The DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM Authors Talk Writing, Mysteries, and Pets

My pals from the Deadly Southern Charm mystery anthology are my guests today.  Please welcome, Lynn Cahoon, Frances Aylor, Kristin Kisska, J.A. Chalkley, and Stacie Giles. They’re here to talk about writing, books, their pets, and our new anthology.

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

 Heather: We have two crazy Jack Russell Terriers, Disney and Riley. They’re from the same litter, and they keep us on our toes.

Lynn: Right now, our house is a little quiet. We lost our long-time companions, Homer (14) and Demon (19) in January of this year. They were Pomeranians. Homer was attacked by neighbor dogs in HIS yard and Demon decided it was his time a few weeks later. So it’s just Thor right now. He’s my way too tall cat. But next week, we’re getting two new puppies –Keeshonds. Dexter and Quinn.

Frances: Over the years I’ve owned a cocker spaniel, a labrador retriever, five cats, several goldfish and a hamster. The lab was a frisky, high-spirited dog that I took to obedience school so I could learn to manage him. While there I saw two beautiful, well-trained German shepherds. The German shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab combines the beauty of those dogs with the friskiness of my lab.

Kristin: I’m sorry to report that I don’t have any pets at present—not for want of loving them! That said, I drew on my experience horseback riding English saddle, both as a teen and an adult, to write my short story, “Unbridled.”

J.A.: I don’t have any pets at the moment. My last pet was a border collie mix named Woody. He was a rescue, and I later found out he had a brother named Cowboy.

Stacie: I grew up with a “guard” chihuahua named Taffie who used to boss all the neighborhood dogs and cats, including our other pets. Taffie and I were so close that my parents kept her death during my freshman year of college from me for weeks, thinking it would make living away from home too hard for me! I still miss the first dog I had as an adult, D’Artagnan–we called him D’Art–who was loving and lively, and would play fetch for hours. Now I enjoy an aging Staffordshire Terrier named Tinkerbell who patiently follows me everywhere, and endures the teasing of our cat who simply cannot leave poor Tinkerbell alone.

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

 Heather: Most of my short stories and novels have animals. In my Delanie Fitzgerald series, Margaret, the English bulldog is a fixture in the private eye’s office. She’s a brown and white log with legs. I partnered with three other dogs on a novella project, To Fetch a Thief. My story is “Diggin’ up Dirt,” and it features a JRT named Darby who was based on my dog, Disney.

Lynn: Of course! Emma is Jill’s Golden Retriever in the Tourist Trap series. She even found a missing boy in an early book. Cat Latimer just got a barn cat and four kittens in book four of the series. And Angie from the Farm to Fork series has Dom – a St Bernard, Precious – a goat, and Mabel – the last remaining hen from Nona’s flock.

Frances: Webster is a German Shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab. He’s purchased by one of the characters as a guard dog, but his care and maintenance fall to the wife, who’s not a pet person. My main character Robbie later adopts the dog and considers him a faithful companion. He will be a recurring character in future novels.

 Kristin: I’ve only ever featured animals in one of my stories, “Unbridled.” The three show horses—Bay, D’artagnan, and Spade—all board at the same equestrian center in South Carolina’s Low Country. As readers soon find out, they are as commanding as their rider/owners.

J.A.: I’ve been working on a detective novel where the lead character owns two tabby cats, named Lenny and Squiggy. I’m telling my age with that reference.

Stacie: As I develop my main character, I plan for her to have a Siamese cat named Loopy who is almost preternaturally attuned to Vera’s recurrent migraines.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

 Heather: I am working on a cozy mystery novel, and it features a Jack Russell Terrier named Bijou. I am also working on a dog mystery for the second Mutt Mysteries series. It features a Rottweiler named Oscar, and the story’s called “The Fast and the Furriest.”

Lynn: As I write this, I’m working on book 4 of the Farm to Fork mystery series. The working title is DEATH ON A STICK. It’s set in my home state of Idaho and I love writing a late summer weather scene while the snow outside my window keeps getting deeper. After that, I’m doing my first Farm to Fork Novella which will have snow, but maybe I won’t be so sick of it by then.

Frances: I’m finishing up the second book in the Robbie Bradford mystery series. In this one, Robbie goes to Switzerland with a client, to help her manage some issues with family money. The third book will be set in either Egypt or Jordan, both of which I recently visited. I’m also working on financial presentations for various groups, to give people guidance on how to manage their money.

Kristin: I’m polishing my second suspense novel, which is a quest for a missing Faberge Egg throughout Prague and other Central European cities. I’m also in the process of drafting my third novel, a domestic suspense, which features Lulu the tabby cat.

J.A.: I’m working on a short story for a sci fi/fantasy magazine submission

Stacie: Actually, I am currently working on a nonfiction project, a college-level online resource on the United States Intelligence Community, drawing on my background as a CIA analyst. I’m also trying to hone my fiction writing skills and develop a series of short stories set in Memphis, Tennessee from 1920 through the 1960s in which Vera and her policeman cousin Burnell navigate the turbulent social changes of the time while solving crimes in a way that is both merciful and just.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 Heather: My Jack Russell Terrier Riley has a thing for paper. One day, I set my open purse on the floor next to my desk while I was working. When I got up, I noticed the ATM receipt for $40 was wet and on the floor. Curious, I rummaged through my purse. Riley had pulled it out along with a twenty. He ate one of my twenty-dollar bills.

Lynn: Thor (the cat) liked to hide behind the television when the dogs went out first thing in the morning. Then he’d pop out and stand on his hide legs and pretend to be an attacking bear. One morning, Homer wasn’t having it. He bulldozed the cat into the television stand, then went to stand by the door waiting for us to let him out. Thor stopped playing that game after that.

Frances: When I was a child, we visited a family friend whose dog had recently had puppies. When my parents got ready to leave, they found me sitting on the floor in the utility room, with all five puppies lying on my outstretched legs, determined that I was going to take them home with me. My dad convinced me that the pups were too young to leave their mother, but promised I could come back later and pick out one for myself. That cocker spaniel puppy and I grew up together.

 J.A.: We adopted Woody for my son, who was seven at the time. They grew up together. Woody would listen to everyone, but my son. Woody wasn’t allowed on the bed, yeah that rule didn’t last long. When he heard our bedroom door close at night, he would jump on my son’s bed. Anytime he heard the door open he’d jump down and play innocent.

Stacie: My children were young when hyperactive D’Art joined our family. The kids would put on roller skates to take him on “walks” which were really mad careening around the neighborhood! They could only stop by collapsing on the lawn or, occasionally, running into a tree!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Heather: There are two dog beds on either side of my desk in the office. They nap mostly while I’m writing or editing. Sometimes, they help with plotting.

Lynn: Thor sleeps on my desk. I’m hoping the new puppies will hang out under my desk. (As long as they don’t chew on the cords.)

