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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Welcome, Laura Vorreyer!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Laura Vorreyer and Dexter to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello. Thanks so much for stopping by and getting to know a little about me.

My book, The Pet Sitter’s Tale, is my first book; it’s based on my 15 years as a professional pet sitter and dog walker in Hollywood, California. I was inspired to write  the book by my many friends and acquaintances that heard my wild and unbelievable pet sitting stories and said to me, “I can’t believe it, you should write a book.” And so, I did.

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

My dog, Dexter, is featured prominently in my book. Dexter is my canine-soul mate. I  recued him when he was just a puppy. He had been thrown out of an apartment window  and run over by a car. I adopted him sight unseen and never regretted it for a minute.  Dexter has been with me through thick and thin, for better and for worse and takes up  residence in the office with me when I’m writing. He often sits under my desk and is a great sounding board for ideas and yes, for snacking inspiration.

My book is collection of stories and in my story entitled, “I Confess” I talk about loving  Dexter more than the person I was in a relationship with at the time. Many women have told me that they can relate to this story.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

A script. My desire is that my book will be made into a major motion picture. (Isn’t it everybody’s?) Even so, currently I am working on a script for the screen adaptation of  The Pet Sitter’s Tale and a children’s book, which is a new concept, altogether. A black Labrador named Leo inspires the children’s book. I used to regularly walk Leo for a client. The client lived in a wonderful neighborhood full of lush greenery and beautifully landscaped gardens. Walking Leo inspired me to write a children’s book about a dog-named Leo that becomes a protector of the Earth and a role model for children.

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

Ginger was my first dog. I write about her extensively in the beginning of my book. She was my first love and best friend. Coincidentally, Ginger was also a black Labrador. I’ve always felt that people gravitate towards the types of pets they had as children and I’m no different. Even though Dexter is a Chi-weenie, I would love to have a Black Labrador. My second dog growing up was a black Lab; too, his name was King. King also made it into my book. I believe it was when I was a child that my love of dogs was developed. I was quite isolated growing up and created an entire world where just my dog and me existed.

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

Animals are mentioned in every single story in my book. Sometimes they are the main character of the story and other times they are not. Having been a pet sitter for so long, I often think of the animals as the main characters, each with their own voice and personality.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I got some great advice once and that was, write what you know. Well, I know animals, after fifteen years a s a professional pet sitter I’ve become a pet expert.

I been fortunate to observe the role of the pet in a family’s life and seen first hand how a pet can become so much more than just an animal living in the house. Amongst its humans. I include animals in my writing because without them, I’d have nothing to write about.

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

I find that many movies, which feature animals, are too sad to watch because the animal   usually dies at the end of the movie. (I hate when that happens!) I love, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective I especially love the scene when Ace is hiding all the pets in his apartment and the landlord comes over, I have definitely been there. I love that movie. The one book that stands out in my mind as having an animal as the central character is, The Art of Racing in the Rain. By Garth Stein. In this book, the narrator was Enzo the dog. What a great book. I think this is the first time I read a book and thought that the perspective of the animal was captured really well and also the dog was so completely loveable in his innocence and loyalty. What a treasure!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s in my book; you’ll have to read it. Begins on page 102

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

When I was a little girl. I loved to write. I would send long letters, keep journals and enter writing contest (especially poetry) every chance I’d get. As I got older, writing became too much of a time commitment and I stopped writing for the pure joy of it. Instead I became an avid reader and devoured tons of books. About ten years ago I started writing again and haven’t stopped.

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

To vacation in Italy. Not just for a few days but for a few weeks or maybe even more. I would love to spend time in Venice, Italy. This has been a dream destination of mine forever, as long as I can remember. My relatives on my Father’s side are from Sicily so I would love to spend some time in Sicily, too. Put me down for a few months in Italy and I’m good.

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

First, don’t compare yourself to other writers. You can be inspired by them, motivated by them and encouraged by them but don’t try and be like them. Copying someone else’s writing style will not guarantee success. Remember, their good writing does not take away from your good writing. Remain true to your own voice. Write the best you can for you. There is a big enough reading audience out there for everyone to have a fan base.

It’s all right to be jealous of someone else’s success, just don’t act on it.

Secondly, have compassion for yourself and for others. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t wake up every morning and pound out 2,500 words before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee. It’s okay. Do the best that you can and enjoy the journey!

