Meet Jennifer Leeper

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Jennifer Leeper to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I started writing fiction in high school and it was bad – very bad. I published a lot in my 20s and early 30s, but not fiction. As a Journalism graduate, I got used to seeing my byline above newspaper stories and even in some local magazines, but accomplishment in fiction writing was really where my aspirations reached, and it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I published my first fiction work, a short story called Murder Brokers, in an anthology put out by Hen House Press.

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

I’ve had several amazing pets over the years. At one time, we had two dogs and two cats, but sadly, we’re down to one cat named Karina. She’s a short-haired, gray girl who loves lap naps and is just the right balance of dependent/independent. I don’t model my writing on my pets, however, I find they are a great comfort to me while I’m writing.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey. I rarely read nonfiction, but I couldn’t resist this read because it spotlights one of my favorite, natural spots on the planet.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a crime/mystery/thriller set outside Vegas, with a female and a male protagonist, working together to solve a crime.

Who is your favorite author and why?

If you had asked me this question a few years back, I would have said Jack London or several years before that, Sinclair Lewis, but these days, it’s Tony Hillerman. I love how he elevates the regional and cultural settings of his books to main character status in his stories. His description of the southwestern U.S., particularly parts of New Mexico and more specifically, Navajo reservation culture, engages as much as Hillerman’s adept and authentic portrayal of crime-solving.

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

I tend to mention animals in passing, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t influential in the context of my storylines, and the animals I mention tend to be wild, not domesticated species. For example, I lean toward writing about desert locales, so lizards, wolves, rabbits, and coyotes tend to catch my fancy in my fiction, more so than cats and dogs.

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

That’s easy for me. Any of Jack London’s books where a dog is a central character is my favorite because he instilled humanity in these animals and that’s no so far-fetched to me.

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

I knew I was a writer when I was around 12 years old and my English teacher selected my poem to submit for display at the state capitol with other pieces of writing from youth statewide.

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

At the top of my bucket list is finishing and publishing a novel of 50,000+ words. Thus far, I’ve published many short stories, a novella, collection of stories, and a novel of around 40,000 words, but I really want to publish a longer work. A close tie is summiting a 14-er. A 14-er is a 14,000-feet mountain peak.

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

In my reading slush pile are the following: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

About Jennifer:

Ms. Leeper is an award-winning fiction author who’s publications credits include Independent Ink Magazine, Notes Magazine, The Stone Hobo, Poiesis, Every Day Fiction, Aphelion Webzine, Heater magazine, Cowboy Jamboree, The New Engagement, Alaska Quarterly Review and The Liguorian. She has had works published by J. Burrage Publications, Hen House Press, Inwood Indiana Press, Alternating Current Press, Barking Rain Press, Whispering Prairie Press, and Spider Road Press. In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel, Tribe. Ms. Leeper’s short story Tatau was published in the journal, Poiesis, and was short listed as a finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015, and nominated by Alternating Current for Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best of Small Fictions of 2016 Prize. In 2016, The Saturday Evening Post honored Ms. Leeper’s short story Book of the Dead with an honorable mention in its Great American Fiction Contest. Ms. Leeper’s short story The Bottle won second place in the Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize through Spider Road Press.

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Annnnnnticipation…..

First, let me wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Pens, Paws and Claws!

I hope you all had a wonderful turkey day.  Like many of you, I traveled for my feast.  My family gathers at my sister’s house for the big meal and then we watch football and, on Friday, go shopping and then bowling.  I cooked this year, and thankfully it turned out well.  It’s fun, it’s tradition, and we look forward to it every year.  That’s the first of two turkeys I cooked, and the sweet potato casserole waiting to go in!

The only thing we don’t look forward to is leaving our dogs at home.  My sister is allergic, so the dogs stay home with the dog sitter and we have to go four days without our dog fix.  When you live with pets, no matter how many or what kind, when you have to be without them, its just…odd.  No one to bump your elbow and ask for pets, no one to clean the floor if you drop something, no one to warm your lap when you sit down or lie across your computer and interfere with your work.

Seriously, how is even possible to live without pets?

So, as much as I love being with my family, I am looking forward to getting home to my dogs.  We also have another fun thing to anticipate on the way home.  We’re stopping by to see more family on our way home and they have….wait for it….a new puppy!

WOOT!  We’ll get a puppy fix before we get home, then, we’ll get home to slurpy kisses from our own beloved pets.

Ahhhhh.  After nine hours driving it will be: Home, sweet pet-filled home.

