Welcome, Siri Zwemke

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Siri Zwemke to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve always loved to write, but the opportunities that have presented themselves have been short stories or articles for newsletters (work) and the occasional article for a publication. After 20 years as Director (and Founder) of the Siamese Cat Rescue Center, there were so many funny stories I wanted to both remember and share, that it made sense to write them down in book format.

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

Over the years with Siamese Rescue, we have always taken in the cats that couldn’t be adopted out – typically the older ones or the ones with significant behavior issues. Many of the cats we only had for a few years, due to their condition, so over the years of Rescue, as well as before Rescue, I think we’ve had a total of 50 some personal cats. Add into that dogs, horses, chickens, ducks, goats and various other pets growing up; my life has certainly centered around animals. Currently we only have two cats and they are ‘quasi-normal’ for Siamese.

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

Rescue Meez is the story/history/memoir of how I ended up going from crazy cat lady to the Director of a national organization that has rescued over 13,000 cats and spawned separate organizations across the United States. There are some wonderful stories of some of our most memorable cats and the experiences we had together – Koda, Squirrel, PowPow to name just a few.

What are you reading now?

I am a voracious reader, completing on an average two to three books a week. I just finished Lost Horizon by James Hilton and before that Peony by Pearl S. Buck, and I am about to start a reread of Stuart Little. I read a lot of different genres, but the writing has got to be good and I don’t hesitate to put down a book if I don’t like it.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently finishing up an autobiography of my life and the lessons I’ve learned, moving from a very traumatic childhood to where I am now. While I’m going to publish it, I haven’t yet decided if I will release it to the general public or just keep it internal for family members and descendants. After that, I plan to work on a book of short stories from the cat’s point of view, storytelling how some of our memorable cats made it into our rescue program.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t have one favorite author, but a few of my top ten include Catherine Ryan Hyde, Harlan Coben, Kristin Hannah

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

Certainly did. We had horses (three); dogs (two); cats (multiple); chickens, and ducks.

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

My current and first book centers around some of the many cats we rescued over the last 20 years, so they are the primary characters! A book full of true stories, that I worked hard at making enjoyable and happy reading (with just a few tears thrown in here and there).

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I wanted to write about something I knew and had experienced first hand, and animals it was!

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

I am leery about reading animal stories, as I don’t want to read anything that has animal abuse or too much sadness in it – I see enough of that in my career. However I did enjoy the book Racing in the Rain. I haven’t yet seen the movie.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Read the book I’d have to say doing the Dance of the Dead Mouse naked, in my birthday suit, takes the cake.

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

I’ve always received very positive feedback from the articles and stories I did for the twice-yearly newsletter for work.

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

I don’t have a bucket list like other people. I strive, every morning, to find happiness and peace of mind in that particular day.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

I rely on Goodreads (otherwise I can’t remember what I have already read) and I have 861 books on my ‘want to read’ list!

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

Probably the duck that lived in our living room growing up.

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

Writing is the easy part. Marketing is very difficult and time consuming.

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

On the couch. It has a great view and is very comfortable.

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

Persevere! It’s such a great feeling to get a book out there!

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

Nothing happens quickly. Patience will serve you well.

About Siri:

Siri Zwemke is the founder and Director of the Siamese Cat Rescue Center, a 20-year-old internet-based non-profit that spans the Eastern third of the United States and has helped 13,000 cats to date.

Zwemke switched careers mid-stream when her love of Siamese cats turned her into a crazy cat lady, rescuing one too many cats and finding herself trying to fill a need she didn’t realize was out there. When the shelters kept calling and she kept saying yes to Siamese cats that were needing help, Zwemke left her job as a teacher of the hearing impaired and took on building a non-profit that eventually spanned 20 states and had 900 volunteers.

Zwemke has recently put pen to paper to document some of the hilarious situations she found herself in as she learned about cat rescue the hard way. In her first book, Rescue Meez, Zwemke pokes fun at herself in a lighthearted manner as she grows the Rescue from the ground up. From handling rifle-wielding hillbillies in the mountains of Virginia to doing the Dance of the Dead Mouse, Zwemke takes us on a journey through the last 20 years as she shares information on the trials and tribulations of building a cat rescue organization.

Currently residing in Virginia with her husband, Darrell (whom she met through the Rescue), several cats and a dog, Zwemke enjoys gardening, reading, and is working towards her black belt in Martial Arts.

Zwemke can be reached at siri@meezer.org

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This Old Dog

By Maggie King

Love dogs? Consider loving a senior “pup.”

