The Mr. Dog Blog — Story Behind the Story

Mr. Dog 2014 Out-takes

Happy New Year! We hope this finds you enjoying the first days of 2015, with memories of Christmas lingering pleasantly.

Our heads are still spinning from the whirlwind of October, November and December, when our books finally arrived and we were able to share the beautiful result of so many months of hard work. We thought you might enjoy these “out-takes.”

They may not be the most professional photos... but they definitely capture the joyful, independent, bootstrapped nature of our family endeavor!

October 18th: Betsy tentatively opens the advance copy, just received from the printer. A scary and thrilling moment!

October 27th: Jim gets his first look at the book. Overcome with pride. Martini at the ready!

November 3rd: The shipment arrives in San Francisco. And goes straight into our warehouse... um... garage.
(Wish we had photos of Chuck and Betsy—about a month later—hurriedly toting about 40 of those boxes
upstairs into the flat, to save them from potential flash flooding predicted due to #stormageddon 2014!)

Throughout November: Friends pitch in and we at last begin fulfilling orders to our dear Kickstarter backers!

Throughout December: We're excited to see Mr. Dog popping up at some of our favorite stores
in San Francisco and Mendocino. He's such a looker!

December 18th: A spectacular article appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and sales of the book go bonkers. Betsy’s parents drive from Mendocino in the middle of the night, in torrential rain, to help with packaging orders. We’re sold out within 48 hours.

December 18th-21st: Our Mission District flat becomes a full-fledged fulfillment center.
And we get to use some really big carts at the post office.

December 21st: And finally, Mr. Dog and family enjoy a much deserved toast and dinner out on the town.

Cheers to all of you who brought Mr. Dog into your homes in 2014! Thanks for helping to make our first year such an exciting and rewarding adventure. We're so happy to be sharing this story with you and hope you'll continue to share your photos and impressions of the book with us.

All the best to you and yours in 2015!

A beautiful connection

Greetings, Dear Reader!

I'm delighted to share a very special post with you in this week before Christmas, and in celebration of our very successful first year. Our publisher, Betsy Cordes, interviews someone with an important connection to our book's author, Albert Bigelow Paine.

Enjoy, and may you have a very Merry Christmas!


This project has had lots of really happy surprises for me, but one of the biggest has been the opportunity to connect with Stephen Bigelow Cushman, the great-grandson of Albert Bigelow Paine (author of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn). Stephen Cushman is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, specializing in American poetry.

Early last month, after a bit of getting to know one another via email, we met face-to-face on Skype and it was my great pleasure to hear Stephen’s memories of his great grandfather’s stories, to discover shared Christmas traditions (turns out “Mr. Dog” isn’t the only old Christmas story both our families enjoy!), and more.

I’m so grateful to Stephen for his warm reception of our project, and for the stories and perspectives he shared in our conversation—part of which I now get to share with you here.

Stephen Bigelow Cushman holding his first editions of the “Hollow Tree and Deep Woods” tales: three volumes of stories written by his great-grandfather, Albert Bigelow Paine.

BETSY (San Francisco, California): I’m really grateful to you for doing this. I think that this connection with you is really one of the most rewarding things about this project.

STEPHEN (Charlottesville, Virginia): I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to go back to all these books. I was just sitting here re-reading my 1898 first edition. Paine was my great-grandfather, and the “little ladies” he told the story to, well, he seems to have written a book for each of his daughters. The third one, the youngest, was my father’s mother. Her name’s Joy. [Stephen holds up photo; shown below] See what you’re looking at?

Mark Twain playing cards with Stephen Cushman’s grandmother, Joy (far right), her sister Louise (second from right), and their friend in Redding, Connecticut. (Image from

BETSY: It’s Mark Twain?

STEPHEN: Mark Twain, with three little girls. And the littlest girl farthest from him is my father’s mother. And the one next to her is Louise. And she is the little lady to whom Paine told “Mr. Dog’s Christmas.”

BETSY: That’s wonderful.

STEPHEN: So that picture was taken in Redding [Connecticut] in 1908. And I don’t know if you know the story of how Twain and Paine were connected.

BETSY:  I know that Paine was Twain’s biographer.

STEPHEN: Biographer, and executor. And editor. Some people say not a very good one. And Paine was the one who got Twain to come out to Redding, which seems to be the setting for the Hollow Tree. Certainly, those are New England winters you’re reading about.

