Meet Author Lois Winston

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes author, Lois Winston (and Manifesto, Catherine the Great, and Ralph)!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I began my writing career in the romance genre. After I’d sold two books, a women’s fiction and a romantic suspense, my agent mentioned an editor she knew was looking for a crafting mystery series. With my background as a designer and editor in the craft industry, she thought I’d be the perfect author to write such a series, even though I’d never written any mysteries. I decided to give it a try, and the result was the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, a humorous amateur sleuth series with a protagonist who’s the craft editor at a women’s magazine.

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

In my twenties my husband and I adopted two orphaned cats. Their mother had wandered onto our friends’ property and given birth to a large litter. Before the kittens were fully weaned, mama cat came out on the losing end of an encounter with a speeding car. We named the kittens Bulldog and Frog (don’t ask; it’s a long story!) Unfortunately, I began developing some severe respiratory problems about two years later, and on my doctor’s orders eventually had to find new homes for the cats. The only pets I’ve had since are the ones that spring from my imagination and wind up in my books.

The pets that populate my books are all figments of my imagination. They’re not based on any real pets that I’ve owned or have known. However, Ralph the Shakespeare-quoting parrot in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, was influenced by a news story I saw about a parrot with a huge vocabulary.

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

Anastasia is a young widow with two teenage sons. After her husband’s death, she found herself with her communist mother-in-law as an unwelcome permanent houseguest. Her mother-in-law arrived with her French bulldog Manifesto (named for the communist treatise.) Anastasia’s much-married mother also camps out at Casa Pollack when she’s between husbands. She’s the former social secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution and claims to descend from Russian nobility. Catherine the Great, her white Persian, accompanies her on her extended visits. She and Anastasia’s mother-in-law are forced to share a bedroom. They get along as well as their pets get along—which is to say, they fight like cats and dogs. Rounding out the menagerie is Ralph, the African Grey parrot Anastasia inherited from her great-aunt, a Shakespearean scholar. Ralph is one very talented bird. After spending decades in his mistress’s classroom, he has an uncanny knack for squawking situation-appropriate quotes from the Bard. The three pets show up in each book.

What are you reading now?

I have very eclectic taste in fiction, alternating between genre fiction and literary fiction. Right now I’m reading March by Geraldine Brooks. It’s the story of the father in Little Women during the time he goes off to serve in the Civil War.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Since Scrapbook of Murder, the sixth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, was recently published, I’ve been spending most of my time writing guest blogs and answering interview questions to promote the book. I also write another mystery series, The Empty Nest Mysteries, which currently has two books. So I might write one of those next before I write another story about Anastasia. My muse always has the final say.

Who is your favorite author and why?

There’s no way I could narrow this down to one author, but when I need a good laugh, my go-to author is Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum series.

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

Because we lived in apartments in the city until I was in junior high, pets were limited to fish and turtles. (This was back when you could buy small turtles as pets.) My first pets were two goldfish named Selma and Seymour Goldfish. When I was fourteen and living in a home in the suburbs, we adopted a mostly beagle mutt from the pound and named him Snoopy (not a very original name but Happiness is a Warm Puppy was at the top of the bestseller lists at the time.)

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

Manifesto, Catherine the Great, and Ralph are much more than window-dressing in my series. All three pets play a continuing role, often stealing scenes. Manifesto (dubbed Mephisto the Devil Dog by Anastasia) is even instrumental in saving her life in one of the books. This becomes a turning point in their relationship as well as between the dog and his owner.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Because I write a humorous series, I set out to create characters that would make my readers laugh at their antics. I didn’t limit this to the humans in the stories. Sometimes the animals’ antics are funnier than the humans’ antics.

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

Do dragons count? Because I really, really love Pete’s Dragon (the original version.) The bond between Pete and Elliot and how protective they are of each other brings me to tears every time I watch it.

If dragons don’t count, I’ll go with any of the Thin Man movies. Asta is a great movie dog. I particularly like the scene in After the Thin Man where Asta returns to California from vacationing in New York with Nick and Nora to find Mrs. Asta has been canoodling with a neighbor dog. Skippy, the canine actor that played Asta, should have received an Oscar for that performance!

