Snow Books, Snow Dogs and Recharging the Batteries!

Sometimes, when it snows, you need to stop shoveling, stop worrying and just curl up with a hot cup of cocoa/tea/coffee and a damn good book. Right? It’s one of the best ways ever of totally recharging your life, your writing batteries, and your whole soul.

Earlier in the month we had a good snow here in DC. It was supposed to only be six inches, not that much,  considering it came early in the day.  The plows would be able to take care of that, I thought. Not a problem.  There would be school for the kids the next day, of course, because hey…not that much snow, right?

Wrong!

We did get 6″…then it stopped snowing and the plows came through. I kept my usual schedule because, as I said, there would be school and work and everything because this was a small snow.  Very pretty, but not a problem.

Then it started to flurry again.  Then to actively snow.  There were points when it was almost blizzard-y in the sheer volume of snow coming down.  We got just over a foot of snow, when it was all said and done.

So much for all that shoveling I’d already done!

It was still relatively early in the day as this second half of the storm hit. Only about 6 pm when I realized that we were going to get a LOT more snow than they’d predicted.  I also realized there would not be school the next day.  Probably not much getting out and about, either.  Not till at least mid-afternoon from our neighborhood anyway.

My sons were ecstatic. No school.  With just as much glee, I realized I could take a “me-day” – a reading, sleeping, catching up, fun day.  Sure, I’d have to help shovel at some point (we have some older neighbors we do for, plus our own stuff) BUT…

I could take a whole morning. Just. To. Read. 

Ahhhhhhh!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I read all the time.  As a writer you HAVE to read.  You just have to.  You lose your creative edge if you don’t “fill the well” with great stories.  At one point in my writing career, life got complicated and I didn’t read much.  It sucked.  It got harder and harder to write.  The less I read, the more I felt like I  couldn’t tell good stories.  I didn’t feel the spark of story-ness in my soul and it was like slogging through cold molasses to get words on the page.

I will never do that again.  It was torture!

So, now I read a lot. Sometimes it’s research stuff, sometimes it’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, YA, or books I’m judging for contests. (I’m about to start my RITA Award reads – SO Excited!) Sometimes its revisiting old favorites in every genre. A good read never fails to stimulate my mind, engage my senses, and take me on a journey to the most fascinating places.

On this lovely snowy day, I managed to visit some amazing places! From 1820’s London (A friend’s manuscript draft) to the modern-day UK, including York and London (Nancy Northcott’s The Deathbrew Affair), I stole away for about five hours.  Soooo wonderful!

The DH, our boys, and I got out and played in the snow – a moral imperative! – made snow cream, and then got down to the business of shoveling out a little before total dark set in.  Since we’d already cleared after the first dollop of snow, it was pretty easy!  As darkness fell, we went back to playing with the dogs.  For those of you who have them, do yours chase snowballs?  Ours do! Then they look super surprised when the “ball” disappears into the snow on the ground! Where’d it go? It’s hilarious.

We all finally tromped back in, had soup and grilled cheese – YUM! – and settled in for the night.  The DH opted for a movie in the living room. The boys headed to the basement man-cave for some video gaming. Me? I headed to the big cozy chair by the fireplace with a massive mug of Constant Comment tea, a plate of apple slices, cheese and crackers, and a re-read of Nora Roberts’ Shelter In Place.

The next day, I snuggled in bed with yet another fabulous read, Sue Coletta’s Wings of Mayhem – SO GOOD! I’ve gotten to know Sue via her fabulously informative writers blog, and on social media. Such a fab writer and a generous social media presence as well! That can also be said about the author of my late afternoon reading choice, Jordan Dane.  Got her The Last Victim, the first in her Ryker Townsend series. Also riveting.

SUCH a great reading day, snow day, and dog fun day.  After playing for hours in the snow, the dogs were worn out enough to curl up with me in the reading chair and on the ottoman.  I was pretty much cocooned with dog fur. They snored and I read.  Same thing the next day. We played and shoveled, then they snored and I read.

When the next day dawned, with school for the kids and the DH off to work, it was back to the regular routine for the most part.  However, I came to the day relaxed and refreshed because I’d been on a book vacation.  While there was heart-pounding tension, it wasn’t work related, it was story related.  What a joy.

So I know that a lot of people dislike snow, but I find that I’m longing for another snow day, another day to just dream, read, and sip tea by the fire.

What about you?

Do you like snow?

What’s your drink of choice while reading?  I love hot tea, but it frequently goes cold when I get so involved in the book and forget to drink it!

