Welcome, Katie Baldwin!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Katie Baldwin to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write romances. Some have a mystery in the plot, some have paranormal storylines, but they all are romances. I grew up watching 1940s & 1950 musicals and that is where my love of romance began. Then I began to read Barbara Michaels gothic romances and I was hooked.

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

I have one dog. Her name is Marley. I adopted her from my local SPCA in 2015. She was 8 ½ years old and scared out of her mind. She couldn’t even be in the regular shelter. She was upstairs in the offices. Do you know that song? “Just one look” by Doris Troy? I took one look at the sweet min-pin/chihuahua mix with the nervous eyes and I was in love. I said to her “I’m going to spoil you so much.” She then consented to the adoption. After a year, Marley developed diabetes and went blind. I now give her shots of insulin twice a day. She takes it like a champ. This past year she developed glaucoma. So now we have three drops that go in her eyes twice a day. She is the bravest dog. I’m in awe of her tenacity. Marley is the basis for two of my stories – but neither are published at this time. But soon.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names? Pierre the chihuahua (I created this character before I met my dog.) will be in every single Spirod book. The first is “A Ghost of a Chance”. Pierre lets his people know when ghosts are around by peeing. It never goes over well. But that’s his special psychic gift. The next one will be set in New Orleans about some nasty Satanist trying to cause trouble called “Old Devil Moon” and the third one is about coven of inexperienced witches who and accidentally open a portal to hell. That one is tentatively titled “Bewitched, Bothered and Irritated as Hell.”

What are you reading now? I’m reading The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx of the band Mötley Crüe. Why you might ask? Especially since I despise Mötley Crüe? Because I’m also writing a series titled “Metalsome Hearts” and it will be a five-part series about a heavy metal band. Two of the members are recovering heroin addicts – thus – the reason I’m dipping into the nasty world of Nikki Sixx.

What writing projects are you currently working on? I’m finishing the first book in my metal series – “Metalsome Hearts” and then in October, I’ll be back with the Spirod team, Pierre and the Satanists in “Old Devil Moon.”

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them. My childhood pet was a German Shepard named Elsa. She was the most amazing dog. She passed away in the late 80s and I still miss her. She was such a big dog that when we ate dinner she could put her chin on the dining table. My dad would tell her sternly “down!” and then she would turn her back on us and give a very human harrumph.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? I love books who put animals in their stories, so it was a no brainer when I started writing. As to if they are characters in the book. Depends on the book. Pierre is a character. Dolly – in Love My Way – is a metaphor for unconditional love.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story? My sister rescued a Pitbull (Lulu) and another smaller dog (Piper) from the Los Angeles area SPCA. They were both the apple of the entire family’s eyes. Including me. And then I adopted Marley. When I introduced my dog to my fur-nieces, the look in their eyes. Betrayal, disappointment, anger. Marley padded over to say hello and Lulu growled at her. So, I had to discipline Lulu. I said “Lulu! No!” She gave me this look – like – seriously? And walked out of the room in a huff. Diva. God, I love that dog. I attached a photo of Lulu and Marley on a sofa together. You can see Lulu is displeased.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? I’ve been making up stories since I was a kid. I loved to see the look on people’s faces when they are into my stories. For the most part, I told stories orally. Like they did back in the day. And my sister heard a lot of my stories. When I started to do well in English and writing classes, my storytelling naturally shifted to writing.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why? I want to go to Ireland. The problem is that I don’t want to leave Marley so traveling has stopped since she was adopted. When I go away for conferences for work, my neighbor stays with her in my home. Since she is blind, I don’t like her staying somewhere else. She already bumps her sweet nose all the time and she knows her house really well. I’m a helicopter parent for a dog. And I’m fine with that

What do your pets do when you are writing? Marley sits under the desk and looks at me with sad eyes. She is so manipulative, and I love it! When I first got her, she was so desperate to be a good girl, she barely showed any personality. But now, my girl gives me grief all the time. So happy that she is comfortable and safe. She knows she can be a pain in the butt and I’ll still love her.

About Katie:

Katie Baldwin has a secret life. During the day she is a mild-mannered researcher at a prestigious University. By night she writes fantastical tales of romance and mystery. When she is not pacing her home working out dialogue in her mind, she is baking scones and plotting her next chapter. Aside from writing, she has a ferocious passion for Rock & Roll – especially 1980s and 1990s rock, the Green Bay Packers, and her MinPin/Chihuahua mix dog-baby, Marley. She can be found on twitter waxing eloquently about all of her passions.

Let’s Be Social:

She can be reached via twitter @katiebwrites or her website:

Home


Email: Katie@authorkatiebaldwin.com
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Herding Squirrels by Sheri Levy

Herding Squirrels by Sheri Levy

Every morning I took my dogs to play on a neighbors eight-acres of pasture land. Using the Chuck-It-Stick, I’d fling their red balls a distance for them to chase and retrieve. One day while chasing the ball, the dogs spotted a squirrel dashing up the tree. They spit out their balls and sprinted to the tree, barking and leaping at the trunk. Some squirrels are smart and stay put, but this one decided to run to another tree.

