Making It All Work…Or…How Time Management Makes Me Nuts!

I like to plan.  I really like it.  I use markers and colored pens.  I allot my time judiciously.  I build in time-buffers to make sure I get my stuff done.

Then, life happens.

It’s been crazy busy around Chez Adams.  We’ve got a high school graduate for the first time.  Eldest Son (pictured on here with his bestie) graduated on June 1.  Before that, it was the baseball championships which they won for the fifth time in a row – WCAC Champs, baby!! – and then there were the after parties, proms, graduation parties, etc. etc. etc.

In the middle of all this, I’m on deadline.

I didn’t plan it this way.  Ohhhhh no.

I planned my spring schedule to the letter.  I took a HUGE trip – England and Scotland!  WOOT!  I planned that around baseball and graduation.  Books to write and get out.  Promotion to do, events to plan around.  Yeah….

With all that, I needed to have the novella that’s due, done by May 1 so I’d be able to relax before graduation – take my time, and have plenty of editing and cogitation time left over before turning it in!

Did that happen?  Of course not.

What the hell was I thinking?  I never have the time I THINK I’m going to have.  While I admit that I occasionally over estimate what I can do in the amount of time I have, it isn’t because I cannot DO the work.

It took me a while to realize why I wasn’t getting stuff done.  I can do what I need to do in the amount of time I allot.

I so totally could….

The problem is that I cannot plan for just MY time.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but sometimes kids and dogs and life really muck up a writing schedule!  This spring at my house would have mucked up ANY full time job, much less a creative one.

Somehow, even when I add in time for the unexpected, the unexpected manages to take up way more time than I thought it would!  Ha!

That said, even when I’m behind, and thinking, “where did I screw this up?” I still have to factor in time away from writing to just breathe.

If I try to cut out the important “extras” I put on the schedule, I get in trouble.

I have to read.  I have to walk the dogs – that way I don’t gain ten pounds for every book and novella I write! – and I have to smell the flowers.

Why?  If I don’t put in time for this – actually schedule it in with my colored markers – it doesn’t happen.  Then I stop being as creative as I need to be because I’m not “refilling the well” of my soul.

This spring, another issue came into play.

I didn’t realize that I would have to add in time for what I’ve come to call the “depression factor” of the daily news cycle.  (No political discussions or comments, please!)

However you feel about it, the world’s in flux and it’s challenging to stay creative while you’re living it.  That means I need MORE time refilling the well than usual.  More flowers.  More dog-time. More family time.  More baseball with the boys.

Staying positive is challenging. So I have to find coping mechanisms so I can do the work, and do it well.  Hence, the flowers, dogs, and baseball!

I also read, a LOT!  I read my fellow Pens, Paws and Claws authors.  I read my Romance Bandit pals – Kate Carlisle, Nancy Northcott, Anna Campbell, and others have new releases this spring to my great delight!  I find new authors.  I wait with bated breath for the next Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews novels.  Grins.  Ellery Adams needs to put a new one out soon, as does Sophie Kelly!  Ha!

I dive into their worlds, escape into the lives of the characters they’ve created and live those lives and feel those feelings as a break from my own world.  It’s what we all love about reading, right?

Then, thankfully refreshed, I can go back to creating my own worlds and people and move their stories forward.

In amongst all that, I have to look forward to what I’m doing, promo wise.  I’m going to be at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day.  Gotta prep for that!  And hey, Coastal Magic in February!  I hope y’all will come visit me there for the booksigning!

How can I be planning for 2019 already?  Yikes!

It’s crazy!  Wow!  Then again, while I want to control my time more, I also know that I won’t have my boys at home for long.  Got one going to college in the fall.  The other will head to high school in another year.

There will be lots of time at some point and I’ll miss them.

Until then, it’s a strategic puzzle as to how to make it all work!  Ha!

Are you crazy busy this year? 

What are your relief valves from all the insanity of jobs, and family, schedules and work, crises and news cycles?

