Happy Black Cat Appreciation Day!

When I learned that today, August 17, is Black Cat Appreciation Day, I thought of my one-year-old cat, Harry, whom I adopted last October along with his sister, Hermione, who is a dilute calico.

Harry and Hermione already came with their monikers when I adopted them from the Shabby Tabby Cat Cafe. They were originally at the Golden Paw Society rescue in Huntington, Long Island. My teenage daughter immediately gravitated toward the 3-month-old Harry because she’d always wanted a black cat. I’d had a few over my many years of cat ownership, but I hadn’t had one in a long time. Harry and Hermione were an inseparable pair, so we adopted both of them.

Harry was a shy but active kitten. He cried when he was separated from his sister and seemed to rely on her. As he grew, he became more confident, friendly, very sweet, and lovable. I hear that black cats have that type of temperament. Handsome Harry is definitely no exception.

There are some people who don’t agree that black cats make good pets and that’s why they’re less likely to be adopted. Part of the reason is that old superstition about black cats bringing bad luck if they cross your path. However, there are countries where black cats are actually believed to bring good luck.  If you hear a black cat sneeze in Italy, it is believed that you’re in for a streak of good luck. Black cats are a symbol of good luck in Japan. If someone in Japan sees a black cat crossing their path, they say  ‘Konichiwa’ and take control of their own luck. In Britain and Ireland, it’s also lucky to see a black cat.

Black Cat Appreciation Day seeks to inform the public about these special cats who were given bad raps as witches’ familiars and bad-luck bearers. On my other blog, Sneaky the Library Cat, hosted by the character cat in my Cobble Cove mysteries, I posted  videos about Black Cat Appreciation Day and my Harry playing with his toys. You can view that post and the videos here.

I’m glad that I adopted a black cat. Harry aka Handsome Harry, aka Harold is a wonderful addition to our pet family that now consists of three cats, Stripey, Harry, and Hermione.

Do you have a black cat? What’s his or her name?

Welcome, Kathy Krevat!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Kathy Krevat, to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book.

Hi! I’m Kathy Krevat, author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series by Lyrical/Kensington. In the third book of the series, THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT, gourmet cat food chef Colbie Summers stumbles over the body of an abusive oboe teacher who is part of an underground network of people helping to get rich kids in top universities.

As Kim Davis, Blogger at Cinnamon, Sugar and a Little Bit of Murder, said, “Long before the scandals hit recent headlines, Ms. Krevat managed to portend a social issue involving wealthy families using their riches to gain access to top schools for unworthy students. THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT weaves an entertaining, tightly plotted tale of murder in a timely and relevant story involving a college fixer.” 

When I’m not writing, I’m volunteering. I just finished five years on the board of Playwrights Project, (http://playwrightsproject.org/) an organization that teaches literacy and other life skills through playwriting. It works with over 10,000 people a year — students in K-12 schools, foster care and juvenile court system schools, seniors, the incarcerated and more.

I’m also on the board for Partners in Crime – the San Diego Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’m involved in local politics. And I help coordinate the CCA Writers’ Conference in San Diego – the only free writing conference for high school students in the US. (https://ccawritersconference2019.weebly.com/)

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?

Trouble is an orange tabby cat who was the inspiration behind Colbie starting Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food Company. She’s full of personality and is the official taste-tester of Colbie’s products.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

I had quite a few childhood pets, including dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, gerbils, and a rabbit. Once I even brought home a little of kittens and the mother from band camp. (Yes, I called to ask first.)

Who is your favorite author and why?

J.K. Rowling for her imagination and mastery of plotting, setting, characterization, and more, and for inspiring a love of reading in millions of people young and old.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

Trouble is definitely a character is her own right, meowing comments that Colbie interprets, and sometimes finding clues.

What’s your real-life, funniest pet story?

I’m sure I have others, but the one that comes to mind is about my Shih Tzu, Fluffy, who I had in my twenties. I adopted her from a family who couldn’t keep her any longer and their daughter had named her. I took her to a lot of places in an oversized bag, including a trip to my sister’s wedding. I tried leaving her in the hotel room, and she barked so much that I came back to get her. She was so mad that she refused to look at me. Another time, a friend was visiting, and instead of going to the park like we usually did on weekends, I dropped Fluffy off at home, and we went to the local diner. When we got back, my friend discovered that Fluffy had climbed on top of her unzipped luggage and peed inside!

What’s the most interesting/fun/dangerous thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your books?

The most fun was learning how to make chocolate truffles for my Chocolate Covered Mystery series. A local chocolatier supplied all of the recipes, but I had to test them all. Such a hardship!

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

There are so many more than two things! I wish I’d known that in order to get published, your voice matters more than you imagine, so write what sounds like you. I also wish I’d joined writing organizations like Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America earlier. Taking advantage of all they have to offer helped me and so many others become published.

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

I have “my spot” on one end of a very comfy couch with reclining leg rests where I read and write. I also have a recliner in my home office that I use as well. My writing process is a bit unusual. I hand write my ideas onto neon pink paper and then flesh them out a lot more as I type them into the computer. Once I have a decent draft, I print the whole thing out, which allows me to see problems better. I wish my process didn’t use so much paper, but maybe it’s offset by my driving an electric car.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

The best advice I know of is to keep learning and keep writing. No one thinks they can become a sculptor overnight, but for some reason almost everyone thinks they should automatically be able to write a book. When it’s not perfect to begin with, they stop, not realizing that you have to practice, practice, practice. Keep writing!

