Welcome, Sam Cheever!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sam Cheever to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a USA Today and WSJ bestselling author of over 80 books. I write contemporary, cozy and paranormal mystery/suspense, and, I have 13 dogs. My husband and I rescue hard luck cases and senior pets. Our dogs are our family, our hobby, and our passion. As you can imagine, taking care of 13 dogs takes up a lot of our day. But we wouldn’t have it any other way!

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

Our close-nit little pack includes 2 Great Danes, 7 dachshunds, 2 cattle dog mixes, 1 pibl (she’s actually a bull dog / pitbull mix – so cute!), and 1 retriever mix. They’re all inside dogs. In fact, they’re all “inside on the bed and furniture” dogs. LOL Our youngest is around 4 years old and our oldest is close to 15 years old. We generally have 8 dogs on the bed with us every night, fortunately, most of the bigger dogs like to sleep on the floor and dog beds around us. My biggest challenges in life are finding room on the bed and not melting under the heat of 5-6 snuggling dachshunds. LOL

I write traits from my dogs into almost every book. Caphy, the Pitbull featured in my Country Cousin Mysteries is a sweet and fun mix of my pibl, Zoie and my daughter’s pibl, Willa. In Spunky Bumpkin, my latest Country Cousins mystery, which is part of the recently released Summer Snoops Unleashed collection, Caphy is joined by her new sister, LaLee the Siamese cat, and Spunky, a senior retriever whose owner has been accused of murder. The three pets help their owners solve the murder and find a killer!

My old guy, Poppie, is Rodney in my Silver Hills Cozy Mysteries; a senior dachshund with tons of personality and zero manners! In fact, my dachshunds make regular appearances in my books in some form or other, because they have such fun personalities.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a brand-new series right now. My Enchanting Inquiries series features a young sorceress who is a Keeper of Magical Artifacts. Naida also works with a magically-talented cat, whose name is Mr. Wicked, and a frog named Mr. Slimy, who has a really big secret. The series is fun, irreverent, and filled with magical adventure. I’m having a lot of fun writing it!

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

If I put an animal into a book, it’s always as a main character. Any animal you add to a story has so much potential to add fun, challenge, and warm feelings that it’s a downright shame to waste that potential as a writer. You know the old adage about kids and pets in entertainment. You simply cannot beat them. But you can enjoy the heck out of them!

Why do you include animals in your writing?

See above! *grin* But really, aside from the fact that I’m passionate about them and try to never miss a chance to advocate for them, animals are just plain fun. They add so much to a story. They provide a richness of heart that only kids and animals can provide. They give your characters dimension. They can even move the story forward, as they often do in mysteries. An author can give an animal any number of fun and quirky traits that make the reader laugh, cry, and care about the story. They’re pure fiction gold.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

That depends on the time of day. Unlike my human children and my husband, my dogs simply won’t allow me to train them to respect my writing time, so anything goes. Once they’ve badgered us into feeding them in the morning, they’ll all settle down for a couple of hours of sleep. This is prime work time for us. Then somebody will decide it’s time for me to pay attention to them. But that’s good too because it forces me to get out of my chair for a while. I’ll usually go outside with them and walk around the yard while they bark at the hawks overhead, sniff out mice and other small things, (they even find the occasional mole. Which doesn’t work out well for the mole if I’m not there to rescue it!) Then we all traipse back inside and they settle down for a couple more hours before they start lobbying to be fed again. LOL It’s a never-ending, comfortable cycle.

To add intrigue to our days, every person, car, truck, or airplane that dares to pass by our home must get a loud talking to (I call it the canine chorus. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard 13 dogs bark and sing at the same time.) #:0) Every unsanctioned movement outside the house must be addressed. Then they’ll all settle down again until the next unplanned intrusion.

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

When the kids were young we got a box turtle. That was a strange experience. I love turtles, but they’re kind of boring as pets. I’ve never written one into a book so that should tell you something. The poor thing would be sitting there blinking in chapter one and still sitting in the same spot blinking in chapter twenty-one. Not exactly riveting fiction. LOL

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

This is tough because the industry has changed so much since I started. My impulse is to say that I would have started writing mystery or paranormal adventure sooner. But at the time I broke in, romance was the biggest genre. So I wrote romance. And then I wrote sexy romance, which wasn’t really my thing. Writing this, I realize I should be feeling like I settled a little. But I really don’t feel that way. I enjoy romance, and it was fun to write, but I never exploded into the industry as a romance writer because the romance was always a small part of the stories I wove. I’m all about the mystery and the action first, and the romance just adds a nice edge to it all.

But taking that all away, I would have started writing to my real passion sooner. Also, I would have resisted going the sexy romance route. There’s nothing wrong with sexy romance, it’s just not where my passion is, and I think it kept me from finding my real audience sooner.

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

I read in bed at night. I rarely read during the day because there’s just too much to do. But I will listen to audiobooks while I’m in the car, cleaning, or cooking dinner.

I write almost exclusively at my desk. It’s comfortable and it’s easier for me to concentrate and work there. However, I’ll sometimes take my laptop outside and work. It’s a nice change of pace when I need one.

