Welcome, James Dorr!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome James Dorr to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 Hi.  I’m James Dorr. I’m a writer. 

I write short fiction and poetry, mostly dark fantasy and horror, but also some science fiction and mystery.  I do see a difference between horror and dark fantasy as dark fantasy, to me, incorporates elements of the supernatural while horror is more a description of the readers’ reaction, evoking feelings of fright or unease.  So there can be psychological horror as well as such things as dark mystery, dark science fiction, even dark humor. But then I write cross-genre work as well, one example being my most recent book, Tombs (more on which in a bit), which is listed by Amazon as both “horror” and “dystopian science fiction,” while I, on my blog, will often keyword it as “dark fantasy,” “science fantasy,” and even “dark romance.”

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

 My mostly black “Goth” cat Triana came to me from the local animal shelter just about a year ago, replacing Wednesday (named for Wednesday Addams of the 1960s TV series The Addams Family) who had recently passed on.  As it happens, I had written an as yet unpublished short story that Wednesday inspired, “Pelushe,” about a very fluffy cat (which Wednesday was) in a steampunk setting.  As a rule, however, I don’t usually use my pets in my writing. 

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

 The above does not mean I never use pets, as animals with a special and usually positive relation to humans, but possibly in less usual ways than one might expect.  There is one story titled “Pets,” for instance, in my collection The Tears of Isis which refers to people in isolated conditions, such as soldiers in a remote outpost during a war, who might make pets of creatures normally thought of as vermin — in this case cockroaches.  And another, also reprinted in The Tears of Isis, is “The Christmas Rat” about a lonely elderly woman who adopts a rat as a companion.  I must warn, however, as a horror writer, that neither of these necessarily ends well.     

What are you reading now? 

 Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of familiar fairy tales, but in a way that brings in myth, psychology, feminism, and a compelling sensuality in a language sometimes approaching poetry.  It’s a deep experience, and one that I’m dipping into in an on-and-off manner, reading one tale, then giving myself time to let it be absorbed before coming back to another.  It’s also a book that I found out about only recently, but several years after seeing and being highly impressed by a movie made (with, I understand, the author’s sharing in its production) of  its next to last story, “The Company of Wolves.” 

What writing projects are you currently working on?

My latest book, Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, came out from Elder Signs Press less than a year ago, so a fair bit of what I’ve been doing lately has still been trying to spread the word around (and for which, thank you; every interview, every reader who gives a review, every blogger just mentioning a book is helping its author immensely).  Tombs is a mosaic novel, or novel-in-stories, concerning life, love, and death on a far-future dying planet as pieced together by a surviving ghoul-poet – an eater of corpses not normally given to abstract thoughts – in hopes of discovering the particular spark that made humans human.  As such, it’s a romance to some extent, composed of a series of “snapshots,” of stand-alone stories for us to piece together for ourselves, but a very dark one with elements of science fiction, philosophy, and horror, and is loosely inspired by a pair of quotations from Edgar Allan Poe: the first of the most poetic topic being the death of a beautiful woman, and the second of the boundaries between life and death being “at best shadowy and vague.”  If these concepts be true, and in an already dying world, can love be a power to even transcend death?   

Who is your favorite author and why? 

 I’d like to mention two, really, the first Edgar Allan Poe as noted above and joined by Ray Bradbury for poetry and beauty even in their darker works; Poe especially for a juxtaposition of beauty and horror – a nexus of Eros and Thanatos in Freudian terms, of sex and death in both his tales and poems.  Then if I might be allowed two more, at least in terms of influencing some of my own work, Allen Ginsberg in poetry combining the beatific with the sometimes tragically ugly, and Bertolt Brecht for his ideas of “epic theatre,” allowing the notion of artistic distance, yet combined with emotional intimacy in such works as Mother Courage.

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

 In this case I’m assuming animals not considered pets as such, in terms of relationships to humans, but as more than just a part of a story’s background.  While I don’t think I use animals very often, three stories do come to mind which may give an idea of the ways I might use animals.  The first is a story called “When Cats Are Away,” a light fantasy which includes the Egyptian cat goddess Bast who, in one scene, presents the central character with a kitten in return for a stolen jewel (so, okay, maybe that’s a pet too, but that’s not the point of the story); the second, called “The Christmas Vulture,” is an allegory warning against excessive celebration before driving; and the third, “Bitter Perfume,” is about a woman who’s also a were fox.   As for the “why,” it’s really a case of the nature of the story requiring that it have an animal in it – a fourth example, for instance, comes to mind now, “The Bala Worm” (also reprinted in The Tears of Isis) about a hunt for a dragon in Wales, where you can’t very well have a dragon story without at least mentioning a dragon.   

