Welcome, Skye Taylor

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Skye Taylor to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

The saying, Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!” is my mantra. Life is an adventure and I’m still working my way through an exciting bucket list. I’m a mom and grandmother. I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes and love sailing, skiing, swimming, hiking and riding horses. I joined the Peace Corps in my 50s and had the most amazing experience in a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. And while I haven’t yet seen all the states, I’ve spent time in 28 of them and lived in eight. I’ve traveled on four continents, visited 15 countries and lived in two. I started out as a stay-at-home mom but have since been employed in several different fields and am thoroughly enjoying my latest career as a published author. I’ve hiked over glaciers, gone up in a helicopter, gone swimming with whales, crawled through lava tubes and dove into underwater caves. And just think of all the things I haven’t tried yet! One of the best things about writing novels is that I get to create characters who get to do some of the things I’ve done and some of those I haven’t had the time for yet.

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

My first dog was an English Bulldog named Salty who decided  after my dad posed me with him for a photo when I was about 6 months old that he needed to be in every picture of me thereafter. We rescued an abandoned baby squirrel when I was a kid and we’ve had gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, cats and fish too. Some of them are definitely models in my novels. My current pet, a mutt named MacDuff (picture attached) is my writing companion and my social director. I live on the beach and everyone in my neighborhood goes past my house to get to the sand. Duff has decided not only does he need to monitor this activity, but I need to come out to say hello to everyone who greets him on their way by. Which gets me out of my chair on a regular basis. It’s good for writers to be reminded to chat with real people now and then.

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 Camerons of Tide’s Way series there are pets in every book. But a couple of them are special. In Loving Meg, there is a police K-9 named Kip who is still grieving for his lost partner, and he intuitively takes on the task of helping my heroine, who is a Marine lieutenant just returned from a war zone with a ton of guilt and PTSD. Together they help to heal each other. While researching this book, I discovered a non-profit group, K-9s for Warriors in Northeast Florida that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them as service dogs for returned warriors who are suffering from PTSD. As of June 2018, this group has rescued 880 dogs and 445 soldiers. All my royalties from Loving Meg are donated to this cause. Kip has also appeared in other books in the series as has the kennel Ben Cameron runs and the program he initiated to train service dogs.

In my new series I have given my protagonist two pets: a cat with a lot of attitude named Seamus and a young lab named Murphy, for obvious reasons.

What are you reading now?

I just finished listening to Seeing Red by Sandra Brown and the newest Tom Clancy novel. On my phone I just finished the first book in a new series by J.H.Webber – a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth who is a real estate agent. The book’s title is A House to Die For. I’m also reading Death at Nuremberg by W.E.B.Griffin, and Sailing Away from the Moon by Ann Henry. I’m also reading a book I picked up at a conference titled, Bullies, Bastards and Bitches – How to write Bad Guys in Fiction, by Jessica Morrell. An awesome book considering my newest project.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

With Keeping His Promise, the fifth book in my contemporary romance series completed and released, I have turned my energy and enthusiasm to a totally new project, a mystery (I hope will become a series) with a female deputy sheriff detective as the protagonist. She’s lived the life her mother ordained for her right up until her husband cheated on her with a woman only a few years older than his own daughter. Now it was her turn to live the life she always wanted – to be a cop like her dad. And it turns out she’s good at it. To complicate her life, she has a disapproving mother, a son who barely speaks to his father and a daughter who thinks her dad’s new lady friend is far more interesting than her mom. Jesse’s partner, her mentor and the man who would like to be more than a friend round out the nucleus of this new cast of characters. Set in Northeast Florida, in a town named Coquina Beach, the series starts with a woman murdered in her own home. Her husband is the obvious suspect, but Jesse is convinced he didn’t do it, so who did?

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have so many it’s hard to name them all, but for a start: Elizabeth Ogilvie, Georgette Heyer, W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Lee Child, A. E. Howe, Diana Gabaldon and Johanna Spryi. All of them because they write a great story with people I can really care about. Some of them write stories that keep me on the edge of my seat, others I can curl up with to enjoy on a cold rainy day or take to the beach.

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

In some of my stories, like Kip in Loving Meg, are an important character in their own right, in others they are there because it’s a way of life for me and there seems to be something missing when there isn’t a pet wagging in greeting at the door or winding their way through your legs as you try to put dinner on the table.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals in stories play a number of roles. Sometimes they are just comedic relief. Other times they give the author a great vehicle to show a human character’s good or bad side. How a man treats an animal says a lot about what kind of person he is.

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

See the answer to the question above. Kip started out his career as a Police K-9, but later becomes a service animal for Meg. In later books, he shows up as a therapy dog when Meg visits the hospital at Camp Lejeune to help injured Marines find a positive attitude in dealing with injuries, both physical and emotional.

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

The book, Until Tuesday, by Luis Carlos Montalvan is the true story of how a beautiful golden retriever named Tuesday rescued this seriously injured, both physically and mentally, soldier and gave him back his life. The beautiful, trusting relationship that grew for these two was heartwarming and gave such promise for other wounded veterans. There are several other books out about Tuesday and Montalvan telling how he used his success to motivate others.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

For this question, I’m just going to give you the link to my blog post about the time my dog took off in the middle of a thunderstorm to swim ashore (like that was safer than the solid wooden cottage he was in at the time)

https://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/237

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

Which pile?  The one beside my bed? The one on my desk? Or perhaps the one on the ottoman in front of my comfy reading chair? Then there’s the audible books on my phone and the e-books on my Kindle. And there’s Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader beside the toilet. Beside my bed is my Bible, two romances and a children’s book. On my desk are books on formatting, character development and police procedure. On the ottoman the pile changes constantly and includes magazines, newspapers and any other print book I’ve got going. Currently the aforementioned Bullies, Bastards and Bitches, and Jeff Shaara’s newest book, The Frozen Hours. On my phone in audio book are a half a dozen titles and at least 30 I haven’t read yet on my Kindle. I think I need to live to about 300 to get all of them read!

