The DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM Authors Talk Writing, Mysteries, and Pets

My pals from the Deadly Southern Charm mystery anthology are my guests today.  Please welcome, Lynn Cahoon, Frances Aylor, Kristin Kisska, J.A. Chalkley, and Stacie Giles. They’re here to talk about writing, books, their pets, and our new anthology.

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

 Heather: We have two crazy Jack Russell Terriers, Disney and Riley. They’re from the same litter, and they keep us on our toes.

Lynn: Right now, our house is a little quiet. We lost our long-time companions, Homer (14) and Demon (19) in January of this year. They were Pomeranians. Homer was attacked by neighbor dogs in HIS yard and Demon decided it was his time a few weeks later. So it’s just Thor right now. He’s my way too tall cat. But next week, we’re getting two new puppies –Keeshonds. Dexter and Quinn.

Frances: Over the years I’ve owned a cocker spaniel, a labrador retriever, five cats, several goldfish and a hamster. The lab was a frisky, high-spirited dog that I took to obedience school so I could learn to manage him. While there I saw two beautiful, well-trained German shepherds. The German shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab combines the beauty of those dogs with the friskiness of my lab.

Kristin: I’m sorry to report that I don’t have any pets at present—not for want of loving them! That said, I drew on my experience horseback riding English saddle, both as a teen and an adult, to write my short story, “Unbridled.”

J.A.: I don’t have any pets at the moment. My last pet was a border collie mix named Woody. He was a rescue, and I later found out he had a brother named Cowboy.

Stacie: I grew up with a “guard” chihuahua named Taffie who used to boss all the neighborhood dogs and cats, including our other pets. Taffie and I were so close that my parents kept her death during my freshman year of college from me for weeks, thinking it would make living away from home too hard for me! I still miss the first dog I had as an adult, D’Artagnan–we called him D’Art–who was loving and lively, and would play fetch for hours. Now I enjoy an aging Staffordshire Terrier named Tinkerbell who patiently follows me everywhere, and endures the teasing of our cat who simply cannot leave poor Tinkerbell alone.

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

 Heather: Most of my short stories and novels have animals. In my Delanie Fitzgerald series, Margaret, the English bulldog is a fixture in the private eye’s office. She’s a brown and white log with legs. I partnered with three other dogs on a novella project, To Fetch a Thief. My story is “Diggin’ up Dirt,” and it features a JRT named Darby who was based on my dog, Disney.

Lynn: Of course! Emma is Jill’s Golden Retriever in the Tourist Trap series. She even found a missing boy in an early book. Cat Latimer just got a barn cat and four kittens in book four of the series. And Angie from the Farm to Fork series has Dom – a St Bernard, Precious – a goat, and Mabel – the last remaining hen from Nona’s flock.

Frances: Webster is a German Shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab. He’s purchased by one of the characters as a guard dog, but his care and maintenance fall to the wife, who’s not a pet person. My main character Robbie later adopts the dog and considers him a faithful companion. He will be a recurring character in future novels.

 Kristin: I’ve only ever featured animals in one of my stories, “Unbridled.” The three show horses—Bay, D’artagnan, and Spade—all board at the same equestrian center in South Carolina’s Low Country. As readers soon find out, they are as commanding as their rider/owners.

J.A.: I’ve been working on a detective novel where the lead character owns two tabby cats, named Lenny and Squiggy. I’m telling my age with that reference.

Stacie: As I develop my main character, I plan for her to have a Siamese cat named Loopy who is almost preternaturally attuned to Vera’s recurrent migraines.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

 Heather: I am working on a cozy mystery novel, and it features a Jack Russell Terrier named Bijou. I am also working on a dog mystery for the second Mutt Mysteries series. It features a Rottweiler named Oscar, and the story’s called “The Fast and the Furriest.”

Lynn: As I write this, I’m working on book 4 of the Farm to Fork mystery series. The working title is DEATH ON A STICK. It’s set in my home state of Idaho and I love writing a late summer weather scene while the snow outside my window keeps getting deeper. After that, I’m doing my first Farm to Fork Novella which will have snow, but maybe I won’t be so sick of it by then.

Frances: I’m finishing up the second book in the Robbie Bradford mystery series. In this one, Robbie goes to Switzerland with a client, to help her manage some issues with family money. The third book will be set in either Egypt or Jordan, both of which I recently visited. I’m also working on financial presentations for various groups, to give people guidance on how to manage their money.

Kristin: I’m polishing my second suspense novel, which is a quest for a missing Faberge Egg throughout Prague and other Central European cities. I’m also in the process of drafting my third novel, a domestic suspense, which features Lulu the tabby cat.

J.A.: I’m working on a short story for a sci fi/fantasy magazine submission

Stacie: Actually, I am currently working on a nonfiction project, a college-level online resource on the United States Intelligence Community, drawing on my background as a CIA analyst. I’m also trying to hone my fiction writing skills and develop a series of short stories set in Memphis, Tennessee from 1920 through the 1960s in which Vera and her policeman cousin Burnell navigate the turbulent social changes of the time while solving crimes in a way that is both merciful and just.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 Heather: My Jack Russell Terrier Riley has a thing for paper. One day, I set my open purse on the floor next to my desk while I was working. When I got up, I noticed the ATM receipt for $40 was wet and on the floor. Curious, I rummaged through my purse. Riley had pulled it out along with a twenty. He ate one of my twenty-dollar bills.

Lynn: Thor (the cat) liked to hide behind the television when the dogs went out first thing in the morning. Then he’d pop out and stand on his hide legs and pretend to be an attacking bear. One morning, Homer wasn’t having it. He bulldozed the cat into the television stand, then went to stand by the door waiting for us to let him out. Thor stopped playing that game after that.

Frances: When I was a child, we visited a family friend whose dog had recently had puppies. When my parents got ready to leave, they found me sitting on the floor in the utility room, with all five puppies lying on my outstretched legs, determined that I was going to take them home with me. My dad convinced me that the pups were too young to leave their mother, but promised I could come back later and pick out one for myself. That cocker spaniel puppy and I grew up together.

 J.A.: We adopted Woody for my son, who was seven at the time. They grew up together. Woody would listen to everyone, but my son. Woody wasn’t allowed on the bed, yeah that rule didn’t last long. When he heard our bedroom door close at night, he would jump on my son’s bed. Anytime he heard the door open he’d jump down and play innocent.

Stacie: My children were young when hyperactive D’Art joined our family. The kids would put on roller skates to take him on “walks” which were really mad careening around the neighborhood! They could only stop by collapsing on the lawn or, occasionally, running into a tree!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Heather: There are two dog beds on either side of my desk in the office. They nap mostly while I’m writing or editing. Sometimes, they help with plotting.

Lynn: Thor sleeps on my desk. I’m hoping the new puppies will hang out under my desk. (As long as they don’t chew on the cords.)

Frances: My lab was an outdoor dog who enjoyed exploring the woods behind our house.

 Kristin: Oh, I wish I had a cat. If it were like my previous fur babies, it would ignore me actively until I tried to pet it, then shun me. Is there anything more divine than purring???

Stacie: Tinkerbell lies on the floor just outside the open door of my office. She seems to feel she is guarding me. The cat Azzie has to climb on my lap or, if I’m standing up using my sit/stand desk, he’ll reach up and claw my legs until I pick him up and let him investigate what I’m doing. Once satisfied, he’ll curl up in a comfy chair near me and snooze.

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

 Heather: I grew up in a suburban house. We had a couple of gold fish over the years. My dad, a 46-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Police force, had a police dog once. I didn’t have dogs until I moved out.

Lynn: I had a grey cheek parakeet once. She was part of a breeding pair. She didn’t like men. So she’d bite me every time my husband or my son would come close. But she did like drinking Coke out of the lip of my Coke can.

Frances: We once had an aquarium filled with exotic fish. I especially liked the neon tetras, the angelfish, and the whiskery catfish.

