Welcome, Marilyn Levinson!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write mysteries, novels for kids, and the occasional romantic suspense. My first published book was a YA called AND DON’T BRING JEREMY, which came out in 1985 or 86. About fifteen years ago I started writing mostly mysteries. My most recent series is the Haunted Library mysteries, which I write as Allison Brook. DEATH OVERDUE (Oct, 2017) and READ AND GONE,(Oct 2018) the first two books in the series, have been receiving a good deal of attention and acclaim. DEATH OVERDUE was an Agatha nominee.

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

 I live with my red tom Sammy, who is thirteen years old. Sammy is very smart and very affectionate. He also bites occasionally, which has earned him a pretty bad reputation among my friends, some of whom wish I’d gotten rid of him a long time ago. But I would never do anything like that! Sammy isn’t a model for any of the cats that appear in my books. Like the cats in my life, the cats in my books have their own distinct personalities.

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

Smoky Joe is an important character in the Haunted Library series. The half-grown grey cat with the bushy tail appears one morning outside Carrie Singleton’s cottage in DEATH OVERDUE, the first book in the series. He jumps into Carrie’s car and since she’s late for work, she brings him to the library. She’s pleasantly surprised when Smoky Joe—as she names him—proves to be people-friendly and a big favorite of the patrons. Sally, her boss, finds herself having to agree that Smoky Joe is now the Clover Ridge Library cat. Of course Carrie brings him home with her at night. He plays an important role in READ AND GONE, the second book in the series.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading a Val McDermid mystery. She’s one of my favorite authors.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished writing the third book in the series. My working title is REFERENCED TO DEATH because the unpleasant reference librarian is murdered. With such an unpopular character that blackmails colleagues and neighbors, you can be sure there are many suspects. Smoky Joe proves to be a loyal companion to Carrie, my sleuth.

Who is your favorite author and why?

There are so many authors I adore and too many to name. I had to reread many Agatha Christie novels when I wrote my mystery MURDER A LA CHRISTIE because my characters, who are in a book club, discuss several Christie books. I discovered I still enjoyed her books and that they held up for me. I also reread Josephine Tey’s mysteries when I wrote MURDER THE TEY WAY. Again, the books were still wonderful to me.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I love to include animals in my books because I’ve had a furry companion most of my life. To me, the animals in my books are characters just like the people. In some of my books the animals play a role in helping to solve the mystery or they help their owners when their lives are in danger..

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

I loved the book and the movie “Lassie Come-Home.” Such a touching story about a devoted collie that wants to live with the boy he loves. I also loved the movie Seabiscuit, though I’ve never ridden a horse.

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

When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a writer or a ballerina. I started writing short stories in the second or third grade. After a while I stopped because I didn’t know how to write anything longer than a few pages. I needed to learn how to plot a story. I came back to writing in my early thirties when I was a young mother. I haven’t stopped writing since.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My Sammy lies close to me on my office carpet as I write. Usually he’s fast asleep. sometimes lying on his back.

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

I have piles and piles of print mysteries waiting to be read. I also have hundreds on my Kindle. I play to read the “Best Mystery Short Stories of 2017” soon and another Val McDermid.

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

I write at my desk iMac, which has a big screen, something I require. I often read in bed or in the recliner in my office. Both places are very comfortable.

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

Keep at it. Read. Join a critique group. Join Sisters in Crime and the Guppies if you’re a mystery writer. Keep on writing.

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50 Fabulous Pet People That You Should Follow on Twitter

Sheri Levy is under the weather. We hope she’s feeling better soon. Heather’s filling in for her this week…

I love Twitter for keeping up with interesting people and cool ideas. And there are so many pet lovers out on Twitter. I started compiling a list and decided to share it. Here are 50 fabulous tweeters (in no particular order) that you should follow.

  1. Jeanne Adams
  2. Judy Penz Sheluk
  3. Sheri Levy
  4. Teresa Inge
  5. Maggie King
  6. Tracy Weber
  7. Debbie DeLouise
  8. Kristina Stanley
  9. Samantha McGraw
  10. Ernie and Bertie
  11. Krista Davis
  12. Ellery Adams
  13. Sparkle Abbey
  14. Bill Blume
  15. Humorous Animals
  16. Jayne Ormerod
  17. Cuties Overload
  18. Kristin Kisska
  19. Nuzzies
  20. Rosemary Stevens
  21. Barb Goffman
  22. Rosemary Shomaker
  23. Mary Burton
  24. Sherry Harris
  25. Edith Maxwell
  26. Kathleen Kaska
  27. Mollie Cox Bryan
  28. Donna Andrews
  29. Daryl Wood Gerber
  30. Spencer Quinn
  31. Dogs and Coffee
  32. Amy Reade
  33. Bethany Blake
  34. Libby Klein
  35. Leann Sweeney
  36. Mary Feliz
  37. Ellen Byron
  38. Maggie Toussaint
  39. Leslie Budewitz
  40. Janet Evanovich
  41. Kathi Daley
  42. Cats and Coffee
  43. Shari Randall
  44. Judith Lucci
  45. Standard Pups
  46. Fiona Quinn
  47. Annette Dashofy
  48. Victoria Hamilton
  49. Pens, Paws, and Claws
  50. And me, Heather Weidner

Who else would you add to the list?