About Skye

Skye Taylor, mother, grandmother and returned Peace Corps volunteer lives St Augustine Florida, soaking up the history, taking daily walks along one of the prettiest beaches and writing novels. She posts a weekly blog and a monthly newsletter, volunteers with the USO and is currently working on a new murder mystery series. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Florida Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime. Her list of published novels include: The Candidate, Falling for Zoe, Loving Meg, Trusting Will, Healing a Hero, Keeping His Promise and Iain’s Plaid. Visit her at www.Skye-writer.com

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Welcome, Katie Andraski

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Katie Andraski to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My original “call” to be a writer happened in the big red barn where we stored our hay, during one winter rain. I’d been reading C.S. Lewis, and wanted to do for others what he did for me. I wanted to capture a vision of glory and offer it to my readers. I ached to do this so badly I wept and asked God if I could.

I followed this “call” to an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and followed it yet again as a publicist for Crossway books. I pretty much launched that company as far as publicity goes. I worked with Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, Stephen Lawhead, and Larry Woiwode. I began work on my novel The River Caught Sunlight during this time.

When I found myself teaching composition at Northern Illinois University I began drafting other books—poetry, a collection of essays, very rough memoirs, and sequels to my novel. The only books that I have published are a poetry collection in 1988, When the Plow Cuts, and The River Caught Sunlight in 2014.

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

We have two Norwegian Fjord ponies, two Australian Shepherd dogs, two cats, and approximately seven chickens. (As of this writing, we’re not sure of the count.) I am currently shopping around a collection of poetry called Spiritual Warhorse, which is about the spiritual and psychological journey I’ve been on with my two horses. They have helped me practice new habits of thought and introduced me to a community of good people. I’ve written about the chickens and the cats in my blog and on Facebook.

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

A former race horse, Martha, and Johnny, her son, the result of an oops breeding, showed up in my novel The River Caught Sunlight. (They are fictional horses.) Janice finds out Marcel is going to marry her brother while the two women are riding. She doesn’t react well. I also wrote about a Bernese Mountain Dog, Joshua, who appears towards the end of the book. Janice is going to buy a young dog to keep her company and finds a place to live as well as the man she will marry in the process. At the time I owned and showed two Bernese and wanted to write a plot thread about showing these dogs for the sequel. The book took so long to write my Berners are long gone as are the first two Aussies that I owned. When you’re writing, time slides by.

What are you reading now?

I read way too much Facebook. I’m also reading a friend’s book, Because I Do Not want to Disappear, which is about his battle with leukemia and lymphoma. It’s philosophical and well written. I’m a few chapters into How Jesus Saves the World from Us by Morgan Guyton. He offers a fresh and challenging way to follow Jesus. I’m also reading Paul by N.T. Wright, a book that pulls together the apostle’s life as shown through his epistles and the book of Acts. Finally, I just started Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I try to write my blog as regularly as possible, which takes up much of my writing time. I also write short Perspectives for our local NPR station, WNIJ. Those appear every five weeks. I would like to re-publish my poetry collection, When The Plow Cuts this year. I would like to settle down and work on one of my novel sequels and maybe collect my blog posts into a memoir of sorts.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I admire Annie Dillard because of how precisely and spiritually she writes about nature. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek grabbed me when I was a young writer in the seventies. She helps me look closely at the world around me. I also admire Mark Helprin because of how lush and slow moving his books are. His sentences make me stop and ponder.

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

My first pet was a calico cat named Puffball. One summer my parents brought up two puppies, one right after the other, that both died. I was heartbroken with the double grief. But my brave parents, found another dog, this time he was six months old, and gave him to me for Christmas. He was a border collie from working lines. They took him to the vet right away and got him checked out before they brought him home. He bonded to me when I handed him a piece of turkey. A close family friend still remarks about how loyal he was to me.

I also got a pony, Trigger, who was quite the escape artist. When I out grew her, my brother rode her bareback and I rode a chesnut mare, who was probably gaited, that I called My Whisper. I showed her at local open shows. My brother and I rode in the back country between our home and our town. I sold Trigger to Mary who boarded her at my house and we continued our adventures riding all over the area.

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

The animals are characters in their own right. They thread through the two sequels I’ve written to The River Caught Sunlight that and play a major role in an unfinished young adult novel that is a prequel. The working title of the young adult novel is Two Girls Who Love the Same Horse.

 

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals are a major part of my life.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

My red Aussie, Little Dog, call name Doupy, lies at the foot of my chair while I’m writing. If I am lost in my work, she will bark at my husband when he walks in the room, to let me know he is there. The other Aussie, Night, lies somewhere nearby. Sometimes the cat will sit on the table that is near one of my writing chairs. Right now he’s moved from sleeping on the landing to sleeping next to me. My mare, Morgen, will stand at the fence and look for me if I take too long to come out. Some times she whinnies. The rooster will occasionally jump on the porch and crow.

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

I just picked up This Day by Wendell Berry, which is a collection of his Sabbath poems. I’d like to dig into Mary Oliver’s collected poems, Devotions. Also I’d like to read The Age of the Horse about horses in history. Barking to the Choir is also on my list.  Finally I’d also like to order Lee Martin’s The Mutual UFO Network, which is about how redemption is possible even in difficult situations. I have about six TBR piles, two of which are books already on shelves. I love to read but save it for bedtime, which means it takes forever to finish a book.