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

Harking back to question 4, I’d have to say one of my favorite movies is The Company of Wolves.  It’s based on “Little Red Riding Hood,” but approaches its subject from multiple directions, exploring the natures of people and wolves, and even societies from varying aspects, presenting a sort of mosaic effect as opposed to just a straightforward story – and making it work!  In fact I think it may have provided some inspiration for my own Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, in creating something like the effect I was looking for too.  Then for another, this one where I’d read the book first many years ago, I recently re-watched Watership Down, impressed that even in animation the rabbits actually do seem like rabbits, not just people in animal clothing.      

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

 It was probably a more gradual thing than the question implies.  As a college undergraduate, I was art editor on the humor magazine, for instance, that ended up with my filling in as a writer for last minute articles from time to time.  Then shifting to graduate school in Indiana, I became editor on an arts magazine, this time on the writing side though with occasional last minute illustrating.  This led to a stint as a technical writer and editor for the university’s computing center and, later, freelancing on business and consumer topics, but it wasn’t until about that time that I also started working seriously on artistic writing as well. 

 So finding an exact moment might not be so easy.  My first sale was a semi-pro one for which I received a one dollar bill in the mail, which seemed like I still had a way to go.  When I was accepted as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and, subsequently, the Horror Writers Association, on the other hand, it was certainly a validation.  But maybe this could stand for an actual single moment:  I’d had a story published called “The Dripping Nose that Wouldn’t Wipe” (a sort of absurdist zombie tale) and, in a review, it was commented that once one got past “that title,” it wasn’t a bad story at all.  It seems to me that when you can do that, there’s an amount of professionalism involved.  

What do your pets do when you are writing?

 Playing with the cat, petting the cat, what a wonderful way to wind down from a long writing session!  And while she was in the bedroom most of the time I was writing this (naptime on the bed takes a certain precedence), Triana usually finds a spot in the room I’m in.  On a practical level, she’s learned that there’s a space to the left of the keyboard of one computer I use that it’s okay for her to be in (but beware, if a paw gets on the keyboard she may get yelled at) so sometimes she’ll lie there, getting an occasional petting or scratch on the head during brief pauses while I’m working.  (On the other hand, at my writer’s group meeting a few months ago I pointed out, in a critique of one member’s work, a string of five or six incoherent letters as “the cat’s comment.”  A paw apparently had gotten on the keyboard when I’d gotten up for something, and I hadn’t noticed until after I’d printed it out.)  Or with a different computer, an off-line one I do most of my original composition on, Triana will often be fast asleep on a work table just behind me. 

 James Dorr Bio:

James Dorr’s latest book is a novel-in-stories published in June 2017 by Elder Signs Press, Tombs:  A Chronicle of  Latter-Day Times of Earth.  Born in Florida, raised in the New York City area, in college in Boston, and currently living in the Midwest, Dorr is a short story writer and poet specializing in dark fantasy and horror, with forays into mystery and science fiction.  His The Tears of Isis was a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® finalist for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, while other books include Strange Mistresses:  Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves:  Tales of Mystery and Regret, and his all poetry Vamps (A Retrospective).  He has also been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full time non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician, and currently harbors a cat named Triana.

 Social Media:

Blog: http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/james.dorr.9

 Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1380306038&sr=1-2-ent

 Buy Links:

Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth:

https://www.amazon.com/Tombs-Chronicle-Latter-Day-Times-Earth/dp/1934501743/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480618250&sr=1-1&keywords=tombs+a+chronicle+of+latter-day

 The Tears of Isis:

https://www.amazon.com/Tears-Isis-James-Dorr/dp/0988748843/ref=sr_1_2_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480617834&sr=1-2&keywords=the+tears+of+isis

 

 

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Welcome, Barbara Schlichting

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes Barbara Schlichting to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 I enjoy teasing and having fun with my grandchildren. My granddaughter and I are planning to take a short trip to Iowa next summer so I can drop by a few bookstores.  Her blue eyes and smile sells my books. I write mysteries and children’s picture books plus poetry. I’ve also been known to wear red shoes and eat too much ice cream.

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

I’m not sure if you can consider deer, squirrels, birds and chipmunks as pets, but I lived in the woods with the Mississippi River out my back door for seventeen years.

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

 In my poetry, I have a number of poems about wildlife.  In my picture book, Red Shoes, I feature Maggie, a three-legged kitty who lost her shoes. Peter the puppy and Bonnie the bunny help her find them.

What are you reading now?

I just finished two Rex Stout books, Fer-De-Lance and the League of Frightened Men.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I just published my first historical mystery. Body on the Tracks is set in 1943 and begins with a body in the Chicago railyard and finishes in Denver. There’s a Nazi onboard who causes all sorts of murder and mayhem.

 Who is your favorite author and why?

Agatha Christie. She’s so good at hiding her clues. I love reading her.

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

We had a dog when I was in high school. When I married, we had a dog for many years for our boys to play with, Clumsy was her name.

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

In the picture book, Red Shoes, the animals are definitely the characters.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals are sweet and loveable.

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

Actually, I should write a mystery with a service dog. My brother had been a police officer and used a service dog to detect drugs so I have an easy reference. Thanks for the idea!