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

Writing wasn’t something I always dreamed of doing. I began my first novel twenty-two years ago when a story popped into my head and took up residence. Finally, I decided to write it down. The next thing I knew, I’d written a romantic suspense novel. That book eventually because Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the second book I sold. More importantly, by the time I had finished the manuscript, I realized I’d been bitten by the writing bug and had to keep writing.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

Going to see Hamilton on Broadway. I’m obsessed with the music and think Lin-Manuel Miranda is an absolute genius. Unfortunately, this will probably only happen if I win the lottery. (Have you seen the price of those tickets???)

Scrapbook of Murder

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

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USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

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Meet Author Nancy Raven Smith


Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m originally from Northern Virginia where my husband and I lived on a rural farm and raised our family. There we rescued ex-racehorses, dogs and cats, plus a snake or two for over twenty years. As an avid reader with a 4-5 book a week habit, I loved reading but never considered writing.

When we reached empty-nest syndrome, we moved to California. I worked in production on film projects and attended UCLA to expand my understanding of film. One class I attended was about evaluating writing for screenplays. At the time, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was in manuscript form and about to be published. Ghost (with Patrick Swayze) had just opened in theaters. Those were two of the projects we studied. And that’s when I became hooked on screenplays and changed my studies to screenwriting.

For a couple years I wrote screenplays that won some nice awards and were optioned by directors and production companies, but none have been filmed yet. I had a wonderful mentor from Women in Film, Sara Parriott Graham (Runaway Bride, Descendents 1&2), who loves animals as much as I do. She suggested I write our family memoir about our life on our farm and our animals as a book first, before a screenplay. So I took her advice and, with my husband and daughters, wrote The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. We wrote it from my husband’s fish-out-of-water point of view.

The outcome of writing The Reluctant Farmer was unexpected. I had gone back to UCLA to study novel writing in preparation for The Reluctant Farmer and attended other novel and memoir writing events. To my surprise, I discovered I loved writing books and I loved the camaraderie with other authors. So I followed that one with a mystery, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra which became an Amazon/Kindle Scout Selection.

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

Lexi, the protagonist in Land Sharks will be acquiring a West Highland Terrier named Frosty in the next sequel. Frosty will be a recurring character and be involved in future books of the series as appropriate.

In The Reluctant Farmer,  some of the main animals throughout the book are Junior – a thoroughbred show horse with a sense of humor who loved to play games, Figgy – a Connemara pony escape artist who could put Houdini to shame, Pork Chop – the runaway steer, Amy, a very special rescue dog, and Wood and Duck – two Manx cats who arranged their environment to suit themselves.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just started reading Midnight, Texas by Charlaine Harris and am enjoying her writing. On my book pile, there are a sprinkling of interesting books written by fellow members of Sisters in Crime. Some of those include Plantation Shudders (Ellen Byron), Secret Lives and Private Eyes (Heather Weidner), Fallout (Sara Paretsky), and Moonshine Inn (Maggie King).

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the sequel to Land Sharks. It takes place in the Australia Outback.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I could spend a week on my favorite authors. And there are so many wonderful ones I haven’t even had the chance to read yet.

The things I enjoy reading or viewing tend to fall into six categories: physical comedy, quirky comedy, caper, mystery, suspense and action-adventure, but I’m open to all genres. I like books and films that take me somewhere different, either physically or mentally. I like writers whose stories or characters have a sense of humor and protagonists that care about the people around them. Also unusual characters with a moral compass. Here are a few of my favorite authors and my favorite book by each, but I love most of their work and re-read them often.