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

There’s a big, fat chair in the corner of our living room, with an ottoman for my feet. There’s a table where I can put my tea and just enough room for the dog to lie at my feet and the cat to sit on the table if he so chooses. The light coming through the blinds can be quite beautiful.

We moved my favorite writing chair into my office because we couldn’t bear to throw away our old loveseat even though we had bought a new one. I don’t sit there very often because my office is where I dump stuff and the light isn’t very good except in the morning. When I do, the chair seems to wrap me up in writing vibes. I heard once that sometimes a favorite chair or routine can be a cue for us to do our writing. That seems to be true for me.

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

Be open to people who have gone ahead of you as writers. Don’t limit yourself to the well published, fancy writers. Sometimes your first year English teacher, or the person who has been living a writing life for years, have wisdom for the road ahead. They might be able to save you missteps.

The biggest insight I can offer, is to try to stay alone with your story, essay, poem until you’ve imagined it end to end. If possible take it as far as you can take it before you show it to people. Years ago I was in a First Draft writers group that critiqued our chapters as we wrote them. Unfortunately I found the first chapters were highly polished but the book pushed out to the end. When I let go of this idea and stayed alone with my work, I was able to complete the draft. When others comment on your work, they are often inserting their imagination. They tell you what they would do, which is fine, but you might lose the very quiet voice of the story itself. That voice is pretty wise as far as knowing where your story is going.

The revision process can show you so much about your story. The first draft often merely scratches the surface, but as you work away at the story, it can unfold and become more itself as you learn to listen to what it’s telling you. When I cut things I put them in a separate file of Cut Stuff so that I didn’t feel like I was throwing it away. A good editor can help you dive deeper with the material. I have read several self-published books that read like polished first drafts, with undeveloped plot lines. So be sure to take the time to revise and proofread your work before you publish it.

Finally, here is a short piece I wrote for WNIJ that talks about how not all our dreams come true, not even the publishing dreams. But how our life unfolds might be better. http://northernpublicradio.org/post/working-dream

Katie’s Biography:

Katie Andraski recently retired from twenty years of teaching developmental composition at Northern Illinois University. She published her first novel The River Caught Sunlight in 2014 with Koehler books and published her collection of poetry When the Plow Cuts in 1988 with Thorntree Press. She blogs regularly at https://katieandraski.com and writes Perspectives for the local NPR station,WNIJ. She lives on a tiny farm with her husband and two Norwegian Fjord horses, two dogs, two cats and seven chickens.

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Cuteness: A Survival Tactic

This is Kathleen Kaska’s final post with Pens, Paws, and Claws. We’ll miss her in our regular rotation of bloggers, and we’ll hope she’ll stop by from time to time for a visit.

Do you ever wonder why most people go gaga over babies—human and otherwise?

When I was studying physical anthropology at the University of Texas, one of my professors caught slack after he said that baby animals were cute so that their mothers would take care of them. Anthropomorphism in the world of science was a big no-no back then, and still is in certain academic situations. However, recent brain research seems to support my professor’s claim.

There is a recent article in The Telegraph by Sophie Jamieson about an Oxford University study concluding babies and puppies have evolved cute characteristics as a way to survive. It goes beyond visual attributes like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and infantile giggles. Sounds and smells also stimulate the nervous system to give care to the cute. Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Morten Kringelbach led the research and said, “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.” That also might be why we more often choose young animals for pets rather than older ones.

Beyond stimulating our need to nurture, owning a pet, regardless of the animal’s age, can make us healthier. It’s no secret that pets relax us when we’re stressed, but did you know there’s a scientific reason for that? Cuddling a pet releases the chemical oxytocin sometimes called “the cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin calms and soothes both the owner and the pet, which leads to a strong bond between both. That bond between dog and human is the strongest. Dogs are the only animal that consistently run to meet their owner when frightened or happy to see them. They are the only ones to make eye contact with people when they need attention, food, or protection.

Other studies show that owning a pet improves our cardio-vascular system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of asthma. Cuddling or petting a pet reduces the stress hormone cortisol in those who suffer from clinical depression. Dogs are also being trained to detect, usually by smell, certain diseases or malfunctions of the human body. For example, trained dogs can detect minute changes in the function of the adrenal glands of people suffering from Addison’s disease. Some can use their sense of smell to detect the development of cancer or diabetes, and others learn to detect early signs of epileptic seizures and to warn their owner.

I used to teach middle-school science before I retired. Although I loved my job, I usually left the classroom stressed. A half-hour commute home through heavy traffic added a tight knot between my shoulders. Only when I turned down my street did I begin to relax. When I looked at my front window and saw my little brown, mixed-breed hound Jenny watching for me, the tension washed away completely.

Links:

https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/

http://www.kathleenkaska.com

http://www.blackopalbooks.com

https://twitter.com/KKaskaAuthor

http://www.facebook.com/kathleenkaska

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Meet Teresa Inge, Luke and Lena

Pens, Paws, and Claws Blogger, Teresa Inge, tells us about her writing and her love for pets. 

 Tell our readers about yourself and your writing.

 I am a short mystery author of several anthologies.

 My stories have been included in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of short stories set in Virginia.

 My latest publication is in 50 Shades of Cabernet, “Love the Wine You’re With.” The story features Jules Riley who has three things on her mind. Plan the Virginia Beach Wine Fest, rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, a hot local musician, and keep her sister Em sober. But when Em serves up a deadly appetizer that Jules made, she is accused of murder.

