A Conversation with Author Terry Kay about To Dance with the White Dog
Talk show format public discussion of To Dance with the White Dog, with host Rob Neufeld, at Blue Ridge Community College, Sat., June 5, 2010, 9 a.m. Tell friends—it’s being recorded! See full guide by clicking attachment for pdf below.
See Terry Kay's essay, While Reading
• Sam Peek, a.k.a. “Mr. Sam,” “old man that he is”
• Cora, Sam’s recently deceased wife: “Because of her, he had learned to look for the birds” and she “liked him answering birdcalls.”
• Sam Jr., his oldest son
• Alma, his oldest daughter, “We’ll get the doctor to give you something stronger”
• Neelie, Cora’s African American housekeeper and companion: “Don’t you go worrying none…Neelie’s here.”
• Lois, second daughter, living in South Carolina
• Kate, third daughter: “She lived in the house near his plot of pecan trees.”
• Carrie, youngest daughter. “Jesus, Lord…she’d throw her little fit and say she was goin’ run away from home,” Neelie said about Carrie as a child.
• James, youngest son, “an accident of passion, a mid-life surprise”
• Noah, Kate’s husband, who finds the dog.
• Martha Dunaway Kerr, Class of 1915 reunion organizer, “she had been a feisty girl.”
• Hoyt, Alma’s husband, a mechanic
• Howard Cook, a farmer who helps Sam when he gets lost on his drive to the Madison A&M reunion.
An old man’s mind plays tricks. (p. 1) The family gathers around 81-year-old Mr. Sam shortly after the death of his wife, Cora. >> What do younger people know about the minds and memories of older people?
He saw the dog through the window. (p. 25) A white dog, much like the one Cora and he had adopted when they’d married, keeps appearing to Mr. Sam and to no one else. Is it a hallucination? >> “The story is so quiet to begin with,” Terry said in an interview, “and every story, every book has to have a certain contrast to it, a certain tension…I was influenced by the real way that they [Terry Kay’s family] discovered this dog that my father had kept seeing and they couldn’t find at all.”
In mid-morning he saw Kate’s car stop in front of the house and Kate and Carrie, with two of Carrie’s children, rushed into the house. He laughed easily. He knew they had learned of Neelie’s presence. >> Read—Neelie, the Sam family housekeeper, who had taken charge since all but Alma had been little, takes charge again. (pp. 36-40)
About his last novel, The Book of Marie, Kay said, “I have great admiration for many of the books that have been written about African Americans and the Civil Rights movement…There have been very few written by white writers of the South—in terms of fiction. What was it like being a white young man or white young girl in these rural communities during that period just prior to the Civil Rights movement?”
“…and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself…” The Bible was wrong about that. Not at all the way fruit trees behaved. (p. 54)
Kate woke suddenly, jerked from sleep by intuition violent in its power...“What’s the matter?” Noah asked. >> Read—The white dog, surely an apparition, finally proves it’s real, appearing to Kate and Noah at a time of greatest need, for Sam has fallen in his house. (pp. 82-84) >> Do miraculous things happen, especially in times of greatest crisis? Are there rational explanations?
“That a ghost dog, ain’t it?” (pp. 88-92)
“I was right,” [Kate] said mournfully. “It was just like that magazine article said. He’s got no idea what money’s for anymore.” >> Read—Kate and Carrie worry and fuss, and Sam punks them. (pp. 109-111)
He did not write only to tell his daily stories, but to…remember that on exact days, exact events had happened. (p. 96) >> Sam writes in a journal. Does it improve a person’s life to see the course and maybe even the pattern of it by keeping a chronicle?
He found the place he had been with Cora [when he’d proposed], where he could see the water splitting over the shoals. The smell of the water and the moss pads near the water was as sweet as it had been sixty years earlier. (pp. 156-7) >> “When I was working in that scene,” Kay said about Sam’s pilgrimage and flashback, “I was very much aware of the memory moments that must be taking place with him…I long believed that every book I’ve ever read, if it’s worth the tinker’s damn, has got the story of the prodigal son in it, and I look for that when I’m reading.”
“I knew you’d become someone special, and you have, Sam.” “Don’t know how you get that.” “Good heavens, Sam, you’ve been written up lots of times…You’re one of the smartest men in the south when it comes to trees.” (p. 160) >> Martha Dunaway Kerr, toward the end of the book, reveals a new aspect of Sam. Does much about people’s contributions become obscure to others?
I have taken “To Dance with the White Dog” from truth—as I realized it—of my parents. (Author’s Note, p. 179)
The Blue Ridge Book Fest 2010 is sponsored by Blue Ridge Community College, Henderson County Education Foundation, and other generous givers. Visit www.blueridgebookfest.org.
Guide text copyright, Rob Neufeld, 2010