Carmel Valley resident Brian Gotta has written and published six books — two nonfiction volumes and four youth sports novels.
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Yet, years passed before he tackled another book project. One day, a business associate who is retired and lived alone emailed Gotta. The communication said he was going to miss a scheduled telephone conference because he was going to an animal shelter to adopt his “new best friend.”
“The poignancy of that just really hit me and I had the idea of the book,” Gotta said. “As soon as he told me that, the whole idea formed in my mind.”
The new tale is titled “Him,” a 157-page story narrated by the dog Scout. Having been placed in a shelter, Scout reminisces about his life with Him and thinks about escaping with the dim hope of finding his master.
Writing a story through the mind of an animal is rare, though not without precedent. Much of Jack London’s novel “White Fang” was told from the viewpoint of the title character.
Storytelling in such a mode poses challenges that Gotta approached by ascribing a limited vocabulary and descriptive ability to Scout, based on the known traits of canines and the author’s own observations.
“I am a huge lover of my dogs and I’ve got one now who’s super special,” he said. “Since I work from home, she’s with me 24/7 and so I really feel like I know what she’s thinking at all times. So I felt like that gave me the expertise to write from a dog’s point of view. …
“I spend so much time with her, I kind of have a sixth sense for what she’s thinking so I kind of translated that. She’s really the author of the book, even though it’s written from the perspective of a male dog.
“I try to touch on some deeper themes about how dogs love unconditionally, how they’re unwaveringly hopeful and undeterredly optimistic. I explore how perceptions of time give them a different perspective on life.”
Humans, Gotta said, generally perceive time as the past, present and future. Most people, he said, are unhappy because they regret the past and worry about the future, from which arises the notion that we should strive to “live in the moment.”
“Through Scout, I try to show the reader how living that way really is,” Gotta said. “I believe that dogs probably see past, present and future all the same so I tried to put that into the book, so that readers could understand a different perspective of time than the conventional past, present and future.”
Gotta admits some readers have reacted against some of the challenges encountered. The reader must decipher Scout’s points of reference, such as the use of geometric shapes to name objects as seen through his eyes.
“There are times when the reader has to pause and try to solve little mysteries of comprehension,” Gotta said. “When I wrote it, I hoped that everyone would enjoy those challenges. But, sadly not everybody has loved those little puzzles … I could have made it super easy but that wasn’t what I was intending to do when I wrote the book.
“I wanted it to be truly from a dog’s perspective so as a reader you could only understand what a dog really can understand. Some readers have gotten frustrated with that.
“Others have loved it. Others have given me immense praise. … So it really just depends on how willing you are to challenge yourself as a reader to make it to the end, which I think is the payoff.
“I think dogs are more complex than we give them credit for in the way they think and feel, but they’re very simple in the way they love.”
One Amazon reviewer who identified herself as Lori Alden Holuta commented that she read “Him” despite her intrinsic fear of dogs.
“It took a bit of time to get into the dog’s-eye-view and his understanding (or lack thereof) of human language, but to my surprise, I simply couldn’t put the book down,” she said. “I read the entire thing over the course of just a day, in two sessions.
“If you understand dogs, you’ll happily relate to Scout. If they are a mystery to you, Scout will help you decode the meaning behind a dog’s behavior in various circumstances.”
A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Gotta said he obtained a bachelor’s degree in English and is versed in modern classics by authors such as William Faulkner and James Joyce.
“I didn’t want to just write a little doggie story,” Gotta said. “I wanted there to be some complexity to what I write. I think that not every reader wanted that. But again, there have been more who loved it than didn’t.”
‘It’s more of a dog trying to describe what he’s seeing with the vocabulary that a dog would have. If a dog is telling the reader what he’s watching us do right now, how would that sound? …
“The challenging sections have been people trying to see the world through the dog’s perspective, with him only being able to describe what a dog would actually know. … The best advice I’ve had for readers of this book is to think in terms of what words would the dog actually know, what would the dog actually know about the surroundings and the people that he’s observing.
“Then, I tried to stay true to that as a writer. I tried not to cheat and give away what was happening in a scene by giving the dog vocabulary or knowledge that he would not have.”
Gotta’s emergence as an author occurred years after he and his wife left Fort Wayne following their graduation from Indiana University and moved to San Diego in 1987.
“As soon as we graduated college, my wife and I moved out here,” Gotta said. “We’d never been here before. We knew we’d love it and we wanted out of Indiana.
“So we moved out here with a couple of bucks in our pockets and towing a VW Rabbit behind my father-in-law’s truck. We both got jobs and never looked back.”
Gotta worked in sales and eventually moved into management. That career spawned his first book, “Congratulations! You’re a Millionaire: The Secrets to Selling Your Way to a Fortune,” published in 2001. It was based on journal notes Gotta had made when he was teaching sales personnel, he said.
In the mid-2000s, Gotta’s involvement in youth athletics, sparked by his children’s participation, led him to start his own business marketing sports-related educational materials and apparel to youth groups and high schools.
His experience coaching dozens of teams in diverse sports inspired him to craft another instructional manual, “Winning Secrets for Teaching Youth Baseball.”
Gotta said he grew up reading Matt Christopher’s sports fiction geared toward adolescents. He observed, however, that those books were written for past generations.
That prompted Gotta to pen his own youth-oriented sports novels: “The Unbelievable Point Guard”, “Time for Willy”, “The Season’s Not Over” and “Hanging in There”.
“I wrote the sports books when they were young, really for them. They were my first audience and they loved them,” said Gotta of his now adult children: Cade, 32; Nick, 30; Jacob, 28; and Madeline, 26.
“Anybody who’s got a grade school-age child who loves sports and wants them to read and maybe get off the PlayStation, I would think, would be attracted to these books. They’re written for the elementary-school, grade-school boy or girl who loves baseball, soccer or any of the sports.”
Information on all of his books can be found at booksbygotta.com and copies can be ordered through Amazon’s website.
In addition to writing, Gotta’s other pastime is music. He is a singer and songwriter with a forthcoming album on which he performs original compositions in collaboration with a guitar player.
Meanwhile, he is eagerly awaiting responses to “Him.”
“I’m proud of the work,” Gotta said. “Like any author or musician, I’d love it to be a bestseller on the New York Times bestseller list. If that’s not the case, I join the company of a lot of great authors who never wrote a bestseller.
“But as far as the work goes, I wouldn’t want to change it. I wouldn’t want to compromise.”