Welcome, Sam Cheever!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sam Cheever to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a USA Today and WSJ bestselling author of over 80 books. I write contemporary, cozy and paranormal mystery/suspense, and, I have 13 dogs. My husband and I rescue hard luck cases and senior pets. Our dogs are our family, our hobby, and our passion. As you can imagine, taking care of 13 dogs takes up a lot of our day. But we wouldn’t have it any other way!

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

Our close-nit little pack includes 2 Great Danes, 7 dachshunds, 2 cattle dog mixes, 1 pibl (she’s actually a bull dog / pitbull mix – so cute!), and 1 retriever mix. They’re all inside dogs. In fact, they’re all “inside on the bed and furniture” dogs. LOL Our youngest is around 4 years old and our oldest is close to 15 years old. We generally have 8 dogs on the bed with us every night, fortunately, most of the bigger dogs like to sleep on the floor and dog beds around us. My biggest challenges in life are finding room on the bed and not melting under the heat of 5-6 snuggling dachshunds. LOL

I write traits from my dogs into almost every book. Caphy, the Pitbull featured in my Country Cousin Mysteries is a sweet and fun mix of my pibl, Zoie and my daughter’s pibl, Willa. In Spunky Bumpkin, my latest Country Cousins mystery, which is part of the recently released Summer Snoops Unleashed collection, Caphy is joined by her new sister, LaLee the Siamese cat, and Spunky, a senior retriever whose owner has been accused of murder. The three pets help their owners solve the murder and find a killer!

My old guy, Poppie, is Rodney in my Silver Hills Cozy Mysteries; a senior dachshund with tons of personality and zero manners! In fact, my dachshunds make regular appearances in my books in some form or other, because they have such fun personalities.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a brand-new series right now. My Enchanting Inquiries series features a young sorceress who is a Keeper of Magical Artifacts. Naida also works with a magically-talented cat, whose name is Mr. Wicked, and a frog named Mr. Slimy, who has a really big secret. The series is fun, irreverent, and filled with magical adventure. I’m having a lot of fun writing it!

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

If I put an animal into a book, it’s always as a main character. Any animal you add to a story has so much potential to add fun, challenge, and warm feelings that it’s a downright shame to waste that potential as a writer. You know the old adage about kids and pets in entertainment. You simply cannot beat them. But you can enjoy the heck out of them!

Why do you include animals in your writing?

See above! *grin* But really, aside from the fact that I’m passionate about them and try to never miss a chance to advocate for them, animals are just plain fun. They add so much to a story. They provide a richness of heart that only kids and animals can provide. They give your characters dimension. They can even move the story forward, as they often do in mysteries. An author can give an animal any number of fun and quirky traits that make the reader laugh, cry, and care about the story. They’re pure fiction gold.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

That depends on the time of day. Unlike my human children and my husband, my dogs simply won’t allow me to train them to respect my writing time, so anything goes. Once they’ve badgered us into feeding them in the morning, they’ll all settle down for a couple of hours of sleep. This is prime work time for us. Then somebody will decide it’s time for me to pay attention to them. But that’s good too because it forces me to get out of my chair for a while. I’ll usually go outside with them and walk around the yard while they bark at the hawks overhead, sniff out mice and other small things, (they even find the occasional mole. Which doesn’t work out well for the mole if I’m not there to rescue it!) Then we all traipse back inside and they settle down for a couple more hours before they start lobbying to be fed again. LOL It’s a never-ending, comfortable cycle.

To add intrigue to our days, every person, car, truck, or airplane that dares to pass by our home must get a loud talking to (I call it the canine chorus. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard 13 dogs bark and sing at the same time.) #:0) Every unsanctioned movement outside the house must be addressed. Then they’ll all settle down again until the next unplanned intrusion.

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

When the kids were young we got a box turtle. That was a strange experience. I love turtles, but they’re kind of boring as pets. I’ve never written one into a book so that should tell you something. The poor thing would be sitting there blinking in chapter one and still sitting in the same spot blinking in chapter twenty-one. Not exactly riveting fiction. LOL

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

This is tough because the industry has changed so much since I started. My impulse is to say that I would have started writing mystery or paranormal adventure sooner. But at the time I broke in, romance was the biggest genre. So I wrote romance. And then I wrote sexy romance, which wasn’t really my thing. Writing this, I realize I should be feeling like I settled a little. But I really don’t feel that way. I enjoy romance, and it was fun to write, but I never exploded into the industry as a romance writer because the romance was always a small part of the stories I wove. I’m all about the mystery and the action first, and the romance just adds a nice edge to it all.

But taking that all away, I would have started writing to my real passion sooner. Also, I would have resisted going the sexy romance route. There’s nothing wrong with sexy romance, it’s just not where my passion is, and I think it kept me from finding my real audience sooner.

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

I read in bed at night. I rarely read during the day because there’s just too much to do. But I will listen to audiobooks while I’m in the car, cleaning, or cooking dinner.

I write almost exclusively at my desk. It’s comfortable and it’s easier for me to concentrate and work there. However, I’ll sometimes take my laptop outside and work. It’s a nice change of pace when I need one.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

Keep an open mind. With changes in technology, changes in the retail landscape, and shifting reader tastes, the publishing world is everchanging. Don’t fight the change. Embrace it. And look for ways to succeed within every new landscape.

About Sam:

USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Sam Cheever writes mystery and suspense, creating stories that draw you in and keep you eagerly turning pages. Known for writing great characters, snappy dialogue, and unique and exhilarating stories, Sam is the award-winning author of 80+ books.

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Welcome, Mabry Hall!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Mabry Hall to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up in central Mississippi and live in Louisiana now, with a sidestep to Texas for college and grad school. My favorite childhood times were spent at my grandparents’ farm, where I awoke every morning to the sound of cows at the back fence. My cousin and I roamed free with two very smart working dogs, Lassie— she’d have to be a collie with name like that, and Shep, a golden retriever. My 18 Karat Cold mystery series is set on a farm in northwest Louisiana, but my main character, Annalee Wyatt, buys and sells antique jewelry. Since I’m writing the story, I can have her pastures leased to a neighboring farmer. Annalee needs time for jewelry and sleuthing.

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

Our Maine Coon cat is named Lucy, because she’s a redhead. Her personality is reflected in the orange tabby, Montrose, that lives with Annalee. Until a few years ago, we had a wonderful Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Henry, before Corgis became so cool. I’ve immortalized Henry in the books, but he belongs to Annalee’s handsome next door neighbor. He loves to hang out on Annalee’s front porch, flat on his back with his paws in the air. Anyone who’s spent time around a Corgi will have no trouble visualizing the position.

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

In addition to the ones listed above, in the first book Annalee acquires an African Gray parrot named Lafitte. He spent his formative years in a bar in Baton Rouge next to the LSU campus, and he flirts with women and sings old rock-n-roll and zydeco tunes. Annalee’s Basset Hound, Pudge, belonged to her aunt, whose farm she inherited. In my imagination, Pudge spends most of his time with his nose to the ground, snuffling out the critters that live in the country in Louisiana. While they aren’t pets, the farm next door has begun raising dairy goats that have the mischievous personalities of the goats I’ve met.

My third book, A Rumor of Riches, features a redbone coonhound, Delores, and a Catahoula leopard dog named Isobel. Their tracking skills play a major part in the book. My problem is that writing about all of these animals makes me want to get one of each.

While the series isn’t particularly paranormal, Annalee’s Goat Hill Farm is haunted by a goat who lived there in 1885. Repentance comes and goes on his own schedule, and Annalee has been able to see him since she was a child. And the name? Repentance was my fifth great-grandfather. I wish I knew why his parents called him that.

What are you reading now?