 Tell us about your pets?

 I have two dogs Luke and Lena who were named after my husband’s grandparents. Luke is a country boy, part shepherd, part lab. Lena is a city girl, part shepherd and Husky mix.

 Tell us what you are currently writing?

 I am completing a novella dog walking mystery that includes myself and three other authors. My story, “Hounding the Pavement,” features dogs Cagney and Lacey who help solve a crime and theft.

 Anything else you want to share?

 I am a Sisters in Crime member and president of the Mysteries by the Sea chapter in Chesapeake, Virginia. Our chapter is currently coordinating the Mysteries by the Sea anthology.

 I am also a board of director with the Chesapeake Humane Society and love helping animals.

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A Service Dog to the Rescue

A Service Dog to the Rescue

 By Sheri S. Levy

Kathy, sobbed on the phone. “Logan’s missing! My husband’s golfing and hasn’t returned my call.”

“I’m on my way.” I filled my pouch with treats and snapped his water bottle to my belt. “Let’s go, Syd.”

Kathy stood out front, waving her arms.

Sydney and I bolted from the car. I held her hand as she blubbered information. “Logan had a meltdown when his brothers left to play golf. With his autism, there’s no way Logan can sit in a golf cart all morning.”

I clasped my hands together, easing my tension. “I’ve only played hide and seek with Sydney. He’s a service dog in training, not a search and rescue dog. But Logan and Sydney have made such a strong connection on the beach, Syd may be able to find Logan. But you’ll need to stay here.”

Kathy’s eyes widened.

I touched her shoulder. “You have to be here in case he comes home or someone calls.”

She sobbed. “I’ll go crazy, waiting.”

A load of gravel hit the pit of my stomach, one stone at a time. “Will Logan get in the water?”

She shook her head. “Not without his life jacket. He may walk a long way and forget how to get home. He doesn’t know his phone number and can only say his first name.”

Relieved, I smiled. “That’s good, he won’t get in the water. Can you give me an item he wears? Sydney needs his scent.”

As I clicked-on Syd’s vest, his amber eyes brightened and his lips spread into a grin. He was on duty.

Kathy rushed over, carrying Logan’s ball cap and spoke in spurts. “I’m surprised he…ran off without… this.” She gasped. “He doesn’t like… the sun in his eyes.”

“That’s perfect.”

I held Logan’s ball cap up to Sydney’s nose. “Find, Logan.”

He inhaled the scent, backed up, jiggled his stub, and shoved his nose again into the cap. That was his signal, “I know what you want me to do.”

“Good boy, Syd. Find, Logan.”

I let him run, getting his bearings. He lunged into the bushes behind Logan’s house, and then circled the sea grass in the dunes. As he dashed toward the water, his nostrils opened and closed level with the sand, and then he made a U-turn. Racing on dry sand, he sniffed his way up the coast. After each inspection, Sydney woofed. Logan would recognize Syd’s bark and come running.

If he heard. Or if he could? Shivers ran up my neck.

High tide moved down, leaving no foot-prints, no trail of food, and no way to know which way Logan might have gone.

Before heading up a wooden path, I returned the cap to Syd’s nose. “Find, Logan.”

We repeated checking the dunes, and under each house, block after block.  After an hour and a half, I said, “Down,” in someone’s empty carport. Syd panted heavily and rested. Once his breathing slowed, we shared a bottle of water.

What if Logan knocked at someone’s door, and they took him in. My insides shuddered. What if we can’t find him? I wiped my damp face.

Kathy phoned. “My sons are going door to door. And my husband contacted the island police. They’re patrolling the streets.” She took a long breath. “This is the longest he’s ever been gone.”

My voice squeaked out. “So, he’s done this before?”

“Twice. He’s never gone very far, but each time it’s happened, he’s walked a little farther.”

“Did he have a special hiding spot?”

She whispered, “No.”

My chest tightened. “We’ll find him. He’s getting older. I bet he’s just found a better hiding place.”

“Okay, Syd. Find, Logan.” He turned in circles, excited to be back on the job. When we reached the pier, I said a prayer. Maybe he’s up there watching the seagulls, or looking for dolphins.

As I looked left, despair swallowed any relief. On the other side of the pier, strangers camped in tents or in trailers at the State Park.

We scoured every corner of the pier and restaurant. My stomach quivered with no sign of Logan.

Collapsing on the pier, I sat crossed-legged. My hands covered my face and I cried. Sydney put his nose under my arms, lifting my hands to lick the dripping tears.

I looked into his tired eyes. “You need a rest.” We walked down the stairs, and I undid his vest.

Sydney dashed at the small waves, popping the white bubbles in the foam. I didn’t care if he got wet. He was free to relax.

The sun blazed, making the sand too hot for bare feet. I worried about Sydney’s feet, and then Logan’s. Would he look for shade?

Five minutes later, I strapped-on Syd’s vest and lifted Logan’s cap to his nose.

“Find, Logan.”

He turned in circles, wiggled his rear end, and darted to the dunes. Then he put his nose close to the sand, sniffing like a hound dog. Chills traveled up my body. He was onto something. It better not be a fish.

Sydney tramped up to a tree in someone’s backyard, turned around and circled me like he was saying, “Hurry up.”

“What do you smell, Syd.”

He barked and showed me foot prints. They were small, bare feet.

“Okay. Show me.”

Sydney sniffed the ground. I followed. He circled the dune once more and followed footprints from the ocean to the trees. He wouldn’t move forward.

“What is it Syd?”