About Laura

Laura Vorreyer is an entrepreneur, who pioneered the dog walking industry in Hollywood over 15 years ago, and is the author of the new book, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale.” She is the owner of the pet care company Your Dog’s Best Friend, a premier dog walking and pet-sitting business in Los Angeles. Laura has taught pet-sitting and dog walking classes in Los Angeles and is also a passionate advocate for animal rights. She remains dedicated to pet rescue.

 Laura’s road to pet-sitting began when she packed up her belongings and moved from Chicago to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a make-up artist for big-time movie stars. Rather than dabbing powder on the pert noses of up-and-coming starlets, she found herself without a union card (something she didn’t know she needed for a career as a make-up artist) and, therefore, couldn’t find work. Moreover, it seemed as if everybody she met was a make-up artist. “There were more make-up artists than actresses in Los Angeles!” she quipped.

 Before she knew it, in order to just get her foot in that coveted door, she was heading to the set of a seedy adult film to apply make-up in ways she never – ever – expected. It was at this point she started to question her choice in career paths. A chance meeting on the set of a legitimate film led to a life-changing conversation. A well-known comedienne happened to need a dog walker and since Laura loves dogs, her career showering pets with love and care was born.

 Never dull, sometimes hilarious and occasionally terribly sad, Laura found that her career of looking after the rich and famous’ furry family members was captivating enough for a book. Recognizing this, she got a good chunk of her anecdotes down on paper and produced what is a combination of the books “The Nanny Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada” with the can-do spirit of the film “Legally Blonde.” “The Pet Sitter’s Tale” is funny, inspiring and relatable to anyone who has ever loved an animal. About her path to her career, Laura explains, “I have been many other things, but none as satisfying or rewarding as a caretaker for other living creatures.” Anybody who has loved a four-legged furry family member can relate and will laugh and cry along with Laura’s compilation of stories of her 15 years in the pet care business.

 

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Welcome, Terri M. Collica

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Terri M. Collica to the blog this week.

Thank you, Heather, for having me on your blog. I’m really honored to be interviewed.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up in a small idyllic town in Northwestern Kentucky just minutes away from the Ohio River. I remember spending many Sunday afternoons fishing with my parents. I’d watch the bobber on my wooden fishing pole hoping to catch a big one. I still love rivers.

When I was five, my mother took me to visit my aunt in West Palm Beach, Florida. I can still remember being lifted skyward by the two women right as the incoming wave reached me. What a thrill! I knew then that I would someday live near the ocean. Soon after graduating college, I moved to Palm Beach County – home to Mar-a-Lago, hanging chads and lots of mystery fodder.

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

There are four cats who allow my husband and me to live in their house. They have somehow convinced us to eagerly attend to their every need. Torti, is the head honcho and has been since she convinced us to adopt her and her kitten, Slippers, after someone abandoned them off the Florida Turnpike. The two longhairs, Autumn Leaves and Curly Whiskers abide by the shorthairs’ rules. Somehow, I’ve managed to schedule my life, so I can write and still cater to the felines’ whims. Curly Whiskers has even agreed to appear in one of my upcoming mysteries, but only if she gets to approve the final manuscript.

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

Service dogs abound in the Sunny McBain Mystery series. Dickens is Sunny’s guide dog, and he plays a major part in both Fuzzy Visions and Family Visions. He’s a beautiful golden retriever, and I’ve shed a few tears writing some scenes involving him and Sunny.

Sunny’s oldest friend is a good-looking deaf boy who travels with his hearing-ear dog, Chaucer. The two dogs provide some comic relief when it is most needed in the mysteries.

What are you reading now?

I just finished a fabulous young adult mystery by Karen M. McManus titled One of Us Is Lying. Wow! The plotting, characterization and pacing was remarkable. I’d like to be able to clone her writing technique for my next novel.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on two projects. Christmas Visions will be the third book in the Sunny McBain Mystery series. It is due to be released in July as a Christmas-in-July event. Two new service dogs will be arriving in the novel. Mugsie, a yellow lab, and Gabriel, a black lab.

