Welcome, Siri Zwemke

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Siri Zwemke to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve always loved to write, but the opportunities that have presented themselves have been short stories or articles for newsletters (work) and the occasional article for a publication. After 20 years as Director (and Founder) of the Siamese Cat Rescue Center, there were so many funny stories I wanted to both remember and share, that it made sense to write them down in book format.

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

Over the years with Siamese Rescue, we have always taken in the cats that couldn’t be adopted out – typically the older ones or the ones with significant behavior issues. Many of the cats we only had for a few years, due to their condition, so over the years of Rescue, as well as before Rescue, I think we’ve had a total of 50 some personal cats. Add into that dogs, horses, chickens, ducks, goats and various other pets growing up; my life has certainly centered around animals. Currently we only have two cats and they are ‘quasi-normal’ for Siamese.

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

Rescue Meez is the story/history/memoir of how I ended up going from crazy cat lady to the Director of a national organization that has rescued over 13,000 cats and spawned separate organizations across the United States. There are some wonderful stories of some of our most memorable cats and the experiences we had together – Koda, Squirrel, PowPow to name just a few.

What are you reading now?

I am a voracious reader, completing on an average two to three books a week. I just finished Lost Horizon by James Hilton and before that Peony by Pearl S. Buck, and I am about to start a reread of Stuart Little. I read a lot of different genres, but the writing has got to be good and I don’t hesitate to put down a book if I don’t like it.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently finishing up an autobiography of my life and the lessons I’ve learned, moving from a very traumatic childhood to where I am now. While I’m going to publish it, I haven’t yet decided if I will release it to the general public or just keep it internal for family members and descendants. After that, I plan to work on a book of short stories from the cat’s point of view, storytelling how some of our memorable cats made it into our rescue program.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t have one favorite author, but a few of my top ten include Catherine Ryan Hyde, Harlan Coben, Kristin Hannah

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

Certainly did. We had horses (three); dogs (two); cats (multiple); chickens, and ducks.

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

My current and first book centers around some of the many cats we rescued over the last 20 years, so they are the primary characters! A book full of true stories, that I worked hard at making enjoyable and happy reading (with just a few tears thrown in here and there).

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I wanted to write about something I knew and had experienced first hand, and animals it was!

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

I am leery about reading animal stories, as I don’t want to read anything that has animal abuse or too much sadness in it – I see enough of that in my career. However I did enjoy the book Racing in the Rain. I haven’t yet seen the movie.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Read the book I’d have to say doing the Dance of the Dead Mouse naked, in my birthday suit, takes the cake.

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

I’ve always received very positive feedback from the articles and stories I did for the twice-yearly newsletter for work.

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

I don’t have a bucket list like other people. I strive, every morning, to find happiness and peace of mind in that particular day.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

I rely on Goodreads (otherwise I can’t remember what I have already read) and I have 861 books on my ‘want to read’ list!

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

Probably the duck that lived in our living room growing up.

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

Writing is the easy part. Marketing is very difficult and time consuming.

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

On the couch. It has a great view and is very comfortable.

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

Persevere! It’s such a great feeling to get a book out there!

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

Nothing happens quickly. Patience will serve you well.

About Siri:

Siri Zwemke is the founder and Director of the Siamese Cat Rescue Center, a 20-year-old internet-based non-profit that spans the Eastern third of the United States and has helped 13,000 cats to date.

Zwemke switched careers mid-stream when her love of Siamese cats turned her into a crazy cat lady, rescuing one too many cats and finding herself trying to fill a need she didn’t realize was out there. When the shelters kept calling and she kept saying yes to Siamese cats that were needing help, Zwemke left her job as a teacher of the hearing impaired and took on building a non-profit that eventually spanned 20 states and had 900 volunteers.

Zwemke has recently put pen to paper to document some of the hilarious situations she found herself in as she learned about cat rescue the hard way. In her first book, Rescue Meez, Zwemke pokes fun at herself in a lighthearted manner as she grows the Rescue from the ground up. From handling rifle-wielding hillbillies in the mountains of Virginia to doing the Dance of the Dead Mouse, Zwemke takes us on a journey through the last 20 years as she shares information on the trials and tribulations of building a cat rescue organization.