I’d also recommend giving back to their local writing community. I didn’t start volunteering to make business contacts, but looking back, I can see that it helped. And there’s something special about being with people who love the same things you do!

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

It might be a little depressing, but there’s a large element of luck in getting published, and lots of great books don’t get chosen by the big publishers. Indie publishing offers great opportunities for the authors of these books.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

While I wait to hear if Lyrical/Kensington wants a fourth book in the Gourmet Cat Mystery series, I’m working on a young adult suspense book.

Single mom Colbie Summers has a lot to be grateful for in the run up to Thanksgiving. Relocating back to her California hometown has brought her irascible dad and adolescent son closer.  Her gourmet cat food line—vetted by her trusty taste-tester, Trouble—is about to get a big re-order. And she’s made wonderful new friends and colleagues. Too bad one them has just been accused of murder . . .

Sunnyside’s most gifted students have been at the mercy of a shadowy network of college fixers—including an abusive oboe teacher whose recommendation is necessary to get into Julliard and a school secretary who alters grades for cash. When they turn up dead, Colbie has to untangle a cat’s cradle of suspects and motivations—from livid parents and students whose dreams have been crushed to an entire secret Facebook group of spurned lovers.

Suddenly, holiday preparations just got a lot hairier. With the big re-order now on hold and the real killer still at large, Colbie discovers that someone has been grading on a very dangerous curve—and it will take all her newfound sleuthing talent to land safely on her feet.

About Kathy:

Kathy Krevat is the author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series by Kensington/Lyrical and the Chocolate Covered Mystery series under the name Kathy Aarons by Berkley Prime Crime. Find her at www.kathykrevat.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

Life Advice from My Fuzzy Muses

My two crazy Jack Russell Terriers (Terrors) are great companions and guard dogs. They protect us from countless squirrels, birds, and joggers. Now that we’re settled in the new house in the woods, they have a whole host of squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks to chase.

Each has a bed in my office, and they help me plot mysteries and listen while I talk through dialogue (if they’re not napping). My writing partners sleep on the job a lot.

They keep us on our toes. When it’s too quiet in the house, the pair of jacks are up to something (usually naughty). These two can hear a cheese or candy wrapper from three rooms away.

Here are some things I’ve learned from them about  life.

1.    Enjoy what you do. If not, find something else to spend your time on. There are way too many interesting things to see, eat, sniff, or bark at.

2.    Don’t waste a beautiful day inside. Go outside and have some fun.

3.    Wag and make friends. Relationships are important. This is Disney’s forte. We did a fair amount of remodeling to the new house, and we had a lot of workers in for long periods of time. Each morning, Disney greeted everyone and expected a pat or a hug.

4.    Don’t sit at your desk too long. Everybody needs a break.

5.    Just go for it. If you want something, grab it. They don’t waste time over-analyzing things.

6.    Bark if you really need to, but not too much. (Riley needs to practice what he preaches. He has the best time barking at squirrels, joggers, and anyone who steps on the front porch.)

7.    Make sure you nap when you need to. You need to recharge. My pair of jacks excel at this. They take napping to Olympic levels.

8.    Live in the moment. Don’t stress about what has happened or what might happen.

9.    Play hard. Life shouldn’t be all work. EVERYTHING is a game to a Jack Russell.

Welcome, Sharon St. George!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sharon St. George to the blog. (I think this is the first time we’ve had llamas visit!)

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I became interested in writing fiction quite a few years ago while working in an administrative position in a hospital. At that time, medical mysteries were becoming popular, and since my job involved a lot of insider information, and some intrigue related to the doctors who provided patient care, I thought I might one day try my hand at writing a hospital-based mystery. After leaving that position, I went back to school to finish my degree in English with a Writing Emphasis. From there, it was another few years before I had the idea for the Aimee Machado Mystery series. I gave Aimee one of my previous positions, Health Sciences Librarian, and gave her a mentor who holds my other former position, Director of Medical Affairs.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

Almost all of my pets have found their way into my series. The llamas, of course, since Aimee is living in a bunkhouse over her grandparents’ llama barn when the series begins. My husband and I have owned and hiked in the wilderness with llamas for a number of years. We still keep two llamas, although our hikes are less frequent these days. The llamas’ main duties now are to mow the pasture and to provide us with the pleasure of their company. Aimee’s grandmother has a cat, Fanny, who is a terror, somewhat modeled after one of my real-life cats. My husband’s king snake played a cameo role in the first book in my series, as did our cockatiel.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?