Frances: My lab was an outdoor dog who enjoyed exploring the woods behind our house.

 Kristin: Oh, I wish I had a cat. If it were like my previous fur babies, it would ignore me actively until I tried to pet it, then shun me. Is there anything more divine than purring???

Stacie: Tinkerbell lies on the floor just outside the open door of my office. She seems to feel she is guarding me. The cat Azzie has to climb on my lap or, if I’m standing up using my sit/stand desk, he’ll reach up and claw my legs until I pick him up and let him investigate what I’m doing. Once satisfied, he’ll curl up in a comfy chair near me and snooze.

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

 Heather: I grew up in a suburban house. We had a couple of gold fish over the years. My dad, a 46-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Police force, had a police dog once. I didn’t have dogs until I moved out.

Lynn: I had a grey cheek parakeet once. She was part of a breeding pair. She didn’t like men. So she’d bite me every time my husband or my son would come close. But she did like drinking Coke out of the lip of my Coke can.

Frances: We once had an aquarium filled with exotic fish. I especially liked the neon tetras, the angelfish, and the whiskery catfish.

Kristin: My family had lots of pets while I grew up, from dogs and cats, to fish, birds, and gerbils. The most unique pet, though, was our ferret, Bartles.

J.A.: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but somehow we always seemed to have farm animals. Over the years there were chickens, calves that needed to be bottle feed till they were big enough to release into pasture, and goats. My mother loved goats. We had at least one for years. There were dogs, cats, hamsters and for a brief period rabbits.

Stacie: We had some geckos when we lived in Hawaii. They were amusing to watch climb the walls and ceilings! But it wasn’t amusing when my husband brought home flying cockroaches from work to feed them! Of course, the cockroaches got away. Sigh.

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

Heather: Writing is a business. You need to treat it like that. It includes a lot of record-keeping and marketing. You also need to guard your writing time. There are so many distractions and obligations. You really do need a writing schedule.

Lynn: It’s okay to stand up for what you want and how you want your book to look. You can’t wait for the muse to hit to write. Set a word count and meet it. Otherwise, the book won’t rise to the top of your to do pile. I write first because I’m better in the morning and I don’t write well late at night. Your mileage may vary.

Frances: Writing a novel takes so much longer than I thought it would. I have to schedule a time to write each day; otherwise, other projects intrude on my time. Marketing a book is even more time consuming. Mastering social media is a continuing challenge.

Kristin: I wish I’d known that once I type The End, an author is really only a third the way through the publishing process. The next third is revising and editing, and the last third is publishing/marketing the work (of course, while working through the next project). Also, many words can be written before sunrise. Use your time wisely!

J.A.: Writing is hard work. Not just the writing, but the business side of it.

Stacie: Well, I truly am just starting in fiction writing now. One thing I already know from my nonfiction work, however, is that writing takes rewriting, and rewriting, and double checking, and rewriting some more!

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

Heather: I love to write at the beach when we’re visiting. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and I miss the ocean. When at home, I love to write on my deck on sunny days.

Lynn: I love writing at my desk because I have a desktop with a 32-inch screen. But I can and do write anywhere. Reading, I need good light. My favorite place to get story now is during my commute in my car.

Frances: Most of the time I write on my laptop at my office desk. In warm weather, I take the laptop out to the gazebo. Most of my reading is done in bed at night, just before I go to sleep.

Kristin: I get my best writing done in my silent, quiet writers cave at home. Even better, when everyone in my family is either asleep or away. Reading, however, I can do absolutely anywhere, but my favorite place is in a bookstore café.

J.A.: I have an office space set up in my she cave at home. It’s quiet and comfort.

Stacie: I am happy as a clam to read wherever I am! But for writing, I prefer my office, where I’m surrounded by all the things I need – all kinds of materials and, most importantly, a comfy chair and a lovely view out the window when I need to clear my head!

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

Heather: Be persistent. Don’t give up. Writing and publishing are hard. You need to keep at it.

Lynn: Make sure it’s really what you want to do. You spend way too much time working and alone for it to be just a whim.

Frances: Know why you want to write. This is a very competitive business. If you’re writing to be rich and famous, perhaps you should pick another line of work. If you’re writing because you have stories you want to share with others, then stick with it.

 Kristin: The only requirement for being a writer is to actually write. All other rules you hear are merely suggestions and guidelines. It also helps if you read a lot, too. Good luck!

J.A.: Read a lot. Find authors who’s style you like and study it. Figure out why you like it. In the beginning you may find yourself imitating other writers, but with time you’ll find your own style.

Stacie: Remember that writing is fundamentally a solitary endeavor. You can and should make lots of connections with other writers and readers, but most of your time must be devoted to writing, something no one else can do with you. You’re on your own! Make sure you’re happy with the solitude.

Heather Weidner
Lynn Cahoon
Frances Aylor
Kristin Kisska
J. A. Chalkley
Stacie Giles

About Us

Frances Aylor, CFA combines her investing experience and love of travel in her financial thrillers. MONEY GRAB is the first in the series. www.francesaylor.com

Lynn Cahoon is the NYT and USA Today author of the best-selling Tourist Trap, Cat Latimer and Farm-to-Fork mystery series. www.lynncahoon.com

 J. A. Chalkley is a native Virginian. She is a writer, retired public safety communications officer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

Stacie Giles, after a career as a political scientist, linguist, and CIA analyst, is now writing historical cozies with a twist.  Her first short story is in honor of her grandfather who was a policeman in Memphis in the 1920s.

Kristin Kisska is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and programs chair of the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter. www.kristinkisska.com

Heather Weidner is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries. She has short stories in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 SHADES OF CABERNET and TO FETCH A THIEF. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and Jack Russell terriers. www.heatherweidner.com

Let’s Be Social

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LethalLadiesCVA?lang=en

Website: https://www.sistersincrimecentralvirginia.com/anthologies

Book Links

Wildside: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-paperback/

Wildside eBook: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-epub-kindle-pdf/?ctk=92a212b3-7ff7-473d-a5dd-78ab99163c27

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Southern-Charm-Mystery-Anthology/dp/1479448397

 

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Travels with Shammy

By Maggie King

Have you ever traveled with a cat? I don’t mean those horrendous drives to the vet with a shrieking animal in the back seat. I’m talking about soaring above the clouds, “flying the friendly skies,” with your favorite feline tucked under the seat in front of you. While you relax and sip your Cabernet, you feed tidbits to little [insert cat’s name here]. All is well.

Shammy was a sweet and glam calico cat who liked traveling. In the car, I’d let her out of her carrier and she’d gaze out the window, enjoying the passing scenery through the Antelope Valley of Southern California. Sometimes she’d crawl under the seats and get under my feet as I drove—not a good thing.