I stood, waiting for both dogs to return. When Slater dashed back with blood dripping from his mouth, I panicked thinking he’d bit his lip. Then Mulligan ran to me with the squirrel dangling from his mouth. I knew then Slater wasn’t hurt. He’d been the one who caught the squirrel. My stomach churned and my heart hurt, believing they had killed the squirrel.

I screamed, “Drop it.”

Mulligan would drop it for a moment, and then Slater would grab it. They repeated this back and forth. Even treats didn’t catch their attention. They were intoxicated with the squirrel.

After a few more attempts of playing keep-away from each other, the squirrel lay on the ground, not moving. Relieved but sad, I planned to remove the body to get their attention. I pulled out a clean poop bag from my pouch. With my thumb and forefinger, I reached down to pick up the sad creature by its tail and began to drop it into my shallow plastic bag.

A second later the squirrel’s head hit the bottom of the bag, bending its head towards my hand and clamped onto my right ring finger. Its sharp teeth penetrated both sides of my finger and I let out a thunderous, ear-piercing scream.

My hand flew from the bag, but the squirrel hung on. Shrieking, I violently shook my hand and both dogs stood below the squirrel, moving their heads up and down. Until it finally let go.

The squirrel landed at my feet just under Mulligan’s head. He tried to bite it again, but the squirrel was faster and bit Mulligan’s lip. As it hung from Mulligan’s mouth, he moaned and whined. His lip lifted the squirrel only inches, leaving the tail lying on the ground. To help Mulligan, I stepped on the squirrel’s tail. It immediately let go of Mulligan’s lip. In that instant, I grabbed the dogs’ collars, hooked their leashes, and we walked home.

Coming in the house, crying and bleeding, my husband met me. His face crinkled in concern, “What happened?”

Slater’s face had been licked clean. All the evidence had disappeared. In tears, I repeated the incident. He didn’t say a word. Only his eyes widened as my story grew.

When I exclaimed how I had grabbed the squirrel to remove it, and how it bit me inside the bag, he started laughing, tears filling his eyes. I stared at him. “What in the world are you laughing at? This isn’t funny. I’m hurt.”

He held his stomach, bent at the waist, hysterical. “When you think of being bit, it’s not ever by a squirrel. Were you trying to save it?”

“Not this time. I wanted to distract the dogs.”

Murphy took a look at my finger. “Let’s wash this. And then you need to call the vet and see if you need a rabies shot.” That sent my stomach into convulsions.

My daughter manages the Vet’s office and answered the phone. I told her what had happened and she laughed. My eyes scrunched. What is so funny.

Dr. Hill chuckled and said, “Squirrels don’t usually carry rabies, but since you’ve been bitten, you should ask animal control.”

Murphy looked up the phone number and helped bandage my finger. I called, and after locating the squirrel, he drove us to the animal control office. With my right palm open, I kept my fingers straight-up to prevent the throbbing. I looked as if I was ready put my left hand on the Bible and say, “Everything that happened is the truth.”

I had an appointment with my doctor the next day. When she walked into the exam room, my finger was wrapped in band aide and pointed upward. She asked, “Sheri. What did you do to your finger?”

Disappointed that she noticed, I said, “Dr. B. I’m not going to die from natural causes. It’s going to be something the dogs have done to me.” I retold the whole story and added, “I thought the squirrel was dead.”

She tried to control her amusement. She went out of the room and brought in a book for medical suggestions. “Let me look up squirrel bites.”

A few moments later, she gasped and smiled. “Sheri, I believe it was playing possum!”

I couldn’t contain myself and let loose with laughter.

Welcome, Liz Boeger!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Liz Boeger to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

In the spirit of this blog, I’ll respond with animals in mind. I grew up near Old Tampa Bay in an area of South Tampa that had originally been named Rattlesnake. Eventually, the rattlesnake meat cannery that had become an early tourist attraction in the area closed. Its owner/operator had succumbed to the hazard of his trade. Consequently, there were far fewer rattlesnakes hidden among the palmetto scrubs when my parents arrived years later, from Illinois to raise their growing family.

Many writers will tell you they penned their first stories in elementary or middle school. Not me, I was too busy wrangling multiple litters of kittens and exploring the local beaches. Later, I applied my cat-herding skills to teaching in elementary schools, math and science, primarily. During this time, I got married, and we now have a grown son. Eventually, I became an assistant principal. Beyond humans, I worked with many other fine creatures, including a goldfish, Guinea pigs, a wayward copperhead, occasional migrating alligators, and a Florida Panther who was, thankfully, secured behind the wire mesh inches from my head, in a cargo van.