Michael Connelly – The Concrete Blond

Robert Crais  – LA Requiem

Dick Francis – Blood Sport

Elizabeth Peters – The Street of Five Moons

John D. MacDonald – The Deep Blue Goodbye

James Herriott – All Creatures, Great and Small

Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games Trilogy

Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park Carl Barks – Uncle Scrooge Comics

Sara Paretsky – Indemnity Only

Dorothy Gilman – Unexpected Mrs Polifax

Sue Grafton – A is for Alibi

Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Cornell Woolrich – Rear Window

Thornton Wilder – Bridge of San Luis Rey

Mary Stewart – My Brother Michael

Andrea Camilleri – The Shape of Water

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

We had a wonderful family Dalmatian named Cindy that my parents bought as a puppy during the Minnesota State Fair. Cindy went everywhere with my sister, brother, and I as young kids. She even climbed the twelve foot metal ladder of a local school playground slide which had flat steps, and would slide down behind us. When Cindy was about six, our family moved to a new house about twenty minutes away. As the family station wagon traveled back and forth with our belongings, Cindy grew more and more concerned. Normally she traveled with the family (because she was family). She wasn’t allowed to visit the new house because every square inch of the car was packed with boxes.

Finally, she just couldn’t stand it any more. When my father lowered the tailgate one morning to start loading the station wagon, Cindy leaped into the car, moved as far in as she could, and refused to get out. No amount of coaxing or food interested her. She was not leaving the car. My father finally packed a space around her and she went with us to the new house. After that, her stress disappeared, and she went whenever we kids did, riding stretched across our laps to save space.

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

Animals are definitely individuals and each has it’s own character and personality. I often wonder if dogs and cats aren’t special gifts from the universe to teach humans about love.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals have always been an integral part of my family and my life. They rightfully insist on being included.

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

So many good answers to this question. I’m sure National Velvet, both book and movie have been mentioned before. I’ll choose Turner & Hooch, a big favorite in our family. It’d be hard to beat Tom Hanks and that wonderful French Mastiff, Beasley. I had the good fortune to take a screenwriting class with Dan Petrie, Jr in Los Angeles who was  the Executive Producer on Turner & Hooch and a writer on the screenplay. During lunch, I mentioned the movie, and it turns out it was one of his favorites, too. He said that when they were filming, there was no way they could get Beasley to even look mean. So Tom Hanks started playing and roughhousing with him on breaks. Then when they filmed Beasley “attacking” Tom, they shot from different angles while they were roughhousing to make him look as if he was biting Tom. Tom still had to hold Beasley’s mouth near his throat.

On the mean side of animal behavior, One of my favorite scary movies with animals playing the villains is Ghost and the Darkness with Val Kilmer. It’s based on the non-fiction book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo by JH Patterson and tells the story of a pair of large, maneless, Tsavo male lions (with manes in the movie) who, in 1898, preyed on the construction crews who were building the Kenya-Uganda Railway. It’s a very bizarre story of aberrant lion behavior. Patterson, an engineer, was sent from England to build a railroad bridge over the Tsavo river. A crack shot, he started hunting the lions who were killing the workers, only to discover that the lions were stalking him. They also managed to escape every trap he set by very strange means. The lions were credited with killing over a hundred and thirty-five people before Patterson shot them. The actual lions are on display at the Chicago Field Museum.

I’m getting long-winded here, but I also have to mention the brilliant, original Family Dog from Steven Speilberg’s television show Amazing Stories Vol 2. It was written by Brad Bird (later known for The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille, and more) and supervised by Tim Burton (of everything Tim Burton). Don’t mix this version up with the later Family Dog TV series which I believe Brad Bird was attached to also.

It’s about an unloved family dog who gets his day and one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

I’d love to visit Machu Picchu in Peru because of the architecture, the infrastructure, and the brilliant utility of functioning space at the site fascinates me.

Nancy Raven Smith – Biography

Nancy Raven Smith grew up in the Virginia horse country near Washington D.C. where she was an active member of the equestrian community. Not only did she compete on the national level, but she also managed horse shows, and rescued and retrained former racehorses. Raven Smith was a contributing writer and cartoonist for several sports magazines such as The Chronicle of the Horse and Practical Horseman.

While working at CBS Network News Bureau in Washington, DC, she grew interested in the entertainment business. Later, when she and her husband relocated to California, she traded her horse event experience for film work as a production coordinator and enrolled at UCLA to study screenwriting. Her scripts have won numerous awards, but after she wrote one idea as a novel, she discovered a passion for writing mysteries.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Women in Film, Romance Writers of America, & Mystery Writers of America. Her debut novel, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, has won several awards and was chosen as an Amazon/Kindle Scout Program Selection Winner by Kindle Press.