I glanced between the dune and the trees. Steps to someone’s house, painted sky-blue, had disguised a three-sided outdoor shower under the wooden steps. An ocean-blue plastic shower curtain decorated with colored fish closed the opening. Syd crept towards the shower stall.

I pressed my lips together. Could Logan be inside? Was he hurt?

Sydney stood at attention. “Good boy.”

Syd’s body squirmed, making an indention in the sand with his bottom.

I slid the curtain back, an inch at a time. There was a small bench on the back wall and shaded by the tree. Sleeping with one arm under his head and one arm hanging off the ledge, Logan breathed, peacefully. He had no idea of the ordeal he had begun.

My eyes teared. Face to face with Sydney, I whispered, “Good Boy. You have the honor of waking him.”

Sydney’s eyes sparkled. He slinked in, put his nose under Logan’s limp arm and licked his cheek.

Logan’s eyes opened. He squealed, “Syd-ney. Syd-ney. Want see.” Logan sat, lifting his beaming face, showing two missing teeth on the top and on the bottom.

I snatched Logan’s hand and said, “Sydney, home.”

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The Dogs in My Life: Part IV – Copper

In Part I, I told you about my first dog, Sandy, a Golden-mix from my childhood. Part II was devoted to Einstein and Part III to Ranger, both purebred Golden Retrievers. Each of these dogs made an impact on my life, and I loved them all, but none made an impact the way Copper did.

It was December 2002, less than a month after we had to put Ranger down due to an inoperable tumour. Neither Mike nor I was ready for another dog. We needed time to heal. Fate had other plans.

At the time I was with a running club training for a half marathon. As with any running group, there were people of all paces, though we did tend to meet for coffee after our Sunday long runs to lament aches, pains, and cold weather. I was one of the slower runners, so I was surprised when one of the speedier ones, Teresa, sat next to me.

“I heard you lost your dog,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

I nodded, not able to speak.

“The thing is, my friend owns Kyon Kennels and they have an eight-month-old puppy that was a return to breeder. They’re looking for a good home for  him. I thought about you and Mike.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re not looking for another dog. Not yet.” Especially not one returned to the breeder.

Teresa patted my hand and handed me a piece of paper with Kyon’s website. “Copper’s picture is on there. You can see him on Boxing Day, if you’d like. They don’t believe in placing dogs in new homes before Christmas.”

I went home, checked online, and found Copper’s picture (no mean feat in a time of internet dial-up). “Hey, Mike, come see.”

“Well,” Mike said, “Let’s go see him. We don’t have to bring him home.”

HA! You can imagine how that went. A slightly overweight puppy ran out of the breeder’s barn and sat on my feet. Well, I needed my feet, didn’t I?

We brought Copper, CKC name Kyon’s Time to Shine, home on December 26, 2002. He’d never seen stairs and had no idea how to navigate them. When I let him out in the yard, a car drove by and spooked him. “I think we have our work cut out for us,” Mike said.

He was wrong. A gentle soul, if you taught Copper something once, whether it be a command or an admonishment, he obeyed forever. After a couple of months, were even able to leave an open bowl of dog cookies on a small table at the front door. He didn’t eat them unless we gave him one. He walked on a flat leash as though he’d been trained to heel at birth. If he had a fault, it was that he wasn’t a great car traveller. Gravol took care of that, too, and we even drove to Florida with him when Mike did his first Ironman in Clearwater. I can remember when the US Customs guard asked if Copper was aggressive. As if on cue, Copper sat up in the back seat, his red Dino stuffed toy in his mouth. I think the guard may have actually cracked a smile.

For 12 years, Copper helped us get through some tough times, including my 2008 breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. That dog didn’t leave my side from the moment I got home from the hospital at night to the moment I left for treatment every morning. 

But of course, the heartbreak of dog ownership is that we outlive them. On Boxing Day 2014, exactly 12 years after we’d brought Copper into our home, he died of stomach cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever cried quite so hard. It truly was like losing my best friend.

Today, I view Copper as a wonderful  blessing in my life. But even as I write this, I find a tear or two trickling down my cheek. Here’s a two-minute video of his life with us, should you care to watch it.

Thanks for reading.

Judy

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Welcome, Maureen Bonatch

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Maureen Bonatch to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello! I’m Maureen Bonatch from small-town Pennsylvania. I write humorous paranormal romance and fantasy. My stories are meant to allow you to escape from the ordinary world for a little bit to visit the underlying extraordinary.

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

Currently Scuff, our Shih Tzu, is our only pet. I often use my pets in my writing, but usually change their name. Scruff is in a WIP. My featured book today, EVIL SPEAKS SOFTLY, stars Mozart. He is a Lhasa Apso and modeled after our beloved 14-year-old Lhasa Apso, Bummy who died 5 years ago. Before you ask, we kept the name he had when we got him. He was dubbed “Bummy” because he was a “bum pup” or “the runt” of the litter and we loved him dearly. He was my baby long before I had babies.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Where do I start? I’m always working on something. Right now, I’m waiting for my editor to finish Book #2 for The Enchantlings Series entitled NOT A CHANCE. I also have multiple works in progress in varying draft states.

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

The first pet that was an indoor pet was Mimi. She was a toy poodle. I call her my pet, but in reality, she was closest to my Mom. We always had cats, a few rabbits and my dad always had ‘hunting dogs’ (even though I don’t know how often he actually went hunting with them, lol), but they lived outside.