Recurring pet characters in my series include Fanny, the “unhinged” feline, Bosco, the tough-talking cockatiel, two llamas, Smoke and Captain, who sometimes help Aimee and her boyfriend, Nick, in their crime-solving adventures, and the unnamed king snake who lives in Aimee’s grandparents’ guest room. In the second book, Nick acquired a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Ginger, whose role has expanded as the series has grown.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing book six in my series, Renewal, which explores the topic of drug overdose, which causes the death of a candidate running for the office of mayor of the City of Timbergate, the setting for the hospital where Aimee works. The question is whether the overdose was accidental, suicide, or murder. The story also draws from my past experience working as a grants coordinator for a multi-million dollar private foundation.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

I grew up on an eight-acre ranch in rural Northern California where we had all sorts of animals. Always at least one dog, and often two. Frequent litters of cats. So many that I don’t think we even tried to give all of them names. My father considered them farm workers who kept the rodent population down. There were beef cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, all of which ended up on our dinner table. We always had a milk cow, and there were two horses, one for each of my parents. The social life back then involved a group of my parents’ friends who arranged horseback rides. I rode behind my mother, and my brother rode behind our father on these occasions. When I was around twelve, I was given my own dog, Buster, and my own mare, Ginger. The three of us spent every day after school going out for a ride together on our sparsely-populated country road. That ritual continued all the way through high school and even after, until I finished my first two years of college and moved to San Francisco at nineteen to experience city life.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

The llama herd and Bosco the cockatiel helped foil the bad guy on book one, Due for Discard. The llamas went along on a search in the wilderness for a missing hospital nurse in book two, Checked Out. Ginger the dog helped by using her tracking skills in book four, Spine Damage, and most recently used her cadaver dog training in book five, Primary Source.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I’ve lived with animals all my life., all of the animal characters that show up in the Aimee Machado Mysteries are inspired by actual animals in my life. In a setting like Aimee’s, on a ranch in rural Northern California, it would seem unrealistic to write a story without including pets and livestock.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?

The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley was my favorite as a child. I had grown up on and around horses, and by the time I began reading the series, I was already pestering my parents almost daily to buy me a horse of my own. To my mind, life would not be complete until that happened. Alec’s relationship with the black stallion was exactly how I knew I would feel with a horse of my own. I still have my copy of the first book in the series with a copyright date of 1941. It’s tattered and the pages are dark with age, but I can’t imagine parting with it.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

A few years ago, I was on a phone call with a customer service tech who was helping me solve some sort of problem that required my concentration. My cockatiel, Bosco, was out of his cage, as I liked to give him a chance to spread his wings occasionally by flying around in the house. Just as our conversation was getting into a critical area, Bosco swooped into the room where I was and made a perfect landing on the top of my head. I told the man on the phone to please wait a moment, that my pet bird had just landed on my head and I had to go put him back in his cage. The man broke out laughing, but when he recovered, he waited while I put Bosco away, and then we finished our phone session.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My cat usually wanders in and out of my office. Sometimes she hops up on a table near my desk and takes a nap. The llamas hang out in the pasture. Bosco is no longer with us, but he used to like to sit on my shoulder and peck at my earrings.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

We have a king snake living in an aquarium in our guest room. It has already surpassed by almost double the age that king snakes are supposed to live and doesn’t show any signs of departing. His diet consists entirely of live mice, which is a little gruesome for my sensibilities, so I leave the feeding chore to my husband. He won’t donate the snake to our natural history museum because it was caught by his daughter when she was about ten years old and became her pet. For him, it holds sentimental value, even though his daughter is now a mom with ten-year-old twins of her own.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

The lesson I’d like to share is that it’s a lot of work. First, you must learn the craft, and if you’re serious, that alone can take years. Then, you have to learn the business. More years. Then, when you sign the contract, you have to learn all the other things about being published that you had no idea you were going to have to know. How to maintain a good working relationship with agents and editors, and how to promote yourself and market your books. All of the above requires the writer to be computer literate in a dozen different ways, and that’s another learning curve.

About Sharon:

During my years as medical staff director of an acute-care hospital, the intrigue and secret-keeping I witnessed inspired me to write the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series.

The first five titles, inspired in part by my additional experience working in health science libraries, are: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, Spine Damage, and Primary Source.

My degrees are in English and Theatre Arts, so when I have time for a break from writing, I enjoy taking on a role in a community theatre production.

I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and I serve as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit organization for writers in Northern California. I can be found at: www.sharonstgeorge.com

Book Links:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Sharon+St+George&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/primary-source-sharon-st-george/1129752844

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Dogs Learn New Tricks!

Hello again, from Cherie O’Boyle, Shiner, and Ben (who turns one year old today!!) and also from Patience, the cat.

After about ten years of obedience and agility classes, flyball tournaments, and herding trials, my border collie Shiner was ready for something new. Sadly, by then arthritis had claimed his left wrist joint, making running on uneven ground painful. His hearing was also going, meaning he could no longer follow the long-distance whistles directing him where to herd the sheep. But the dog was still ready to go. I knew I had to think of something fast as Shiner was staring at me with that unmistakeable border collie eye. So what was next?

What was next turned out to be “nose work” or, in AKC parlance, “scent work.” Nose work uses many of the same skills used by professional search and rescue teams, but has become more of a dog sport. Participants may attend “trials” to test their skills and earn ribbons and awards.

When people ask me about nose work, their first question is “How do you teach dogs to smell what you want them to smell?”

The answer, of course, is that we don’t teach dogs to smell what we want them to smell. They already do smell, all the time, although granted, not always what we want them to smell. Dogs live in a universe of scents that we can only imagine.

Nose work involves first, teaching dogs which one of those millions of scents we want to know about and how to make a sign when they’ve found that scent, and second, teaching the human to read the sign the dog makes. Nose work requires a strong bond between dog and human, making it the perfect activity to share.

Having said that, it turns out that many dogs need practice in using their remarkable sense of smell. As humans, we live in an almost exclusively visual and auditory world, and as a consequence, the dogs who live with us are rarely called upon to pay much attention to their olfactory universe. Nose work gives dogs a chance to hone skills they may not have practiced much, to amaze us with their abilities, and even to help us with tasks we would have a much harder time completing without their help. We’ve all heard about dogs being trained to alert doctors to the presence of cancer in patients. The surface of those abilities in dogs is barely being scratched.