Let me share what I’m listening to now, as I always have at least one book in progress on my phone. I’m currently listening to Circe, by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of the myth of Circe of the Odyssey, from her point of view. The story is strong, and the reader is perfect. I recently finished Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, which is a riff on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale told from the woman’s view. For fun and giggles, you can’t go wrong with The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang. I never get a book without listening to the sample, because the reader can make or break the experience for me.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the fourth novel in the 18 Karat Cold series. Since Annalee buys and sells antique jewelry, each book revolves around a specific piece. The first, An Engaging End, features an antique mine-cut diamond engagement ring. The second, A Regrettable Reunion, has a demantoid garnet brooch in the shape of a salamander. The third has gold coins and a squash-blossom turquoise necklace, and this as yet unnamed book has diamond chandelier earrings that are literally

Who is your favorite author and why?

While I don’t claim to have a favorite author, I love anything by Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel, and who can resist Jane Austen? PD James, Louise Penney, Elly Griffiths, and Ben Aaronovitch all captivate my attention with the first page. I usually have four or five books going at one time and read many of my fellow Sisters in Crime cozy writers. Then there’s nonfiction history and Alison Weir, and, oh, lately I’m plowing through the Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker, although they make me very hungry. My next trip to France may have to include Bordeaux.

My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. He brought those animals to life for me. I’ve reread it many times, and each time brings a new understanding.

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

My first dog was a fox terrier, delivered by Santa with a red bow as big as he was. I have a vivid memory of finding him under the tree. He was followed by a cocker spaniel, and then we switched to dachshunds. I had four of them through the years, and we once bottle-fed a litter of eight, which involved starting with all of them in one laundry basket. We knew we were through when they were all moved to the other one. I loved cats, but my mother didn’t, so I vowed to myself that I’d have one some day. We are currently on our fourth, the aforementioned Maine Coon, and she is the first that wasn’t a rescue kitty.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals have always been a part of my life, and it seems a natural progression to have them as part of my characters’ lives. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they interact with something smaller and weaker; something that might be at their mercy or dependent on them.

I also think animals have such interesting personalities, if that isn’t anthropomorphizing them too much. My son and his wife have a cat who seemed to have almost no redeeming qualities. Clarence wasn’t friendly; he shed like a three-month-old Christmas tree, and had major litter box issues. I grudgingly tolerated him. Since my granddaughter was born, he’s a whole new cat. He will let that little girl do anything to him. He’s patient and calm, which is not so easy when there’s a two-year-old bouncing an alphabet block on your head. I’m surprised anew each time I visit.

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

My first book had been out for a couple of months and was not setting the world on fire. Friends and relatives loved it, but they didn’t really count. Then one of those friends invited me to Dallas to speak to her book club. Fourteen women RSVP’d, but over twenty attended. They loved the book. I didn’t know them; they didn’t owe me special consideration; they weren’t there to be nice. They honestly liked it, and just as important, they were ready to read the next one! It was a game-changer.

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

I don’t think hamsters qualify as unusual, but Captain Cook was quite the adventurer. He lived up to his name. He routinely escaped from his fortified cage, and once he disappeared for several days. He had made his way from his upstairs room to the downstairs dining room, and taken up residence behind our enormous sideboard. He was a rodent with a plan. We think he made several trips up and down the stairs, cheeks stuffed with food, and set up housekeeping.

Captain Cook lived much longer than a hamster should, and toward the end of his life, my eight-year-old son came to me several times, sobbing because he was dead. Each time I’d take him and tuck him under my shirt to get him warm. Sure enough, he’d perk up in ten minutes or so and be ready to roam again. He finally died when we were out of town, and my house-sitting friend went to every pet store searching for one that looked like him, thinking she could fool David, but the Captain was irreplaceable.

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

When I was a kid, I read in the crook of a big mulberry tree. Now I require something a bit more forgiving. If it’s too hot or too cold to be outside, I curl up in one of the chairs in the den. If the weather cooperates, I love to read on my screened back porch under the ceiling fan. The swing I sit in came from my grandmother’s house, and my father was swung to sleep in it when he was a baby, about ninety years ago.

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

Finish your book. Begin another one. Finish that one and start on the third. Know that it’s a long haul, and the chance of life-altering financial success is slim. Join a group like Sisters in Crime, where you’ll receive encouragement and advice from many generous people. Be open to helpful criticism. And finally, don’t do it if it isn’t fun.

About Mabry:
I was born and raised in the South, and have lived in Mississippi, Texas, and now Louisiana. After an operating room fall curtailed my career as a nurse anesthetist, I turned my energy to writing. My boys are grown and live on the East Coast (egads!) I really do collect antique jewelry, and have amazing Pinterest boards that showcase the types I write about, so pour yourself a glass of tea or wine and prepare to be dazzled.

I write what I know, except for the murder part. Though I’ve traveled the globe, I always come back to the friendly and quirky people who populate northwest Louisiana.

Let’s Be Social:

You can reach me through my website or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

http://www.mabryhall.com

https://www.facebook.com/18KaratCold/

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Welcome, Michele Peters

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Michele Peters to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I grew up in a large Midwest town (St. Louis), have lived in Arizona for the past nine years with my husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. I have two children, my son lives in Arizona and my daughter in NY.

How we came to Arizona is a story onto itself filled with happenstance, circumstance and crazy timing, an out-of- the-blue job offer that ended up with my having three weeks to move from a lifetime in the Midwest. The task of packing, moving, selling and closing up a house we lived in for over 27 years fell squarely to my husband. On January 2nd I left with two suitcases and enough clothes to get me through until the rest of my things could be shipped. And that is a whole other story.

 Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions in corporate, university and non-profit, basically in marketing, advertising and development. Previous writing experience includes feature articles on everything from fashion to NASCAR races and a local reporter. The best writing gig I landed, even to this day, was an assignment to write a three page feature article on a small cruise ship vacation experience to the British Isles. This is where I fell in love with Ireland and Scotland and will most likely set a few of my stories in these fascinating locales.

In December 2018, I left the position Managing Director of a classical theatre company to concentrate full time and pursue my life-long dream of writing fiction. Always an avid reader from an early age (I was that “bookworm” kids teased); a BA in communications from Lindenwood University reinforced this passion but added a new appreciation for the beauty and power of language. During this time I also read early Russian literature (Pushkin, Leskov, Gogol) which created a new dimension for me in character description and development.

When we had to write our thesis (capstone), while other students complained about having to write 90 pages, I was trying to figure out how to keep it to only 90 pages.

I discovered cozies quite by accident last summer while visiting a friend, have been studying this genre and working on the first of a series ever since.

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

My husband and I, over the years have had numerous pet dogs, all rescues and always two or three. All were fairly large, mixed breed rescues. We adopted an abused Irish setter who I nursed back to health. My vet laughed when I told him I put Shayna in our guest bed and fed her home-made chicken soup; she lived to 14 years old; he originally said she wouldn’t live the year (she was about two years old at the time). We’ve had Bootsie and Pepper; Matty and Abby; Crackers and Shayna. And then Clancy, a 125lb Irish setter who thought he was a lap dog. Since we are older, we not only downsized our house but our pets. Sophie and Rocky are two small Chihuahua mixes, who I am quite certain, believe we are just funny forms of them.

Clancy will be featured in my cozy mystery as well as on the cover. In his own crazy way, he helps the protagonist uncover and dig up clues needed to solve murders.

What are you reading now?
Like so many of us, I have more than one book started. Reading Ellen Byron’s Body on the Bayou; a collection of stories by Daphne duMauier, Echoes from the Macabre and Dianne Freeman’s A Ladies Guide to Gossip and Murder. Just finished Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and constantly adding to my collection of her works.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
The first in a series of cozy mysteries and a WWII mystery. Doing research on a historical fiction manuscript. In between, every so often I am asked to write marketing copy for a few freelance clients I have retained.

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

Growing up we had beautiful white and tan collie mix named Fluffy; she was more our third sister. We painted her toenails, she let us dress her up, she slept with me and I read books to her. I’m certain at some point she will be featured in one of my books. She had such a sweet, loving nature…a truly gentle soul.

