Meet Madeline McEwen

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Madeline McEwen to the blog for #WriterWednesday!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m an ex-pat from the UK, bi-focaled and technically challenged. Positivity and disabilities fill my daily life. I am passionate about humor and its therapeutic benefits.

Tell us about your pets.

A rescued gray, female, tabby who is minute and mute, but otherwise perfect. A ginger and white tabby who is bad tempered, extremely affectionate, and could win a yodeling contest. A male, 120 lb. Labradoodle masquerading as an Irish Wolfhound which possibly explains why the breeder lost their license. A female, rescue mutt [mother Poodle / father Labrador] who looks like a Labradoodle. Go figure.

What are you reading now?

The Seagull by Anne Cleeves which I’ll review on NetGalley soon.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I can only pick one? M. C. Beaton, Sue Townsend, Colin Cotterill, Erma Bombeck, and Terry Pratchett for their humor, Dorothy L. Sayers for her plots, P. D. James, and Elizabeth George for their psychological torture.

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

Cats, rabbits, and goldfish–they consumed each other, no doubt contributing to my bloodlust in later life.

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

They often accompany taciturn characters and provide insight for the discerning and intelligent reader.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I like to agree with the commonly held belief that people and their pets are similar in temperament and disposition. We humans often betray our true nature by how we interact during any random encounter with an animal.

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

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, a heart-breaking and poignant epic. Lassie, Come Home, the TV series, watching in black in white in England. I loved them because they were adventurous and tender, which my mother dubbed “syrupy, sentimental American drivel.” Perhaps that’s when I decided to emigrate.

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

I do not have a bucket list. I’ve had more luck in life than most.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Assuming I have already walked the dogs, they lie on the floor within licking distance of my un-manicured toenails. [California = barefoot]

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

I have three physical stacks of TBR books: bedroom, floor of car, and a kitchen corner, and one virtual stack on Goodreads. I like the latter best because it doesn’t need dusting.

 

Madeline’s Biography:

Madeline McEwen and her Significant Other manage their four offspring, one major and three minors, two autistic, two neurotypical, plus a time-share with Alzheimer’s. In her free time, she walks the canines and chases the felines with her nose in a book and her fingers on a keyboard.

 Her new novelette TIED UP WITH STRINGS is now available on Amazon for pre-orders:

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Pet Cloning — Yea or Neigh?

by Barb Goffman

Cloning is one of those things people joke about. Or maybe just I do. On busy days, I wish I had a clone to order around. Clone, do the laundry. Clone, edit that book. Clone, cook something. Anything!

Alas, the reality is there is no human cloning. And even if there were, an actual clone would not be like a robot you could order around to do chores. A clone is, essentially, an identical twin, simply born at a later date. The twins should look the same, but they’d have separate minds and thus separate personalities.

But even knowing all this, the idea of cloning appeals–especially when facing loss in the face.

Before my prior dog, Scout, got old, I made him promise he’d live forever. Of course he couldn’t live up to that promise. But he’s lived on in my heart and memories during the past four years.  And if I’d had the money to spare, I could have had him live on–sort of–in my house through … you guessed it … cloning. Yep, dog and cat cloning is here.

Scout

It appears there are several companies that offer this service. I recently read about one in Texas, Viagen Pets, that will clone your dog for $50,000 and your cat for $25,000. How does it work? According to Viagen Pets’s website, before (or very soon after) your dog or cat dies, you send a skin tissue sample to them so they can freeze/preserve the animal’s DNA. When you’re ready for your new pet, they take a donor egg, remove its genetic material, and replace it with that of your beloved pet’s. After that, an embryo is produced and then implanted in a surrogate animal. And you wait for your pet’s identical twin to be born.

According to their website, Viagen Pets has cloned thousands of animals. They say that each cloned puppy or kitten will share many attributes with its twin, often including intelligence, temperament, and appearance. It’s interesting that appearance is on the “often including” list because I would think a cloned puppy or kitten would always look exactly like the original (as a puppy or kitten) because they are supposed to be identical twins. But I’m not a scientist, so perhaps I’m missing something.

It’s interesting, too, that the company says the clones are often similar in intelligence and temperament.  I would think these attributes would vary from dog to dog. I would be interested in seeing study results on cloned animals to see how often the clones really are similar, as well as how similar, to the originals. I’d expect a clone of Scout would look like him as a puppy, but since the clone would be his own dog, with his own experiences and own mind, there’s no reason to think he’d act like Scout as he grew. But it’s nice to dream that he would.

