THERE WAS NO WAY DOGS WEREN'T going to worm their way into the plot of On the Way to the Venus de Milo. First-time novelist Pearson Marx, 31, whose principal character has a dozen dogs, comes from a long line of canine collectors. Her grandfather Louis, founder of the Marx Toy Company (maker of the Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots popular in the '60s), had 20 dogs when he died. "I think he made provisions for them in his will," says Marx, the eldest of four, whose parents currently house a quartet of dogs while she shares a one-bedroom apartment on New York City's Upper East Side with Josephine, a mastiff, Isabelle, a shih tzu, and Penny, a German shepherd mix. "I have lots of bologna and bones in my apartment. It sometimes looks like a prehistoric landscape," says Marx, a graduate of Andover and Princeton who had a brief stint at Viking Publishers reading from the slush pile and working as an assistant at a literary agency before turning to writing full-time. "I found it embarrassing to tell people I was writing a novel," she says. "I felt so pathetic, like such a dilettante."
With the novel published and Marx at work on a new manuscript, such feelings have abated. Now to the real problem: improving the author's love life. "Three dogs are a guarantee of chastity," says Marx. "I have to say to my dates 'wait outside until I put the dogs in the bedroom.' There's all this growling, and I have to coax the guy in. I put on some romantic music, and then the dogs start flinging themselves against the bedroom door. By this time the guy is ashen and covered in dog hair. I think I'm going to have to go out with a veterinarian."