Kristin: My family had lots of pets while I grew up, from dogs and cats, to fish, birds, and gerbils. The most unique pet, though, was our ferret, Bartles.

J.A.: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but somehow we always seemed to have farm animals. Over the years there were chickens, calves that needed to be bottle feed till they were big enough to release into pasture, and goats. My mother loved goats. We had at least one for years. There were dogs, cats, hamsters and for a brief period rabbits.

Stacie: We had some geckos when we lived in Hawaii. They were amusing to watch climb the walls and ceilings! But it wasn’t amusing when my husband brought home flying cockroaches from work to feed them! Of course, the cockroaches got away. Sigh.

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

Heather: Writing is a business. You need to treat it like that. It includes a lot of record-keeping and marketing. You also need to guard your writing time. There are so many distractions and obligations. You really do need a writing schedule.

Lynn: It’s okay to stand up for what you want and how you want your book to look. You can’t wait for the muse to hit to write. Set a word count and meet it. Otherwise, the book won’t rise to the top of your to do pile. I write first because I’m better in the morning and I don’t write well late at night. Your mileage may vary.

Frances: Writing a novel takes so much longer than I thought it would. I have to schedule a time to write each day; otherwise, other projects intrude on my time. Marketing a book is even more time consuming. Mastering social media is a continuing challenge.

Kristin: I wish I’d known that once I type The End, an author is really only a third the way through the publishing process. The next third is revising and editing, and the last third is publishing/marketing the work (of course, while working through the next project). Also, many words can be written before sunrise. Use your time wisely!

J.A.: Writing is hard work. Not just the writing, but the business side of it.

Stacie: Well, I truly am just starting in fiction writing now. One thing I already know from my nonfiction work, however, is that writing takes rewriting, and rewriting, and double checking, and rewriting some more!

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

Heather: I love to write at the beach when we’re visiting. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and I miss the ocean. When at home, I love to write on my deck on sunny days.

Lynn: I love writing at my desk because I have a desktop with a 32-inch screen. But I can and do write anywhere. Reading, I need good light. My favorite place to get story now is during my commute in my car.

Frances: Most of the time I write on my laptop at my office desk. In warm weather, I take the laptop out to the gazebo. Most of my reading is done in bed at night, just before I go to sleep.

Kristin: I get my best writing done in my silent, quiet writers cave at home. Even better, when everyone in my family is either asleep or away. Reading, however, I can do absolutely anywhere, but my favorite place is in a bookstore café.

J.A.: I have an office space set up in my she cave at home. It’s quiet and comfort.

Stacie: I am happy as a clam to read wherever I am! But for writing, I prefer my office, where I’m surrounded by all the things I need – all kinds of materials and, most importantly, a comfy chair and a lovely view out the window when I need to clear my head!

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

Heather: Be persistent. Don’t give up. Writing and publishing are hard. You need to keep at it.

Lynn: Make sure it’s really what you want to do. You spend way too much time working and alone for it to be just a whim.

Frances: Know why you want to write. This is a very competitive business. If you’re writing to be rich and famous, perhaps you should pick another line of work. If you’re writing because you have stories you want to share with others, then stick with it.

 Kristin: The only requirement for being a writer is to actually write. All other rules you hear are merely suggestions and guidelines. It also helps if you read a lot, too. Good luck!

J.A.: Read a lot. Find authors who’s style you like and study it. Figure out why you like it. In the beginning you may find yourself imitating other writers, but with time you’ll find your own style.

Stacie: Remember that writing is fundamentally a solitary endeavor. You can and should make lots of connections with other writers and readers, but most of your time must be devoted to writing, something no one else can do with you. You’re on your own! Make sure you’re happy with the solitude.

Heather Weidner
Lynn Cahoon
Frances Aylor
Kristin Kisska
J. A. Chalkley
Stacie Giles

About Us

Frances Aylor, CFA combines her investing experience and love of travel in her financial thrillers. MONEY GRAB is the first in the series. www.francesaylor.com

Lynn Cahoon is the NYT and USA Today author of the best-selling Tourist Trap, Cat Latimer and Farm-to-Fork mystery series. www.lynncahoon.com

 J. A. Chalkley is a native Virginian. She is a writer, retired public safety communications officer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

Stacie Giles, after a career as a political scientist, linguist, and CIA analyst, is now writing historical cozies with a twist.  Her first short story is in honor of her grandfather who was a policeman in Memphis in the 1920s.

Kristin Kisska is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and programs chair of the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter. www.kristinkisska.com

Heather Weidner is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries. She has short stories in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 SHADES OF CABERNET and TO FETCH A THIEF. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and Jack Russell terriers. www.heatherweidner.com

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Book Links

Wildside: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-paperback/

Wildside eBook: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-epub-kindle-pdf/?ctk=92a212b3-7ff7-473d-a5dd-78ab99163c27

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Southern-Charm-Mystery-Anthology/dp/1479448397

 

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Welcome, June Whatley!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome June Whatley to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write under the names of June Breland Whatley or June B. Whatley. I’ve been married for 48 years to my husband Jim. We have one son who is grown, married and has four children. My husband and I are both retired and live in Tennessee with our two fur babies Bear and Millie.

My first book, published in 1996, was for homeschoolers on the topic of socialization. We homeschooled our son junior high through high school and he went on to college and then got his Masters’ Degree.

My second book was published in 2016 and is available on Amazon. The title is #LifeChange: A Treasure Hunt for More. It is based on a dream from the Lord that shows how and why people fear having a relationship with Christ and shows why, even after coming to Christ, people are attacked by the enemy. The book leads the reader through steps of accepting Christ, learning how to pray, and how to protect themselves from the enemy after their salvation experience. It ends with a biblical explanation that shows the Kingdom of God is real.

My writing is driven by a need to introduce people to or draw people closer to the Lord. My belief is that the Return of Christ is coming soon. Time is short and people need to have a personal relationship with Jesus in order to be saved.

My current work, follows a similar pattern, but engages the younger reader in a story to aid in expressing these principles.

Tell us about your pets.

Bear is my ‘rescue’ dog. It took three trips to the shelter before I found him, then he ‘rescued me.’ J I was a cancer survivor and had undergone chemo, surgery and radiation. I was cancer-free, but my strength and lung capacity were not back to normal. I had little energy and was gloomy most of the time. Bear got me up, out and moving. He was a 9 lb ball of fur and energy, just what I needed to perk up my spirit and encourage me to be more active. Six and a half years later, he is now about 100 lbs and I’m still cancer-free and in much better health. Shortly after getting Bear, we moved to Tennessee.

In Tennessee, I had seen the large, furry Great Pyrenees dogs and wanted one. I met a man who was giving away puppies. The first owner had neglected them terribly, so Stan purchased them from him, and worked to get them healthy, then he was giving them away. I drove to his house and Millie greeted me at my car. She waddled her three-month-old, 37 lb body up to my car. I called Stan to be sure he still wanted to give her up and he did, so I put her in a travel cage in my car and headed for the veterinarian’s. She was checked over, given a bath and declared in good health so I took her home.

By this time, Bear was so spoiled, people questioned how he would get along with another dog, but I wasn’t worried. When I opened the door, and set her down on the floor. Bear, now about 39 lbs. and Millie looked at each other, their eyes lit up and they started chasing each other around, inside the condo. It was adorable. They’ve been best buds ever since.

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. It is by far the best book I have read on the subject of writing or crafting a story or novel. The book that I have in progress, is ‘finished,’ but now I am going through Mr. Maass’ book and literally addressing every area that he discusses. I thought my book was good before, but now I see what was missing. Hopefully this book will reach many young people and show them the love of Christ and God.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book for ages 8-12+ readers called, Beware the Fallen. It is the story of three siblings from a Christian home. The middle child, Ashton age eleven, feels left out and unloved, but neither is true. It takes a life-changing event (being kidnapped by a dragon and nearly losing his life) to bring him to a true relationship with the King and His Son.