Currently residing in Virginia with her husband, Darrell (whom she met through the Rescue), several cats and a dog, Zwemke enjoys gardening, reading, and is working towards her black belt in Martial Arts.

Zwemke can be reached at siri@meezer.org

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Welcome back, Debra H. Goldstein!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Debra H. Goldstein back to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book.

When the publishers of my first two books each went out of business, leaving me orphaned, I still wanted to write cozy mysteries, but I had a major problem. Traditionally, cozies take place in a closed environment, don’t have blood or sex on the page, and feature a character who demonstrates an expertise at crafts, cooking or baking. I’m not good at crafts and anything to do with the kitchen frightens me. As I thought about my dilemma of not being able to write what I know, I realized there had to be readers who weren’t handy with crafts or dreaded being in the kitchen. Consequently, I created Sarah Blair who finds cooking from scratch worse than dealing with murder.

 Two Bites Too Many is the second book in the Sarah Blair series. In this book, things are finally looking up for Sarah and her Siamese cat, RahRah. Sarah has somehow managed to hang on to her law firm receptionist job and – if befriending flea-bitten strays at the local animal shelter counts – lead a thriving social life. For once, she almost has it together more than her enterprising twin, Emily, a professional chef whose efforts to open a gourmet restaurant have hit a real dead end.

 When the president of the town bank is murdered after icing Emily’s business plans, all eyes are on the one person who left the scene with blood on her hands – the twins’ sharp-tongued mother, Maybelle. Determined to get her mom off the hook ASAP, Sarah must collect the ingredients of a deadly crime to bring the true culprit to justice.

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

 RahRah, the Siamese cat who lives with Sarah, is introduced in the first book, One Taste Too Many, as a primary series character. He, rather than Sarah, runs the show. In Two Bites Too Many, Fluffy, a dog, also becomes part of the ongoing story. Although Fluffy is a recurring character, she knows her role is secondary to RahRah’s.

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

My first pets were three small turtles – Turk, Durk, and Lurk. When my family moved to a new state, I had to give them to the boy next door. After we moved, we got a toy poodle who was part of our family for the next twenty years. When Lord Silver Mist passed away, a bichon frise took over running my life.

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

I use animals in my writing to create a sense of reality for readers and as a means of bringing different personality traits out in my human characters. In the Sarah Blair series, I try to make RahRah and Fluffy pets like those readers might have. That way, they can identify with each animal’s behavior and characteristics. I also want the animals in my books to help readers understand my human characters. As they see the characters interact with the animals in kind, mean, loving or indifferent ways, I hope subliminal clues are sent that generate reactions to the respective characters.

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

 My favorite animal used as a central character wasn’t in a book or a movie, but rather in a television show. As a child, watching reruns of Fury, I was impressed with the magnificence of the beautiful stallion, but what really captured me was the way the stories were written. There was always a good vs. bad plot line that would never have been resolved in the same way if Fury hadn’t been a central character. I think watching how different characters reacted to Fury and how Fury interacted with them taught me the ways an animal can be used to move a story along in a believable manner.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?

See the picture below — and this doesn’t include what’s on my e-reader.

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

My favorite place to read and write is in an oversized club chair. As her first anniversary gift, my mother had the chair made two inches deeper than normal to accommodate my father’s long legs. The arms of the chair are between four and five inches wide. It was the perfect place for him to read the newspaper, write letters, or draw and for my sister and me to stretch our imaginations.

When my sister and I were children, we used the chair to pretend to ride horses and as the base for covered wagons, stagecoaches and tents. The chair was wide enough for both of us to hide in it or pretend one of us was a passenger while the other was a driver or riding shotgun.

When my father died, my mother took comfort curling up in the chair. When she passed away, other than some artwork, the chair was the only thing I wanted from her home. I had it shipped from California to Alabama. Today, it is where I sit with my laptop. Someday, I hope one of my children will continue the tradition of reading and writing in the chair.

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

 I would tell an aspiring writer to read extensively and think about the feelings each book or story generates. At this point, the reader should read with only the hope of enjoying the work in mind. There is no further agenda other than exposure to the works of an array of writers. Slowly, the would-be writer, now reader, will recognize what is moving, perplexing, exciting or boring. Once a wide gambit has been read, then, and only then, should the would-be writer dissect the stories and books to better understand their internal structure, plots, settings, and characterization. After doing all this, the individual should write the book or story that person wants to write.