My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts is a beautiful collection of stories and photographs celebrating senior dogs, created by journalist Laura T. Coffey (author) and Lori Fusaro (photographer). I can’t improve on the Amazon description, so I won’t even try:

“No Dog Should Die Alone” was the attention-grabbing — and heart-stirring — headline of journalist Laura T. Coffey’s TODAY show website story about photographer Lori Fusaro’s work with senior shelter pets. While generally calm, easy, and already house-trained, these animals often represent the highest-risk population at shelters. With gorgeous, joyful photographs and sweet, funny, true tales of “old dogs learning new tricks,” Coffey and Fusaro show that adopting a senior can be even more rewarding than choosing a younger dog. You’ll meet endearing elders like Marnie, the irresistible shih tzu who has posed for selfies with Tina Fey, James Franco, and Betty White; Remy, a soulful nine-year-old dog adopted by elderly nuns; George Clooney’s cocker spaniel, Einstein; Susie, the funny little senior dog who got adopted by “Humans of New York” creator Brandon Stanton and “Susie’s Senior Dogs” founder Erin Stanton; and Bretagne, the last known surviving search dog from Ground Zero.

They may be slower moving and a tad less exuberant than puppies, but these pooches prove that adopting a senior brings immeasurable joy, earnest devotion, and unconditional love.

In 2012, Lori Fusaro, an advocate for homeless animals, volunteered with various Los Angeles animal shelters to photograph the dogs up for adoption. When the photos were uploaded to the shelter websites, they proved hugely successful at bringing people into the shelters. One day Lori met a depressed 16-year old female dog who had been surrendered for adoption. Lori knew the dog’s prospects were dim. A week later, she named the dog Sunny and brought her home. When Lori saw how Sunny perked up and found renewed life, it prompted her to write a blog post about Sunny and the wonderful dogs at the shelter.

Lori Fusaro

The blog post caught the attention of Laura T. Coffey, a writer for the NBC Today website. Laura interviewed Lori and the article went viral. People across the country thanked Lori for informing them about senior dogs. Many shared their own stories of giving old pups a loving home. Lori appeared on NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. Ms. Coffey teamed up with Lori to publish a coffee table book. Their goal: to inspire people to think about adopting a senior animal. Laura and Lori traveled the country, meeting people and dogs.

And so My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts was born.

Sunny lived happily with Lori until the age of 18. Lori continues to be of service as staff photographer for the Best Friends Animal Society-Los Angeles.

Laura T. Coffey

Note: this post focuses on dogs, but I’m not forgetting the wonderful senior cats who need homes. Here are just a few reasons to adopt a senior dog and/or cat:

  • You can be a hero
  • Older dogs/cats are often already trained
  • Seniors have fewer surprises
  • Seniors are less demanding
  • Old pups/kitties give instant companionship
  • Old dogs/cats do learn new tricks (cats, too! really)

Here’s even more incentive: November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month!

I first learned of the My Old Dog project from a Daily Word article written by Lori’s husband, Darrell Fusaro. Read “Doing What You Love Is Being of Service.”

Buy My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts

Read more about Lori and Laura and their work.

Read “There’s Life (and Love) in These Old Dogs Yet.”

Read about “Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.”

Read “No Dog Should Die Alone.”

My Old Dog is on Twitter at @MyOldDogBook

Animal Rescue Site: feed and care for animals with a daily click

Cute dogs courtesy of clipartpanda.com

 

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 International Thriller Writers. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Amazon author pagehttp://amzn.to/2Bj4uIL

 

 

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Welcome back, Debra H. Goldstein!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Debra H. Goldstein back to the blog!

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

When the publishers of my first two books each went out of business, leaving me orphaned, I still wanted to write cozy mysteries, but I had a major problem. Traditionally, cozies take place in a closed environment, don’t have blood or sex on the page, and feature a character who demonstrates an expertise at crafts, cooking or baking. I’m not good at crafts and anything to do with the kitchen frightens me. As I thought about my dilemma of not being able to write what I know, I realized there had to be readers who weren’t handy with crafts or dreaded being in the kitchen. Consequently, I created Sarah Blair who finds cooking from scratch worse than dealing with murder.

 Two Bites Too Many is the second book in the Sarah Blair series. In this book, things are finally looking up for Sarah and her Siamese cat, RahRah. Sarah has somehow managed to hang on to her law firm receptionist job and – if befriending flea-bitten strays at the local animal shelter counts – lead a thriving social life. For once, she almost has it together more than her enterprising twin, Emily, a professional chef whose efforts to open a gourmet restaurant have hit a real dead end.

 When the president of the town bank is murdered after icing Emily’s business plans, all eyes are on the one person who left the scene with blood on her hands – the twins’ sharp-tongued mother, Maybelle. Determined to get her mom off the hook ASAP, Sarah must collect the ingredients of a deadly crime to bring the true culprit to justice.

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

 RahRah, the Siamese cat who lives with Sarah, is introduced in the first book, One Taste Too Many, as a primary series character. He, rather than Sarah, runs the show. In Two Bites Too Many, Fluffy, a dog, also becomes part of the ongoing story. Although Fluffy is a recurring character, she knows her role is secondary to RahRah’s.

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

My first pets were three small turtles – Turk, Durk, and Lurk. When my family moved to a new state, I had to give them to the boy next door. After we moved, we got a toy poodle who was part of our family for the next twenty years. When Lord Silver Mist passed away, a bichon frise took over running my life.

