Happy Black Cat Appreciation Day!

When I learned that today, August 17, is Black Cat Appreciation Day, I thought of my one-year-old cat, Harry, whom I adopted last October along with his sister, Hermione, who is a dilute calico.

Harry and Hermione already came with their monikers when I adopted them from the Shabby Tabby Cat Cafe. They were originally at the Golden Paw Society rescue in Huntington, Long Island. My teenage daughter immediately gravitated toward the 3-month-old Harry because she’d always wanted a black cat. I’d had a few over my many years of cat ownership, but I hadn’t had one in a long time. Harry and Hermione were an inseparable pair, so we adopted both of them.

Harry was a shy but active kitten. He cried when he was separated from his sister and seemed to rely on her. As he grew, he became more confident, friendly, very sweet, and lovable. I hear that black cats have that type of temperament. Handsome Harry is definitely no exception.

There are some people who don’t agree that black cats make good pets and that’s why they’re less likely to be adopted. Part of the reason is that old superstition about black cats bringing bad luck if they cross your path. However, there are countries where black cats are actually believed to bring good luck.  If you hear a black cat sneeze in Italy, it is believed that you’re in for a streak of good luck. Black cats are a symbol of good luck in Japan. If someone in Japan sees a black cat crossing their path, they say  ‘Konichiwa’ and take control of their own luck. In Britain and Ireland, it’s also lucky to see a black cat.

Black Cat Appreciation Day seeks to inform the public about these special cats who were given bad raps as witches’ familiars and bad-luck bearers. On my other blog, Sneaky the Library Cat, hosted by the character cat in my Cobble Cove mysteries, I posted  videos about Black Cat Appreciation Day and my Harry playing with his toys. You can view that post and the videos here.

I’m glad that I adopted a black cat. Harry aka Handsome Harry, aka Harold is a wonderful addition to our pet family that now consists of three cats, Stripey, Harry, and Hermione.

Do you have a black cat? What’s his or her name?

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Welcome, Kathy Krevat!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Kathy Krevat, to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book.

Hi! I’m Kathy Krevat, author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series by Lyrical/Kensington. In the third book of the series, THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT, gourmet cat food chef Colbie Summers stumbles over the body of an abusive oboe teacher who is part of an underground network of people helping to get rich kids in top universities.

As Kim Davis, Blogger at Cinnamon, Sugar and a Little Bit of Murder, said, “Long before the scandals hit recent headlines, Ms. Krevat managed to portend a social issue involving wealthy families using their riches to gain access to top schools for unworthy students. THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT weaves an entertaining, tightly plotted tale of murder in a timely and relevant story involving a college fixer.” 

When I’m not writing, I’m volunteering. I just finished five years on the board of Playwrights Project, (http://playwrightsproject.org/) an organization that teaches literacy and other life skills through playwriting. It works with over 10,000 people a year — students in K-12 schools, foster care and juvenile court system schools, seniors, the incarcerated and more.

I’m also on the board for Partners in Crime – the San Diego Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’m involved in local politics. And I help coordinate the CCA Writers’ Conference in San Diego – the only free writing conference for high school students in the US. (https://ccawritersconference2019.weebly.com/)

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

Trouble is an orange tabby cat who was the inspiration behind Colbie starting Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food Company. She’s full of personality and is the official taste-tester of Colbie’s products.

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

I had quite a few childhood pets, including dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, gerbils, and a rabbit. Once I even brought home a little of kittens and the mother from band camp. (Yes, I called to ask first.)

Who is your favorite author and why?

J.K. Rowling for her imagination and mastery of plotting, setting, characterization, and more, and for inspiring a love of reading in millions of people young and old.

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

Trouble is definitely a character is her own right, meowing comments that Colbie interprets, and sometimes finding clues.

What’s your real-life, funniest pet story?

I’m sure I have others, but the one that comes to mind is about my Shih Tzu, Fluffy, who I had in my twenties. I adopted her from a family who couldn’t keep her any longer and their daughter had named her. I took her to a lot of places in an oversized bag, including a trip to my sister’s wedding. I tried leaving her in the hotel room, and she barked so much that I came back to get her. She was so mad that she refused to look at me. Another time, a friend was visiting, and instead of going to the park like we usually did on weekends, I dropped Fluffy off at home, and we went to the local diner. When we got back, my friend discovered that Fluffy had climbed on top of her unzipped luggage and peed inside!

What’s the most interesting/fun/dangerous thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your books?

The most fun was learning how to make chocolate truffles for my Chocolate Covered Mystery series. A local chocolatier supplied all of the recipes, but I had to test them all. Such a hardship!