I’m also writing an adult cozy with a working title of Clancy’s Dilemma. My beautiful kitty, Curly Whiskers, will make her appearance in the novel.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Oh my, this is not an easy question to answer. As far as the classics, I love Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities is my all-time favorite book. For an entertaining cozy mystery with lots of lovable dogs, I read David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series. I also wait for new books from Heather Blake, Maggie Pill, Hank Phillipe Ryan and Charles Finch.

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

I always had a pet cat while growing up. A little black kitten named Inky was my first. Then there was Caesar, Elke, and well, you get the picture. There were family dogs too, but they were claimed by my brothers. However, I still insist they liked me better than my pesky little brothers.

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

The Sunny McBain Mystery series is about a remarkable blind girl who with the help of her guide dog solves mysteries. Although the stories are fiction, I try to make the interaction between Sunny and her service dog as authentic as possible. Researching the relationship between guide dogs and their handlers has given me the opportunity to learn about, and get to know, several real guide dogs and their blind handlers. I am thankful for every moment I can spend in their company. Seeing Eye dogs are the most loving and intelligent creatures on earth. They are truly the “neurosurgeons” of canines.

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

I love animals. Any novel featuring one as a major character in the story draws me in. That said, I can’t watch any movie or TV show where a beloved animal is hurt, suffers, and/or dies. Lassie was a real tearjerker for me, and my mother finally refused to let me view it. Once, I was trapped on an airplane during an overseas flight. They were showing the film, Marley & Me. Blubbering during most of the movie, I finally had to hide out in the plane’s restroom.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Soon after moving to Florida, I learned an important lesson about cats. They will defend their home against any intruder that’s no bigger than they are. Or at least my kitty, P.C., felt this way when a skunk got into my small, rundown rental. It was late one evening and the battle only lasted a few minutes before Mr. Skunk hightailed it out the same way he came in. P.C. had defended her home, but not before the enemy had sprayed his “beyond skunk” aroma throughout our small cabin.

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

There’s just one thing on my bucket list. I’m sure it will sound esoteric to some, and just plain stupid to others, but here it is. I’d like to live peacefully in every moment knowing it’s all good and exactly as it should be. (Oh, and by the way, I’m so far from that now, it’s just plain scary!)

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

I once had a Guinea pig who was the meanest, most ornery rodent I’d ever encountered. I had personally picked her out after seeing how loving and sweet my best friend’s Guinea pig was. I was sure she’d be the same. Although she was beautiful with every color known to her species, she was a holy terror. She refused to let anyone pick her up or pet her. Feeding her was a scary encounter as she’d bite the hands that were trying to fill her food bowls. Finally, I decided my little pet was just too nervous, hyper and scared to be tamed. I still cried when I returned her to the pet store.

About Terri Collica:

Terri graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education before going on to her master’s degree in special education. She dedicated her career to teaching English to both mainstreamed and learning disabled students.

In addition to her mystery novels, Collica has self-published a locally distributed quarterly magazine dedicated to old-fashioned holiday celebrations, vintage decorations, and crafts. She has also had the opportunity to interview numerous famous musicians for local magazines.

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Welcome, Kris Bock!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Twenty years ago, I started writing for children, using the name Chris Eboch. I have eight middle grade novels (for ages 9 to 12) published under that name. I also write a lot of educational nonfiction under the name MM Eboch.

Around 2008, I was starting to feel restless and wanted a change. I realized I had mostly been reading adult romantic suspense novels, so I started writing those under the name Kris Bock. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town.

So I have over 50 published books now, but that includes fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. The variety keeps me interested!

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

We got our first two ferrets in 2012. Zonks and Rico came as a pair. Ferrets don’t live very long, unfortunately, especially when you get them as older rescues, so we’ve loved and lost two more since then. We’ve had our current two, Teddy Black Bear (Bear) and Princess Pandemonium (Panda) since August. They love to wrestle and to sleep cuddled together. I have yet to use a ferret in one of my books, but I’m sure I will someday.

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

I have three novels about treasure hunting in the Southwest. Each has a different main couple, but some characters show up in each book. The Mad Monk’s Treasure introduces two friends, Erin and Camie, and Camie’s oversized orange cat Tiger. Camie and Tiger help out in The Dead Man’s Treasure, and they’re the main characters – along with a love interest for Camie, Ryan – in The Skeleton Canyon Treasure. I think Tiger may be my most popular character of all. He goes hiking with Camie and has been known to attack intruders. Some people think his behavior is unrealistic, while others swear they’ve known a cat just like him.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m polishing a mystery about a former war correspondent who returns to her childhood home after an injury and uncovers a mystery at the Alzheimer’s care unit where her mother resides. It’s intended to be the first in a series with the same main character.

Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s too hard to choose! I like romantic suspense and mystery, but nothing too gruesome. I don’t need dead bodies strewn on every page. That’s why I’m a fan of classic romantic suspense by authors such as Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels.

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

Not exactly, but some years back I spent time with a man who raises falcons and hawks and went on a few hunts with him. What We Found was inspired by finding a dead body while hiking and also includes falconry. It’s real-life adventures like these, both good and bad, that make New Mexico a great place for a writer!

In What We Found, set in a small town in central New Mexico, a young woman stumbles on a dead body in the woods. Audra gets drawn into the investigation, but more than one person isn’t happy about her bringing a murder to light. Fortunately, she has some allies, including her brainy 12-year-old brother and self-appointed sidekick, Ricky. And because this is suspense with a dose of romance, she has a love interest, Kyle, whose grandmother owns falcons and hawks. Audra accompanies Kyle on a falcon hunt. This scene is closely based my experiences with a falconer:

We strode across the desert, angling to pass by bushy patches where rabbits might be hiding. The hawk flew ahead again, soaring about twenty feet above the ground before landing on a small tree. She waited until we passed by, then made another hop, farther that time. Kyle raised his left arm to shoulder height. The hawk flew back and landed. Watching her come in sent a strange breathless thrill through my chest. I’d seen owls and eagles fairly close in the zoo, but there they were sitting quietly on perches. This was a glimpse of something wild and beautiful.

A jackrabbit bolted out of a bush twenty paces ahead. The hawk took off after it.

Seconds later, she swooped down behind some bushes several hundred feet away. She rose up, made a small loop, and dropped down again. Something shrieked.

Kyle was already running toward the action. By the time I got there, he had the hawk on his arm again. She had a feather sticking out awkwardly from her wing. I didn’t see the rabbit and wondered if Kyle had hidden it to make it easier on me.

“She got beat up,” Kyle said. “That rabbit had some moves.”

“It got away?”

He nodded and plucked a small tuft of gray fur from the bush. “She made contact. But this time, it looks like the rabbit won.” He opened his fingers and the small tuft of fur drifted away on the breeze.

“The rabbit won!”

“It happens sometimes. Fortunately for our girl, she won’t starve.” He looked into her black eyes. “It’s frozen quail for you tonight, my dear.”

The falconry aspect helped me develop thematic elements of What We Found, added some action, and provided readers with insight into an usual pastime. One reader wrote, “The falconry aspect was almost as intriguing as the unveiling of the murderer!”

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

The ferrets stay in a playpen during the day. It’s not really safe to let them run all over the house, as they’re so small that they could get into things and you might wind up stepping on them or sitting on them when they’re under a couch cushion. My home office looks out on New Mexico nature, complete with distracting wildlife such as roadrunners, quail, hummingbirds, and foxes. When I need a break, I can go cuddle the furkids.

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

Most people seem to think ferrets are pretty unusual! I also had a rat when I was in high school. They make good pets.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a fantasy adventure drawing on the Arabian Nights stories; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery that brings ancient Egypt to life; and The Well of Sacrifice, an action-packed drama set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala.

Chris’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots, while You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers offers great insight to beginning and intermediate writers. Learn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

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Welcome, Andrew Welsh-Huggins!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. By day I’m a reporter for The Associated Press in Columbus where I cover criminal justice issues, including the death penalty, the opioid epidemic and terrorism prosecutions. By earlier in the day I write the Andy Hayes private series published by Swallow Press (http://www.ohioswallow.com/author/Andrew+Welsh+Huggins), about a disgraced ex-Ohio State quarterback turned investigator in Columbus. The fifth installment, The Third Brother, comes out April 13. I also write short crime fiction.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? As my website says in tongue-in-cheek fashion, I’m the ‘owner of too many pets.’ We have a mixed breed dog, Mikey, two black cats, and two parakeets.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names? My private eye has a Golden Lab, “Hopalong,” named for Howard “Hopalong” Cassaday, an Ohio State running back who won the Heisman Trophy in 1955. Hopalong has appeared in all five books.

What are you reading now?