Have you had a good snow-day-reading-day yet this winter?

Fill me in!

(The lovely teacup/book graphic is from Pinterest but was unsigned. No copyright infringement intended and the work is that of the artist, not mine.  All other photos are mine.)

The Labs – Daisy and Dakota – are mine, as is the imminently silly Irish Water Spaniel, Tucker. The dachshund, Coco, belongs to my dear friend Sophia Nash. If you haven’t read her Whispering In French, you are missing a treat. (It got a coveted starred review in Publisher’s Weekly!)

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Welcome, Christopher Tubbs!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Chris Tubbs to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I was born in Dorset in England. My ancestors going back before the 1500’s were all clay miners. My day job is to represent an American Software company in Europe and to promote their products. That means I get to speak at loads of conferences and exhibitions as an industry veteran. But my secret love had always been military history. I am a firm believer that all the major advances in technology have been fueled by conflict. Add to that a healthy interest in reading sci fi and sci fantasy and you see that I am leaning towards historical fiction with a twist. My favorite period is the late 18th century moving into the 19th as that was when the basis of our lives now was laid down.  I write on average an hour a day on planes, in airports (I travel a lot)  or at home. My pets (I have two dogs and two cats) are a central part of my life so its only natural that one or two sneak into my writing.

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

I have two Dutch Shepherds; Zeeva a nine year old female and Blaez a one year old male  and two cats;  Vaskr a male Norwegian Forest Cat, and Caja a female British Longhair.  We try to choose names that reflect the personalities of the animals or something in their history so Zeeva is Hebrew for She-Wolf and Blaez  is old Breton for Wolf as they are basically as close to a wolf as you can get in a domestic dog. Vaskr is old Norse for Gallant as he is a bit of a hero and Caja is Spanish for cash as she cost a fortune.

Blaez gets into the Dorset Boy series as pet of our hero Marty. He follows him through his  adventures in the Navy and as an agent for British Intelligence.  He saves our hero’s life a number of times. Maybe I will find a place for the others in later books but it will have to make sense in the plot line.

What are you reading now?

Maybe surprisingly for some I am reading fantasy. I think that reading traditional Naval Historical fiction novels right now would constrain my thinking but reading fantasy actually frees me up to explore plot lines and situations that you wouldn’t expect.  I don’t want my stories to follow Hornblower or Aubery but to do their own thing. I am reading Linsey Hall and M.D. Massey at the moment, their books have good pace and don’t skimp on the violence.  I have read all the big Naval History authors in the past but for now they are on hold.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am working on book three of the Dorset Boy Series. The first, A Talent for Trouble, covers our hero leaving the Dorset Clay mines, to joining the Navy as a cabin boy then making a name for himself at the Siege of Toulon where he rescues a beautiful Contessa and her family earning him the interest to become a Midshipman.  The second, The Special Operations Flotilla, sees him being sucked into the world of British Intelligence and becoming a founder member of the SOF.  He discovers Blaez on a mission to save the Dutch crown jewels from the French.

Now I’m on book three, Agent Provocateur, and we are following our hero into an undercover mission to Paris where they have to try and disrupt the smooth running of the French revolutionary government not realizing he is walking right into the center of a coup d’Etat by Napoleon to take over France himself.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a tough one. I really like the way Dewey Lambdin writes and I find myself re reading David Eddings’ fantasy books.  I also like Adam Hardy as he tries to be different and his hero is darker. But I am in awe of anyone who is successful and attracts a following.

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

My first dog was a Jack Russel terrier called Spot who was bred as a ratter.  He had homicidal tendencies and was lethal to rats which was good as we lived in the middle of nowhere. My second dog was a black Labrador who’s pedigree name was Lord Fred of Salisbury but, as my little sister couldn’t say Salisbury, he ended up being called Saucy.  My father had a pub by then and Sauce would greet the lady customers by sticking his nose up their skirts. So Saucy by name saucy by nature.