This also brings love and understanding into his relationship with his older brother, Mican (thirteen) and younger sister, Shayla age ten. The story follows them for the next year and their many visits to talk with the King. The sequel follows Mican, Ashton and Shayla on their travels through time portals where they witness Biblical scenes, as they happen.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I love Jane Austen. Her characters and scenery are so vivid. I also love Agatha Christie. Her mysteries are intricate, without being gory. And a more recent author, Andrew Peterson is a new favorite. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is amazing. It is great for young people, but held my attention to the end.

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

When I was a kid, we had three acres. That’s not vast, but allowed us to have dogs and cats. I still remember all the names of my dogs: Peanut, Snowball, Pharaoh, Blue, and Foots. When we found Foots, he was a puppy, but had enormous feet, that’s where the name came from. He turned out to be mostly Great Dane and was huge.

My favorite cat and there were many, was Persia, a smoky gray Persian.

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

In my new book, the animals are not pets, they are characters in their own right. Some of the animals are in the service of the King. For example: Warrior, a noble horse; Patrice the leader of the butterflies; Ozwan the swan; Omuth the dragonfly; and of course a dove (the Holy Spirit).

Why do you include animals in your writing?

For this book, Beware the Fallen, it was a logical progression to use animals.

Since the new book takes place partly in a fallen, Garden of Eden-type setting, the dragon (Satan) has his followers. These animals are villains who inhabit the mysterious garden and create havoc for the three main characters.

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

The animals that I mentioned by name in question #7, who are in the Kings’ service are not ‘service animals’ as we use the term, but they do the King’s bidding, such as guiding the children to safety in various instances. They also talk and teach the children lessons during their journey.

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

As a fifth grader, I needed to do a book report and I found Black Beauty. I was a very slow reader, but I’ve always loved horses, so the horse in the book got me through. I now understand that there is a ‘lag-time’ between when my eye sees a word and when my brain registers it. “Way back then,” they didn’t understand problems like mine. I had a large vocabulary, but I always struggled to read. I never let it stop me. I went on to get a Master of Arts Degree from Regent University.

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

Take time to learn your craft. There is much more to writing than grammar and punctuation. Read contemporary best sellers in the area in which you want to write.

Contemporary, because although Jane Austen is amazing, most young people won’t sit still long enough to get through all of the details in the way she wrote. It is a different time that we live in.

And my best advice to any writer would be, ‘don’t be in a hurry.’ When I started writing I believed that God had a ‘mission’ for me and that I needed to hurry and get it done. Now I realize that even with a calling, waiting and timing are important.

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

Hire an editor to do deep edits, not just to put commas in the right place. It is pricey, but it is very necessary. Sometime you are so close to the story, you mentally read in what should be there. Your readers don’t have that luxury and an editor needs to check continuity and other issues. Use an editor that is in the business, not just a free-lancer. You can also learn a lot about the business side of publishing from an editor.

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Welcome back, Kristin Kisska!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome back our friend, Kristin Kisska.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Thank you for hosting me on the Pens, Paws, and Claws’ Writer Wednesday. I am a former contributing writer to this blog, and I’m thrilled to be a part of your animal-loving readership again!

My name is Kristin Kisska and I write suspense fiction. So far, I’ve published seven short stories. “Unbridled”, my horse-themed whodunit, is part of the Lethal Ladies’ mystery anthology, DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM.

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

“Unbridled,” as then mane suggests, is a horse-themed short story. In it, I have three horses that all board in the same equestrian facility located in South Carolina’s low country. Their riders are preparing for the opening competition of the spring season’s horse shows when one of them trots into his stall with an empty saddle, a broken rein, and no sign of his rider.

I’m currently writing my third novel, a domestic suspense which features a tabby cat named Lulu. She’s an intuitive pet, and knows when her teen owner needs a little TLC to cheer her up. Lulu also has a tendency to walk circles under her family’s feet, so can also be a bit of a liability.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading ICE BLONDE by Elaine Viets. While the novel didn’t include pets, I love a good forensic investigation. Her heroine, Angela Richman, didn’t disappoint. I recently had the privilege of meeting Elaine and hearing her make a presentation on incorporating forensics in writing. It’s amazing how many new investigation techniques are available today!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing my third novel, which is called MY GUARDIAN DEAR. It’s a domestic suspense about a grieving mother who searches for her late-son’s child, the granddaughter she learned of only after he passed away. As I mentioned above, this novel includes a sassy little feline named Lulu.

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

I grew up with all sorts of pets: cats, dogs, parakeets, gerbils, fish, and even a guinea pig and a ferret. There was no animal immune to my mother’s adoration! The one pet that comes to mind was Maitreyi, the Romanian calico cat that adopted me when I lived in Bucharest in my late twenties. She was queen of our little corner of villas and had beau vying for her attention most nights.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

For me, I use animals sparingly in my writing because I feel that the strength of their presence in a scene can risk distracting the reader from the plot or even present conflict. I either write them to diffuse the tension for the moment and give the reader a mini-break, or to help convey an emotion the character is experiencing. Animals are highly intuitive creatures, so for example, if a cat is purring, all in her near vicinity is calm.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When I was a young teen, my mother left to run an errand, but didn’t realize our cat had been napping on the top of her station wagon. I saw it and chased her down the street, but she didn’t year me yelling and screaming after her. The cat, by this point had awakened and instead of jumping off the car, sat upright facing the direction of traffic as calmly as if it were driving. Apparently, after leaving our neighborhood, multiple cars kept honking at her to alert her, but it wasn’t until she reached a stoplight that another driver knocked on her window and told her the cat was on the roof. I was never so relieved as to see my mom return home with the (perfectly safe and unharmed) cat sitting in her lap.

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

Becoming a writer was a big surprise to me. My education and professional experience was in business and finance, as I was analytically and mathematically bent. It wasn’t until I was almost forty years old when I was inspired to write a story. Within a week of my first inclination, I’d jotted an eight-page outline of a fleshed-out plot for a contemporary thriller. Three years later (I had little kids then so I was only writing when they slept), I finally typed the magic words, “The End.” That novel was never published, but it holds a very dear place in my heart. I’ve been writing short stories and novels ever since.

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

I wish I’d known that typing “The End” at the end of my manuscript didn’t really mean that I had a completed book. Sure, it’s a moment to be celebrated, but an author is still facing many rounds of revising, editing, critiquing, and polishing before she has a professional quality book. Often times, the post-production time takes longer than drafting the novel.

I also wish I’d known that while writing is mostly a solo adventure, there’s a huge writing community available to support me and cheer me on along my writerly journey. From my local Sisters in Crime chapter, to the writers I’ve met online (Twitter and Facebook) and in person at conferences, I’ve found my tribe with a wealth of resources and experience to help me improve.

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

My absolute favorite place to read is on a balcony overlooking the ocean. The beach my ultimate happy place, so of course, a novel must be open on my lap.

As far as writing goes, I create best while I’m in my home office, sitting at my desktop computer, with absolutely no background noise whatsoever. Anything else is a distraction. I’m envious of authors who can write anywhere, even on the go. I guess I get too distracted by different surroundings and activities.

About Kristin:

Kristin Kisska used to be a finance geek, complete with MBA and Wall Street pedigree, but now Kristin is a self-proclaimed fictionista. Kristin contributed short stories of suspense to seven anthologies, including Malice Domestic’s MYSTERY MOST EDIBLE (2019). She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Vice President of Sisters in Crime-Central Virginia, and James River Writers. Kristin lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

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Travels with Shammy

By Maggie King

Have you ever traveled with a cat? I don’t mean those horrendous drives to the vet with a shrieking animal in the back seat. I’m talking about soaring above the clouds, “flying the friendly skies,” with your favorite feline tucked under the seat in front of you. While you relax and sip your Cabernet, you feed tidbits to little [insert cat’s name here]. All is well.