My love of animals, especially dogs, is simply a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. One of my “causes” is pet rescues and shelters. I still support the ASPCA in St. Louis and the Humane Society in Arizona. All donations are given in honor of my pets.

One of my treasured pieces of jewelry is a bracelet. On the outside is inscribed “Wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge” and on the inside are the names of all my dogs who are waiting for me at that bridge. I wear this almost every day.

 

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Clancy was probably the funniest pet we’ve had. He quickly learned how to open doors and drawers. He also decided fences, screen doors, screened windows were simply objects to move out of his way. After being away for almost an entire day, we came home to discover he opened the sliding doors to our hall closet, pulled everyone’s coat down from the hangers and piled them up in the middle of our living room. He created a nest of sorts from our coats and was perched on top of the pile of coats as happy as could be. Gotta love a pet that will do that.

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

I always loved to read but began to embellish or rewrite the stories I was reading as early as grade school. I can easily trace back my certainty to become a writer to a 7th grade writing assignment where we had to create a Greek myth. My teacher told me… “You need to be a writer.” It has taken me ¾ of a lifetime, but I am following my heart and her advice.


Apparently some of my friends knew I was destined to become a writer. My closest high school friend gave me a Roget’s Thesaurus as a graduation present. Inside she wrote, “For your writing career.” I still have that thesaurus.

All will be confirmed the day I sign a publishing contract.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
That is funny – and how did you know I have more than one TBR pile?

I have three TBR piles since I am working in two different genres and one I call ‘just for fun’. My mystery pile has several books by Agatha Christie, my historical fiction has Judith Starkston’s Priestess of Ishana and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy at the top, and my for fun has Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon and The Power by Naomi Alderman at the top. I would use up all the space we have here to list all of the books in my TBR piles.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
a) Writing novels, no matter what genre, is very different from writing marketing copy, press releases, feature articles or reporting. This is truly a craft that needs to be learned, honed and practiced.

b)To start reading books and attending conferences focused on the “art or craft” of good writing; to learn some of the well- known and lesser known necessities good stories must contain – the beat sheets, the 3-act formula, editing, pacing, character arcs and development, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Read, read and read. Once you’ve settled on a genre, read good writers. Read the classics – they have survived for a reason. Also begin to build your own library about the craft of writing; plot and structure, conflict, self-editing etc.

Realize you will write, edit, write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, rinse and repeat. It is all part of the process to achieve your best work.

Join one or two writers groups where you are comfortable. I tried 4 or 5 before I settled on the AZ Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths (and the Guppies Group). Attend conferences if possible. Some of the most valuable advice and hints I learned were at conferences. Writing is a solitary profession – you need others who understand what we go through to finish a book. Build your own community.

Right now I am learning that I just have to be tenacious and keep writing – until I can write those glorious words…The End.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?
If you self-publish or go with a house, you will be expected to be your own marketing dept. Learn social media, learn who your target audience is and what they are reading. In addition to writing time, you will need to set aside time devoted only to marketing.

About Michele
Now able to concentrate on her second career and life-long passion for writing, Michele Peters is working on the first in a series of cozy mysteries set in a fictional New England town, doing research for an upcoming WW II mystery while a story and characters set in medieval England keep her up at night. Writing has always been a part of her life in some form or another; writing marketing copy, feature articles, press releases or reporting, writing is always there. Michele now lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. Her son and daughter are on auto-pilot, the dogs have settled in and Michele is now able to focus on writing. She retains a few free-lance writing clients but happily pursues her long-awaited dream.

 

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Welcome, Connie Berry!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Connie Berry to the blog!

  1. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your blog! I write the Kate Hamilton Mystery series set in the UK, featuring antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. I grew up in the high-end antiques trades, so that’s a world I know. With parents who always bought more than they could sell, the house I was raised in looked something like a crowded museum. This seemed perfectly normal to me, of course, but my friends now admit they were afraid of the life-size marble state of Marie Antoinette in our living room. In addition to writing, I love to read mysteries set in the UK—or rather listen to them. I’m addicted to Audible. My other job is working trade shows for my husband’s marketing business. With northern European roots, I hate hot weather, so when things heat up in Ohio, my husband and I head for our cottage on a lake in the Wisconsin Northwoods (where I am now). That’s my writing time. And my knitting time. My other passion is travel. We usually fly somewhere out of the country twice a year. England will always be my favorite destination. Now I can call it research.

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

I have tons of destinations on my bucket list—return trips to Europe and Scandinavia, Japan, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. I have relatives in Melbourne. My Scottish grandmother’s older brother emigrated to Australia around the time she emigrated to the US. He sent me two things I treasure—a koala “teddy” when I was six and, years later, an antique copper teakettle he and his wife used daily for fifty years. I’d love to meet his grandchildren and great grandchildren one day. Number one on my bucket list, however, is staying overnight in one of the Scandinavian ice hotels. Unfortunately, this is NOT on my husband’s bucket list. Strategy may be called for.

  1. Did you have childhood pets?

I’ve always been an animal lover. As a child, I collected all sorts of pets—cats, birds, frogs, turtles, chameleons, white mice—even a baby owl that fell out of a nest near my elementary school. When one of our cats fell pregnant every nine weeks, my parents insisted she would be happier living with friends who owned a farm. To make up for the loss, they brought home a Pekingese puppy named Sunny. I fell instantly in love. Since then I’ve always had a small non-shedder to cuddle. My current fur baby is an adorable Shih Tzu named Millie.

  1. What does your pet do when you’re writing?

Usually Millie sleeps under my desk chair. Sometimes, though, she wants to be held. Have you ever tried to type with a fifteen-pound dog on your lap? Not that I’m complaining.

  1. What’s your funniest or most unusual real-life pet story?

My most unusual pet story involves the baby owl. I brought him home from school one day, bedraggled from the rain and looking adorably vulnerable with his round golden eyes. My saintly parents housed him in an old parakeet cage and called the vet who said to feed him meaty dog food with tweezers. He loved it. As he recovered from his ordeal and began to grow, he got testy and tried to take chunks out of our fingers. Then he started hooting at night. You can imagine how well that went over with my parents. The vet also told us we would need to begin offering him roughage, like tiny bones and fur (eek!). That was the last straw for my parents. We took him to those same long-suffering farmer friends and let him loose in their barn. I hope he learned how to hunt for himself. But then he wouldn’t have survived at all if I hadn’t rescued him.

  1. Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters?

Back home in Ohio, my protagonist, Kate, has a Scottish Fold kitty named Fiona, but since the books take place in the UK, we only hear about her. In the second book, A Legacy of Murder (out October 8th), one of the main characters, Miss Bunn, has an elderly, obese pug named Fergus. Fergus is terribly spoiled and doesn’t take easily to strangers, but Kate wins his confidence when she saves him from drowning. Fergus is very wise and possesses an uncanny ability to express his thoughts by grunting or winking or averting his eyes at appropriate moments. I’m currently writing the third in the series, A Pattern of Betrayal, where Fergus will once again play a leading role.

  1. What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. First published in 1999, the book has won tons of awards. The multilayered story focuses on the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the north of England. Even though I don’t write police procedurals, I adore them, and McDermid is a master of the genre.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

Now this is hard. I have lots of favorites: Susan Hill, Val McDermid, Elly Griffiths, Louise Penny, Charles Todd, Tana French, Sujata Massey, Anthony Horowitz, Jodi Taylor, Kate Morton. You can see a theme, can’t you? I love reading and writing stories set in the UK (well, Louise Penny’s are set in Canada, but I love that too). As for the classics, my all-time favorites author are Jane Austen and P. G. Wodehouse.

  1. What writing projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned, I’m currently working on the third in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, tentatively entitled A Pattern of Betrayal. Kate is back in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, running a friend’s antiquities shop while he recuperates from bilateral hip surgery. When a reclusive widow consigns an ancient Chinese hunping jar and promises to let the shop handle her late husband’s entire art collection, Kate is thrilled. But when the jar goes missing and a body is found in the shop’s back room, Kate finds herself on the trail of a missing daughter, a ruthless killer, and a centuries-old pattern of betrayal.