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

I use animals in my writing to create a sense of reality for readers and as a means of bringing different personality traits out in my human characters. In the Sarah Blair series, I try to make RahRah and Fluffy pets like those readers might have. That way, they can identify with each animal’s behavior and characteristics. I also want the animals in my books to help readers understand my human characters. As they see the characters interact with the animals in kind, mean, loving or indifferent ways, I hope subliminal clues are sent that generate reactions to the respective characters.

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

 My favorite animal used as a central character wasn’t in a book or a movie, but rather in a television show. As a child, watching reruns of Fury, I was impressed with the magnificence of the beautiful stallion, but what really captured me was the way the stories were written. There was always a good vs. bad plot line that would never have been resolved in the same way if Fury hadn’t been a central character. I think watching how different characters reacted to Fury and how Fury interacted with them taught me the ways an animal can be used to move a story along in a believable manner.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?

See the picture below — and this doesn’t include what’s on my e-reader.

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

My favorite place to read and write is in an oversized club chair. As her first anniversary gift, my mother had the chair made two inches deeper than normal to accommodate my father’s long legs. The arms of the chair are between four and five inches wide. It was the perfect place for him to read the newspaper, write letters, or draw and for my sister and me to stretch our imaginations.

When my sister and I were children, we used the chair to pretend to ride horses and as the base for covered wagons, stagecoaches and tents. The chair was wide enough for both of us to hide in it or pretend one of us was a passenger while the other was a driver or riding shotgun.

When my father died, my mother took comfort curling up in the chair. When she passed away, other than some artwork, the chair was the only thing I wanted from her home. I had it shipped from California to Alabama. Today, it is where I sit with my laptop. Someday, I hope one of my children will continue the tradition of reading and writing in the chair.

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

 I would tell an aspiring writer to read extensively and think about the feelings each book or story generates. At this point, the reader should read with only the hope of enjoying the work in mind. There is no further agenda other than exposure to the works of an array of writers. Slowly, the would-be writer, now reader, will recognize what is moving, perplexing, exciting or boring. Once a wide gambit has been read, then, and only then, should the would-be writer dissect the stories and books to better understand their internal structure, plots, settings, and characterization. After doing all this, the individual should write the book or story that person wants to write.

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

The one lesson I learned is to write what I want to write. Although I read and studied the masters, other books in the genre I thought might want to write in, and what seemed hot on the publishing lists, the lesson I learned was to write the best book or story I could using techniques I’d gleaned from other works, but realizing my tale had to come from me. Trends go out of style; formulas can be broken, but an honest work will stand on its own merit and hopefully find an audience to resonate with.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

October was a busy month for me. Kensington released the second Sarah Blair mystery, Two Bites Too Many, so I will be busy with launch events and PR. An anthology edited by Michael Bracken, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, which contains my first private eye story, Harvey and the Redhead was published by Down & Out Books, Inc. I’ve already turned in the third Sarah Blair mystery, which will be published in September 2020, so besides the PR related to the two October publications, I plan to take two classes to advance my skills, write a few short stories in response to prompts, and begin the fourth book of the Sarah Blair series (yes, they recently bought two beyond the original three).

Show us a picture of your writing space or one of your bookcases. What does it say about your style?

It demonstrates that I don’t have any style because I’m so far behind on things, I don’t have time to establish one.

 About Debra:

Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (One Taste Too Many, Two Bites Too Many). She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra serves on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is president of the Southeast Chapter of MWA and past president of SinC’s Guppy Chapter. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com .

https://www.amazon.com/Bites-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07MB4779P

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/two-bites-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1130055243?

Let’s Be Social:

Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/

Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein

Instagram – debra.h.goldstein

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein

 

 

 

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What Pets Say about Their Owners by Vivian Lawry

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to thank Vivian Lawry for doing a guest post about what pets say about their owners.

On April 13, 2018, I posted Pets: A Treasure Trove for Writers focusing on how people treat their pets and how pets might fit into plot points and scenes.  Now, I’m turning to the ways pets reflect their owners, and the things an informed character might deduce from simply knowing another character’s pet choice(s).  These are group data, of course, so as a writer you need to decide whether your character reflects the norm or is an outlier.
 

An entry on bakadesuyo.com titled 8 Things Your Pet Says About Your Personality is a good overview.  (Points have been regrouped and edited, so they no longer number eight.)

1) General conclusions about pet owners:

  • Fish owners are happiest.
  • Dog owners are the most fun to be with.
  • Cat owners are the most dependable and emotionally sensitive.
  • Reptile owners are the most independent.

2) Comparing dog people and cat people:
  • Dog people are 15% more extroverted, 13% more agreeable, and 11% more conscientious.
  • Cat people are 12% more neurotic and 11% more emotionally open.
  • Dog owners are healthier: handled stress better, were more relaxed, had higher self-esteem, and were less likely to be diagnosed with depression.