Shammy was a sweet and glam calico cat who liked traveling. In the car, I’d let her out of her carrier and she’d gaze out the window, enjoying the passing scenery through the Antelope Valley of Southern California. Sometimes she’d crawl under the seats and get under my feet as I drove—not a good thing.

When Glen and I moved from California to Virginia in 1996, we had many things to consider (where to live, were to work, etc.). But the most pressing concern: how to get Shammy cross country. Sure, she enjoyed being a car passenger—but would she like it for three days in a car loaded up with our possessions? And the overnight stops at strange motels?

We came up with the purr-fect solution: Glen would drive the packed car and sleep in the strange motels. I would ship my car, leaving Shammy and me to travel in style, by air.

I learned that I didn’t have to put Shammy in cargo; she could accompany me in the cabin. I purchased a special carrier that would fit under the seat. The vet dispensed tranquilizers. We were all set.

At security, the TSA agent demanded that I take Shammy out of the carrier. If I’d anticipated this (this was pre-911 times) I would have brought a leash. I maintained the tightest of grips on Shammy until we made it through security and I could return her to the carrier.

On board, I braced myself for loud complaints from allergy-ridden passengers. Thankfully, the plane wasn’t full, and Shammy and I had three seats to ourselves. No one complained, in fact everyone was kind and asked how she was doing.

How was Shammy doing?

Anxious, bewildered, awake—those adjectives suffice to describe her state. I expected the tranquilizer to make her drowsy, but she remained hyper alert for the duration. She couldn’t stand up in the carrier that had to meet size regulations for under seat storage. Thankfully, she was quiet, and endured it all with her customary dignity.

And how was I doing?

I suspect that Shammy fared better than I did. I found the whole ordeal nerve-wracking to say the least. Mostly because of my concern for Shammy and not knowing what to expect from one minute to the next. Sure, we soared above the clouds, “flying the friendly skies.” But relaxing it wasn’t. As for tempting Shammy with tidbits . . . let’s just say she resisted temptation.

Minutes before boarding after a stopover in Baltimore, the heavens opened. Problematic, as we had to walk outside to board the puddle jumper that would take us to Charlottesville. A kind young man in an airport shop gave me two large plastic bags. I covered Shammy’s carrier with one, and draped the other over my head and shoulders. We dashed to the plane and boarded, Shammy completely dry, me only slightly damp.

Once in Charlottesville, we took a cab to pick up my car and headed for the motel where I had a reservation. The next day I got the keys to the apartment where we were to live for three months while we looked for a permanent home. Glen arrived four days later.

Shammy didn’t eat or use the litter box for a couple of days. After that, she loved the place. Squirrels, chipmunks, and birds came right up to the patio door where she parked herself 24/7. Occasionally she and a cat had a hissing contest.

That wraps up “Travels with Shammy.” Shammy crossed the rainbow bridge in 2002. When the Albemarle County (Charlottesville) SPCA built a new facility, Glen and I purchased a brick and dedicated it to our special friend: “Shammy King, in our hearts.”

In my Hazel Rose Book Group series, Hazel’s backstory reveals that her beautiful calico cat named Shammy accompanied her when she moved from Los Angeles to the east coast and settled in Richmond, Virginia.

Shammy lives on, in our hearts … and on the page.

Shammy has appeared in Pens, Paws, and Claws before. Read it here.

 

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: www.maggieking.com

Facebook: MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: authormaggieking

Amazon: Maggie’s Amazon Author Page

 

 

 

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Welcome, Linda O. Johnston

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Linda O. Johnston to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m Linda O. Johnston. I used to be a transactional real estate lawyer but I’m now a full-time writer. I write both mysteries and romantic suspense, and I’ve also written paranormal and time-travel romance. I have written four mystery series: the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series and the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. I’m also currently writing for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. And nearly all my recent stories include dogs!

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

I’m addicted to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Right now, my Cavaliers are Mystie, a Blenheim (red and white color) and Cari, a tricolor. They’re my babies!

My first mystery series was the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her tricolor Cavalier, Lexie. At the time, I was also a practicing lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills, and Lexie was our tricolor Cavalier. Unfortunately, our Lexie is no longer with us.

So far, none of my other stories have included Cavaliers, but that could always change!

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

The protagonists in my mysteries always are owned by dogs. In my current mystery series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, the protagonist Carrie, a veterinary technician who also owns a barkery where she sells the healthy treats she’s developed, as well as a human bakery, has a dog named Biscuit, a golden toy poodle-terrier mix who hangs out a lot in the barkery and accompanies Carrie most other places she goes.

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

When I was a child I had a brindle Boston Terrier named Frisky. Frisky was frisky! I really loved her, and she inspired me to want to become a veterinarian, though that didn’t happen for many reasons. But she did help to increase my addiction to dogs.

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

The animals, primarily dogs, in my writing are characters in their own right, though I don’t get into their points of view. But they’re there for their owners, who are the major characters in my stories, providing emotional support, humor and love.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Because I love animals, especially dogs! They add so much to people’s lives, whether they’re pets or just there inspiring us to help them and to be better people.

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

K-9s and service dogs show up sometimes in my stories, In Second Chance Solder, my first K-9 Ranch Rescue story for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, the story takes place at–what else?–a ranch where dogs are trained to be possible police K-9s. The hero Evan Colluro is a former military K-9 trainer and moves to the ranch with his former military K-9 Bear to help train the pups there. The sequel to this story is Trained To Protect, which also takes place at the K-9 ranch. There will also be a spin-off series soon about rescues, but I’m not sure how many K-9s will be involved there.

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

I suppose I’ve always known I was a writer. I started my first book, which remains unfinished, in high school, and I always enjoyed assignments where we had to write an essay or anything else.

The professions I’ve had also involve writing: advertising, public relations, and transactional lawyering–yes, contracts are a form of creative writing! I started getting short stories, then novels, published when I was a practicing attorney, and got up an hour earlier than anyone else in my household so I could write before getting the kids ready for school.

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

Well, my husband and I have been talking about the possibility of taking an African safari–which, these days, is fortunately to see and photograph animals, not harm them in any way. Why? Because I love animals, and this could be an amazing experience!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Mystie and Cari hang out with me, or with my husband, or stand on our front porch looking out the locked gate and telling me when other dogs walk by–or when one of our wonderful neighbors arrives with treats for them. When they want something, such as to go outside or for me to open the front door or anything else, one or the other of them will come into my office, sit down beside my chair, and just stare at me. Or sometimes Mystie will bark at my shoes in the kitchen to let me know she wants to go out.

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

I can’t count the number of TBR piles in my house, or the number of books in them, but you can be sure that most of them involve dogs!

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

Just do it! Write! It’ll come to you even if you think you don’t know how. The other thing I’d suggest is to join one or more of the many writing organizations, particularly those specializing in the genre you want to write in, and attend as many chapter meetings as you can. Writers are very supportive of each other.

About Linda:

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series for Midnight Ink.  Her fifth and final book in the series, For a Good Paws, is a May 2019 release.  She has also written Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Pet Rescue Mystery Series and Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  Linda also writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and nearly all her current stories involve dogs.u!

Let’s Be Social:

Linda’s Website

Linda’s Facebook Page

 

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Welcome Back, Susan Schwartz!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Susan Schwartz and her kitties back to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing:

I began writing in 2006 with freelance articles. I wrote on all sorts of topics and researched these pieces thoroughly. I made some money, but I was more interested in fiction writing. I joined the Virginia Writers Club and started learning how to write with style. I found good mentors and people who wanted to help me succeed. I took over leadership of the club for two years giving back to the writing community and helping to mentor a few new writers.