When Glen and I moved from California to Virginia in 1996, we had many things to consider (where to live, were to work, etc.). But the most pressing concern: how to get Shammy cross country. Sure, she enjoyed being a car passenger—but would she like it for three days in a car loaded up with our possessions? And the overnight stops at strange motels?

We came up with the purr-fect solution: Glen would drive the packed car and sleep in the strange motels. I would ship my car, leaving Shammy and me to travel in style, by air.

I learned that I didn’t have to put Shammy in cargo; she could accompany me in the cabin. I purchased a special carrier that would fit under the seat. The vet dispensed tranquilizers. We were all set.

At security, the TSA agent demanded that I take Shammy out of the carrier. If I’d anticipated this (this was pre-911 times) I would have brought a leash. I maintained the tightest of grips on Shammy until we made it through security and I could return her to the carrier.

On board, I braced myself for loud complaints from allergy-ridden passengers. Thankfully, the plane wasn’t full, and Shammy and I had three seats to ourselves. No one complained, in fact everyone was kind and asked how she was doing.

How was Shammy doing?

Anxious, bewildered, awake—those adjectives suffice to describe her state. I expected the tranquilizer to make her drowsy, but she remained hyper alert for the duration. She couldn’t stand up in the carrier that had to meet size regulations for under seat storage. Thankfully, she was quiet, and endured it all with her customary dignity.

And how was I doing?

I suspect that Shammy fared better than I did. I found the whole ordeal nerve-wracking to say the least. Mostly because of my concern for Shammy and not knowing what to expect from one minute to the next. Sure, we soared above the clouds, “flying the friendly skies.” But relaxing it wasn’t. As for tempting Shammy with tidbits . . . let’s just say she resisted temptation.

Minutes before boarding after a stopover in Baltimore, the heavens opened. Problematic, as we had to walk outside to board the puddle jumper that would take us to Charlottesville. A kind young man in an airport shop gave me two large plastic bags. I covered Shammy’s carrier with one, and draped the other over my head and shoulders. We dashed to the plane and boarded, Shammy completely dry, me only slightly damp.

Once in Charlottesville, we took a cab to pick up my car and headed for the motel where I had a reservation. The next day I got the keys to the apartment where we were to live for three months while we looked for a permanent home. Glen arrived four days later.

Shammy didn’t eat or use the litter box for a couple of days. After that, she loved the place. Squirrels, chipmunks, and birds came right up to the patio door where she parked herself 24/7. Occasionally she and a cat had a hissing contest.

That wraps up “Travels with Shammy.” Shammy crossed the rainbow bridge in 2002. When the Albemarle County (Charlottesville) SPCA built a new facility, Glen and I purchased a brick and dedicated it to our special friend: “Shammy King, in our hearts.”

In my Hazel Rose Book Group series, Hazel’s backstory reveals that her beautiful calico cat named Shammy accompanied her when she moved from Los Angeles to the east coast and settled in Richmond, Virginia.

Shammy lives on, in our hearts … and on the page.

Shammy has appeared in Pens, Paws, and Claws before. Read it here.

 

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

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

Website: www.maggieking.com

Facebook: MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: authormaggieking

Amazon: Maggie’s Amazon Author Page

 

 

 

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Welcome, Linda O. Johnston

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Linda O. Johnston to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m Linda O. Johnston. I used to be a transactional real estate lawyer but I’m now a full-time writer. I write both mysteries and romantic suspense, and I’ve also written paranormal and time-travel romance. I have written four mystery series: the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series and the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. I’m also currently writing for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. And nearly all my recent stories include dogs!

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

I’m addicted to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Right now, my Cavaliers are Mystie, a Blenheim (red and white color) and Cari, a tricolor. They’re my babies!

My first mystery series was the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her tricolor Cavalier, Lexie. At the time, I was also a practicing lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills, and Lexie was our tricolor Cavalier. Unfortunately, our Lexie is no longer with us.

So far, none of my other stories have included Cavaliers, but that could always change!

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

The protagonists in my mysteries always are owned by dogs. In my current mystery series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, the protagonist Carrie, a veterinary technician who also owns a barkery where she sells the healthy treats she’s developed, as well as a human bakery, has a dog named Biscuit, a golden toy poodle-terrier mix who hangs out a lot in the barkery and accompanies Carrie most other places she goes.

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

When I was a child I had a brindle Boston Terrier named Frisky. Frisky was frisky! I really loved her, and she inspired me to want to become a veterinarian, though that didn’t happen for many reasons. But she did help to increase my addiction to dogs.

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

The animals, primarily dogs, in my writing are characters in their own right, though I don’t get into their points of view. But they’re there for their owners, who are the major characters in my stories, providing emotional support, humor and love.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Because I love animals, especially dogs! They add so much to people’s lives, whether they’re pets or just there inspiring us to help them and to be better people.

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

K-9s and service dogs show up sometimes in my stories, In Second Chance Solder, my first K-9 Ranch Rescue story for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, the story takes place at–what else?–a ranch where dogs are trained to be possible police K-9s. The hero Evan Colluro is a former military K-9 trainer and moves to the ranch with his former military K-9 Bear to help train the pups there. The sequel to this story is Trained To Protect, which also takes place at the K-9 ranch. There will also be a spin-off series soon about rescues, but I’m not sure how many K-9s will be involved there.

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

I suppose I’ve always known I was a writer. I started my first book, which remains unfinished, in high school, and I always enjoyed assignments where we had to write an essay or anything else.

The professions I’ve had also involve writing: advertising, public relations, and transactional lawyering–yes, contracts are a form of creative writing! I started getting short stories, then novels, published when I was a practicing attorney, and got up an hour earlier than anyone else in my household so I could write before getting the kids ready for school.

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

Well, my husband and I have been talking about the possibility of taking an African safari–which, these days, is fortunately to see and photograph animals, not harm them in any way. Why? Because I love animals, and this could be an amazing experience!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Mystie and Cari hang out with me, or with my husband, or stand on our front porch looking out the locked gate and telling me when other dogs walk by–or when one of our wonderful neighbors arrives with treats for them. When they want something, such as to go outside or for me to open the front door or anything else, one or the other of them will come into my office, sit down beside my chair, and just stare at me. Or sometimes Mystie will bark at my shoes in the kitchen to let me know she wants to go out.

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

I can’t count the number of TBR piles in my house, or the number of books in them, but you can be sure that most of them involve dogs!

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

Just do it! Write! It’ll come to you even if you think you don’t know how. The other thing I’d suggest is to join one or more of the many writing organizations, particularly those specializing in the genre you want to write in, and attend as many chapter meetings as you can. Writers are very supportive of each other.

About Linda:

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series for Midnight Ink.  Her fifth and final book in the series, For a Good Paws, is a May 2019 release.  She has also written Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Pet Rescue Mystery Series and Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  Linda also writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and nearly all her current stories involve dogs.u!