3) Richard Wiseman concluded that people often see their pets’ personality as a reflection of their own.  Maybe a character could ask, “So, what’s your X like?”

4) Younger people who are disagreeable tend to prefer aggressive dogs.

5) Dog owners tend to seek different qualities in their dogs depending on their political leanings:
  • Liberals want dogs that are gentle and relate to their owners as equals.
  • Conservatives want dogs that are loyal and obedient.
6) Likelihood of owners cleaning up after their dogs:
  •  35.3% of males; 58.2% of females.
  • 18.2% of those who are lower income; 68.7% of those with higher income.
  • 72.6% of those who kept their dogs on a leash.

The website medium.com has published at least two articles on this topic: “What Your Pet Says Abut Your Personality and Career” (Mitch Fodstad, 3/6/2017) and  “What Your Pet Says About You” (Dustin Bilyk, 1/10/18).  The Bilyk article was written for humor and is basically an opinion piece, but you might want to read it for inspiration about a character’s opinions.  In addition to personality and career, life stage is addressed.  All of the following points come from these two articles.  Not surprisingly, there is some overlap with the points above.  So, by pet, here are the generalities:

 

Snake people: Owners are unconventional and novelty-seeking, may be bad-ass or wannabe bad-ass, and may have a kinky side.  FYI, male snakes are so focused on reproducing that they don’t even eat during mating season and many of them die.  Snake owners tend to lead unusual lives and make impulsive decisions.  They’re eager for the next move, even when unsure what that move might be.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.

 

Turtle people: They are hard-working and reliable.  Turtle owners harness exceptional commitment, which drives quality performance and bodes well for upward mobility to a higher social class.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.
(VL: Note the  similarities with other reptile people as described above.)

 

Fish people: They are optimistic and not materialistic, unconcerned with possessions.  They prefer low-maintenance pets.  Fish owners are hopeful and confident about the future.
Common career choices: human resources, financial professional, hotel and leisure professional, farming/fishing/forestry professional, or transportation professional.

 

Bird people: These pet owners tend to be outgoing and friendly, expressive, and socially confident.  They communicate effectively and may include some of the most powerful visionaries.
Common careers: advertising professional, sales person, construction worker, or administrative professional.

 

Cat people: Cat owners tend to be adventurous, creative, and anxious.  They enjoy new experiences, often have vivid imaginations, and are likely to be less sociable than dog owners.
Common careers: physician, real estate agent, science/medical technicians, machine operator, or personal caretaker.

 

Dog people: These people tend to be extroverted, confident, and risk-averse.
Common careers: professor, nurse, information technology professional, military professional, or entertainer.

 

Frankly, I find the links between pet, personality, and careers more suggestive than factual.  Writers should still consider the narrative possibilities of such links. 

Scientific American MIND published on-line an overview of the research into what pets say about their owners (Karen Schrock Simring, 9/1/15).  There isn’t much data published in peer-reviewed academic studies, but lots of information is available from huge market surveys within the pet industry and survey responses from pet owners.  Because I don’t want to footnote specific statements, I am not combining info from this article with related statements above.

 

If a character has a dog, he or she is more likely to be in senior management and consider their pet part of the family; live with family members, not have a college degree (although other research suggests dog owners are likely to be a professor, nurse, information professional, military professional, or entertainer); be extroverted, agreeable, and conscientious; have gotten the dog from a shelter or rescue group; live in Arkansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, or West Virginia.

 

If the character’s pet is a cat, they are more likely to be divorced, widowed, or separated; live in an apartment; be neurotic and open to new experiences; be college educated; be a physician, real estate agent, science or medical lab technician, machine operator, or personal caregiver; be less socially dominant; live in Vermont, Maine, Oregon, South Dakota, or Washington state.

 

If the character owns a bird, they are more likely to be unemployed, describe themselves as caring and polite, be outgoing and expressive (and socially dominant if female), and live in California, Oregon, Washington state, or Nevada.

 

Horse owners tend to be more assertive and introspective and less warm and nurturing; be aggressive and socially dominant if he is male but non-aggressive and easygoing if she is female; hold an advanced degree; be married and a homeowner; live in a rural area; reside in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana.  They are most likely to describe themselves as dependable and self-disciplined.

 

Cold-blooded exotic pet owners if female, are more open to new experiences than male owners or female owners of traditional pets; if male, they are much less agreeable than female owners or male owners of traditional pets.

If the pet is a snake, the character may describe themselves as neat and tidy, relaxed and unpredictable; be unconventional and novelty seeking; and consider their pet “part of the family.”

If the character’s pet is a turtle, that character is more likely to be hardworking, reliable, and upwardly mobile, and describe themselves as rational and goal-oriented.

Fish owners are most likely to describe themselves as calm and emotionally stable.

 

Rabbit owners describe themselves as sympathetic, warm, and open to new experiences.