The only good news about 9 hours of driving is that I can write for most of that.  I’ve got a holiday novella to finish (another mystery-in-space with my co-conspiriitor, Nancy Northcott.) I’m going to finish and publish another paranormal romantic suspense as well, before the end of December.  That one, A Spirited Life, is in final edits, so I may be doing that during the drive!

So, then we’ll be on to the winter holidays!  Hannukah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years.  I’ll start decorating the house next week.

What about you?  

Do you take your pets with you for the holidays, or  do you host and let your family bring their pets to your house?

Did you have a great Thanksgiving?  Did you have pumpkin pie or pecan?

What’s your December Holiday?  Are you ready to decorate the day after Thanksgiving, or do you wait till December 1?

What day do you put up your tree?  Is it up? If so, post a picture!

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Meet Fiona Quinn and Little Bear

Pens, Paws, and Claws is pleased to welcome USA Today Bestselling Author, Fiona Quinn.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a USA Today Bestselling author, and I enjoy writing romantic suspense with a psychic twist.

In this article, however, I wanted to tell you about a “just for fun” mystery collection I’m writing with my dear friend, Tina Glasneck. We were at a brewery for a book signing together, sniffing beer fumes for hours, when we landed on an idea for a series called “The Badge Bunny Booze Mystery Collection” Each book begins with “If You See Kay…” and then a verb. So far, we’ve written “If You See Kay Run,” “If You See Kay Hide,” and coming out November 21, 2017, “If You See Kay Freeze.”

A badge bunny, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is someone who enjoys sharing their physical attentions with cops. There’s a lot of tongue in cheek, double entendre cavorting. But it’s not graphically sexual. It’s really just a chance to giggle-snort (that word comes to us via a fan in Australia – and we whole heartedly agree!)

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

We don’t have a pet, but we do have a service dog for my daughter who has Type 1 diabetes. Diagnosed at age six, she was having a terrible time with seizures. Little Bear was on a team that were the first trained diabetes alert dogs in the United States. He “got the scent” when he was five-months old and my daughter went from 2-3 seizures a week to zero from that time on. He has worked with us for almost ten years now. He is a life saver and our family’s great miracle.

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

In the Badge Bunny Booze Collection, BJ’s dog’s named Twinkles, and he is a recurring hero in the books.

From “If You See Kay Run”

Twinkles was my hundred-and-thirty pound, muscle bound, all-male Rottweiler. He got his name because he was a Christmas gift from my dad. I left him alone for two seconds. Two seconds! And he must have eaten a string of twinkling Christmas lights off my little table top tree, battery case and all. I figured this out the next day when he was moaning at the door. I put him on his leash and led him to the dog park, so he could do his business and meet some of the neighborhood dogs, maybe make a new friend or two. Everyone was super impressed when he finally made his poop, and it came out with flashing mini Christmas lights. At that point, he kind of got the name whether I liked it or not. So “Thor” went by the wayside, and Twinkles it was. It’s okay, he was comfortable in his manhood despite the ridiculous name.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I just released In Too Deep with the Murder and Mayhem project. It went to the top of the charts, hitting several bestselling lists including Amazon, iBook, Nook, USA Today and others. Another novel in that series (Strike Force) called “Instigator” is going up for preorder.

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

In Badge Bunny Booze, Twinkles is one of the family. He is always around, getting into as much trouble as BJ and Kay do.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

 Our relationship with animals is indicative of character. There’s no better way to sew invisible seeds of doubt or acceptance than to have an animal react to that person. The animals react to the true nature of the person, not the veneer.

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

 In our newest novel If You See Kay Freeze, we have a new character, Justice Brown. Justice has a service rat.

“Justice reached up and tickled her pet rat under the chin. The rat was Justice’s service animal. It was sensitive to Justice’s well-being and would nibble on her earlobe before she had a seizure which gave her enough time to go lay down somewhere safe. Luckily, Justice’s seizures were pretty rare, but she knew my office had plenty of couch pillows to throw on the floor if need be. And even if she had to work the bar alone, Joe was in the back washing the dishes, and Nicodemus, her white rat, would protect her. I mean who would mess with someone with a protecto rat sitting on her chest?”

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Once when Little Bear was alerting, I had to stop and help my child. All was well, and I went on with my day. Then Bear jumped up on my bed and put this t-shirt in front of me.

 

He looked up expectantly. You see I forgot to reward him, and we always give him a treat for his good work.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

 Little Bear sleeps on the bed just outside of my office, then comes to get me for an alert if he thinks my daughter needs help.