Let’s Be Social:

Linda’s Website

Linda’s Facebook Page

 

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Welcome back, Nupur Tustin!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Nupur Tustin back to the blog. Congratulations on your new book!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, let me say that it’s wonderful to be back! Last time I was here, I told your readers that I misuse a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate murder in Joseph Haydn’s Austria.

I have to confess, I’m still at it. Prussian Counterpoint, the third Joseph Haydn Mystery, came out just about thirteen days ago.

When I visited last year, I was in the throes of writing the novel, and although I plot all my novels, this one was written a little more intuitively than others. If your readers have watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, they’ll know what I mean. That the experiences we encounter and engage in can influence the shape our novel takes—more so when we have a strict deadline to follow.

I talk about this quite a bit in Rehearsal Notes, the free companion novel I was offering readers who preordered the book. I’m happy to extend that offer to any of your readers who buy the book by the end of this month.

So, then did blogging for Pens, Paws, and Claws influence the third novel at all?

Funny you should ask, because, yes, it absolutely did. I remember being a bit apprehensive about being interviewed.

“But my novels don’t really include pets,” I protested. “Eighteenth-century individuals don’t appear to have viewed their horses and dogs as pets.” You allayed my fears.

And so I focused last time on explaining to readers why historical mysteries typically don’t involve pets, but I did mention a couple of odd characters who were very fond of their dogs: Marie Antoinette and Frederick the Great.

You wondered at the time whether Frederick’s dogs would be given a key role in the novel. Now I hadn’t really intended to do so, but your question gave me pause. And the more I considered the matter, the more of an excellent idea it seemed. And so Frederick’s Italian greyhounds do get a small but significant role in the plot. They also provide Haydn with an important clue.

We’d love to read an excerpt.

Yes, of course. Now this is the first time that Haydn and the reader encounter Frederick’s spoiled Italian greyhounds. The servants had to address them using the formal “Vous,” instead of the more usual third person. The hounds were served special food in special bowls and were warmly welcomed in their royal master’s bed.

In this scene, they’re in the opera house and Haydn, as you’ll see, is rather uncomfortable about this situation:

“What think you of our opera, my dear Haydn?” The King, who had insisted the Kapellmeister be seated next to him, tapped him on the knee. The Italian greyhound at his feet shifted, flopping itself onto Haydn’s feet.

The Kapellmeister stiffened. He had nothing against dogs. On the hunting fields, no animal could be more useful. But what kind of man brought a dog into an opera house? God forbid, the creature should do its business on his shoes!

On the stage, Medea complained of having lost the love of Jason. A most unsuitable subject for the occasion, Haydn privately thought. This opera about a woman who forced her unfaithful husband to devour his children. But it was not the sort of remark one made to a King.

“It is a most intriguing subject, Your Majesty,” was all he could think of saying.

“Indeed.” A pair of piercing blue eyes fastened themselves upon Haydn’s features. “And why is that?”

Haydn took a deep breath and took the plunge. “One wonders how a man would react under the circumstances, Your Majesty.”

“A man would simply cut his losses and move on, Haydn. But women rather than accepting their fate try to interfere, thus spoiling everything.”

Haydn’s eyes flickered involuntarily to the Empress. Was that the King’s assessment of Her Majesty, then?

“My remarks appear to have hit the mark.” The King’s softly uttered words pulled Haydn’s gaze back. His Majesty’s well formed lips were curving into an amused smile. “You have the misfortune of being acquainted with such a woman, I suppose, Haydn.”

The Kapellmeister felt his cheeks burn at the insinuation. His nostrils flared. “Your Majesty is mistaken,” he said as calmly as he could manage. The sound of teeth clicking against metal reached his ears.

The infernal greyhound was chewing on the buckles of his shoes.

“Pepi!” The King called sharply, giving Haydn a start. But it was only the dog that His Majesty was addressing. So, the hound was christened Joseph, too! God be thanked, the King had not seen fit to nickname the creature Sepperl.

Explain Haydn’s reaction to the dog’s name.

The name Joseph, Haydn’s name, that is to say, had two diminutives. One was Sepperl. This is what Haydn’s parents called him. The other was Pepi. So naturally, Haydn gets a start when the King calls out this particular nickname. Can you imagine how insulted an eighteenth-century individual would feel about having a hound named after himself?

I like to think Haydn would’ve taken it in good spirit. He was never inclined to take himself seriously.

Do Pepi and his greyhound friends get any other scenes in the novel?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. They’re not particularly good guard dogs, too lazy to bark at anyone or even to take any notice of anyone who walks past them. This time, it’s the Prussian King’s principal court secretary, Anton Eichel, who encounters the dogs:

Eichel stepped out of the picture gallery to the sounds of an ever-growing commotion. It appeared to be coming from the cluster of rooms beyond the chamber he occupied as principal secretary.

The noise was loud enough to arrest his motion, but Eichel noticed that the King’s Italian greyhounds—sprawling lazily on their embroidered cushions—dozed on undisturbed. His own footsteps on the stone floor had merely caused one of the three dogs to open a single eyelid and glance reproachfully his way over a long, pointy snout.

Do make that infernal noise stop, Eichel, the creature seemed to be saying. We are trying to nap! In the principal court secretary’s head, the greyhounds sounded just like their master, with a voice just as high-pitched and mannered as the King’s.

What are you reading now?

I’ve been devouring Aaron Elkins’ art mystery series. He writes the Alix London series with his wife Charlotte Elkins and he’s also written a few standalones. I’ve just finished A Long Time Coming. A stupendous novel!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new series with a new character. Haydn has several more cases to solve, but he’s informed me that he wants to focus on his music for a bit before I confront him with his next dead body. I think the poor man must be heartily sick of stumbling upon corpses.

He’ll do his duty and stumble upon more at my request, but I can understand his need to focus on something a little more pleasant for just a little while longer.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This changes all the time. At the moment, it’s Aaron & Charlotte Elkins. I love the cozy-thrillers they write. The books are fast-paced with a strong sense of danger, but you still get still get that sense of place and the sort of local flavor that’s only possible in a cozy. And their characters are wonderfully drawn as well with such fascinating backstories!

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

I usually don’t—not in my historical series, at any rate—for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Prussian Counterpoint was an exception, and I enjoyed writing the dogs into the plot. For the most part, though, if the plot calls for animals, I’ll use them. That may not always happen, and that’s fine.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

This isn’t a funny story, but it’s one I fondly remember. About seven years ago, when my eldest was just a tiny baby, Chicken, our younger pit bull, trotted into the kitchen and nudged me back toward the bedroom. Rena had just woken up from a nap and was crying. Washing dishes in the kitchen, I hadn’t heard her. If it weren’t for Chickie, she’d still have been crying.

That wasn’t the first time, Chickie alerted me to Rena’s crying. While she slept, he and Fatty would sit on either side of her nap-nanny on our bed and watch over her. It’s memories like these that I’ll always cherish.