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Meet Sandra Cody

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sandra Cody and her pets, Missy and Henry.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up surrounded by a family who loved telling stories, but I’m the first to write them down. In the midst of a big, noisy family, I was the quiet one who loved listening to everyone else’s stories. As for my own storytelling, I was a late bloomer – really late. I was a grandmother before I was a published writer. I write mostly mysteries. I love stories where good triumphs over evil and justice is served and that’s the essence of a mystery. I also write short stories which are not mysteries unless you consider (as I do) the bump and jostle of day-to-day life a mysterious thing. There are seven books in the Jennie Connors series. Jennie is Activities Director in a Retirement Community where the residents are lively, alert and just bored enough to love it when there’s a murder to solve. My recent books have featured Peace Morrow, who was abandoned as an infant and, in the process of discovering something about her birth family, has a couple of mysteries to solve. This was never meant to be a series, but Peace needed answers to some questions and I had to help her find them.

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

Our only pet at the moment is Missy, a cat who was dumped in our son’s front yard. He already had 5 cats, 2 dogs, and a ferret, so his house was getting a little crowded. However, it was unthinkable that Missy not be taken in, so … well, I don’t have to tell you what happened.


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

Peace Morrow has a black Lab named Henry. I’ve already told you that Peace was abandoned as an infant. The woman who found and adopted her was led to her by a barking dog (a big, black Lab) who had become the baby’s protector. Since then, Peace has never been without a big black dog. Henry is as much a character as any human in Love and Not Destroy and its sequel, An Uncertain Path.

What are you reading now?

Right now, I reading The Silkman by Robert Galbraith. which I’m pretty sure you will recognize as the pseudonym of J. K. Rowlings. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. This woman can tell a story!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I just released An Uncertain Path so I’m not really into my next project. I do, however, have it in mind. I’m planning a new Jennie Connors mystery. That series is set in Memphis and I plan to have some fun with Elvis Presley connection. I have a title in mind – Love Me Deadly.  I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, but am going to try it out with this one. Real mixed feelings here. I’m not a fast writer and am usually embarrassed by my first stabs at a new story, but I’m excited by the possibilities of the program and hope to move beyond my limitations.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a tough one. If I have to choose just one, I’ll say Louise Penny. I love her characters and the world she has created in Three Pines. I also love some of the older writers, such as Pearl Buck, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, Jane Austen. The list could go on forever. Of course, there’s Shakespeare, Shaw, Twain. Why? When I look at the list, the common thing that jumps out at me is character. And humor. All of them have a knack for slipping in humor in unexpected ways.

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

Yes, always. I’ll tell you about my first pet. I was three when my parents took me to the SPCA to pick out a puppy, which they let me name. It was a mixed breed male. I chose Fancy Ann. They explained to me that this was a boy puppy and maybe a boy name would be better. I stamped my foot (a habit I’ve fortunately outgrown) and insisted – this was my dog and its name was Fancy Ann. What could they do? They’d made a promise and you don’t break promises to three-year-olds. So Fancy Ann it was. I don’t know what other people thought but I remember thinking he was the most wonderful dog ever, with the most beautiful name. Other pets: an Irish Setter named Lady, a Collie named Boots, a Beagle named Billy, cats too numerous to mention. All with unique personalities who added immeasurably to the family’s happiness.

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

As mentioned above, Henry is an important character in the Peace Morrow books. He’s Peace’s best friend, only sibling, most trusted confidant, and, if need be, her protector.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I think the way people react to animals says a lot about their character, plus it’s a way to bring instinct into a story that could become bogged down with intellectual reasoning and following of clues. It sounds strange to say, but animals make us more human (and humane).

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

The first one that comes to mind is the movie Old Yeller. I don’t know how many times my husband and I watched that with our sons. We all cried buckets each time.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

There’s a really soft blanket on the floor next to my chair and Missy usually settles there – with frequent trips to my lap, where she knows she can get my undivided attention by tapping the keyboard with her paws.