 

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Welcome, Phil Hilliker

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Phil Hilliker to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I have been a freelance illustrator and graphic designer for the past 17 years, with the majority of my work focused on role-playing games and children’s books. After spending many years making pictures for other people’s words, I decided it was time to start focusing on my own. Right now I have a middle grade (aimed at eight to twelve-year olds) sci-fi novel on submission with my awesome agent, Erica Bauman at Aevitas Creative Management. I’m also revising a middle grade fantasy novel and several picture book projects. It’s pretty much all monsters or robots with me.

I have a short story and provided all the story header illustrations in River City Secrets: Stories from Richmond, edited by Lana Krumwiede and published by Chops Suey Books Books.

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

My family has three pets—a betta fish named Sonic Blue, and two guinea pigs, David Bowie and Ringo Starr. We can’t take credit for those amazing names, though. They were already named when we adopted them. We wish we were cool enough to come up with those names.

All three are fairly new additions to the family! Sonic Blue has been with us about three months. We adopted David Bowie and Ringo Star about two months ago. So they haven’t made their way into my writing yet, but I’m sure they will at some point. They have such fun little personalities. David Bowie is always in the middle of the action while Ringo Starr hangs out in the background and avoids attention.

What are you reading now?
I read a lot of middle grade, because that’s what I write, and it’s important to know what’s happening in the particular category in which we write. I recently finished The Mothman’s Curse by Christina Hayes, which captured a wonderful family dynamic. It was easy to root for the characters. Currently, I’m also listening to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey—an adult fantasy novel that’s basically Jane Austin with magic. It captures the Edwardian vibe really well, and I’m enjoying the way she’s describing how the characters use magic.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I didn’t really. We had a cat for a short period of time that we believe was cat-napped. I still wonder what happened to her sometimes. But that was it. I have a deep love of cats, but I’ve developed a sever allergy to them as I’ve grown older, keeping my family from getting one now.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
I don’t have any animals of note in the manuscript I currently have on submission. However, in the novel that’s currently being revised, there are several main characters who are animals. It’s a portal fantasy, where two boys travel to fairy, and in keeping with the tropes of the portal fantasy, they have a few animal sidekicks who talk and help them navigate the world.

I’m also working on a picture book that has a loveable chicken as the main character.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even as a kid. But, visual art was naturally easier for me, so I went to art school and chased my natural talent with the idea that I would get around to writing when I had the time. That always seems to be the way, doesn’t it? But when I was well into my thirties without finding the time, I realized I’d better make it, or it would never happen.

So I wrote without telling anyone for a few years, figuring that pretty much everyone wanted to write a book and it wasn’t worth mentioning. Getting involved with James River Writers gave me the confidence to actually admit it aloud to folks.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
I have physical TBR piles all over the house, not to mention the digital one on my Kindle and the holds I’m still waiting to come through at the library! I’m excited to read Gwen Cole’s sci-fi western Ride On and the second book in N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth Trilogy. The first one, The Fifth Season, stunned and impressed me in ways no other book has in years.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?
A child. I know that doesn’t really count, and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that, but taking care of a kid—really from infancy through toddlerhood—is a lot like having a pet. You’re constantly cleaning up after it, chasing it down, and trying to keep it safe. But those moments of connection and appreciation, that feeling that all is right with the world because this creature you’ve been caring for is showing their full appreciation, makes it all worth it.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
1) The literary world is one of contradictions without a lot of concrete answers. For every piece of advice out there, there’s either counter advice or someone being successful doing the opposite. It can be hard to know which advice to go with, so I’ll give you this piece of advice (knowing that someone out there is doing the opposite)—just do whatever you can to be easy to work with and don’t make other people’s lives harder. I think that’s the biggest secret to success. If an agent asks for certain materials in submissions, follow them, because you don’t want to be known as the writer who can’t follow directions. But if someone tries to give you the formula for producing a successful book, they’re probably full of it.

2) How long things would take, and to have patience. I started the novel that’s currently on submission eight years ago, never having written a novel, and totally not knowing how to write one. I completely rewrote it several times. I put it through a critique group and beta readers. I signed with my agent about a year ago and revised it four more times with her! My novel has had a long road. Now, just as I wrote in number 1 above, this industry is full of contradictions. Your book might happen very quickly. But, if you’re publishing traditionally, don’t enter into any project without some flexibility to how you think it should go.

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

Find a critique group! It’s not always easy to find a functioning critique group. They are a relationship that has to be built on trust and respect, which can be difficult to find. So even if you find your first critique group doesn’t work out, find another one. That’s what I did. My first critique group fell apart through a combination of factors, and I was sad when it happened. But, I’m in a solid group now that’s been chugging along for four years, and I would do anything for my critique partners. They’re amazing. Critique groups don’t always work. But when they do, they can improve your writing at an astounding rate while being a positive accountability factor to keep you going.

Also, join a professional group like James River Writers. Having a sense of community is key, and being in a community makes it easier to find a critique group!

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