We’ve lost both our pit bulls, unfortunately. Some day when the kids are a bit older, we’ll get a couple more dogs. For now, we’ll have to make do with our memories. Both Fatty and Chicken were great dogs—and very patient with their three rambunctious human siblings!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
I think the most important advice anyone can give someone just starting out on this path is that you have to believe in yourself in order to stay the course. It’s easy to let other people and setbacks discourage you. But when you do that, the only person you’ve disappointed is yourself.

When I first conceived of the Haydn Mysteries in 2012, I never thought I’d get one novel written, let alone publish three! I’m glad I persisted. And I hope to keep writing until I draw my last breath.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Readers interested in getting a Complimentary Taste of Murder are invited to visit http://bit.ly/Haydn_Taste_of_Murder where I’m offering Three Free Mysteries.

About Nupur:

Bio: A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works.

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Free Taste of Murder: http://bit.ly/Haydn_Taste_of_Murder

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To Buy Prussian Counterpoint or the two previous Haydn Mysteries, visit:

Amazon: http://bit.ly/HaydnMystery3

Kobo: http://bit.ly/PrussianKobo

B&N Nook: http://bit.ly/PrussianNook

Apple iTunes: https://apple.co/2Sbja9i

 

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Support Dogs for Writers by K.B. Inglee

Are there support dogs for Writers? You becha. They should have vests for dogs who belong to writers.

We have some friends whose house was destroyed in the floods in the Carolinas. They, along with their dogs, are now living with relatives not far from us.  They are crowded in and one of the dogs had to go until they get settled in a new home. We agreed to take Flash, a dachshund (maybe) mix.

Now, I already had a dog, Wendigo, who would turn 13 in June. How would Flash get on with Wendy?

She had moved in with us when she was a year and a half, after her show dog career crashed. She didn’t get on well with other dogs. I was a bit anxious when Flash arrived. But it was love at first sight. That was a surprise. They hung out together and Flash looked like a dog in love.

Wendy had just been diagnosed with liver cancer and needed to be put down soon. I hoped having another dog around would help me when I could no longer grab a hand full of soft white fur or snuggle a small warm body while falling asleep.

Flash came on Monday and we had Wendy put down on Wednesday. I tossed her collar and tags on the chair next to my writing spot. Flash promptly added her collar to his stash of toys. Wendy wasn’t much for toys, but Flash loves them. Under the sofa he found one of her rawhide rings. I considered snatching it ways but turns out he just wants to catch it, not chew on it. He doesn’t play with the collar, but he won’t let me take it away, either.

He had been sleeping in his crate, went in unasked, and stayed watching the goings on in the house. The day after Wendy’s death, he pulled the blanket out of the crate and put it near my feet at my writing station. A few minutes later he pulled his bed out of the crate and put it on top of the blanket. That night he took her spot on my bed.

I’ve never had a dog that was the least bit interested in my writing. I’d open the computer Wendy would toss me a look like “You are doing that again?” She would curl up on the sofa and start snoring.

Now Flash sleeps near my feet as I write, and any time I need inspiration all I have to do is reach over and fondle his very soft brown ears. We talk about sentence structure, character development, if a blog would be interesting or boring, and how to contact experts for advice. His silence gives me plenty of room to think about what I am doing.

What a wonderful dog. I will miss him when he has to go to his new home. Then I will have no dogs.

About K.B. Inglee

KB Inglee works as an interpreter at old mills in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The sheep she tends for one of the sites provides wool for her knitting and spinning. Her short stories are set in America from the Colonial period until the turn of the 20th century. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime and the Guppies.

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Cat-Lovin’ Men

The perfect stocking stuffer! That’s what I thought when I spotted Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen at the intimate and atmospheric Fountain Bookstore, tucked in the heart of Richmond, Virginia’s historic Shockoe Slip district. I had the perfect person in mind for this charming volume: my cat-lovin’ husband.

In Of Cats and Men, author Sam Kalda entertains with amusing profiles and quotes from history’s most famous “cat men.” King Hywel the Good, Sultan Baibars, Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, Sir Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Paul Klee, Raymond Chandler, George Balanchine, Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, Balthus, Romare Bearden, William S. Burroughs, Saul Steinberg, Charles Bukowski, Marlon Brando, Edward Gorey, Andy Warhol, Haruki Muraakami, and Al Weiwei are just a few Mr. Kalda has included.

Now I knew that Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler loved their cats. But Nikola Tesla, Marlon Brando, and Charles Bukowski? I had no idea. And, at the risk of revealing my cultural ignorance, I wasn’t familiar with many of the names profiled.

Nikola Tesla and cat
Marlon Brando and cat
Charles Bukowski writing a love letter to his cat.

Sam Kalda features feline-inspired quotes:

“I have my favorite cat, who is also my paperweight, on my desk while I am writing.” – Ray Bradbury

“What greater love than the love of a cat?” – Charles Dickens

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” – Ernest Hemingway.

∞∞∞

Edgar Allan Poe and his beloved tortoiseshell cat, Catterina, are not included in this volume. Neither are the Viennese painter, Gustav Klimt and his cat, Katze. In Klimt and His Cat (Berenice Capatti, author and Octavia Monaco, Illustrator)Katze narrates, giving readers a glimpse into the painter’s world.

Edgar Allan Poe with Catterina. From Poe Museum collection
Gustave Klimt with Katze. theonlinephotographer.typepad.com

I’m late with Christmas gift ideas, but gift giving is a year-round pleasure. Give your favorite cat-lovin’ man a copy of Of Cats and Men. He’ll appreciate the great company he’s in!

Note: women will love Of Cats and Men as well.

Here’s Glen, my cat-lovin’ man, with Olive and Morris:

Glen and Olive
Morris and Glen go online

Support your local bookstore. Or, Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore will ship your copy:

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen

Klimt and His Cat

∞∞∞

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

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

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

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

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

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Welcome, Jayne Ormerod

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Jayne Ormerod to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. My name is Jayne Ormerod and I am a write-aholic. I had an idyllic childhood, spending every free moment playing outside (a foreign concept to kids today!) A river ran through our property, surrounded by lots of woods to explore. There was always an adventure afoot, or a neighborhood baseball game to be played, or skateboarding to be done (down a HUGE hill, without a helmet! Lots of scrapped knees and elbows!) When not doing that, I was curled up reading, usually Nancy Drew adventure stories! I went to college (B.S. in Accountancy) and then spent 30 years as a military spouse, moving many times (19 for anyone counting). That afforded me the opportunity to meet many interesting people and live in many fun places. Except for one tour in Memphis, TN, we have always lived within a flip-flops throw of an ocean. A dream come true for a small-town Ohio girl. As a result, the majority of my cozy mysteries are set along the shore.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? We have two rescue puppies. One was an emergency rehome situation, and we were told he would be 20 to 30 pounds.  Well, he’s 47 now, and still growing! He has a lot of Great Dane in him (everyone says so but I am in denial). Our other puppy is a Pot Dog (that’s what they call free-roaming island puppies who sustain themselves on scrapings from the bottoms of peoples’ pots, mostly rice and beans) from Puerto Rico. He’s still growing, too, but seems to lean more towards Chihuahuas characteristics. But he’s a cutie! Tiller and Scout make our lives complete.