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

Keep an open mind. With changes in technology, changes in the retail landscape, and shifting reader tastes, the publishing world is everchanging. Don’t fight the change. Embrace it. And look for ways to succeed within every new landscape.

About Sam:

USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Sam Cheever writes mystery and suspense, creating stories that draw you in and keep you eagerly turning pages. Known for writing great characters, snappy dialogue, and unique and exhilarating stories, Sam is the award-winning author of 80+ books.

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Steinlen: Another Cat-Lovin’ Man

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859- 923), was a French painter and printmaker, famous for his Art Nouveau style. And his cats.

The artist loved cats, and was known for feeding dozens of them in the Montmartre section of Paris. At the time, cats symbolized the unconventional lifestyle of bohemian culture (we know how independent and non-conformist our cats can be!). Cats often appeared in Steinlen’s paintings and advertising posters, which also featured his daughter, Colette. However, even in his leisure moments, Steinlen turned out many drawings and prints of cats. The man loved cats! Many do (see my post on Cat-Lovin’ Men).

In 2018 I attended the Steinlen: Cats exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (dubbed “The Museum” by locals). The exhibit is over, but you can read about it here in abbreviated form.

I’ve used this Steinlen mousepad and tracking ball mouse for many years, and I love both. Never seen a mouse quite like this one? Well,  now you can say you have.

Read more on Steinlen.

More images of Steinlen’s cats.

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 appear in Deadly Southern Charm, Virginia is for Mysteries (Vols. 1&2), and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

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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Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authormaggieking

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

 

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Welcome, Mabry Hall!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mabry Hall to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up in central Mississippi and live in Louisiana now, with a sidestep to Texas for college and grad school. My favorite childhood times were spent at my grandparents’ farm, where I awoke every morning to the sound of cows at the back fence. My cousin and I roamed free with two very smart working dogs, Lassie— she’d have to be a collie with name like that, and Shep, a golden retriever. My 18 Karat Cold mystery series is set on a farm in northwest Louisiana, but my main character, Annalee Wyatt, buys and sells antique jewelry. Since I’m writing the story, I can have her pastures leased to a neighboring farmer. Annalee needs time for jewelry and sleuthing.

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

Our Maine Coon cat is named Lucy, because she’s a redhead. Her personality is reflected in the orange tabby, Montrose, that lives with Annalee. Until a few years ago, we had a wonderful Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Henry, before Corgis became so cool. I’ve immortalized Henry in the books, but he belongs to Annalee’s handsome next door neighbor. He loves to hang out on Annalee’s front porch, flat on his back with his paws in the air. Anyone who’s spent time around a Corgi will have no trouble visualizing the position.

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

In addition to the ones listed above, in the first book Annalee acquires an African Gray parrot named Lafitte. He spent his formative years in a bar in Baton Rouge next to the LSU campus, and he flirts with women and sings old rock-n-roll and zydeco tunes. Annalee’s Basset Hound, Pudge, belonged to her aunt, whose farm she inherited. In my imagination, Pudge spends most of his time with his nose to the ground, snuffling out the critters that live in the country in Louisiana. While they aren’t pets, the farm next door has begun raising dairy goats that have the mischievous personalities of the goats I’ve met.

My third book, A Rumor of Riches, features a redbone coonhound, Delores, and a Catahoula leopard dog named Isobel. Their tracking skills play a major part in the book. My problem is that writing about all of these animals makes me want to get one of each.

While the series isn’t particularly paranormal, Annalee’s Goat Hill Farm is haunted by a goat who lived there in 1885. Repentance comes and goes on his own schedule, and Annalee has been able to see him since she was a child. And the name? Repentance was my fifth great-grandfather. I wish I knew why his parents called him that.

What are you reading now?

Let me share what I’m listening to now, as I always have at least one book in progress on my phone. I’m currently listening to Circe, by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of the myth of Circe of the Odyssey, from her point of view. The story is strong, and the reader is perfect. I recently finished Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, which is a riff on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale told from the woman’s view. For fun and giggles, you can’t go wrong with The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang. I never get a book without listening to the sample, because the reader can make or break the experience for me.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the fourth novel in the 18 Karat Cold series. Since Annalee buys and sells antique jewelry, each book revolves around a specific piece. The first, An Engaging End, features an antique mine-cut diamond engagement ring. The second, A Regrettable Reunion, has a demantoid garnet brooch in the shape of a salamander. The third has gold coins and a squash-blossom turquoise necklace, and this as yet unnamed book has diamond chandelier earrings that are literally

Who is your favorite author and why?

While I don’t claim to have a favorite author, I love anything by Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel, and who can resist Jane Austen? PD James, Louise Penney, Elly Griffiths, and Ben Aaronovitch all captivate my attention with the first page. I usually have four or five books going at one time and read many of my fellow Sisters in Crime cozy writers. Then there’s nonfiction history and Alison Weir, and, oh, lately I’m plowing through the Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker, although they make me very hungry. My next trip to France may have to include Bordeaux.

My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. He brought those animals to life for me. I’ve reread it many times, and each time brings a new understanding.