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

 I knew I was a writer from the beginning of time. In seventh grade I got an English penpal, and we’ve been writing ever since. That’s approximately fifty-five years!

 Biography:

I graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, MN. After marriage, we moved to Bemidji where we raised our two boys. I graduated from Bemidji State University with an undergraduate degree in  elementary education and went on to earn a masters degree in special education. I taught in the school district as a substitute for many years.

Let’s Be Social:

http://www.barbaraschlichting.com

https://barbaraschlichting.wordpress.com

https://barbaraschlichting.blogspot.com

https://www.goodreads.com/BarbSchlichting

 

 

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Welcome, Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson to the blog for Writer Wednesday!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a seventh generation Texan and a third generation wordsmith. I sold my first novel to a NY publisher in 1979 and have since published around 35 novels – I really don’t remember exactly how many. I was one of the founders of Romance Writers of America and currently serve as the Texas representative on the Southwest Regional Board of Mystery Writers of America. Now I am mainly self-publishing under my Sefkhat-Awbi Books imprint. In addition, I’ve been Editor in Chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups, an actress/singer, Supervisor of Accessioning in a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, a travel writer, a jewelry designer, a talent agent, a document checker in a travel agency… plus more stuff. Yes, I bore very easily!

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

I’ve had pets most of my life. First there was Lady (a golden Cocker Spaniel) and her daughter T-Square. I had a parakeet. I had a white rat named Junder for whom I made a halter and leash out of pink grosgrain ribbon. We stopped traffic when we went for walks, especially in winter when I wore my full length fur. For a while I babysat a 6-7 foot long anaconda when my cousin (a world-class herpetologist) was ill. That was a fascinating experience, though I never could get service in that apartment again for all the years I lived there… When I moved out of my parents’ home, I had cats, as I worked long hours and they weren’t as labor intensive as dogs.

For years I had a recessive gene semi-feral Siamese named Sekhmet who was solid black with bright green eyes. She was also the most intelligent animal I’ve ever known, who could open any door in the house except the two outside doors, which I kept deadbolted, and used to turn the lights off and on just to amuse herself. Sekhmet hated people and would simply vaporize when anyone came over. There were those who – when I told them stories about Sekhmet – would swear that I didn’t have a cat, that I would go out and pluck tufts of cat hair from the bushes and rub them into the carpet just to pretend I had a cat. Yes, I have strange friends. Sekhmet also liked to answer the telephone, which drove the telemarketers wild. (Good girl!) She lived to be 21, and I miss her to this day.

After Sekhmet I got a ginger cat named Marmelade. She was very obviously mentally deficient, probably because she had been taken too early from her mother. She was grown when I got her, but didn’t know anything about being a cat. She would get into the litter box, vigorously dig a hole in the litter to the bottom, put her front feet into it and then poop over the side. I had to teach her how to use a litter box properly. It was no fun at all, and is not a fit topic for conversation. She never was very well and died less than a year after I got her.

I didn’t have any animals when I started dating the man who would become my husband, which was a lucky thing. He hated cats and told me years later that he would never have dated anyone who had a cat! It took some guile on my part, but I did get a cat after we had been married about two years – just in time to keep me company during his first overseas deployment. Shadow was a stray who crawled into our yard, too emaciated and weak to walk and tattered from attacks by other animals. An old cat, he had been declawed and could neither escape or protect himself. Of course I took him to the vet immediately and did everything I could to take care of him. We had him for several years. We got a little tuxedo cat to keep him company. When she came to us she had been declawed in all four feet – first time I ever saw that – and was very skittish. All our animals are rescue animals, by the way, and usually from horrific situations. Her name was Boots, but I used to know a woman named Boots, and I didn’t like the name. Usually we don’t change our animals’ names – they’ve been through enough trauma without adding another name change – but ‘Boots’ had to go. She had a tiny little voice so I started calling her Squeaky Boots, hoping to transition easily to Squeaky, but she had to have orthodontic surgery. Her teeth were so bad and so abscessed that her jaw bones were rotting, and so her official vet records were done as Squeaky Boots, so it was as Squeaky Boots she ended her days.

About this time I saw at our local pet orphanage a tiny little white poodle named Harriette. She was 14, had had surgery to remove a tumor from her leg (common in tiny poodles) so most of her backside was shaved, and the rest of her was unimaginably scruffy. It was love at first sight. As soon as The Husband came home from work I grabbed him even before giving him dinner and off we went to the pet orphanage. We came home with a dog. We had Harriette for nearly a year – it turned out she also had a rare cancer and despite two surgeries we just could not keep her alive. She died just before The Husband left for yet another Iraqi deployment. While he was gone I adopted another cat, a pathetic older cat named Chloe who had been seized from a home where she had been tortured for years. She’s the biggest cat I’ve ever seen, and very beautiful, but constantly terrified. It took her years to become easy with The Husband and me. It’s sad, because although her mental faculties are still sharp, she is losing control of her bowels and bladder. She is 17, after all. We’ve had to create her a room within in a room that is lined with plastic where she can roam. Her bed and litter box and feeding tray are in there. We clean her enclosure and change her bedding at least once a day, and take her into the den with us several times a day, but it hurts that we cannot give her the freedom of the house. Before you ask, we’ve had her looked at by the vet several times, tried a variety of medicines, but nothing helps. She will live as comfortably as we can make it until she dies.