Since you’re following and author blog, I presume you read (yay!), and maybe have a few fur-babies to help cut the stress, does walking the dog, or playing with the cat or horse or snake work for you?

Do you have some authors whose books you’re looking forward to?  Who’s on your auto-buy list?

What else do you do?  Crafts?  Golf?  Sports? Travel?

Give me some pointers, y’all!

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Welcome, Katie Andraski

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My original “call” to be a writer happened in the big red barn where we stored our hay, during one winter rain. I’d been reading C.S. Lewis, and wanted to do for others what he did for me. I wanted to capture a vision of glory and offer it to my readers. I ached to do this so badly I wept and asked God if I could.

I followed this “call” to an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and followed it yet again as a publicist for Crossway books. I pretty much launched that company as far as publicity goes. I worked with Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, Stephen Lawhead, and Larry Woiwode. I began work on my novel The River Caught Sunlight during this time.

When I found myself teaching composition at Northern Illinois University I began drafting other books—poetry, a collection of essays, very rough memoirs, and sequels to my novel. The only books that I have published are a poetry collection in 1988, When the Plow Cuts, and The River Caught Sunlight in 2014.

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

We have two Norwegian Fjord ponies, two Australian Shepherd dogs, two cats, and approximately seven chickens. (As of this writing, we’re not sure of the count.) I am currently shopping around a collection of poetry called Spiritual Warhorse, which is about the spiritual and psychological journey I’ve been on with my two horses. They have helped me practice new habits of thought and introduced me to a community of good people. I’ve written about the chickens and the cats in my blog and on Facebook.

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

A former race horse, Martha, and Johnny, her son, the result of an oops breeding, showed up in my novel The River Caught Sunlight. (They are fictional horses.) Janice finds out Marcel is going to marry her brother while the two women are riding. She doesn’t react well. I also wrote about a Bernese Mountain Dog, Joshua, who appears towards the end of the book. Janice is going to buy a young dog to keep her company and finds a place to live as well as the man she will marry in the process. At the time I owned and showed two Bernese and wanted to write a plot thread about showing these dogs for the sequel. The book took so long to write my Berners are long gone as are the first two Aussies that I owned. When you’re writing, time slides by.

What are you reading now?

I read way too much Facebook. I’m also reading a friend’s book, Because I Do Not want to Disappear, which is about his battle with leukemia and lymphoma. It’s philosophical and well written. I’m a few chapters into How Jesus Saves the World from Us by Morgan Guyton. He offers a fresh and challenging way to follow Jesus. I’m also reading Paul by N.T. Wright, a book that pulls together the apostle’s life as shown through his epistles and the book of Acts. Finally, I just started Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I try to write my blog as regularly as possible, which takes up much of my writing time. I also write short Perspectives for our local NPR station, WNIJ. Those appear every five weeks. I would like to re-publish my poetry collection, When The Plow Cuts this year. I would like to settle down and work on one of my novel sequels and maybe collect my blog posts into a memoir of sorts.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I admire Annie Dillard because of how precisely and spiritually she writes about nature. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek grabbed me when I was a young writer in the seventies. She helps me look closely at the world around me. I also admire Mark Helprin because of how lush and slow moving his books are. His sentences make me stop and ponder.

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

My first pet was a calico cat named Puffball. One summer my parents brought up two puppies, one right after the other, that both died. I was heartbroken with the double grief. But my brave parents, found another dog, this time he was six months old, and gave him to me for Christmas. He was a border collie from working lines. They took him to the vet right away and got him checked out before they brought him home. He bonded to me when I handed him a piece of turkey. A close family friend still remarks about how loyal he was to me.

I also got a pony, Trigger, who was quite the escape artist. When I out grew her, my brother rode her bareback and I rode a chesnut mare, who was probably gaited, that I called My Whisper. I showed her at local open shows. My brother and I rode in the back country between our home and our town. I sold Trigger to Mary who boarded her at my house and we continued our adventures riding all over the area.