Nose work is also a terrific activity for older dogs. It does not require great physical prowess or speed. Dogs who are losing other sensory skills such as hearing and even eyesight can successfully participate. Studies have found that dogs gain in self-confidence when they participate in nose work. Conveniently, I have forgotten how researchers measured self-confidence in dogs, but since the findings mesh so nicely with what I already want to believe, I’ll not lose sleep over that.

There can be no doubt that a shared interest in nose work bonds human and dog in ways little else can. In ideal nose work practice the human has no way of finding the target, and must rely entirely on reading and trusting the signals sent by the dog. There is nothing quite so fascinating as setting your dog on a “find” to search a car that you know has been planted with a scent, and watching the dog’s every sniff, every move, even the slightest head turn, for signs of an alert. And when the dog makes a successful find, celebration!

Sure, your dog may never win any nose work awards, but even practicing together is a fun way to build a connection between you. There are lots of videos available on-line to get you started.

Learning nose work with my dogs has informed my writing in a variety of ways. My most recent release is On Scent, a wilderness thriller featuring both air-scenting and tracking dogs. That one required a great deal of research, not just about canine skills, but also about kidnappings, law enforcement procedures, and fighting forest fires as well.

In my Estela Nogales Mystery series, all of the neighborhood dogs play various roles, always utilizing skills that dogs exhibit every day. They sniff out dead bodies, murder weapons, and bad guys. They tree lost cats, and come to Estela’s rescue simply by appearing at the right time in the right place. At no time in these mysteries do the dogs, cats, or wild boar ever talk or do anything else that these animals wouldn’t do in real life. And thank goodness for that, as, in Estela’s opinion, there is entirely too much yammering going on in the world already without dogs pitching in their two cents.

And just for the record, because whenever we learn something new we always include Patience, the cat, I have to tell you that she is faster and more efficient at finding the target scents than any of the dogs. She would have a boxful of ribbons too, if she cared to attend trials with all those barking dogs. Here she is giving her best “alert” sign on the correct box.

How about you and yours? What do you do to keep an older pet entertained? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Welcome, Sam Cheever!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sam Cheever to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a USA Today and WSJ bestselling author of over 80 books. I write contemporary, cozy and paranormal mystery/suspense, and, I have 13 dogs. My husband and I rescue hard luck cases and senior pets. Our dogs are our family, our hobby, and our passion. As you can imagine, taking care of 13 dogs takes up a lot of our day. But we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

Our close-nit little pack includes 2 Great Danes, 7 dachshunds, 2 cattle dog mixes, 1 pibl (she’s actually a bull dog / pitbull mix – so cute!), and 1 retriever mix. They’re all inside dogs. In fact, they’re all “inside on the bed and furniture” dogs. LOL Our youngest is around 4 years old and our oldest is close to 15 years old. We generally have 8 dogs on the bed with us every night, fortunately, most of the bigger dogs like to sleep on the floor and dog beds around us. My biggest challenges in life are finding room on the bed and not melting under the heat of 5-6 snuggling dachshunds. LOL

I write traits from my dogs into almost every book. Caphy, the Pitbull featured in my Country Cousin Mysteries is a sweet and fun mix of my pibl, Zoie and my daughter’s pibl, Willa. In Spunky Bumpkin, my latest Country Cousins mystery, which is part of the recently released Summer Snoops Unleashed collection, Caphy is joined by her new sister, LaLee the Siamese cat, and Spunky, a senior retriever whose owner has been accused of murder. The three pets help their owners solve the murder and find a killer!

My old guy, Poppie, is Rodney in my Silver Hills Cozy Mysteries; a senior dachshund with tons of personality and zero manners! In fact, my dachshunds make regular appearances in my books in some form or other, because they have such fun personalities.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a brand-new series right now. My Enchanting Inquiries series features a young sorceress who is a Keeper of Magical Artifacts. Naida also works with a magically-talented cat, whose name is Mr. Wicked, and a frog named Mr. Slimy, who has a really big secret. The series is fun, irreverent, and filled with magical adventure. I’m having a lot of fun writing it!

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

If I put an animal into a book, it’s always as a main character. Any animal you add to a story has so much potential to add fun, challenge, and warm feelings that it’s a downright shame to waste that potential as a writer. You know the old adage about kids and pets in entertainment. You simply cannot beat them. But you can enjoy the heck out of them!

Why do you include animals in your writing?

See above! *grin* But really, aside from the fact that I’m passionate about them and try to never miss a chance to advocate for them, animals are just plain fun. They add so much to a story. They provide a richness of heart that only kids and animals can provide. They give your characters dimension. They can even move the story forward, as they often do in mysteries. An author can give an animal any number of fun and quirky traits that make the reader laugh, cry, and care about the story. They’re pure fiction gold.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

That depends on the time of day. Unlike my human children and my husband, my dogs simply won’t allow me to train them to respect my writing time, so anything goes. Once they’ve badgered us into feeding them in the morning, they’ll all settle down for a couple of hours of sleep. This is prime work time for us. Then somebody will decide it’s time for me to pay attention to them. But that’s good too because it forces me to get out of my chair for a while. I’ll usually go outside with them and walk around the yard while they bark at the hawks overhead, sniff out mice and other small things, (they even find the occasional mole. Which doesn’t work out well for the mole if I’m not there to rescue it!) Then we all traipse back inside and they settle down for a couple more hours before they start lobbying to be fed again. LOL It’s a never-ending, comfortable cycle.