When The Husband returned we decided to get another dog. He will only consider a little dog, so we went to the pet orphanage – only to find that the only little dog they had was promised to a woman from out of town who was coming to get her at the end of the week. The staff – many of whom are friends – knew that The Husband was just back from a year in a war zone, so when I asked if we could just play with her for a little while they were happy to let us. We were in an exam room and when Mindy came in we knew she was Our Dog. She’s a small dog, half terrier mix and (I swear) half diva. She was scruffy (she’s always scruffy – it’s the way her hair grows) and wearing the ugliest little dress I’ve ever seen. We lost our hearts.

After about half an hour the director of the orphanage – whom we didn’t know – came in to pick Mindy up. We told her we wanted the dog. She told us that was impossible, that they had been talking to this woman from out of town and she was coming to pick up the dog in a few days. I said, “When she calls to tell you she doesn’t want the dog, call us because we do.”

The woman said it was ridiculous, that they had been talking to this woman for over two weeks and she was coming to get the dog. We went through this dialogue with increasing intensity several times before she finally agreed to take my phone number, probably more to shut me up than anything else.

The pet orphanage is 4.4 miles from our house. We had not made it home before my phone rang and this tremulous little voice said, “Mrs. Patterson? We just heard from (the woman) and she doesn’t want the dog.” We picked Mindy up the next morning and she has brightened our home ever since. For as long as she worked there, though, the orphanage director was very obviously careful never to be alone with me. I do wish, however, that I knew what I had done! It could be a very useful skill.

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

This question gave me pause. As involved as I am with animals, it was a shock to me to find that I don’t put animals in any position of prominence in my stories. My stories are so intense, and so involved, and usually set in odd places, that animals just don’t fit. I’m going to see about changing that. One thing I’ll never do is have animals that talk or solve crimes on their own.

I did put a cat in a book called LURE OF THE MUMMY – sort of. It’s a story of a cursed cat mummy and was the very first pure horror novel ever published by Carina or its parent company Harlequin.

What are you reading now?

Currently I am re-reading my friend Salima Ikram’s DIVINE CREATURES (about sacred animal mummies in Ancient Egypt) as research for a possible novel idea. For fun I’m reading an omnibus of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s short stories.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am one of those people who are not happy unless they have several projects going at once. At this exact moment I am working on the third Flora Melkiot mystery MURDER AT FIVE TO ONE, which is set in Las Vegas; Flora is a wealthy widow of a certain age who has been described as the ‘dark side of Miss Marple.’ I love her and kind of wish I could grow up to be her! I’m also working on a straight medical romance called FEVER HEAT about a medical team sent to the Mexican coast to help after a devastating hurricane. I’m about halfway through a straight romance called INDIAN SUMMER about two grandparents each of whom want sole custody of their orphaned grandson, so of course they fall in love. I’ve just finished the first book in my new Dr. Rachel Petrie, contract archaeologist series called A KILLING AT TARA TWO. It’s getting cold so I can start my editing process with a clear head before it goes to the real editor. I have just had a contemporary gothic romance called THE MASTER OF MORECOMBE HALL (about an American bride in England), a straight romance called ROMANCE AT SPANISH ROCK (about an LA photographer who inherits a ranch in Texas’ Palo Duro canyon) and a murder mystery called MURDER AND MISS WRIGHT (about murder and antiquities smuggling at a scholarly Egyptological conference) edited and am just waiting until I have time to format and self-publish them.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Oh, this is easy. Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters, aka Dr. Barbara Mertz. She had such a way with words, and such a gift for storytelling. I still am in awe of her talent. She is one of the reasons I decided that I really might make writing novels my own career instead of just a life-long hobby. It was truly a blessing was that we met and became dear if sporadic friends. What was truly funny was that although by the time we met I had almost a dozen novels published what brought us together was our work in and passion for Egyptology – not our shared career of writing!

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

My mother didn’t really care for pets, but when I was a small child we had a tribe of cats that lived outside and which we fed. Very rarely was I allowed to bring one inside as a special treat. I remember there being lots of them, but the names of only two – Lampshadey (hey – I was only three!) and Favorite. I do remember that a wild cat moved into our area and was killing our cats. My father borrowed a .22 rifle from a friend and chased the wild cat (which may even have been rabid – again, I was no more than four) into the garage where we had stored some furniture that wouldn’t fit into our tiny house. He finally killed the cat – after shooting the piano bench. I still have that bench, complete with the .22 slug in the seat.