About Sandra:

I grew up in a rural area of Missouri (near St. Louis), attended Washington University, met the love of my life when I cut an Algebra class to go ice skating. Not too long after that, we were married, had two sons. Job transfers have taken us to different cities in various parts of the country and I can honestly say I’ve found something to love in all of them.. Wherever I’ve gone, books have been the bridge to my new community and new friends.

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Meet Kristina Stanley

This week, Kristina Stanley is our guest author for #WriterWednesday. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 Thank you for having me on Pens, Paws, and Claws. It’s exciting for me to post about writing and dogs. My two passions in life. I’m the CEO of Fictionary. I co-founded Fictionary after I had 4 books published and had developed a process for performing my own structural edit.

My mysteries are very setting dependent. They take place British Columbian mountains, the Bahamas, and Loughborough Lake in Kingston Ontario.

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

Farley Mowat is a 9-year-old Wheaten Terrier. My previous dog, Chica, was a yellow Labrador. Not only are my pets models for writing, I use many other dogs in my novels. In Look The Other Way, there is a dog named Piddles. I met her in the Bahamas and decided she needed a role.

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

My Yellow Lab, Chica, died when she was four. It broke my heart. At the time I was writing Descent, the first in the Stone Mountain Series, so I gave her a role. It was a way for me to keep her with me.

Farley has a large role in Blaze, a cameo in Look The Other Way, and is a character (under the name of Mowat) in my work in progress, Evolution.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve finished the first draft of Evolution. Jaz Cooper’s husband dies under mysterious circumstances. Weeks later, Jaz rescues a dog from drowning and is wounded by the dog. The two incidents are linked, and Jaz tries to discover what really happened to her husband.

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

I’ve always had dogs, and I don’t seem to have a preference for a breed. In order of appearance in my life I had Frosty a Samoyed. Toby a Samoyed. Polo a Newfoundland. Mia a  Newfoundland. Arf a British Bull Terrier. Emmett a Dalmatian. And Zack a Standard Poodle.

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

They are characters in their own right. I’m very interested in how animals affect the lives of humans and how much a human gains from a relationship with an animal. I love to explore this topic.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I believe in writing about what you love. An author spends an awful lot of time with a novel, so for me, the topic needs to be a passion.

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

In my work in progress, Evolution, the main character is a dog trainer. And yes a service dog appears. Jaz, the protagonist, doesn’t realize she needs a therapy dog until she meets a yellow Labrador named Rose. When I’m writing, I imagine my yellow Labrador, Chica.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 When I was a director at Panorama Mountain Village, I changed the policy to allow dogs at work. There was a selfish motive. I brought my dog, Chica, to work with me. She was under 6 months old, and I thought, fully housetrained, so I let her run free in the office.

Unbeknownst to me, a meeting was happening in the conference room.

“Okay, someone admit it. Who did that?” says one of the resort managers. “I can’t take the smell anymore.”

Giggles around the table, but no one admits to the gaseous emissions.

Then, a knock at my office door. “Has Chica been in the conference room?”

“Sure,” I say.

“You’d better come with me.”

So I follow the manager down the hallway. A group of people is moving from one conference room to another.

The manager points to the rug below the table. And there it sits. One big pile of steaming…

Let’s just say everyone had a fun time laughing at me while I cleaned up.

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

Late one night in Unteruhldingen, Germany I was reading MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU by Mary Higgins Clark. The opening—a woman trapped in a grave. Darkness and silence surround her, and she doesn’t know where she is. I can still see her fingers clawing at the edges of the coffin.

Tucked in my bed, I knew a driver would arrive at 4 a.m. to carry me to the Zurich airport for a flight to London, England. The sensible thing to do was sleep. But I couldn’t. I turned pages until the car arrived. I was exhausted, bleary eyed, and excited. At that moment I knew I wanted to write something that forced a person to read and to forget about life for a while.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Farley is always with me when I’m writing. He sleeps at my feet. When he’s decided I’ve ignored him for long enough, he jumps up beside me. When he truly can’t control himself, he puts his head on my keyboard. Then I know it’s time for a walk.

About Kristina Stanley

Kristina Stanley is the CEO of Fictionary is an online tool that helps fiction writers turn a first draft into a great story.

