The Miracle of Bubba: An Interview with Author Joe Flynn

Christie Selensky  |   Tuesday Dec. 31st, 2019

“My name is Bubba. I am a black Labrador retriever with a very special story to tell.”

The Miracle of Bubba: An Inspirational Dog Story is an account that is at once harrowing and heartfelt; a story of sadness and fear, but also of perseverance and deep joy. Author Joe Flynn recounts the tale of his dog, Bubba, and his struggle with FCE, or canine fibrocartilaginous embolism. From the moment the family realizes Bubba is severely injured, to his triumphant recovery, the story grips the reader, causing you to root for Bubba with each page turn. I recently sat down with Joe to discuss his story, the importance of perseverance, and how animals can enrich our lives.

Christie Selensky: So, first I’d like to start with your background. Have you always been a writer?

Joe Flynn: My background has been in marketing my whole life. I went to school at the University of Washington, finished online years later because while I was going to school, I was working for a company, and they were using an outside company to make marketing brochures. I said, “Well, why don’t you give me a shot at it?” And I started writing it, and they were like, “This guy’s stuff is better than what we’re paying for.” So, they asked if I’d do it full time, and I said, yeah I can. And, I said I’d go back to school later. I ended up going back and finishing a month before my daughter graduated [laughs].This is my first book, though.

CS: That was exactly the question I was going to ask next, since you have a pretty extensive background in marketing writing. But writing a book is a whole other beast.

JF: Well, what was easy about writing this book was the story got dumped in my lap. For better or worse, it got dumped in my lap. And it was a heavy load at first. You have this family pet- first of all, I love dogs. I love people who love dogs. They’re so loyal and nice to have around. 

One day, we’re out in the yard, I toss Bubba’s ball like every day, and he fully collapses. Didn’t have a clue what’s wrong. I could see he was breathing, but his tongue his hanging out. I run over to my neighbor’s house who’s a vet, and I say “Mark, I think my dog’s had a heart attack.” He’s five years old, healthy dog- we’re not talking about an older dog here. He brought him to a colleague and x-rayed him, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Eventually, vets gave me option A or B. A, it’s a vertebra in his neck that’s somehow dried out, and disconnected his spinal cord, which in that case he’s paralyzed, nothing you can do. Or B, there’s this other thing called an embolism. I’d never heard of it. But there was too much blood surrounding the injury to see what was going on in the x-ray, so we had to wait to see what it was. I said, “Well, I’m too upset to make a decision today, and I want to know what it is regardless.” But I figured either way, there wasn’t much hope. In the meantime, I looked online and didn’t have much hope. I assumed we’d have to put him down. But, the vet explained to me that the body does have the ability to replenish this fluid, but it takes 3 or 4 weeks. But, the vet said they had never seen a dog this down. Three of his legs weren’t moving. I didn’t think we were going to have a good outcome when I went down to the hospital. And, I wasn’t given much hope by the doctors that I was working with. That day, I was ready to put him down. But, I got a little more information on it and found out there was a place in Seattle that could potentially rehab him. And that’s where the story went. 

Seeing him get off the floor- I was just hoping for my family dog back. You know, he could hang out with us, move around. But I even got my hunting dog back. And he lived a full life- he was 13 when he died. I just figured the story- the nuts and bolts of getting back up on his feet- that’s a story that people need to hear. On a lot of canine dog sites, a lot of people are running into this story now, and it can tell them, hey, you might have a dog that has one or two bad legs, but this dog came all the way back. They had to feed him liquid through a tube to keep him hydrated because he couldn’t even lift his head up to drink. So coming from all the way down to all the way back up, that was just a neat experience.

CS: And I think that’s an aspect that can inspire dog owners, but just people in general too. You know, fighting in the face of insurmountable odds. 

JF: Sure, absolutely.

CS: And you tie that concept into the story about your parents in the book. During the same time your dog is fighting for his life, your parents are grappling with advanced Alzheimer’s.