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 most recent release, “It’s a Dog Gone Shame!” in To Fetch a Thief, the star of the show is a tawny terrier named Cannoli. We didn’t have any pets at the time so he is purely a figment of my imagination. But since then we have acquired two pound puppies whose antics will certainly find their way into my blog posts and future stories.

What writing projects are you currently working on? I am assembling some shorter-length cozy mysteries I’ve written in the past and throwing them together into one book. Title is Goin’ Coastal. It should be out in early December. Next project will be the third Blonds at the Beach mystery, working title Blond Justice. I wrote the first four chapters a while ago, just need to finish it. Only 27 chapters to go!

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them. My parents were cat people. We lived on a very busy road. We learned quite young not to get too attached to any of them. Sad, I know. But then someone who worked with my mom needed to get rid of a Siamese cat (seal point) who had been declawed. We got her and kept her inside. She lasted much longer! Her name was Punchy. She was a good mouser. We lived in an old farmhouse so there were plenty. It was quite common for my dad to wake up in the morning to find a dead mouse on his chest. I’m glad she never brought me any!

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why? I loved the Cat Who . . . Mysteries. Maybe because the main feline characters were Siamese cats like Punchy. But they were also great cozy mysteries with lots of interesting settings. I would love to live in a converted apple barn!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story? My military husband deployed for 6 months. I was left home with a baby and 2 BIG dogs (combined weight 175 pounds!) My dad came to help out and offered to take the dogs for a walk. He didn’t know the area, and the neighborhood had lots of winding roads. He was gone a really long time. I got really worried. So I strapped baby onto my bicycle and we went looking. Found dad and the dogs about two blocks from home. We rode alongside to make sure he got there. A cat streaked across our path. I said, “Oh, there’s a cat.” He said, “What does that mean?” I said, “Hold on tight!” Next thing I knew my dad was on his belly, being dragged across a neighbor’s front yard. His arms were stretched over his head as he rocked back and forth (he had a big belly) as he was being pulled. I have never laughed so hard in my life. Don’t worry, only thing hurt on my dad was his pride. Oh, and he never offered to walk the dogs again!

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had? I have limited myself to the customary cats and dogs, but my son once had a pot-bellied pig, making Jesus (so named since they got him on a Sunday) my grand-pig. I never got to meet him because the city where son lived said he couldn’t keep a farm animal. But he was very photogenic. Lots of stories there, too, none of which are fit to print on this family-friendly blog. (Did I mention son  was living in a fraternity house at the time?)

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing? First, how challenging it is to sell books. Writing was the easy part! Hitting the bestseller list, not so much. The other thing is I didn’t think it would take so long to write one book. I mean, I can read a book in a week. I truly thought writing would go at the same pace, sit down and type the story. There is so much more to it than that. But will I ever stop writing because of these challenges? No way!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? I have an upstairs porch that has comfy rocking chairs and if the wind is blowing just right I can feel the bay breezes and/or hear the surf crashing against the shore. Love to read there! Writing is anywhere my laptop can plug in (my battery no longer works…)

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? Just do it! Yes, the blank page can be daunting, but there is no better feeling in the world than typing THE END!

About Jayne:

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck. She has contributed seven short mysteries to various anthologies to include joining with the other To Fetch a Thief authors in Virginia is for Mysteries, Volumes I and II, and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

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Website: www.JayneOrmerod.com

Blog: www.jayneormerod.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jayne-Ormerod-Author-189923671068546/

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Amazon Author: http://amazon.com/author/jayneormerod  

 

 

 

 

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Welcome, Rosemary Shomaker


Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Rosemary Shomaker to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hi, I’m Rosie Shomaker. I’ve always liked writing stories, but I spent my professional life analyzing data and writing non-fiction policy reports and summaries. Now I’m free to write what I want to write. I’m as yet fairly undisciplined, though, but once I commit to a project, I focus my energy.

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

Mary and Carmen are the main dog characters in “This is Not a Dog Park,” one of the To Fetch a Thief novellas. Mary is a sheprador and Carmen is a fluffy white dog. In a subsequent story I’ll have to define Carmen’s breed. She’s owned by a stuffy rich lady in the story, so that dog has great mystery possibilities. Carmen and her owner live in a well-to-do neighborhood near a park that is central to the story. Mary the sheprador helps her owner Adam leave behind a life of disquietude.

What are you reading now?

I am reading several Nevada Barr novels. She had varied jobs and did summer work as in the national parks. Her main character, Anna Pidgeon, is a national park ranger. The Rope and Destroyer Angel were riveting. Barr comes off as a bit of a misandrist in her stories, in my opinion, and notwithstanding my feminist tendencies, her treatment of male characters can be harsh . . . although I admit the plot and character development rings sound. The adventure in these stories is great! When I need less adrenaline and more historical escape, I default to Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear mystery books.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

It seems so natural to include pets in a setting. So many readers live with pets. Pets can be used as a good character sounding board in stories; human-pet interaction and dialogue are straight lines to the human character’s psyche. Animals also can be used to move the plot along, change pace, and provide humor. I haven’t worked much yet with using animals to ratchet up tension. I’ll have to explore that.

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

This is a real possibility for my next story. Aren’t all pets service animals in a way—since they are usually emotional support animals for most of us? I was intrigued when I read Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and met Campbell Alexander’s dog Judge. Judge helps warn Alexander of approaching epileptic seizures. Wow. Also, a local writer has shared her experiences with her own family dog that could indicate her daughter’s diabetic crises. The working nature of a dog can give real service to humans. I’ve also been introduced to police dogs and search and rescue dogs, and I admire the training and work of those canines. So much tension and conflict could be shown in stories featuring that type of dog in a criminal situation. I like the idea of a service dog, maybe a hearing dog that is specially trained to help people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Hearing dogs can alert their humans to sounds around the home and in public. I can see working that type of service dog into a story, too.

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

One day I’ll read a college thesis written about Charlotte of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. What a story! Even as a child I regarded Charlotte as a complex character. Cool to think that college theses have been written about her. As I child I was more of a Wilbur-type character who could not appreciate all there was to Charlotte, especially in their early relationship. I think I knew some Charlottes in my time. Now that I am older, I guess I am a Charlotte.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My pup spends his time a room away from me when I write. He comes in occasionally to remind me to stop, drink some water, eat, and go outside. Well, he wants to do those things, and he provides the example that gets me out of my obsessive writing state. If not for my pup, I’d disregard most everything once I was on a roll and fixated on writing. Sometimes I’ll put him off and try to ignore him but he won’t ignore me, and soon his sad eyes are right at my hip level and hard to overlook.