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

Blaez is a full character and he is part of the team as much as any other of Marty’s followers.  In fact he is featured more than some of the others.  He is bodyguard, scout and companion to Marty. He also lets him know who he can trust as dog’s instincts for that are far better than ours.  Dutchies are loyal, defensive, loving, all the things you expect from Shepherds.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I have had pets around me all my life and I can’t imagine a world, even on a ship without any. The other thing is it brings colour to a scene when a dog is in it and it can change the dynamic from what people expect as you can be as illogical as a dog.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Our First Dutch Shepherd was Gus-Troy van Stavast  (Troy) and he was Blaez’s grandfather.  He was in the breeding program and he had already sired two litters. Then he was chosen by another breeder for their bitch Claire.  As it turned out Claire came into season about 2 days before we went on holiday and although she was ‘presented’ to Troy he knew it wasn’t the right time and wasn’t interested.  So we talked to the people who ran the kennel that all the animals were going into while we were away.  For some reason they got all excited by the prospect of having a conception in their kennels and agreed to let the breeder bring Claire to Troy there.  Well they set up a ’love nest’ and the deed was done in front of quite an audience cameras and all, but that didn’t stop my boy as he fathered 11 pups in that litter. He always was a show off

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

I always had a couple of stories going around in my head and I always told myself a story to get myself to sleep.  I was always quite active and didn’t sit still long enough to write but then a few years ago I suddenly developed arthritis and that slowed me down quit a bit.  Then one day I just fired up word on my laptop and wrote “You’re early again” said Miss Kate, the teacher at the school in Stoborough. It was a long walk for a twelve year old from Furzebrook to Stoborough through the heath, which was yellow with gorse flowers at the end of June.”  And that was it. I now write every day for at least an hour, my day job permitting.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They try and climb on my lap as soon as I pick up my laptop but once we get over that Blaez lies at my feet and Zeeva is never far away.

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

The story is in you. Don’t be frightened of putting it on paper and giving it to someone else to read.  It is like exposing your soul but the satisfaction of having anyone read your story and enjoying it is unbelievable.

About Christopher

Christopher C. Tubbs is a descendent of a long line of Dorset clay miners and has chased his family tree back to the 16th century in the Isle of Purbeck. He has been a public speaker at conferences for most of his career in the Aerospace and Automotive industries and was one of the founders of a successful games company back in the 1990’s. Now in his fifties he finally got around to writing the story he had been dreaming about for years. Thanks to Inspiration from the great sea authors like Alexander Kent, Dewey Lambdin, Patrick O’Brian and Dudley Pope he was finally able to put digit to keyboard.

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Kitten Proofing: A Tough Job But Cat Owners Have to Do It

I’m constantly scouting my house for potential dangers for our two kittens, Harry and Hermione. They’re nearly six-months old and have been with us for three months since we adopted them from a shelter. In human years, they would probably be teenagers, but they act more like toddlers. They put everything in their mouths, so I try to keep the floors and carpets as spotless as possible. I check that there aren’t any exposed wires that they can chew on (no easy task in a household where computer devices are used daily). I block any area they can climb behind, under, or over where they might become stuck or hurt. I hide their toys when I’m not around if the toys have feathers or other dangerous parts they can ingest.

Kittens love to explore, but there are places in a house they shouldn’t go. Here’s Harry checking out my refrigerator.

It’s a tough task but kitten proofing a home is similar to childproofing one, something I haven’t done since my daughter was a baby 14 years ago. Like young children, kittens love to play and explore. They don’t understand the word “no,” or what will happen if they touch a hot or sharp object. And as in a recent close call with Harry and my husband’s mobility scooter, they can’t comprehend why it’s unsafe to walk behind something that’s moving.

Hermione on my husband’s motility scooter. Her brother Harry almost got hurt chasing it while it was moving.

Just like kids, kittens need to experience certain things to learn what’s safe and what isn’t, although you pray that they do so without getting harmed. A terrible story was posted on Facebook about a kitty that got into a food bin that automatically locked, sealing her in without air. My Harry was more fortunate when he nearly got stuck under the wheel of my husband’s mobility scooter and escaped with only a bad scare. His sister was present when it happened and heard his yowl. She got a scare, too. Now, when both kittens even catch a glimpse of my husband’s scooter, they run for the hills. He still has to watch that they aren’t behind him, but they are less likely to get in the way again.

Here are a few articles about kitten proofing for those with new fur babies:

http://www.meowcatrescue.org/resources/articles/13/kitten-proofing-your-home/

https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/training/tips-for-kitten-proofing-your-home

https://www.thesprucepets.com/kitten-proof-your-home-552283

I’ve also featured a few videos with kitten and cat proofing tips on my character cat’s blog: https://wp.me/p7XcB0-y1

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Welcome, Debra Goldstein

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome mystery author, Debra Goldstein to the blog this week.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, transplanted Yankee and civic volunteer are all words used to describe me. My writings are equally diverse. Although my novels are traditional mysteries with cozy elements, my short stories tend to be darker with unexpected twists. My non-fiction essays reflect emotional slices of life.