To add intrigue to our days, every person, car, truck, or airplane that dares to pass by our home must get a loud talking to (I call it the canine chorus. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard 13 dogs bark and sing at the same time.) #:0) Every unsanctioned movement outside the house must be addressed. Then they’ll all settle down again until the next unplanned intrusion.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

When the kids were young we got a box turtle. That was a strange experience. I love turtles, but they’re kind of boring as pets. I’ve never written one into a book so that should tell you something. The poor thing would be sitting there blinking in chapter one and still sitting in the same spot blinking in chapter twenty-one. Not exactly riveting fiction. LOL

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

This is tough because the industry has changed so much since I started. My impulse is to say that I would have started writing mystery or paranormal adventure sooner. But at the time I broke in, romance was the biggest genre. So I wrote romance. And then I wrote sexy romance, which wasn’t really my thing. Writing this, I realize I should be feeling like I settled a little. But I really don’t feel that way. I enjoy romance, and it was fun to write, but I never exploded into the industry as a romance writer because the romance was always a small part of the stories I wove. I’m all about the mystery and the action first, and the romance just adds a nice edge to it all.

But taking that all away, I would have started writing to my real passion sooner. Also, I would have resisted going the sexy romance route. There’s nothing wrong with sexy romance, it’s just not where my passion is, and I think it kept me from finding my real audience sooner.

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

I read in bed at night. I rarely read during the day because there’s just too much to do. But I will listen to audiobooks while I’m in the car, cleaning, or cooking dinner.

I write almost exclusively at my desk. It’s comfortable and it’s easier for me to concentrate and work there. However, I’ll sometimes take my laptop outside and work. It’s a nice change of pace when I need one.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

Keep an open mind. With changes in technology, changes in the retail landscape, and shifting reader tastes, the publishing world is everchanging. Don’t fight the change. Embrace it. And look for ways to succeed within every new landscape.

About Sam:

USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Sam Cheever writes mystery and suspense, creating stories that draw you in and keep you eagerly turning pages. Known for writing great characters, snappy dialogue, and unique and exhilarating stories, Sam is the award-winning author of 80+ books.

Let’s Be Social:

Newsletter: https://samcheever.com/newsletter/
Text News Alerts: https://mobile-text-alerts.com/samnews
Website: https://www.SamCheever.com
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/samcheever
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SamCheeverAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/samcheever
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sam-cheever

 

Steinlen: Another Cat-Lovin’ Man

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859- 923), was a French painter and printmaker, famous for his Art Nouveau style. And his cats.

The artist loved cats, and was known for feeding dozens of them in the Montmartre section of Paris. At the time, cats symbolized the unconventional lifestyle of bohemian culture (we know how independent and non-conformist our cats can be!). Cats often appeared in Steinlen’s paintings and advertising posters, which also featured his daughter, Colette. However, even in his leisure moments, Steinlen turned out many drawings and prints of cats. The man loved cats! Many do (see my post on Cat-Lovin’ Men).

In 2018 I attended the Steinlen: Cats exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (dubbed “The Museum” by locals). The exhibit is over, but you can read about it here in abbreviated form.

I’ve used this Steinlen mousepad and tracking ball mouse for many years, and I love both. Never seen a mouse quite like this one? Well,  now you can say you have.

Read more on Steinlen.

More images of Steinlen’s cats.

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. Her short stories appear in Deadly Southern Charm, Virginia is for Mysteries (Vols. 1&2), and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authormaggieking

Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/2Bj4uIL

 

Welcome, Mabry Hall!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mabry Hall to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up in central Mississippi and live in Louisiana now, with a sidestep to Texas for college and grad school. My favorite childhood times were spent at my grandparents’ farm, where I awoke every morning to the sound of cows at the back fence. My cousin and I roamed free with two very smart working dogs, Lassie— she’d have to be a collie with name like that, and Shep, a golden retriever. My 18 Karat Cold mystery series is set on a farm in northwest Louisiana, but my main character, Annalee Wyatt, buys and sells antique jewelry. Since I’m writing the story, I can have her pastures leased to a neighboring farmer. Annalee needs time for jewelry and sleuthing.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

Our Maine Coon cat is named Lucy, because she’s a redhead. Her personality is reflected in the orange tabby, Montrose, that lives with Annalee. Until a few years ago, we had a wonderful Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Henry, before Corgis became so cool. I’ve immortalized Henry in the books, but he belongs to Annalee’s handsome next door neighbor. He loves to hang out on Annalee’s front porch, flat on his back with his paws in the air. Anyone who’s spent time around a Corgi will have no trouble visualizing the position.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?

In addition to the ones listed above, in the first book Annalee acquires an African Gray parrot named Lafitte. He spent his formative years in a bar in Baton Rouge next to the LSU campus, and he flirts with women and sings old rock-n-roll and zydeco tunes. Annalee’s Basset Hound, Pudge, belonged to her aunt, whose farm she inherited. In my imagination, Pudge spends most of his time with his nose to the ground, snuffling out the critters that live in the country in Louisiana. While they aren’t pets, the farm next door has begun raising dairy goats that have the mischievous personalities of the goats I’ve met.

