Luke’s Tale, a completed 60,000-word novel, follows the obstacle-riddled journey of a couple’s search for unconditional love, told from the point of view of their blind dog, Luke. When Sara Colson discovers she has breast cancer and leaves her troubled boyfriend, Ashlundt Jaynes, to shield him from the pain of her disease, Luke is presented with the first of several crises he must help them resolve.
The year is 2010; the place, Bell Canyon, California. Luke, an intelligent, 89-pound yellow Labrador retriever, has an odd ability to understand human conversations and actions. As this courageous dog slowly spirals into total blindness, he becomes the catalyst for overcoming a series of life-changing events affecting his owners. Luke is an active participant in showing his humans how to love without boundaries. At the heart of Luke’s Tale is the story of star-crossed lovers and their struggle with unforeseen disillusionment to build a lasting relationship — and the loving, furry creature who is devoted to them beyond all reason.
Sara Colson is a strong, brilliant psychology major who turns her master thesis into a book that elevates her as the noted expert on unconditional love. Ashlundt Jaynes, a successful psychologist, has found the love of his life in Sara. That love is interrupted when a young, teenaged patient commits suicide, leaving him with a malpractice lawsuit that all but destroys his practice. He slips into depression and self-doubt and slowly begins to push Sara and their beloved dog Luke away.
To make matters worse, Sara is diagnosed with breast cancer. Rather than tell Ashlundt and put another burden on his shoulders, she fabricates an opportunity to complete her doctorate at Oxford and plans to leave. Luke and Ashlundt frantically try to prevent her leaving with no luck.
We learn during Sara’s initial absence that Ashlundt comes from a long line of surfers and that he holds himself responsible for a younger brother’s surfing accident and eventual death. It becomes obvious that Ashlundt doesn’t deal well with illness in those he loves.
After a week with no word, Ashlundt tries to connect with her, only to find she has lied and vanished. None of her friends will admit they know what has happened to her. Luke discovers clues in Sara’s office trash can that lead Ashlundt to UCLA Medical Center and the office of one of the couple’s best friends, oncologist Bruce Hines. Eventually the truth is revealed, and, instead of fighting harder to be by Sara’s side during her illness, Ashlundt gives up.
Instead, Ashlundt goes about rebuilding his practice. Frustrated, Luke begins to bring reminders of Sara (her favorite charm bracelet, photographs, etc.) to Ashlundt on a daily basis. This only angers the man until a final confrontation between man and dog knocks some sense into Ashlundt. Regaining his determination to find her, he locates a hurt and angry Sara who rejects him. It’s been a year since she began battling her disease, and it is unclear to her how he could have stayed away once he discovered she was ill.
Understanding his unbelievable selfishness, Ashlundt sets out to win her back with Luke’s help. Eventually he does, and they are married. On their wedding day after Sara is declared cancer-free, Luke begins to go blind. He is eventually diagnosed with Progressive Retinal Atrophy and slowly begins to lose his sight.
While Ashlundt slowly withdraws from his steadfast canine friend, Sara takes the opportunity to teach the dog how to deal with his blindness and together they become a therapy dog team helping others. They meet Julia, a blind elderly woman with whom they both fall in love, and she teaches Luke what to expect living in the darkness. He learns how to use all his other senses and his memories to cope with blindness. Before Julia dies, she tells Luke about the Rainbow Bridge and how she will wait for him there.
Ashlundt begins to ignore Luke as the dog goes blind. Building walls is a mechanism the man uses to shield himself from pain. When the couple has a son they name Colson, Ashlundt totally ignores Luke. The relationship between Sara and Ashlundt remains strong until their son dies in a horrible accident. Afterward, it falls apart. Luke is Sara’s constant companion helping her to overcome her grief. Ashlundt buries himself in his work and starts to build a psychology clinic with a team of other doctors. Sara makes the decision to go on a book tour; she feels helping others understand unconditional love will help her heal. She uses her relationship with Luke, and his unconditional love for his people, as a strong example.
While she’s away, Ashlundt shuffles Luke off to their good friends Corky and Tim across the street. Each time Sara returns home, Ashlundt is more and more distant. Sara becomes a celebrity with her book tour, appearing on all the major networks. Afterward, Ashlundt proposes she come to work at his clinic. While it is obviously an opportunity to take advantage of her fame, Sara sees it as her chance to try and salvage the relationship. She proposes a condition. If she does so, Ashlundt must try to rebuild his relationship with both Luke and her. He admits he has been wrong but can’t get over the pain of losing his brother and his son and Luke’s blindness. Sara encourages him to undergo therapy, and he agrees.
Just as Sara and Ashlundt have begun to rebuild their lives, Luke becomes ill and is diagnosed with cancer. This time, instead of turning his back on the situation, Ashlundt steps up and does everything humanly possible to save Luke. Together, he and Sara shower their pet with affection and all the treatment money can buy. Through this final trial, Ashlundt learns the true meaning of unconditional love, and Luke understands that it is time for him to move on to “something else.” Luke’s journey has been completed successfully.