Years later my father, who had had dogs all his young life, decreed that we get a dog. In the same year that Lady and the Tramp was released we got a cute little golden cocker spaniel named (no surprise) Lady. Her real name was Lady Ginger Banner Marinus Underfoot May – each name has a special meaning, but they’re too long to go into here. She had several litters of puppies, all of whom we found homes except for one which I refused to let go of. She was solid black, parentage unknown, but had a perfectly formed T on her chest and a perfect square on her left back foot, both in pure white. As my parents had an advertising agency and in the graphic arts a T-square is a basic tool, of course the dog became T-Square. We had both of them for years, until they were poisoned. We never knew who or why. There were no more animals in my life until I moved out on my own and got Sekhmet.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Oh, this is going to get naughty. Years ago, many years before I even met The Husband, I had a date with a nice young man. After dinner and a movie he took me home and we ended up in a heavy petting session in my darkened living room. I hadn’t seen fit to tell him that I had a cat – first of all because at the moment I had other things on my mind besides the cat and second because I knew the cat wouldn’t come out if someone strange was in the house. Well, the room was dark except for the glow of a streetlamp coming through the single window and we were… well, you know, snuggling on the couch when all of a sudden this nice young man let out a shriek. I didn’t usually have that effect on men, so I looked around and saw two bright red eyes glowing in the dark. Immediately I knew it was the cat – remember, she was pure black – sitting on the arm of a chair, just in the right place where the light behind her could make her eyes glow without showing her silhouette. Before I could say a word the nice young man jumped up and dashed out of the apartment, screaming all the way. Later I tried to reach him, but he never would take my calls. I had his shirt, his jacket and his shoes for almost a year before giving them to charity.

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

Two of my grandmothers were teachers. One grandfather was the publisher of a small town newspaper when that was a position of real power. My mother was a teacher, a producer of plays, a magazine columnist and an advertising agent. My father began as a printers’ devil when he was nine, edited and published newspapers all over Texas, taught journalism at Texas A&M (where he separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline), then with my mother began the family advertising agency which for 16 or the 17 years of its existence was one of the top 300 in the country. So, you see I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything but some kind of a wordsmith.

My parents never knew when I learned to read, but I did read them a short story from the newly arrived Saturday Evening Post (which neither of them had even seen) when I was three. By the time I entered the first grade I had read most of Boswell, some Pearl Buck, some Ellery Queen and most of Shakespeare. One of the biggest disappointments of my life was that once I got to school they started teaching us the alphabet and reading Dick and Jane aloud to us instead of discussing the motivations in Troilus and Cressida! I hated school from that moment of disillusion.

When I was four I wrote my first book. It was a tale of some children playing in the park who capture an escaped lion and make it home in time for supper. I printed and illustrated each page by hand, after having begged some paper and sewing thread from my parents. Daddy had told me about the different kinds of binding, saying that signature sewn was the best. I sewed twelve copies of my little book together. I think there are one or two still extant stored with my late mother’s papers. I’ve been writing ever since – sometimes for publication, sometimes not, but always writing no matter what else I did.

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

This changes just about every day. Right now it’s vacillating between getting back to Egypt for a relaxing holiday, as we haven’t been there in 3 years, and taking a loooong European river cruise. We’ve never taken a cruise like that (they are expensive!) and I would absolutely love to. Or it could be to go spend a month in England, visiting friends and doing research. Or it could be to go visit my dear friend in Peru.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

Chloe the cat is either in her plastic lined room or sitting beside my desk in her carrier. With her incontinence problems we cannot let her run free around the house any longer, but at least in her carrier she can be wherever we are, feel as if she is still part of the family, and we do take her out and hold her in our arms often. Mindy the dog is either running around barking at leaves, postmen and marauding moths, begging for scraps from my lunch or sleeping stretched out on the back of the couch.

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

Piles? Mountains are more like it. I live in a house with three libraries, and The Husband and I are contemplating a fourth. Plus, I have over 3,000 unread books on my Kindle – which I never use, as I prefer to read on my phone during the few short times I actually get to read for pleasure. The Husband and I prefer to buy our good reference books in hardcopy – he is an expert on war history and firearms, I research crime and the English Regency, and we are both avid amateur Egyptologists. (We met through our Egyptological studies, and he even proposed to me in a moonlit garden across the street from the Pyramids. Yes, those Pyramids!) If it weren’t for electronic reading our house would be so full of books we would have to sleep in a tent in the back yard!

Janis’ Biography:

Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson is a 7th-generation Texan and a 3rd-generation wordsmith who writes in mystery, romance, and horror. Once an actress and a singer Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist. Janis’ husband even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.

Janis’ Website 

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Welcome, Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. I’m a fourth-generation Californian who has now lived in Massachusetts longer than I lived in California. I’m a gardener and world traveler, the mother of two fine adult sons, and a full-time novelist writing cozy and historical mysteries and short stories north of Boston.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? Yes! My tuxedo cat Birdy, who sadly died last summer, is the foundling kitty in the Country Store Mysteries. Always curious and desperate to get on the other side of any door, he was also a cuddler. Preston, our Norwegian Forest cat, is the farm cat in my Local Foods Mysteries. And Christabel is the kitchen cat in my historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries.