I have been an Operating Room Nurse for 19 years. As you can imagine, I see many interesting and gory things while working. I channel many of those sights and sounds into my stories. I love blood and guts, and I tend to write stories where people are getting killed or maimed in some fashion. I also try to write them with a twist making you wonder what hit you at the end. I have enjoyed this genre immensely because of its ability to lead the reader into something they were not expecting.

I have three short stories published at present in the Nightmares & Echoes series. They are “The Sparkling Floor,” “I Thought You Did,” and “Blurred Line.  “Blurred Line” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in Long Fiction by the Horror Writers Association in 2016. My non-fiction piece in the Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology is titled “Using my Karate Chops in Nursing.” Paranormal Encounters just came out in March 2019. I also have a non-fiction book coming in May 2019 titled Haunted Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties. In addition, another haunted book is being published October 2019.

Please check out my website to see future happenings and new books coming out soon. https://www.susanschwartzauthor.com.

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

I have had up to 14 feral cats in the past. I also took care of a baby squirrel for several days and a silverback bat. We just lost the last one, Mr. Imp, in 2015. At present, we have two kitties, Speck & Manchego. We have multiple fish tanks, and we also love on one leopard gecko named Zoey.

I do not use them in my writing, but Zoey likes to help me write sometimes. She loves to write about cricket murder mysteries.

Here are some of our fishies:

Our eel, Houdini:

My three blood parrots (Sebastian, Scar, and Pierre) and pleco (Zeke), I sent this out as a Christmas picture one year because they apparently were singing along with the carols:

What are you reading now?

I tend to read three to four books at once. My list at present consists of:

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly. It is the 2nd book in his Late Show series, but this one places Ballard and Bosch together for some crazy good fun.

 Macrame Murder by my great friend, Mollie Cox Bryan. She is a very sweet lady and an awesome writer of cozy mysteries.

 Italian Iced by Kylie Logan. Loving Italian cuisine and goodies, this one just piqued my interest with the title.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am starting to research for another haunted book on another section of Virginia. I just had two stories come out in Paranormal Encounters in March. I have a paranormal romance novel that I have been working on for several years that I want to finish. I also have about six short stories in the works for a couple anthologies and just from pleasure writing.

Who is your favorite author and why?

For horror influences, I look to Stephen King and Bentley Little. The medical drama comes from Michael Palmer and Robin Cook. For general fiction, I like David Baldacci, Brad Parks, and Michael Connelly.

All of these produce a great story with plenty of red herrings to make you think something else is going to happen. Then they let slip that crucial detail that spends everything around and just leaves you so confused.

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

Milo and Otis was definitely a favorite with the dog and the cat. I also so loved Homeward Bound. The voiceovers in both movies were simply the best. It always makes me wonder now when my cats are looking at me what they are thinking.

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

I started writing back in 2003 doing fanfic for several TV shows I watched at the time. They weren’t really great stories, but mainly continuations of what I thought should have happened. I really enjoyed writing the different views on some of the characters. Once these got some comments, I started wondering if I could write longer and more in-depth pieces. I am happy to say I can and I do.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Manchego and Speck are normally chasing each other back and forth through the house. Manchego is around 18 months old, and we rescued her off the street on a cold winter’s night at the age of about two months. We found Speck at the Goochland Animal Shelter to help Manchego get over her separation anxiety. Speck is around nine months old, and he has been a welcome addition to the family. Although it did take about two weeks for Manchego to warm up to him.

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

I thought about this one. These weren’t really pets, but I took care of them for a length of time. We had a baby squirrel named Lucky that had fallen out of his nest, and his mother never came to find him. My father, knowing my love of animals, called me to come get him and take care of him. It was a fun experience for about four days until we found a Wildlife Rehabilitator that would take him. Fun Fact: Squirrels are lactose-intolerant.

The second unusual animal we loved on was a Silverback Bat. This guy had fallen on our front porch and didn’t move. We were worried he was dead. We got a plastic container, much like the ones we kept crickets in for our gecko, and scooped him up with it. Over time, he started to move by hopping, so we named him Scooter. We also took care of him for several days until we could find a Bat Rehabilitator in the area. We discovered that he had burned up one wing. If he couldn’t fly, he couldn’t hunt for food. Sadly, he passed away a couple days later. I still have fond memories of him though, and I love to walk at dusk to see the bats flying. Fun Fact: Bats look just like puppy dogs in the face. Check out some pictures.

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

The best advice given to me by many authors in different genres is to read that which you are trying to write. The greats in this genre, such as Stephen King, Bentley Little, and Richard Laymon, have shown me how to write and what people are looking for when they read this genre. Stephen King also wrote a book, On Writing, which has helped me a great deal as well.

Write what you know and love. Writing becomes much easier when you know where you want to go with a particular piece. I always know the ending. I leave my title for when I finish because you want to write a great story, and then finish it with a title that encompasses all that is inside.

Don’t stop because someone told you No. This just means you have to go another way instead of the path you are taking. Keep trying and don’t give up. You can do it!

About Susan

I have been an avid writer for around 13 years doing everything from writing freelance articles to editing manuscripts for other authors. I also love to write horror stories that have a twist at the end.

My alter ego is an Operating Room Nurse/Nurse Educator who loves creating tales from the interesting and weird things I have seen. I am a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Virginia Writers Club where I serve as President of the Richmond Chapter and 1st Vice-President of the state organization. I have two novels in the works, a paranormal romance and a medical thriller. My non-fiction book, Haunted Charlottesville, is being released in May 2019.

Please see my website for more info: www.susanschwartzauthor.com

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Gibbs Announces an Audiobook Giveaway

Leroy Jethro “Gibbs” reporting in with some great news. My human, Judy Penz Sheluk, has just released the audiobook version of Past & Present, Book 2 in her Marketville Mystery series and she’s got 1 free download code for US/Canada Audible members and 1 free download code for UK Audible members for two lucky listeners. Narrated by Kelli Lindsay, here’s a bit about it:

Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…
It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto?
Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.
It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted.

If you’d like to listen to a 5-minute sample, click here.

PS: the audiobook is also available for purchase on Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

*For a chance to win, please leave a comment requesting UK or US/Canada code. Winners will be notified by May 1st. Note you must be an Audible member to use the code. 

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Welcome, J. L. Canfield!

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes J. L. Canfield.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello, I am originally from Jacksonville, Florida, was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, have lived in upstate New York, (Clifton Park, a suburb north of Albany), Portsmouth, VA, Charlotte, NC, and now reside in the Richmond, VA area.

I am an award-winning writer of mysteries and women’s fiction.

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

I have two dogs, a Cavachon (female)and a Cavapoo (male). They are my only family and my muses. I did use them in a children’s story I wrote for a kid lit class I took. But they have not made an appearance yet in any work. Spoiler alert: That changes in book three of my mystery series. In the women’s fiction which will be released in May, a golden retriever named Tucker does play a role in a decision the female lead makes regarding the next step in her life.

What are you reading now?

I have been working my way through Bernhard Cornwell’s The Saxon Tales series, but I needed a break from that, so I am now reading Jacqueline Winspear’s In This Grave Hour.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am finishing up book two in the detective mystery series starring Philip Samyn and have sketched out ideas for his next story. I am in the research and plotting phase of another women’s fiction which I will begin writing this summer, if not before.

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

Animals are a physical extension of humans and feelings. For me, my dogs got me through my divorce. My ex-husband and I fought over them. He wanted, in our settlement papers, to have the first right to them when I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford to keep them. I counter with a demand for puppy support in exchange for visitation twice a month. He dropped the issue. In the upcoming Icy Roads story, the young woman who is the central character is dealing with ever-changing problems in her marriage. She really wishes she had a dog both in her happy state and more so when her marriage falls apart.

In the third book of the Samyn mystery series, he too will be changing things in his life, and I have plans for an animal, not sure what species yet to appear in his world.