I must admit, being an administrator had its high points, but it became less about leading schools and more about juggling state testing programs. To relieve job stress, I took to reading traditional and cozy mysteries. Somewhere along the way, all the crazy stories from my youth and my career converged in a dream that introduced a character and a problem. Luckily, I recalled enough details when I awoke to jot down the beginnings of what would become my cozy mystery series: Moccasin Cove Mysteries. My silly spin aside, I love teaching, and left the administrative suite to return to the classroom several years ago, which freed up some time for writing.

The main character in my series, Principal Ana Callahan, is an accomplished school turnaround specialist who rescues failing schools. In the first book, ChainLinked! She has come home to Moccasin Cove to save the failing K-5 of her childhood. Fallout from a local murder threatens her school flip, so she is forced to investigate. Then she’s paired with Mac, the handsome, single, retired Air Force colonel who is the school district’s new Chief of Security. Romantic sparks fly, but before Ana and Mac can pursue a life together, they must untangle their own broken hearts and of course, solve a murder.

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

We currently have two cats in our household. Both are rescues. Neither are in my books, but they do pose for me occasionally if I have feline behavior to describe in the story. Samantha (Sammy) – I call her a calico, but I think there is a more specific name…a tortoise something. She was a rejected adoptee my husband rescued at a pet warehouse store adoption.

GRBRTY (ger-ber-tee) – Was also rescued at a pet store adoption event. This time at barely 8-weeks by my son. He is a pale orange tabby and a chubby tubby. His original name was Racecar, but that did not fit. One day he walked over my keyboard when I was writing and typed G-R-B-R-T-Y. The name stuck.

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

I have two pets in my series. Both are permanent characters.

Muffin is modelled after my dearly departed pup by the same name. In the books, she is a rescue, turned therapy dog. So far, she works with students who have PTSD but later in the series she may branch out to veterans and retirees. She is part King Charles Cavalier and Tibetan Spaniel, like my real girly.

The second pet character in the series is a champagne orange, feral tabby kitten rescued from the mangroves during a storm. He is named Gibson by the rescuer because she trades him for a Gibson guitar. Every cat she rescues is given to a worthy home and named for whatever he or she is traded for. Gibson is modeled after a rescue I adopted in my twenties named Huey, who helped me navigate into my early thirties relatively unscathed.

What are you reading now?  

I’ll list the WHO’s instead, since my TBR has multiple copies of some authors:

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Cheryl Hollon, Terrie Farley Moran, Heather Weidner, Micki Browning, Elizabeth Sims, Ellen Byron, and many more…

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am currently revising the first book in the series, which I described above. The second book in my proposed series, AppleJacked! is also written, but I’ve made some timeline changes, so it will require another round of revisions later. It tells the continuing story of Ana and her quest to keep her failing school on track and to help turn around the failing economic fortunes of her beloved hometown. In this second book, Ana is in competition for a high-stacks school grant when one of her teachers is murdered. She investigates to clear the name of a parent she believes is falsely accused, In the process, Ana uncovers secrets from her own childhood and a second murder that are all connected.

Who is your favorite author and why?

It is impossible for me to choose. My criteria: Any author of traditional/cozy mysteries who can make me laugh out loud, care about the characters and their story, and who writes intelligent and challenging mysteries that are believable. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve in my series.

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

We had one dog, a white and brown terrier mix who used to dig under the fence and chase cars. Not good. He was put down in his old age due to old age. His name was Goober. Then we had so many cats and kittens you’d think we lived on a farm and not in a suburb. I remember having three litters at once in the laundry room and a favorite cat, Aunt Margaret, who had successive litters in the closet in my room.

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.

Muffin, the pup in my series is a Trained Therapy dog. She works with elementary-aged students with PTSD.

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

Larger Than Life, 1996. Funny, poignant, and shows a great character arc for both the main character, played by Bill Murray, and Vera, the circus elephant he inherits unexpectedly.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Mine are slightly dark humor—not suitable for Cozy readers I’ve posted one recently on my blog about class pets, but the hamster story will never see the light of day.

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

I never even thought about writing fiction—despite being a mystery fan. Then an idea literally presented itself as a scene while I was dreaming. That led to creating the series, Moccasin Cove Mysteries, which I will be actively marketing to agents this year.

I won a Royal Palm Literary Award for my unpublished mystery, AppleJacked! from the Florida Writers Association. I knew I had potential when reading the judges’ feedback from that contest and when Elizabeth Sims graciously read the book and wrote a review blurb.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They usually ignore me, unless it is before dawn and Sammy wants her morning treat. GRBRTY usually pesters to go in/out of the screened porch.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?

I have two stacks-paper and plastic. I prefer holding a paper book in my hand over eBooks. Given today’s publishing world you must have both. Both stacks include mysteries, writing reference books, educational topics (for work) and some quilting magazines.