And that is what is likely behind the growth of this market. The desire to  essentially keep the essence of the pet you love–his/her personality–alive. I understand Viagen Pets has a waiting list of people who probably have similar dreams.

Of course, any discussion of cloning pets should address the potential inherent problems. Any owners who’d expect an exact duplicate of their beloved pets would bound to be disappointed, which wouldn’t be fair to the clone. And is it right for someone to bring another animal into the world when you can find one of the same breed, likely looking nearly the same as your own beloved pet, through your local shelter or a breed rescue? An animal that’s already alive and needs a home? (Of course, that question would apply to any animal purchased through a breeder.)

Eggs (not the type involved in cloning)

And then there are the logistics of the process to consider. The cloning company says they get a donor egg. How? Does this involve surgery on a female dog?  How hard on the dog is such a surgery? If it’s quite invasive (and I don’t know if it is), is it right to use a dog in that manner? It’s not like the dog is an adult human who can consent. And once the embryo is created, it’s implanted in a surrogate dog. How invasive a procedure does the dog have to undergo to become impregnated? (All these questions also apply to the donor cat and surrogate cat, who may or may not be the same cat.)

For those of you thinking it, I realize that all these questions could be asked of any owner who chooses to breed his or her pet. The dog or cat doesn’t ask to become a parent, to be used for breeding purposes. I’m not saying it’s wrong (or right) to do these things, ranging from breeding your dog to having your dog used as an egg donor or as a surrogate mother. I’m just thinking on the page. As moral questions, there aren’t any hard right or wrong answers. But the questions are worth considering.

So, what say you, dear reader? Would you clone your pet if you could afford it? And what do you think of the issues involved with cloning (and breeding)?

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Poe, Chris Semtner, Edgar, and Pluto…

I am so pleased to be able to interview Chris Semtner, the Curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, about the museum, his work, and Edgar and Pluto, the museum cats. The Poe Museum is one of my favorite spots in Richmond. If you’re visiting the area, this is a must for your list of stops.

Please tell our readers about your role at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

I find new ways to share Poe’s works and life with a variety of audiences through performance, film, visual art, and exhibits. If people leave the museum with their own collection of Poe’s short stories or poems from the gift shop, I know I have done my job.

 Tell us about Edgar and Pluto and their roles. How long have they been ambassadors for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are the museum’s greeters and tour guides. Having grown up here for the past five years, they love nothing more than welcoming the museum’s many guests.

 How did they get their names?

Pluto was named after the title character from Poe’s tale “The Black Cat,” and Edgar was named after Eliza Poe’s baby boy.

 Do they live full-time at the museum? And are they good at keeping the squirrels/birds/chipmunks at bay?

The Poe Museum Cats were born in the garden and live here full-time. At night and in bad weather they stay inside one of the buildings, but during the day you can find them in the gift shop, in the garden, or on somebody’s desk. They are convinced they are excellent hunters, but the bells on their collars usually frighten the birds and squirrels in plenty of time for an escape.

 Did Poe have any animals in his life?

Poe grew up with animals, including a dog named Tib and a parrot who could speak French. As an adult, Poe had songbirds and at least two cats. Caterina was a tortoiseshell cat who liked to sit on his shoulder while he wrote. Poe published an essay about his black cat, who impressed him by being intelligent enough to turn a door latch in order to open a door.

 How do guests react to the Poe Museum kitties?

Most of the people who visit the Poe Museum seem to be cat people. Guests’ eyes light up when they see Pluto run up to them with a warm greeting. Young children especially enjoy spending time with the cats while their parents tour the exhibits. The best reaction, however, was from a group of sixth-graders who visited the museum after reading “The Black Cat.” As soon as they stepped into the garden Pluto bounded over the ivy to meet them, and one of the kids screamed.

 Did Poe write about any other animals besides the raven and the culprit in “The Murders on the Rue Morgue”?

Some of Poe’s stories feature dogs with Tiger from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym being the most notable. In the comedy “The Business Man,” the con artist bootblack trains his dog to get mud all over people’s new shoes as they approach the shoeshine stand. Poe also wrote about insects in “The Gold-Bug” and “The Sphinx.” Then he wrote an entire book about mollusks with The Conchologist’s First Book. Thanks to “Four Beasts in One,” Poe has the distinction of being the first to write about a Homocameleopard.

 Tell us about your research and latest publications.