Hamster owners were the most likely to have an advanced degree.

Guinea pig owners were least likely to describe themselves as extroverted.

 

Owners of unusual pets were more likely to have a menagerie. For instance, more than half of ferret owners said they had six or more pets. Dog owners, on the other hand, were the most likely to have only one pet.

More than half of cat owners are fond of both cats and dogs.  More than half of dog owners say they only like canines.

Beyond the most common pets, people make a pet of almost any animal: chickens, exotic insects, possums, pigs, etc.

 

Writers note: For people who have pets, those pets are often integral to how owners see themselves.  For example, some men who want to look tough may get a tough-looking dog.  Some people have rabbits or poodles because that’s the family tradition.  Some people who feel misunderstood may seek “misunderstood” pets such as spiders.  If you give your character a pet, choose it for a reason!

And in spite of it all, keep in mind that although 68% of U.S. households have pets, that leaves 32% pet-less.

About Vivian:

Vivian Lawry is Appalachian by birth, a psychologist by training, and a writer by passion. Her short works have appeared in more than fifty literary journals and anthologies, from Adanna to Xavier Review. In addition she has published four books: Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart, Chesapeake Bay Mysteries; Different Drummer, a collection of off-beat fiction; and an historical novel,  Nettie’s Books, A Story of Strength and Change. For a complete list of her publications and to sample her work, visit vivianlawry.com. Vivian Lawry is on FaceBook and Twitter.

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Welcome, Liz Boeger!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Liz Boeger to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

In the spirit of this blog, I’ll respond with animals in mind. I grew up near Old Tampa Bay in an area of South Tampa that had originally been named Rattlesnake. Eventually, the rattlesnake meat cannery that had become an early tourist attraction in the area closed. Its owner/operator had succumbed to the hazard of his trade. Consequently, there were far fewer rattlesnakes hidden among the palmetto scrubs when my parents arrived years later, from Illinois to raise their growing family.

Many writers will tell you they penned their first stories in elementary or middle school. Not me, I was too busy wrangling multiple litters of kittens and exploring the local beaches. Later, I applied my cat-herding skills to teaching in elementary schools, math and science, primarily. During this time, I got married, and we now have a grown son. Eventually, I became an assistant principal. Beyond humans, I worked with many other fine creatures, including a goldfish, Guinea pigs, a wayward copperhead, occasional migrating alligators, and a Florida Panther who was, thankfully, secured behind the wire mesh inches from my head, in a cargo van.

I must admit, being an administrator had its high points, but it became less about leading schools and more about juggling state testing programs. To relieve job stress, I took to reading traditional and cozy mysteries. Somewhere along the way, all the crazy stories from my youth and my career converged in a dream that introduced a character and a problem. Luckily, I recalled enough details when I awoke to jot down the beginnings of what would become my cozy mystery series: Moccasin Cove Mysteries. My silly spin aside, I love teaching, and left the administrative suite to return to the classroom several years ago, which freed up some time for writing.

The main character in my series, Principal Ana Callahan, is an accomplished school turnaround specialist who rescues failing schools. In the first book, ChainLinked! She has come home to Moccasin Cove to save the failing K-5 of her childhood. Fallout from a local murder threatens her school flip, so she is forced to investigate. Then she’s paired with Mac, the handsome, single, retired Air Force colonel who is the school district’s new Chief of Security. Romantic sparks fly, but before Ana and Mac can pursue a life together, they must untangle their own broken hearts and of course, solve a murder.

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

We currently have two cats in our household. Both are rescues. Neither are in my books, but they do pose for me occasionally if I have feline behavior to describe in the story. Samantha (Sammy) – I call her a calico, but I think there is a more specific name…a tortoise something. She was a rejected adoptee my husband rescued at a pet warehouse store adoption.

GRBRTY (ger-ber-tee) – Was also rescued at a pet store adoption event. This time at barely 8-weeks by my son. He is a pale orange tabby and a chubby tubby. His original name was Racecar, but that did not fit. One day he walked over my keyboard when I was writing and typed G-R-B-R-T-Y. The name stuck.

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

I have two pets in my series. Both are permanent characters.

Muffin is modelled after my dearly departed pup by the same name. In the books, she is a rescue, turned therapy dog. So far, she works with students who have PTSD but later in the series she may branch out to veterans and retirees. She is part King Charles Cavalier and Tibetan Spaniel, like my real girly.

The second pet character in the series is a champagne orange, feral tabby kitten rescued from the mangroves during a storm. He is named Gibson by the rescuer because she trades him for a Gibson guitar. Every cat she rescues is given to a worthy home and named for whatever he or she is traded for. Gibson is modeled after a rescue I adopted in my twenties named Huey, who helped me navigate into my early thirties relatively unscathed.

What are you reading now?  