I am very excited about One Taste Too Many, the first of my new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series being published by Kensington. In One Taste, culinary challenged Sarah knows starting over after her divorce will be messy. Things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with her cat, RahRah, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her sister wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death – being in the kitchen!

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

Presently, I don’t have any pets (unless you count my husband), but in the past, I’ve had dogs. Traits from our toy poodle and bichon frise find their way into book two, Two Bites Too Many, but my limited knowledge of animals beyond dogs was a definite problem when I decided I wanted a cat to play a major role in the Sarah Blair mystery series. I remedied my lack of familiarity with cats by contacting a friend who has a very special Siamese cat, Suri. Suri’s behavior, tricks, and even appearance became the model for my absolute favorite cat, RahRah.

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

One of the main characters in the Sarah Blair mystery series is RahRah the cat. Sarah married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight and in doing so swapped a luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment and a job as a law firm receptionist. The only thing she can show for the past decade is her feisty Siamese cat, who previously belonged to her ex’s mother. Knowing RahRah already probably spent one of his nine lives when he was rescued, as a kitten from a hurricane’s floodwaters, Sarah is very protective of RahRah – when she isn’t wishing she could have the resilience and confidence he has. Basically, RahRah owns the world.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

One Taste Too Many is the first of at least three Sarah Blair mysteries. I’m doing final edits on the second book, Two Bites Too Many, and am writing the third book, Three Treats Too Many. In my spare time, I’ve been writing short stories. Several of them will be published in 2019 including The Dinner Gift, which won an award in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable competition, Harvey and the Red HeadThe Eyes of Texas anthology, and Nova, Capers, and a Schmear of Cream CheeseFishy Business, an anthology compiled by the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

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

The earliest pet I remember having was a goldfish won at a school carnival. Sadly, it barely survived the transfer from its plastic bag to a small bowl. After a proper mourning period, my parents bought me three miniature turtles. I named them Turk, Dirk, and Lurk – perhaps a sign of the mystery bent my writing career would take. Later, we added a grey miniature poodle, Lord Silver Mist (Misty) to the family menagerie.

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

I believe animals have true personalities and impact the lives of everyone in a household. Consequently, when I use an animal in my writing, as I do with RahRah in the Sarah Blair mystery series, the animal must be a fully developed character. I want the reader to enjoy the animal’s behavior and interaction with the human characters, not simply be a reference to a cat or dog because the book or story has cozy elements. For me, the interaction between animals and humans can provide the impetus to move the story forward, be an instance of comic relief, or simply serve to illustrate another character’s personality. RahRah does all of these things at different points in One Taste Too Many.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing because they allow me show, rather than tell, the reader about different aspects of the other characters’ personalities. For example, if a fussy animal rubs against the leg of a seemingly tough character, but the character unconsciously bends and pets the animal, we realize the tough guy has a soft side. My animals also create or dissipate tension through dramatic or comedic moments. Finally, I use animals because I like them.

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

My favorite book with an animal as a prominent character is One Taste Too Many because after living with it for the past year, I’m partial to it. Bambi is the movie with a central animal character that had a lasting impact on me because of its plot twists, but those twists are what keeps me from using the word “favorite” with it.

 Bambi was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I was three years old and the movie was a treat my father took me to because my parents had recently brought home this thing they called my sister. I’m not sure if they wanted me to have one on one time with a parent or simply thought it a good idea to get me out of the house because every time they asked me to help by handing them something for the baby, I threw it at her – don’t worry, we are very close now. Although I still smile when I think of Bambi and Thumper, the animals, the scenes when Bambi’s mother was killed and where the fire spread through the forest were so powerful they made a lasting impression on me. I watched the movie again as an adult and was again disturbed by those scenes, but now I understood them from a writer’s perspective. Each was a major plot point change where tension and conflict occurred. For a writer, Bambi is an excellent lesson in how to effectively manipulate the emotions of a viewer or reader.

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

When I first started writing, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought getting the story in my head on paper was all I had to do. I wish I had known more about the business side – agents, publishers, distribution, marketing, social media usage, and personal platforms. It has been a steep learning curve. The other thing I wish I knew when I started writing is how wonderful and supportive other writers would prove to be.

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

My favorite place to read or write is in an oversized club chair that my mother had made for my father for their first anniversary. My father wasn’t a big person, but he had long legs. She ordered the chair built with an extra two inches of length in the seat and plenty of back support. For years, my father used that chair to read the paper and watch television. When he wasn’t home, my sister and I used the arms of that chair as our imaginary horses and by covering it with a blanket, we often made it our tent or covered wagon.