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

My father shielded me from many childhood stories and books with animals. Usually, it was the ones where the animal dies (think Bambi, Sounder). I was a very tender-hearted child. I wouldn’t eat pork (he had a farm with pigs) or deer meat ( I often saw deers up close), and I would cry when their meat was in the house. So my favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I wanted to see it since Bob Hoskins was in it and I admired his acting. Also, it intrigued me this concept of live action sharing screen time with animation. I think it’s funny, well written, with gifted actors pulling this together.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

My father bought my mother for their anniversary precisely what she wanted, a white German Shepherd. It was a beautiful puppy which she named Rascal Von Stuckey. However, the dog really didn’t like her, and it really disliked my half-brothers. It bonded with me though. Maybe because I was the smallest in the house and its instinct to protect me when my father was away. I don’t know. What I do know is the dog stayed by me whenever I was home which was great since my brothers loved making me cry. When I was five or six, I contracted mumps on both sides of my face. Rascal stayed in my room. He would not go out unless I stood on the porch so he could see me. We also found out he would not take food from anyone except me. My father was a huge man who most people found intimidating. He stood over 6’ had a shaved head, and weighed around 250 or so. Since my mother’s teenage sons were afraid to feed him, my mother had managed to do so once when she got him on the porch and threw food out the window to him. My father was home and said he would take over my chore until I was well. My father’s hand spread from pinkie to thumb was about 12 inches. He opened Rascals food, leaned over to place it in his bowl and Rascal took my father’s hand and his food in his mouth. When my father managed to pull his hand out of the dog’s mouth, he came into my room and told me it didn’t matter that I was sick, I would have to feed the dog. Someone would get the food in the bowl, but I would have to put it down for Rascal.

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

I wrote my first play when I was six and in second grade. I was a ferocious reader, and the idea of creating stories fascinated me. I wanted to do it. Every year in elementary school I wrote a class play. In middle school, I worked on the school newspaper because I then wanted to be an investigative reporter thanks to the movie All The President’s Men. High School, I took creative writing and theatre classes. During college, I took writing classes but was told by my mother (who wasn’t paying for my education) not to major in writing because I would never make money at it. One of the BAs I received was in Broadcast Journalism. I considered it a compromise. It wasn’t until my divorce that I rediscovered my passion for writing. It helped me get through a four-year war with my ex. It gave me outlets for my emotions. It wasn’t until I received the PenCraft award that I could say the word author. It took a lifetime for me to think I could write and people would like it. All I ever knew was after I did a good day of writing, I walked away with the best high in the world.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My Cavachon, Baroness Sassafrass Von Brong, and Cavapoo Sir Remington J. Wigglesby lay on their bed under my desk or on the daybed I have in my writing room. They are always near me ready to listen when I need to read a passage out loud.

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

Think hard about it. Writing is not for those who dream of big dollar signs and fame. Most writers do not earn enough to live on, and that’s according to statistics. If you are a person who cannot take rejection or critical commentary of your work, then avoid being a writer. If you have difficulty in thinking up story ideas along with plots and twists, then think twice about writing.

Writing is painting pictures in readers heads with words. Like other artists, writers struggle for an audience, for being satisfied with their creations, with self-doubt, with acceptance, with selling their work, but those who know the only way they can achieve a personal sense of a euphoria that comes from crafting something from nothing are ones who were gifted with the skills needed to be a writer. If that describes you, then dive in. Just make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons, working to become something you love, not to live out a fantasy you have. Writing is tough, it’s harder than reading a book. But it is to me the best job in the world.

About Julie:

J.L.Canfield was born in Florida, raised in North Carolina, lived for a short time in upstate New York and now resides in the Richmond, VA area with her two dogs, Sassie and Remy. When not planted behind her laptop harvest words from her brain, she’s outside with a camera trying to capture the beauty she finds in nature. When possible she’s busy sleeping in the sun while baking on a beach.

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Amazon Book Link: What Hides Beneath

https://amzn.to/2GtBHIM 

http://www.blackrosewriting.com/literary/whathidesbeneath.

Icy Roads Preorder link:

http://www.blackrosewriting.com/literary/icyroads.

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Welcome, Ajesh Sharma!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Ajesh Sharma to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I was born in the Indian capital of New Delhi and finished school in Kolkata. I started my career in that city as a techie, designing software systems. I founded and ran a software products company for a decade before moving to Canada in 1997.

I started writing about 8 or 9 years ago and realized I didn’t know what to write and had no idea what my style or voice was. I then developed my blog, currently www.sloword.com, as a means to learn how to write, starting out writing poetry as well as stories from my life. I created multiple characters and tried different styles.

In 2014 I wrote a short story, which I showed a friend. She encouraged me to develop it and it grew into my biggest work so far, “A Couple of Choices”. This is a 3-Act play, self-published on Amazon Kindle in December 2017. I have also had a couple of short stories published in a couple of online magazines.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

One Bluish Egg – is my autobiography, up to the point I landed in Canada. It stands at around 72k words, but needs editing and some additional chapters. It focuses mostly on my career and the interesting people I have met and strange situations I have been in.

Angler on the Credit and Other Stories – A collection of short stories.

Seriously Awful Poems – is a collection of poetry, some very serious and solemn with some humorous ones mixed in.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have many that absolutely did influence my days as a reader. James Herriot, the Yorkshire vet and his tales of the people and animals he met in his life was a well-loved and well-regarded author. Today, I would say that PG Wodehouse stands out as the ultimate in writing class. His wordplay, the classical references used to great effect to bring out the humor in the situation and his ability to construct a sentence are unparalleled.

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

When I was about 4 years old, I remember being taken to see a litter of guinea pig sized creatures. One of them came home with us. He grew fast. He loved milk and the sound of my mother pouring his milk out would see him racing away to the kitchen. He would then remember that he was not allowed into the kitchen itself, so he would come to a sliding stop just outside the door, panting with excitement. My oldest sister didn’t believe we needed a dog, so we gave him away, to a neighbor. We kids would walk to school and he was there in the morning, bounding up to the gate of his new house, barking greetings at us, growing up fast into the Alsatian he was.

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

Animal Farm. The old horse, Boxer, to my mind, symbolizes the people who lose the most, yet are the ones who go to their doom still proclaiming their faith. I find that the saddest yet truest human frailty.

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

Back in high school, in my final year, I competed for the school’s two-man debating team. I came third and thus didn’t make it. I was asked, however, to write an essay on the motion to help the team. I did and sent it in. I heard nothing more about it for a week. Then one day Hindi language teacher, looked at me, nodded and said “Oh, Sharma, I hear you write essays.. interesting.”

In my final year of school, I wrote a badly concocted extended skit for the annual teachers day celebration. It was a day when the students put up shows for the benefit of the teachers. This was banned by the Jesuit Rector on the ground that it may be offensive to some.

These two episodes stand out. Between 1978 and 2010, however, I wrote nothing except consulting reports. I read that and realize I never really knew I was a writer and still don’t!

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

I’d like to see one of my plays on stage. By far, that would be fantastic!

There are other things, like visiting Bethel, NY to see the site of the Woodstock which I did 43 years to the day late. Also, last year, I walked across the Abbey Road zebra crossing!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

I don’t have pets. I do have a grand-doggie, a pug, who comes visiting sometimes. Usually, she is content to sit right next to me and snore away.

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

The Collected Short Stories of Saki ( HH Munro )

Antrobus Collection by Lawrence Durrell

Collected works of James Thurber

I have only one TBR.

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

It takes more than writing ability. The friends you think you had won’t usually be there to help mobilize support. At least, in my case, that it true. People will say nice things about your writing and gush about how much they loved it, maybe on social media, however, this doesn’t translate to exposure / sales. You need one or two very influential people in your corner to publicize your work.

Being able to market your work without self-deprecation and spamming is hard! Balancing self-doubt with a brazen sales pitch isn’t easy.