What are you reading now? I’m almost done with Aimee Hix’s debut mystery, What Doesn’t Kill You, and next up is Shari Randall’s Curses, Boiled Again, followed by Bruce Robert  Coffin’s second Detective Byron mystery and Kellye Garret’s Hollywood Homicide. There is never a shortage of books I want to read!

What writing projects are you currently working on? I’m polishing Strangled Eggs and Ham, my sixth Country Store Mystery (even though the fourth comes out only next week). Next up is my second Cozy Capers Book Group mystery, and then my fifth Quaker Midwife Mystery.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them. We had only two cats, Punky and Blondy. Punky ran away and Blondy died of what my mother called cat fever. My dad found he was allergic to cats and we never had any more pets beyond fish. Loved those neon tetras, though.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? They are characters important to my protagonists, but they don’t talk or solve crimes. Even though I don’t know dogs very well, I do have a sweet husky-mix who belongs to the detective in the Local Foods Mysteries

Why do you include animals in your writing? I have animals in my life who mean a lot to me, and many others also do. I include animals for the same reason I include romance in my stories – it’s part of life.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why? I love Charlotte’s Web. We had the book on cassette tape (yes, I am that old) read by E.B. White himself, and my sons and I listened to it on many a car trip to Quebec and back when they were young. I love the intelligent Charlotte, the wicked Templeton, and dear Wilbur, as well as the human characters. The story tells of love and death and all the emotions in between, but it also has moments of humor.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? I wrote lots of stories as a child, and at about age nine, my mother told me I was a good writer. I took that to heart! I fell away from fiction for thirty or forty years, but I kept my wordsmith chops honed by doing journalism, academic writing, more journalism, and technical writing. Then I realized my true love was making people up, killing off one or two, and restoring justice to a fictional community.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why? There are many, but the most likely to be realized first is a trip to Italy with my beau. Or maybe I should say seeing my firstborn get married – he and his sweetie are engaged and looking at wedding venues, so that’s definitely going to happen within a year or so!

What do your pets do when you are writing? Pretty much what they always do – lie around sleeping. Birdy loved to sneak into my office and sleep on my feet or on a corner of my desk, but the other two stay mostly downstairs.

Readers: What do your pets do when you’re trying to focus on a task? Do you stick to cats or dogs, or have both your home? I will give away a signed copy of the new book to one commenter, so be sure to include your email address!

Biscuits and Slashed Browns: For country-store owner Robbie Jordan, the Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet escape from late-winter in South Lick, Indiana—until murder saps the life out of the celebration. Robbie drops her maple-curry biscuits to crack the case before another victim is caught in a sticky and murderous trap.

Biography and Social Media Links:

Edith Maxwell is a 2017 Macavity and Agatha Award nominee and has also had several short stories nominated for an Agatha. She writes the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries set in Amesbury, and the Local Foods Mysteries. Under the pseudonym Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to serve as President of Sisters in Crime New England and 2018 co-chair of New England Crime Bake.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and two cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

My web site, edithmaxwell.com, includes information about all my writing, including my historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries, my other contemporary series, and my award-winning short stories. Please stop by, and sign up for my newsletter, too. You can also find me at the following links:

Facebook: Maddie Day and Edith Maxwell

Twitter: @edithmaxwell and @MaddieDayAuthor

Pinterest: EdithMaxwell

Instagram: EdithMaxwellAuthor

 

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Meet Martin Roy Hill

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a native Californian. I grew up in Southern California and have lived there all my life, except for military service. I spent twenty-some years in journalism as a crime reporter and investigative reporter, and later as an editor, before switching careers and becoming a Navy analyst in combat casualty care.

The Navy job came about because of my military service as a medic of one kind or another in three branches of the service. In fact, I retired from the reserves in 2016 with 27 years of active and reserve service. I also spent several years as a medical specialist with the local sheriff’s wilderness search and rescue team, and with a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team. That background inspires my mysteries and thrillers.

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

My wife, Winke, and I are great animal lovers, and our son, Brandon, grew up with the same love for creatures great and small. When we first met, Winke had two orange tabbies, Teddy and Franny. The cats and I fell in love immediately. I’ve always joked I married Winke for her cats, and she agreed to marry me only because the cats insisted.

Currently, we only have one cat, a 15-year-old orange tabby named Harry Potter Maximilian. Unfortunately, Harry’s twin brother, Alexander Theodore, passed a couple of years ago from a stroke. Harry and Alex’s mama cat died in childbirth, and the litter was being hand fed by the owners. But Harry and Alex didn’t respond well to hand feeding. They were near death when they were given to our vet, Dr. Bruce Lindsey. Bruce is a great healer and through a herculean effort saved their lives. About the same time, we lost our two previous cats, Max and Molly, so Bruce gave us Harry and Alex. Harry was the sickest of the two when they arrived at Bruce’s clinic, so we named him Harry Potter, the cat who lived.