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

The animals in my writing always end up being a secondary character. I have so much fun writing them. They are often a pet, or some type of guardian. One of my WIP has a shifter in it and when she shifts she can talk to other animals.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I believe that most people love animals and feel as if they’re part of their family. I like to write the animals in my stories the same way. Plus, they allow me to show my hero or heroine’s vulnerabilities and compassion.

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

I don’t know why, but Boo, from Dean Koontz’s book ODD THOMAS comes to mind. I love those stories.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

I consider Scruff my writing assistant. He usually comes up to my office and either pesters me for a treat, or lays right behind my chair so I’m forced to keep on writing. He also will decide when I need a break and fuss until I get up and toss a toy around, or just give him a little attention.

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

My twin girls are both big animal lovers. They’re 16 now, but when they were growing up, we had a range of critters that they considered pets, whether they really were or not. Starting from worms (each ‘Wormy’ rarely survived the night), frogs and toads, tadpoles, fish, hermit crabs, a hamster and lastly two guinea pigs. Our last guinea pig died about six months ago.

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

 I wish I would’ve realized how much easier it would be to finish each series before starting another one. The story is always there and will wait. Allowing myself to become distracted by other shiny new ideas has resulted in having multiple series, and standalone stories, in progress. It becomes challenging to move from each story without a lot of rereading.

I wish I would’ve realized from the start how each book can be promoted and marketed for a lifetime. Initially I felt as if once a book was out for six months or so, that I should focus on promoting the next, or newest story, when a book is always new to someone.

Author Biography:

Maureen Bonatch grew up in small town Pennsylvania and her love of the four seasons—hockey, biking, sweat pants and hibernation—keeps her there. While immersed in writing or reading paranormal romance and fantasy, she survives on caffeine, wine, music, and laughter. A feisty Shih Tzu keeps her in line. Find Maureen on her websiteFacebookTwitter

Let’s Be Social:

Amazon Author Pagehttp://www.amazon.com/Maureen-L.-Bonatch/e/B00KHY1KK8/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/mbonatch

Websitehttp://www.maureenbonatch.com

Newsletter:  http://eepurl.com/1AV4L

Pinteresthttp://www.pinterest.com/maureenbonatch/

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

 

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Welcome, Jane Finnis

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Jane Finnis to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello, pet-lovers! I’m joining you from Yorkshire, northern England. I live near the coast here with my husband Richard and our cocker spaniel Rosie. I write a series of mysteries, novels and short stories, that are set in Roman Britain. I’ve been fascinated by history all my life, and love the research I need to do to get the historical background right. My main sleuth (you can’t really say “detective” for those times) is Aurelia Marcella, a Roman settler who runs the Oak Tree Inn on the road to York. She and her sister and twin brother get drawn into solving crimes that lead to trouble and often danger. There’s plenty of both, because Britannia in Aurelia’s day was a raw frontier province, quite recently conquered, and simmering with barely suppressed violence. It’s a wonderful backdrop for stories of murder and mayhem.

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

We share our home with Rosie, a black cocker spaniel aged 11. She’s lively, clever, and loving, and of course she’s got us well trained to provide walks, food, and attention. She’s our fourth cocker spaniel, and when a spaniel turns those appealing eyes on you, you can’t refuse anything! My husband keeps fish too, the brightly coloured sorts like koi and golden orf. Interesting pets though not exactly cuddly, and their pond make a lovely addition to our garden.

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

There are dogs aplenty, because the Romans valued them, not just as pets but for farm work and guarding. It’s no surprise that one of the best-known mosaics unearthed in Pompeii has the warning “Beware of the dog”, but whether the residents really had a fierce guardian or just didn’t like visitors much, who knows? My innkeeper Aurelia keeps pet dogs, different ones as the series progresses through the years. Our first dog, going back forty years or so now, was a smart black labrador cross called Lucky, and she makes a cameo appearance in Aurelia’s first adventure, SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT, when she discovers the body of a horse in the woods. There are also, as you’d expect at a country inn, several household cats, sort of pets but mainly kept for pest control duties.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of another Aurelia Marcella novel, LABYRINTH OF LIES, which takes Aurelia away from her inn and down to London (but not away from mysteries!) That’s still a work in progress so there’s no publication date yet. Right now I’m just finishing an anthology of short stories set in Roman times, and several include Aurelia and her family. The collection is due out in May, and is called SIX ROMAN MYSTERIES, unless I can think of a more original title.

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

Yes. I specially remember a red cocker spaniel called Wendy who produced four pups, very exciting; and we had two tabby cats called Tinker and Tailor. I kept rabbits too, one at once because you know what rabbits are, and used to take them with me to and from boarding school.

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

Animals are as important in my stories as they were to the people I’m writing about, which means very important indeed. I don’t use them actually to do the detecting, but they and their actions, such as leaving or following telltale tracks or appearing unexpectedly, can be crucial for unravelling the twists and turns of a mystery plot.

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

Yes, heaps of them. As I’m writing about the long-ago past, pre-steam and pre-petrol, transport animals abound. From glossy horses to dusty mules and donkeys and lumbering oxen, they bring customers and their problems to Aurelia’s door. Then there are farm animals, army mounts, and I can’t resist mentioning hunting dogs occasionally, as British dogs were highly prized. by hunters even in Rome itself. According to the ancient writer Oppian, the native Britons raised a breed they called Agassian, “…endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth…For tracking it is the best there is.”

