The Writing Life
I wrote my first book when I was 7.
It was summer time, and I can still remember sitting out in our backyard, our dog at my feet, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I was doing my own personal biography of Babe Ruth, and I must have filled a dozen of those flimsy blue notebooks, the kind we used in school to take tests or practice our handwriting. To my young eyes, Babe Ruth was a giant, a man who had the skills, the passion, the determination, and the raw spirit to break free, to transcend all the usual standards of excellence and to place himself, forever more, among “The Best of The Best.”
Yes, even then I loved writing about inspiring figures like The Babe, and in one form or another, in India, Paris, Italy, the Napa Valley and beyond, I’ve been at it ever since. Mother Teresa, Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Robert Mondavi, George Lucas, Tom Cruise, Jeff Bridges -- I have had the pleasure of meeting and writing about each of them, and countless others. Indeed, as an author and foreign correspondent, I’ve written for major publications and publishing houses here and abroad, and I have been able to touch readers all around the world. Inform! Teach! Inspire! That has always been my mission. What writer could ask for more? Well, me...
To go further, fifteen years ago I created my own publishing company, Val de Grace Books, and I did so with one objective: to create books of exceptional quality and significance. And what a run we’ve had! Over the years, I and my fellow authors have created award-winning books on women in danger around the world, on the birth of the Visa card and the global credit card revolution, on the fascinating legal and political struggles that went into the building and protecting of the Napa Valley, and on the formative years of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Thoreau and many other great American writers. You can read about all of our Val de Grace books in the pages ahead.
And now there’s this:
Paul with Charlie, his beloved Springer Spaniel. Photo by Christophe Genty
Back when I was a foreign correspondent in India, a strange little dog kept appearing at our back door, begging for food. She was a mess: scrawny, her coat blotched from malnutrition, and carrying who knew what kinds of awful diseases. But this dog had charm, and spirit, and if beg she must, she would do so with panache and her best paw forward. Eda was pregnant with our first son, and all my instincts said “No!,” but soon this little devil charmed her way straight into our lives and hearts -- and straight into her own legend as “The Luckiest Dog in the World.” Zelda went with us to Paris, Sardinia, and California Wine Country, winning devoted fans wherever she went.
One day in the Napa Valley, I sat down to write a little remembrance of Zelda, and the little devil quickly took hold of my fingers on the keyboard and out came, “Zelda, The Queen of Paris,” a fond tribute to an amazing little animal, full of soul and grace, and behind that was an informal memoir of those special years of my writing life. And what a stir little Zelda created:
“Zelda is an exquisitely charming tale of redemption through the wiles of a mangy Indian slum dog. Slum dog! Yes, I read this irresistible book in one sitting, and now slum dogs are my favorite breed of mutt.”
-- John Berendt, author of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”
“Droll and tender, Zelda is a delicious dog story but it's far more than that. Behind the portrait of his beloved Zelda, Paul Chutkow takes us inside his journey as a foreign correspondent, as a lover of France, and as a friend of such diverse characters as Mother Teresa, Raymond Aron, the French writer and philosopher, and Gerard Depardieu, a beast as shaggy and colorful as Zelda herself.”
-- L'Express, the French newsweekly
With delicious drawings from the whimsical pen of J.C. Suares, Zelda became a publishing sensation, and beyond the U.S. we had editions in France and two in China. Late last year, we brought out a new edition of Zelda, under our Val de Grace label, and this time with J.C.'s drawings in their original colors.
And this just in; our new edition has just won a silver medal from the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Awards. What a dog! What a story!
And what a joy all this has been for me. At Val de Grace, I have the honor and stimulus of working with a whole team of gifted writers, photographers, designers, and printers -- all devoted to creating beautiful books, the kind that matter, the kind you can savor for many years to come. Lord knows The Writing Life is never easy, but as you will see in the pages ahead, mine has been a fabulous adventure, filled with encounters with exceptional men and women, and all this has brought me the deepest forms of satisfaction.
Through this site, I want to share what I’ve lived and encourage others to follow their passions and find their own wellsprings of joy and inspiration. Live! Work! Create! And it sure helps to have a great dog by your side, a dog like my man Charlie or Zelda, surely The Luckiest Dog in The World!