JF: And here’s a dog that, years later, right before my father died- both my parents died of Alzheimer’s- and they passed away within 6 months of each other. But my dad stayed with me in between. Bubba would just hang out with them- sit with him, put his head on his lap. He never would do that. If I was there, he was with me. If my dad was with us, Bubba always went to him. That comfort wouldn’t have happened if wasn’t around. 

CS: So, tell me about the choice to make the story from Bubba’s perspective.

JF: Well, you know how you go crazy sometimes? [laughs] I wrote this three times. This is the fourth version. The first three times I wrote it, I told the story. I was trying to make it as interesting as it could be. I’m talking to all dog owners and lovers out there, but I’m also talking to the audience of people that might run into this. And, I wanted to kind of document what happened, from a daily basis, what was going on, to how long it took him to come back to us. Every time I kept finishing it, I felt like it was a documentary. It’s missing something- it’s got a character there that’s not present. So I thought, I’ll write it again and let him tell it. When I crawled inside of him and let him write, it freed me up. It’s still the same story, but I just let him tell it. 

CS: And, I think it really works too- because when you read it, you go, “oh, this is from a dog’s perspective, which makes it seem light and funny and engaging in a way, but it also makes you far more connected to the dog himself if it’s not some just outside perspective of a human.

JF: And, what made it easy too, is when I had those other job or family problems interfering, it made it easy for him to kind of look over and talk about what was going on over there versus me trying to explain it. It just made it easier for me to write. 

CS: What do you think we gain from reading stories from animal’s perspectives?

JF: In relation to my writing, in the other drafts I wrote, I think I hold the reader in more to the story, because we read most things from a human perspective. 

My wife Renee said “you love this dog so much you can’t let go.” And I said, “no that’s not it- he’s got a chance. If the chance goes away, we’ll put him to sleep.” 

CS: What do you think was the most challenging aspect of this book?

JF: You know the biggest thing? It’s when you have to let it go and publish it. You have to sit and wait. And you have to let strangers read it and give you a review. And it’s pins and needles. That three months afterwards- when you have strangers giving you a review- it’s tough. 

CS: Actually, the last author I interviewed had the exact same response. Because you don’t want someone to criticize something you worked so hard on, especially if it’s a story so close to home.

JF: Yes, because in any writing, you put your heart and soul into it. You don’t want someone to tell you it’s terrible.

CS: What are your plans for this story? 

JF: Right now, I’ve been doing a lot of book tours around the state, trying to get the book out there. We’ve also sold the book in 61 out of 100 Amazon markets. If you asked me that five months ago, that would’ve been 15. So we’re constantly working towards that. We’re also working really diligently on search engine optimization. So if you look on Barnes and Nobles’ website and type in “dog story,” Miracle of Bubba usually sits at around 3, 5, or 7 in the search results list. So, search engine optimization is something me and my marketer are working on. There’s a lot of search engine terms we’re working on. In search engine optimization, there’s a saying, “If you want to hide a dead body, put it on page 2.” So it’s really important to get on the first page. So, to answer your question, we’re trying to get shelf space in bookstores across the country. Last Saturday in Great Falls, they sold out of all the books I had there. If I keep doing that- and my goal is to keep travelling around to Barnes and Nobles, get the book out there.

CS: Do you think you’re going to write more?

JF: I have a second book of this in my head. Because Bubba’s still alive at the end of this book, but there’s a neat story of where he ends up. And I would like to tell that too, but I want this book successful before I go down that road. Because I’m going to have to take 3 or 4 months off work to do it. 

CS: What message do you want people to gain from this story?

JF: I hope I’ve accented how loyal dogs are. If dogs are a little challenged health-wise, don’t give up on them right away. I mean, be real, but don’t give upon them right away. There’s the ability to come back- and I saw it. My experience is with a canine, but it applies to people too. Never give up and keep moving forward. The other thing is I want to specifically spread awareness about this issue. It’s the only book I know out there about this story. If people are affected by this, and are searching for information, they can read this and find out more. And, it gives a good outlook.

Joe Flynn’s The Miracle of Bubba: An Inspirational Dog Story can be found at Barnes and Noble, Country Bookshelf, and at any online book retailer. Thanks to Joe for sitting down with me.  

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