  1. When did you know you were a writer? How did you know?

My answer would have to be when I signed my two-book contract with Crooked Lane Books. My writing career was no longer a dream but a reality with things like deadlines and obligations to fulfill. Truthfully, though, I still struggle with the idea that I’m a writer. With each new book, I wonder if I can pull it off again.

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

First, that typing “The End” is only the beginning. As someone has said (can’t remember who), writing is rewriting. I had so much to learn—I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And second, that having a master’s degree in English literature and having read hundreds of great mysteries didn’t mean I could write one. I had no clue about story structure and the conventions of fiction writing. If I’d taken the time to learn my craft first, I might have saved years of fruitless effort.

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

Take time to learn the craft. Join a writers’ group like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America. Take classes. Get feedback from published writers and take their comments to heart. And then persevere! Don’t give up. If writing is your dream, go for it.

About Connie:

After lecturing on theology for 25 years, Connie Berry turned to writing traditional mysteries, combining a layered sense of history with a modern take on the amateur sleuth. Connie loves history, cute animals, foreign travel, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable dog, Millie.

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Congratulations to Jodi Rath on Her Latest Mystery!

Jodi Rath

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Jodi Rath, back to the blog. Congratulations on your new book!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. I LOVE to read, write, research, and do art projects. I’m a weirdo because I am happy to be home 24/7 working—my work feels like play to me! I love my home, my hubby, my nine cats, and my business which is split between teaching online courses to OH teachers, writing monthly for educational affiliations, and writing my culinary cozy mystery series. I also do individual marketing consultant work with authors on an hourly basis. I work all the time—all hours of the day—seven days a week. BUT, it feels like I’m a kid playing, not like work.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? My hubby and I have nine cats now. In the seventeen years we’ve been together, we’ve had sixteen cats total (never at once). Like so many pet lovers, we’ve lost many along the way but always find room in our hearts for me. Recently, we adopted three five-week-old kitten sisters Lily Rose Rath, Luna Belle Rath, and Lulu Bean Rath (all of our cats have middle names! LOL)

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names? Every book cover for The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series will have a picture of one of our cats on it. Book on, Pineapple Upside Down Murder, had a picture of my 19-year-old D.J. Book two, Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder, had a picture of our one-eyed cat, Stewart, on it. My protagonist, Jolie Tucker, has four cats (all of which I have in our home). Her on again—off again beau, Mick Meiser, has adopted Stewart recently. The story of how Meiser and Stewart met is true to how my hubby met our Stewart.

What are you reading now? I’m reading Leslie Budewitz book Death Al Dente! I love Leslie! She has been a mentor to me, and I love her Food Village series!

What writing projects are you currently working on? Right now, I’m writing book 2.5 which is a Thanksgiving holiday book coming out 11/15/19 called Turkey Basted to Death. This is my first time writing a holiday themed book. It is SO much fun to write, but it’s really weird to be writing it in June of 2019. It’s making me crave turkey sandwiches a lot!

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? I think as a new writer, in book one, my cats were mentioned somewhat in passing. They had scenes and were comic relief at times. I noticed in book two that my cats took on more of characters and helped take the villain down! I’m hoping to continue to develop more animals in each novel I write.

Why do you include animals in your writing? I have always been an animal lover and advocate. I pay into ASPCA monthly and I’ve helped our local vet with many rescues. Also, my local vet, Dr. Libby, is a character in the series too!

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them. In book two, Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder, I have a new character, Mirabelle, who is a lady with Down Syndrome who has sight issues. Mirabelle is the hostess with the mostess, as Aunt Fern says, at Cast Iron Creations restaurant. She has a seeing-eyed dog named Spy. The two are a dynamic duo! I’m thrilled to have them in the series!

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why? I just had this conversation with my hubby the other day. I told him that in my life I wanted to be in a solid, happy, strong relationship with someone that is my best friend. Also, I wanted to raise a family of happy and loved pets. Lastly, I wanted a career I loved. I have all of that. So, whenever it’s my time to go, no one has to feel sad for me. I’ve been blessed to live this life for the last seventeen years—and I will continue to cherish it daily!

What do your pets do when you are writing? LOL, I shared a picture of the three new kittens. That is them getting ready to nap while I write. That’s on a good day! Somedays they are crawling on the keyboard or climbing on me for attention.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing? I wish I knew how wonderful the readers would be. I was afraid of having people not like me, or people being mean for the sake of being mean. I’ve found that my readers are so kind and wonderful in cheering me on. Also, I ask that all my readers either leave a honest review or email, text, or FB message me to let me know what they like and didn’t like about my books. I take notes on what my readers say to me to improve as I continue to grow as a writer. I am also a teacher and I will never stop learning. I have the best readers and I’m so thankful for all of them!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? I will read anywhere, anytime. I have my Nook on my phone, tablet, and both laptops. I love reading in bed before sleep though.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? Be you, take the jump, study marketing!

About Jodi

Moving into her second decade working in education, Jodi Rath has decided to begin a life of crime in her The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. Her passion for both mysteries and education led her to combine the two to create her business MYS ED, where she splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers and creating mischief in her fictional writing. She currently resides in a small, cozy village in Ohio with her husband and her nine cats.

About Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Murder

 Welcome to Leavensport, Ohio where DEATH takes a delicious turn!

Financial fraud of elderly villagers in Leavensport, an urban sprawl threat to the community, disastrous dates, cross-sell marketing gone wrong, and another murder? Jolie Tucker is ready to try dating again. Well, she has no choice—since her family auctioned her off to the highest bidder. Her best friend, Ava, has agreed to a double date, but both friends find out hidden secrets about their partners as well as deception by one of the village’s own, who will soon be found dead. This plot is sure to be spicy!

Release Date: 06/21/19

Cover: Attached

Links to purchase book:

Amazon: http://authl.it/B07Q1K4DN3

All other e-platforms: https://books2read.com/u/bOAYyK

Newsletter link to A Mystery A Month—sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive a free Mystery a Month and a chance to win prizes for those who guess the right answers! http://eepurl.com/dIfXdb

Website: www.jodirath.com

FB Author page: @authorjodirath

Twitter: @jodirath

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jodi-rath

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Welcome, Merrilee Robson!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Merrilee Robson to the blog.

  1. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve loved to make up stories for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in pencil when I was eleven. I found it a few years ago in a closet at my parents’ house and a few elements made their way into a short story, The Flamingo Diamond, that is being published later this year in a magazine in the UK.

Six of my mystery short stories have been published or are scheduled to be published this year. I have a few more in the works.

My first published novel, Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op in Vancouver.

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

I have two male cats, Oswin and Jordan. They are 14 and 12 years old and were both adopted from a shelter. Oswin was around two when we adopted him and Jordan came a while later as a six-month-old kitten with a broken leg. I was supposed to be fostering him but his stay inevitably became permanent. My cats aren’t models for any pets in my books but I have always had cats in my home, so they seem natural to include in fiction.

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

In Murder is Uncooperative, the protagonist, Rebecca, is a single mom desperately looking for a home in Vancouver’s expensive housing market. She needs an affordable apartment that is wheelchair-accessible for her disabled father. A lot of rental apartments won’t allow pets, so her search is complicated because her family also includes her young son Ben’s kitten, Maui.

Rebecca is delighted when she finds an apartment in Waterview housing co-op, which she thinks is going to be perfect. But then she finds a body in the co-op’s office.

  1. What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I love the characters in this series and this was my favorite one. Now I’m on to Murder in Midtown, the second in a new series by Liz Freeland.

  1. What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a sequel to Murder is Uncooperative and I’ve just completed a historical mystery set at the start of the first World War. I’m pleased that the manuscript for that is a finalist for the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore award.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. When I first read her books as a teenager, I was much more focused on the romances. But now that I’m older I appreciate her social commentary more. I’m terribly impressed that her books get funnier the more often you read them.