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

My first dog was a fox terrier, delivered by Santa with a red bow as big as he was. I have a vivid memory of finding him under the tree. He was followed by a cocker spaniel, and then we switched to dachshunds. I had four of them through the years, and we once bottle-fed a litter of eight, which involved starting with all of them in one laundry basket. We knew we were through when they were all moved to the other one. I loved cats, but my mother didn’t, so I vowed to myself that I’d have one some day. We are currently on our fourth, the aforementioned Maine Coon, and she is the first that wasn’t a rescue kitty.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals have always been a part of my life, and it seems a natural progression to have them as part of my characters’ lives. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they interact with something smaller and weaker; something that might be at their mercy or dependent on them.

I also think animals have such interesting personalities, if that isn’t anthropomorphizing them too much. My son and his wife have a cat who seemed to have almost no redeeming qualities. Clarence wasn’t friendly; he shed like a three-month-old Christmas tree, and had major litter box issues. I grudgingly tolerated him. Since my granddaughter was born, he’s a whole new cat. He will let that little girl do anything to him. He’s patient and calm, which is not so easy when there’s a two-year-old bouncing an alphabet block on your head. I’m surprised anew each time I visit.

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

My first book had been out for a couple of months and was not setting the world on fire. Friends and relatives loved it, but they didn’t really count. Then one of those friends invited me to Dallas to speak to her book club. Fourteen women RSVP’d, but over twenty attended. They loved the book. I didn’t know them; they didn’t owe me special consideration; they weren’t there to be nice. They honestly liked it, and just as important, they were ready to read the next one! It was a game-changer.

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

I don’t think hamsters qualify as unusual, but Captain Cook was quite the adventurer. He lived up to his name. He routinely escaped from his fortified cage, and once he disappeared for several days. He had made his way from his upstairs room to the downstairs dining room, and taken up residence behind our enormous sideboard. He was a rodent with a plan. We think he made several trips up and down the stairs, cheeks stuffed with food, and set up housekeeping.

Captain Cook lived much longer than a hamster should, and toward the end of his life, my eight-year-old son came to me several times, sobbing because he was dead. Each time I’d take him and tuck him under my shirt to get him warm. Sure enough, he’d perk up in ten minutes or so and be ready to roam again. He finally died when we were out of town, and my house-sitting friend went to every pet store searching for one that looked like him, thinking she could fool David, but the Captain was irreplaceable.

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

When I was a kid, I read in the crook of a big mulberry tree. Now I require something a bit more forgiving. If it’s too hot or too cold to be outside, I curl up in one of the chairs in the den. If the weather cooperates, I love to read on my screened back porch under the ceiling fan. The swing I sit in came from my grandmother’s house, and my father was swung to sleep in it when he was a baby, about ninety years ago.

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

Finish your book. Begin another one. Finish that one and start on the third. Know that it’s a long haul, and the chance of life-altering financial success is slim. Join a group like Sisters in Crime, where you’ll receive encouragement and advice from many generous people. Be open to helpful criticism. And finally, don’t do it if it isn’t fun.

About Mabry:
I was born and raised in the South, and have lived in Mississippi, Texas, and now Louisiana. After an operating room fall curtailed my career as a nurse anesthetist, I turned my energy to writing. My boys are grown and live on the East Coast (egads!) I really do collect antique jewelry, and have amazing Pinterest boards that showcase the types I write about, so pour yourself a glass of tea or wine and prepare to be dazzled.

I write what I know, except for the murder part. Though I’ve traveled the globe, I always come back to the friendly and quirky people who populate northwest Louisiana.

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You can reach me through my website or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

http://www.mabryhall.com

https://www.facebook.com/18KaratCold/

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MUTTS ARE LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES by Jayne Ormerod

<with apologies to Forest Gump…> Mutts are like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get.

Over the course of our almost 40 years together, my husband and I have spun the roulette wheel of doggie DNA six times as we’ve welcomed “mutts” into our lives. Three were labeled Shepard/Husky mixes, one was a lab mix, one was a shepherd/Carolina dog mix, and one was straight up Heinz 57 (a Puerto Rican street dog with at least 57 breeds in his lineage.) Success ratio: 1 out of 6.

Dog one was the truest to his cage tag of shepherd/husky mix. I suspect there were other breeds mixed in there, but those were his predominant size, color, and personality traits. So far so good.

Dog two was not even close to the shepherd/husky mix the cardboard box at a South Carolina flea market promised. He topped out at a whopping 104 pounds. He had Doberman markings, but we never did figure out what the “big dog” cross was. And, um, let’s just say he didn’t have quite the IQ of our super smart shepherd/husky mix. Not even close.

Dog three picked my husband as she huddled in her cage at the shelter. Tag read shepherd/husky. She turned out to be a Norwegian Elkhound. In all fairness, the Elkhound resembles a shepherd, but the Elkhounds are smaller. I believe she was a purebred, but what are the odds someone dumped a box of purebreds when they could have sold them for big money?

Dog four who came from a foster dog program, looked like a mottled lab; short-haired (our preference) and roly-poly—who could resist? She didn’t grow much, so the lab lineage didn’t pan out. Her fur grew long and silky, and she had the rounding-up instincts of a border collie. When wet, she had the body image of a beagle. Oh, and she had the beagle howl. Surprise, surprise.