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

The animals are characters in their own right. They thread through the two sequels I’ve written to The River Caught Sunlight that and play a major role in an unfinished young adult novel that is a prequel. The working title of the young adult novel is Two Girls Who Love the Same Horse.

 

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals are a major part of my life.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

My red Aussie, Little Dog, call name Doupy, lies at the foot of my chair while I’m writing. If I am lost in my work, she will bark at my husband when he walks in the room, to let me know he is there. The other Aussie, Night, lies somewhere nearby. Sometimes the cat will sit on the table that is near one of my writing chairs. Right now he’s moved from sleeping on the landing to sleeping next to me. My mare, Morgen, will stand at the fence and look for me if I take too long to come out. Some times she whinnies. The rooster will occasionally jump on the porch and crow.

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

I just picked up This Day by Wendell Berry, which is a collection of his Sabbath poems. I’d like to dig into Mary Oliver’s collected poems, Devotions. Also I’d like to read The Age of the Horse about horses in history. Barking to the Choir is also on my list.  Finally I’d also like to order Lee Martin’s The Mutual UFO Network, which is about how redemption is possible even in difficult situations. I have about six TBR piles, two of which are books already on shelves. I love to read but save it for bedtime, which means it takes forever to finish a book.

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

There’s a big, fat chair in the corner of our living room, with an ottoman for my feet. There’s a table where I can put my tea and just enough room for the dog to lie at my feet and the cat to sit on the table if he so chooses. The light coming through the blinds can be quite beautiful.

We moved my favorite writing chair into my office because we couldn’t bear to throw away our old loveseat even though we had bought a new one. I don’t sit there very often because my office is where I dump stuff and the light isn’t very good except in the morning. When I do, the chair seems to wrap me up in writing vibes. I heard once that sometimes a favorite chair or routine can be a cue for us to do our writing. That seems to be true for me.

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

Be open to people who have gone ahead of you as writers. Don’t limit yourself to the well published, fancy writers. Sometimes your first year English teacher, or the person who has been living a writing life for years, have wisdom for the road ahead. They might be able to save you missteps.

The biggest insight I can offer, is to try to stay alone with your story, essay, poem until you’ve imagined it end to end. If possible take it as far as you can take it before you show it to people. Years ago I was in a First Draft writers group that critiqued our chapters as we wrote them. Unfortunately I found the first chapters were highly polished but the book pushed out to the end. When I let go of this idea and stayed alone with my work, I was able to complete the draft. When others comment on your work, they are often inserting their imagination. They tell you what they would do, which is fine, but you might lose the very quiet voice of the story itself. That voice is pretty wise as far as knowing where your story is going.

The revision process can show you so much about your story. The first draft often merely scratches the surface, but as you work away at the story, it can unfold and become more itself as you learn to listen to what it’s telling you. When I cut things I put them in a separate file of Cut Stuff so that I didn’t feel like I was throwing it away. A good editor can help you dive deeper with the material. I have read several self-published books that read like polished first drafts, with undeveloped plot lines. So be sure to take the time to revise and proofread your work before you publish it.

Finally, here is a short piece I wrote for WNIJ that talks about how not all our dreams come true, not even the publishing dreams. But how our life unfolds might be better. http://northernpublicradio.org/post/working-dream

Katie’s Biography:

Katie Andraski recently retired from twenty years of teaching developmental composition at Northern Illinois University. She published her first novel The River Caught Sunlight in 2014 with Koehler books and published her collection of poetry When the Plow Cuts in 1988 with Thorntree Press. She blogs regularly at https://katieandraski.com and writes Perspectives for the local NPR station,WNIJ. She lives on a tiny farm with her husband and two Norwegian Fjord horses, two dogs, two cats and seven chickens.

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Welcome, Kathy Aarons/Kathy Krevat!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Kathy Aarons/Kathy Krevat to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write the Gourmet Cat Mystery series and the Chocolate Covered Mystery series under the pen name Kathy Aarons. I’m excited to be working with Lyrical, an imprint of Kensington Books. The Trouble With Murder, starring Trouble the cat, came out in December 2017, and The Trouble With Truth will be out on August 28.