When my father died, the chair, for the next decade, became the one my mother curled up in when she wanted to read or visit with any of her kids or grandchildren. If I was visiting, I’d wait for her to go to bed and then sneak into the chair to read or write. It just felt right. When my mother died, other than some art work, there was only one piece of furniture I insisted on shipping from California to Alabama. Today, the chair sits in my bedroom. I use it to read and write and our grandchildren have discovered how wonderful its arms are for make believe.

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

Do it! Passion should never be ignored.

About Debra

One Taste Too Many is the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series by Agatha and Anthony nominated Judge Debra H. Goldstein. Her prior books include Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Debra’s short stories have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. She is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppies, serves on Sinc’s national board, and is vice-president of SEMWA.

 

Let’s Be Social

Find out more about her writings at www.DebraHGoldstein.com , on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/ , or on Twitter @DebraHGoldstein.

One Taste Too Many is available in print and e-book from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Taste-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719476 ), Barnes & Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-taste-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1128297322?ean=9781496719478#/ ) and your local indie bookstores.

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3 Things to Do Before Bringing Home Your First Pet by Jessica Brody

Please welcome Jessica Brody to Pens, Paws, and Claws. She’s our guest blogger this weekend about bringing home your first pet.

Becoming a pet owner is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Dogs and cats are especially lovely creatures, providing endless companionship and unconditional love. Of course, caring for another life comes with its fair share of hefty responsibilities — there are several things that need to be done before you even bring them home! Check out these preparation tips so you can ensure the successful adoption and a happy life with your new friend.

 Research Pet Types Carefully

 Try not to fall for the first adorable pet that catches your eye. It’s important that your lifestyle meets the needs of the particular animal or breed you choose, so do your research before making a decision. To start, you’ll want to consider a few important questions.

        How much space do you have in your home and yard?

       Can you handle pet hair, unpleasant messes, and possible damage to your belongings?

       Do you have any allergies?

       How much time do you have to spend playing with and training a pet?

       What activities do you intend to do with them?

       Do you have the financial stability to support veterinary bills?

 Some dog breeds, like Shih Tzus, are better suited for apartment living and owners who work long hours. Others, like Dalmatians, love to exercise and are great companions for avid runners or hikers. In general, cats require less attention than dogs and tend to fit into various living situations, though they will still need space to roam around. If you just don’t have much room at all, aim for something in a cage or tank, like a fish.

 Get Your Home Ready

 Pets aren’t all fun and games — they’re a lot of work, too! Prepare your home ahead of time so you can keep up with the cleaning and avoid accidents. If you’re getting a cat, remember that litter boxes need to be cleaned on a daily basis. Consider investing in a self-cleaning litter box to make this task a little easier. Find the best options by checking out reviews on Cat Life Today.

 If you’re getting a puppy, look into comfortable crates and puppy pads to cut down on messy accidents during house training. No matter how careful you are, your pup is bound to have a few accidents inside. So, be prepared with cleaning products that prevent odors and stains from setting into your carpets or upholstery. You’ll also want to stock up on toys to keep your pet from unleashing their playful energy on your belongings. Dogster recommends pet-proofing your home with baby gates to keep your curious animals from exploring dangerous areas.

 Prepare a Gentle Welcome

Animals are very sensitive to change and can be uneasy in a new home for a few days. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your pet more comfortable. Cats are territorial and will benefit from a personal area, such as a laundry room or bathroom, where they can be alone now and again. Petfinder suggests creating a small enclosure in this area where your cat can hide away. You can purchase a covered cat bed for this or make your own hideaway by cutting a doorway out of a cardboard box.

 Rescue pets coming from the shelter may be even more nervous or scared in a new home. Give them space to explore your house and try to reduce the number of new people they meet during the first week or so. You’ll also want to stay close by to encourage your pet to bond with you and help them feel safe for their first days. Schedule your adoption on the weekend so you can spend two to three days with them. Additionally, start your obedience training from day one to establish mutual respect and dependability between you and your pet as soon as possible.

 Owning a pet for the first time may be a bit scary, but you’ll quickly see why the majority of people consider their pets members of the family. Although they require a lot of time and money, they pay us back by increasing our happiness, encouraging us to exercise, reducing our stress, and providing endless support throughout our lives.

About Jessica Brody

I am a dog lover and creator of OurBestFriends.pet. I created the site to offer a place for animal lovers to share their favorite pet photos and stories about their furry pals. I believe dogs are the best creatures on earth. I enjoy writing about and sharing photos of dogs (and other pets!) on my website.