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

The one lesson I learned is to write what I want to write. Although I read and studied the masters, other books in the genre I thought might want to write in, and what seemed hot on the publishing lists, the lesson I learned was to write the best book or story I could using techniques I’d gleaned from other works, but realizing my tale had to come from me. Trends go out of style; formulas can be broken, but an honest work will stand on its own merit and hopefully find an audience to resonate with.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

October was a busy month for me. Kensington released the second Sarah Blair mystery, Two Bites Too Many, so I will be busy with launch events and PR. An anthology edited by Michael Bracken, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, which contains my first private eye story, Harvey and the Redhead was published by Down & Out Books, Inc. I’ve already turned in the third Sarah Blair mystery, which will be published in September 2020, so besides the PR related to the two October publications, I plan to take two classes to advance my skills, write a few short stories in response to prompts, and begin the fourth book of the Sarah Blair series (yes, they recently bought two beyond the original three).

Show us a picture of your writing space or one of your bookcases. What does it say about your style?

It demonstrates that I don’t have any style because I’m so far behind on things, I don’t have time to establish one.

 About Debra:

Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (One Taste Too Many, Two Bites Too Many). She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra serves on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is president of the Southeast Chapter of MWA and past president of SinC’s Guppy Chapter. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com .

https://www.amazon.com/Bites-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07MB4779P

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/two-bites-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1130055243?

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Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/

Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein

Instagram – debra.h.goldstein

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein

 

 

 

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Welcome, N. L. LaFoille!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome N. L. LaFoille to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your books.

I write romantic women’s fiction. Whether it’s historical about pirates or cowboys (Nautical Miles and Lesser Evils, respectively) or contemporary (my upcoming 2020 release, The Pickling Secret), I love seeing my characters learn, grow and, of course, find love in the end.

I’m a mom to a 5-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old rat terrier. I teach sewing as a contributor to Sew News magazine and in monthly videos that can be found on the NationalSewingCircle YouTube channel.

I love to travel. Last year, we spent 10 weeks in Spain and are planning our winter trip this year to Thailand.

I spend my summers at home in Michigan, camping, gardening, foraging and canning the bounty, which inspired The Pickling Secret.

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

My dog, Finley, is an 11-year-old rat terrier. He’s a little brat who’s too smart for his own good. He enjoys snuggling, walking on your thighs with his poky paws, pulling used Kleenexes out of the pockets of yesterday’s pants and hates going for walks.

He is definitely the model for my latest dog character, a golden retriever named Molly in The Pickling Secret, though she is far better behaved.

What are you reading now?

I’ve started alternating reading non-fiction and fiction, which is a big change from when I was a kid and devoured all the novels I could.

I just finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which I highly recommend. Now I’m reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is an enlightening look into the psychedelic subculture of the mid ‘60s.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m just polishing up The Pickling Secret, a contemporary romance set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and have plans for another in that vein. I also have a regency romance and a sword-and-sorcery romance in various stages of progress. It’s an exciting/overwhelming time in my brain pan.

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

I have always had pets. My family kept picking up stray cats when I was a kid, and I’ve never been without a dog. I grew up with a Springer Spaniel, Duchess, then a miniature schnauzer, Jenny.

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

Animals in my stories are always important. The way characters treat animals is a great way to learn about what kind of person that character is. Plus they create cute opportunities for characters to interact.

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

I’ve been jotting down stories since I was a kid. When I was in high school, I completed my first novel, which was terrible, but it made me realize I could string a story together and make it into an actual book.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My Finley likes to wriggle himself under the couch or wind himself up in the afghans. If I ever can’t find him, I just prod the heap of blankets and he’s usually there.

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

My animals were all pretty tame; dogs, cats and fish. I also had a hamster when I was a kid. But my cousin, who lived next door to me, had emus, turkens and a horse, and I got to enjoy those without having to clean up after them.

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

How to outline BEFORE starting to write. I was a pantser purely by incompetence and it made things a lot harder for me.

The first draft is allowed to suck. Just get those ideas down to create your framework and edit later.

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

In our cozy attic, because between a work-from-home husband and a 5-year-old-daughter, it’s the only place in my house that’s quiet.