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

Any place that is quiet and low traffic works for me. I prefer to write at home rather than in the coffee shop like some. Color matters to my eye too, so I like to have teals, blues, greens, and greys in the space. Currently, I have a writing nook where our breakfast nook used to be, before I commandeered it this summer. Our coffee station is within arm’s reach—that’s a perk! I can look outside at the yard through the sliding glass doors and it is not a high traffic area. If the no-see-ums aren’t too nippy on the porch or in the yard, I’ll move out there some cooler mornings or evenings.

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

1-Learn your craft by reading mentor texts and by writing.

2-Join the writing community and contribute.

3-Use social media strategically.

4-Read your genre and others for craft lessons and pleasure.

5-If you get validation for your work, and you KNOW this is the right path, don’t stop.

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

It takes a village to raise a writer but not to do the writer’s work. That is my job as a writer. I must continually learn and hone my craft—even with a fulltime job. In the early stage you must be selfish about getting your footing. Then AS SOON as possible, start giving back to the community. This may be in the form of book reviews and shout outs on social media, if you are not yet published. Then once you have some creds, offer to be a contest judge, critique the work of others, offer book review blurbs, and be an encourager. I continue to meet many excellent role models for this in the writing community.

About Liz:

Liz Boeger explored hidden beaches and rattlesnake infested natural preserves while growing up near Old Tampa Bay. A veteran school administrator and teacher, she still lives in Florida and still prefers genuine snakes to the human variety. Her Moccasin Cove Mystery series features an amateur sleuth with too much empathy and wit for her own good. She earned her B.S. at the University of Tampa and her M.Ed. from Saint Leo University. Member of Sisters in Crime and Guppies.

She blogs at Moccasin Cove Mysteries (http://www.LizBoeger.com)

Follow her on Twitter: @LizBoegerAuthor or @MrsBoeger

Back to Reality

Gibbs Sheluk reporting in. Judy and I are now back from Lake Superior, and let me tell you that I loved every minute of my six weeks there.

But today, I wanted to tell you about Judy’s new book which released on Aug. 21st on Kindle and in trade paperback. It’s called A Fool’s Journey and it’s the third book in her Marketville Mystery series. Here’s a bit about it:

In March 2000, twenty-year-old Brandon Colbeck left home to find himself on a self-proclaimed “fool’s journey.” No one–not friends or family–have seen or heard from him since, until a phone call from a man claiming to be Brandon brings the case back to the forefront. Calamity (Callie) Barnstable and her team at Past & Present Investigations have been hired to find out what happened to Brandon and where he might be. As Callie follows a trail of buried secrets and decades-old deceptions only one thing is certain: whatever the outcome, there is no such thing as closure.

Now, doesn’t that sound exciting? Click on the book cover to find it on Amazon.

I like to take a fair bit of credit for it, because I spend most of my days in Judy’s office as she writes. That may not sound like I’m doing much, but I give her a snuzzle when I can tell she’s getting frustrated, I make her get up and take me for a walk when she’s been sitting too long, and I listen to her read bits of it out loud when she’s not sure if something is working.

And now, the countdown begins until our return to Lake Superior later this month. Woof! 

 

 

Welcome, Gabriel Valjan!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gabriel Valjan to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My name is Gabriel Valjan and I write crime with a love and respect for Italy (my Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing) and an enjoyment of intrigue (my Company Files, again with Winter Goose, and my forthcoming Shane Cleary series with Level Best Books). In all my writing I try to create a group of characters that readers can enjoy and root for, while giving them slices of culture and lost history they may not have known.

The Roma Series is contemporary crime fiction with an American expat abroad. Readers should expect a story with some technology, politics, and Italian culture and food. The Company Files introduces readers to the early days of the intelligence community and the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. The Shane Cleary series will take readers back to 70s New England, this time to South End Boston—not to be confused with Whitey Bulger’s South Boston. The first of five Shane books, Dirty Old Town, is slated for publication in January 2020.

I’ve been publishing since 2010. My short stories have appeared online, or in anthologies. I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Prizes, and I received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest.

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

I have one cat named Squeak aka Buttons, a rescue tuxedo cat. My followers on Twitter expect to find some missive from Squeak on Caturday (Saturday in the Twitterverse). Squeak has been my writing companion and the inspiration for one of two cats in Roma Series Book 5: Corporate Citizen. In Dirty Old Town, the first Shane Cleary novel for Level Best Books, readers will meet Delilah, my main character’s cat and voice of conscience.

Many writers have pets and I’ve found that readers both enjoy the distraction and interpret how the character treats his or her pet as indicative of their morality. I think it’s true to say that many people find unconditional love and a nonjudgmental attitude with their fur-companions. Buttons and my late cat Squawk aka Banzai have been a joy in my life.