In mysteries, I’m a fan of Canadian authors Gail Bowen and Louise Penny. Both have an admirable knack of writing a complete mystery in each book but continuing the arc of the characters’ lives and relationships throughout the series.

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

The cat I had growing up was named Minou. She was the runt of a litter of feral kittens found in a crawl space under a house across the street. She was so small, I fed her with milk in a doll bottle for the first few weeks. She was a wonderful cat, who seemed to regard us kids as her kittens.

  1. What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When I first got one of our cats, Jordan, he had had surgery on his broken leg and then got an infection, so he was on antibiotics and pain meds. I was allowed to cuddle him for comfort but most of the time he was supposed to stay quietly in a kennel and rest. But nobody told him that. So he’d try to walk around and the meds upset his stomach. One day I came back to find everything in his kennel in complete disarray, his food kicked out of his dish, his bed rumpled, his litter scattered over everything, and absolutely everything, including him, covered in cat poo. So I had the challenge of trying to keep him calm and still, while trying to clean him and every single thing in his kennel.

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

I’m fascinated by history. I have always wanted to go to Egypt to see the pyramids and temples, and go on a cruise down the Nile, hopefully without the Death on the Nile aspects, although I do love the Agatha Christie archeology adventures.

  1. What do your pets do when you are writing?

My cats like that I sit still for so long. They would prefer to sit on my lap and I sometimes have to balance my laptop in the air and try to type with one hand. But mostly I write while sitting on the couch and they sit on the back of the couch, within petting distance.

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

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Writers are so often plagued with self-doubt but it is so much easier to edit a bad draft than a blank page. And even if you only write a page a day, eventually you will have written a book.

About Merrilee:

Merrilee Robson’s first novel, Murder is Uncooperative, is a mystery set in a non-profit housing cooperative in Vancouver. Her latest manuscript, a historical mystery set in the month before the first World War is a finalist for the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore award and an earlier version was shortlist for the Freddie Award for Writing Excellence, presented by the Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter at Sleuthfest.

Her most recent short stories have been published in this year in Mystery Weekly, Mysteryrat’s Maze podcast, and The Desperate and the Damned, a new anthology from Toe Six Press. Other stories are upcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and the People’s Friend.

She has just completed two years on the board of Crime Writers of Canada as the regional rep for BC/Yukon/NWT. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime – Canada West, the Historical Novel Society, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

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Welcome, June Whatley!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome June Whatley to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write under the names of June Breland Whatley or June B. Whatley. I’ve been married for 48 years to my husband Jim. We have one son who is grown, married and has four children. My husband and I are both retired and live in Tennessee with our two fur babies Bear and Millie.

My first book, published in 1996, was for homeschoolers on the topic of socialization. We homeschooled our son junior high through high school and he went on to college and then got his Masters’ Degree.

My second book was published in 2016 and is available on Amazon. The title is #LifeChange: A Treasure Hunt for More. It is based on a dream from the Lord that shows how and why people fear having a relationship with Christ and shows why, even after coming to Christ, people are attacked by the enemy. The book leads the reader through steps of accepting Christ, learning how to pray, and how to protect themselves from the enemy after their salvation experience. It ends with a biblical explanation that shows the Kingdom of God is real.

My writing is driven by a need to introduce people to or draw people closer to the Lord. My belief is that the Return of Christ is coming soon. Time is short and people need to have a personal relationship with Jesus in order to be saved.

My current work, follows a similar pattern, but engages the younger reader in a story to aid in expressing these principles.

Tell us about your pets.

Bear is my ‘rescue’ dog. It took three trips to the shelter before I found him, then he ‘rescued me.’ J I was a cancer survivor and had undergone chemo, surgery and radiation. I was cancer-free, but my strength and lung capacity were not back to normal. I had little energy and was gloomy most of the time. Bear got me up, out and moving. He was a 9 lb ball of fur and energy, just what I needed to perk up my spirit and encourage me to be more active. Six and a half years later, he is now about 100 lbs and I’m still cancer-free and in much better health. Shortly after getting Bear, we moved to Tennessee.

In Tennessee, I had seen the large, furry Great Pyrenees dogs and wanted one. I met a man who was giving away puppies. The first owner had neglected them terribly, so Stan purchased them from him, and worked to get them healthy, then he was giving them away. I drove to his house and Millie greeted me at my car. She waddled her three-month-old, 37 lb body up to my car. I called Stan to be sure he still wanted to give her up and he did, so I put her in a travel cage in my car and headed for the veterinarian’s. She was checked over, given a bath and declared in good health so I took her home.

By this time, Bear was so spoiled, people questioned how he would get along with another dog, but I wasn’t worried. When I opened the door, and set her down on the floor. Bear, now about 39 lbs. and Millie looked at each other, their eyes lit up and they started chasing each other around, inside the condo. It was adorable. They’ve been best buds ever since.

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. It is by far the best book I have read on the subject of writing or crafting a story or novel. The book that I have in progress, is ‘finished,’ but now I am going through Mr. Maass’ book and literally addressing every area that he discusses. I thought my book was good before, but now I see what was missing. Hopefully this book will reach many young people and show them the love of Christ and God.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book for ages 8-12+ readers called, Beware the Fallen. It is the story of three siblings from a Christian home. The middle child, Ashton age eleven, feels left out and unloved, but neither is true. It takes a life-changing event (being kidnapped by a dragon and nearly losing his life) to bring him to a true relationship with the King and His Son.

This also brings love and understanding into his relationship with his older brother, Mican (thirteen) and younger sister, Shayla age ten. The story follows them for the next year and their many visits to talk with the King. The sequel follows Mican, Ashton and Shayla on their travels through time portals where they witness Biblical scenes, as they happen.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I love Jane Austen. Her characters and scenery are so vivid. I also love Agatha Christie. Her mysteries are intricate, without being gory. And a more recent author, Andrew Peterson is a new favorite. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is amazing. It is great for young people, but held my attention to the end.

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

When I was a kid, we had three acres. That’s not vast, but allowed us to have dogs and cats. I still remember all the names of my dogs: Peanut, Snowball, Pharaoh, Blue, and Foots. When we found Foots, he was a puppy, but had enormous feet, that’s where the name came from. He turned out to be mostly Great Dane and was huge.

My favorite cat and there were many, was Persia, a smoky gray Persian.

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

In my new book, the animals are not pets, they are characters in their own right. Some of the animals are in the service of the King. For example: Warrior, a noble horse; Patrice the leader of the butterflies; Ozwan the swan; Omuth the dragonfly; and of course a dove (the Holy Spirit).

Why do you include animals in your writing?

For this book, Beware the Fallen, it was a logical progression to use animals.

Since the new book takes place partly in a fallen, Garden of Eden-type setting, the dragon (Satan) has his followers. These animals are villains who inhabit the mysterious garden and create havoc for the three main characters.

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

The animals that I mentioned by name in question #7, who are in the Kings’ service are not ‘service animals’ as we use the term, but they do the King’s bidding, such as guiding the children to safety in various instances. They also talk and teach the children lessons during their journey.

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

As a fifth grader, I needed to do a book report and I found Black Beauty. I was a very slow reader, but I’ve always loved horses, so the horse in the book got me through. I now understand that there is a ‘lag-time’ between when my eye sees a word and when my brain registers it. “Way back then,” they didn’t understand problems like mine. I had a large vocabulary, but I always struggled to read. I never let it stop me. I went on to get a Master of Arts Degree from Regent University.

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

Take time to learn your craft. There is much more to writing than grammar and punctuation. Read contemporary best sellers in the area in which you want to write.

Contemporary, because although Jane Austen is amazing, most young people won’t sit still long enough to get through all of the details in the way she wrote. It is a different time that we live in.