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Welcome, Eric Woods!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Eric Woods to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
Beginning in third grade, my teachers would assign short stories for the class to write. While most of the class took the assignments with little significance, I became enamored with the art of storytelling. I began writing outside of class simply for fun and made it my mission to someday write a novel. My genre of choice was horror. I had become a fan of the 80s slasher film series such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to name a few. The idea of good vs. evil has always been exciting to write about. Coming up with strong protagonists and evil antagonists drove me to come up with creative stories.

During my undergraduate years at the University of Illinois Springfield, I took a class on playwriting. This was a new genre in creative writing, and I took to it immediately. My final project, the three-act play Uncle, was voted to be performed in Reader’s Theatre for the university. My second play, the murder-mystery Macabre, was performed by the UIS Repertory Theatre in 1998. A year later, after I had graduated with an English degree, the same theatre performed my dark comedy The Living End. In total I have written 10 full length stage plays with two others still in process.

My creative writing took a hiatus for many years. Although I have been a freelance writer since 2005, it wasn’t until November 2015 when I finally discovered a method for novel writing that worked for me. I had begun half a dozen ideas that didn’t make it past 2,000 words over the years. But this time was different. I had an idea, and instead of haphazardly jumping in with little direction, I thought about the story, the characters, the settings, and everything else it would take to get through to the end. I wrote character sketches (revising as needed), put together an outline, and set a modest 500 word per day goal. By mid-July of 2016, I had finished the first draft of PUMMELED, a novel roughly 120,000 words in length. The editing and revising process was intense, but by June 2018, I was finally satisfied and decided to self-publish the novel.

Although I have always been a fan of horror, this novel belongs in the action-drama category. My second novel, however, is indeed of the horror variety. I began Dragon’s Blood during the editing process of my first novel and finished the first draft this past August. My first edit bumped the word count up to approximately 93,500 words. My hope is to have it ready for publication by October, 2019 in time for Halloween.

Now that I have figured out the method of writing that works for me, the ideas have poured in. I am already outlining my third novel which should be a unique style that I do not believe has been done before in the world of creative writing (at least I hope not).

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
I currently have two dogs (Thor and Hilda) and one cat (Zazu). Last November we lost our dog Maddux to a sudden illness, and we were fortunate to find and adopt our two current pooches a few weeks later. They are a wonderful addition to the family. Thor is a Chihuahua mixed with something bigger, and Hilda is a senior long-haired Chihuahua/pug mix. I have yet to model them in my writing, but in a future novel, I intend to use the names of each dog I have ever had as my feature characters’ names.

What are you reading now?
Right now I am re-reading Stephen King’s IT in preparation for the theatrical release of IT Chapter 2 later in the year. I am also working on The Butcher Bride by Vince Churchill. I need to circle back to my Stephen King list and revisit Duma Key before starting his newer novels. The Outsider looks extremely thrilling.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
I am currently in the editing process of Dragon’s Blood, my second novel. It is a horror/sci-fi offering that I hope is well received by lovers of the genre. The idea was sparked by a friend of mine who created a unique piece of jewelry. As I studied it, the ideas began to flow, and next thing I knew, I had outlined an entire novel. Also, my third novel is currently in the outlining stage, but I have yet to officially begin writing the text.

Who is your favorite author and why?
I have been a Stephen King fanatic since I first read The Shining in grade school. As a horror movie buff and avid reader, it was only natural that I journeyed into the word of King and his novels. They have given me the most inspiration in my writings, and I always look to his novels when I want to see how it’s done.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I had one dog as a child. She was a black pick-a-poo mix named Missy. She was kind of a mutt, but we loved her. While in college (after Missy passed away), we adopted Chelsea, a white West Highland Terrier, and she was one of the sweetest pups I ever had the honor of being around. I used to think she escaped from the circus, as she could dance on her back hind legs when prompted.

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

So far, all “real” animals have only been mentioned in passing. In Dragon’s Blood, the major antagonist is not human, although it is more of a fictitious being than an actual animal. In my idea for the (hopefully) sequel to my first novel, Pummeled, I already took note that Bree (the main character) will be rescuing a dog from a bad situation in the book’s opening chapter. He will likely become a central character of his own.

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

When writing short stories in grade school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. The idea of coming up with creative stories came natural to me, and by doing it outside of school in my free time, it made me want to keep going.