 She is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, LOOK THE OTHER WAY, and THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES. She’s published by Imajin Books and Luzifer-Verlag.

 Her short stories have been published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

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Teresa Inge Interviews Southern Cozy Writer, Tonya Kappes

Today, we are interviewing USA Today Bestselling Author of southern cozy mysteries and animal mom, Tonya Kappes.

Oh gosh, that’s a loaded question. I’m a mother of four young men who are all in college. My husband and I live in Kentucky. I’ve got 45 published novels. They are southern, charming, and funny. I write full time and love it!

I have two Schnauzers. Charlie is thirteen and he’s my hero. He has Congestive Heart Failure, ATP autoimmune disease, a slushy gallbladder, an amputated back leg and toe. He takes nineteen pills a day. Lovingly, we refer to him as our college fund. We also have Scooter who is twelve and full of life. He’s always ready for a good time whether it’s playing with his “grunt grunt” or a fun walk.

I get up around six a.m., but the dogs sleep until eight and then they eat. Scooter usually finds a warm quilt since I have several lying around. Charlie is my shadow. I can’t go from my deck to my kitchen to get a coffee refill without him following me. This entire time I’m writing. It I get up every hour for some exercise. I walk and the dogs follow me. Then it’s back to the office to write. Around noon, we walk around the neighborhood. I write all day and everyday. So this is a typical day. In the afternoon, I might move to the family room and sit on the couch with my laptop. Both dogs join me, I’m rarely without them.

Yes, I had a new release in my Kenni Lowry Mystery series. AX TO GRIND. There is a blood hound name Duke in the series. Kenni is a sheriff in a small town and Duke is her Deputy dog. He’s even gotten an award in bravery in earlier books. I write a dog in all my books. So fun! This is the third book in a ten book contract so I’m excited about all the things that Deputy Duke will be doing.
Thank you, Tonya for joining us today.

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Meet Rhian Williams

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Rhian Williams, blogger and poet.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a poet first, a writer of weird little stories and a blogger. I’m married with a kid living on the edge of nowhere Wales, work in a pharmacy to support my family and debilitating creative habits. I dabble in photography and art but writing is my life.

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

I have five cats (not by choice) and four chickens. Over the years I’ve had a number of dogs, rabbits, a guinea pig, over twenty hamsters and a few horses. And a ram called Major. Rather than model pets on them, I model people on them.

What are you reading now?

A book called The Girls Who Went To War about the women who joined the army, navy and war during the second world war. I wrote a piece of fiction about them some time ago and got it out for a dust off and decided to expand on it – which meant a little research.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve got a few short stories on the go as usual. Including the one about the Ack-Ack girls in the second world war, I’ve also got one set in the future in progress and a few bits of flash fiction about a post-apocalyptic magic future. It’s also OctPoWriMo – 31 poems in 31 days!

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

So, we had a lot of dogs growing up. When I moved to Wales we had a few acres of land and several horses (for breeding and showing not riding). Jenny-Lee was the friendliest horse. We have seven dogs at one point. Four terriers and three whippets. We’ve had rabbits (including one called Odd-Socks), hamsters (including one called Messy Pups who ate curtains), a peach face lovebird called Dickie and a ram called Major (as well as some sheep). I’d never had a cat until I was in my thirties though. I don’t like cats that much (honest).

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

Depends on the story and my wife and I are always coming up with children’s stories about the cats. We’ve finished one and hope to write another together about our murderous Kitten the kitten.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s a tie between the time our stallion got out of the field and spent half an hour being chased around the back garden by my step-dad while we watched from the window. Or the time we adopted Wiggles and the first thing he did (after jumping on my counters) was steal a pickle from my housemates sandwich. Not the meat, not the bread. The Pickle. We’d only had him half an hour.

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

I knew when I was about 17 that I was a poet, but there were signs that I’ve been a writer all my life. I have a book from when I was six that stories that I wrote (including one about aliens kidnapping my teddy bear that ends in a bit of a cliff-hanger).