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

I’m almost tempted to say “Don’t!”. But in all fairness, enjoy your writing first. You should be able to read what you wrote and like it. It should make you laugh, cry, drive some emotion. That means you’ve found your voice, usually.

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

Read. Read a lot of different types. Read blogs, interact with the writers there. Explore, assimilate by osmosis so that your unique style becomes a part of you, unforced, natural and unmistakably you.

About Ajesh:

Ajesh Sharma, is a Canadian author and playwright. His short stories have appeared in The Telegram Magazine and Unbound eMagazine. A Couple of Choices is his first play.

He uses his blog, www.sloword.com, to showcase his love for wordplay and humor, his intense dislike for cats and his fanatical adoration of okra.

When not wearing colorful socks or attempting to play guitar, he tries to read, write, learn photography and spend time with one wife, two grown up sons, one daughter-in-law and her dog on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada.

He can be found here:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17494625.Ajesh_Sharma

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ajesh-Sharma/e/B07JYJJ31F?ref=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sloman2608

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/ajesh-sharma

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AjeshBSharma/

 

 

 

 

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The Amazing Goliath and His Incredible Talents

I met Carolyn Troiano in Richmond, Virginia. She and her husband Bill have trained their Rottweiler, Goliath to do some amazing things. See the video links at the bottom of the interview. This is my interview with Bill Troiano about Goliath, his training, his amazing talents, and their new books… ~Heather

Tell our readers a little about yourself and Goliath and his special talents.
Well, I grew up in Maine near a game farm, and I’ve always felt a special bond with animals. I’ve always had pets, including rescued raccoons and squirrels, and I’ve trained many of them over the years to be obedient and perform some tricks.
I first met Goliath at a local dog park that I was visiting with my American Bulldog, Angel. A gentleman came over with his 6-month-old Rottweiler puppy, and we started a conversation. He told me that he was moving out of state, and would not be able to bring his dog with him. He was looking for a really good home for him, and when I looked at the puppy, I could tell right away that he was special. We had an immediate connection. I brought him home to see how he would get along with Angel and another rescued male American Bulldog, “Spike,” who had joined our household earlier that year. The new puppy fit right in, showing great affection for our family and his new “siblings.”

After talking with my wife and son, we agreed to provide a home and much love for our new addition, “Goliath.” He was a gently puppy, and over the years, he grew to be a gentle giant.

Goliath has brought us more joy, laughter and love than any of us could ever have imagined. He is truly part of the family, and he works really hard, both in learning new skills and in building relationships with all of us.

How long did it take to train him? Did you all use any special techniques?
Dogs love to go for a ride, so whenever I would shake the car keys, Goliath understood what that meant, and got very excited. I would toss the keys on the floor and ask him to bring them to me if he wanted to go for a ride, and, of course, he brought them to me every time.

I did the same thing with his leash. I would ask him if he wanted to go for a walk, and, again, he would get excited. I would tell him to get me his leash, and he would bring it right to me.

Goliath seemed to understand that everything has a name, and if I communicated with him in that way, he would eventually begin to understand the words associated with each item I presented to him. Of course, it requires a lot of repetition, but he seems to learn more quickly with each item I present to him.

Goliath is a really fast learner, more so than any other animal I’ve ever trained. When I teach him the name of an object, or a new trick, he learns very quickly. He knows and can retrieve over 700 everyday objects, including stuffed animals, tools, sporting equipment and other household items. I’ve been working with him on these since he has been with us, and he’s now 6 years old.

I’ve also taught Goliath a lot of tricks. He can speak, stay, roll over, beg, play dead, give me his left paw and then his right paw, and then when I ask for a hug, he wraps his front paws around my waist. Goliath loves a good belly rub, and when I ask him if he wants one, he rolls over and raises his belly to be stroked.
I taught him to catch a treat that I would toss to him, which is a very common skill for animals, especially dogs. Once Goliath mastered the catch, I had him sit and then placed a treat on his nose, making sure I used a flat one, so that it would stay in place more easily. I told Goliath to “stay,” and continued to hold his head steady while he balanced the treat on his nose. Once he learned to balance it without my hand in place, I removed the treat and gave him a different treat as a reward.

Next, I taught him to flip it in the air and catch it in his mouth, building on what he had already learned. While holding a treat in my hand, Goliath learned that his job was to focus on the treat while remaining still. I then guided my hand closer to his mouth and said “catch,” with my hand close enough that he wouldn’t jump or move. The first time I did this, I guided the treat all the way to his mouth. I continued practicing the steps of catching and balancing with him for a couple of weeks before teaching him to flip the treat off of his nose and catch it in his mouth. At first, he ended up tossing the treat off of his nose, but after some repetition, and remaining positive, he eventually caught the treat.

Another important point to note is that your body language is critical to success. You have to remain calm and very positive, and never show any frustration if your dog is not catching on as quickly as you would like. Patience and repetition are key aspects to continuing progress.

I can also put a piece of steak under his paw and tell him to leave it, and he learned not to touch it or even look at it until I give him the “okay” command.
Rewarding his progress is absolutely critical. When I first started teaching him, I would give him a small piece of meat each time he retrieved an object. As the list of objects began to grow, I slowed that down and would reward him after retrieving seven items. You have to know how to balance the reward and tie it directly to his ability to focus.

When I use the phrase “bad guy,” he responds aggressively, barking very loudly. If I say “good guy,” he jumps up and gives me a hug. Every morning, I ask him to remove the covers on my bed, and he pulls them down, and then brings me my socks. If I’m wearing a hoodie, I’ll bend over and ask him to pull it off, and he’ll do that.

Goliath also loves to swim, and can retrieve a 50-pound log and bring it back to the shoreline. He’s an extremely agile dog, and loves to exercise. His breed is built for hard work, and the more you challenge them, the more they love it.

How did you know Goliath had a special aptitude or talent?
You just have to look into Goliath’s eyes and see that human quality about him, it’s just amazing. It’s as if he can read your thoughts. He seems to understand things at a much deeper level than any animal I’ve come across in my life. I think our connection has really been at the heart of his desire and willingness to learn. He always wants to please me and he works really hard. In fact, he thrives on it, as many of his breed do, as they’re in the working dog group.

Goliath has an unusual ability to memorize the names of objects. It all started with a couple of stuffed animals. I noticed how incredibly fast he learned the names of them. My wife gave Goliath a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal that talks and vibrates when you press its belly. Goliath loved this, and the next day, I asked him where Winnie-the-Pooh was, and he immediately ran downstairs and retrieved it. The other amazing thing is that he never forgets what he learns. I can put away an item he knows for several months, and, sure enough, when I take it out again and ask him to retrieve it he does so perfectly and without hesitation.

Most dogs will identify a few favorite toys, but as I said earlier, Goliath has learned the names of over 700 items. I’m always at garage and yard sales looking for unusual objects to bring into the mix. In fact, this week I taught him to retrieve a man’s roller skate. He loves this one, in particular, because I send it rolling across the floor, and he chases it and brings it back to me. With toys, I usually let him play with each one for a while before teaching him to retrieve it by name. He always gets excited when I bring home something new.
I also continue to challenge Goliath and test his skills. He knows I believe in him and he trusts me implicitly. Just as with people, dogs have talents that will remain hidden unless you unleash them (pardon the pun).

One big fallacy is that dogs can’t see colors. Goliath has proven that he can distinguish objects by color. I have six golf balls in different colors, and if I ask him to get the green one, or the yellow one, and so forth, he gets it right every time. The same is true with some other items, such as combs in different colors, but which are otherwise identical.

Then I started testing him on colors using objects he had never seen before. I have an orange cone that I use for teaching tennis, and he knows that it’s a cone. So I brought in cones in several other colors and asked him to get the yellow cone, the green cone, the blue cone and the red cone. He retrieved every one of them correctly, just based on knowing colors.