Luke dies in their arms knowing that he was sent to them to help Sara heal Ashlundt and that they will teach others about unconditional love. As he is lifted from the body of Luke the Dog, he is greeted by Julia and Colson at the Rainbow Bridge. He understands that henceforth he must share the gift of unconditional love with all to whom he is sent. He knows that love without conditions will open all the possibilities of the universe. He believes it with all his heart and feels that people will change the world if they do too.
Targeted Age Group:: Luke’s Tale is targeted to women but has been created with accessibility to young adults. It will also hold great appeal to dog lovers and readers of popular books such as Marley and Me.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The novel was inspired by two things. The first was my blind dog Luke who was such an inspiration for me. As he spiraled into blindness, he was my constant companion. He was fearless. He had always been my barn dog before he went blind. After Progressive Retinal Atrophy took his sight, he continued to go to the barn with me every day, and, stuck to me like Velcro everywhere I went. He was never afraid to go somewhere on his own, feeling gently with his front paws as he went along. It was his loyalty and love for me that made him so courageous.
Secondly, I truly believe that couples today give up on their relationships because they place unrealistic “conditions” on each other. But, no matter if you are sick, tired, unemployed, had a bad day or are even angry, your dog will love you. That is why I made Luke, the Dog, the narrator of this story. I want people to see what it means to stick by those they love, no matter how bad it gets.
There are dog owners who would have “put Luke down” because of his blindness. It never crossed my mind. Our love was without conditions. Life is full of ups and downs, and it’s important for people to understand how to ride through the ‘downs’ and why not placing our own expectations on others will strengthen any relationship. This may seem ‘too out there,’ but this message came to me in a dream. That and my blind dog, Luke, were the inspiration for this novel. So, perhaps angels inspired my story? I know that Luke was an angel here on earth, and maybe angels brought the idea to me in my dreams!”
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
It’s always easy to play the victim, blame everyone else and never take responsibility for one’s actions. We all have blame moments. But, if we go back to my theme of unconditional love, isn’t it important for us to see the soul inside even the worst of us? And, isn’t it important for each of us, in our individual blame moments, to dig deep inside and take responsibility for our words and actions? If others didn’t place conditions on us in those moments, we might feel freer to take responsibility for past, present and future. Think about how that might work.
Luke had to embody unconditional love. Ashlundt had to be a character who displayed only loving with conditions. Sara represented the character striving to love without conditions. Each character had a purpose to show how loving unconditionally and loving with conditions interact.
Ashlundt Jaynes didn’t know about the cancer, but I smelled it on Sara Colson from the beginning. I may just be a dog, but when she lied to him about it, I realized I had to help them.
I was born a large, blonde Labrador Retriever—a handsome, big-boned guy with a large square head and an unusually fine mind, so it was easy for me to reach the knobs and learn how to open doors… unless they were locked. Without too much exertion of my 87-pounds, I could just nudge them open with my nose and saunter in to be with my humans. They always seemed so pleased when I entered the room. Well, all except for this one time when I wandered into the master bathroom on that fateful day to find Sara, with her long dark hair tangled around her face, hunched over the edge of the bathtub crying.
I have to emphasize that I truly understand humans. I took great pride in my ability to comprehend the events surrounding me.
Since my birth, I had never seen Sara cry. It startled me. I plodded over to lick her face and hands, trying to wipe the tears away. She grabbed my head, slid to the marble tile floor and buried her face in my furry neck.
“Oh, Luke, what am I gonna do? I can’t add my problems to his,” she moaned.
I whined in Sara’s ear and plopped down next to her with my head in her lap. She cupped her arms around her left breast and rocked back and forth. “Your mommy needs an operation. Chemo too.” She rubbed the top of my head. “Ash can’t deal with me being sick.” Sara bent down and rested her cheek on my ear. “With the law suit and all, this would be… too much. I need to go away for awhile …” Her voice trailed off.
I pressed my nose closer to her mouth and smelled the disease on her breath. A dog’s olfactory senses are much greater than a human’s, or so I’ve overheard. I knew it was bad. It was very much like the last time I saw our old next door neighbor, Mrs. Simmons. She patted me on the head in front of her house one afternoon. She was so weak and sluggish. It was like all her strength had been taken away. A week later, the ambulance was taking her away for the last time. Now, as Sara held me tighter, my body began to tremble with hers at the fear of losing her.
Carol McKibben was a magazine publisher for more than 20 years. She began a new career in freelance writing and editing in 2007. As well as editing other authors’ works to realize their dreams, she has completed Luke’s Tale and published a memoir, Riding Through It. Her new series, Snow Blood, is currently in eBook form and will be in hard copy Spring, 2014.
Carol currently writes from the heart of a dog’s eyes. Often telling her stories to Labradoodles, Basset Hounds and any stray that happens by, it wasn’t long before people stopped to have a listen as well. Now Carol writes for people and speaks to large audiences, dogs included.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Link to Buy Luke’s Tale Print Edition at Amazon
Link to Buy Luke’s Tale Print Edition at Barnes and Noble