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

To get a novel finished and published. I have a few half written – one I even won NaNoWriMo with and it over 58,000 words long so far but not finished. Eventually, I will finish it. Or one of the others.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Sit on me. Knead me. Stare at me. They in no way help me.

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

I have shelves of them but I tend to concentrate on the library books first. So I have Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett to read next.

The Cats…


Rhian is a poet, blogger and geek living on the edge of nowhere Wales. They have five cats, four chickens, seven fish, another tank with dozens of snails in it and a thirteen month old. They write weird little stories and poems at Weird and Important. They also write about parenting, blogging, mental health and cats over at Queer Little Family.

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A Stranger In the House

A Stranger in the House

             The e-mail was brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.” The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted. Word had spread through our Aussie connections that my husband and I were interested in adopting a needy dog.

Through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. I took a deep breath, and requested information.  

Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. They caught the dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy wrapped his arms around him.

The owner pleaded, “You can have him for free!”

Agreeing he needed help, Murphy set him on my lap. On the way home, he smiled. “What do you think about naming him, Mulligan? He needs a ‘Do Over.’”

I grinned. “Perfect!”

We walked Mulligan through the house to our large bathtub. Murphy and I stripped down to our underwear and climbed in with our frightened dog. This had to be a first for Mulligan; being held by a man and being bathed.

During his bath, I discovered he had no stub. Some Aussies are born without a tail, or the breeder did a terrible job of docking. But, it didn’t matter. He’d just never have a wiggle.

Soon his thick black fur shone like patent leather and his white shimmered like new fallen snow. He was beautiful. His soulful eyes reached deep into my heart. Standing patiently, he panted, and allowed us to rub him dry.

Later, I read about anxiety in dogs and learned panting, yawning, and not eating a treat indicated being overly fearful. Those behavioral signs would help me understand his stress levels.

Four days later, Mulligan had his first appointment with Dr. Hill. “I know why his original owners neglected him so young. One testicle hasn’t dropped. They could never have shown him in ‘Best of Show,’ as beautiful as he is, he wasn’t worth keeping.”

Mulligan was like a child who had been held hostage in a dark closet, with no sensual or intellectual stimulation. I pulled out my Aussie books. I had to change him from being a stranger to someone I understood. I needed to crawl into his fur, look through his eyes, and feel his quandary. Every day was an experiment.

At our first puppy training class, I wanted Mulligan to connect with Murphy. I passed the leash to him. Mulligan looked at Murphy and then to me. His eyes said, “What are you doing to me?”

The trainer walked over to Murphy. “He’s too far away from you. Jerk him. Make him walk closer.”

Murphy halted. “This is a rescued dog and has had nothing but abuse. I’m not jerking him.”

Surprised by what he said, the trainer’s eyes widened. “So, you’re going to let this dog have control over you?”

Murphy fumed. “This dog has been abused. Jerking him will not get him to trust me.”

After two weeks, Murphy confided in me. “Sheri, Mulligan’s probably always going to be your dog. And, I’m okay with that. But, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to need another puppy.”

My heart sunk.  Another puppy! I collapsed on a chair. “I’m digesting what you said.”

Murphy found a kennel with Aussie puppies two hours away in Georgia. Mulligan played with three older dogs in a fenced yard while we chose the new puppy.  One little guy, they called Cowboy, came out of his pack and waved his paw as if he was saying, “Howdy. Pick me. Pick me.”

He was black and white with a pink butterfly nose and no copper markings. I drove home while Murphy snuggled with his new playmate. That night, as soon as we settled into the den, Murphy sat on the den floor, playing tug with Slater.

Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting. Then Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and into the den.  His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I held my breath. My hands covered my racing heart.

Mulligan sauntered right up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso, facing him.  Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater, and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. After a few seconds, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.

Murphy’s eyes filled with emotion and tears dripped down our faces.

This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined.  Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.

Mulligan and Slater
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Meet Samantha McGraw

Thanks for inviting me to stop by Pens, Paws, and Claws; I’m delighted to spend some time with your readers.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve been a freelance writer for a several years now and I’m finally working on my first mystery novel. In the meantime, I’m writing for pure enjoyment over on my blog Tea Cottage Mysteries where I get to talk about my favorite things, tea and great mysteries. And when I have some free time, I love writing short stories, some of which I’ll be sharing soon on my blog.