BETSY: From your first email to me, it sounds like the reading of this story has been a tradition in your family forever.

STEPHEN: Yes. I was born in 1956 and I cannot remember a time when my father didn’t read these books to us all, all year, because there are three volumes and there’s the summer too and everything. Some terrifying characters in there: “Mr. Turtle’s Thunder Story,” “Old Man Moccasin,” and a lot of others as well. Oh, these all come back: “Mr. Turtle’s Flying Adventure.” Mr. Possum’s Sick Spell.” There are so many good ones here. And then, here’s the final one: “The Hollow Tree Snowed Inn” book. And I remember this one! Yes: “The Bark of Old Hungry Wolf.” That’s a story about them all being hungry in the winter.

But, certainly “The Hollow Tree Christmas” was a ritual. And I was just thinking before you called of all the things that we grew up saying from the story. For example, it could be the middle of July and sweltering outside, but if something good happens to somebody you might say, “Oh, there’s something in all our stockings!” So it’s very much part of the lore. We did that throughout my childhood. And then: I got married to Sandra in 1982, and our first son was born in 1987. His name is Samuel. Then the second son is Simon. And we always read them to them as well. So I guess if you count my father, we’re on generation three.

But these stories have some sadness in them, some grimness in them. Because this is a pre-internet, pre-television, pre-radio world where storytelling was a major way to pass cold, snowy New England evenings. And there is in these books loneliness and solitude and some hard things. Which I didn’t think about it that way as a child so much, but now that I look at them again, I see it.

BETSY: It will be interesting now for me to go and read some of those because I’m not as familiar with them, and I think that the Christmas story is really pretty lighthearted.

STEPHEN: Yes, although, what’s interesting—I recently re-read it—there’s really a great dramatization in the Christmas story about Mr. Dog thinking at first, “what a great joke this will be.” But then thinking, “how sad this would be to play a joke on them.” So he’s going to play the role. He really becomes sort-of this artist-author figure who’s going to create this illusion for the sake of his friends. What a shame to let them down. So then, even there, it seems to me there’s some pathos in that, too.

BETSY: The thing that I particularly love about it is that it’s very much about friends and family, and all of the best things. But there’s also that total late-night stress miracle when he’s getting things together. And, how hard it is for him, how hard he works to pull off this surprise for his friends. I absolutely love that part about it.

STEPHEN: You know, there are two sides to it. While we’re having a great time there are a lot of people who are not, for any number of reasons. And so I feel that one of the things that story’s about is Paine’s projection onto Mr. Dog of this desire to share the pleasures with people who might otherwise not have them. And I think it’s very moving in that way.

BETSY: What do you think about the story being republished now?

STEPHEN: Oh, I think it’s wonderful. You know, to have a book go out of print is a very sad thing. It’s not quite like a death, but it’s a little bit odd. And, so, to have a book that I love come back into the world, I only have good feelings about it. What I’m going to be interested in is if your project brings out of the woodwork people who have been leading lives parallel to ours, who have been reading these things all along and so on, as well as making new readers out of young people and other people.

BETSY: There has been at least one person that my parents discovered quite by accident that grew up reading the “Hollow Tree” stories.

STEPHEN: Oh, no way!

BETSY: Yes, and she’s ordered copies for two friends and had them inscribed because both of these people grew up with the Hollow Tree stories as well. The thing I love about the Christmas story is it’s just so timeless. It definitely has a lot of period stuff in it, and there are some funky things, like my dad, when he reads it, always likes to pause at the point where they say they’ll leave the latchstring out for Mr. Dog. And my dad always makes a sort-of hokey point of, “Now, do you know what a latchstring is?”

STEPHEN: Right! Well, one of the things we haven’t talked about yet is the timelessness of the Christmas story, yes, but the timelessness of beast fables in general—from Aesop’s on. I think that animal stories become even more resonant against the backdrop of environmental degradation and all kinds of things. I mean, to “the little lady”—my grandmother, or her sisters in the late-19th,early 20th century—these weren’t animals, these were people. They had latchstrings, and they had deep snows, and they were snowed in for a week, these things. Well, that never happens to anyone anymore. So there’s a kind of remoteness, a nostalgia for a time when life was a little different, life was a little closer to the animals and to the rhythms of the seasons. And, I think that aspect is always going to reach out. Read today the story might appeal to a deep longing for a non-urban, pre-modern pastoral world. And, I think you’re always going to get that being attractive to people especially at Christmas, when we’re fighting against so many other distracting forces: Shopping, doing your taxes, whatever, you know, all these terrible things! And you have this chance to be transported back. It’s wonderful!

