Obvi Lady Madelaine Walker sat down with Savy Leiser, a Chicago-based student, author, editor, journalist, and filmmaker to talk about her award-winning kids’ book series, The Furever Home Friends and managing her life as a modern-day renaissance woman. The next Furever Home Friends book will be released August 11, 2018!
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
M: I know you have a lot of different projects going on right now. How would you describe your career, or “what you do” if that’s a better way to phrase it?
I’m a writer of many different things. So I currently work a lot of different jobs. I write children’s books, I’m a journalist, I do like freelance articles, I do a lot of freelance editing work and a bunch of different stuff like that. My focus is on Furever Home Friends as a small business owner. This business was based on taking the concept of writing and bringing a more marketing and entrepreneurial role to that. I like to combine different things that I do and see if I can utilize different skills from different areas to improve on other skills. I’ve been a writer for pretty much ever. And I’ve been really big into dogs my whole life, too. Dogs were actually what inspired me to start writing as a child.
M: Oh, that’s fun!
S: Yeah! When I was about four years old, I got my first rescue dog, a little Chihuahua. He ate a candy cane off someone’s Christmas present, and I found out because he had little peppermint shavings stuck to his fur. I wrote a story about it and it was one of the first stories I wrote and it made me fall in love with writing.
M: Busted! That’s perfect.
S: So dogs have always been what inspired me. When I was fifteen, he died. He was also like fifteen at the time, he was very old. And then I wrote a piece of creative nonfiction as a tribute to him about how he was the one who inspired me to start writing. I told the story about the candy cane through a looking-back kind of lens and got it published in a magazine. So he ended up being the inspiration for one of my first published pieces as well as one of the first things I ever wrote. It just made sense that I always came back to writing about dogs. Now I’m writing about all different rescue dogs and it’s been fueling this passion for helping the dogs and also getting the stories out there.
M: Totally! And then, the books are about real foster dogs, so they tell real stories, right?
Savy: Yeah, the books are all based on real rescue dogs. So far, every dog that we’ve covered has been adopted already, but I as I’m adding more to the series, I’d like to feature a dog who hasn’t been adopted yet, who’s still looking for a home.
But the stories are not 100% true because they’re told from the dog’s perspective. So you see the dog’s emotional journey, and their character arc and their self-reflection. The dogs probably didn’t have that complex of emotions, or like, that strong of goal-setting, but yes. This is the real dog, this is what they actually look like, this is the basic story that they went through. But
Chewie’s story, for example. Yes, he’s really a dog who, as a puppy, was abused in some way and ended up getting pellets under his fur and scars on his face. That happened to him, but in the story, he’s trying to gain self-confidence to smile for the camera. Did Chewie really have insecurities? Like, no, he doesn’t even know what his reflection looks like standing in front of a mirror. So I’m putting a little more human qualities to the dog, but still keeping their stories similar to what it actually was.
M: And then when the books and the toys sell, how do you use the profits to support shelters?
S: So we actually have a model going right now where ten percent of all profits made go to a shelter.
M: Do you have any thoughts about, like, specifically working with your mom? Is she still really involved? I just think it’s so interesting that your mom’s involved.
S: No, yeah, I love working with my mom, cause she’s really passionate about dogs, and she has been forever. We’ve always been a rescue dog family. And she believes in this project so much, and everything about it. She’s been excited from the beginning.
So yeah, I still work with my mom a lot. I mean, obviously she can’t hand-make all the stuffed animals anymore, but she still does the rough designs for them. She’s also been helping me a lot with sales because right now I’m working I think five jobs while I’m in school. It’s really hard and I just don’t have enough time to devote to sales. She’s been doing a lot of the cold-calling, reaching out to different business and trying to get them into different stores throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
M: Ok, yeah, that’s so exciting. So what are your biggest goals for the project as a whole?
S: So my biggest goal is, I want to keep telling more and more dogs’ stories. I’m at the point where I want to release one to two new books a year. That’s kind of the goal that I’m setting for myself. I know I’m releasing one this year and hopefully, in 2019, I can do two more. And then, just expand what we have to offer.
My goal is to create a world surrounding these dogs, because when you have a dog, and you have a story that that dog has, and you have a stuffed animal, and you have a kid who can hold the stuffed animal and read the story and feel like that dog is theirs, it helps them develop an emotional connection that helps develop empathy.
The other main goal is telling more of a variety of different stories as well. I want to find a dog who hasn’t been adopted yet, for one thing, so that if there’s a dog who’s been stuck at the shelter for a while, the book can maybe help bring attention to that dog to help them find a home. I also want to share the stories of dogs with different disabilities. There’s a lot of different stories. I’d also like to cover an elderly dog, one who hasn’t been adopted and is maybe ten or eleven years old. I haven’t found a story for that yet, but I know that they’re out there, so I’m talking to different shelters about it.
Another important goal is figuring out more social issues the books can cover. Every book covers a couple social issues and has discussion questions in the back so that when kids read, they see This dog was discriminated against because he was a pit bull. What does prejudice mean? How do stereotypes affect us negatively? Things like that. They can see more of those issues and connect them to the world around them.
M: Okay, last question: You’re kind of a renaissance woman. Do you have any self-care tips for other blossoming renaissance women?
S: Oh, that’s great, cause I just learned “self-care” like a month ago. So that’s something I’m bad at that… until a few months ago, I was forgetting to shower and eat and all of that. It was a problem. And then I woke up one day and I smelled really bad, and I’m like, why do I smell this bad? Oh maybe because I haven’t showered in five days. I just forgot. So then I made a bullet journal and a chart in there where I would give myself a sticker every time I remembered to shower. I needed to take at least four showers a week for five weeks, and then I can get a prize.
S: I was like, this is pretty basic. I feel like I’m training myself like I train my dog. But I have to do it! I don’t remember otherwise. I mean, I’m still figuring it out as I go.
I would say also, have a few things that you do that are not connected to what you do professionally. Because, especially if you’re pursuing your passion, like, I write professionally, and then I can’t write as a hobby also. So people have thought in the past, they’re like, “Oh, do you write fanfiction?” And I’m like no, I read a ton of it, but I’ve never written fan fiction because I can’t write something that is just for the sake of it.
Instead, I play video games and stuff, but not that often. Not as often as I should, or, you know, go out to dinner every once in a while, things like that. Things that are just like, “Oh, I’m just gonna have fun right now.”
Every once in a while, I have other interests that I come back to, like, “Oh yeah, I really like that.” But I can’t make this part of my career now. I start to go down that spiral and then I’m like “No, I need to keep this as a thing I’m doing just keep this for fun. Because otherwise, I’m going to go insane.”