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

Buttons is Bogie, the male in the couple of Bogie and Bacall in Corporate Citizen. Bianca, my main character, is rather prickly and standoffish but Bogie and Bacall elicit a warmer and caring side of her personality. The real treat for readers is how Silvio, a gifted translator of sorts, communicates with cats. Silvio had also adopted a cat orphaned when his owner was murdered.

Delilah or Dee in the Shane Cleary series takes Shane to task on some of his choices. Without giving away too much, she sits and stares at him (literally) when he comes home after doing something that he shouldn’t have. Shane knows it and he ‘talks’ to Delilah. She won’t have any of it and lets him know it in no uncertain terms.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Murder List and Edwin Hill’s The Missing Ones, and am anxious to get my mitts on Louise Penny’s The Better Man. In the interim, I’m reading a brief short story collection by Italo Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun. I read between books I’m writing to avoid undue influence. I find short fiction a welcome palate cleanser.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am editing Dirty Old Town for Level Best Books. In revisiting the writing, I want to make sure everything ‘adds up’ and that I’ve seeded the book with questions that will get answered as the series progresses. I have written five books and had a long-arc view of conflicts and resolutions.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I enjoy many authors for different reasons. As an only child, I found solace and company in reading books. I was also fortunate to have teachers who thrusted books into my hands. My seventh-grade teacher gave me a copy of Agatha Christie and I proceeded to read all of her work in the next two years. As a child of the Seventies, I had a fondness for historical sagas that were all the rage, so Clavell, Hailey, Jakes, Levin, Peters, and Wouk are nostalgic touchstones for me. As for contemporary historical fiction, I’ve enjoyed Robert Harris’s trilogy on Cicero.

As a writer, you feel ‘on’ most of the time and oftentimes your inner critic interferes with your enjoyment. When I sit down with a writer I enjoy, I like to think I’m spending time with an old friend or making a new one. Good writing like good food is sustenance; it can offer escape and yet fortify you against the troubles in Life. In terms of style, I’ve come to appreciate the clean and elegant sentences of Margaret Millar, her husband Ross Macdonald, and Rex Stout. I began writing with poetry and moved to short stories. Short fiction is a difficult art form and I think most readers avoid it because they’ve been traumatized by high school English classes. Stefan Zweig was a master of the form, and I admire the stories we get from Bonnie Jo Campbell, EJ Levy, and Art Taylor.

I read broadly, but yet I’ve tried to seek out writers who are different from either how I’ve experienced the world, or how I would write a story. Writers I have enjoyed: RG Belsky, Andrea Camilleri, Bruce Coffin, LA Chandlar, J. California Cooper, Dick Cass, Colleen Gleason, Maurizio de Giovanni, Peter Hamill, Cheryl Head, Reginald Hill, Jim L’Etoile, Laurie King, Dannie Martin, Gabriel García Marquez, Eryk Pruitt, Stephen Mack Jones, Sara Paretsky, William Martin, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Walter Mosley, James Ziskin, and many more.

However, my absolute favorite, my desert island author is Shakespeare.

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

I did. My mother had a miniature poodle named Lulu, who was a terror and spiteful force of nature. To give you one example, she hated baths so she would run outside and roll in the dirt the minute she escaped the tub. She got on with my mother and nobody else. My grandparents had a German Shepherd named Nero, who was the most chill and calming living thing I’ve ever encountered. Protective, intuitive, and a gentle being.

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

I try to stay true to how animals function in our lives. They are our friends and family; they understand us in ways our biological relations do not, and they do so without judgment. Buttons helped me get through aggressive radiation treatment. He’d wait at the door when I came home and snuggle up to me until I fell asleep. That was selfless and compassionate. Then he would eat. If you know him, you know he likes his food, but when I was sick, I came first and I’m grateful to him for that. There’s an understanding there I think people don’t understand.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing for the same reason people infuse humor into their stories. Pets add dimensionality, reveal our humanity, our shortcomings, and I think we are quick to defend animals because they are innocent and unconditional. Think of Tony Soprano, a killer, who became upset and distraught when the horse Pie-O-My and the dog Cosette died. Even he, despite his sociopathy, understood pets deserved to be protected.

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

Not until after I was 40. I’ll be honest: as a reader all my life, I never gave thought to writing a novel or anything. When I turned 40, I set myself a goal of writing a short story a week for one year. My earliest artistic impulses were in drawing and painting. When started writing, I accepted the fact that most of it would be terrible. I had slapped together a novel, just to get certain things out of my system. A year later, I had a handful of stories that I thought were decent (I’m very critical of my own work), so I submitted two stories to magazines, and both were published. One of them was shortlisted for the Fish Prize in 2010. I wrote most of the Roma Series while dealing with the aftermath of radiation; there’s a reason why food is a thread throughout the novels. My later novels were born of my own curiosity and explorations in history.