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

I’m a homeschooling mother. When my kids reached twelve-years-old, I asked them to start a business. A real business, with all the paperwork, tax numbers and all. when it was my son’s turn, he chose to be a lizard breeder. He bred bearded dragons and sold them to local pet shops. He did very well, but at one point we had fifty lizards and their accompanying food bins of cockroaches and crickets. My mantra at the time: “I love him. He’s learning a lot.”

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Meet Nancy Northcott

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

As my bio says, I’ve always loved stories of adventure, romance, and mystery, and I fell in love with history at an early age. I also read comic books growing up, much to the vexation of my mother.  But I loved the superheroes and science fiction they offered.

I write mages (like wizards, but if you mention wizards, people tend to think of Harry Potter, and this is not that) because they’re kind of like superheroes but also incorporate elements of fantasy.  The mages battle ghouls and demons hoping to take over our world—more fantasy elements there, as well as action and adventure.

I’ve also written, but not published, historical romance and have published historical fantasy. The Herald of Day is the first part of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy.  I loved doing the research to build those historical worlds.

I just launched a romantic spy adventure series that lets me incorporate adventure, suspense, and action with hot romance.  Finally, I’m writing a space opera series with Jeanne Adams.

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

We just adopted a new dog, a black lab mix.  Whatever she’s mixed with is a smaller breed because she’s much smaller than the lab we had for a few years.  She’s still settling into our family.

We also had a very large, male golden retriever named Hudson at one point, and he’s the only one who is a story model to date.  At least for stories I share with the world.  I used to make up stories featuring him and Maggie, the golden/Irish setter mix we had at the time. He was kind of like an Edwardian gentleman, very proper, while she was just zany.  They offered a lot of character contrast. I told those stories to entertain our son when we were waiting in a restaurant or elsewhere, but I never wrote them down.

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

So far, my only recurring animal character is a very large golden retriever named Magnus in my Light Mage Wars series.  He’s the one modeled on Hudson. Magnus is the constant companion of Miss Hettie Telfair, a retired lawyer and recurring character in my imaginary town of Wayfarer, Georgia.  I’d like to think he has a personality even though he doesn’t play a big role in any scene.

I had a mare named Calypso in The Deathbrew Affair, and we’ll see her again down the road.  The hero of the series is a horseman from North Yorkshire, so horses will figure in some of the books going forward.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m juggling three at the moment, the next Light Mages book, a Christmas novella for the space opera series, and a Christmas short story for the Light Mages.

 Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s hard to pick a favorite author among the many whose books I love. My all-time ever favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird because I like and sympathize with the characters and admire the way it addresses a crucial social issue.

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

I grew up with dogs that were treated as part of our family.  Over the years, we had a fox terrier/Chihuahua mix and a couple of English bulldogs. The bulldogs were very sweet but prone to breathing and skin problems, unfortunately.  The fox terrier/Chihuahua was also very sweet and generally pretty calm.  She liked to sleep on the foot of my bed in the winter, and I liked that.

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

Magnus is a character in his own right, though a minor one. The hero and his best friend in The Herald of Day, which is set in 17th-century England, each have a horse, Zeus and Neptune, but they figure primarily in the opening part of the books.  They’re not exactly characters but are more than mentioned in passing.

The Deathbrew Affair includes a mare named Calypso, whom we meet briefly before events pull the hero and heroine away from the riding ring.  We’ll see Calypso again, though.  Because the hero is an equestrian with an estate in the horse-breeding area of North Yorkshire, he’ll have a horse in a future book and the heroine will learn to ride.  The penultimate book in the series is currently planned to center on a horse.

The animals in the space opera series so far are not pets but creatures on the planet we created.  None of them actually qualifies as a character, nor are they likely to.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I like animals, and I like to have them in a story when there’s a reason.  I also think the way a character relates to an animal reveals that character. Magnus helps show us Hettie’s nature and has been a bridge between her and other characters.

Horses are a soft spot for controlled, plan-oriented Jack, the hero of The Deathbrew Affair and its siblings, but they were essential in The Herald of Day.  During the era when the book is set, they were the transportation for those who could afford them. The hero and his best friend have horses, and at one point we see the hero’s carriage horses.

When dealing with an alien culture, as in the space opera series, creating animals is part of building that world.

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

I enjoyed Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.  I generally avoid movies and books centering on animals because so many of them end tragically, but our son wanted to see that movie when he was small. I enjoyed the characterizations by the actors, and I loved that it had a happy ending.

