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Interview with Barbara Lampert, Author of Charlie: A Love Story

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Barbara Lampert is a marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships. She’s been in private practice in Brentwood, California, for more than 20 years. She considers her work a calling and loves what she does. She has a doctorate in medical sociology and two master’s degrees – one in psychology and one in sociology.

Barbara has adored dogs her whole life. They’re her passion! She notes that for a lot of people, their dogs are their best friends. She loves helping people know that’s ok – that a soul-satisfying relationship may be found with any being and needs to be treasured.

Besides her love of dogs, Barbara is an avid gardener and finds herself gardening in much of her spare time. She sees her garden as a work of art. She loves being in nature – the miracle of growth, the ever-changing landscape, its beauty. Today Barbara lives happily in Malibu, California with her husband David (married 28 years!) and their six-year-old Golden Retriever, Harry. Barbara hopes that Charlie: A Love Story will be a tribute not only to a magnificent dog but to all dogs everywhere.

Could you please tell us a bit about your book?

Charlie: A Love Story tells of the beautiful love between Charlie, one of my Golden Retrievers, and me. It takes place in Malibu, California. When Charlie turned 11 years old and started having some health problems, a journal I was keeping about my garden quickly became mostly about Charlie.

Charlie: A Love Story is an intimate look at an incredible connection between a canine and a human. And as a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, I bring that sensibility and understanding to Charlie’s story as well.

Charlie was my loyal confidante and best friend. He was indomitable, had an uncanny emotional intelligence and a zest for life.

Charlie: A Love Story is about devotion, joy, loss, and renewal, about never giving up or giving in. But mostly it’s about an extraordinary dog and an extraordinary relationship.

I’m always interested in how authors come up with titles and what to put on their book covers. How did you decide on your title and what to use for your cover?

The first title, Charlie and Me, came to me almost instantly. But when John Grogan published Marley and Me in 2005, that first title had to be dropped. After that, it took me a long time to get to Charlie: A Love Story. At first, I jotted down almost every possible title that came to mind. Then I decided that, because my book is primarily Charlie’s story, his name should be the first word in the title. So that part was settled, but of course there still were numerous other possibilities.

This “title search” lasted at least two years! In the meantime, my book was being edited by a number of different editors. So I wasn’t delaying anything by not having a title. Then as the deadline for deciding on a title approached, I listed my five favorites and asked various people their preferences. It was only then that I settled on Charlie: A Love Story. No other title came close to fitting my primary objectives of emphasizing Charlie but also indicating the importance of our relationship. So that became my title. In retrospect, I think I needed to go through this circuitous process in order to feel confident of my choice.

For the front cover, I knew I wanted a big picture of Charlie – bigger than life, just like him. But at one point I came close to substituting the picture of Charlie and me that’s on the back cover. That was because some people said that, because my book is a love story, it would be good to have the two of us on the front cover. But that wasn’t my first instinct. As I said, my book is primarily the story of Charlie. I’m just the reporter. I had a picture of Charlie in his prime that clearly shows his strength and vitality. So that’s what I chose.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt that you would like to share from your book?

“Charlie’s a big dog, not just physically but in every way. He has a big heart, a big smile, lots of courage, a big appetite, and a great, big, generous spirit. Charlie’s the emotional core of our family, the most solid being I have ever known, and wise beyond his years. Charlie and me. It’s a great love affair, a once-in-a-lifetime connection.”

What are some of your favorite ways to promote your work?

I love book signings, where I get to speak with people at some length and hear their wonderful stories about their animals, particularly their dogs.

That’s also happened at times as I’ve handed out the five-by-seven-inch postcards I had printed. I suppose that, as in all aspects of my life, I prefer personal interaction as I promote my book. As a psychotherapist, I’m most comfortable relating with people one-on-one. However, I’m just starting a blog tour, which I think may also be fun. I’m hopeful that I’ll be reaching a lot of people and getting feedback from a variety of sources, which could be very rewarding.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

To begin with, I’m not a writer by profession, so I need to fit my writing into my day. Also, I’m the type of person who writes only when the mood strikes. So I don’t have a typical writing day. For a few years, while I was journaling about my garden and Charlie, I was writing every day, no matter what, but once I began working on turning my journal entries into a book, my new writing became much more sporadic. When I do write, it’s usually in the back room of our house or in my psychotherapy office – places that are very quiet and beautifully decorated, with comfortable chairs, places where I know I won’t be interrupted. All of which are very important features for me. I often write on a yellow legal pad, though lately I’ve begun to use my computer. My favorite medium remains my yellow legal pads, though.