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

 Read resources on the elements of writing (but only 2-3; all the different methods and opinions can get overwhelming) and read as many books as you can. Being a good reader exposes you to vocabulary and plot devices that you can use as inspiration for your own works.

About N. L.:

N.L. LaFoille writes romantic women’s fiction and lives in Michigan with her husband, daughter, rat terrier and red worm colony.

Let’s Be Social:

Twitter: Twitter.com/NLLaFoille

Facebook: Facebook.com/NLLaFoille

Personal blog: meetthegofamily.blogspot.com/

Writing blog: nllafoille.blogspot.com/

 

 

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Welcome back, A. R. Kennedy!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome A. R. Kennedy back to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book.

My new book, Sleuth on Safari, was inspired by my travel to South Africa a few years ago. I love animals, especially my two pups, and I love to travel. My favorite trips combine seeing new places and its wildlife.

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

I have two dogs. One is a rescue, H, and one is a miniature schnauzer, River. I’m sure their antics will be used in upcoming books and short stories.

My previous schnauzers, L & H who are still dearly missed, were the inspiration for Laude, in my Nathan Miccoli Mystery series.

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

Animals are a huge part of all my novels. In Saving Ferris, failed out of service school golden retriever Ferris is the star of the book. In the Nathan Miccoli series, Laude is a scene stealer. In Sleuth on Safari, different types of animals play a role—the local wildlife. Searching for the Big Five, and other animals, on the game drives are key parts of any safari. I hope the reader finds themselves immersed in Naomi’s observations of the animals.

What’s your real-life, funniest pet story?

Shortly after graduating college, I got a beautiful black schnauzer puppy, L. One day, while walking the pup, I saw a neighbor who I was holding a package for. My puppy was rambunctious and quick. When I opened my apartment door, my pup saw my roommate’s cat and took off! Taking me with her. I fell flat on my face. I slowly got up, got the package and handed it to the neighbor. She never passed me again without laughing.

What’s the most interesting/fun/dangerous thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your books?

I didn’t know it at the time but it was on the safari. I slept in a treehouse by myself! It was miles away from the lodge. I was the first in the group to go so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a night filled with fear, anxiety, and amazing sights. Everyone at the lodge, guests and staff, was so impressed I stayed out there the whole night by myself!

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

I only write at home. The rescue pup is usually on my lap. The puppy is running wild, anywhere and everywhere. I think she wants to be involved in the writing because she loves to chew on my glasses, pens, paper, phone and even my computer!

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

I would give the advice that was given to me when I started by German novelist Beate Sauer — Write. Take a writing class.

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

Start branding and marketing months ahead of the book’s release. You need at least a six month plan for your release. The ‘write it and they will buy it’ strategy won’t work without a structured plan leading up to the novel’s release.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Wreak havoc. No, that’s just the puppy. I’m fortunate my mother loves her ‘grand-puppy’ and watches her for me so I can write.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

The Traveler Cozy Mystery series continues in Iceland. We follow Naomi as she travels with another family member and investigates another murder. The yet to be titled book 2 is expected Summer 2020.

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Welcome, Liz Boeger!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Liz Boeger to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

In the spirit of this blog, I’ll respond with animals in mind. I grew up near Old Tampa Bay in an area of South Tampa that had originally been named Rattlesnake. Eventually, the rattlesnake meat cannery that had become an early tourist attraction in the area closed. Its owner/operator had succumbed to the hazard of his trade. Consequently, there were far fewer rattlesnakes hidden among the palmetto scrubs when my parents arrived years later, from Illinois to raise their growing family.

Many writers will tell you they penned their first stories in elementary or middle school. Not me, I was too busy wrangling multiple litters of kittens and exploring the local beaches. Later, I applied my cat-herding skills to teaching in elementary schools, math and science, primarily. During this time, I got married, and we now have a grown son. Eventually, I became an assistant principal. Beyond humans, I worked with many other fine creatures, including a goldfish, Guinea pigs, a wayward copperhead, occasional migrating alligators, and a Florida Panther who was, thankfully, secured behind the wire mesh inches from my head, in a cargo van.