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

I have three TBR piles–one in a plastic bin, one on the shelves in my study, and one on my tablet. The piles mix various genres of romance (primarily historical, paranormal, and romantic suspense), science fiction and fantasy, and mystery/thriller books.

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

First, that there’s no one “right” way, that every author has to do what works for her. For example, I don’t write every day, in the sense of sitting in front of the computer.  I do think about the various projects daily, but many people don’t consider that writing.  It works for me, though.

Second, that the marketing department plays a huge role in purchasing decisions at traditional publishing houses. A book that veers too far off the center field line, unless the marketing people think it’s lightning in a bottle, will have a hard time finding a home.

Thank you to everyone at Pens, Paws, and Claws for having me today. I’d love to chat about people’s first pets.

About Nancy…

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman.  Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the romance and high stakes (and sometimes the magic) she loves in the books she writes.

She’s the author of the Light Mage Wars/Protectors paranormal romances, the Lethal Webs and Arachnid Files romantic suspense series, and the historical fantasy trilogy, The Boar King’s Honor. With author Jeanne Adams, she co-writes the Outcast Station space opera series.

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Something’s Fishy

A couple months ago on this blog, I admitted that I was the textbook *cat lady*, minus her cats.  Sadly, this lack of furry companionship has encompassed all the usual pet suspects, save one. May I introduce you to my family’s one-and-only pet, a Betta fish.

Though neither cuddly nor furry, our Blue Crush (a.k.a. Crush) swam his way into our hearts and graced our family for about a year. With his peacock-like halfmoon tail, he offered a splash of shimmering color in our otherwise monochromatic kitchen. At one point, my son campaigned to change his name to Tag because Crush would follow his finger as he trailed it all around the bowl. We called it Crush’s exercise.

When perusing our fish options, we selected the Betta family because they didn’t require aeration in the tank, like most other aquatic species. Easy peasy, right?

Not so much.

For those authors (a.k.a. fictionistas) who choose to write a pet Betta into their novel, please don’t just make him pretty then forget about him.  Crush taught us that a fish of beauty can be more high maintenance than one might realize:

  • Equipment ~ bowl, pebbles, water plants, a net to catch him when we needed to clean the bowl, thermometer and a place for the fish to hide, because privacy). Our kids also insisted on adding a reminder to my husband to keep his fish hook far away from this bowl.

  • Food ~ Don’t feed the Betta fish too much, because he won’t stop eating when he’s full, so his stomach can explode. (I’m not kidding). This also meant that we needed a pet sitter any time our family traveled for more than a few days.
  • Water temperature ~ Bettas are indigenous to tropical climates so when winter arrived and our normally spunky Crush became sluggish, we had to buy a heating pad for the bowl. Who knew?
  • Water quality ~ Between bowl cleanings we had to monitor the water for toxins such as nitrate, nitrite, chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia.
  • King of the Hill ~ If more than one Betta share a bowl, they’ll fight each other to the death. Can you say Hunger Games?
  • First Aid ~ Betta fish are prone to fungal and bacterial infection, but only offer a few symptoms: their fin color may fade, their energy level may diminish, and/or their fins may shorten or shred. By the end of our first year, I’d googled all sorts of triage for determining what was wrong and had amassed a buffet of fish meds. I’m ready to sit for my fish-nursing certification exams.

The above notwithstanding, our family cherished the time Crush spent with us. He brightened our world, and wow, was he good lookin’!

 

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Meet Mary Burton and Buddy, Bella, and Tiki

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mary Burton and her three miniature dachshunds.

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

I have three miniature dachshunds, Buddy, Bella and Tiki.  None of the pups have shown up in a book but their names have several times.  In fact, “Buddy” Morgan ended up being a legendary homicide detective in my Nashville Suspense series.

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

For some reason the dogs in my books tend to be German Shepherds.  Don’t ask me why, but I’ve had several shepherds.  There was Lincoln in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, Tracker in BE AFRAID, Cooper in THE VIEW FROM PRINCE STREET and most recently Dolly in a women’s fiction tentatively titled WINTER COTTAGE.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I have a romantic suspense HER LAST WORD, which comes out in May 2018.  I also just finished up a women’s fiction that will be released by Montlake late Summer/early fall 2018 and I’m also working on a suspense that will be released by Montlake in late 2018.

Did you have childhood pets?

If so, tell us about them.  I grew with Carin Terriers, Shorty and Sissy.  These dogs were great and as terriers were very territorial and loved to bark.  I’ve always been used to loud, bossy small dogs which explains why I get along with the dachshunds so well.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

How a character reacts to animal says so much about them.   Do they rescue their animal, are they loyal to their canine, or is the dog the only ‘person’ they can talk to.  Frankly if a character in one of my books doesn’t like animals it is safe to say they are the bad guy.