I’ll list the WHO’s instead, since my TBR has multiple copies of some authors:

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Cheryl Hollon, Terrie Farley Moran, Heather Weidner, Micki Browning, Elizabeth Sims, Ellen Byron, and many more…

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am currently revising the first book in the series, which I described above. The second book in my proposed series, AppleJacked! is also written, but I’ve made some timeline changes, so it will require another round of revisions later. It tells the continuing story of Ana and her quest to keep her failing school on track and to help turn around the failing economic fortunes of her beloved hometown. In this second book, Ana is in competition for a high-stacks school grant when one of her teachers is murdered. She investigates to clear the name of a parent she believes is falsely accused, In the process, Ana uncovers secrets from her own childhood and a second murder that are all connected.

Who is your favorite author and why?

It is impossible for me to choose. My criteria: Any author of traditional/cozy mysteries who can make me laugh out loud, care about the characters and their story, and who writes intelligent and challenging mysteries that are believable. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve in my series.

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

We had one dog, a white and brown terrier mix who used to dig under the fence and chase cars. Not good. He was put down in his old age due to old age. His name was Goober. Then we had so many cats and kittens you’d think we lived on a farm and not in a suburb. I remember having three litters at once in the laundry room and a favorite cat, Aunt Margaret, who had successive litters in the closet in my room.

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

Muffin, the pup in my series is a Trained Therapy dog. She works with elementary-aged students with PTSD.

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

Larger Than Life, 1996. Funny, poignant, and shows a great character arc for both the main character, played by Bill Murray, and Vera, the circus elephant he inherits unexpectedly.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Mine are slightly dark humor—not suitable for Cozy readers I’ve posted one recently on my blog about class pets, but the hamster story will never see the light of day.

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

I never even thought about writing fiction—despite being a mystery fan. Then an idea literally presented itself as a scene while I was dreaming. That led to creating the series, Moccasin Cove Mysteries, which I will be actively marketing to agents this year.

I won a Royal Palm Literary Award for my unpublished mystery, AppleJacked! from the Florida Writers Association. I knew I had potential when reading the judges’ feedback from that contest and when Elizabeth Sims graciously read the book and wrote a review blurb.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They usually ignore me, unless it is before dawn and Sammy wants her morning treat. GRBRTY usually pesters to go in/out of the screened porch.

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

I have two stacks-paper and plastic. I prefer holding a paper book in my hand over eBooks. Given today’s publishing world you must have both. Both stacks include mysteries, writing reference books, educational topics (for work) and some quilting magazines.

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

Any place that is quiet and low traffic works for me. I prefer to write at home rather than in the coffee shop like some. Color matters to my eye too, so I like to have teals, blues, greens, and greys in the space. Currently, I have a writing nook where our breakfast nook used to be, before I commandeered it this summer. Our coffee station is within arm’s reach—that’s a perk! I can look outside at the yard through the sliding glass doors and it is not a high traffic area. If the no-see-ums aren’t too nippy on the porch or in the yard, I’ll move out there some cooler mornings or evenings.

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

1-Learn your craft by reading mentor texts and by writing.

2-Join the writing community and contribute.

3-Use social media strategically.

4-Read your genre and others for craft lessons and pleasure.

5-If you get validation for your work, and you KNOW this is the right path, don’t stop.

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

It takes a village to raise a writer but not to do the writer’s work. That is my job as a writer. I must continually learn and hone my craft—even with a fulltime job. In the early stage you must be selfish about getting your footing. Then AS SOON as possible, start giving back to the community. This may be in the form of book reviews and shout outs on social media, if you are not yet published. Then once you have some creds, offer to be a contest judge, critique the work of others, offer book review blurbs, and be an encourager. I continue to meet many excellent role models for this in the writing community.

About Liz:

Liz Boeger explored hidden beaches and rattlesnake infested natural preserves while growing up near Old Tampa Bay. A veteran school administrator and teacher, she still lives in Florida and still prefers genuine snakes to the human variety. Her Moccasin Cove Mystery series features an amateur sleuth with too much empathy and wit for her own good. She earned her B.S. at the University of Tampa and her M.Ed. from Saint Leo University. Member of Sisters in Crime and Guppies.

She blogs at Moccasin Cove Mysteries (http://www.LizBoeger.com)

Follow her on Twitter: @LizBoegerAuthor or @MrsBoeger

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Welcome, Gabriel Valjan!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gabriel Valjan to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My name is Gabriel Valjan and I write crime with a love and respect for Italy (my Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing) and an enjoyment of intrigue (my Company Files, again with Winter Goose, and my forthcoming Shane Cleary series with Level Best Books). In all my writing I try to create a group of characters that readers can enjoy and root for, while giving them slices of culture and lost history they may not have known.

The Roma Series is contemporary crime fiction with an American expat abroad. Readers should expect a story with some technology, politics, and Italian culture and food. The Company Files introduces readers to the early days of the intelligence community and the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. The Shane Cleary series will take readers back to 70s New England, this time to South End Boston—not to be confused with Whitey Bulger’s South Boston. The first of five Shane books, Dirty Old Town, is slated for publication in January 2020.

