The Dog Who Was There
My main character is a dog named Barley. Smallish, off-white, the same color as the grain for which he was named and the bits and pieces of which covered him when he was found in a sack on a riverbank after a cruel farmer tried to drown him as a pup. Barley is alert, intuitive and brave–far beyond his small size. Above all, he is loyal and loving to the very last when it comes to his Master. As are most dogs! But in Barley I see a particularly strong “will-to-joy,” let’s call it. He assumes that human beings are innately good, noble and loving creatures. (He obviously hasn’t watched CNN lately!) As one character observes of Barley, “He is always looking for the next good thing.” To me that the essence of faith, the itch to always search for the next good thing. But Barley puts me to shame. He sees good things that I’m too jaded or busy to notice. And that’s why I wrote the book: to highlight that point, to show that human beings may have some lessons of love to learn from a small, scruffy dog.
Another of the book’s main characters is a pretty rough-around–the-edges guy named Samid. He lives in a large camp-type area full of vagrants, wastrels and the forgotten poor people of Judea. Make no mistake, Samid will—without hesitation—sock someone in the face, if they threaten him or even make him angry. But, inside, he has a desire to take care of people he loves and the inability to do that is what fuels his anger. I think that’s true of a lot of men.
Then there’s Prisca—a very beautiful woman who is poor and dirty and destitute. She has an extraordinary inner strength and is, in my opinion, an important moral anchor for the book. She is a strong female lead who—more than any of the men in the book—is proactive in her quest for a better life.
“What Surprised you…?”
I was surprised at how much the story made me feel during that actual writing of the book. In particular the story of the Passion. I guess I had always looked at it as a “gospel” rather than as a story, if that makes sense. I thought of it as something having to do with religion more than having to do with a family member, say. But re-looking at the Passion through the eyes of the dog made it vivid and personal. So much so that I sometimes had to stop working and try to shake away the sadness and injustice of what was happening to this “kind man” as Barley refers to Jesus in the book. I have, as well as writing, also been a professional actor for many years. Actors get swept up into the feeling of something. At times, in this book, that felt a little overwhelming. But maybe the Passion is supposed to feel that way to us–every time we read it or think about it.
No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.
He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.
Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.
Ron Marasco is a professor in the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His first book, “Notes to an Actor,” was named by the American Library Association an Outstanding Book of 2008. His second book, “About Grief,” has been translated into multiple languages, and he is currently completing a book on Shakespeare’s sonnets. He has acted extensively on TV—from “Lost” to “West Wing” to “Entourage” to originating the role of Mr. Casper on “Freaks and Geeks”—and appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie “Illusion,” for which he also wrote the screenplay. Most recently, he has played the recurring role of Judge Grove on “Major Crimes.” He has a BA from Fordham at Lincoln Center and an MA and Ph. D. from UCLA.
Find out more about Ron at http://www.thomasnelson.com/the-dog-who-was-there.