I must admit, being an administrator had its high points, but it became less about leading schools and more about juggling state testing programs. To relieve job stress, I took to reading traditional and cozy mysteries. Somewhere along the way, all the crazy stories from my youth and my career converged in a dream that introduced a character and a problem. Luckily, I recalled enough details when I awoke to jot down the beginnings of what would become my cozy mystery series: Moccasin Cove Mysteries. My silly spin aside, I love teaching, and left the administrative suite to return to the classroom several years ago, which freed up some time for writing.

The main character in my series, Principal Ana Callahan, is an accomplished school turnaround specialist who rescues failing schools. In the first book, ChainLinked! She has come home to Moccasin Cove to save the failing K-5 of her childhood. Fallout from a local murder threatens her school flip, so she is forced to investigate. Then she’s paired with Mac, the handsome, single, retired Air Force colonel who is the school district’s new Chief of Security. Romantic sparks fly, but before Ana and Mac can pursue a life together, they must untangle their own broken hearts and of course, solve a murder.

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

We currently have two cats in our household. Both are rescues. Neither are in my books, but they do pose for me occasionally if I have feline behavior to describe in the story. Samantha (Sammy) – I call her a calico, but I think there is a more specific name…a tortoise something. She was a rejected adoptee my husband rescued at a pet warehouse store adoption.

GRBRTY (ger-ber-tee) – Was also rescued at a pet store adoption event. This time at barely 8-weeks by my son. He is a pale orange tabby and a chubby tubby. His original name was Racecar, but that did not fit. One day he walked over my keyboard when I was writing and typed G-R-B-R-T-Y. The name stuck.

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 two pets in my series. Both are permanent characters.

Muffin is modelled after my dearly departed pup by the same name. In the books, she is a rescue, turned therapy dog. So far, she works with students who have PTSD but later in the series she may branch out to veterans and retirees. She is part King Charles Cavalier and Tibetan Spaniel, like my real girly.

The second pet character in the series is a champagne orange, feral tabby kitten rescued from the mangroves during a storm. He is named Gibson by the rescuer because she trades him for a Gibson guitar. Every cat she rescues is given to a worthy home and named for whatever he or she is traded for. Gibson is modeled after a rescue I adopted in my twenties named Huey, who helped me navigate into my early thirties relatively unscathed.

What are you reading now?  

I’ll list the WHO’s instead, since my TBR has multiple copies of some authors:

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Cheryl Hollon, Terrie Farley Moran, Heather Weidner, Micki Browning, Elizabeth Sims, Ellen Byron, and many more…

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am currently revising the first book in the series, which I described above. The second book in my proposed series, AppleJacked! is also written, but I’ve made some timeline changes, so it will require another round of revisions later. It tells the continuing story of Ana and her quest to keep her failing school on track and to help turn around the failing economic fortunes of her beloved hometown. In this second book, Ana is in competition for a high-stacks school grant when one of her teachers is murdered. She investigates to clear the name of a parent she believes is falsely accused, In the process, Ana uncovers secrets from her own childhood and a second murder that are all connected.

Who is your favorite author and why?

It is impossible for me to choose. My criteria: Any author of traditional/cozy mysteries who can make me laugh out loud, care about the characters and their story, and who writes intelligent and challenging mysteries that are believable. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve in my series.

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

We had one dog, a white and brown terrier mix who used to dig under the fence and chase cars. Not good. He was put down in his old age due to old age. His name was Goober. Then we had so many cats and kittens you’d think we lived on a farm and not in a suburb. I remember having three litters at once in the laundry room and a favorite cat, Aunt Margaret, who had successive litters in the closet in my room.

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

Muffin, the pup in my series is a Trained Therapy dog. She works with elementary-aged students with PTSD.

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

Larger Than Life, 1996. Funny, poignant, and shows a great character arc for both the main character, played by Bill Murray, and Vera, the circus elephant he inherits unexpectedly.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Mine are slightly dark humor—not suitable for Cozy readers I’ve posted one recently on my blog about class pets, but the hamster story will never see the light of day.

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

I never even thought about writing fiction—despite being a mystery fan. Then an idea literally presented itself as a scene while I was dreaming. That led to creating the series, Moccasin Cove Mysteries, which I will be actively marketing to agents this year.

I won a Royal Palm Literary Award for my unpublished mystery, AppleJacked! from the Florida Writers Association. I knew I had potential when reading the judges’ feedback from that contest and when Elizabeth Sims graciously read the book and wrote a review blurb.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They usually ignore me, unless it is before dawn and Sammy wants her morning treat. GRBRTY usually pesters to go in/out of the screened porch.