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

Tracker in BE AFRAID was a retired police dog who’d been injured in the line of duty along with his handler Rick.  Both Rick and Tracker were trying to prove they still had the skills to do the job and both had their own storylines.  Needless to say, they both got their bad guy in the end.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Yesterday I took the pups to get a hamburger.  I know I can’t keep the food next to me in the front of the van or they’ll get into it, so I put the burgers in the way back of the van during the drive home. Buddy decided that that hamburger was going to be his and he found a way to jump all the seats.  I could hear him chowing down, but couldn’t get to him until I pulled into the driveway.  By the time we were home, there were no more hamburgers.

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

I didn’t start writing until my late twenties.  My kids were babies and I decided if I was going to try writing now was the time.  I would put them down for a nap each day and write.  This went on for several years.  When the baby was in kindergarten, I sold my first novel to Harlequin Historical and I’ve been working steady since.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They sleep under my desk and when that gets old, they bug me.  Bella always knows when it’s 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m,–the times for the big walks.  She never, ever forgets.  She’s also very good at reminding me when it’s 5:00 p.m. a.k.a. dinner time.   That dog has an internal clock that never fails.

About Mary…

New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author Mary Burton is known for creating multiple stories connected by characters and settings. Her new book, The Last Move (9-19-17), is her first “standalone” novel in eleven years.

Her first book was published in 2000 and she’s now the author of twenty-nine novels of romance and suspense, five novellas, and four contemporary novels written as Mary Ellen Taylor.

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Meet Ellen Byron

Pens, Paws, and Claws is excited to welcome author, Ellen Byron!

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

All of our dogs found their way into my books. In 1999, we rescued a basset hound through Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California. Her name was Lucy, and she inspired my protagonist’s family pet, Gopher – so named because he’s a basset hound who likes to dig holes and rest his tushy in them to stay cool. When Lucy was 13, we adopted Wiley from a local rescue called The Amanda Foundation. I call Wiley a corgi-jack-huahua. We thought Lucy was on her last legs, but she lived to be almost sixteen. After she passed, we thought Wiley could use a friend, so we went back to the AF and adopted Pogo. I call him a cherrier because he’s a Chihuahua-terrier mix. In Body on the Bayou, the second book in my series, I created a stray named Jolie who’s inspired by Pogo, even though she’s a girl and our Pogo’s a boy. I felt badly for Wiley because he was immortalized in a book that still hasn’t sold, so I created a subplot in A Cajun Christmas Killing involved a darling doggy named King Cake who looks a lot like Wiley!

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

Gopher is in every book because he’s the family pet. In Body on the Bayou, Maggie finds a mama cat guarding a litter of kittens and puppies. She tracks down the pup’s mother – the aforementioned Jolie – and eventually finds homes for the kittens and pups. It turns out the mama cat and dog belonged to neighbors who are on sabbatical in Hawaii. Their irresponsible housesitter let the pets out and then disappeared. The Crozat family is looking after Jolie and Brooke – the mama cat – until their neighbors get back, which probably means forever in book series time. Jasmine, one of the puppies, is pivotal to the story. Xander, the son of Maggie’s boyfriend Bo, has Asperger’s. He falls in love with Jasmine and his relationship with the pup helps him break through a case of selective mutism.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Murder in Shadow, An Acton & Doyle Mystery, by Anne Cleeland. I love this series. I’m also lucky enough to be reading an advance copy of Hair of the Dog, the third mystery in Carlene O’Neil’s wonderful Cypress Cove Mystery Series.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Emily Bronte. She only wrote one book, Wuthering Heights, but it’s absolutely extraordinary. I bought a used copy of it at a store called The Haunted Bookshop in Vermont when I was fourteen and on a family vacation. The bookshop was housed in an old Victorian mansion across from a cemetery. Everything about the situation added to the wild atmosphere of that book, and I was enthralled. Although I recently re-read it and I thought, wow – Heathcliff was a total psychopath!