I just read, in order, The Late Show by Michael Connelly, The Dry by Jane Harper and All Day And A Night by Alafair Burke.

 What writing projects are you currently working on? My sixth Andy Hayes mystery, Fatal Judgment, coming in April 2019 (once again featuring Hopalong), and various short stories.

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

We always had cats when I was growing up, starting with “Charley,” a gray and white domestic shorthair when I was about five. Our most famous family cat, “Melrose,” once faced down a buck with a full set of antlers in our back yard in western New York State–and won.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

My character, Andy Hayes, is a dog person. I like having Hopalong in his life as something that makes him seem more real. More than one reader has said they appreciate the fact he actually has to remember to come home and let the dog out. Also, although I’ve never owned a lab, I have a good friend who does, and I enjoy researching Hopalong’s activities by seeing what my friend and his dog are up to.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

In August 1989, my wife and I were moving from Providence, Rhode Island, to Bloomington, Indiana, with all our belongings, including our cat, Ezra. Someone recommended we put butter on his paws to calm him while we drove. Instead, we ended up a wigged-out cat and butter all over the moving van’s windows as Ezra didn’t take kindly to the idea. Later that day, we stuck him in a duffel bag and tiptoed to our room past a hotel lobby clerk–those were the days before hotels were as pet friendly as they are today. We thought we were very sneaky. Ezra wasn’t amused.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer more or less when I started reading around age six or so. I knew because I immediately started writing books on whatever paper was around the house.

What do your pets do when you are writing? I work on my fiction from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning. As soon as I sit down, my 14-year-old cat, Frankie, emerges from wherever she’s hanging out in my home office, jumps on the reading chair beside me and demands to sit on my lap. She stays there, snuggled under my bathrobe, the entire time. Mikey the dog and Theo, the other cat, are usually sacked out–separately–upstairs.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have? Bedside, I have Going Long, an anthology of journalism about track and field; They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, a popular culture essay collection by Hanif Abdurraqib; and How To Read A Novelist by John Freeman. In my downstairs pile are Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne, and The Metal Shredders by Nancy Zafris (plus many mystery short story anthologies and magazines, including Best American Mystery Stories 2015, the collected Sue Grafton Kinsey Millhone short stories, and copies of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). My third TBR “pile” consists of podcasts, audio short stories and various audio novellas on my phone for the car–most recently including Anne Perry’s annual Christmas novellas.

Author Biography:

Andrew grew up in a small town near the Finger Lakes in western New York State, where one of his favorite Christmas presents as a child was “Thurber on Crime,” thus launching him on a path involving both a love of detective fiction and his future home in Columbus, Ohio. He attended Kenyon College where he majored in Classics and more importantly, met his future wife, Pam, at your standard early 1980s dating hotspot: a Medieval banquet.

Andrew started his writing career as a newspaper reporter in Providence, R.I. and worked later for papers in Bloomington, Indiana, and Youngstown, Ohio. He moved to Columbus in 1998 to work for the Associated Press, covering the death penalty, crime and courts, the Statehouse and long-lived zoo animals.

Andrew is the author of five Andy Hayes mysteries published by Ohio University Press, featuring a disgraced ex-Ohio State quarterback turned private eye, including the upcoming The Third Brother. Andrew has also written two nonfiction books, also published by OU Press: No Winners Here Tonight, a history of Ohio’s death penalty, and Hatred at Home, about one of the country’s first domestic terrorism cases.

Andrew’s short mystery fiction includes “The Murderous Type,” which won the 2017 Al Blanchard prize for best New England short crime fiction, and appears in Snowbound: The Best New England Crime Stories 2017.

When he’s not writing or reporting, Andrew enjoys running, reading, spending time with family and trying to remember why having a dog, two cats and two parakeets seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Welcome, James Dorr!

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 Hi.  I’m James Dorr. I’m a writer. 

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading now? 

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

Who is your favorite author and why? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

 James Dorr Bio:

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

 Social Media:

Blog: http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com

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

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

 Buy Links:

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

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

 The Tears of Isis:

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

 

 

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Welcome, Helena Fairfax!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Helena Fairfax to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I live in the north of England near the Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. The moors were the setting for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Living near such a wild, romantic landscape, it’s little surprise that I was inspired to start writing romance! My first novel, The Silk Romance, was published in 2013, and since then I’ve had several novels and short stories published. My works have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize and the Global Ebook Awards. I also work as a freelance editor, and I’ve found I get as much enjoyment from helping others get the best out of their manuscripts as I do with my own writing. Telling stories is my passion.