Goliath has two toothbrushes, a yellow one and a purple one, and he can pick them out by color. He also has a bunch of different footballs, and knows the red one, yellow one and black one. He knows the football that’s half blue and half orange. Goliath also knows two different NFL team footballs with the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers colors and logos. He knows them all by name and never misses.

I have a number of stuffed animals and other objects that are identical in every way except for size, and Goliath can retrieve the big one and the little one of each character correctly every time. I have three stuffed reindeer that all look very much alike, but he knows the difference because one I call “Rudolph,” a second one is “Talking Rudolph” and the third is “Coach,” which is the character who plays the reindeer coach in the old “Rudolph the Reindeer” TV movie.

Tell us about some of Goliath’s adventures. Where has he visited?

Goliath spends most of his time locally, in parks, on trails, and in ponds, enjoying the outdoors with his “siblings” and other dog friends. He has traveled to many locations in the region where he performs at Pet Expos and SPCA events. Goliath has a lot of trophies, and also comes home with a lot of “SWAG” from these shows. I often laugh that he brings in enough snacks and other items to support the rest of our pets.

How long has Goliath lived with you?
We’ve been blessed with Goliath for the last 5 ½ years.

Do you have any other pets?
Yes. We have three more Rottweilers, all rescues, along with Angel, our American Bulldog, a one-year-old cat, and two very large parrots. One is a Military Macaw and the other is a Double Yellow-Headed Amazon, and they both speak. They all get along and are respectful of each other. We’ve had as many as twenty-one pets at one time, mainly rescues, covering seven different species: dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots, ferrets, raccoons and squirrels. They were introduced to each other at a very young age, and forged relationships that would defy conventional thought. They always had fun and it was incredible to watch them devise games to play with each other. They learned from each other in ways that confounded us, and as “siblings,” they often teased each other. I often think that we, as humans, can learn so much about how to relate to other people just by observing animals and the relationships they build and nurture.

What’s your funniest Goliath story?
Goliath learned to close the door after coming in from outside. If someone leaves the refrigerator door open for too long, he’ll come by and close it. He even opened up the front door for my wife when she locked herself out. She stood by the latch, asking him to give her a hug, and the neighbors, who were out on their front porch, kept asking if she wanted help, assuming the dog would never open the door. Lo and behold, within a couple of minutes, Goliath flipped the bolt open to everyone’s amazement, but my wife knew he could do it, and I’m sure Goliath sensed that she had complete faith in him. He truly can sense that you’re rooting for him and I think that’s just an amazing quality that differentiates Goliath from other dogs.

What is your favorite place to visit with your dogs?
There are a couple of ponds that we take Goliath to swim in, and we meet up with friends and their dogs for a play date. Goliath loves to see his dog friends, and he absolutely loves the water. I think the water exercise is a really important thing for animals to keep them healthy and even psychologically happy.

Years ago, we had a female Rottweiler, “Venus,” who lived to be 15 years old, and I attribute that to the fact that we lived on Lake Anna at the time, and swimming was part of her daily regimen. In fact, one morning I let the dogs out and forgot the gate to the dock was open. Venus leaped off the dock and right into a bass fishing boat. One of the guys in the boat jumped overboard out of fear, while Venus jumped in the other guy’s lap and started licking him. When his friend surfaced, the guy in the boat was laughing his head off. I’m sure he’ll be telling that story for years to come.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
“Marley and Me,” by John Grogan, is a book about the lovable Labrador Retriever and his time spent with his family. It was filled with joy and sadness. We’ve had many dogs, and reading the book, I could only think of all the laughter and passion we felt for these animals as they enriched our lives. There is no greater love than that which an animal confers on his master, and no greater gift than the loyalty and love they return so selflessly and so eagerly. All of my dogs exhibited the same characteristics and I could really feel that sense of loyalty and unconditional love that Marley gave to his family. We’ve truly been blessed by the animals that have come into our lives, depending on us for their existence and trusting us to treat them with respect. It’s a bond you can’t explain in ordinary terms.

What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’m reading an old book about a raccoon. It’s called Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, written by Sterling North about his childhood in Wisconsin. He writes about spending a year of his childhood raising a baby raccoon, during WWI, and the story also chronicles the changes in his family and the area around him during that time. It speaks to transcending loss, and finding humor in the small things in life. It reminds us the importance of taking care of those around us who need that special care until they can take care of themselves, and the lessons of life that we can learn from each other.

There was a raccoon that used to come to my window when I was younger, and I named him “Bandit.” In the 1990s, my wife and I raised three orphaned baby raccoon brothers, “Huey,” “Dewey” and “Louie,” in the 1990s, as part of an animal rescue program. Watching them grow for two years, before introducing them to the creek behind our house, was an adventure. It was sad to let them go, but life has its cycles and everything must be done in its time. We loved having them with us for that time, but they were ready to migrate up the creek and join the rest of the raccoons. They were ready to mate.

What advice would you give to new dog owners or folks interesting in adopting a new, four-legged family member?
Ask yourself why you are contemplating bringing a pet into your life, and remember, it’s not just coming into your home, but into your life. A pet is a living member of your household, not an accessory to your home. With dogs, the breed is also crucial to your decision. Make sure you understand what kind of dog you’re thinking about bringing home and how they would fit in.
Are you home a lot, or do you travel? Do you have someone who can look after your dog if you do have to travel or be away from home? Do you like to be outside in the yard or take walks in the park? Are you willing to spend the time and patience to train your pet to obey?

You also need to think about potential allergies when selecting a pet. How much work are you willing to put into cleaning up after them? Some dogs shed a lot during certain times every year. You also need to think about unforeseen veterinary bills, as you never know what it will take to keep your pet healthy throughout its life.

What advice would you give folks about dog training?
You must be patient. As with any living creature, they all have a certain level of ability and you have to set your expectations accordingly. Know your dog’s breed and what their typical strengths and weaknesses, but don’t automatically box them into those categories. Just be aware of them. As with children, you have to encourage them and guide them, and praise all of their work. Don’t set unrealistic expectations or get frustrated if they don’t deliver according to your needs or desires. It’s not about you. It’s about giving your love to a creature of the earth, and not expecting anything but love in return. Animals are individuals, and you have to find out what makes them special and makes them thrive, and focus on those talents.

Does Goliath have any upcoming events?

Well, a story about Goliath will be in The Total Rottweiler Magazinewhich is published in 134 countries.

He has done a number of shows at local and regional SPCA events and Pet Expos, most recently at The World of Pets Expoat Hampton Coliseum, in Hampton, VA, on February 18, 2019.  Goliath won the talent contest.

That was Goliath’s 6th birthday, and he celebrated in style with his “sibling” Rottweilers.  You can see some of the video and pictures on Goliath’s Facebook page, showing the gang in their party hats, waiting to dig into the birthday feast.

Goliath’s next appearance will be at the Dog Gone Dog Show,” sponsored by the Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, in Kilmarnock, VA, on April 20, 2019.

Goliath is also a YouTube sensation, with many videos showing his ability to retrieve items by memory, and to do tricks.  Most recently, I was contacted by someone who would like to do a documentary on Goliath, so that will be very exciting!

Goliath is usually very busy with shows through year-end, and he is especially fond of the “Southside SPCA” events in Farmville, VA, doing a charity show for them every year in December.  We definitely like to do the shows that will benefit other animals and promote the idea of providing homes for those animals in need.

Tell us about your books.

We’re putting together a series of children’s books called ­“Goliath Loves to Learn.”  Each book is based on a particular theme for learning.  Children will love to learn about colors, shapes, sizes, and other themed topics, alongside Goliath, who is always eager to learn about new things.  I think kids will really appreciate these books, as they’re based on a real dog and his capabilities.  If Goliath can learn, then hopefully they’ll realize that they can learn too.  I think it will be very encouraging for them, and show them that anything is possible, if you just give it your best.  Goliath loves new challenges, and we hope he can convey that “can do” attitude to children.

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