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

I have two stacks-paper and plastic. I prefer holding a paper book in my hand over eBooks. Given today’s publishing world you must have both. Both stacks include mysteries, writing reference books, educational topics (for work) and some quilting magazines.

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

Any place that is quiet and low traffic works for me. I prefer to write at home rather than in the coffee shop like some. Color matters to my eye too, so I like to have teals, blues, greens, and greys in the space. Currently, I have a writing nook where our breakfast nook used to be, before I commandeered it this summer. Our coffee station is within arm’s reach—that’s a perk! I can look outside at the yard through the sliding glass doors and it is not a high traffic area. If the no-see-ums aren’t too nippy on the porch or in the yard, I’ll move out there some cooler mornings or evenings.

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

1-Learn your craft by reading mentor texts and by writing.

2-Join the writing community and contribute.

3-Use social media strategically.

4-Read your genre and others for craft lessons and pleasure.

5-If you get validation for your work, and you KNOW this is the right path, don’t stop.

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

It takes a village to raise a writer but not to do the writer’s work. That is my job as a writer. I must continually learn and hone my craft—even with a fulltime job. In the early stage you must be selfish about getting your footing. Then AS SOON as possible, start giving back to the community. This may be in the form of book reviews and shout outs on social media, if you are not yet published. Then once you have some creds, offer to be a contest judge, critique the work of others, offer book review blurbs, and be an encourager. I continue to meet many excellent role models for this in the writing community.

About Liz:

Liz Boeger explored hidden beaches and rattlesnake infested natural preserves while growing up near Old Tampa Bay. A veteran school administrator and teacher, she still lives in Florida and still prefers genuine snakes to the human variety. Her Moccasin Cove Mystery series features an amateur sleuth with too much empathy and wit for her own good. She earned her B.S. at the University of Tampa and her M.Ed. from Saint Leo University. Member of Sisters in Crime and Guppies.

She blogs at Moccasin Cove Mysteries (http://www.LizBoeger.com)

Follow her on Twitter: @LizBoegerAuthor or @MrsBoeger

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Welcome, Gabriel Valjan!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gabriel Valjan to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My name is Gabriel Valjan and I write crime with a love and respect for Italy (my Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing) and an enjoyment of intrigue (my Company Files, again with Winter Goose, and my forthcoming Shane Cleary series with Level Best Books). In all my writing I try to create a group of characters that readers can enjoy and root for, while giving them slices of culture and lost history they may not have known.

The Roma Series is contemporary crime fiction with an American expat abroad. Readers should expect a story with some technology, politics, and Italian culture and food. The Company Files introduces readers to the early days of the intelligence community and the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. The Shane Cleary series will take readers back to 70s New England, this time to South End Boston—not to be confused with Whitey Bulger’s South Boston. The first of five Shane books, Dirty Old Town, is slated for publication in January 2020.

I’ve been publishing since 2010. My short stories have appeared online, or in anthologies. I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Prizes, and I received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest.

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

I have one cat named Squeak aka Buttons, a rescue tuxedo cat. My followers on Twitter expect to find some missive from Squeak on Caturday (Saturday in the Twitterverse). Squeak has been my writing companion and the inspiration for one of two cats in Roma Series Book 5: Corporate Citizen. In Dirty Old Town, the first Shane Cleary novel for Level Best Books, readers will meet Delilah, my main character’s cat and voice of conscience.

Many writers have pets and I’ve found that readers both enjoy the distraction and interpret how the character treats his or her pet as indicative of their morality. I think it’s true to say that many people find unconditional love and a nonjudgmental attitude with their fur-companions. Buttons and my late cat Squawk aka Banzai have been a joy in my life.

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

Buttons is Bogie, the male in the couple of Bogie and Bacall in Corporate Citizen. Bianca, my main character, is rather prickly and standoffish but Bogie and Bacall elicit a warmer and caring side of her personality. The real treat for readers is how Silvio, a gifted translator of sorts, communicates with cats. Silvio had also adopted a cat orphaned when his owner was murdered.

