Though Eddie Ellis and I have never met, any dog lover is a friend of mine! This is what Kirkus had to say about his book, Good Boy, Achilles! (published by Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan): “A moving children’s tale about the ineffable bond between a boy and a canine as they come to terms with God’s plan for them.” (read the rest of the review here.) I am pleased to host Eddie today. And if you decide to purchase his book this month, you’ll be doing a good deed because he’s donating his September and October royalties to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) for hurricane relief.
When I write fiction, I pretend and describe. I pretend that the story is happening around me, and I describe what I see. I’ve always been pretty meticulous about pretending. Even as a child, I pretended carefully, keeping my pretend world connected to the real world. If I pretended that I was saving a damsel from a mugger in a park, I concocted a back story—a reason that both the damsel and I were in that park at the same time. And I had to pull off the rescue in a way that was appropriate to a child. The various characters had to act and react in ways that were appropriate to who they were. Even if I stretched reality and pretended that I had a superpower, the whole scenario had to be internally consistent. Otherwise, pretending was no fun.
I took a similar approach to writing Good Boy, Achilles! It’s a rather fanciful story set in a narrative world where, because we humans are flawed and fouled up, God has given dogs the task of helping us along. The story opens on a small farm, where a boy named Jeremy Dawson discovers that his family’s dog, Ginger, has given birth. Jeremy’s parents tell him they can afford to keep only one dog: Ginger. Ginger explains to her puppies that they will soon go to new homes where they will take care of their own humans in accordance with the Father’s plan. Jeremy and his favorite puppy, however, become best friends and come to believe that they belong together. As the story unfolds, readers find out whether or not they’re right.
Frankly, I won’t be surprised if I someday learn that God really has charged dogs with caring for humans, but for now, it’s fiction. Even within my fanciful, fictional world, I tried to make the story as realistic as possible. As a country boy and dog lover, I’m well acquainted with dog behavior and rural life, and I tried to make the story reflect the reality I know while suggesting another reality behind that reality.
The dogs in the story act like dogs. The puppies tussle and play chase. Ginger guards the Dawsons’ home and greets Jeremy’s father as he heads out in the morning to work his farm. Though the humans often talk to the dogs, the dogs don’t answer. They don’t understand much human language. They do, however talk to each other about their relationships with humans and their role in God’s plan. As a professor of New Testament and a former pastor, I have some carefully developed ideas about Who God is and how He relates to creation. I tried to make the story reflect the most basic of those ideas.
I think we have enough children’s stories that come from a pantheistic or nontheistic (not necessarily atheistic) perspective. By ‘nontheistic perspective’, I mean a perspective that simply leaves God out of the story. I’m not saying those stories are bad; I’ve enjoyed an awful lot of them. Still, I thought we could use more stories written from a theistic—even explicitly Christian—perspective. So I wrote one. I think it’s pretty good. In a featured review, Kirkus agrees: “This book is sure to be inspirational for Christians, moving for dog lovers, and perfect for readers who are both.”
Eddie Ellis is a life-long dog lover, an ordained minister, and a professor of New Testament. After earning a BA in English from Stetson University (1986) and an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary (1991), he served as a United Methodist pastor in Florida for seven and a half years. In 1998, he felt called to a ministry of full-time teaching and returned to school for the necessary training, earning a ThM from Candler School of Theology (1999) and a PhD in religious studies from Baylor University (2005). In 2006, he accepted a teaching position at Olivet Nazarene University, where he has now served as a professor of New Testament for eleven years. He and his wife, Terri, live in Bradley, Illinois, with their two sons. Having grown up in rural Florida, where both agriculture and dogs played major roles in his life, Eddie is well acquainted with the world in which Good Boy, Achilles! is set.
Thanks, Kirby Larson! I truly appreciate your including me in Friend Friday.