Dog five came to us in an emergency rehome situation, a tawny, twelve-pound bundle of skin and bones. Diagnosis: Carolina dog/shepherd mix, projected full size of 30 to 40 pounds. This dog has literally grown before our very eyes, weighing it at 74 pounds at his one-year checkup. He has the conformation and droopy jowls of a Great Dane; the wide, cement-hard head of a yellow lab; and the sit-under-the-porch-on-a-sunny-summer’s-day smarts of a Carolina dog. He loves to snuggle on a lap. The problem is nobody in our household has a lap that big.

Dog six, the Puerto Rican street dog, came with no guesses as to his lineage or false promises of size or temper. He is what he is: a little brown dog with a great big heart. He just celebrated his first birthday, and doesn’t appear to be getting much taller (wider maybe…that dog is always hungry! I think that comes from spending the first four months of his life not knowing where his next meal was coming from.) He might have a little chihuahua and/or min-pin in him, but the rest is a mystery.

You know where this is going, right?

To Doggie-DNA test, or not to Doggie-DNA test. That is the question we are currently debating.

Costs range from $50 to $200 per test. I can take a sample of my dog’s saliva and send it in and see which breeds exactly are inside my fur babies. Many of my friends have tested their dogs and shown the results, some surprising, but most not telling them anything they didn’t already know.

While the true breed of “mutt” is never going to be invited to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show—I’m not sure any self-respecting Mutt would even want to—would knowing their lineage have any effect on their lives? Or mine? Would it make me more enthusiastic about vacuuming fur off the sofa cushions? Would the level of spoiling them increase? Would our love for these snuggle bunnies change? The answer to all of these questions is No.

The mutts in my house are always welcome, and in good company. After all, I’m a mutt myself.

<<If any of you have had an experience with a canine DNA test, I’d love to hear about it.>>

ABOUT JAYNE

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck, as well as a dozen other short stories and novellas. Her most recent releases are Goin’ Coastal and “It’s a Dog Gone Shame!” in To Fetch a Thief.

         

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Welcome, Michele Peters

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Michele Peters to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I grew up in a large Midwest town (St. Louis), have lived in Arizona for the past nine years with my husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. I have two children, my son lives in Arizona and my daughter in NY.

How we came to Arizona is a story onto itself filled with happenstance, circumstance and crazy timing, an out-of- the-blue job offer that ended up with my having three weeks to move from a lifetime in the Midwest. The task of packing, moving, selling and closing up a house we lived in for over 27 years fell squarely to my husband. On January 2nd I left with two suitcases and enough clothes to get me through until the rest of my things could be shipped. And that is a whole other story.

 Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions in corporate, university and non-profit, basically in marketing, advertising and development. Previous writing experience includes feature articles on everything from fashion to NASCAR races and a local reporter. The best writing gig I landed, even to this day, was an assignment to write a three page feature article on a small cruise ship vacation experience to the British Isles. This is where I fell in love with Ireland and Scotland and will most likely set a few of my stories in these fascinating locales.

In December 2018, I left the position Managing Director of a classical theatre company to concentrate full time and pursue my life-long dream of writing fiction. Always an avid reader from an early age (I was that “bookworm” kids teased); a BA in communications from Lindenwood University reinforced this passion but added a new appreciation for the beauty and power of language. During this time I also read early Russian literature (Pushkin, Leskov, Gogol) which created a new dimension for me in character description and development.

When we had to write our thesis (capstone), while other students complained about having to write 90 pages, I was trying to figure out how to keep it to only 90 pages.

I discovered cozies quite by accident last summer while visiting a friend, have been studying this genre and working on the first of a series ever since.

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

My husband and I, over the years have had numerous pet dogs, all rescues and always two or three. All were fairly large, mixed breed rescues. We adopted an abused Irish setter who I nursed back to health. My vet laughed when I told him I put Shayna in our guest bed and fed her home-made chicken soup; she lived to 14 years old; he originally said she wouldn’t live the year (she was about two years old at the time). We’ve had Bootsie and Pepper; Matty and Abby; Crackers and Shayna. And then Clancy, a 125lb Irish setter who thought he was a lap dog. Since we are older, we not only downsized our house but our pets. Sophie and Rocky are two small Chihuahua mixes, who I am quite certain, believe we are just funny forms of them.

Clancy will be featured in my cozy mystery as well as on the cover. In his own crazy way, he helps the protagonist uncover and dig up clues needed to solve murders.

What are you reading now?
Like so many of us, I have more than one book started. Reading Ellen Byron’s Body on the Bayou; a collection of stories by Daphne duMauier, Echoes from the Macabre and Dianne Freeman’s A Ladies Guide to Gossip and Murder. Just finished Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and constantly adding to my collection of her works.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
The first in a series of cozy mysteries and a WWII mystery. Doing research on a historical fiction manuscript. In between, every so often I am asked to write marketing copy for a few freelance clients I have retained.

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

Growing up we had beautiful white and tan collie mix named Fluffy; she was more our third sister. We painted her toenails, she let us dress her up, she slept with me and I read books to her. I’m certain at some point she will be featured in one of my books. She had such a sweet, loving nature…a truly gentle soul.