BETSY: I’m curious, too, since you’re so familiar with all of the other stories, how often does Mr. Dog feature in all of them?

STEPHEN: Lots of Mr. Dog: “Mr. Dog Takes Lessons in Dancing,” “Jack Rabbit Plays One More Joke on Mr. Dog,” “Mr. Polecat Makes a Morning Call & Mr. Dog Drops In.” And then, there’s one about, “How Mr. Dog Got Even.” So Mr. Dog comes up a lot. And the reason is—and I was thinking about this before you called too—he’s the intermediary between the human world and the world of the forest. So, we need him as a kind of go-between. And there’s this sentence in the Hollow Tree Christmas: “Well, the Hollow Tree People had never heard of Santa Claus. They knew about Christmas, of course, because everybody, even the cows and sheep, knew about that.”

BETSY: I love that.

STEPHEN: “They had never heard of Santa Claus.” Well, that’s the only faint acknowledgment of the Christ story. You know: There’s the manger, and there are the animals. Otherwise, it’s a thoroughly secular Christmas. And it’s a kind of wonderful touch there, where on some level, all the animals knew about Christmas. But they didn’t know about this particular human version of Christmas. It’s gotta be the cattle are lowing or the shepherds are out with their sheep, their flocks abiding by night, and so on.

BETSY: I just remember, when I was in junior high and high school that sometimes on Christmas Eve, a bunch of my friends would come over to listen to this. And it was such a child-like thing that you would think that a jaded teenager would go, “What the hell is going on here?” But they were all, to the last one, every single time, every one of them no matter who it was, totally charmed by this story, and just completely present and really, really loved it.

STEPHEN: Well, it’s an interesting thing you say right there. In the full bloom of the Christmas readings when my sister and I were adults (if that was the right word), we would do, “The Hollow Tree Christmas.” But, we had other readings, too.

BETSY: Yeah? Tell me!

STEPHEN: Well, one of them—if you don’t know this, this would be a great thing for your family, in two forms—do you know Dylan Thomas’s, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales?”

BETSY: That’s another favorite. Absolutely.

STEPHEN: Ok. So, have you ever heard him read it?

BETSY: Yeah, so that’s another one of our traditions. On Christmas Eve, it’s the reading of Mr. Dog. And on Christmas morning, we have an album of Dylan Thomas reading, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and that is on every Christmas morning.

STEPHEN: Well, this is scary, because this sounds as though we probably were cloned in the same… [laughs]

BETSY: That is so weird! [laughing]

STEPHEN: …and the other ones that we do: My dad had an ancient record I think he bought when he was in the army, a ’33 rpm. But on one side was Ronald Coleman reading an abridgment of “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens. And on the flip side, was Charles Laughton dramatizing an abridged version of “Pickwick Papers,” for Christmas. So that was our our trilogy: that record, the Thomas recording, and then our reading of, “The Hollow Tree.”

BETSY: Wow. We need to somehow get our hands on that third one. That sounds pretty special.

STEPHEN: Are you ready for the holidays?

BETSY: I am going to be so ready for the holidays!

STEPHEN: Well, I will tell you that here on the East Coast, the sun is going down, and I have a Mr. Dog I have to take out.

BETSY: I bet you do! Thank you so much for your time. I will send your books soon, and I look forward to staying in touch. And thank you so much for your warm reception of this project. It really means a lot to me.

STEPHEN: Well, thank you so much for the project, and seeing it through. And I wish everyone in your family a very happy Christmas.

Adam McCauley's Mr. Dog Artwork Honored by the Society of Illustrators

Happy Spring Greetings, Folks!