Aurelia doesn’t hunt but she does enjoy riding when she can, This is in character… and needless to say it comes in dead useful for plot purposes sometimes!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Richard and I and our first dog Lucky went touring on holiday once in a caravan. One beautiful evening we parked in a field by the sea, and went for a walk on the sands; Lucky always loved water. As we headed back for supper Richard realised the one and only caravan key had somehow slipped from his pocket and got lost. We searched far and wide with no luck; dusk was falling and panic set in. Then we spotted Lucky sitting calmly in the middle of the sands, refusing to budge even when we called her. Lo and behold, she was sitting on the missing key! You can bet she got extra treats with her supper that night.

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

I moved my TBR pile onto a shelf after it began to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are 40+ titles there, all sorts of mysteries, also biographies and science fiction and even some poetry. Now I just need one more volume…an instruction book on how to bend the physical laws of space/time so I can double the number of hours in my day.

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

First, there are many useful lists of “rules” by eminent people telling you how to write novels, and it doesn’t hurt to read them. Second, having read them, it doesn’t hurt to disregard them if you like. Tell a good story in an interesting way, that’s the only rule you really need.

About Jane Finnis

FYI my married name is Jane Copsey, but I always write and blog as Jane Finnis.

For more information visit my website,  www.janefinnis.com,  or find me on Twitter where my handle is Jane_Finnis.

Brief biog: I was born in Yorkshire, but went to University in London and  then worked in the civil service, in computers, and then for BBC Radio. When I married, Richard and I came back to Yorkshire and ran a craft shop. Now we’re retired and I have time to write fiction.

My novels are available in  print and as e-books. They are published in the USA by Poisoned Pen Press, Arizona, and in the UK and Commonwealth by Head of Zeus, London.

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Welcome, Val Muller

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes Val Muller to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

By day, I’m an English teacher. By night, I’m a corgi-tamer, toddler-chaser, and writer. I’ve written a range of work from the middle-grade mystery series Corgi Capers to The Scarred Letter, a young adult reboot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous work.

As an English teacher, I get to talk about writing all day. When watching movies with family, I have a habit of analyzing storylines and writing techniques and, as my husband notes, I have the uncanny ability to tell whether a movie is “good” during the first few minutes.

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

My two corgis, Leia and Yoda, are the inspiration behind the Corgi Capers mystery series. The series follows a fifth grader named Adam and his seventh grade sister. The two corgis in the novel, the fictional Zeph and Sapphie, are modeled after my corgis.

Yoda is afraid of almost anything. Thunder and chirping smoke detectors, strange people, aluminum foil shaken too loudly, a ceramic duck… but he has a heart of gold. He’s protective and concerned: if his sister is up to her usual antics, he’ll run up to me and howl—his “tattle tale.” He’ll even tattle tale on the toddler, which is sometimes a big help.

Leia is almost the opposite. She’s rambunctious and nearly fearless (for some reason, she is terrified of the chirping smoke detector, too. It might be because when we moved into our current house, the detector was chirping). She frequently rolls in and eats dirt, mud, sand, grass, and various other unmentionables. She is the most vocal and the definite inspiration behind my favorite Corgi Capers character, Sapphie, who is always getting everyone into trouble with her playful attitude and lack of judgment.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Funny story. I have the outline done for Corgi Capers book 4. Actually, I had it finished over two years ago, right before my daughter was born. On the release date for Corgi Capers 3, a fire alarm went off at my work, and the fire company showed up. I thought it was a coincidence because book 3, Curtain Calls and Fire Halls, features a fire station and an accidental near-fire.

Fast forward to book 4. It takes place during the winter, and there’s a disabling blizzard. My daughter’s due date was February 7, and I was afraid that if I wrote the book beforehand, she might be born during the storm, which is something that happens to a family member in the novel. Turns out I should have written the book. My daughter was born during the historic blizzard (I blogged about it here: http://www.valmuller.com/2016/02/11/stormborn-by-val-muller/). Now, every time I sit down to finish the novel, I struggle to find the happy magic of snow and am afraid it will become too dark for a chapter book.

In other writing endeavors, I have a novel half written and on the backburner. It’s about some of the issue that arise in the public school setting. I see it as a mix between The Chocolate Wars and a more modern young adult work, with some of The Grapes of Wrath mixed in for good measure. This has been the most difficult book for me to write because it has the potential to be the most serious and hits close to home.

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

Growing up, my pal was Chip, a bichon fries. He was probably the most spoiled dog I’ve ever known in terms of being the recipient of constant attention. He had his choice of which bed he wanted to snooze in, he was walked multiple times a day by each of us, he was given custom toys made by my dad (who had previously sworn he had no interest in dogs)… the list goes on.

I made him Halloween costumes (my favorite was when he dressed as a hippie), brought him up to my treehouse, fed him scraps under the table. He had my parents trained to mix gravy or ranch dressing in his food to make him eat it. He really brought us together as a family and solidified in my mind the importance of pets in fostering love, empathy, and community.

I blogged about the little guy here: https://corgicapers.com/2016/03/02/woof-out-wednesday-chip/

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

In Corgi Capers, the corgis threaten to steal the show! In my other works, animals are more of a passing thought.

In Corgi Capers, the chapters alternate. Some are told in the perspective of one of the humans (usually Adam or his sister Courtney). The other chapters are told in the perspective of Zeph or Sapphie, the corgis. In each mystery, the corgis’ observations are integral in helping to solve the mystery or help the humans gets to where they need to be in order to do so. But the problem is, the humans cannot understand what the corgis are saying, so it sounds like barking to them. The corgis could literally be barking out the answer, and the humans would have no idea. Sapphie and Zeph have to find more clever ways of solving problems.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

My idea to write Corgi Capers started when I lived in a large section of townhomes. I would walk my dogs there daily, and they (being the cute corgis they are) would often attract the attention of neighborhood kids. Each time we stopped for petting time, the kids asked me what my dogs did when I wasn’t home. I shrugged at first, admitting they probably napped. The kids insisted I was wrong: they told me my dogs went on secret adventures. Their names (Leia and Yoda) meant they had special bone-shaped light sabers they used to escape the bounds of my house and defend against enemies. I decided to play along, making up stories about random things my dogs did while I was way. The idea stuck, and it turned into a novel. And another. And another.