And my best advice to any writer would be, ‘don’t be in a hurry.’ When I started writing I believed that God had a ‘mission’ for me and that I needed to hurry and get it done. Now I realize that even with a calling, waiting and timing are important.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

Hire an editor to do deep edits, not just to put commas in the right place. It is pricey, but it is very necessary. Sometime you are so close to the story, you mentally read in what should be there. Your readers don’t have that luxury and an editor needs to check continuity and other issues. Use an editor that is in the business, not just a free-lancer. You can also learn a lot about the business side of publishing from an editor.

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Welcome back, Kristin Kisska!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome back our friend, Kristin Kisska.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Thank you for hosting me on the Pens, Paws, and Claws’ Writer Wednesday. I am a former contributing writer to this blog, and I’m thrilled to be a part of your animal-loving readership again!

My name is Kristin Kisska and I write suspense fiction. So far, I’ve published seven short stories. “Unbridled”, my horse-themed whodunit, is part of the Lethal Ladies’ mystery anthology, DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM.

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

“Unbridled,” as then mane suggests, is a horse-themed short story. In it, I have three horses that all board in the same equestrian facility located in South Carolina’s low country. Their riders are preparing for the opening competition of the spring season’s horse shows when one of them trots into his stall with an empty saddle, a broken rein, and no sign of his rider.

I’m currently writing my third novel, a domestic suspense which features a tabby cat named Lulu. She’s an intuitive pet, and knows when her teen owner needs a little TLC to cheer her up. Lulu also has a tendency to walk circles under her family’s feet, so can also be a bit of a liability.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading ICE BLONDE by Elaine Viets. While the novel didn’t include pets, I love a good forensic investigation. Her heroine, Angela Richman, didn’t disappoint. I recently had the privilege of meeting Elaine and hearing her make a presentation on incorporating forensics in writing. It’s amazing how many new investigation techniques are available today!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing my third novel, which is called MY GUARDIAN DEAR. It’s a domestic suspense about a grieving mother who searches for her late-son’s child, the granddaughter she learned of only after he passed away. As I mentioned above, this novel includes a sassy little feline named Lulu.

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

I grew up with all sorts of pets: cats, dogs, parakeets, gerbils, fish, and even a guinea pig and a ferret. There was no animal immune to my mother’s adoration! The one pet that comes to mind was Maitreyi, the Romanian calico cat that adopted me when I lived in Bucharest in my late twenties. She was queen of our little corner of villas and had beau vying for her attention most nights.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

For me, I use animals sparingly in my writing because I feel that the strength of their presence in a scene can risk distracting the reader from the plot or even present conflict. I either write them to diffuse the tension for the moment and give the reader a mini-break, or to help convey an emotion the character is experiencing. Animals are highly intuitive creatures, so for example, if a cat is purring, all in her near vicinity is calm.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When I was a young teen, my mother left to run an errand, but didn’t realize our cat had been napping on the top of her station wagon. I saw it and chased her down the street, but she didn’t year me yelling and screaming after her. The cat, by this point had awakened and instead of jumping off the car, sat upright facing the direction of traffic as calmly as if it were driving. Apparently, after leaving our neighborhood, multiple cars kept honking at her to alert her, but it wasn’t until she reached a stoplight that another driver knocked on her window and told her the cat was on the roof. I was never so relieved as to see my mom return home with the (perfectly safe and unharmed) cat sitting in her lap.

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

Becoming a writer was a big surprise to me. My education and professional experience was in business and finance, as I was analytically and mathematically bent. It wasn’t until I was almost forty years old when I was inspired to write a story. Within a week of my first inclination, I’d jotted an eight-page outline of a fleshed-out plot for a contemporary thriller. Three years later (I had little kids then so I was only writing when they slept), I finally typed the magic words, “The End.” That novel was never published, but it holds a very dear place in my heart. I’ve been writing short stories and novels ever since.

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

I wish I’d known that typing “The End” at the end of my manuscript didn’t really mean that I had a completed book. Sure, it’s a moment to be celebrated, but an author is still facing many rounds of revising, editing, critiquing, and polishing before she has a professional quality book. Often times, the post-production time takes longer than drafting the novel.

I also wish I’d known that while writing is mostly a solo adventure, there’s a huge writing community available to support me and cheer me on along my writerly journey. From my local Sisters in Crime chapter, to the writers I’ve met online (Twitter and Facebook) and in person at conferences, I’ve found my tribe with a wealth of resources and experience to help me improve.

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

My absolute favorite place to read is on a balcony overlooking the ocean. The beach my ultimate happy place, so of course, a novel must be open on my lap.

As far as writing goes, I create best while I’m in my home office, sitting at my desktop computer, with absolutely no background noise whatsoever. Anything else is a distraction. I’m envious of authors who can write anywhere, even on the go. I guess I get too distracted by different surroundings and activities.

About Kristin:

Kristin Kisska used to be a finance geek, complete with MBA and Wall Street pedigree, but now Kristin is a self-proclaimed fictionista. Kristin contributed short stories of suspense to seven anthologies, including Malice Domestic’s MYSTERY MOST EDIBLE (2019). She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Vice President of Sisters in Crime-Central Virginia, and James River Writers. Kristin lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

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Welcome, Gayle Bartos-Pool

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gayle Bartos-Pool to the blog.

(Q) Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. (A) I grew up with a dad in the Air Force. We lived in a few foreign countries and I got a terrific education. When I started writing I thought I would write spy novels using my dad’s experiences and my imagination to come up with stories. Ten years of research and writing later, I had three books, very long books, but no publisher. Then my husband said: “You used to be a private detective. Why don’t you write a detective story?” Yes, I used to be an undercover private investigator. So I started writing detective novels. I now have three series in print: the Gin Caulfield series featuring an over fifty gal who still packs heat; the Johnny Casino Casebook series about a private eye with a past, he just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him; and Chance McCoy in his first book, Second Chance, about a private detective who dies on a case, but he gets the opportunity of a lifetime. But my writing also includes a trio of Christmas stories and a pair of short story collections filled with murder and mayhem and a few laughs along the way. There are a few other books with my name on them as well. I guess you could say: “Writing is my life.”

(Q) Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? (A) My husband and I have had a passel of pets over the past thirty-three years and yes, many of them have made guest appearances in my books. Gin Caulfield and her husband Fred have two Italian Greyhounds named Sherlock and Foxtrot, named after the two boys we got from the Los Angeles Pound one Fourth of July weekend. I saw Sherlock first and fell in love, then this other skinny guy walked over to him and put his paws on Sherlock’s back like he was protecting him. Needless to say, we took both dogs home. Watson came from Pooch Heaven, an animal sanctuary that rescues animals. Candy came to us when some neighbor kids knocked on our door and said they found this mutt walking down the street and they thought it might be ours. I was holding her in my arms by then. I said she wasn’t ours. They said they would take her to the pound. I said, “No. We’ll keep her.” And we did and have her still. Cookie came from a guy outside of VONS who was giving away dogs. Sir Winston was gotten from the Glendale Humane Society after I heard that soldiers going off to the Gulf War were dropping off their dogs since they couldn’t take them into battle. I spotted Winston and adopted him. His health wasn’t the best and after a few years we lost him. Cookie had grown quite attached by then and his loss was hard on her. I saw an ad for a found dog in the local paper. I called up and said the dog wasn’t ours, but if they couldn’t find him a home, we’ll take him. We got Noodles a few days later. Duffy came from the Glendale Humane Society. Angel, a cat, was found wandering through a vacant lot. Sylvester was given to me by co-workers when I lost Duffy. Cat (that was his name) was a stray and Duffy’s best friend. And then there was Fred. I’ll tell you about him a little later. You asked if these guys show up in my work. You bet.