I started writing when my youngest daughter was in preschool five mornings a week, mostly to avoid doing housework. (I can’t do the dishes – I’m writing!) Before being a stay-at-home mom, I was a marketing director for a software company and assumed that because I knew how to write ad copy, that I knew how to write a novel. I was so wrong! Luckily, I joined Romance Writers of America San Diego where I first began to realize how much I didn’t know about writing fiction. (Insert snarky comment about marketing being a lot like fiction…)

I attended conferences and workshops and bought practically every writing craft book known to man. Sometimes I even read them. I wrote and re-wrote my first book – PTA Meetings Are Murder – at least one hundred times. It hasn’t been published yet, but my agent liked it so much, she signed me.

My first book – Death is Like a Box of Chocolates – was published by Berkley two weeks after my youngest daughter went off to college! Looking back, I probably would have been published earlier but I was also Queen of Volunteering – the list of my volunteer job is just too long, but includes PTA president and assistant puppet maker.

I’m still stuck on volunteering. I’m president of the board for Partners in Crime – San Diego Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Playwrights Project, a literacy organization. I also help to organize the CCA Writers’ Conference, the only free writing conference for high school students in the US.

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

Growing up, I had tons of pets – cats, dogs, guinea pigs, horses, gerbils, and a rabbit. My husband is allergic to dogs and cats, so our children grew up with birds, guinea pigs, mice and a bearded dragon. We no longer have pets, but my daughter has a rescue – a one-eyed Shih Tzu named Atlas – so I get to play with him when I need a pet fix.

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

Trouble is an orange tabby cat and was the inspiration of Colbie Summer’s business, Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food. Colbie found Trouble abandoned in an empty apartment of a building she was managing. She figured out that Trouble had digestive issues, so she started cooking for her. When friends began asking to buy her food for their own digestive-challenged cats, her company was born.

In the Chocolate Covered Mystery series, Coco the stray cat visits all the shops on Main Street, including Chocolates & Chapters, a combination book and chocolate shop. She has starring role in all three books of the series.

What are you reading now?

I’m on deadline, which severely cuts back on my reading time. Right now, I’m reading Carleen O’Neil’s HAIR OF THE DOG, the third book in her Cypress Cove series. I’m going on a trip soon and have downloaded a bunch of cozies including Terrie Moran’s READ TO DEATH and Nell Hampton’s LORD OF THE PIES.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT, third in the series. I’m also working on a young adult mystery proposal.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have two: J.K. Rowling, because she created a magical world that my family and I fell in love with, and Janet Evanovich, because reading her hilarious Stephanie Plum mysteries inspired me to write. I got the chance to meet her at a book signing and told her!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When I was at band camp in high school, a cat had a litter of kittens on someone’s bed in my cabin. On the last day, I called my mom on a pay phone (a LONG time ago) and convinced her that they would starve and/or freeze if I didn’t bring them home. She wanted to know why I was the only one in the camp who was willing to do it, but I was pretty sure she’d say yes. We managed to find them all homes, but kept the mom. That was when we hit the maximum number of pets in the house – 18!

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

I loved writing in high school but didn’t think it could lead to a career. I took a lot of writing classes in college and went into marketing and public relations when I graduated.

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

That’s hard. My number one unrealistic item is meeting J.K. Rowling. My number one “do-able” item is spending a month in Ireland.

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

My daughter had a bearded dragon lizard when she was in elementary school. I had no idea they grew so big!

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

One, that the only way to get better is to keep writing! I’ve heard that it takes writing over one millions words to get to the level needed to become published. Second, that publishing is a very different ball game than writing. It takes a lot more time to do the business side than I could ever imagine.

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

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep writing!

The Trouble With Truth

By Kathy Krevat

Available August 28, 2018

Things are looking up for single mom Colbie Summers. After relocating back to her California hometown with her adolescent son and taste-testing feline, Trouble, she’s ready to take her gourmet cat food company to the next level. Until helping a teenager gets Colbie mixed up in a fresh case of murder… 

Trying to balance her hectic family life with her growing business—including a coveted contract with the local organic food store—leaves Colbie scrambling to keep all her balls in the air. But when a Sunnyside resident is found dead in his garage, she takes on a new role: harboring a suspected killer.