Delilah or Dee in the Shane Cleary series takes Shane to task on some of his choices. Without giving away too much, she sits and stares at him (literally) when he comes home after doing something that he shouldn’t have. Shane knows it and he ‘talks’ to Delilah. She won’t have any of it and lets him know it in no uncertain terms.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Murder List and Edwin Hill’s The Missing Ones, and am anxious to get my mitts on Louise Penny’s The Better Man. In the interim, I’m reading a brief short story collection by Italo Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun. I read between books I’m writing to avoid undue influence. I find short fiction a welcome palate cleanser.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am editing Dirty Old Town for Level Best Books. In revisiting the writing, I want to make sure everything ‘adds up’ and that I’ve seeded the book with questions that will get answered as the series progresses. I have written five books and had a long-arc view of conflicts and resolutions.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I enjoy many authors for different reasons. As an only child, I found solace and company in reading books. I was also fortunate to have teachers who thrusted books into my hands. My seventh-grade teacher gave me a copy of Agatha Christie and I proceeded to read all of her work in the next two years. As a child of the Seventies, I had a fondness for historical sagas that were all the rage, so Clavell, Hailey, Jakes, Levin, Peters, and Wouk are nostalgic touchstones for me. As for contemporary historical fiction, I’ve enjoyed Robert Harris’s trilogy on Cicero.

As a writer, you feel ‘on’ most of the time and oftentimes your inner critic interferes with your enjoyment. When I sit down with a writer I enjoy, I like to think I’m spending time with an old friend or making a new one. Good writing like good food is sustenance; it can offer escape and yet fortify you against the troubles in Life. In terms of style, I’ve come to appreciate the clean and elegant sentences of Margaret Millar, her husband Ross Macdonald, and Rex Stout. I began writing with poetry and moved to short stories. Short fiction is a difficult art form and I think most readers avoid it because they’ve been traumatized by high school English classes. Stefan Zweig was a master of the form, and I admire the stories we get from Bonnie Jo Campbell, EJ Levy, and Art Taylor.

I read broadly, but yet I’ve tried to seek out writers who are different from either how I’ve experienced the world, or how I would write a story. Writers I have enjoyed: RG Belsky, Andrea Camilleri, Bruce Coffin, LA Chandlar, J. California Cooper, Dick Cass, Colleen Gleason, Maurizio de Giovanni, Peter Hamill, Cheryl Head, Reginald Hill, Jim L’Etoile, Laurie King, Dannie Martin, Gabriel García Marquez, Eryk Pruitt, Stephen Mack Jones, Sara Paretsky, William Martin, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Walter Mosley, James Ziskin, and many more.

However, my absolute favorite, my desert island author is Shakespeare.

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

I did. My mother had a miniature poodle named Lulu, who was a terror and spiteful force of nature. To give you one example, she hated baths so she would run outside and roll in the dirt the minute she escaped the tub. She got on with my mother and nobody else. My grandparents had a German Shepherd named Nero, who was the most chill and calming living thing I’ve ever encountered. Protective, intuitive, and a gentle being.

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

I try to stay true to how animals function in our lives. They are our friends and family; they understand us in ways our biological relations do not, and they do so without judgment. Buttons helped me get through aggressive radiation treatment. He’d wait at the door when I came home and snuggle up to me until I fell asleep. That was selfless and compassionate. Then he would eat. If you know him, you know he likes his food, but when I was sick, I came first and I’m grateful to him for that. There’s an understanding there I think people don’t understand.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing for the same reason people infuse humor into their stories. Pets add dimensionality, reveal our humanity, our shortcomings, and I think we are quick to defend animals because they are innocent and unconditional. Think of Tony Soprano, a killer, who became upset and distraught when the horse Pie-O-My and the dog Cosette died. Even he, despite his sociopathy, understood pets deserved to be protected.

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

Not until after I was 40. I’ll be honest: as a reader all my life, I never gave thought to writing a novel or anything. When I turned 40, I set myself a goal of writing a short story a week for one year. My earliest artistic impulses were in drawing and painting. When started writing, I accepted the fact that most of it would be terrible. I had slapped together a novel, just to get certain things out of my system. A year later, I had a handful of stories that I thought were decent (I’m very critical of my own work), so I submitted two stories to magazines, and both were published. One of them was shortlisted for the Fish Prize in 2010. I wrote most of the Roma Series while dealing with the aftermath of radiation; there’s a reason why food is a thread throughout the novels. My later novels were born of my own curiosity and explorations in history.