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

Respect your reader’s intelligence and their time. Give them a story and an experience, and not your ego for 300 pages where you demonstrate your wit and vocabulary. People thirst for intimacy and a hardscrabble few will pick up a book instead of the TV remote. Write authentic. I can’t define what that means for you, and perhaps that is why I waited until I was 40 years old.

You are the sum of a lifetime of reading and your relationship with language. What you do with language is unique to you, so find it and cultivate it…in workshop babble, it’s called Voice, and it can’t be taught in any MFA program. The rest of it…humor, how you turn a phrase comes from your own peculiar way of observing the world around you.

Don’t make excuses. Set aside distractions. Trust me, you’ll make the time for what is important to you. Set aside distinctions such as genre and literary and create a where you want to spend time in and swim in. There’s a good chance others will enjoy it. If you enjoy a particular writer, break it down for yourself what it is you enjoy about them, and think about how they did it, and then do it your way. Learn craft, the ways of creating character, pacing and rhythm, and dialogue. Yes, you can learn it from a book or from a teacher, but I think it’s best to teach yourself, on your own terms because you’ll never forget the lessons or tools you created for yourself. Last but not least, it’s easy to be a critic, so be selective about what you allow into your sphere. Keep writing and strive to improve your skills.

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

There are no guarantees. Be careful of how you define success. There are a lot of ‘successful’ books that are nothing more than soapboxes for ego, that lack structure, or are formulaic stories. I’ve learned that books that I thought were successful because of awards and vigorous marketing were poor in sales. Publishing is a business and money is what matters. Right time. Right place. There are too many variables, so write what you are proud of and can speak for you when you’re not in the room.

About Gabriel

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series and the Company Files with Winter Goose Publishing. The first of five Shane Cleary novels with Level Best Books is scheduled to appear in January 2020. Gabriel is a member of Sisters in Crime, and attends Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. He lives in Boston.

 Let’s Be Social

 Facebook: Gabriel Valjan

Twitter: @GValjan

Web: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Blog: https://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com

Exclusive Excerpt of The Naming Game: https://wp.me/p1Ykp4-rX

Welcome, Colleen Mooney!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Colleen Mooney to the blog!

My background is mostly in sales and marketing. I retired from AT&T and went to work for a publisher until Katrina interrupted that. We lost our home and everything in it when we evacuated with four dogs to a friend’s home in Memphis. I had started on my first book before Katrina and it took me almost 9 years to get back to it. I’ve always had pets, mainly dogs, but a cat, fish and birds along the way. Almost nineteen years ago I started as a volunteer for Schnauzer Rescue of Louisiana, and now I am the director and have rescued and placed almost 400 schnauzers in that time.

Since I’m born and raised in New Orleans it took moving away to see how different we are here. I moved to New York with AT&T and ordered a turkey po-boy, dressed at a lunch counter with about fifty people in line. The deli man looked at me and said, “Lady, I have no idea what that is.” It’s a sandwich on French Bread, and dressed means with lettuce and tomato. Let’s not even get started with names of streets, how we give directions, or what we eat and how we eat it.

We have parades for everything throughout the year, not just at Mardi Gras. We even have a dog parade here called the Krewe of Barkus and we attend every year.

My pets are all Schnauzers now. I have four and they all came into rescue. Two came in and never left. The other two I took back from the family of a lady who died unexpectedly . She had adopted Murphy and Tweezer. Murphy is about 13 or 14 years old and older dogs are hard to place while Tweezer has had a lens replaced in one eye. She came to me blind. I did a fund raiser and had a lens replaced so she can now see. Her medical issue requires going to an ophthalmologist every six months and having two types of drops put in her eyes daily. I was afraid no one would take them together. My husband and I feel they can stay with us for the remainder of their lives.

My first pet that was my dog and not the family pet was Cricket Ann. She was half schnauzer and half something else, maybe Chihuahua. She looked and acted like a schnauzer, complete with the schnauzer attitude. She made me a schnauzer lover from that moment on. It was easy to get involved with the rescue for this breed years later.

My books all have a schnauzer in them. I write about my dog Meaux Jeaux (pronounced Mo Jo, another New Orleans thing). He was the 5th rescue who came into our lives and never left. He is the dog I write about in my stories. He always made me laugh and was devoted to me.

Pets are always in my books. I add some as rescues and usually they are modeled after a real life rescue like Meaux is in my stories. I had a dog named Justice that belonged to a Judge, and a dog named Valentine that was adopted by a lonely policewoman. My stories come from real life situations or things that have happened and then I fictionalize a story around them. My current pets are MoonPie Mooney, Mauser the Schnauzer (Maus for short because he is very small, only 11 lbs.), Murphy Mooney and Tweezer Mooney.