We also had a cockatiel we got from my parents. Her name was Tweetie and she ruled the roost. She literally would take no guff off Harry and Alex, but they adored her. They would curl up next to her cage all the time. It’s incredible how much personality can be packed into such a little package.

We also helped raise four or five generations of raccoons. One Christmas several years ago, I looked out our big bay window to find four little bandit faces looking at me over a fence. We immediately put out food and water, and they returned every night until they were grown. Later, the females would bring their babies. Two of the females had distinctive markings, unusual for raccoons, so we could identify them from the others. They always traveled together and would bring their latest babies. We called them Megs and Bines. They would come right up to the window or the sliding glass door and wait for us to put food out. Then they would play or curl up on our deck and sleep. Megs and Bines are gone now, but we still get mommy raccoons bringing their babies to us.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

My latest thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was published this past June. It’s the second in my Linus Schag, NCIS, series, and is centered around the real-world theft of $9 billion in U.S. cash from Iraq—the biggest heist in history and it’s never been investigated. You can read more about this true-life crime here: https://www.slideshare.net/MartinRoyHill/historys-biggest-heist-and-why-no-one-ever-investigated-it

My current work-in-progress is called Polar Melt and involves a special U.S. Coast Guard team investigating the mysterious disappearance of a research ship’s crew in the nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean. It’s a military sci-fi adventure inspired by global climate change. I spent 13 years in the Coast Guard, active and reserve, and it’s always been my favorite branch.

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

I pretty much grew up with cats, though I also had a dog named Whiskers, a couple of hamsters and turtles, a parakeet, and fish. But cats were always there. When I was just a toddler, we had a cat named Peaches. One day my mother caught me trying to give Peaches a bath in a bucket of soapy water she was using to mop the kitchen floor. Fortunately, she caught me in time. But Peaches never protested or did anything to hurt me. She just put up with me. She was a sweet, gentle thing.

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

I haven’t written much about animals. I write thrillers and I hate the idea of putting an animal in jeopardy in a story. Once I read a James Rollins novel in which a dog was a character. All through that book I kept yelling, “If you kill the dog, I’ll never read your books again!” Fortunately, the dog lived.

I did write a short story once in which a young woman takes vengeance on the man who killed her cat. I wrote it in a fit of anger after reading a newspaper article about an animal abuser. I never sold the story. Probably just as well, because the fate of the abuser was not pretty.

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

I would have to say it was Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey with Sally Fields, Michael J. Fox, and Don Ameche as the voices of the cat and dogs. We watched it all the time when Brandon was little, and we still love it.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

All our cats have had strong personalities, but Franny had the most ferocious personality. We took her to an animal psychic once who said Franny was only the second animal she ever knew who saw no difference between animals and humans. We were all equals in Franny’s eyes.

Once we had to take her to the emergency animal clinic and the vet, a stranger to us, told us Franny was blind because she wouldn’t follow his finger when he moved it back and forth in front of her face. He wouldn’t believe us when we explained she was simply being stubborn because she was upset about being at the clinic. Finally, I said, “Franny, follow the doctor’s finger.” The vet tried again and, sure enough, Franny followed his finger. It blew the vet away. But that was our Franny.

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

In high school, I had an English teacher who enjoyed the compositions I wrote for the class and urged me to consider writing as a career. I got a position on the school paper and started writing short stories. I’ve been doing it ever since.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Due to my work schedule, I do most of my writing on the run sitting in coffee houses and such, using my Kindle Fire and a Bluetooth keyboard. When I do work at home, I sit on the couch with my laptop. When Alex was alive, the laptop was his favorite place to relax. So, whenever he jumped up on the couch and settled down on the keyboard, I knew my workday was over. Harry, on the other hand, likes to curl up on my chest. He drapes himself over my shoulder and chest, and I keep on working.

Harry and I also have a daily ritual. When I get home from work, we go out to our enclosed patio—also known as our “cat-tio.” Harry gets some fresh catnip and I get a Scotch. We call it our “cat-tail hour.”

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

I just finished reading Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions. I have Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil waiting in my Kindle, along with a collection of H.G. Wells’ works, and another collection of Jules Verne’s works. In addition to those, I have several novels written by author friends that I’m planning to read.

Martin’s Website

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Meet Laurel Peterson

www.utechristinphotography.com

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Laurel Peterson to the blog!

Before I answer any questions, I just want to thank you, Heather, for having me on your blog. I’m really honored to be here and I enjoyed answering your questions.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a poet and a novelist, as well as a community college professor—which allows me to eat and pay the mortgage! I’ve got three books of poetry out, and have always thought of myself as more of a poet than a fiction writer. However, I love mystery novels, starting with Nancy Drew, and decided about a decade ago that I wanted to try the form. It’s been great fun testing and honing my storytelling skills, as well as thinking about ways I can use the genre to communicate messages about human experience. My first mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in 2016.