My third book, A Rumor of Riches, features a redbone coonhound, Delores, and a Catahoula leopard dog named Isobel. Their tracking skills play a major part in the book. My problem is that writing about all of these animals makes me want to get one of each.

While the series isn’t particularly paranormal, Annalee’s Goat Hill Farm is haunted by a goat who lived there in 1885. Repentance comes and goes on his own schedule, and Annalee has been able to see him since she was a child. And the name? Repentance was my fifth great-grandfather. I wish I knew why his parents called him that.

What are you reading now?

Let me share what I’m listening to now, as I always have at least one book in progress on my phone. I’m currently listening to Circe, by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of the myth of Circe of the Odyssey, from her point of view. The story is strong, and the reader is perfect. I recently finished Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, which is a riff on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale told from the woman’s view. For fun and giggles, you can’t go wrong with The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang. I never get a book without listening to the sample, because the reader can make or break the experience for me.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the fourth novel in the 18 Karat Cold series. Since Annalee buys and sells antique jewelry, each book revolves around a specific piece. The first, An Engaging End, features an antique mine-cut diamond engagement ring. The second, A Regrettable Reunion, has a demantoid garnet brooch in the shape of a salamander. The third has gold coins and a squash-blossom turquoise necklace, and this as yet unnamed book has diamond chandelier earrings that are literally

Who is your favorite author and why?

While I don’t claim to have a favorite author, I love anything by Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel, and who can resist Jane Austen? PD James, Louise Penney, Elly Griffiths, and Ben Aaronovitch all captivate my attention with the first page. I usually have four or five books going at one time and read many of my fellow Sisters in Crime cozy writers. Then there’s nonfiction history and Alison Weir, and, oh, lately I’m plowing through the Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker, although they make me very hungry. My next trip to France may have to include Bordeaux.

My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. He brought those animals to life for me. I’ve reread it many times, and each time brings a new understanding.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

My first dog was a fox terrier, delivered by Santa with a red bow as big as he was. I have a vivid memory of finding him under the tree. He was followed by a cocker spaniel, and then we switched to dachshunds. I had four of them through the years, and we once bottle-fed a litter of eight, which involved starting with all of them in one laundry basket. We knew we were through when they were all moved to the other one. I loved cats, but my mother didn’t, so I vowed to myself that I’d have one some day. We are currently on our fourth, the aforementioned Maine Coon, and she is the first that wasn’t a rescue kitty.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals have always been a part of my life, and it seems a natural progression to have them as part of my characters’ lives. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they interact with something smaller and weaker; something that might be at their mercy or dependent on them.

I also think animals have such interesting personalities, if that isn’t anthropomorphizing them too much. My son and his wife have a cat who seemed to have almost no redeeming qualities. Clarence wasn’t friendly; he shed like a three-month-old Christmas tree, and had major litter box issues. I grudgingly tolerated him. Since my granddaughter was born, he’s a whole new cat. He will let that little girl do anything to him. He’s patient and calm, which is not so easy when there’s a two-year-old bouncing an alphabet block on your head. I’m surprised anew each time I visit.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?

My first book had been out for a couple of months and was not setting the world on fire. Friends and relatives loved it, but they didn’t really count. Then one of those friends invited me to Dallas to speak to her book club. Fourteen women RSVP’d, but over twenty attended. They loved the book. I didn’t know them; they didn’t owe me special consideration; they weren’t there to be nice. They honestly liked it, and just as important, they were ready to read the next one! It was a game-changer.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

I don’t think hamsters qualify as unusual, but Captain Cook was quite the adventurer. He lived up to his name. He routinely escaped from his fortified cage, and once he disappeared for several days. He had made his way from his upstairs room to the downstairs dining room, and taken up residence behind our enormous sideboard. He was a rodent with a plan. We think he made several trips up and down the stairs, cheeks stuffed with food, and set up housekeeping.

Captain Cook lived much longer than a hamster should, and toward the end of his life, my eight-year-old son came to me several times, sobbing because he was dead. Each time I’d take him and tuck him under my shirt to get him warm. Sure enough, he’d perk up in ten minutes or so and be ready to roam again. He finally died when we were out of town, and my house-sitting friend went to every pet store searching for one that looked like him, thinking she could fool David, but the Captain was irreplaceable.

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

When I was a kid, I read in the crook of a big mulberry tree. Now I require something a bit more forgiving. If it’s too hot or too cold to be outside, I curl up in one of the chairs in the den. If the weather cooperates, I love to read on my screened back porch under the ceiling fan. The swing I sit in came from my grandmother’s house, and my father was swung to sleep in it when he was a baby, about ninety years ago.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

Finish your book. Begin another one. Finish that one and start on the third. Know that it’s a long haul, and the chance of life-altering financial success is slim. Join a group like Sisters in Crime, where you’ll receive encouragement and advice from many generous people. Be open to helpful criticism. And finally, don’t do it if it isn’t fun.

About Mabry:
I was born and raised in the South, and have lived in Mississippi, Texas, and now Louisiana. After an operating room fall curtailed my career as a nurse anesthetist, I turned my energy to writing. My boys are grown and live on the East Coast (egads!) I really do collect antique jewelry, and have amazing Pinterest boards that showcase the types I write about, so pour yourself a glass of tea or wine and prepare to be dazzled.