My love of animals, especially dogs, is simply a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. One of my “causes” is pet rescues and shelters. I still support the ASPCA in St. Louis and the Humane Society in Arizona. All donations are given in honor of my pets.

One of my treasured pieces of jewelry is a bracelet. On the outside is inscribed “Wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge” and on the inside are the names of all my dogs who are waiting for me at that bridge. I wear this almost every day.

 

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Clancy was probably the funniest pet we’ve had. He quickly learned how to open doors and drawers. He also decided fences, screen doors, screened windows were simply objects to move out of his way. After being away for almost an entire day, we came home to discover he opened the sliding doors to our hall closet, pulled everyone’s coat down from the hangers and piled them up in the middle of our living room. He created a nest of sorts from our coats and was perched on top of the pile of coats as happy as could be. Gotta love a pet that will do that.

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

I always loved to read but began to embellish or rewrite the stories I was reading as early as grade school. I can easily trace back my certainty to become a writer to a 7th grade writing assignment where we had to create a Greek myth. My teacher told me… “You need to be a writer.” It has taken me ¾ of a lifetime, but I am following my heart and her advice.


Apparently some of my friends knew I was destined to become a writer. My closest high school friend gave me a Roget’s Thesaurus as a graduation present. Inside she wrote, “For your writing career.” I still have that thesaurus.

All will be confirmed the day I sign a publishing contract.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
That is funny – and how did you know I have more than one TBR pile?

I have three TBR piles since I am working in two different genres and one I call ‘just for fun’. My mystery pile has several books by Agatha Christie, my historical fiction has Judith Starkston’s Priestess of Ishana and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy at the top, and my for fun has Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon and The Power by Naomi Alderman at the top. I would use up all the space we have here to list all of the books in my TBR piles.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
a) Writing novels, no matter what genre, is very different from writing marketing copy, press releases, feature articles or reporting. This is truly a craft that needs to be learned, honed and practiced.

b)To start reading books and attending conferences focused on the “art or craft” of good writing; to learn some of the well- known and lesser known necessities good stories must contain – the beat sheets, the 3-act formula, editing, pacing, character arcs and development, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Read, read and read. Once you’ve settled on a genre, read good writers. Read the classics – they have survived for a reason. Also begin to build your own library about the craft of writing; plot and structure, conflict, self-editing etc.

Realize you will write, edit, write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, rinse and repeat. It is all part of the process to achieve your best work.

Join one or two writers groups where you are comfortable. I tried 4 or 5 before I settled on the AZ Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths (and the Guppies Group). Attend conferences if possible. Some of the most valuable advice and hints I learned were at conferences. Writing is a solitary profession – you need others who understand what we go through to finish a book. Build your own community.

Right now I am learning that I just have to be tenacious and keep writing – until I can write those glorious words…The End.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?
If you self-publish or go with a house, you will be expected to be your own marketing dept. Learn social media, learn who your target audience is and what they are reading. In addition to writing time, you will need to set aside time devoted only to marketing.

About Michele
Now able to concentrate on her second career and life-long passion for writing, Michele Peters is working on the first in a series of cozy mysteries set in a fictional New England town, doing research for an upcoming WW II mystery while a story and characters set in medieval England keep her up at night. Writing has always been a part of her life in some form or another; writing marketing copy, feature articles, press releases or reporting, writing is always there. Michele now lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. Her son and daughter are on auto-pilot, the dogs have settled in and Michele is now able to focus on writing. She retains a few free-lance writing clients but happily pursues her long-awaited dream.

 

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Welcome, Dianne Ascroft!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Dianne Ascroft to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello everyone. I’m Dianne Ascroft. I grew up in Toronto, Canada and moved to Britain almost three decades ago. I’ve been gradually downsizing from city to town to countryside until I’m now settled on a farm in rural Northern Ireland with my husband and an assortment of strong willed animals. I enjoy the outdoors so when the household chores are completed (my least favourite part of life) and I’m not writing, I go for long walks and also spend time with our pets. For many years, we had a pair of goats as companions until the last one died four years ago. Now our closest companions are a pair of tortoiseshell (calico) cats. There’s not much difference really: the stubbornness and determination is just in a smaller package.

I began my writing career writing historical fiction, often with an Irish connection. After several years I veered off into writing cozy mysteries though I do still write historical fiction too. The Century Cottage Cozy Mystery series is set in Canada, my homeland. Writing a series set in Canada is a nostalgic journey for me and I enjoy every minute of it.

 Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries feature heartwarming stories set in a fictional small town in rural Canada. The main character, middle-aged widow Lois Stone, has moved from the big city and is trying to adjust to life on her own in an historic “century cottage” with her two calico cats. As she settles into her new life, her tranquility is often rocked by adventures and mysteries that she can’t ignore. Out of Options is a prequel novella to the series that gives readers a glimpse into Lois’s life in Toronto before she moved to Fenwater, the fictional small town where the rest of the series is set.

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

My main character, Lois Stone, has two tortoiseshell or calico cats, Ribbons and Raggs, who share her home. They are loyal companions and, although they don’t talk or communicate directly with Lois or the reader, we have the sense that they are more perceptive than the average cat. Raggs likes her comforts and prefers sleeping and eating to most other activities but Ribbons is especially protective towards Lois and helps her any way she can to solve mysteries. The cats are only mentioned in Out of Options and make their first actual appearance in the first novel in the series, A Timeless Celebration. They will appear regularly in the rest of the books in the series.