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

There are so many more than two things! I wish I’d known that in order to get published, your voice matters more than you imagine, so write what sounds like you. I also wish I’d joined writing organizations like Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America earlier. Taking advantage of all they have to offer helped me and so many others become published.

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

I have “my spot” on one end of a very comfy couch with reclining leg rests where I read and write. I also have a recliner in my home office that I use as well. My writing process is a bit unusual. I hand write my ideas onto neon pink paper and then flesh them out a lot more as I type them into the computer. Once I have a decent draft, I print the whole thing out, which allows me to see problems better. I wish my process didn’t use so much paper, but maybe it’s offset by my driving an electric car.

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

The best advice I know of is to keep learning and keep writing. No one thinks they can become a sculptor overnight, but for some reason almost everyone thinks they should automatically be able to write a book. When it’s not perfect to begin with, they stop, not realizing that you have to practice, practice, practice. Keep writing!

I’d also recommend giving back to their local writing community. I didn’t start volunteering to make business contacts, but looking back, I can see that it helped. And there’s something special about being with people who love the same things you do!

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

It might be a little depressing, but there’s a large element of luck in getting published, and lots of great books don’t get chosen by the big publishers. Indie publishing offers great opportunities for the authors of these books.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

While I wait to hear if Lyrical/Kensington wants a fourth book in the Gourmet Cat Mystery series, I’m working on a young adult suspense book.

Single mom Colbie Summers has a lot to be grateful for in the run up to Thanksgiving. Relocating back to her California hometown has brought her irascible dad and adolescent son closer.  Her gourmet cat food line—vetted by her trusty taste-tester, Trouble—is about to get a big re-order. And she’s made wonderful new friends and colleagues. Too bad one them has just been accused of murder . . .

Sunnyside’s most gifted students have been at the mercy of a shadowy network of college fixers—including an abusive oboe teacher whose recommendation is necessary to get into Julliard and a school secretary who alters grades for cash. When they turn up dead, Colbie has to untangle a cat’s cradle of suspects and motivations—from livid parents and students whose dreams have been crushed to an entire secret Facebook group of spurned lovers.

Suddenly, holiday preparations just got a lot hairier. With the big re-order now on hold and the real killer still at large, Colbie discovers that someone has been grading on a very dangerous curve—and it will take all her newfound sleuthing talent to land safely on her feet.

About Kathy:

Kathy Krevat is the author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series by Kensington/Lyrical and the Chocolate Covered Mystery series under the name Kathy Aarons by Berkley Prime Crime. Find her at www.kathykrevat.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Life Advice from My Fuzzy Muses

My two crazy Jack Russell Terriers (Terrors) are great companions and guard dogs. They protect us from countless squirrels, birds, and joggers. Now that we’re settled in the new house in the woods, they have a whole host of squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks to chase.

Each has a bed in my office, and they help me plot mysteries and listen while I talk through dialogue (if they’re not napping). My writing partners sleep on the job a lot.

They keep us on our toes. When it’s too quiet in the house, the pair of jacks are up to something (usually naughty). These two can hear a cheese or candy wrapper from three rooms away.

Here are some things I’ve learned from them about  life.

1.    Enjoy what you do. If not, find something else to spend your time on. There are way too many interesting things to see, eat, sniff, or bark at.

2.    Don’t waste a beautiful day inside. Go outside and have some fun.

3.    Wag and make friends. Relationships are important. This is Disney’s forte. We did a fair amount of remodeling to the new house, and we had a lot of workers in for long periods of time. Each morning, Disney greeted everyone and expected a pat or a hug.

4.    Don’t sit at your desk too long. Everybody needs a break.

5.    Just go for it. If you want something, grab it. They don’t waste time over-analyzing things.

6.    Bark if you really need to, but not too much. (Riley needs to practice what he preaches. He has the best time barking at squirrels, joggers, and anyone who steps on the front porch.)

7.    Make sure you nap when you need to. You need to recharge. My pair of jacks excel at this. They take napping to Olympic levels.

8.    Live in the moment. Don’t stress about what has happened or what might happen.

9.    Play hard. Life shouldn’t be all work. EVERYTHING is a game to a Jack Russell.

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Welcome, Sharon St. George!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sharon St. George to the blog. (I think this is the first time we’ve had llamas visit!)

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I became interested in writing fiction quite a few years ago while working in an administrative position in a hospital. At that time, medical mysteries were becoming popular, and since my job involved a lot of insider information, and some intrigue related to the doctors who provided patient care, I thought I might one day try my hand at writing a hospital-based mystery. After leaving that position, I went back to school to finish my degree in English with a Writing Emphasis. From there, it was another few years before I had the idea for the Aimee Machado Mystery series. I gave Aimee one of my previous positions, Health Sciences Librarian, and gave her a mentor who holds my other former position, Director of Medical Affairs.

