Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko

I’ve interviewed both Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko before, and when I heard they had co-written a book, I couldn’t wait to feature it. DOGTOWN is a new Middle Grade novel set to debut on September 19, 2023.

Dogtown coverDogtown is a shelter for stray dogs, misbehaving dogs, and discarded robot dogs, whose owners have outgrown them.

Chance, a real dog, has been in Dogtown since her owners unwittingly left her with irresponsible dog-sitters who skipped town.

Metal Head is a robot dog who dreams of being back in a real home.

And Mouse is a mouse who has the run of Dogtown, pilfering kibble, and performing clever feats to protect the dogs he loves.

When Chance and Metal Head embark on an adventure to find their forever homes, there is danger, cheese sandwiches, a charging station, and some unexpected kindnesses along the way.


What do you both love most about living in (or having lived in) the Bay Area?

Gennifer: I feel blessed to live in the Bay Area. Happiness for me is walking my German Shepherd in Fort Baker with the water slapping against the rocks, pelicans flying overhead and a seal poking her head out of the bay. I love how the birds flock to the bay in the Herring Run in January and the Blue Angels blaze across the sky in October. I love how many great bookstores we have. Book Passage, Books by the Bay, Avid Reader, The Great Good Place for Books, Books Inc, Hicklebees, Rakestraw, Copperfields, Mrs. Dalloways . . . the list goes on and on. And I love that San Francisco is a city who reads banned books.

Katherine: Wow, reading Gennifer’s answer is making me homesick. She and I met a few years ago while I lived in the Bay Area—we were practically neighbors, it turned out—but I’ve since moved, first to Los Angeles and just recently to Las Vegas. My kids still live in the Bay Area, though, so I get to visit frequently. It is truly a remarkable book-lovers paradise. And no matter how often you see it, the scenery takes your breath away.


Indeed it does! I live in Sacramento now, but the Bay Area is definitely home to me too. I also love that robot dogs are a part of DOGTOWN! How did you know they needed to be in the story?

Gennifer: The Robot dogs were an intrinsic part of the initial idea. We questioned what makes a dog a dog? Can you be a dog if you get plugged in at night? How do robot dogs feel about their flesh and blood counterparts? Do they feel superior? Are they oblivious? Or are they real dog wannabes? The more we talked about this, the more we laughed. And then what a hoot it was to get sketches from Wallace West. He took the text and ran with it. His illustrations added so much to Dogtown.

Katherine: Oh, Wallace’s illustrations are so delightful, and so full of emotion! Every time I look at them, I smile. As for the robots, the contrast between warm and fuzzy and lovable pups and the pre-programmed pets made of metal was irresistible material. The conversations between real dogs and robotic ones. The competition for homes. The potential for very unlikely friendships. There was so much to play with.


And what a fascinating way to enhance an already interesting premise! What advice, if any, do you have for middle grade writers who have a goal of traditional publishing?

Gennifer: Katherine once told me that she thinks making it in this field requires: talent, tenacity, and timing. I think she’s right. That said though you can’t control how much talent you have and it’s difficult to predict timing. Timing is almost always about luck. The only part of that equation you can affect is tenacity. And for me tenacity meant working to develop my skill set. And it meant being patient with the process. And it meant not giving up even when it looked like I was never going to make it. I have always been a writer. I studied writing in college and then made my living writing advertising. So, when I finally got the guts to pursue writing for kids, I was certain I knew what I was doing.

I was wrong.

Writing is one thing, building a strong narrative that kids connect with is another entirely. But I kept at it . . . I’d finish one book, analyze it for what I needed to work on and then start the next with an eye to improving what I felt was my weak suit. One of the reasons I started writing Al Capone Does My Shirts was I needed to work on setting. I thought it would be good to be able to visit a real location. I thought it would help me bring the place to life.

Katherine: I think it’s important to ask yourself why you want to write.
For posterity? For income? Because you love playing with words or tinkering with plots? And why do you want to write for children? (If it’s because you think it’ll be easy, you’re in for a surprise.)

There’s a lot of rejection and frustration that comes with writing for publication. But the more you’re prepared—which is to say, the more you read read read read read—the better you’ll be able to handle the ups and downs. I often recommend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as a great resource. (SCBWI.org) It’s a wonderful way to meet both pros and newbies, to connect with editors and agents, and to learn the ins and outs of manuscript and portfolio preparation.

A good way to see if you’re up for the challenge? Try not writing for a while. If you can’t bear to part with your notepad and pencil, if your laptop cries out to you in the middle of the night, if the ideas just keep coming and you simply have to play with them? Well, you’re a writer, friend. Welcome to the craziness. And the joy.


Yup, that pretty much sums it up! Can we look forward to future collaborations from you both?

Gennifer: It has been such a privilege to get to work with Katherine Applegate. Truly one of the high points of my writing career. We are working on a second Dogtown book right now. No telling what will happen after that.

Katherine: The same goes for me with Gennifer! It’s such a gift to work with someone so brilliant who also happens to be so funny. A win-win in every way. I’m really thrilled there’s going to be a second Dogtown. Not only do I get to hang out with characters from the first book that I’ve grown to love, I get to hang out with one of my favorite people on the planet.

Dogtown cover

Pre-order DOGTOWN from the publisher (or at any of the above linked bookstores Gennifer mentioned)


For more of Gennifer’s books, go to:

For more of Katherine’s books, go to:

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