2007_08_arts_rkb.jpg35-year-old Alison Pace has made a career out of thoughtful chick lit novels set in New York, where man's best friend (dogs), not girls' (diamonds), play the key role. From dogs getting fed at the dinner table and treated, literally, like family, to DB Sweeney, the dachsund (named after the actor) companion of her third and latest novel, Through Thick and Thin, who captivates lonely restaurant critic Meredith and changes her priorities, Pace makes pets as prominent as her protoganists. Long Island-raised Pace, a contributing editor at The Bark, graduated from American University with a degree in art history, and now makes the Upper East Side her home, which she shares with her two-year-old dog, Carlie. Pace emailed Gothamist about her canine characters, doggie yoga, and Type A dog owners.

Your previous novels, If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend and Pug Hill, each had a single female protagonist, while Through Thick and Thin features two sisters, one a single New York City restaurant critic, and one a married suburban mom. What made you decide to tell two women's stories as opposed to one?
With Through Thick and Thin, I wanted to look at the dynamics of a relationship between two women. I was thinking a lot at the time about how friendships and relationships change in ways that often have very little to do with the way in which two people interact with each other, but rather with how those people adapt to their own changing worlds. And as I started working on the book, I began to feel that the best way to get into the relationship and its issues was to look at it from both women's perspectives.

Was there one of the sisters you were rooting for more? Was it a challenge to evenly represent them? It seemed like Stephanie, whose husband has a painkiller addiction and pretty much ignores her, is lonelier than Meredith, perhaps because she's more isolated in New Jersey while Meredith has so many choices surrounding her.
At first I did have concerns that I wouldn’t represent Stephanie as accurately, as I did feel I could identify with Meredith, the New York City sister, more. But as the novel progressed I did feel very in touch with Stephanie, something I hadn’t expected. While I do feel fondness for both of them, as I get so attached to the characters I write, I actually did feel more sympathy for Stephanie. I felt that Meredith did, as you point out, have so many more options, and so many things ahead of her, while Stephanie, whose life seemed much more settled from the outset, was so much more closed-in by her circumstances. Meredith, in my mind, had much more of a blank canvas in front of her, while I think many people in Stephanie’s situation would feel a certain, if not a complete, obligation to play the cards they’d been dealt. In that way, I guess I did root more for Stephanie, and I was very happy for the victories that did occur in her story.

The settings of your novels play major roles in the characters' lives, from Hope's obsession with Central Park's Pug Hill to the urban vs. suburban clash in Through Thick and Thin. As a New Yorker, was it easier for you to paint the New York scenes?
New York scenes are among my favorite scenes to write. There’s so much there, in every view, so, yes, it was easier, and more natural for me, to do those scenes. Though, with Stephanie, who doesn’t venture out into the world nearly as often as Meredith does, for her various reasons, the focus for me was more about concentrating on her home, and her family dynamics, than on her actual suburban life.

Dogs play a role in each of your novels, with Jane's parents being dog fanatics and having their dog eat at the dinner table in If Any Warhol…, Hope going to watch dogs to cheer her up, and Meredith adopting a dog in Through Thick and Thin only to find instead of wanting to go out, she wants to nest with him. What was your experience like with your dog, Carlie, and why do you think dogs, as opposed to other animals, are so special?
Oh, I could go on here for a while. In terms of my fondness for Carlie, though I’d grown up with dogs my entire life, and while each of those dogs were very special to me, I’d never had the one-on-one experience with a dog. I’d wanted my own dog for a very long time, and looked forward to it greatly, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how head-over-heels in love I would fall with her. I was amazed at first how much having a dog in New York connects you to the city, and to your neighborhood. And I think there are so many special things about dogs that it’s impossible to list them all without my interview getting canned, but to me, dogs are always kind, and loving, and they’re so happy to welcome each day, and that’s a truly wonderful mindset to be around. And, not to take the dog/yoga metaphor too far, but dogs are really excellent at living in the moment, something that can be so much harder for people to come by within themselves. Dogs, in general, just set wonderful examples.

The dogs in your books all have their own personalities; do you treat them as characters while writing and plotting the way you do your human protagonists?
It’s actually been different with each book. In Pug Hill, since Hope didn’t actually have a pug, and since to her they were a bit representative of the impossible dream, the pugs were in the proverbial distance for a lot of the book, but I did treat her family dogs as characters. In Through Thick and Thin, (the dog) DB Sweeney was absolutely treated as a character, and in If Andy Warhol..., I really had no idea the schnauzers would become as big as they did. They seemed to just take over, which is fitting if you’re familiar with the schnauzers.