(Q) What are you reading now? (A) Currently I have been reading the works of E. Phillips Oppenheim. He wrote almost a hundred years ago, but his mysteries and spy novels read like they were written yesterday. I found his book Spies and Intrigues, a collection of novellas and short stories, on line. I also bought a collection of 100 of his novels (you read me right – 100) in e-book format on line as well. I am 72% through the e-books. There are a few other writers that wrote nearly a hundred years ago as well. Let me introduce you to Anna Katharine Green. She started by writing very intricate plots with clever details and clever sleuthing techniques. She wrote stories about a young debutante who solved crimes, a young man who analyzed a crime scene down to the lint in the victim’s pockets, and a spinster lady who helped out the local police in solving crimes.

If this sounds a little too much like Nancy Drew or a young Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple, let me mention that Anna Katharine Green was born in 1846. Her books predated the great writers of these previously mentioned tomes. She is considered the Mother of the Detective Novel. Women weren’t writing much more than poetry back then and there were very few male writers of fiction, much less mysteries. She had to discover new territories and did it unbelievably well. She did get reviews and notoriety. In fact, the Pennsylvania Senate debated whether or not a woman could have actually written her first book, The Leavenworth Case. She wrote it and 39 more stories. The Pennsylvania Senate had to eat a little crow. I also like Mary Roberts Rinehart. She wrote a batch of mysteries nearly a century ago. Her books are fantastic.

As for contemporary writers, I totally love M.M. Gornell and her Route 66 stories. Ms. Gornell takes us to these small towns along Route 66 and we meet the most intriguing people. Her latest, The Movie-Maker, had an ending that knocked my socks off. Sasscer Hill writes books about the racetrack much in the vein of Dick Francis. Matt Coyle has a marvelous series featuring Rick Cahill. Jacqueline Vick has a bunch of books. Her Civility Rules is a hoot. They all write mystery/detective stories, but that’s what I like to read.

(Q) What writing projects are you currently working on? (A) For several years I was Speaker’s Bureau Director of Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles. I set up author panels, but I also had the opportunity to teach a few writing classes to help fellow members work on short stories that they wished to submit to our anthology published every other year. I enjoyed teaching the class, but in preparing for that job I realized that I actually had a method in the madness that we call writing. I formatted a class curriculum and wrote up a lengthy handout for attendees. A little while after I began those classes, I turned that class handout into a book called The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It consists of fairly basic prompts and thoughts about writing not only short stories, but things that might help with other writing endeavors. I happen to belong to a web blog with fellow writers that I have known for a number of years. We all are published, but we all learned many things from each other as we went down this path to publication. Our blog has a purpose: “We are a group of published writers who come here weekly to entertain, inform, and encourage you in your writing and your reading journey. Grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and join us.” https://thewritersinresidence.com/ That is our mission. As one of the members, I have been penning articles on writing based on the short bits from my workbook, expanding the thoughts and turning them into more detailed pieces. I am just about finished with the book to help writers called: So You Want to be a Writer. It will debut next year.

(Q) How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? (A) Animals do appear in my work. In the Gin Caulfield books the two dogs just share the house with Gin and her husband. They don’t get involved with the detecting… yet. The two humans spend the bulk of each story hunting for the bad guys. In my Christmas stories, the case is quite different. In the very first book, Bearnard’s Christmas, a Polar bear features predominantly in the story as well photos of many of the Christmas decorations in my home and miniature houses that I built. I have nearly 5000 Santas in my collection. It’s the story about Elaine Ivy, a woman who loves animals, but sometimes she gets herself into trouble trying to defend them. Even her husband tells her she can’t save them all. At a Christmas Party she is given a stuffed Polar bear. A magical voice tells her its name is “Bearnard.” On Christmas Eve, Elaine falls asleep under the tree and wakes up at the North Pole where she meets Santa Claus, Mrs. C and a big Polar bear named, of course, Bearnard, and a bunch of other furry and feathery friends. But it turns out even the animals at the North Pole need a little help, but it will take more than human kindness this time to make everything right. For this book I built the Santa castle and fashioned many of the inhabitants including Santa, Mrs. C, and Bearnard out of clay. This was truly a labor of love.

(Q) Why do you include animals in your writing? (A) Animals are included because they are so much of my life. From my first dog, Sukoshi, that I got on my eighth birthday to the ones we rescued from the pound or the street or were given to us, pets have always occupied a large part of my heart. They each have had a personality so naturally they show up on the pages of books I write.

(Q) What’s your real-life funniest pet story? (A) There are many funny or touching stories about the pets I have had, but one that comes to mind goes all the way back to when my dad was stationed in France back in the 60s. Before we got the house we were to stay in for three years, we stayed in a nice hotel in Laon, France. Our dog Sukoshi got to accompany us on the ship that took us to France along with our 1956 pink and white Plymouth. Sukosh would be relegated to the hotel room while we were out getting breakfast or shopping. One time we came back to the hotel and were told Sukosh was in the dining room with the owner. It seems that the Beagle had been barking and the owner decided it best to keep her downstairs with her. We had dinner that night at the hotel and Sukosh was allowed to sit at our table. This was France, after all. The waiter said he would bring her some steak tartare as a treat. The raw, chopped steak was set before the little Beagle and she turned up her nose. No raw meat for her. The waiter took the plate back to the chef and they cooked it. She ate that. I guess Southern Beagles didn’t know French cuisine.

(Q) When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? (A) Back in about the sixth grade we were given one of those forms asking us to list three occupations that we might want to be when we grew up. My answers were: writer, writer, and writer. Even before that, in 1955, when I was eight, I put together my first book. It was several newspaper clippings for the movie The Lady and the Tramp glued onto paper and folded into book form. I loved the movie (It was about dogs for goodness sake.) and wanted to have a remembrance. I still have the book.

(Q) Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? (A) I read in bed in the morning after Richard goes off to work and sometimes in the evening for an hour or two before I join him in the living room for some television. I turn on one of the music channels on the TV and enjoy the background sounds. I tell this part to people attending my writing classes. I mention that there should always be somebody to root for in their story. I also say that I want the main characters to be people I would invite into my house because when I am sitting in bed, I don’t want anybody in there with me that I don’t like. That always gets a laugh, but I am serious. I have closed books that had such disagreeable characters that I didn’t want to spend any of my time in bed with them. I hope my students got the hint.

(Q) What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? (A) Years ago I worked in a bank. I was writing my first book back then, writing from eight at night until midnight. At the stroke of twelve, whether I was in the middle of a paragraph, a sentence, or a word, I stopped and went to bed. Several of my co-workers knew my ambition to be a writer, a published writer. One guy introduced me to a young man who wanted to know how to be a writer. I asked him what he had written so far. “Nothing,” he said. This young man was not a writer. Writers write. I didn’t tell him: “You’ll never be a writer, fool, until you sit down and write something, anything. Read it, edit it, and keep writing. Finish a story or even a book and then come back and ask me that question again.” No, I didn’t “jump in his chili,” as it were. But I did tell him he needed to think of a story, write a paragraph about it, then expand it to a short story and then flesh it out into a novel. I never heard from him after that. But my advice goes to anyone who wants to be a writer. The advice: WRITE.

(Q) What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share? (A) Whether you are just starting out in the writing field or you have a few books under your belt, always remember that it’s your name on the front of that book you wrote. You want it to be the best product you can produce. That means editing it a few more times than you first thought was necessary. It means asking advice from others in the writing field, but take the advice with a grain of salt. If your book is rejected by an agent, try another one. If a publisher doesn’t think your book would fit their imprint, try another one. If people tell you not to follow your dream, tell them that’s not the direction you want to go and it’s not a dream. There are always other avenues. Always do your very best. Never give up. It isn’t a dream.

(Q) What book would you like to mention today? (A) Since the Pens, Paws, and Claws Blog is mainly about those feathery and furry loves of our lives that might also turn up in the pages of our books, I wanted to mention Second Chance that has a rather “coincidental” tie-in to the subject of pets. The book blurb under the title on the first page reads: Chance McCoy just got the opportunity of a lifetime.