The eighteen-year-old murder suspect, a former foster kid and Colbie’s part-time chef, had a powerful motive to snuff out the high-profile businessman. The real question is, who didn’t? Sifting through the victim’s sordid history unearths a cat’s cradle of crimes, including money laundering and abuse. Now, to clear an innocent girl’s name, Colbie must sniff out the truth before a killer who smells trouble goes on the attack again.

About Kathy:

Kathy Krevat is the author of the GOURMET CAT MYSTERY series featuring cat food chef Colbie Summers and her demanding cat Trouble, the culinary muse behind her recipes. She also writes the bestselling CHOCOLATE COVERED MYSTERY series under the pen name, Kathy Aarons.

Kathy lives in San Diego with her husband of twenty-six years in the perfect location – close to Philz Coffee and the beach, and within visiting distance of her two grown daughters. When she’s not writing, she’s an advocate for youth arts education and president of Partners in Crime, the San Diego Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

You can follow Kathy on Facebook or Twitter or visit her at: www.kathykrevat.com.

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Esther the Wonder Pig

I am enchanted with the Esther the Wonder Pig posts on Facebook (I’m not the only one; she has well over 1.3M Facebook fans and followers). I did some poking around and found Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter’s story. Many thanks to them and Esther for letting me share this with you all.

Esther, born in 2012, loves watermelons, mangoes, and Oreo cookies. Esther is smart, clever, and funny. They had to pig-proof their cabinets and refrigerator because she quickly learned how to open doors and sneak food. All of her clothes and outfits are handmade and sent to her by her fans.

Steve (a realtor), Derek (a magician), and Esther live in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, and the story began when Steve brought home a “mini-pig” who ended up topping out at 650 lbs. She was almost 250 lbs. by her first birthday, and they were surprised to learn that Esther was a commercial pig. Even though she wasn’t the “mini” they thought she was, the pair fell in love with her. They did some research on commercial livestock. Esther changed their way of thinking and living. The pair eventually adopted the vegan life that they call “Esther Approved.”

In 2014, Steve and Derek established Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary (which started as a crowd-funded effort) where they rescue and rehabilitate abandoned farm animals. Please check out the link below.

To learn more about Steve, Derek, and Esther, watch the Tedx presentation that they did in 2017.

And stop by Esther’s social media sites and websites and check out her book.

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Welcome, Mollie Hunt!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mollie Hunt to the blog!

Mollie Hunt & Tinkerbelle, Registered Pet Partners

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m Mollie Hunt, a native Oregonian, and I write cat fiction including the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series and some speculative cat fantasy sci-fi. I’m a member of the Cat Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, Willamette Writers, and the Oregon Writers Colony.

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

With me, it’s all about cats. Little, my 12-year-old black female has been with me since she was 2, and Tyler, my 15-year old tabby who acts like a kitten was adopted last year. Both came from the Oregon Humane Society where I volunteer.

Little is one of the Crazy Cat Lady series clowder. Tyler hasn’t been with me long enough to have a role, but I’m sure he will soon.

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

Lynley Cannon, the not-quite-crazy cat lady hero of my series, has a varying number of cats in her care, but the number is usually around 8. In the latest book, “Cat Café” (out this fall) they are Little, Tinkerbelle, Dirty Harry, Solo, Violet, Big Red, Emilio, and Mab. Sometimes there are guests such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable, a pair of identical red Maine coons who worked as actor cats for a television pilot in “Cat Call”.

 What are you reading now?

“Waypoint Kangaroo” sci-fi by Curtis Chen; “Tea with Milk and Murder” cozy mystery by H.Y. Hanna; “Murder and Mendelssohn” cozy mystery by Kerry Greenwood.

 What writing projects are you currently working on?