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

I have a rescue dog called Lexi, who is a Staffie cross. Lexi was abandoned as a puppy. When we first took her home she was very wary around strangers and highly reactive towards other dogs. Once she gets to know people, she is the most affectionate and loving dog imaginable. She’s playful and intelligent, she loves to walk the moors with us where it’s nice and peaceful, and every day we go out is like a brand new, exciting day for her. We wouldn’t be without her now for the world.

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

Although I love my dog to bits, strangely I’ve only ever had one dog in one of my books. I have a short story called Come Date Me in Paris. [link http://mybook.to/DateMeParis ] The story features a little French poodle called Sweetie who is totally cute – and most unlike my own dog! Alice, the heroine of the story, appears on a reality TV dating show – and Sweetie proceeds to steal the show in a disastrous way. The story was really good fun to write!

What are you reading now?

I’m reading a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett called The Making of a Marchioness. A Little Princess was one of my favourite books as a child. I’d never heard of this novel until I was given it as a present. It’s really charming and I’m absolutely loving it!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a non-fiction history of the women of Halifax – a former mill town in Yorkshire near where I live. Next year is the centenary of the first women in the UK getting the vote, and the book is planned for release around the centenary.

I’m also working on an anthology of stories with a group of authors from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Our stories will each be based on the same shop in a town local to us. Miss Moonshine’s Shop of Magical Things is the working title. I’m really excited about putting it together!

Who is your favorite author and why?

That is such a difficult question! I think perhaps in romance it would probably be Georgette Heyer. I can read her novels time and time again, and never get bored. Her heroes and heroines are always different, even though she’s written so many books. Her heroines are spirited and charming, each in their own way, and her heroes are always men to fall madly in love with.

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

I was one of seven children, so my poor mum had no time for pets as well…! I’d have loved to have had a dog as a child, so I’m making up for it now.

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

Probably my favourite movie with an animal is The Wizard of Oz. I love Judy Garland in anything. She has an amazing voice and such an ability to convey emotion. Toto is such a sweet dog and the perfect animal to accompany her on her adventure.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When my mum was a child they had a little mongrel dog they’d found abandoned. The dog really took to my granddad. My granddad used to take the dog on the bus with him, and give it a pie from the butcher’s. After a while the dog learned the route, and he used to hop on the bus all by himself, sit at the front with the driver, and make his own way to the butcher’s. After being given a pie, he’d go to the bus stop and get the bus home!

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

Lexi is getting old now, which is quite sad for us after seeing her bounding about the moors as a young dog. Nowadays we don’t walk as far as we did, and when I’m writing she’s quite happy to cuddle up next to me and sleep. Sometimes her snores disturb my concentration, but it’s lovely to have her to talk to about my characters. She’s a great listener!

A Year of Light and Shadows covers a year of mystery, suspense and romance in the life of Scottish actress Lizzie Smith and her bodyguard, Léon, culminating on New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh.

When Lizzie is offered the chance to play the role of a Mediterranean Princess, her decision to accept thrusts her into a world of intrigue and danger. Alone in the Palace, Lizzie relies on her quiet bodyguard, Léon, to guide her. But who is Léon really protecting? Lizzie…or the Royal Princess?

Back home in Scotland Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth and finds danger stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh. Lizzie turns to her former bodyguard, Léon, for help…and discovers a secret he’d do anything not to reveal.

Buy link: http://mybook.to/lightandshadows

About Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.
Helena’s novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, the I Heart Indie Awards, and the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award.

Social Links

Newsletter (all new subscribers receive a romantic novella): http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT

Website and blog: www.helenafairfax.com

Besides the above, I also post photos of the moors and other places I’ve visited on social media.

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

Twitter https://twitter.com/HelenaFairfax

Pinterest https://uk.pinterest.com/helenafairfax/

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

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Welcome, Barbara Schlichting

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

 Who is your favorite author and why?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals are sweet and loveable.

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

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

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

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

 Biography:

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

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Welcome, Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

Who is your favorite author and why?

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

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

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

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

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

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

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

Janis’ Biography:

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

Janis’ Website 

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