The two cats are based on my own two tortoiseshell cats, Snooks and Rocky. And the images of the cats on the covers of the books in the series are actually images of my own two cats. The ‘real’ cats live with us on our farm and keep a close eye on me, especially at meal times.

What are you reading now?

I just finished A Twist in the Tale, the first book in Leighann Dobb’s latest cozy mystery series, Oyster Cove Guesthouse Mysteries. I also love her Mystic Notch series. In both series, the cats know much more than their owners could ever imagine and the mysteries could not be solved without them.

I’ve also just read No Stone Unturned by Pam Lecky, an historical mystery set in nineteenth century London. It’s the first novel in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery series and I found it a gripping story from beginning to end. This is another series that I will continue to read as new novels become available.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

The Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series is my focus for the foreseeable future. Since I’m convinced that the real place my fictional town, Fenwater, is based on is the perfect place to set a cozy mystery, I want to write more stories set in my fictional version of it. So that’s my plan for the immediate future: to complete the second book in the Century Cottage Mysteries series and then write the next one and the next one…Book 2 should be ready to release this autumn. It’s a tale that revolves around the theft of a very important town heirloom from the fall fair just before the item is to be raffled for charity.

 

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

As I mentioned earlier, Lois Stone’s two calico cats are recurring characters in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. The books are set in a small town in Canada and as Lois explores her new life there she frequently encounters new adventures and mysteries to solve. Lois thinks she is doing the investigating but she would miss half the clues without the help of her cats– especially Ribbons. Raggs can be rather lazy at times and prefers napping to sleuthing. But when Ribbons meows there’s always a good reason. She makes her wants known as well as helping Lois when she misses clues. But she draws the line at talking. If Lois and her friends can’t learn her language, she doesn’t intend to speak theirs.

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

I’ve always loved the original Lassie Come Home children’s novel by Eric Knight. The television series, Lassie, was set in the United States but the original book was set in England. I first read it as a child and fell in love with the story. It’s set in a Yorkshire mining village and honestly portrays the hardships of life for families in the area and the bond between the boy and his dog. I love heartwarming stories that are uplifting, and also those that portray close bonds between people and animals, and I try to create a similar atmosphere in my own books.

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

I’m an only child and my mother and grandfather were voracious readers so I learned to love reading early. I think it was a natural progression from reading to writing my own stories. I was also a prolific pen pal and, during my teen years, I regaled my pen friends with long accounts of my life in Toronto. The longest letter I ever penned was 64 pages long, written to a friend during the couple of days when I was recuperating after having my wisdom teeth removed. So I’ve communicated through writing most of my life.

In my early 30s I moved to Belfast and worked in the university bookshop for several years. Meeting local authors regularly, I began to wonder whether I could also write fiction. So when a short story I submitted to a writing contest on Belfast’s Downtown Radio was selected for broadcast, I was thrilled and this small success encouraged me to pursue my interest in writing. In hindsight, I know that the story needed polishing but it was my first ‘publication’ and that made me a writer. Although I never let anyone listen to it, there is a cassette copy of the broadcast still buried somewhere in the bottom of a drawer at home. The story was about a piper experiencing stage fright. Since I wrote that first story I’ve always wanted to bring the pipe band world into my writing again. I did that in a small way in A Timeless Celebration as Lois, the main character, is a piper and is introduced to Fenwater’s pipe band in the novel.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Anything they please…They tend to go about their regular routines and ignore me when I’m writing. They either sleep or go out for a wander around our farm. When it’s getting near lunch time they come into the room where I’m working and meow until I stop writing and get them a snack. They refuse to wait until I take a break to make lunch to ask for their snack. They come and demand it when they think it’s time to eat.

Snooks will sometimes lie on my knee in the evening as I work at the computer but most of the time she ignores me when I’m writing. Rocky doesn’t like to sit on my knee at the computer but she will lie on the floor beside my chair as close as she can get when she wants company. Then it’s easy for me to lean over and pat her while I work.

Where is your favorite place to write? Why?

Where I write isn’t actually the place that would be my first choice – it’s just the spot in our house where I can sit and work most conveniently. I sit at the dining room table, often with a cup of tea on the table beside me, and Snooks possibly draped across my knee (or sitting beside me tapping my leg with her paw). My husband is next door in the living room so, if he misses me, he can pop his head through the doorway to reassure himself that I’m still there. There’s a small window on the wall opposite and a patio door beside me so the room is bright and cheery. But, since the windows look out onto the side lawn and the farmyard respectively, the view doesn’t distract me – unless, of course, a hare hops through the farmyard and stops to glance around, or a cow escapes from a field and comes wandering over for a nosy at me through the patio door, or a pine martin scurries through the yard and inspects the walls of the buildings before he climbs onto the shed roof and disappears into the farmyard behind (all of these things have really happened).

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

Learn the basics of the writing craft and keep learning throughout your career.
Don’t be afraid to put words down on paper or screen – you will edit and improve them later.

Know that a second pair of eyes is a necessity – always have your work edited by someone who has the skills to do so.