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

As an English teacher, I love teaching (and re-reading) The Life of Pi. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, especially since the story can be read metaphorically. But there is a huge Bengal tiger featured in the story, and animals of all types play an integral role.

This goes back to what I wrote about Chip. Whether or not you believe animals have human-like traits and emotions, it’s fairly clear that animals help us bring out our human-like traits and emotions. The same goes for the main character Pi in The Life of Pi. His family ridicules him for assigning human emotions and motives to animals. Whether or not he is correct in doing so, his understanding of animals helps him understand the truth of the universe and the nature of man more effectively than any book or religion.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

I mentioned my childhood dog, Chip. Because of all the attention he got (he was never truly treated like a dog), he developed several quirks. The weirdest one he learned from my sister. I’m not sure how it got started, but we had a bunch of sewers in our neighborhood. They were the kind that contained a grate right on the street, so you could look down and see the little waterways below. Somehow, we got in the habit of dropping pebbles down into the sewers and listening for a “plop.”

Chip got in the habit as well. He learned the command as “look,” and when we told him to “look,” he would run to the nearest sewer and push a pebble in with his nose. It was an impressive trick—until he got to the point that he wouldn’t walk fast (it was possible to actually gain calories on a walk with him—that’s how slowly he went!) unless you continually told him to “look.” In that way, we got him to prance from one sewer to the next, pushing pebbles in each one.

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

As soon as I could write, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. In fact, before I knew how to write, I dictated stories (very bad, long-winded stories about aliens and bicycles and flowers and such) onto cassette tapes. In first grade, I wrote a poem, and my first grade teacher had me read it in front of the fifth grade class. In second grade, my teacher wrote in my “yearbook” that she would look for my work in books and magazines one day. It continued on to the point that two college professors questioned whether I had actually penned some of the assignments in the time allotted (I had, as I explained to them; I’d had so much practice writing that I could crank out “A” work very quickly).

Of course, being a full-time writer is a risky business, so I went into teaching to make sure I had some security. I blogged about the time I made the transition to serious writer: http://www.valmuller.com/2012/02/10/the-mentor-giveaway/

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

I don’t make lists like that. I follow that cliché about the best-laid plans. I had it in my mind to meet my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, but he passed away before I could figure out how to make that work. My birthing plan was very simple—there were literally only 2 things on it, and yet a blizzard caused everything to go awry. From these experiences, I learned to be flexible and simply look for enjoyment in each day.

I also think that as a writer, my mind is a much more vivid place than much of the world. When I used to run track, I followed a strict diet, and I could often convince myself not to eat something delicious (like ice cream) simply by imagining the experience. It’s the same these days: I can use my imagination to transport me to places and times I’d like to experience.

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

First, think of the reader. I’d heard so much mixed advice about this, including that a writer should simply write for herself. But I’ve read too many books that don’t seem to keep the reader in mind or respect the reader’s time, background knowledge (or lack thereof), etc. I try now to picture a specific reader for each story and write for them.

Second, read a wide variety of works. As a younger reader, I stuck with what resonated with me. But as I read more and more, I realize that reading things beyond my comfort zone help me understand myself as a writer. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to read something I don’t particularly like: this shows me what kind of a reader I am and helps me think more metacognitively as a writer. I recently gave this advice to a teenage writer I often work with, and he started reading War and Peace (despite my warnings). He actually likes it and is learning about the craft of writing—including what he doesn’t prefer as a writing style.

About Val

www.CorgiCapers.com

www.ValMuller.com

www.facebook.com/author.val.muller

https://twitter.com/mercuryval

The Corgi Capers Series:

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Deceit-Dorset-Drive-ebook/dp/B01CIJWVBG

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Sorceress-Stoney-Brook-ebook/dp/B01CILY7AC

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Curtain-Calls-Halls-ebook/dp/B01CIOC4CW

 

 

 

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8 Things I Learned from my Dogs

We share our house with two crazy Jack Russell Terriers.  Disney is the brunette who is always exuberant (even at 2:00 a.m.) and Riley, her brother, is the happy-go-lucky one. I’m sure he would say things like “gnarly” and “dude” if he could talk. They like to chase squirrels, spy on the neighbors, go for long walks, and score snacks whenever they can.

Sometimes, it’s like living with two, perpetual three year olds. But they are smart and fun, and here’s what they’ve taught me.

Live in the now. Today is what’s important. The past and future don’t matter as much.

Be present in the moment. Put down the distractions and pay attention to what’s going on and who’s around you.

Play hard. Life can’t be all work. Everything is a game to a Jack.

Nap when you need to. You need to recharge once in a while.

Don’t waste a beautiful day by staying inside. Go outside and have fun. For the best adventure, bring a ball or a flying disc.

Know when it’s time to cuddle on the couch with a good book. You can never have enough doggie snuggles or books.

Bark if you need to, but not too much. Sometimes, you have to show the delivery driver or that cheeky squirrel who’s boss.

Wag and make friends. Relationships are important.

 

Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, Lethal Ladies Write, and James River Writers. The Tulip Shirt Murders is her second novel in her Delanie Fitzgerald series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and the pair of Jacks.

 

 

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