I’ve been publishing since 2010. My short stories have appeared online, or in anthologies. I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Prizes, and I received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest.

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

I have one cat named Squeak aka Buttons, a rescue tuxedo cat. My followers on Twitter expect to find some missive from Squeak on Caturday (Saturday in the Twitterverse). Squeak has been my writing companion and the inspiration for one of two cats in Roma Series Book 5: Corporate Citizen. In Dirty Old Town, the first Shane Cleary novel for Level Best Books, readers will meet Delilah, my main character’s cat and voice of conscience.

Many writers have pets and I’ve found that readers both enjoy the distraction and interpret how the character treats his or her pet as indicative of their morality. I think it’s true to say that many people find unconditional love and a nonjudgmental attitude with their fur-companions. Buttons and my late cat Squawk aka Banzai have been a joy in my life.

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

Buttons is Bogie, the male in the couple of Bogie and Bacall in Corporate Citizen. Bianca, my main character, is rather prickly and standoffish but Bogie and Bacall elicit a warmer and caring side of her personality. The real treat for readers is how Silvio, a gifted translator of sorts, communicates with cats. Silvio had also adopted a cat orphaned when his owner was murdered.

Delilah or Dee in the Shane Cleary series takes Shane to task on some of his choices. Without giving away too much, she sits and stares at him (literally) when he comes home after doing something that he shouldn’t have. Shane knows it and he ‘talks’ to Delilah. She won’t have any of it and lets him know it in no uncertain terms.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Murder List and Edwin Hill’s The Missing Ones, and am anxious to get my mitts on Louise Penny’s The Better Man. In the interim, I’m reading a brief short story collection by Italo Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun. I read between books I’m writing to avoid undue influence. I find short fiction a welcome palate cleanser.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am editing Dirty Old Town for Level Best Books. In revisiting the writing, I want to make sure everything ‘adds up’ and that I’ve seeded the book with questions that will get answered as the series progresses. I have written five books and had a long-arc view of conflicts and resolutions.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I enjoy many authors for different reasons. As an only child, I found solace and company in reading books. I was also fortunate to have teachers who thrusted books into my hands. My seventh-grade teacher gave me a copy of Agatha Christie and I proceeded to read all of her work in the next two years. As a child of the Seventies, I had a fondness for historical sagas that were all the rage, so Clavell, Hailey, Jakes, Levin, Peters, and Wouk are nostalgic touchstones for me. As for contemporary historical fiction, I’ve enjoyed Robert Harris’s trilogy on Cicero.

As a writer, you feel ‘on’ most of the time and oftentimes your inner critic interferes with your enjoyment. When I sit down with a writer I enjoy, I like to think I’m spending time with an old friend or making a new one. Good writing like good food is sustenance; it can offer escape and yet fortify you against the troubles in Life. In terms of style, I’ve come to appreciate the clean and elegant sentences of Margaret Millar, her husband Ross Macdonald, and Rex Stout. I began writing with poetry and moved to short stories. Short fiction is a difficult art form and I think most readers avoid it because they’ve been traumatized by high school English classes. Stefan Zweig was a master of the form, and I admire the stories we get from Bonnie Jo Campbell, EJ Levy, and Art Taylor.

I read broadly, but yet I’ve tried to seek out writers who are different from either how I’ve experienced the world, or how I would write a story. Writers I have enjoyed: RG Belsky, Andrea Camilleri, Bruce Coffin, LA Chandlar, J. California Cooper, Dick Cass, Colleen Gleason, Maurizio de Giovanni, Peter Hamill, Cheryl Head, Reginald Hill, Jim L’Etoile, Laurie King, Dannie Martin, Gabriel García Marquez, Eryk Pruitt, Stephen Mack Jones, Sara Paretsky, William Martin, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Walter Mosley, James Ziskin, and many more.

However, my absolute favorite, my desert island author is Shakespeare.

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

I did. My mother had a miniature poodle named Lulu, who was a terror and spiteful force of nature. To give you one example, she hated baths so she would run outside and roll in the dirt the minute she escaped the tub. She got on with my mother and nobody else. My grandparents had a German Shepherd named Nero, who was the most chill and calming living thing I’ve ever encountered. Protective, intuitive, and a gentle being.

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

I try to stay true to how animals function in our lives. They are our friends and family; they understand us in ways our biological relations do not, and they do so without judgment. Buttons helped me get through aggressive radiation treatment. He’d wait at the door when I came home and snuggle up to me until I fell asleep. That was selfless and compassionate. Then he would eat. If you know him, you know he likes his food, but when I was sick, I came first and I’m grateful to him for that. There’s an understanding there I think people don’t understand.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing for the same reason people infuse humor into their stories. Pets add dimensionality, reveal our humanity, our shortcomings, and I think we are quick to defend animals because they are innocent and unconditional. Think of Tony Soprano, a killer, who became upset and distraught when the horse Pie-O-My and the dog Cosette died. Even he, despite his sociopathy, understood pets deserved to be protected.