About Dianne

Dianne Ascroft is a Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals.

She is currently writing the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Out of Options is a prequel to the series.

Her previous fiction works include The Yankee Years series of novels and short reads, set in Northern Ireland during the Second World War; An Unbidden Visitor (a tale inspired by Fermanagh’s famous Coonian ghost); Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves: A Collection of Short Stories (contemporary tales), and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, which explores Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross humanitarian endeavour.

Let’s Be Social

Website: https://www.dianneascroft.com

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/DianneAscroftwriter

Twitter: @DianneAscroft

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A Service Dog to the Rescue – by Sheri S. Levy

A Service Dog to the Rescue

By Sheri S. Levy

My stomach clinched.

Kathy, sobbed on the phone. “Logan’s missing! My husband’s golfing and hasn’t returned my call.”

“I’m on my way. I have to get Sydney’s service vest.”

I filled my waist pouch with his favorite treats, located his water bottle. “Let’s go, Syd.”

Kathy stood out front, waving her arms.

Sydney and I bolted from the car. She blubbered information in between blowing her nose. “Logan’s autism caused him to have a meltdown when his brothers left to play golf.”

I clasped my hands together. “You need to know I’ve only played hide and seek with Sydney and other children. He’s a service dog in training, not a search and rescue dog. Since Logan and Sydney have made such a strong connection on the beach, Syd may be able to find Logan. But you’ll need to stay here.”

Kathy’s eyes widened.

I touched her shoulder. “You need to be here in case he comes home or someone returns him.”

She sobbed. “I’m going to go crazy, waiting.”

It seemed a load of gravel hit the pit of my stomach, one stone at a time. “Will Logan get in the water?”

“Not without his life jacket. He’s frightened of the waves.” She shook her head. “He can only say his first name.”

I blew out my breath, and smiled. “That’s good, he won’t get in the water. Can you give me an item he wears? Sydney needs his scent.”

I wrapped Syd’s vest around his back. He knew immediately he was on duty. His amber eyes brightened and his lips spread into a grin.

Rushing back, Kathy carried Logan’s ball cap and spoke in spurts. “He doesn’t like… the sun in his eyes.”

“That’s perfect.”

Syd and I jogged toward the sand dunes. I held Logan’s ball cap up to Sydney’s nose. “Find, Logan.”

He inhaled the scent, backed up, and jiggled his stub.

“Good boy, Syd. Find, Logan.”

He dashed toward the water, with his nose level with the sand, and then he made a U-turn. Sydney woofed. Logan would recognize Syd’s bark and come running.

If he heard. Or if he could? Shivers went up my neck.

I called Logan’s name. High tide moved down, leaving no foot-prints, no trail of food, and no way to know which way Logan might have gone.

After an hour and a half, I said, “Down,” in someone’s empty carport. Syd panted heavily and rested. Once his breathing slowed, we shared a bottle of water.

Kathy phoned. “My husband has contacted the island police. One car is patrolling the streets.”

My voice squeaked out. “So, he’s done this before?”

“Twice. Each time it’s happened, he’s walked a little farther.”

“Does he have a special hiding spot?”

She whispered, “No.”

My chest tightened. “Okay, Syd. Find, Logan.”

He wiggled his rear end, darted to the dunes and put his nose close to the sand, sniffing like a hound dog. Chills traveled up my body. He was onto something. It better not be a fish.

Sydney tramped up to a tree in someone’s backyard, turned around and circled me like he was saying, “Hurry up.”

“What do you smell, Syd.”

He barked and showed me foot prints. They were small, bare feet.

“Okay. Show me.”

Sydney sniffed the ground and followed footprints from the ocean to the trees.

“What is it Syd?”

Steps to someone’s house, painted sky-blue, had disguised a three-sided outdoor shower under the wooden steps. An ocean blue plastic shower curtain decorated with colored fish closed the opening. Syd crept towards the shower stall.

I pressed my lips together. Could Logan be inside? Was he hurt?

Syd’s body squirmed, making an indention in the sand with his bottom. “Good boy.”

I slid the curtain back, an inch at a time. On the small bench shaded by the tree, Logan slept with one arm under his head and one arm hanging off the ledge.

My eyes overflowed. I bent face to face with Sydney and whispered, “You have the honor of waking him.”

Sydney’s eyes sparkled. He slinked in, put his nose under Logan’s limp arm, moved closer, and licked his cheek.

Logan’s eyes opened. He squealed, “Syd-ney. Syd-ney. Want see.” Logan sat, lifting his beaming face, showing two missing teeth on the top and on the bottom.

I snatched Logan’s hand and said, “Sydney, home.”

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Welcome, Connie Berry!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Connie Berry to the blog!

  1. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your blog! I write the Kate Hamilton Mystery series set in the UK, featuring antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. I grew up in the high-end antiques trades, so that’s a world I know. With parents who always bought more than they could sell, the house I was raised in looked something like a crowded museum. This seemed perfectly normal to me, of course, but my friends now admit they were afraid of the life-size marble state of Marie Antoinette in our living room. In addition to writing, I love to read mysteries set in the UK—or rather listen to them. I’m addicted to Audible. My other job is working trade shows for my husband’s marketing business. With northern European roots, I hate hot weather, so when things heat up in Ohio, my husband and I head for our cottage on a lake in the Wisconsin Northwoods (where I am now). That’s my writing time. And my knitting time. My other passion is travel. We usually fly somewhere out of the country twice a year. England will always be my favorite destination. Now I can call it research.