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

I found a very old copy of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Prairie, circa 1900. I love Cooper. I feel right in the forest with his characters! The Prairie takes place not in New England forests but in the Midwest during America’s westward expansion. I’ve an idea for a novel set in the great plains, and I’m hoping Cooper’s book fills in some of the dramatic sentiment I need to spur me on to write more of my story. I have TBR piles in several rooms of my house. Some are piles of magazines or local newspapers. Others are piles of books that have come my way that I am not really set on reading. I let the piles accumulate, and when I have not made a move to read anything in a pile in a few weeks, I clear out the items to the recycle bin or the giveaway box.

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

My son found a very large beetle (two and one half inches long) when he was about five years old—my son’s age—not the beetle’s. They kinda bonded in a strange way. The beetle seemed happy to have a caretaker. My son made him a home in his room: a tray with water, grass and leaves for habitat, and who knows what for food? We most likely looked up what beetles ate. Mr. Beetle lived as a pet with us for four days. He’d sit on my son’s shoulder and even on his cheek when my son lay down. Mr. Beetle didn’t move much or very fast, and my husband and I hypothesized he was an old beetle, hopefully not a sick beetle. My son left on a short trip, maybe a cub scout trip, with my husband, and Mr. Beetle did not live to see my son again. A month or two later, my son found another beetle while playing in a friend’s yard. This new beetle wasn’t so nice. He stung my son! That ended my son’s interactions with beetles. My son’s entomology career, down the tubes.

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

My favorite place to read is outside on my deck, or even outside in a park. I like to have my legs raised while seated to read. The fresh air and natural light enlivens my soul. If I cannot be outside, I like to read sitting longways on the couch by our big front window. Inside I like to have a big cup of coffee at hand while I read. Outside, my drink of choice is water.

About Rosemary

Rosemary Shomaker was born in Maine and grew up with family—and heartstring—ties to New England. She currently lives in Virginia, and after a state government career now writes fiction. You can find a few of her short stories in anthologies such as Virginia is for Mysteries – Volumes I and II, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and several of the Shaker of Margaritas anthologies. Her “This is Not a Dog Park” novella is included in the Mutt Mysteries collection To Fetch a Thief.

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Welcome, Mary Adler!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mary Adler to the blog.

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

At the moment, we are blessed with only two dogs — Lily, our Rottweiler who had been abandoned in a garage after having birthed a litter of puppies, and Charley, our little terriorist mix, whose joy is contagious. Lily is older now, and her arthritis has put her in her purple chariot for longer walks which she loves.

At one point, our family included four Rottweilers, a pitty mix, and a few cats who came on their own to live with us despite all that canine presence.  Cyril, a beautiful long-haired cat once told the animal communicator (I live in California, after all) that he would like me to get him a hamster. Apparently, he had known one once and they used to have long philosophical discussions which he missed. (I did not fulfill his request.)

Other dogs have come and gone. We live in rural Sonoma county. Unfortunately, people think it is okay to abandon an unwanted animal “in the country”. We have picked dogs up from our dangerous roads and several dogs have found their way to our house. After we’ve made sure no one was looking for them, we’ve kept them until we found them good homes.  My heart goes out to people who are no longer able to care for a dog or cat and have to give them up to a shelter. I think they do not have the resources to find one of the many rescue organizations that will take dogs and find them new homes without the dog being subjected to the stress of the shelter, hopefully a no-kill shelter. I have rather strong feelings about people who dump an animal and leave it to fend for itself in a hostile environment where it is emotionally bewildered and in danger of starvation and injury. On our driver’s test they ask what the penalty is for abandoning an animal by a road. It is only a $1,000 fine. I wanted to write in a much harsher penalty.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 I’ll tell you about two of my most engaging and unusual dogs. I have been blessed with amazing animals, but AndyPandy and Harley stand out.

I met AndyPandy while volunteering at a rescue event. The bald creature — my friend said he looked like an alien — was not a great candidate for adoption, so I decided to take him home, feed him good food, train him to be somewhat more manageable, and let his fur grow out. He was very high energy — substitute wild — not my kind of dog, so I believed I could foster him without getting attached to him.

It turned out AndyPandy was a thief. Not the usual steak-dragged-off-the-counter kind of thief, but a go-for-the-money kind. I discovered this when he joyfully brought me a wallet, sat in front of me, and waited for a reward. He had snagged it from a guest’s purse. I didn’t think much of it until it happened again. And then one day, I watched Andy quietly pull a wallet from a friend’s trouser pocket without our friend’s noticing. Andy was a pickpocket. I believe he had been part of a gang in the east bay and they had taught him to steal from peoples’ purses and shopping bags. He was so engaging and disarming his marks wouldn’t have suspected a thing. (I imagined Andy’s face on WANTED posters.) I gradually extinguished his stealing behavior by not rewarding him for it. He was exceptionally intelligent. Happily, he and I found the sport of Canine Scentwork where we channeled his considerable talents into just having fun. Oh, did I mention this little “foster” stole our hearts, too, and lived with us for fourteen years? And once his hair started to grow, it didn’t stop, allowing him to be a pitty mix disguised as an Australian Shepherd. I will miss him forever.

Harley was a very large, very sweet Rottweiler with a head like a bear. He liked to take people by the hand to show them things — often the basket where his treats were kept.  One day, he led me into the garden and showed me a nest of baby bunnies hidden in the perennials. He seemed quite paternal toward them. I had seen him playing “chase” with a rabbit. When she stopped, he stopped, keeping a safe distance between them, and then they were off again. They were friends, and she felt completely safe making her nest in his territory. And the beautiful soul that he was, he wanted to share it with me.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve always wanted to write a mystery and had been researching the book that became In the Shadow of Lies for a very long time. Much too long.  Finally, I gave myself a deadline — a significant birthday (I won’t specify which one) — and resolved to have a draft of the book by then or give up the idea that I could write a mystery.

I had written many essays, legal briefs, articles, speeches, and even poetry, but never fiction and was worried that I didn’t have the imagination to make up stories. I set the book in a place I love — Pt. Richmond, Ca — and a time I love — World War II. As I researched the time period and place, story ideas emerged from the social issues people were actually dealing with then: Restrictions on Italians who were thought of as the “enemy.” Racial tensions because of the large influx of black workers who migrated from the south to the east bay defense industry. A segregated military. The war. Italian Prisoners of War in San Francisco.

I also wanted to enjoy the company of a community of characters who were funny and kind and smart. My Italian family is gone now, so I created a fictional one in the book. (I must confess that Mrs. Forgione bears a strong resemblance to my grandmother.) When I sit down to write, it is as if I am going home.