I write what I know, except for the murder part. Though I’ve traveled the globe, I always come back to the friendly and quirky people who populate northwest Louisiana.

Let’s Be Social:

You can reach me through my website or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

http://www.mabryhall.com

https://www.facebook.com/18KaratCold/

https://www.pinterest.com/mabryhall/

https://www.instagram.com/18karatcold/

https://amzn.to/2XGrjWO

MUTTS ARE LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES by Jayne Ormerod

<with apologies to Forest Gump…> Mutts are like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get.

Over the course of our almost 40 years together, my husband and I have spun the roulette wheel of doggie DNA six times as we’ve welcomed “mutts” into our lives. Three were labeled Shepard/Husky mixes, one was a lab mix, one was a shepherd/Carolina dog mix, and one was straight up Heinz 57 (a Puerto Rican street dog with at least 57 breeds in his lineage.) Success ratio: 1 out of 6.

Dog one was the truest to his cage tag of shepherd/husky mix. I suspect there were other breeds mixed in there, but those were his predominant size, color, and personality traits. So far so good.

Dog two was not even close to the shepherd/husky mix the cardboard box at a South Carolina flea market promised. He topped out at a whopping 104 pounds. He had Doberman markings, but we never did figure out what the “big dog” cross was. And, um, let’s just say he didn’t have quite the IQ of our super smart shepherd/husky mix. Not even close.

Dog three picked my husband as she huddled in her cage at the shelter. Tag read shepherd/husky. She turned out to be a Norwegian Elkhound. In all fairness, the Elkhound resembles a shepherd, but the Elkhounds are smaller. I believe she was a purebred, but what are the odds someone dumped a box of purebreds when they could have sold them for big money?

Dog four who came from a foster dog program, looked like a mottled lab; short-haired (our preference) and roly-poly—who could resist? She didn’t grow much, so the lab lineage didn’t pan out. Her fur grew long and silky, and she had the rounding-up instincts of a border collie. When wet, she had the body image of a beagle. Oh, and she had the beagle howl. Surprise, surprise.

Dog five came to us in an emergency rehome situation, a tawny, twelve-pound bundle of skin and bones. Diagnosis: Carolina dog/shepherd mix, projected full size of 30 to 40 pounds. This dog has literally grown before our very eyes, weighing it at 74 pounds at his one-year checkup. He has the conformation and droopy jowls of a Great Dane; the wide, cement-hard head of a yellow lab; and the sit-under-the-porch-on-a-sunny-summer’s-day smarts of a Carolina dog. He loves to snuggle on a lap. The problem is nobody in our household has a lap that big.

Dog six, the Puerto Rican street dog, came with no guesses as to his lineage or false promises of size or temper. He is what he is: a little brown dog with a great big heart. He just celebrated his first birthday, and doesn’t appear to be getting much taller (wider maybe…that dog is always hungry! I think that comes from spending the first four months of his life not knowing where his next meal was coming from.) He might have a little chihuahua and/or min-pin in him, but the rest is a mystery.

You know where this is going, right?

To Doggie-DNA test, or not to Doggie-DNA test. That is the question we are currently debating.

Costs range from $50 to $200 per test. I can take a sample of my dog’s saliva and send it in and see which breeds exactly are inside my fur babies. Many of my friends have tested their dogs and shown the results, some surprising, but most not telling them anything they didn’t already know.

While the true breed of “mutt” is never going to be invited to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show—I’m not sure any self-respecting Mutt would even want to—would knowing their lineage have any effect on their lives? Or mine? Would it make me more enthusiastic about vacuuming fur off the sofa cushions? Would the level of spoiling them increase? Would our love for these snuggle bunnies change? The answer to all of these questions is No.

The mutts in my house are always welcome, and in good company. After all, I’m a mutt myself.

<<If any of you have had an experience with a canine DNA test, I’d love to hear about it.>>

ABOUT JAYNE

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck, as well as a dozen other short stories and novellas. Her most recent releases are Goin’ Coastal and “It’s a Dog Gone Shame!” in To Fetch a Thief.

         

LET’S BE SOCIAL.

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Welcome, Michele Peters

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Michele Peters to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I grew up in a large Midwest town (St. Louis), have lived in Arizona for the past nine years with my husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. I have two children, my son lives in Arizona and my daughter in NY.

How we came to Arizona is a story onto itself filled with happenstance, circumstance and crazy timing, an out-of- the-blue job offer that ended up with my having three weeks to move from a lifetime in the Midwest. The task of packing, moving, selling and closing up a house we lived in for over 27 years fell squarely to my husband. On January 2nd I left with two suitcases and enough clothes to get me through until the rest of my things could be shipped. And that is a whole other story.

 Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions in corporate, university and non-profit, basically in marketing, advertising and development. Previous writing experience includes feature articles on everything from fashion to NASCAR races and a local reporter. The best writing gig I landed, even to this day, was an assignment to write a three page feature article on a small cruise ship vacation experience to the British Isles. This is where I fell in love with Ireland and Scotland and will most likely set a few of my stories in these fascinating locales.

In December 2018, I left the position Managing Director of a classical theatre company to concentrate full time and pursue my life-long dream of writing fiction. Always an avid reader from an early age (I was that “bookworm” kids teased); a BA in communications from Lindenwood University reinforced this passion but added a new appreciation for the beauty and power of language. During this time I also read early Russian literature (Pushkin, Leskov, Gogol) which created a new dimension for me in character description and development.