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

Our first dog, Chips, was a Sheltie who was very high-strung. He once bit my father, and my father bit him back! He didn’t hurt the dog, he just ended up with a mouthful of fur. But he was upset because he’d never had a pet as a child so having one fulfilled a childhood dream, and he wanted that dog to love him. After Chips passed, my father was in an elevator at work – he was an advertising Mad Man – and heard a man talking about how he and his wife, who ran the Westchester NY SPCA, were fostering a litter of puppies that had been found with their mother in the town dump. By the next night, we were the proud pet parents of two puppies, Teddy Bear and Teena Bear. My mother spelled “Tina” “Teena” because she mistook Teena for female when we first got them, and she thought that was a more masculine spelling of the name. They were a mix of springer spaniel and poodle. My mother always put “Sprudel” as their breed when she sent in for their licenses, and it always came back “mutt.” She was ahead of her time!

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

Oh, they’re very much their own characters. As I mentioned, they even get their own storylines. And Maggie often uses Gopher as her ear when she needs to talk something out.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I’m a proud, passionate pet parent. When my husband and I began dating, I made it clear that if he wasn’t interested in having dogs, we could end the relationship right then and there. He’d never had pets, so he was nervous, but he’s just wonderful with our boys. I think animals add humanity to any story, odd as that sounds. They offer a great path into character. We get a sense of whether we like someone or not by how they relate to animals… and how the animals relate to them. We may think a character is likeable, but then a dog or cat takes a dislike to them and we’re like, uh oh.

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

I’ve always avoided books and movies that have animals as central characters because they’re often so dang sad. I have to share this story from fourth grade. Our teacher assigned us categories to read, and one was “Animals,” meaning we had to read a book where the story revolved around an animal. I confided in the school librarian that I didn’t want to do the assignment because too often animals in books were either injured or died, and the stories upset me too much. She said, “I’ll find you a happy animal story.” And she did, God bless the kind woman.

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

I don’t, but honestly, my dogs are like service animals for me. I’ve always said that when it comes to my mental health, it’s pets or Prozac. If I’m anxious or depressed, I’ll snuggle with Pogo or Wiley or pet them, and I immediately feel better. Animals are the world’s best anti-depressants.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Basset hounds are notoriously sedentary dogs, and our Lucy was no exception. I’m not kidding when I say she probably slept twenty-three hours a day. When our daughter Eliza was around four, we were at a friend’s house and she began playing with their senior citizen cat. My friend cautioned her to take it easy on the old thing, and Eliza said, “I’m sorry. I’m not used to a pet that moves.”

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

Not only is Wuthering Heights my all-time favorite book, I’m obsessed with the Brontes. So the number one item on my bucket list is to make a pilgrimage to Haworth Parsonage in the north of England, and walk the moors where Emily, Charlotte, and Anne once walked. Emily was a passionate animal lover. She got along better with her dogs than she did with people. Here’s a sketch of her beloved dog, Keeper.

 

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They keep me company in the office. Wiley’s old now – I’m guessing around fourteen – so he sleeps a lot. Pogo’s about ten, but he’s still got puppy energy. He’ll sleep, but then he gets bored and brings me a tennis ball to throw or tries to climb in my lap. Once when I went to get the mail, I made the mistake of leaving my lunch on the table next to my computer. When I came back, Pogo had figured out how to jump onto my office chair, then onto my desk, and he’d eaten my lunch!

My pets are such an important part of my life. Thank you, Pens, Paws, and Claws, for giving me a chance to share how my furbabies mean to me.

About Ellen…

Ellen writes the award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called her new book, A Cajun Christmas Killing, “superb.” Body on the Bayou, the second book in the series, recently won the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for a Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award. Her debut Cajun Country Mystery, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Ellen is also a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant from the Malice Domestic Convention.

Her TV credits include Wings, Still Standing, and Just Shoot Me, as well as network and cable pilots. She recently served on the Editorial Board for the UCLA Writers Program’s books, Cut to the Chase and Inside the Room. As a journalist, she’s written over 200 magazine articles for national publications. Her plays, published by Dramatists Play Service, include the popular Graceland and Asleep on the Wind.

A graduate of Tulane University, Ellen lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, daughter, and the family’s spoiled rescue dogs, which they describe as a “corgi-jack-huahua” and a “cherrier.” A native New Yorker, Ellen still misses her hometown… and still drives like a New York cabbie.

Website Link

 

 

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Poe, Chris Semtner, Edgar, and Pluto…

I am so pleased to be able to interview Chris Semtner, the Curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, about the museum, his work, and Edgar and Pluto, the museum cats. The Poe Museum is one of my favorite spots in Richmond. If you’re visiting the area, this is a must for your list of stops.

Please tell our readers about your role at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

I find new ways to share Poe’s works and life with a variety of audiences through performance, film, visual art, and exhibits. If people leave the museum with their own collection of Poe’s short stories or poems from the gift shop, I know I have done my job.