I tend to work on several projects at once. Currently I’m in the final revisions for “Cat Café”; writing the first draft of a Crazy Cat Lady Christmas Novella called “Cat Noel”; and in the process of putting together a chapbook of cat poetry. I also have a cat fantasy sci-fi called “Cat Summer” out to an agent. (Wish me luck)

 Who is your favorite author and why?

How can anyone choose one from the millions of authors, current and past? I love Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series because her stories paint a colorful picture in my mind and her words are often poetry. This, along with a good mystery story, makes her books irresistible. Ditto Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey cat mystery series. Joe and his cohorts are magical cats with a backstory that stems from deep Celtic fantasy. The book I’ve reread the most throughout my life is “Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake. It’s another case of painting a vivid picture in my mind, except this one is of a weird gothic castle in an alternate world.

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

Though the cats in my stories don’t talk, they are endowed with those feline telepathic skills any cat person will instantly recognize, so they have been known to help solve the crime and save the day. Besides being sweet and funny, I employ them to educate people about cats. Through them, I can introduce all sorts of subjects from health to behavior to animal rights.

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

Thank you for that question. I love that you recognize the important roles working animals play in our society.

Tinkerbelle is a ten-year-old shelter stray who Lynley has trained as a registered therapy cat. Together they visit assisted living facilities and hospice patients as an ongoing thread in the series. Tinkerbelle is based on a real cat, though she is now retired.

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

I came from a family that read a lot, and I wrote my first cat story in Mrs. Wilson’s fourth grade class. When I took up mystery writing several decades later, I knew it was my passion because when I write, time goes away and I’m lost in a world I love. Not to say writing isn’t work– it is, but where others would find it tedious, I leap from word to word with unspoiled wonder.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

They mostly sleep, with a few sojourns across the keyboard just to keep me on my toes.

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

I have basically 3 TBR piles: Audio books that I listen to in my car; eBooks I read on my phone; real books. (There are more than one pile of real books.)

A few on the list are: “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore; “Lil Tom and the Pussy Foot Detective Agency” by Angela Crider Neary; “River City” by Doc Macomber; “Dressed to Kill” by Vicki Vass; Long Walks, Last Flights” by Ken Scholes.

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

The first million words are practice, and even the best writer needs a good editor.

 Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed your choice of questions and hope your readers will like the answers.

 Mollie Hunt

Mollie’s Biography:

Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie is the author of the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series, including Cats’ Eyes, Copy Cats, Cat’s Paw, Cat Call, and Cat Café (coming 2018). The series features Portland native Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip. Mollie also published a non-cat mystery, Placid River Runs Deep, which delves into murder, obsession, and the challenge of chronic illness in bucolic southwest Washington. Two of her short cat stories have been published in anthologies.

 Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, Willamette Writers, and the Cat Writers’ Association. She won a CWA Muse Medallion for her blogpost series, “Life Stages”, and has received several CWA Certificates of Excellence for other cat-centric work. Mollie lives in Portland’s eclectic Hawthorne district with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

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Cuteness: A Survival Tactic

This is Kathleen Kaska’s final post with Pens, Paws, and Claws. We’ll miss her in our regular rotation of bloggers, and we’ll hope she’ll stop by from time to time for a visit.

Do you ever wonder why most people go gaga over babies—human and otherwise?

When I was studying physical anthropology at the University of Texas, one of my professors caught slack after he said that baby animals were cute so that their mothers would take care of them. Anthropomorphism in the world of science was a big no-no back then, and still is in certain academic situations. However, recent brain research seems to support my professor’s claim.

There is a recent article in The Telegraph by Sophie Jamieson about an Oxford University study concluding babies and puppies have evolved cute characteristics as a way to survive. It goes beyond visual attributes like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and infantile giggles. Sounds and smells also stimulate the nervous system to give care to the cute. Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Morten Kringelbach led the research and said, “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.” That also might be why we more often choose young animals for pets rather than older ones.