I read everything from food labels to mysteries, true crime, and anything set in Europe. Currently. I’m reading LISBON War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945 which is a little different for me.   I recently went to Liston and found Portugal fascinating. I came across this book and how Portugal stayed neutral and out of World War II making me want to learn more about the country.   Mostly, I look for Scandinavian authors and one of my favorites is Henning Mankell who recently died. I read all the Wallendar series, The Man from Beijing and The Fifth Woman. Anything international, spy, thriller or espionage gets on my reading list.

I’m working on the release of Book 7 in the Summer Snoops UNLEASHED box set due to launch July 23rd. My story is Fireworks, Forensics & Felonies is the latest book in my series, The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles, a Brandy Alexander Mystery.   I’m trying another series based more on women’s stories and I’m having fun writing those.

My dad brought home dogs all the time, before the days of rescue. I did not come by the pet rescue calling by accident. I believe I inherited it. My dad brought home big dogs, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and a Chow, while my mother liked small dogs. She had several Chihuahuas over the course of our childhood. We played with the big dogs while my mother kept her dog inside.

I include animals in my writing because I feel they can offer a dimension to the character that tells the reader what that person is like. If someone is kind or helpful to animals, they are generally nice as a rule, and if they aren’t, then they are the villain.

I don’t have a favorite book or movie with an animal as a central character but I do like and watch all pet movies when they come out. I cry at all of them.

Since I do rescue, most of my stories are not funny, but sad with happy endings when the rescue trusts people again and I find someone to love them and give them a safe home.

My funniest pet story is about Meaux. He was the fifth dog that came into rescue and both my husband and I fell in love with him. When he got older he started having health issues and required a lot of medication. Meaux always took anything I gave him, pills included. Meaux listened to me like a person would.  At one vet visit Dr. Kevin suggested we change his pills and start him on them as soon as I got home. I said,” I can give it to him now.” Dr. Kevin said it could wait until I got home since it was a pretty big pill.

I took the pill from him and asked Meaux if he wanted this blue pill cookie. Meaux sat down and I handed him the pill which he promptly swallowed. No pushing it down his throat or hiding it in a pill pocket. Dr. Keven stood there looking at Meaux for what seemed like a long time and finally said, “I’ve never seen anything like that. How did you get him to do that?”

I said, “I just call it a cookie.”

The number one item on my bucket list is to take the Orient Express Train from London to Istanbul. Of course, now it doesn’t run all the way to Istanbul without a stopover. However, I could be very happy stopping over in Venice for a day or two. This has been my dream since I first read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

My pets keep me on the clock every day, not just when I’m writing. Tweezer has a special bark in the morning, sometime between 5:00 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. when she wants to rise and go outside. The others sit and wait while she sounds revelry.   They come paw me when they need to go out at noon, so that is my break for lunch. During the day one or two will come and paw or bark at me to rub, pet or scratch their chest. Sometimes they bring a toy and drop it by my chair for me to throw for a play break. They come back at exactly five o’clock (how do they tell time?) and paw or bark for dinner. At that point, I’ve been at it all day so it’s time to start their dinner and ours. My husband says he is the doorman letting them out or back inside, and I’m the cook!

If you want to be a writer, then write. Write everyday. Write about things you love or want to do. I write to entertain myself and I’m fortunate that others also find it amusing and enjoy my stories. When I realized there wasn’t a Sisters in Crime chapter in New Orleans, I started one. Get involved and it will further your writing endeavors.

While the hardest thing for me was to let someone else read what I wrote, I would recommend getting into a writing group and critiquing others and lets others critique you. Join a group of like minded writers. You can find them online, at the library or in university classes. Join a Sisters in Crime chapter near you or the national organization and take online classes. There is a wealth of information to help you out there and a lot is online but nothing beats getting together in a group/class and sharing your work. Sharing your work and reading the work of others will make you a better writer.

About Colleen

I am a southern girl from New Orleans. All my family was born and raised here. We are from the Irish Channel and are a lot like boomerangs or homing pigeons. If we move away, we always come back.

I’ve relocated to Birmingham Alabama, Madison New Jersey, New York City, Atlanta Georgia returning to New Orleans in between each move before leaving again. If you count Katrina, I have moved out and back four times. I plan to stay put now.

I started in the public grade school system until there was an opening in the Catholic school. My mother transferred me to St. Christopher Catholic Grammar School. From there it was onward to Sacred Heart of Jesus High School and I graduated from Loyola CATHOLIC University of the South with a B.S. in Guilt, or maybe it was something else. What stuck with me from all this Catholic education was never take no for an answer, and if you aren’t afraid of a nun, you aren’t afraid of anything.

I worked in the AT&T system and was down-sized, up-sized, and re-sized until I spent 20+ years there before retiring.

I have been an avid Scuba diver and Underwater photographer, owned and raced sailboats in the Gulf of Mexico and the BVI. I love to travel, and my mother always said I was born with a suitcase in my hand.