The blurb on the back of the book reads:

Chance McCoy is a private detective killed during a routine case, but he is given a second chance to make good. But with his track record as a P.I., he just might blow this chance, too.

That book blurb tells us about Chance, but no pets… so far.

All through the book, Chance views people he encounters as some kind of pooch. Droopy Bloodhound eyes on one guy. A teenage girl’s bodyguards are viewed as Bulldogs. Another set of hired muscle are called Rottweilers. Chance even enlists the services of a cadaver dog named Maurice to see if a body is buried in someone’s backyard.

It really wasn’t a coincidence on my part to make these comparisons because, you see, I dedicated the book to Freddy J. Feathers, our beloved parakeet who had recently passed away. I found Fred wandering in the backyard about six years earlier and he got a “second chance” with us. That fact fit perfectly with this particular book. And the short section at the end of the book ties my love of pets up with a big red ribbon. You see, Chance is asked to go to the local pound and… Wait a minute. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens there.

But pets, or members of the family as we call them in our house, have been a large part of my life and they seem to have played a big part in my writing as well. I guess we do leave bits of our heart in everything we write.

And one more thing about Second Chance, all the profits from the sale of this book go to pet rescue sites. So far we have donated to Best Friends Animal Society, Karma Rescue, and the ASPCA after Hurricane Harvey. It may not be much, but we do what we can.

About Gayle:

A former private detective and a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) has numerous books in print: The Johnny Casino Casebook 1- Past Imperfect, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, and The Johnny Casino Casebook 3 – Just Shoot Me; Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence in the Gin Caulfield P.I. Series; From Light To DARK and Only in Hollywood, collections of short stories; Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Second Chance, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, Every Castle Needs a Dragon, and Who Killed Christmas? Other stand alones: CAVERNS; Eddie Buick’s Last Case; Enchanted, The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier. Spy novels: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, Star Power. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

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Websites: www.gbpool.com, https://thewritersinresidence.com/ , https://www.facebook.com/gayle.bartospool

 

 

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Welcome Back, Susan Schwartz!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Susan Schwartz and her kitties back to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing:

I began writing in 2006 with freelance articles. I wrote on all sorts of topics and researched these pieces thoroughly. I made some money, but I was more interested in fiction writing. I joined the Virginia Writers Club and started learning how to write with style. I found good mentors and people who wanted to help me succeed. I took over leadership of the club for two years giving back to the writing community and helping to mentor a few new writers.

I have been an Operating Room Nurse for 19 years. As you can imagine, I see many interesting and gory things while working. I channel many of those sights and sounds into my stories. I love blood and guts, and I tend to write stories where people are getting killed or maimed in some fashion. I also try to write them with a twist making you wonder what hit you at the end. I have enjoyed this genre immensely because of its ability to lead the reader into something they were not expecting.

I have three short stories published at present in the Nightmares & Echoes series. They are “The Sparkling Floor,” “I Thought You Did,” and “Blurred Line.  “Blurred Line” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in Long Fiction by the Horror Writers Association in 2016. My non-fiction piece in the Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology is titled “Using my Karate Chops in Nursing.” Paranormal Encounters just came out in March 2019. I also have a non-fiction book coming in May 2019 titled Haunted Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties. In addition, another haunted book is being published October 2019.

Please check out my website to see future happenings and new books coming out soon. https://www.susanschwartzauthor.com.

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

I have had up to 14 feral cats in the past. I also took care of a baby squirrel for several days and a silverback bat. We just lost the last one, Mr. Imp, in 2015. At present, we have two kitties, Speck & Manchego. We have multiple fish tanks, and we also love on one leopard gecko named Zoey.

I do not use them in my writing, but Zoey likes to help me write sometimes. She loves to write about cricket murder mysteries.

Here are some of our fishies:

Our eel, Houdini:

My three blood parrots (Sebastian, Scar, and Pierre) and pleco (Zeke), I sent this out as a Christmas picture one year because they apparently were singing along with the carols:

What are you reading now?

I tend to read three to four books at once. My list at present consists of:

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly. It is the 2nd book in his Late Show series, but this one places Ballard and Bosch together for some crazy good fun.

 Macrame Murder by my great friend, Mollie Cox Bryan. She is a very sweet lady and an awesome writer of cozy mysteries.

 Italian Iced by Kylie Logan. Loving Italian cuisine and goodies, this one just piqued my interest with the title.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am starting to research for another haunted book on another section of Virginia. I just had two stories come out in Paranormal Encounters in March. I have a paranormal romance novel that I have been working on for several years that I want to finish. I also have about six short stories in the works for a couple anthologies and just from pleasure writing.

Who is your favorite author and why?

For horror influences, I look to Stephen King and Bentley Little. The medical drama comes from Michael Palmer and Robin Cook. For general fiction, I like David Baldacci, Brad Parks, and Michael Connelly.

All of these produce a great story with plenty of red herrings to make you think something else is going to happen. Then they let slip that crucial detail that spends everything around and just leaves you so confused.

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

Milo and Otis was definitely a favorite with the dog and the cat. I also so loved Homeward Bound. The voiceovers in both movies were simply the best. It always makes me wonder now when my cats are looking at me what they are thinking.

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

I started writing back in 2003 doing fanfic for several TV shows I watched at the time. They weren’t really great stories, but mainly continuations of what I thought should have happened. I really enjoyed writing the different views on some of the characters. Once these got some comments, I started wondering if I could write longer and more in-depth pieces. I am happy to say I can and I do.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Manchego and Speck are normally chasing each other back and forth through the house. Manchego is around 18 months old, and we rescued her off the street on a cold winter’s night at the age of about two months. We found Speck at the Goochland Animal Shelter to help Manchego get over her separation anxiety. Speck is around nine months old, and he has been a welcome addition to the family. Although it did take about two weeks for Manchego to warm up to him.

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

I thought about this one. These weren’t really pets, but I took care of them for a length of time. We had a baby squirrel named Lucky that had fallen out of his nest, and his mother never came to find him. My father, knowing my love of animals, called me to come get him and take care of him. It was a fun experience for about four days until we found a Wildlife Rehabilitator that would take him. Fun Fact: Squirrels are lactose-intolerant.

The second unusual animal we loved on was a Silverback Bat. This guy had fallen on our front porch and didn’t move. We were worried he was dead. We got a plastic container, much like the ones we kept crickets in for our gecko, and scooped him up with it. Over time, he started to move by hopping, so we named him Scooter. We also took care of him for several days until we could find a Bat Rehabilitator in the area. We discovered that he had burned up one wing. If he couldn’t fly, he couldn’t hunt for food. Sadly, he passed away a couple days later. I still have fond memories of him though, and I love to walk at dusk to see the bats flying. Fun Fact: Bats look just like puppy dogs in the face. Check out some pictures.

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

The best advice given to me by many authors in different genres is to read that which you are trying to write. The greats in this genre, such as Stephen King, Bentley Little, and Richard Laymon, have shown me how to write and what people are looking for when they read this genre. Stephen King also wrote a book, On Writing, which has helped me a great deal as well.

Write what you know and love. Writing becomes much easier when you know where you want to go with a particular piece. I always know the ending. I leave my title for when I finish because you want to write a great story, and then finish it with a title that encompasses all that is inside.

Don’t stop because someone told you No. This just means you have to go another way instead of the path you are taking. Keep trying and don’t give up. You can do it!

About Susan

I have been an avid writer for around 13 years doing everything from writing freelance articles to editing manuscripts for other authors. I also love to write horror stories that have a twist at the end.

My alter ego is an Operating Room Nurse/Nurse Educator who loves creating tales from the interesting and weird things I have seen. I am a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Virginia Writers Club where I serve as President of the Richmond Chapter and 1st Vice-President of the state organization. I have two novels in the works, a paranormal romance and a medical thriller. My non-fiction book, Haunted Charlottesville, is being released in May 2019.

Please see my website for more info: www.susanschwartzauthor.com

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