When we had to write our thesis (capstone), while other students complained about having to write 90 pages, I was trying to figure out how to keep it to only 90 pages.

I discovered cozies quite by accident last summer while visiting a friend, have been studying this genre and working on the first of a series ever since.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

My husband and I, over the years have had numerous pet dogs, all rescues and always two or three. All were fairly large, mixed breed rescues. We adopted an abused Irish setter who I nursed back to health. My vet laughed when I told him I put Shayna in our guest bed and fed her home-made chicken soup; she lived to 14 years old; he originally said she wouldn’t live the year (she was about two years old at the time). We’ve had Bootsie and Pepper; Matty and Abby; Crackers and Shayna. And then Clancy, a 125lb Irish setter who thought he was a lap dog. Since we are older, we not only downsized our house but our pets. Sophie and Rocky are two small Chihuahua mixes, who I am quite certain, believe we are just funny forms of them.

Clancy will be featured in my cozy mystery as well as on the cover. In his own crazy way, he helps the protagonist uncover and dig up clues needed to solve murders.

What are you reading now?
Like so many of us, I have more than one book started. Reading Ellen Byron’s Body on the Bayou; a collection of stories by Daphne duMauier, Echoes from the Macabre and Dianne Freeman’s A Ladies Guide to Gossip and Murder. Just finished Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and constantly adding to my collection of her works.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
The first in a series of cozy mysteries and a WWII mystery. Doing research on a historical fiction manuscript. In between, every so often I am asked to write marketing copy for a few freelance clients I have retained.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

Growing up we had beautiful white and tan collie mix named Fluffy; she was more our third sister. We painted her toenails, she let us dress her up, she slept with me and I read books to her. I’m certain at some point she will be featured in one of my books. She had such a sweet, loving nature…a truly gentle soul.

My love of animals, especially dogs, is simply a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. One of my “causes” is pet rescues and shelters. I still support the ASPCA in St. Louis and the Humane Society in Arizona. All donations are given in honor of my pets.

One of my treasured pieces of jewelry is a bracelet. On the outside is inscribed “Wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge” and on the inside are the names of all my dogs who are waiting for me at that bridge. I wear this almost every day.

 

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Clancy was probably the funniest pet we’ve had. He quickly learned how to open doors and drawers. He also decided fences, screen doors, screened windows were simply objects to move out of his way. After being away for almost an entire day, we came home to discover he opened the sliding doors to our hall closet, pulled everyone’s coat down from the hangers and piled them up in the middle of our living room. He created a nest of sorts from our coats and was perched on top of the pile of coats as happy as could be. Gotta love a pet that will do that.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?

I always loved to read but began to embellish or rewrite the stories I was reading as early as grade school. I can easily trace back my certainty to become a writer to a 7th grade writing assignment where we had to create a Greek myth. My teacher told me… “You need to be a writer.” It has taken me ¾ of a lifetime, but I am following my heart and her advice.


Apparently some of my friends knew I was destined to become a writer. My closest high school friend gave me a Roget’s Thesaurus as a graduation present. Inside she wrote, “For your writing career.” I still have that thesaurus.

All will be confirmed the day I sign a publishing contract.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
That is funny – and how did you know I have more than one TBR pile?

I have three TBR piles since I am working in two different genres and one I call ‘just for fun’. My mystery pile has several books by Agatha Christie, my historical fiction has Judith Starkston’s Priestess of Ishana and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy at the top, and my for fun has Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon and The Power by Naomi Alderman at the top. I would use up all the space we have here to list all of the books in my TBR piles.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
a) Writing novels, no matter what genre, is very different from writing marketing copy, press releases, feature articles or reporting. This is truly a craft that needs to be learned, honed and practiced.

b)To start reading books and attending conferences focused on the “art or craft” of good writing; to learn some of the well- known and lesser known necessities good stories must contain – the beat sheets, the 3-act formula, editing, pacing, character arcs and development, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Read, read and read. Once you’ve settled on a genre, read good writers. Read the classics – they have survived for a reason. Also begin to build your own library about the craft of writing; plot and structure, conflict, self-editing etc.

Realize you will write, edit, write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, rinse and repeat. It is all part of the process to achieve your best work.

Join one or two writers groups where you are comfortable. I tried 4 or 5 before I settled on the AZ Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths (and the Guppies Group). Attend conferences if possible. Some of the most valuable advice and hints I learned were at conferences. Writing is a solitary profession – you need others who understand what we go through to finish a book. Build your own community.

Right now I am learning that I just have to be tenacious and keep writing – until I can write those glorious words…The End.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?
If you self-publish or go with a house, you will be expected to be your own marketing dept. Learn social media, learn who your target audience is and what they are reading. In addition to writing time, you will need to set aside time devoted only to marketing.

About Michele
Now able to concentrate on her second career and life-long passion for writing, Michele Peters is working on the first in a series of cozy mysteries set in a fictional New England town, doing research for an upcoming WW II mystery while a story and characters set in medieval England keep her up at night. Writing has always been a part of her life in some form or another; writing marketing copy, feature articles, press releases or reporting, writing is always there. Michele now lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. Her son and daughter are on auto-pilot, the dogs have settled in and Michele is now able to focus on writing. She retains a few free-lance writing clients but happily pursues her long-awaited dream.