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

I can’t imagine writing a book without animals who take part in the story, just as I can’t imagine my life without them. Harley, a German shepherd, saves Oliver’s life on Guam and often steals the show. He represents the Marine K9 Corps who fought in the Pacific. During the war, many families volunteered their dogs to the Marines. Always Faithful by Captain William Putney is a wonderful book that tells about the bravery of the Corps and the devotion between the men and their dogs. As he said, “They gave their lives, so we might live.” Emma is a golden dog who looks like my Andy and travels the hills with Harmonica Man. The animals are definitely characters in their own right.

I suppose one of the lovely things about writing is that I can tell true stories about animals from my own life. For example, in the first book, a mother tells a true story of pinioned geese to explain isolation to her son, and Mrs. Forgione tells a story about swallows that reveals the character of a man.

For Shadowed by Death, I needed to understand the history of the war in Poland. I had grown up hearing derogatory stories about how foolish the Polish cavalry had been to try to fight invading German tanks on horseback.  In fact, the Polish cavalry’s brave maneuvers against the tanks confused the Germans and allowed many Polish soldiers to escape. There is also a wonderful new dog in the book who holds the clue to the mystery.

 Why do you include animals in your writing?

I can’t imagine a world without them and I believe the way people interact with animals reveals character. In part, I write about them to honor them, and in part, because they bring both joy and comfort to the human characters. For example, in In the Shadow of Lies, Oliver is on his way home from training at Camp  Le Jeune because of a death in the family.

“Harley inched closer and closer to me along the belly of the plane until he lay across my thighs and pinned me to the floor. When my hand found his ruff and tightened into a fist, he closed his eyes and pressed even harder against me, as if he wanted to absorb my pain.”

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am writing the third Oliver Wright mystery which is set in Benicia and Point Richmond.

What are you reading now?

I am rereading the Martha Grimes Richard Jury series of mysteries. It is like visiting with old friends. Also, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  My TBR pile includes the latest books from Anne Cleeves, David Rosenfelt, Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders Book 8, and DisasterInk, by Caimh McDonnell. I just finished what I am afraid is the last book by Peter Grainger in the DC Smith Investigation series. There are so many wonderful mystery series I can’t begin to list them all.

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

I wish I had known sooner that I could actually write a mystery. And how much fun it would be.

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

If you are a writer, the act of writing itself will give your life purpose whether you are published or not. Reach out to other writers and writing groups in person and online. You will be gratified by the support we give one another. While writing may be a solitary endeavor, you do not have to do it alone.

About Mary

Mary Adler escaped the university politics of “the ivory tower” for the much gentler world of World War 2 and the adventures of homicide detective Oliver Wright and his German shepherd, Harley. She lives with her family in Sebastopol, California, where she has created a garden habitat for birds and bees and butterflies—and other less desirable critters. Unintended consequences at work again.

She does canine scent work with her brilliant dogs—the brains of the team—and loves all things Italian, especially Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano and cannoli, not necessarily in that order.

Among the books she would be proud to have written are the Fred Vargas’s Commissioner Adamsberg mysteries, set in Paris; Maurizio de Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi mysteries, set in Naples; and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander mysteries, set in Ystad. 

She reminds herself daily of the question poet Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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Furry Friends and Other Characters by Amy M. Reade

Furry Friends and Other Characters

By Amy M. Reade

          We mystery writers have a thing for pets. There’s Mutt, the half-wolf, half-husky in Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mysteries; there’s Baxter, the dachshund in Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries starring Mags Rogers; and there are Hodge and Boswell, the cats belonging to Agatha Raisin in the mysteries by M.C. Beaton. There’s Leslie O’Kane and her main character, Allida Babcock, a dog therapist in Colorado; there’s Linda O. Johnston’s main character, Lauren Vancouver, head of a no-kill animal shelter; and there’s Kitty Karlyle, a gourmet chef for pets in the books by Marie Celine.

When I sit down to write, my dog Orly is never far away. She either plants herself on the floor to my right (occasionally, though far less often, to my left) or directly on my feet in front of me. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to write. The only thing that will distract her from her job of keeping me company is when she hears a squirrel at the back window—we have one of those bird feeders that attaches directly to the window and the squirrels claw their way right over the screens to get to the feeder. When the squirrels come calling, all bets are off.

I also have two cats, named Porthos and Athos (after characters in Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers). If your cats are anything like mine, when they deign to notice me at all they will find their way to my keyboard and stand on it until I pay attention to them (usually happens pretty quickly). Or they’ll try to shed sit on my legs howling until I pet them with both hands, thus rendering useless my attempts to write. When they see they’ve annoyed me sufficiently, they leave. Incidentally, they also like to sit on whatever I happen to be reading.

          I suppose, then, it was only natural that I would write mysteries that include animals as characters. I don’t even put pets in my stories intentionally—they just show up. I’ve written seven books and there have been animals as pets in four of them. One dog (The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor), one cat (House of the Hanging Jade), a stable of horses (Murder in Thistlecross), and two dogs (The Worst Noel). The animals play important roles in each story, each in his or her own way.

Pets have long been considered practically essential in cozy mysteries, but they can add interest and depth to other mysteries, too. In The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, a Gothic mystery set in South Carolina, the dog is not just a pet; she’s a stray that ends up being part of the family. She plays a protective role and readers have found that she’s a loveable and crucial character. In House of the Hanging Jade, another Gothic-style set in Hawaii, the cat, Meli, takes center stage in one scene where the main character is being stalked by an old boyfriend. Even early in the story, the cat seems to have a better grasp of the boyfriend’s personality than the main character does.

In Murder in Thistlecross, a more contemporary mystery set in Wales, two of the horses in the stable at Thistlecross Castle have a role in helping two of the characters fall in love. And one of the more shady characters wants to use the horses for his personal gain.

Finally, in The Worst Noel, (my first cozy!) there’s Barney, the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. I chose that particular breed of dog because it reminds me of Asta, the dog made famous in The Thin Man book (by Dashiell Hammett) and subsequent movies (starring William Powell and Myrna Loy). There’s nothing better than a crime-fighter with a canine sidekick. And while Barney doesn’t accompany his human when she’s searching for clues and bad guys, he’s always around to provide comfort and unconditional love when she needs him.

But wait…I mentioned two dogs in The Worst Noel. What about the other one? Well, the other one is a surprise. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know more about him.

About Amy

Amy M. Reade is a cook, chauffeur, household CEO, doctor, laundress, maid, psychiatrist, warden, seer, teacher, and pet whisperer. In other words, a wife, mother, community volunteer, and recovering attorney.

She’s also a writer. She is the author of The Worst Noel, The Malice Series (The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross), and three standalone books, Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade. She lives in southern New Jersey, but loves to travel. Her favorite places to visit are Scotland and Hawaii and when she can’t travel she loves to read books set in far-flung locations.

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