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.
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.