 Tell us about Edgar and Pluto and their roles. How long have they been ambassadors for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are the museum’s greeters and tour guides. Having grown up here for the past five years, they love nothing more than welcoming the museum’s many guests.

 How did they get their names?

Pluto was named after the title character from Poe’s tale “The Black Cat,” and Edgar was named after Eliza Poe’s baby boy.

 Do they live full-time at the museum? And are they good at keeping the squirrels/birds/chipmunks at bay?

The Poe Museum Cats were born in the garden and live here full-time. At night and in bad weather they stay inside one of the buildings, but during the day you can find them in the gift shop, in the garden, or on somebody’s desk. They are convinced they are excellent hunters, but the bells on their collars usually frighten the birds and squirrels in plenty of time for an escape.

 Did Poe have any animals in his life?

Poe grew up with animals, including a dog named Tib and a parrot who could speak French. As an adult, Poe had songbirds and at least two cats. Caterina was a tortoiseshell cat who liked to sit on his shoulder while he wrote. Poe published an essay about his black cat, who impressed him by being intelligent enough to turn a door latch in order to open a door.

 How do guests react to the Poe Museum kitties?

Most of the people who visit the Poe Museum seem to be cat people. Guests’ eyes light up when they see Pluto run up to them with a warm greeting. Young children especially enjoy spending time with the cats while their parents tour the exhibits. The best reaction, however, was from a group of sixth-graders who visited the museum after reading “The Black Cat.” As soon as they stepped into the garden Pluto bounded over the ivy to meet them, and one of the kids screamed.

 Did Poe write about any other animals besides the raven and the culprit in “The Murders on the Rue Morgue”?

Some of Poe’s stories feature dogs with Tiger from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym being the most notable. In the comedy “The Business Man,” the con artist bootblack trains his dog to get mud all over people’s new shoes as they approach the shoeshine stand. Poe also wrote about insects in “The Gold-Bug” and “The Sphinx.” Then he wrote an entire book about mollusks with The Conchologist’s First Book. Thanks to “Four Beasts in One,” Poe has the distinction of being the first to write about a Homocameleopard.

 Tell us about your research and latest publications.

I started by researching the Poe Museum’s most important Poe relics and what they have to tell us about Edgar Allan Poe’s life and writing process. Along the way, the project grew into an investigation of the turn-of-the-century Poe collectors who competed for each new Poe discovery, like the papers found hidden in his writing desk or the contents of his trunk. I had to know what motivated these collectors—who included an obsessed historian, the founder of an insane asylum, and a Spiritualist who believed Poe had been clairvoyant—to invest all their time and money into amassing hordes of Poeana, some of which was kept hidden until after their deaths. I told the story in The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, which will be released on December 11. 

My next project is a paper about Edgar Allan Poe’s unintentional influence on the Spiritualist movement for the International Poe/Hawthorne Conference next summer in Kyoto, Japan. I’m also doing some illustration work and some paintings for an upcoming exhibit.

 What’s the funniest thing that Edgar or Pluto has done?

During one tour, I joked with a group that Edgar Poe’s ghost might come down the stairs at any moment. When somebody called out Edgar’s name in jest, Edgar the cat trotted down the steps, right on cue, to meet his startled audience.

 Could you tell us about the “Unhappy Hours” and the Enchanted Garden?

The monthly Unhappy Hour, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month from April through October, is an excuse for people to relax in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden while listening to good music, sampling locally produced food and drink, and catching up with friends. Because it’s at the Poe Museum, we bring out some Poe-themed fun and games as well as the occasional performance or film.

 The Enchanted Garden is Richmond’s first memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. Back in 1906, the city could not muster up enough enthusiasm to support a Poe statue, and a decade later, they stood by while his office and home were demolished. The Poe Memorial Association had to the good sense to save the bricks and granite and to use them to turn an old junkyard into a Poe memorial garden based on Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise.” The founders wanted to recreate Poe’s poem in three dimensions and to fill it with the flowers and shrubs from Poe’s stories and poems. This became the Enchanted Garden, a living memorial where people can come to get inspired. In its early days, the garden attracted such visitors as Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft, and Salvador Dali. Later, Vincent Price, Ray Bradbury, and several other cultural figures made their own Poe pilgrimages here.

 What is the coolest item you have in the Poe collection?

I am always impressed by Poe’s waistcoat, walking stick, and penknife. These are the kinds of personal possessions that really give our guests the feeling of meeting Poe face-to-face. History comes to life when you realize that Poe was once a working writer walking the same streets we are and facing a lot of the same struggles creative people encounter today.