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

I have a feisty tuxedo cat who tends to be a bit of a diva, and I love it! She’s very strong-willed and strong-minded. Her favorite place to spend time is on my heat blanket or a pile of clean clothes just out of the dryer.

I also have a sweet, snuggly tabby who was abandoned in our neighborhood about 2 years ago and decided he wanted to live at my house. Now he spends his days sunning himself on my back deck or visiting my neighbor’s house and his nights curled up on heat blanket, not to be outdone by the diva.

Cats have always been part of my life so it just feels natural for me to include at least one as a character in my book. The cat in my story is a blend of my 2 babies.

Above: Madi and Mitty

What are you reading now?

I almost always have 2 or 3 books going at once. At least one to actually read and always one on audio that I listen to in my car or while cooking dinner. With a TBR pile that never seems to shrink, this helps me keep it under control.

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Ellery Adams’ new book, The Secret, Book, & Scone Society, which was one of the best book I’ve read all year. Be sure to get it when it releases.

I’ve been craving an Agatha Christie so I’m trying to decide which one I’ll read next.

On audio, I’m listening to Lisa Scottoline’s Exposed. I love Mary DiNunzio, and I always enjoy Lisa’s work.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

There’s always something! Right now I have my first novel and two short stories in the works.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a tough one, there are so many I love. There are two at the top of my list though. Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton. I love Agatha’s stories because she’s so clever about “hiding” clues right in front of your face. You really have to pay attention or you’ll miss something very important. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple challenge me to be at the top of my game to compete against them.

As for Sue’s Kinsey Millhone, I just love her. She has to be one of my favorite fictional characters. I wish she was real because I’d want to be her best friend. Sue is also very talented at hiding the obvious right in front of your face. When I get to the end I always feel like saying “Of course! I should have seen that!”, but I didn’t!

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

Charlotte’s Web! What’s better than a spider trying to save a pig’s life? ?

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

My husband and I still laugh about this one. We were sitting up in bed one night watching a movie and our diva kitty was snoozing in a box on the bed (if you’ve ever had a cat, I don’t have to explain the box obsession). She was sleeping so soundly she was snoring; it was adorable. Out of nowhere, my husband lets out a HUGE sneeze. I mean so loud I think the neighbors heard it. Huge! The cat jumped straight up in the air from a dead sleep and fell right off the end of the bed. She just sat on the floor, dazed and confused, shaking her head and trying to figure out what just happened. We laughed so hard we cried! She didn’t come back to the bed for the rest of the night!

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

I’ve always known; it’s just part of my soul. My mother would tell you that she knew from the time I learned to spell my name. I never stopped writing and I always had at least one book with me at all times. When I was about 7, I would call all my aunts and uncles to find out what was new then I would hand write a “family newsletter” for everyone and make my mom send them out to every family member.

When I was 10, my grandfather bought me an Underwood typewriter so I wouldn’t have to keep writing by hand. I guess he always knew too.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

I don’t really prioritize my bucket list; it’s just ongoing. But one thing I can’t wait to try is a hike down to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. It’s at least a two-night camping trip to really enjoy it and I’m not much of a camper, but the trip is worth any struggle I may have to endure. I’m hoping to go in the next few years. If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. Now! You’ll be glad you did.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Diva kitty sleeps all day and only bothers me when she’s hungry, and my snuggle buddy is usually outside. But if the weather’s bad and he has to be inside, he’s in my lap, tapping at my hand to stop working and pet him instead.

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

I have 2 TBR lists. One for books and eBooks, one for audio. My book list has a couple of Agatha Christie’s, 3 books from authors who have visited or are about to visit my blog, several books from my Sisters-in-Crime friends, and a new-to-me series that someone recommended.

My audio list is almost complete, but Mary Burton just released a new book that I’m dying to check out and there’s a new David Baldacci book coming in November. I always drop everything to listen to his latest when it releases!

Biography: Samantha is a freelance writer and aspiring mystery author who shares her passion for all things mystery and tea on her blog Tea Cottage Mysteries.

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