What are some ways that you like to relax?

I love to play with my dogs, to garden, to read, and to write. All of which to varying degrees I’ve been doing my whole life.

Playing with my dogs is the most relaxing, soul-satisfying fun I can have. With a Golden Retriever, much of that fun revolves around a ball. We have hundreds of balls in our home: balls of all shapes, balls of all sizes, balls of all colors – particularly balls that make noise and that are soft, light, and rubbery. While we play inside the house, the most fun is playing ball outside in the garden, along its many meandering paths. That’s the best! But I also love being with all dogs, feeling their very pure, good energy. At their core is love, that’s what they’re all about. And that they want to connect so much warms my heart.

Gardening brings me so much satisfaction, particularly because I have two very green thumbs. Just natural, never been taught. Though when I was a little girl I very closely watched my mother, from whom I got the gardening bug and who also had a green thumb. She was happiest in her garden and could make anything grow. When I garden, I lose track of time and focus intently, totally in the moment.

And I love being outside, in nature. I love designing gardens, considering all that goes into finding the exact right spot for a plant or tree – color, shape, size, lighting, soil conditions, and more. But I even like the more mundane tasks, like raking and watering. I feel very lucky that in gardening I have such a simple activity that makes me so happy, relaxed and content.

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, I used to wonder how I’d be able to read all I wanted to in one lifetime. I turn to books not only to relax but also to learn and at times for comfort.

I find writing very cathartic. It helps me clarify what I’m thinking. Many times I experience a sense of release. It’s also such a peaceful, calming activity.

What author/s do you think are overlooked in the writing/reading world today?

If there is any group of authors I think is overlooked, it may be authors who write within the world of psychology. Some are very good and don’t engage in the psychobabble typical of that world. For example, I think Irving Yalom is a very good storyteller. His book Love’s Executioner, which tells of 10 case studies, is excellent. I also like the work of Judith Viorst, particularly Necessary Losses. What a great title! It’s a book that has helped so many people and is quite poetic.

What author would you most like to meet and why?

That’s a simple question for me: Anne Tyler. I just love her writing – I’ve read all 19 of her novels. I think she knows human nature at least as well as any psychologist I’ve ever known. Her sense of humor is so dry, her writing so quirky and unpredictable, and her stories are so wildly imaginative. From the mundane in life, she fashions stories that keep me at the edge of my seat. I never want her books to end. I remember taking such a long time to finish Ladder of Years, knowing that it would be at least another year before I could feast on her next book. I’d love to talk to her, get a glimpse of how she comes up with her stories.

Though you asked for one favorite author, I can’t end this response without mentioning Hermann Hesse. I think he’s the quintessential storyteller. Although I hardly ever read a book twice, I’ve read what I consider his masterpiece, Narcissus and Goldmund, three times. Such a profound depiction of a relationship. I would have loved to have met him and witnessed what must have been a very complex mind.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with readers?

I’m thinking about writing a book about my gardening experiences: the life lessons that come from the garden, the various thoughts that occur to me even after a short time there. As I’ve already indicated, gardening is an activity that energizes me, allowing my mind to range free.

What is something about yourself that would come as a surprise to many people?

That I am an introvert at heart. Despite my profession and my social nature with friends, I really am quite shy around people I don’t know, and I’m certainly not one of those who likes talking to groups. In those circumstances, I’m almost always quiet, preferring instead to observe and listen. I think that people I know well, including my patients, would never guess this about me. But after much soul-searching, I’ve come to accept this aspect of myself without wishing I could change. And I help other introverts accept themselves and not think something’s wrong if they need to recuperate after going to a party or prefer to be by themselves.

Although I suppose it wouldn’t be considered surprising that someone who likes to read, garden, and write might tend toward introversion.

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About Tracee Gleichner

  • Barbara Lampert

    Thank you so much!

    Barbara Lampert