07 Jan 2016
Author Spotlight: Shannon Johnstone
Landfill Dogs is a book that will truly touch anyone’s heart. We, at Blurb, have yet to find someone who isn’t thoroughly moved by this amazing book created by Shannon Johnstone. Shannon grew up in what her dad called “Sun Block City,” known to most as Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since her early days, she has made her way a little further south to Raleigh, North Carolina where she is a Professor of Photography at Meredith College. We sat down with Shannon to find out more about her, how the idea for Landfill Dogs came to be, and what she sees as goals for this recently completed project.
Your idea of happiness is…
Napping with dogs. Or running on trails with “our pack,” which includes my husband Anthony and our three dogs: Jeffrey J. Jeffrey, Jorge Francisco, and Dudley Dooright.
Who is your idol (living or deceased) and why?
Oh, I am going to have to go with a dog here. Jorge Francisco’s lounging abilities are unparalleled and to be admired by all.
Music or movies?
Both, but not necessarily musicals.
Sweet or savory?
As long as we are just talking about food, the answer is SWEET with Skittles on top.
Where did the idea for Landfill Dogs come from?
I volunteered to photograph the animals for the shelter’s website, and I have been doing that for almost 10 years. In 2010, the director of environmental services suggested I photograph the dogs at a county park that that sits atop the old landfill. It is a beautiful location, with the many thousands of tons of trash elevating the grassy hill to the second highest point in the county.
However, it struck me that Environmental Services encompassed both the the landfill and the animal shelter. Both are places for us to dump our unwanted property. For the government and our society, homeless animals are just another waste stream. I wanted to create photographs that addressed that.
I have two overarching goals with Landfill Dogs. First, I want to help the dogs who have been in the shelter the longest, and who are at most risk for euthanasia. I hope to create beautiful portraits of them that will be shared far and wide, and I hope these photographs help find them a home before it is too late. Second, I want Landfill Dogs’ photographs to be a catalyst for conversation on animal overpopulation and what can be done about it. I hope people ask, why the landfill? I want to discuss the fact that below the surface at Landfill Park there are more than 25,000 dogs buried there, and the animal shelter continues to receive more than 30 new animals every day. Animal overpopulation is not going away. The shelter workers and volunteers do a heroic job in caring for and promoting these animals. They are the reason so many Landfill Dogs have found homes. But if things continue on as is, we will have a never ending stream of cats and dogs. We cannot continue to adopt our way out of this mess. I hope the bookignites this difficult conversation, because nothing will change until we pass strict spay/neuter laws.
How did you not end up adopting all of these dogs yourself?
My husband, Anthony, gave me a prenuptial. Before we got married he made me promise that we would be a three dog family. I have to add that at the time we were already one dog (and two cats) over that limit. Every time I fall in love, Anthony reminds me of my promise.
How did you first become aware of Blurb?
I learned about Blurb at the Society for Photographic Education conference. I was impressed with the paper quality, binding, and variety of book sizes, so I used them to print my private journals. I couldn’t believe how easy it is to use, and I loved that I could design my own template. The print quality was also amazing. So I used Blurb again to print a collaborative project with my dad. We paired his poetry with my photographs for two different print on-demand books. We had talked about doing this for years, but actually made them with Blurb about four years ago. I am so thankful we did this because he passed away unexpectedly last year. I am grateful to have had these printed while he was still alive. It made us both incredibly happy, and now our family and friends can have them too. The memory of creating these books together, and having the actual object of the book with our collaborative voices are both things I treasure.
Why did you choose to go with self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
I had a publisher originally, but we had very different ideas about what this book should be. Thankfully I got out of the contract. I shopped the project around to different publishers, but got similar responses (i.e. These are tough characters and it would be difficult to sell such a sad story. It is a terrible irony since the landfill dogs are the ones who are already hard “to sell”.) I decided to self-publish so that I could tell the complete story of the landfill dogs and make the book exactly the way I wanted. Since I had used Blurb before, I knew the quality would be good.
Self-publishing also allowed me to work closely with graphic designer, Dana Gay, who understood the project. She did a beautiful job! I can’t imagine another designer putting the same level detail and care into the relationship between text and image, and the layout and the flow of the book. Dana and I worked closely together, but it was her talents as a graphic designer that allowed the book to come to life. I am so thankful that Blurb exists so that people with stories have another way to communicate with a broader audience and are not tied to the publishing world as gate keepers.
I am also glad that self-publishing allows me to decide where the profits from the book go. For each book sold, I donate the profit ($10) to the Heal-A-Heart fund, which is used to treat heartworm positive dogs.
One last thing, I want to put a plug in here for my contact at Blurb, Kent Hall. When I decided to do a large offset order (instead of print on demand), Kent was my contact. I had so many questions and he was always available to me. He truly went above and beyond. He would quickly answered every question I had, and never made me feel annoying, although I am sure I was. Knet even wrote to tell me about a dog he met on his commute to work and how it made him think of Landfill Dogs. I was touched by this level of personal care, and very grateful for that.
How do you plan on promoting Landfill Dogs?
So far I have just shared it on the Landfill Dogs facebook page, and my own personal facebook page, which has been working great.
Ready to have a four legged friend in your family? Bellosom, shown left, isn’t in the book but still needs a home. If anyone is interested in adopting Bellosom, or another one of these dogs, they can visit the shelter website. The Landfill Dogs website also has info on the dogs.
If you can’t commit to adopting an animal, you can still support the cause by purchasing a book.
We are lucky enough to have people within the Blurb book-making community share their thoughts and ideas on our blog.