Wednesday, October 9, 2013


...Such is the nature of DOPS, or The Days of Pilothead Sound, as the series is called, though some people think the "D" is for "Dogs", since that's the name of the first book, The Dogs of Pilothead Sound. In truth, there wasn't meant to be more than one volume in the series, but we all know how that went, since we're currently at five and counting!

  For those of you new to the series, DOPS is a story of ordinary people who turn out to be extraordinary, extraordinary people who turn out to be ordinary after all, and animals who everyone thinks are ordinary, but somehow never are. Though the first book is set mostly in Maine with flashes over to an alternate setting in Bolivia, the series ultimately visits many countries in addition to the Americas, though familiar locations and characters are never abandoned.

  What is DOPS about? In a nutshell, it's an adventure series, though it has dashes of other genres (most of 'em, in fact) as well. It starts out with one man's determination to haul himself out of a bad case of artist's block which leads to one life-change after another, culminating in a scenario he would never have imagined in his wildest Edgar Rice Burroughs-type dreams. The people that he meets in the course of this journey are every bit as important as he is himself; he is only the starting point and, as he finally realizes, the catalyst to setting in place a number of seemingly impossible goals and manifestations.
  I'll say right up front that the books aren't for everyone; they're literature rather than quick-read fiction of the sort that's so popular these days. The language of the narration is at times archaic, as it would be right around the turn of the 20th century; but that gives it a whimsy all its own if you're willing to stick with it, and it certainly isn't without its moments of absurd humor. The attention given to character development is paramount, as is the delving into what those characters believe and why they do--or neglect to do--various things.

  The books are modeled after classic adventure series of the 19th/20th century, and it requires an investment of time and patience to get through them, though only the first is a bit slow in getting to the action...well, if you call driving off a bridge and encountering a pack of dogs who obviously have their own culture and digging pieces of a murder victim out of a cistern "slow". The writing has been compared to that of James Michener, Jean Auel, Ken Follet and Gary Jennings; I tend to think a mix of John Steinbeck, H.P. Lovecraft, and Albert Payson Terhune is more like it, as their voices and styles are a bit less modern.

At any rate, the first four published books of DOPS are as follows:

D1: The Dogs of Pilothead Sound
D2: The Song of Pilothead Sound
D3: Night-Trails Through Pilothead Sound
D4: Espiridion

  Currently being worked on are the following:

D5: Psalmsinger
D6: Lammergeier
D7: Camerlengo

  As you might gather from the titles, the first three are set primarily in Pilothead Sound, which is a quaint if touristy town with several districts (Greenleaf, Tidewater, Chapel) and earns most of its dollars from dog-related activities and the hiring out of its pilot boats with their Canine Rescue League. Also present, however, are glimpses into an alternate location with a parallel storyline in the Amazon Basin; as the series progresses the two storylines slowly merge.

  Assuming you're familiar with the series already, you might be wondering how DOPS got its start: Well, the whole adventure began with the glimpse of a Poodle out my bedroom window--! But, that's the truth of it; I was vacationing with my parents in Fenwick Island, DE, back in 1996. We stayed in a one-storey cottage up on 5' stilts; "Bauer House", I called it, after its owner. We rented Bauer House after Clark's Cottage, upon which the "Dancing Sailfish" of Sandpiper Beach in DOPS is modeled, was no longer available (it was ultimately torn down to make way for a mcmansion--appalling and sad). But, back to the Poodle.

  Another cottage stood next to ours, owned by a woman whose name I only recall as being "Jane" because she did rather resemble the Jane I best remember, Jane Goodall the Magnificent. Many fascinating things happened over at Jane's, such as the night when two-giant-mountain-men-who-were-twins played the fiddle until the wee hours of the morning. But, it was the visiting Poodle who got my attention.

  Jane had a small side deck, plain board with a white-painted railing; and there one breezy afternoon lounged a Standard Poodle, of the coat-coloration known as "parti-"; he was sandpiper-brown for the most, but with splashes of auburn, amber and salt & pepper  all through his curls. He wasn't a young dog by any means, nor was his coat particularly well-kept; he was in a freestyle summer-clip, and very content as he lay there with his wonderful liver-colored nose testing the roiling breezes.

  I alas had no camera; but it was an easy image to remember, and I did a sketch later which I still have somewhere squirreled away. I thought, If this were my dog, I would name him 'Sanderling', after the spritely brown and sand-colored water birds that poke and dodge along the water's edge. The title Sanderling of Pilothead Sound came to me in a chunk, as titles often do; it was a children's picture book that I anticipated, with watercolor plates. And, it was not to be, at least not yet.

  When I returned to my rented cabin in Scientists' Cliffs, I thought of getting to work on "Sanderling" but another title persistently nudged it out of the way; and that title was The Dogs of Pilothead Sound. Well, alright; so there were to bemore mutts than the Poodle alone. I myself had an Adirondack Dog, Mira, who of course is the matriarch of the Shoreland Pack in DOPS, and whom we meet in the intro of D1. But, it wasn't until 1998 that I actually began work on DOPS, and I began with sections that had to do with Cato and Jon, with nary a pooch in sight.

And the irony of it is that here I am fifty pages into the writing of DOPS V (which my circle of intimates and I simply label "D5"), and there STILL is no Sanderling! Oh, there's a Poodle, mind you, but his name is "Josta", short for "Jostaberry", and Cass is his Person. In fact, there are several noteworthy Poodles, Typhoon, Thunder and Raine, but still no Sanderling. Ah, well, I'm not worried; I'm sure he'll be along eventually!

  So, there you have the beginning of it, for what it's worth; each of the characters has his/her own little story of creation, but that's for a different entry, as I'm able to pull together more details from memory fragments (Abel, for example, started out as a mere reference to a cruise ship captain named "Captain Cruz" in what was previously-written material that will probably wind up in D6 or 7). May we enjoy the unlikely continuity of it all!