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

Almost all of my pets have found their way into my series. The llamas, of course, since Aimee is living in a bunkhouse over her grandparents’ llama barn when the series begins. My husband and I have owned and hiked in the wilderness with llamas for a number of years. We still keep two llamas, although our hikes are less frequent these days. The llamas’ main duties now are to mow the pasture and to provide us with the pleasure of their company. Aimee’s grandmother has a cat, Fanny, who is a terror, somewhat modeled after one of my real-life cats. My husband’s king snake played a cameo role in the first book in my series, as did our cockatiel.

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

Recurring pet characters in my series include Fanny, the “unhinged” feline, Bosco, the tough-talking cockatiel, two llamas, Smoke and Captain, who sometimes help Aimee and her boyfriend, Nick, in their crime-solving adventures, and the unnamed king snake who lives in Aimee’s grandparents’ guest room. In the second book, Nick acquired a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Ginger, whose role has expanded as the series has grown.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing book six in my series, Renewal, which explores the topic of drug overdose, which causes the death of a candidate running for the office of mayor of the City of Timbergate, the setting for the hospital where Aimee works. The question is whether the overdose was accidental, suicide, or murder. The story also draws from my past experience working as a grants coordinator for a multi-million dollar private foundation.

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

I grew up on an eight-acre ranch in rural Northern California where we had all sorts of animals. Always at least one dog, and often two. Frequent litters of cats. So many that I don’t think we even tried to give all of them names. My father considered them farm workers who kept the rodent population down. There were beef cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, all of which ended up on our dinner table. We always had a milk cow, and there were two horses, one for each of my parents. The social life back then involved a group of my parents’ friends who arranged horseback rides. I rode behind my mother, and my brother rode behind our father on these occasions. When I was around twelve, I was given my own dog, Buster, and my own mare, Ginger. The three of us spent every day after school going out for a ride together on our sparsely-populated country road. That ritual continued all the way through high school and even after, until I finished my first two years of college and moved to San Francisco at nineteen to experience city life.

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

The llama herd and Bosco the cockatiel helped foil the bad guy on book one, Due for Discard. The llamas went along on a search in the wilderness for a missing hospital nurse in book two, Checked Out. Ginger the dog helped by using her tracking skills in book four, Spine Damage, and most recently used her cadaver dog training in book five, Primary Source.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I’ve lived with animals all my life., all of the animal characters that show up in the Aimee Machado Mysteries are inspired by actual animals in my life. In a setting like Aimee’s, on a ranch in rural Northern California, it would seem unrealistic to write a story without including pets and livestock.

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

The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley was my favorite as a child. I had grown up on and around horses, and by the time I began reading the series, I was already pestering my parents almost daily to buy me a horse of my own. To my mind, life would not be complete until that happened. Alec’s relationship with the black stallion was exactly how I knew I would feel with a horse of my own. I still have my copy of the first book in the series with a copyright date of 1941. It’s tattered and the pages are dark with age, but I can’t imagine parting with it.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

A few years ago, I was on a phone call with a customer service tech who was helping me solve some sort of problem that required my concentration. My cockatiel, Bosco, was out of his cage, as I liked to give him a chance to spread his wings occasionally by flying around in the house. Just as our conversation was getting into a critical area, Bosco swooped into the room where I was and made a perfect landing on the top of my head. I told the man on the phone to please wait a moment, that my pet bird had just landed on my head and I had to go put him back in his cage. The man broke out laughing, but when he recovered, he waited while I put Bosco away, and then we finished our phone session.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My cat usually wanders in and out of my office. Sometimes she hops up on a table near my desk and takes a nap. The llamas hang out in the pasture. Bosco is no longer with us, but he used to like to sit on my shoulder and peck at my earrings.

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

We have a king snake living in an aquarium in our guest room. It has already surpassed by almost double the age that king snakes are supposed to live and doesn’t show any signs of departing. His diet consists entirely of live mice, which is a little gruesome for my sensibilities, so I leave the feeding chore to my husband. He won’t donate the snake to our natural history museum because it was caught by his daughter when she was about ten years old and became her pet. For him, it holds sentimental value, even though his daughter is now a mom with ten-year-old twins of her own.

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

The lesson I’d like to share is that it’s a lot of work. First, you must learn the craft, and if you’re serious, that alone can take years. Then, you have to learn the business. More years. Then, when you sign the contract, you have to learn all the other things about being published that you had no idea you were going to have to know. How to maintain a good working relationship with agents and editors, and how to promote yourself and market your books. All of the above requires the writer to be computer literate in a dozen different ways, and that’s another learning curve.