We hope you’ve had a cozy hibernation. I’m emerging from my own long winter’s nap to share the latest news here at the Old Hollow Tree. I’m quite proud to tell you that our illustrator, Adam McCauley, was recently recognized by the Society of Illustrators, in part for his work on our forthcoming book! Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” (seen below, left) appeared along with several of his illustrations in the Society’s 56th annual exhibition in New York City last month, and will be included in the annual publication this fall. We’re thrilled for the honor this brings to Adam and to our book!

top: Poster-sized reproductions of Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” and “Christmas Arrival at the Old Hollow Tree” on display for guests at our special holiday reading party in December. bottom: Henry interviewed Adam about the illustration process while videographer Tim Prestoza captured footage for our (in-the-works!) book trailer. photos © Sarah Deragon

Top: Poster-sized reproductions of Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” and “Christmas Arrival at the Old Hollow Tree” on display for guests at our special holiday reading party in December. Bottom: Henry interviewed Adam about the illustration process while videographer Tim Prestoza captured footage for our (in-the-works!) book trailer. photos © Sarah Deragon

We had a little shindig over the holidays to introduce the story to a few friends. It was a glorious celebration, complete with a reading of the story by my dear old friend, Jim Luther. Our fine guests also had a chance to see a couple of the illustrations in large and glorious detail.

top: The scene set for a cozy reading of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. bottom: The other Mr. Dog, Jim Luther, spiffed up for a special rendition of his annual reading. photos © Sarah Deragon

Top: The scene set for a cozy reading of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. Bottom: The other Mr. Dog, Jim Luther, spiffed up for a special rendition of his annual reading. photos © Sarah Deragon

I’m glad to have your company here on the blog as we head toward publication later this year. Stay tuned for exciting announcements, behind-the-scenes stories and photos, and interviews with the whole cast of characters—real-life and fictional—behind Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. We hope you’ll share the news with your friends and family, too.

Yours truly,

You might also enjoy: The story behind the story.


I'm Betsy of That's So Enterprises (proud soon-to-be publishers of Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn) and I'm delighted to share this introduction to our book and our story.

Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, my dad has read aloud to my family a wonderful story, "Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn," by Albert Bigelow Paine. Originally published in 1898, the story centers on a group of animals who reside at The Hollow Tree Inn and their rascally friend, Mr. Dog, who decides to surprise the Hollow Tree folks by playing Santa Claus.

Christmas Eve 1996: my dad reads the story to us with my son, Henry (in his pirate phase), in his lap.

Christmas Eve 1996: my dad reads the story to us with my son, Henry (in his pirate phase), in his lap.

My dad reads the story from a lovely old 1915 volume called Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays by Ada M. Skinner—and my dad's parents read the same story to him and his brother, from the very same volume, when they were little boys. It's a tradition now enjoyed by three full generations of my family (my dad, my brother and me, and now our children).

More than three generations and going strong: my family's original 1915 copy of Ada M. Skinner's Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays. Photo by Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People.

More than three generations and going strong: my family's original 1915 copy of Ada M. Skinner's Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays. Photo by Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People.

The story has always felt like our little secret, but earlier this year my brother Jason had a brilliant suggestion: Why not republish this long out-of-print tale with new illustrations so it can be enjoyed by a much wider audience and many future generations? Wonderful new developments in the world of independent book publishing—along with my experience as an art director and my enthusiasm for tackling big new projects—made this all seem like a very viable and fine idea... And so that's just what we made up our minds to do!

We have been incredibly fortunate to engage award-winning artist Adam McCauley as our illustrator and we could not be more pleased with Adam's interpretation of the characters and the setting. His beautiful illustrations pay homage to the Victorian era aesthetic of the story while introducing a contemporary touch that's just what we hoped for. I'm excited to be able to give you sneak previews of his illustrations like the one on our home page, and more to come soon here on Mr. Dog's Blog!

In addition to a bit of the artwork, I look forward to sharing lots more with you as we head toward our publication date in the Fall of 2014. Loyal readers of Mr. Dog's Blog will learn more about our illustrator Adam, about the amazingly talented Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine, about family traditions, adventures in publishing, the story's characters and much more. Please check back regularly, and please share your own cherished holiday traditions, favorite stories, and more with us in the comments.

Lastly, we hope you'll tell your friends! In addition to this website and Mr. Dog's Christmas newsletter, you can also follow and share Mr. Dog on Twitter. [3/21/14 update: Mr. Dog is also on Facebook!] We are so thrilled to be able to introduce this story to new readers and we appreciate your help spreading the word.

Merry merry!