Beyond stimulating our need to nurture, owning a pet, regardless of the animal’s age, can make us healthier. It’s no secret that pets relax us when we’re stressed, but did you know there’s a scientific reason for that? Cuddling a pet releases the chemical oxytocin sometimes called “the cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin calms and soothes both the owner and the pet, which leads to a strong bond between both. That bond between dog and human is the strongest. Dogs are the only animal that consistently run to meet their owner when frightened or happy to see them. They are the only ones to make eye contact with people when they need attention, food, or protection.

Other studies show that owning a pet improves our cardio-vascular system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of asthma. Cuddling or petting a pet reduces the stress hormone cortisol in those who suffer from clinical depression. Dogs are also being trained to detect, usually by smell, certain diseases or malfunctions of the human body. For example, trained dogs can detect minute changes in the function of the adrenal glands of people suffering from Addison’s disease. Some can use their sense of smell to detect the development of cancer or diabetes, and others learn to detect early signs of epileptic seizures and to warn their owner.

I used to teach middle-school science before I retired. Although I loved my job, I usually left the classroom stressed. A half-hour commute home through heavy traffic added a tight knot between my shoulders. Only when I turned down my street did I begin to relax. When I looked at my front window and saw my little brown, mixed-breed hound Jenny watching for me, the tension washed away completely.

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WonTon the Bookstore Cat

By Maggie King

Cats and bookstores … two of my favorite things in life.

Just why are cats such big hits in bookstores?

Picture this: a customer comes across a snoozing cat while browsing the shelves of a bookstore. She unconsciously associates the relaxed feline with books.

What happens next? Why, she buys out the store!

For this customer and many like her, nothing beats getting lost in a page turner. And cats have no problem lazing away the hours, dreaming of mice and butterflies. I’ve spent many a Sunday afternoon with my cat curled up on my lap and my book propped up on him.

Ward Tefft, owner of Chop Suey Books in Richmond, Virginia’s Carytown, tells an unusual story of how WonTon became his bookstore feline:

Aside from WonTon being our spirit animal, I don’t know if there are any short stories that sum him up. He did come to us in an interesting way: when we were at our old shop, we would leave a window open in the back, and one Spring a black and white cat started jumping through it into the store in the morning and hanging out with us all day. He was kind of aloof, but seemed to really enjoy just being around us. When evening rolled around, he would disappear out the back window, and wouldn’t be seen until the following morning.

After about 3 weeks of this, we decided that he had picked us as his home, and, not wanting someone to think he was a stray at night, we named him and put a collar and ID on him. As per his usual schedule, he left that night and came back through in the morning. Almost as soon as he jumped through our rear window, a girl who lived down the street from us came through the front door. “Can I post a lost cat flyer in your window,” she asked, then looked down at WonTon. “Oh, Lloyd! I found you. This is my missing cat!!!” Dumbfounded and heartbroken, the person working the counter let her leave the store with WonTon struggling in her arms.

When I heard about this, I was curious. It seems that the girl only had one poster in her hand, not a stack as would be expected. It felt like she was targeting us in particular as a place that would help her find this missing cat. We pretty quickly put it together: WonTon was hanging with us during the days, and with her (as “Lloyd”) at night. When he had shown up the night before with a tag claiming him as ours, she decided she needed to put a claim of her own on him, and came up with the “lost cat” routine.

The store felt empty for a day, then, true to form, WonTon returned through the back window the next day, then the following day, then the day after that. I tracked down the girl with the “lost cat” posters and made a plea: WonTon/Lloyd appears to have chosen us during the day, and you at night. Can we share?

To my surprise, she made this counter offer: “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted him! He lives with his sister Voodoo now, and they don’t get along at all.If you want to keep him, please do!”

The rest is history. WonTon started happily spending the night with us, and a year later moved with us to Carytown. Every now and then, there are tales of a young woman coming into the shop to give love to “Lloyd”!

For more on Chop Suey Books.

13 Bookstore Cats. Great photos.

Like cats in your mysteries? How about a feline sleuth? Here’s a reading list.

***

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

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

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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

 

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