I have been a member of many Mardi Gras Krewes, Super Krewes, and organizations. I paraded in the Krewe of Cork, Orpheus, Iris, Tucks, Joan of Arc and the Halloween Krewe of Boo. I never met a parade I didn’t like.

I am an ardent animal lover and am the Director for a breed rescue, Schnauzer Rescue of Louisiana. I love to write, and I write about what I know and love! You can take the girl out of New Orleans, but you cannot take the New Orleans out of the girl!

Let’s Be Social:

Feel free to email/contact me at any of the following:

Email: colleen@colleenmooney.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/colleen.mooney.716

Twitter: www.twitter.com/Colleen Mooney@mooney_colleen

Website: www.colleenmooney.com

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/colleen-mooney

amazon.com/author/colleenmooney

 

New Dog Blog by KB Inglee

New Dog Blog – by KB Inglee

After my longtime pal Wendigo had been euthanized and the foster dog went home, the place seemed very empty. I spent a couple of days going over the lists of dogs in the two local pounds. There were a couple that caught my attention. A Malinois, when I saw my first one years ago I said someday I will own a dog like that. He was a lovely dog, but way over my weight restriction. I can handle a 30 pound dog, but he was way more. There was a Catahoula Leopard dog. I had met one at the park where I work. Beautiful, but again over the weight restriction. I am no spring chicken, and I needed a dog that wouldn’t knock me over had push me down the stairs to inherit all the boxes of dog biscuits stashed in the pantry.

When searching the web sites, both my daughter and I had noticed a pair of terriers that had to be adopted together. They were sisters from different litters, same mother different father. They were three years old. One was blind; the other acted as her eyes so they had to be adopted together. We spent an hour or so cuddling them in the family room, and without hesitation on either of our parts we took them home with us.

We knew before we met them that they were a pair and we couldn’t have one without the other. I wouldn’t want one without the other. Did we really want to adopt a blind dog? Did we really want to adopt two dogs? Well, even taken together, they fit within the weight restriction. But what about never adopting another terrorist, oops I mean terrier?

The staff at the SPCA said that lots of people were happy to take the blind dog, but no one wanted both. I knew that I would need both dogs if I was going to take either of them. The blind dog would not be able to cope without her sister, the seeing eyes for both of them. The sister would not be happy without her charge. I would not be able to bond with either if I didn’t take both.

Even taken that they weighed less than half my weight restriction, they cost the same as two dogs. They would eat less than my recently dead true love, Wendy. But vet visits would be for two dogs. License fees would be for two dogs. It is quite expensive to adopt a dog, even from a shelter. But what you get is a dog who will love you forever because you brought him to live in your home. You get a dog that has had all his shots, all her grooming, a bit of rudimentary training. and handling and has been rendered puppyless. Neutering and spaying alone would cost the fee to adopt the dog.

Oh, yes, they came with names. They came with personalities, too. They are Gipsy and Luna. I wanted to rename them because they are part of my family now. On the other hand they are three years old and have had the same name for a while. Don’t want to think about this too long before I bestow new name on this pair. OK enough thinking. You can keep your names.

Welcome to our home, both of you.

Hi from Luna,

We went to the vet yesterday and got stuck with needles but everyone told us we were good dogs. We saw some people there we know. They came to say hi to us. Are we famous dogs?

Our new home is bigger than our old room. But there are all kinds of things to walk into. I have discovered that if I listen for KB’s voice, there is a straight path to her and she will keep talking to me ’til I get there. Then she will pat me and scratch my ears and, tells me I am a good dog. Sometimes I get scared and start walking in circles. I feel safer if I can touch Gypsye. She doesn’t mind.

Gipsy spends too much time playing with KB.

We don’t like the food here.

Luna

From KB:

The food here is the same as the food at the SPCA,

Luna is learning to navigate the furniture and goes off by herself from time to time. She is even learning to walk on a leash.

Hi from Gypsye,

It is very quiet here. I have been catching up on my sleep. At night KB carries us upstairs and we can curl up together and get a good nights sleep at the foot of her bed. Then in the morning she carries us downstairs and we spend the day on the sofa or sniffing around the rooms. We can get up and down off the sofa and the big comfy chair because there is a step stool up against them. KB is teaching us how to do the stairs and how to walk on a leash.

I guess I will get to like it here in a while. There are toys all over the place that smell like two other dogs, but we are the only dogs here.

KB takes us out for a walk every day. It is only to the corner of the street because we get all tangled up in the leash and Luna has to be carried home. KB says that’s OK and that we will get better at it.

Luna spends too much time sleeping by KB’s feet while she is writing. KB says she is the writer’s dog and I am the family dog.

Gypsye

From KB

“We” is not the royal we. My daughter (writer Elizabeth Inglee Richards) and I picked out the dogs together.

Photos: first one KB and Gypsye, Second one KB With Luna the blind dog. The hird is both dogs on the sofa.

 

 

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.