What do your pets do when you are writing?
My pets love being close by whenever I am home. I have my own office where I write, and whenever I am there, they will lie next to the chair behind me. Thor sometimes likes to jump onto my lap as I am writing, just to see what I am doing.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?
Although I have never had a pet I would consider unusual, the chief plot of Dragon’s Blood centers around the bizarre pet one of my main characters discovered as a child back in 1930. The remainder of the novel surrounds what has happened to the being nearly 90 years later.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
Outlining is imperative! For years I wanted to learn the secret to being able to write a novel. Some would say ‘just write’ while others told me not to even waste my time. I began a number of would-be novels, and never made it beyond 3,000 words. Then, on a whim, I caught an article about character sketching and outlining prior to any official storytelling. When the idea for PUMMELED came to me, I followed what I had learned, sketching a rough outline along with the main characters I already knew I wanted in the book. As I put more time and effort into the project, the outline blossomed, the characters came to life, and soon I was writing what would be my first full length novel.

A second thing I wish I knew years ago was to write down every idea, even if I could not dive right into a new story. The worst thing you can do is say “I’ll write it down later.” Because chances are, you will forget the idea later, and you will kick yourself.

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

There a couple things writers need to know as they prepare to write anything. First of all, do not let anyone tell you that writing is a waste of time. Even if you do not see it as a full time occupation, you should never let someone else squelch your creativity. Writing can be such a release, especially when you are in the zone and on a roll with your story.

It is also imperative to know that there is a lot of competition out there. Just look at Instagram, and you will come across hundreds of aspiring writers looking for people to read their creations. Especially now that self-publishing is a much easier process (thanks, technology), there are more people than ever seeing their dreams of writing books come to fruition.

About Eric Woods

Eric Woods resides in Springfield, Illinois. He is married to Lisa and has two children (Hunter and Peyton) and two stepchildren (Jake and Sam). He has been writing since grade school and is the author of 10 full length stage plays. His first novel, PUMMELED, was published in June of 2018, and he is in the process of finishing his second novel, the horror story DRAGON’S BLOOD which is scheduled for release in October 2019. Eric has been a local freelance writer since 2005, writing for such outlets as Springfield Business Journal Illinois and SO Magazine. He serves as a tour guide for the Lincoln Ghost Walk in Springfield and was a collegiate speech and debate coach for seven years.

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Hello from Ed and Lonnie of Tracy Weber’s Murder Likes It Hot!

Note from Tracy: Hi all!  I’m totally swamped preparing for Tuesday’s launch of my sixth Downward Dog Mystery, Murder Likes it Hot, so instead of writing a blog article, I decided to share an excerpt starring two new characters, Ed and Lonnie. This scene introduces Lonnie the first time yoga teacher/sleuth Kate Davidson meets him. His cage mate, Ed, shows up soon.

Meet Lonnie!
And his partner in mischief, Ed!

CHAPTER 5

Something small, brown, and furry with a hairless tail scurried past my right ankle.

“Aack! it’s a mouse!” I shrieked.

Gabriel’s demeanor changed in a heartbeat. From easygoing to frustrated, with a dollop of fear thrown in for good measure. “It’s not a mouse, it’s a rat! Catch him!”

He had to be joking. I was frozen. Stuck between irreconcilable impulses to run for the street and leap on the desk. I had no time to chase after scaly tailed vermin.

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals. All animals.

Except rats.

Gabriel pushed past me, and I stumbled into the hallway.

“God dammit, Lonnie!” He yelled. “Get back here.” He chased the nine-inch-long rodent toward the kitchen.

The young men at the pool table doubled up with laughter. Gabriel paused long enough to chastise them. “Don’t just stand there. Check on Ed!” A brunette tween leaped from the couch and ran into Gabriel’s office.

Ed? Did that mean there was a second one?

My eyes whipped back and forth across the carpet. My feet danced. I hopped from left foot to right foot and back again, terrified that a second rodent was about to crawl up my pant leg.

The way I saw it, I had two choices: stay here and hope that Rat Boy’s twin didn’t chomp on my ankle or run after Gabriel to the kitchen, where hopefully one of the vermin would soon be corralled.

I chose option two.

To learn more about “the boys,” and the trouble they’re about to cause, Check out Murder Likes it Hot this coming Tuesday.  Enjoy!

Tracy Weber

 Murder  Likes It Hot is available on Amazon and other major booksellers!

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Welcome, Author and Blogger, Julie Ryan!