About Sharon:

During my years as medical staff director of an acute-care hospital, the intrigue and secret-keeping I witnessed inspired me to write the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series.

The first five titles, inspired in part by my additional experience working in health science libraries, are: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, Spine Damage, and Primary Source.

My degrees are in English and Theatre Arts, so when I have time for a break from writing, I enjoy taking on a role in a community theatre production.

I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and I serve as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit organization for writers in Northern California. I can be found at: www.sharonstgeorge.com

Book Links:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Sharon+St+George&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/primary-source-sharon-st-george/1129752844

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Dogs Learn New Tricks!

Hello again, from Cherie O’Boyle, Shiner, and Ben (who turns one year old today!!) and also from Patience, the cat.

After about ten years of obedience and agility classes, flyball tournaments, and herding trials, my border collie Shiner was ready for something new. Sadly, by then arthritis had claimed his left wrist joint, making running on uneven ground painful. His hearing was also going, meaning he could no longer follow the long-distance whistles directing him where to herd the sheep. But the dog was still ready to go. I knew I had to think of something fast as Shiner was staring at me with that unmistakeable border collie eye. So what was next?

What was next turned out to be “nose work” or, in AKC parlance, “scent work.” Nose work uses many of the same skills used by professional search and rescue teams, but has become more of a dog sport. Participants may attend “trials” to test their skills and earn ribbons and awards.

When people ask me about nose work, their first question is “How do you teach dogs to smell what you want them to smell?”

The answer, of course, is that we don’t teach dogs to smell what we want them to smell. They already do smell, all the time, although granted, not always what we want them to smell. Dogs live in a universe of scents that we can only imagine.

Nose work involves first, teaching dogs which one of those millions of scents we want to know about and how to make a sign when they’ve found that scent, and second, teaching the human to read the sign the dog makes. Nose work requires a strong bond between dog and human, making it the perfect activity to share.

Having said that, it turns out that many dogs need practice in using their remarkable sense of smell. As humans, we live in an almost exclusively visual and auditory world, and as a consequence, the dogs who live with us are rarely called upon to pay much attention to their olfactory universe. Nose work gives dogs a chance to hone skills they may not have practiced much, to amaze us with their abilities, and even to help us with tasks we would have a much harder time completing without their help. We’ve all heard about dogs being trained to alert doctors to the presence of cancer in patients. The surface of those abilities in dogs is barely being scratched.

Nose work is also a terrific activity for older dogs. It does not require great physical prowess or speed. Dogs who are losing other sensory skills such as hearing and even eyesight can successfully participate. Studies have found that dogs gain in self-confidence when they participate in nose work. Conveniently, I have forgotten how researchers measured self-confidence in dogs, but since the findings mesh so nicely with what I already want to believe, I’ll not lose sleep over that.

There can be no doubt that a shared interest in nose work bonds human and dog in ways little else can. In ideal nose work practice the human has no way of finding the target, and must rely entirely on reading and trusting the signals sent by the dog. There is nothing quite so fascinating as setting your dog on a “find” to search a car that you know has been planted with a scent, and watching the dog’s every sniff, every move, even the slightest head turn, for signs of an alert. And when the dog makes a successful find, celebration!

Sure, your dog may never win any nose work awards, but even practicing together is a fun way to build a connection between you. There are lots of videos available on-line to get you started.

Learning nose work with my dogs has informed my writing in a variety of ways. My most recent release is On Scent, a wilderness thriller featuring both air-scenting and tracking dogs. That one required a great deal of research, not just about canine skills, but also about kidnappings, law enforcement procedures, and fighting forest fires as well.

In my Estela Nogales Mystery series, all of the neighborhood dogs play various roles, always utilizing skills that dogs exhibit every day. They sniff out dead bodies, murder weapons, and bad guys. They tree lost cats, and come to Estela’s rescue simply by appearing at the right time in the right place. At no time in these mysteries do the dogs, cats, or wild boar ever talk or do anything else that these animals wouldn’t do in real life. And thank goodness for that, as, in Estela’s opinion, there is entirely too much yammering going on in the world already without dogs pitching in their two cents.

And just for the record, because whenever we learn something new we always include Patience, the cat, I have to tell you that she is faster and more efficient at finding the target scents than any of the dogs. She would have a boxful of ribbons too, if she cared to attend trials with all those barking dogs. Here she is giving her best “alert” sign on the correct box.

How about you and yours? What do you do to keep an older pet entertained? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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