My first career was in nursing, and I have a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and psychology. I taught Health for almost 30 years. Writing fiction is a new-ish career for me. In 2018 I experienced a host of challenges and decided it was time to write full-time. I still teach at Drexel University in their Masters of Fine Arts program, but I teach writing there.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I am writing a book that’s probably going to come out in July 2022. It’s about three women, three different generations, flying to New York City with very clear thoughts of what they’re going to do. They bond on the airplane, in the middle of a blackout, and none of them get what they want, but maybe they get something else. It’s called “Falling In Love Is the Easy Part,” and it’s about falling in love with yourself.

I’m also doing a podcast called “Come Sit by Me” through Speak Studios. It’s for people that have questions, know there are no one right answers, but would like an answer anyway. I’m talking about food, movement, writing and everything that I taught for years and years about health. It’s only five minutes long and has both humor and heart.

Photos: Take a tour of Madison's Little Free Libraries

Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here in 2010 and are now found in all 50 states and more than 85 countries. By one estimate, Madison has more than 400 of the modest neighborhood boxes. Here's a sampling, looking at various parts of the city. See if your neighborhood is represented.

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Little Free Libraries — those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison — launched here eight years ago and are now f…

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Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here eight years ago and are now…

top story
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Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here eight years ago and are now…

top story
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Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here eight years ago and are now…

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Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here eight years ago and are now…

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Little Free Libraries -- those charming boxes of free books with a ubiquitous presence in Madison -- launched here eight years ago and are now…

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