 Are there any existing buildings in Richmond today where Poe lived or worked?

The Richmond buildings in which Poe lived and worked are all gone, lost for the sake a progress. We do, however, have a few places in which he spent time. The Elmira Shelton House on Church Hill was where Poe courted his last fiancée, and it would have been the Edgar Allan Poe House if he had lived ten more days and married her. On West Grace Street, Talavera is the place Poe gave his last private reading, and the owners through the years have preserved the mantel in the room where that performance took place. Near the Capitol, Monumental Church is where Poe attended Sunday services with his foster parents. Their pew is still marked with the plaque installed there when his foster mother died.

 We follow you all on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with antics of museum kitties. Do they appear in any of the marketing for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are not in any of the marketing, but like having their pictures taken for social media.

 What upcoming programs do you all have planned in the near future?

The museum’s annual Poe Birthday Bash will take place on January 20, 2018 from noon until midnight. The day promises the opening of a new exhibit as well as a different performance, tour, or activity every hour until the midnight toast in the Poe Shrine.

 What’s one thing Edgar and Pluto want folks to know about the Poe Museum?

Edgar and Pluto want you to visit them at the Poe Museum any Tuesday through Saturday from ten until five or on Sundays from eleven until five. 

About Chris Semtner:

The Curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Chris Semtner has written several books on topics including Edgar Allan Poe, visual art, and cryptography in addition to contributing articles to Biography.com, Resources for American Literary Studies, Crime Writers’ Chronicle, and The Edgar Allan Poe Review. Semtner has been interviewed on the BBC, PBS, Travel Channel, Military History, NPR, CNN, and other networks. He has spoken about a variety of unusual, obscure, and macabre subjects to groups around the country and next year will lecture in Japan. An internationally exhibited fine artist, Semtner’s paintings have entered numerous public collections including the Virginia Historical Society and the University of Maryland. He has exhibited paintings at Viktor Wynd Fine Art, London; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond. His next book, The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, will be released on December 11 by Fonthill Media. You can see Semtner’s art and learn more about his books at chrissemtner.com.

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Meeting Olive and Morris

Ever since that lucky day in 2012 when Morris and Olive came home with us from the Richmond Animal League, our lives haven’t been the same.

Morris is a handsome orange and white Manx (partly) while Olive is a glam and big-pawed Norwegian Forest cat with a hunting prowess that would have made the goddess Diana proud.

At the RAL, it didn’t take Glen and me long to pick Olive—or did she pick us? We first noticed her on the screened porch of the RAL, long brown hair shimmering in the sun.

I’d long wanted a black cat so we looked at the three or four the RAL had rescued. Then I spotted the orange and white Manx. Glen picked him up, proclaimed him heavy, and put him back in his cage.

The RAL needed to check our references, so we left, promising to return in two days. The next morning I woke up at a very early hour, thinking of nothing but that orange and white cat. No question, we had to bring him home.

Once we got them in the house and out of their carriers, Olive immediately toured the house, inch by inch. Morris dived under the sofa and stayed there for four hours. When he emerged, he jumped in my lap and curled up for a while before starting his own exploring.

Before we met Olive, we had planned to name her Lulu, but she seemed too refined for such a “party girl” name. At the RAL she was Olivia, so Olive was close (Glen thinks pet names shouldn’t exceed two syllables). Morris’s papers had him as “Kyrian”—not exactly to our taste. We picked the name Morris from a database of names for orange cats.

The two are social media stars. They often make Saturday (#Caturday) appearances on Instagram with their own hashtags: #OliveAnnKing and #Morristhecat.  They’re also characters in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, starting with Murder at the Moonshine Inn.

Thank you, Olive and Morris, for the joy you’ve given us on a daily basis for almost six years. And a big thanks to the Richmond Animal League for rescuing dogs and cats and finding forever homes for them.

PS Olive turned out to be the Lulus of all Lulus!

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. Her short stories, “A Not So Genteel Murder” and “Reunion in Shockoe Slip” appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies. “Wine, Women, and Wrong” is included in 50 Shade of Cabernet: A Mysterious Anthology.

Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She belongs to James River Writers, the American Association of University Women, and is a founding member of the Sisters in Crime Central Virginia chapter. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, customer service supervisor, web designer, and non-profit administrator. Maggie has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband Glen and cats Morris and Olive. All her jobs, schools, residences, and pets have gifted her with story ideas for years to come.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: maggie8208

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2lLITpN

Richmond Animal League: http://www.ral.org

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