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

Not until after I was 40. I’ll be honest: as a reader all my life, I never gave thought to writing a novel or anything. When I turned 40, I set myself a goal of writing a short story a week for one year. My earliest artistic impulses were in drawing and painting. When started writing, I accepted the fact that most of it would be terrible. I had slapped together a novel, just to get certain things out of my system. A year later, I had a handful of stories that I thought were decent (I’m very critical of my own work), so I submitted two stories to magazines, and both were published. One of them was shortlisted for the Fish Prize in 2010. I wrote most of the Roma Series while dealing with the aftermath of radiation; there’s a reason why food is a thread throughout the novels. My later novels were born of my own curiosity and explorations in history.

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

Respect your reader’s intelligence and their time. Give them a story and an experience, and not your ego for 300 pages where you demonstrate your wit and vocabulary. People thirst for intimacy and a hardscrabble few will pick up a book instead of the TV remote. Write authentic. I can’t define what that means for you, and perhaps that is why I waited until I was 40 years old.

You are the sum of a lifetime of reading and your relationship with language. What you do with language is unique to you, so find it and cultivate it…in workshop babble, it’s called Voice, and it can’t be taught in any MFA program. The rest of it…humor, how you turn a phrase comes from your own peculiar way of observing the world around you.

Don’t make excuses. Set aside distractions. Trust me, you’ll make the time for what is important to you. Set aside distinctions such as genre and literary and create a where you want to spend time in and swim in. There’s a good chance others will enjoy it. If you enjoy a particular writer, break it down for yourself what it is you enjoy about them, and think about how they did it, and then do it your way. Learn craft, the ways of creating character, pacing and rhythm, and dialogue. Yes, you can learn it from a book or from a teacher, but I think it’s best to teach yourself, on your own terms because you’ll never forget the lessons or tools you created for yourself. Last but not least, it’s easy to be a critic, so be selective about what you allow into your sphere. Keep writing and strive to improve your skills.

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

There are no guarantees. Be careful of how you define success. There are a lot of ‘successful’ books that are nothing more than soapboxes for ego, that lack structure, or are formulaic stories. I’ve learned that books that I thought were successful because of awards and vigorous marketing were poor in sales. Publishing is a business and money is what matters. Right time. Right place. There are too many variables, so write what you are proud of and can speak for you when you’re not in the room.

About Gabriel

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series and the Company Files with Winter Goose Publishing. The first of five Shane Cleary novels with Level Best Books is scheduled to appear in January 2020. Gabriel is a member of Sisters in Crime, and attends Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. He lives in Boston.

 Let’s Be Social

 Facebook: Gabriel Valjan

Twitter: @GValjan

Web: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Blog: https://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com

Exclusive Excerpt of The Naming Game: https://wp.me/p1Ykp4-rX

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Welcome, Kathy Krevat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is your favorite author and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

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

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

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

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

About Kathy:

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

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Steinlen: Another Cat-Lovin’ Man

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

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

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

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

Read more on Steinlen.

More images of Steinlen’s cats.

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. Her short stories appear in Deadly Southern Charm, Virginia is for Mysteries (Vols. 1&2), and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

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

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

 

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Welcome, Dianne Ascroft!

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

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

Where is your favorite place to write? Why?

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

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

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

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

About Dianne

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

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

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

Let’s Be Social

Website: https://www.dianneascroft.com

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Twitter: @DianneAscroft

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The 25th Cat Writers’ Association Conference was the Cat’s Meow

CWA Conference and Awards Banquet brochures created by Wendy Christensen.

I attended the Cat Writer’s Association’s 25th anniversary conference in St. Louis this past May. The conference took place at the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch which was literally steps away from the famous landmark. CWA is an association for authors, illustrators, photographers, and others who produce work featuring felines. They host a contest with a variety of prizes and awards and hold an annual conference in different locations. I received a Certificate of Excellence for my cozy mystery,  Love on the Rocks, in the category of mystery fiction books.

For a recap of the conference and my experience in St. Louis, read my blog post here. My cat Harry also “wrote” a post on my character cat’s blog about the cats who attended the conference. You can see all the cute cat photos and read that post here.

Besides the great donations aka “swag” that I brought home for my kitties along with all the information I gathered from the workshops and sessions, it was wonderful meeting other cat lovers and writers. It was also lots of fun wearing cat ears and clothing. The highlight of the conference was participating on the “Communicating, Capitalizing, and Connecting in a Fictional World” panel with three other cat fiction authors.

For those who might be interested in joining the Cat Writers’ Association, check out the website for information and an application.

Cat Writer panelists at the CWA Conference: Top left to right: Mollie Hunt, author of the Crazy Cat Lady Mysteries; Patricia Fry, author of the Klepto-Cat series; Bottom left to right: Sandra Murphy, short story author; Debbie De Louise, author of the Cobble Cove cozy mystery series
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