I started by researching the Poe Museum’s most important Poe relics and what they have to tell us about Edgar Allan Poe’s life and writing process. Along the way, the project grew into an investigation of the turn-of-the-century Poe collectors who competed for each new Poe discovery, like the papers found hidden in his writing desk or the contents of his trunk. I had to know what motivated these collectors—who included an obsessed historian, the founder of an insane asylum, and a Spiritualist who believed Poe had been clairvoyant—to invest all their time and money into amassing hordes of Poeana, some of which was kept hidden until after their deaths. I told the story in The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, which will be released on December 11. 

My next project is a paper about Edgar Allan Poe’s unintentional influence on the Spiritualist movement for the International Poe/Hawthorne Conference next summer in Kyoto, Japan. I’m also doing some illustration work and some paintings for an upcoming exhibit.

 What’s the funniest thing that Edgar or Pluto has done?

During one tour, I joked with a group that Edgar Poe’s ghost might come down the stairs at any moment. When somebody called out Edgar’s name in jest, Edgar the cat trotted down the steps, right on cue, to meet his startled audience.

 Could you tell us about the “Unhappy Hours” and the Enchanted Garden?

The monthly Unhappy Hour, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month from April through October, is an excuse for people to relax in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden while listening to good music, sampling locally produced food and drink, and catching up with friends. Because it’s at the Poe Museum, we bring out some Poe-themed fun and games as well as the occasional performance or film.

 The Enchanted Garden is Richmond’s first memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. Back in 1906, the city could not muster up enough enthusiasm to support a Poe statue, and a decade later, they stood by while his office and home were demolished. The Poe Memorial Association had to the good sense to save the bricks and granite and to use them to turn an old junkyard into a Poe memorial garden based on Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise.” The founders wanted to recreate Poe’s poem in three dimensions and to fill it with the flowers and shrubs from Poe’s stories and poems. This became the Enchanted Garden, a living memorial where people can come to get inspired. In its early days, the garden attracted such visitors as Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft, and Salvador Dali. Later, Vincent Price, Ray Bradbury, and several other cultural figures made their own Poe pilgrimages here.

 What is the coolest item you have in the Poe collection?

I am always impressed by Poe’s waistcoat, walking stick, and penknife. These are the kinds of personal possessions that really give our guests the feeling of meeting Poe face-to-face. History comes to life when you realize that Poe was once a working writer walking the same streets we are and facing a lot of the same struggles creative people encounter today.

 Are there any existing buildings in Richmond today where Poe lived or worked?

The Richmond buildings in which Poe lived and worked are all gone, lost for the sake a progress. We do, however, have a few places in which he spent time. The Elmira Shelton House on Church Hill was where Poe courted his last fiancée, and it would have been the Edgar Allan Poe House if he had lived ten more days and married her. On West Grace Street, Talavera is the place Poe gave his last private reading, and the owners through the years have preserved the mantel in the room where that performance took place. Near the Capitol, Monumental Church is where Poe attended Sunday services with his foster parents. Their pew is still marked with the plaque installed there when his foster mother died.

 We follow you all on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with antics of museum kitties. Do they appear in any of the marketing for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are not in any of the marketing, but like having their pictures taken for social media.

 What upcoming programs do you all have planned in the near future?

The museum’s annual Poe Birthday Bash will take place on January 20, 2018 from noon until midnight. The day promises the opening of a new exhibit as well as a different performance, tour, or activity every hour until the midnight toast in the Poe Shrine.

 What’s one thing Edgar and Pluto want folks to know about the Poe Museum?

Edgar and Pluto want you to visit them at the Poe Museum any Tuesday through Saturday from ten until five or on Sundays from eleven until five. 

About Chris Semtner:

The Curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Chris Semtner has written several books on topics including Edgar Allan Poe, visual art, and cryptography in addition to contributing articles to Biography.com, Resources for American Literary Studies, Crime Writers’ Chronicle, and The Edgar Allan Poe Review. Semtner has been interviewed on the BBC, PBS, Travel Channel, Military History, NPR, CNN, and other networks. He has spoken about a variety of unusual, obscure, and macabre subjects to groups around the country and next year will lecture in Japan. An internationally exhibited fine artist, Semtner’s paintings have entered numerous public collections including the Virginia Historical Society and the University of Maryland. He has exhibited paintings at Viktor Wynd Fine Art, London; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond. His next book, The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, will be released on December 11 by Fonthill Media. You can see Semtner’s art and learn more about his books at chrissemtner.com.

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