Happy New Year! Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author and book blogger, Julie Ryan to the blog as our first guest of the new year.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I was born in a small mining village in South Yorkshire. Not venturing too far from home, I studied French Language and Literature at Hull University, where I also trained as a teacher. Then the wanderlust kicked in and I lived and worked in France, Poland, Thailand and Greece. I am a bookaholic with a one-click addiction much to my husband’s dismay as we are running out of space. I will probably need to live to be 197 in order to read all the books on my shelves. When not writing or reading, I love amateur dramatics and this year I get to play the Soothsayer in Robin Hood.

My Greek Island Mystery series includes Jenna’s Journey, Sophia’s Secret and Pandora’s Prophecy. Each can be read as a standalone. My latest book is Finding Rose, a story of three sisters, three time periods and three secrets.

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

At the moment we just have one cat, Smudgie, having lost our grumpy old man, Gizzie, over a year ago. Smudgie was a stray that my husband brought home from work. He was in a sorrowful state, covered in oil from the garage with an abscess on his neck. Now he is the most affectionate cat ever. His friendliness knows no bounds and one morning I woke up and looked out of the window to find him inside the pub opposite. He’d obviously stayed for a lock-in. There are always pets in my books, but none based on my own pets so far.

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

It wasn’t intentional, but I think there is a cat in most of the books I’ve written. All my books are standalones, so the pets aren’t recurring characters. In Jenna’s Journey there is a cat with catitude ironically called Mr. Tickles, in Sophia’s Secret there is a female cat called Elektra who is a bit of a diva, in Pandora’s Prophecy there is a puppy for a change called Pickles, and in Callie’s Christmas Countdown, Cleo the cat makes an appearance. My latest book, Finding Rose features a black furball called Blackie as well as a pet pig called Lady.

What are you reading now?

After reading a lot of Christmas books, I’m just about to get started on The Palace of Dreams by Charlotte Betts.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m trying to write a new trilogy set in Greece, but I seem to be working on two books at the same time. My head is also buzzing with a possible sequel to Finding Rose.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have far too many to choose just one ‘favourite,’ but I love everything written by Victoria Hislop.

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

We got our first cat, Lucky, when I was about ten. I adored that black and white scamp and my lifelong love of cats stems from that time. We also had a budgie but unfortunately, he came to a sad end.

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

I was always a sensitive child and remember watching Lassie films where I would inevitably end up blubbling. I just can’t bear cruelty to animals, so I seem to remember being distraught when Lassie was kidnapped by some baddies.

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

I don’t think you suddenly become a writer. In my case I have always loved writing. I used to scribble short stories and even wrote a play for my best friend and me to act out for our parents when we were kids. However, I never thought of myself as a writer. Even now, with five novels under my belt, it still feels strange to call myself a writer, but I guess if you write, then you’re a writer. I don’t think you have to have a mega publishing contract; you just need to have the confidence to believe in yourself. Incidentally, I only started writing novels in my fifties so there is hope for everyone.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

When I’m typing Smudgie likes to ‘help’ by lying across the keyboard. If I try to write in bed, he nudges my hand until I stroke him. I’m sure that without his help, my book would have been finished months ago!

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

Reading is my number one passion apart from writing and I’m also a blogger. I’m in the     lovely position of writers and publishers sending me books to review. I manage to review about 100 books a year, but even I was shocked to discover I have nearly 2000 books on my Kindle aside from the physical books. It’s getting to the stage that I no longer have a TBR pile so much as a TBR room. It’s an addiction really as I can’t resist books no matter where I am. I do buy books too and at the top of my TBR list is Heroes by Stephen Fry – I’m really looking forward to that one.

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

Develop a thick skin and resilience. Unless you are incredibly talented and amazingly lucky, you will be rejected at some point. There are also trolls who will do their best to bring you down. Believe in yourself and be persistent. Don’t forget to enjoy the process though when you can, as to see your book in print is a feeling like no other.

About Julie:

Julie Ryan’s roots are in a small mining village in South Yorkshire. After a degree in French Language and Literature, wanderlust kicked in and she lived and worked in France, Poland, Thailand and Greece. Her spirit enriched, her imagination fired, Julie started a series of mystery romances; thrillers set in the Greek Isles.

A prolific and well-known book review blogger, Julie does her writing and reviewing from rural Gloucestershire, where she lives with her husband, son and rescue cat. She manages to write a book a year although without their help, she would probably write more quickly. She is a book addict and will soon need either a bigger house for her collection or a new husband!

When not writing or reading or eating chocolate, she can be found treading the boards in the local amateur dramatic society – Oh yes, she can!

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