Does doggie yoga really exist, and if so, have you taken your dog Carlie to it?
Indeed, doggie yoga does exist. There are several books on it, one in particular, Doga, is especially charming. I’ve heard of actual doggie yoga classes in other cities, though I’m not sure if there are in fact any in New York. (Though, no, I do not think I’d take Carlie to one if there were.) However, on the occasions that I do practice yoga in my apartment, Carlie gets especially excited at the appearance of the yoga mat. And then things get a bit difficult, as she has found she enjoys stretching out on the mat, while I am mid-pose.

Meredith adopts DB Sweeney from an agency that had set up a tent on the Upper West Side. If a New Yorker were interested in adopting a dog or finding out more information, where would you suggest they go?
There are so many great groups doing wonderful work for homeless animals. I actually have a list in the back of Through Thick and Thin of organizations people can contact if they'd like to adopt a dog or help homeless animals. Nearest to my heart is North Shore Animal League on Long Island and Animal Haven here in SoHo. I’ve also heard great things about BARC in Williamsburg.

Zoe, the pug of Pug Hill, has her own Dogster page. Which came first⎯the dog or the idea for the book?
The idea for the book did come first. Zoe joined in later in the game, and was tireless and ever-cheerful about getting the word out about Pug Hill.

You're doing a dog-friendly reading this fall; can you tell us more about that? Do you get the sense that most of your readers are dog people?
On Saturday, September 22, I’m going to read and sign books at my favorite store in New York, Zoomies (a fantastic dog store in the West Village). I’m so looking forward to it, and I hope a lot of dogs are able to stop by. I do think that there’s a draw with my books for the dog lover, and that the dog lover may be quick to pick up a book with a dog, or many dogs, on the cover, and that’s terrific. But I’ve also had people tell me that even though dogs aren’t their thing, they’ve still really enjoyed my work. I do like to hear that, for while the dogs are a big part of it, I do like to think there are other elements that appeal, too.

You have a degree in art history and your first novel featured a protagonist who worked in an art gallery, and you're a dog lover and your subsequent novels have been about women for whom dogs change their lives profoundly. How much of yourself do you put into your novels? Has any one of them been the most autobiographical in any sense?
I do put a lot of myself into my novels. I don’t believe that “write what you know” is the only way to go, or the only way a writer should endeavor to go, but I do find that incorporating elements that are close to me allows me to come up with better fiction. For me, as a writer, I find I get such better material out of myself if I feel an emotional connection to a scene, or a topic, and I do tend to feel more emotional about things that are close to home. Not surprisingly, I imagine, I would say that my first novel If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend was definitely the most autobiographical. The art gallery job in that book was my art gallery job, the romantic misfortune, shall we say, was mine. I started Andy Warhol partly as a way to write my own happy ending, since I wasn't anywhere near it when I started writing the story. And while I never traveled the world with a famous artist, endless good things have come out of that experience.

What are you working on next?
I'm working on my fourth novel (that sounds incredibly strange to say.) It's called Things To Do in the City with Your Dog, starring a West Highland white terrier, named Carlie. Carlie’s greatly looking forward to her literary debut.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
Oh, wow. I’ve been here for fourteen years so I must have so many. The one that’s sticking in my mind right now is very recent. I’ve discovered that people in New York can be competitive and type A about anything, even taking their dog for a walk. On a recent morning, my dog and I arrived at the Great Lawn at, say, eight o’clock. Someone proudly informed me, “We’ve been here since seven-thirty!”

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
It’s not one person, but I admire The Doe Fund, the people who run it, and more importantly the people who participate in it; they’re working really hard to change their lives.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
I’d want to do all the important socially responsible things and think about our disadvantaged residents, at-risk children, homeless people and animals, and once that was all done, I'd make rents a lot less expensive. Then, I'd make dating in New York an all-around kinder experience for all participants.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York?
100-degree weather and 100-percent humidity? I love New York, but I do think of living in the country sometimes. I’m a fan of the outdoors, and I love space, and quiet. Those are among the few things it’s hard to find here.

What's your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York?
Nice weather: Hands down, taking Carlie to Central Park. Not nice weather: A movie, a museum, a long lunch, going to a bookstore…that, or never leaving the apartment and reading a really good book.

Through Thick and Thin (Berkley/Penguin) is available now. Pace will read from and discuss Through Thick and Thin on Thursday, August 9th at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson, 52 Prince St., with Berkeley Editorial Director Susan Allison, as part of their Author/Editor series, and on September 22nd at noon at Zoomies, 434 Hudson Street. Find out more at alisonpace.com and alisonpace.typepad.com.