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

The main character in my Clara Montague mystery series is too fastidious to be a dog person, but her police chief lover definitely needs a dog. I love Labrador retrievers, which is the dog I had as a child—all my father’s brothers and their children ended up with Labs—because they are so friendly and patient and sweet. My dog wants nothing more than to hang out with us and to chase things we throw. His favorite game is to chase a Frisbee, which he then refuses to give back until he’s good and ready.

What are you reading now?

There is always a huge pile of TBR books on the floor.  At present, I am enjoying Tomas Transtromer’s the great enigma, and William Kent Krueger’s Sulfur Springs.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book of poems about flying and the stars. My father was an airline pilot and a conspiracy theory lover. Somehow those two themes cross in this book, and I’m having fun playing with the various directions they are taking me. I’ve also had fun with sources: NASA posts pictures from the international space station; FermiLab puts out newsletters on particle physics research (toned down for people like me who don’t understand the half of it), and of course, looking at old photos of my father in various flying garb.

I also woke up this morning thinking about the next book in my Clara Montague series. In this one, she works with an underwater archeologist. At least that’s the version this week.

Who is your favorite author and why?

In the mystery genre, my favorite author is Sara Paretsky. She’s just so smart, and I love smart people. I learn so much from them, and Paretsky is no exception. She has a PhD in history and an MBA from the University of Chicago, and you can see that attention to detail and accuracy in her novels. In addition, I love that she takes on issues in her work—faulty body armor or race relations. The mystery is about more than a murder; it’s about the fault-lines running through our communities and our nation. Attica Locke is another writer who is taking on issues. Black Water Rising and Bluebird, Bluebird both deal with race issues in America, as well as presenting an interesting whodunit.

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

H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald, is a fascinating memoir of her time training a goshawk to hunt, as a way of mourning her father’s death. Mabel, the goshawk, becomes a character in her own right, and the development of their relationship is funny and sharp and dark all at once.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s not so much a one-time event as a pet habit. When my cat was still alive, we fed him in the basement, which he accessed through a cat door. This kept the dog from scarfing all his food. In the evenings, after the cat had eaten, he would come up the stairs and sit behind the pet door, waiting. The dog, smelling him there, would stand on the other side, staring. This stand-off usually lasted several minutes, with one of them poking at the door with a nose or paw to try to tempt the other into engagement. Finally, the dog would relent a little, the cat would burst through the door and speed past him in to the living room, and there would ensue a wild, but short-lived scramble before the cat popped onto the ottoman and whapped the dog on the nose with his paw. Every single time.

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

I think this is a really hard question to answer. I can point to a moment in my childhood when writing became important to me—after I was bullied on the school bus and wrote a story to get my private revenge—but I don’t think I identified as a writer until after I left college and discovered that all other jobs were to support my writing time. By the time I went to grad school in my late twenties, I was sure writing was where my heart lived, but calling myself a writer probably didn’t come until after I’d started publishing on a regular basis in my early thirties. It’s a good thing we have a lifetime to figure ourselves out!!

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

The number one item on my bucket list is to visit Greece. I have wanted to go there since I was in fourth grade and Mrs. Marshall taught us all about the Greek myths. (Coolest, scariest teacher ever. That’s what I aim to be.) Since my father was an airline pilot, we did a fair amount of traveling when I was younger, but we never made it there. I want to see Athens, the Greek islands, and those fascinating monasteries built up high on the cliffs in Meteora. Of course these things are all in different directions.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

I lost a cat last February and he’s been very hard to replace. He used to come and sit on my desk next to me when I wrote. He was a big black and white cat, with a rumbly purr and tendency to rub my cheek with his. I miss him and his sweetness and playfulness intensely. The dog sleeps until it’s late afternoon, and then starts bugging me for a walk and dinner. For the dog, it’s all about him.

 

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

I have one very large TBR pile. It has books of poetry, books about immigrant life in the U.S., a book by a French food writer (mmm, getting hungry), Irving Stone’s Depths of Glory, a book by a poet I have to introduce at an event in a month, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, John Cheever’s journals, and a DVD on yoga and relaxation which is, frankly, where I should start.

About Laurel:

Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College and her poetry has been published in many literary journals. She has two chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line Press) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat Press). Her full length collection, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? (Futurecycle Press) was released in January 2017. She has also written a mystery novel, Shadow Notes, which is available through Barking Rain Press. She currently serves as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate.

You can find her at www.laurelpeterson.com, on Twitter: @laurelwriter49, or on Facebook. You can purchase her mystery novel here: Buy and her poetry here: Buy.

SHADOW NOTES by Laurel S. Peterson

Clara Montague’s mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead. Clara suspects she and her mother share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.

Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.

Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma, and then there’s a second murder.

Clara Montague has been gone from home for fifteen years, but when she dreams her mother is in danger, she comes home. A few days later, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested. Can Clara find the connection between the murders and her mother’s past that will save her mother and finally heal their relationship?

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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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