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

I have tons of destinations on my bucket list—return trips to Europe and Scandinavia, Japan, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. I have relatives in Melbourne. My Scottish grandmother’s older brother emigrated to Australia around the time she emigrated to the US. He sent me two things I treasure—a koala “teddy” when I was six and, years later, an antique copper teakettle he and his wife used daily for fifty years. I’d love to meet his grandchildren and great grandchildren one day. Number one on my bucket list, however, is staying overnight in one of the Scandinavian ice hotels. Unfortunately, this is NOT on my husband’s bucket list. Strategy may be called for.

  1. Did you have childhood pets?

I’ve always been an animal lover. As a child, I collected all sorts of pets—cats, birds, frogs, turtles, chameleons, white mice—even a baby owl that fell out of a nest near my elementary school. When one of our cats fell pregnant every nine weeks, my parents insisted she would be happier living with friends who owned a farm. To make up for the loss, they brought home a Pekingese puppy named Sunny. I fell instantly in love. Since then I’ve always had a small non-shedder to cuddle. My current fur baby is an adorable Shih Tzu named Millie.

  1. What does your pet do when you’re writing?

Usually Millie sleeps under my desk chair. Sometimes, though, she wants to be held. Have you ever tried to type with a fifteen-pound dog on your lap? Not that I’m complaining.

  1. What’s your funniest or most unusual real-life pet story?

My most unusual pet story involves the baby owl. I brought him home from school one day, bedraggled from the rain and looking adorably vulnerable with his round golden eyes. My saintly parents housed him in an old parakeet cage and called the vet who said to feed him meaty dog food with tweezers. He loved it. As he recovered from his ordeal and began to grow, he got testy and tried to take chunks out of our fingers. Then he started hooting at night. You can imagine how well that went over with my parents. The vet also told us we would need to begin offering him roughage, like tiny bones and fur (eek!). That was the last straw for my parents. We took him to those same long-suffering farmer friends and let him loose in their barn. I hope he learned how to hunt for himself. But then he wouldn’t have survived at all if I hadn’t rescued him.

  1. Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters?

Back home in Ohio, my protagonist, Kate, has a Scottish Fold kitty named Fiona, but since the books take place in the UK, we only hear about her. In the second book, A Legacy of Murder (out October 8th), one of the main characters, Miss Bunn, has an elderly, obese pug named Fergus. Fergus is terribly spoiled and doesn’t take easily to strangers, but Kate wins his confidence when she saves him from drowning. Fergus is very wise and possesses an uncanny ability to express his thoughts by grunting or winking or averting his eyes at appropriate moments. I’m currently writing the third in the series, A Pattern of Betrayal, where Fergus will once again play a leading role.

  1. What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. First published in 1999, the book has won tons of awards. The multilayered story focuses on the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the north of England. Even though I don’t write police procedurals, I adore them, and McDermid is a master of the genre.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

Now this is hard. I have lots of favorites: Susan Hill, Val McDermid, Elly Griffiths, Louise Penny, Charles Todd, Tana French, Sujata Massey, Anthony Horowitz, Jodi Taylor, Kate Morton. You can see a theme, can’t you? I love reading and writing stories set in the UK (well, Louise Penny’s are set in Canada, but I love that too). As for the classics, my all-time favorites author are Jane Austen and P. G. Wodehouse.

  1. What writing projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned, I’m currently working on the third in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, tentatively entitled A Pattern of Betrayal. Kate is back in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, running a friend’s antiquities shop while he recuperates from bilateral hip surgery. When a reclusive widow consigns an ancient Chinese hunping jar and promises to let the shop handle her late husband’s entire art collection, Kate is thrilled. But when the jar goes missing and a body is found in the shop’s back room, Kate finds herself on the trail of a missing daughter, a ruthless killer, and a centuries-old pattern of betrayal.

  1. When did you know you were a writer? How did you know?

My answer would have to be when I signed my two-book contract with Crooked Lane Books. My writing career was no longer a dream but a reality with things like deadlines and obligations to fulfill. Truthfully, though, I still struggle with the idea that I’m a writer. With each new book, I wonder if I can pull it off again.

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

First, that typing “The End” is only the beginning. As someone has said (can’t remember who), writing is rewriting. I had so much to learn—I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And second, that having a master’s degree in English literature and having read hundreds of great mysteries didn’t mean I could write one. I had no clue about story structure and the conventions of fiction writing. If I’d taken the time to learn my craft first, I might have saved years of fruitless effort.

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

Take time to learn the craft. Join a writers’ group like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America. Take classes. Get feedback from published writers and take their comments to heart. And then persevere! Don’t give up. If writing is your dream, go for it.

About Connie:

After lecturing on theology for 25 years, Connie Berry turned to writing traditional mysteries, combining a layered sense of history with a modern take on the amateur sleuth. Connie loves history, cute animals, foreign travel, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable dog, Millie.

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