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

Respect your reader’s intelligence and their time. Give them a story and an experience, and not your ego for 300 pages where you demonstrate your wit and vocabulary. People thirst for intimacy and a hardscrabble few will pick up a book instead of the TV remote. Write authentic. I can’t define what that means for you, and perhaps that is why I waited until I was 40 years old.

You are the sum of a lifetime of reading and your relationship with language. What you do with language is unique to you, so find it and cultivate it…in workshop babble, it’s called Voice, and it can’t be taught in any MFA program. The rest of it…humor, how you turn a phrase comes from your own peculiar way of observing the world around you.

Don’t make excuses. Set aside distractions. Trust me, you’ll make the time for what is important to you. Set aside distinctions such as genre and literary and create a where you want to spend time in and swim in. There’s a good chance others will enjoy it. If you enjoy a particular writer, break it down for yourself what it is you enjoy about them, and think about how they did it, and then do it your way. Learn craft, the ways of creating character, pacing and rhythm, and dialogue. Yes, you can learn it from a book or from a teacher, but I think it’s best to teach yourself, on your own terms because you’ll never forget the lessons or tools you created for yourself. Last but not least, it’s easy to be a critic, so be selective about what you allow into your sphere. Keep writing and strive to improve your skills.

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

There are no guarantees. Be careful of how you define success. There are a lot of ‘successful’ books that are nothing more than soapboxes for ego, that lack structure, or are formulaic stories. I’ve learned that books that I thought were successful because of awards and vigorous marketing were poor in sales. Publishing is a business and money is what matters. Right time. Right place. There are too many variables, so write what you are proud of and can speak for you when you’re not in the room.

About Gabriel

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series and the Company Files with Winter Goose Publishing. The first of five Shane Cleary novels with Level Best Books is scheduled to appear in January 2020. Gabriel is a member of Sisters in Crime, and attends Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. He lives in Boston.

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 Facebook: Gabriel Valjan

Twitter: @GValjan

Web: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Blog: https://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com

Exclusive Excerpt of The Naming Game: https://wp.me/p1Ykp4-rX

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Welcome, Colleen Mooney!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Colleen Mooney to the blog!

My background is mostly in sales and marketing. I retired from AT&T and went to work for a publisher until Katrina interrupted that. We lost our home and everything in it when we evacuated with four dogs to a friend’s home in Memphis. I had started on my first book before Katrina and it took me almost 9 years to get back to it. I’ve always had pets, mainly dogs, but a cat, fish and birds along the way. Almost nineteen years ago I started as a volunteer for Schnauzer Rescue of Louisiana, and now I am the director and have rescued and placed almost 400 schnauzers in that time.

Since I’m born and raised in New Orleans it took moving away to see how different we are here. I moved to New York with AT&T and ordered a turkey po-boy, dressed at a lunch counter with about fifty people in line. The deli man looked at me and said, “Lady, I have no idea what that is.” It’s a sandwich on French Bread, and dressed means with lettuce and tomato. Let’s not even get started with names of streets, how we give directions, or what we eat and how we eat it.

We have parades for everything throughout the year, not just at Mardi Gras. We even have a dog parade here called the Krewe of Barkus and we attend every year.

My pets are all Schnauzers now. I have four and they all came into rescue. Two came in and never left. The other two I took back from the family of a lady who died unexpectedly . She had adopted Murphy and Tweezer. Murphy is about 13 or 14 years old and older dogs are hard to place while Tweezer has had a lens replaced in one eye. She came to me blind. I did a fund raiser and had a lens replaced so she can now see. Her medical issue requires going to an ophthalmologist every six months and having two types of drops put in her eyes daily. I was afraid no one would take them together. My husband and I feel they can stay with us for the remainder of their lives.

My first pet that was my dog and not the family pet was Cricket Ann. She was half schnauzer and half something else, maybe Chihuahua. She looked and acted like a schnauzer, complete with the schnauzer attitude. She made me a schnauzer lover from that moment on. It was easy to get involved with the rescue for this breed years later.

My books all have a schnauzer in them. I write about my dog Meaux Jeaux (pronounced Mo Jo, another New Orleans thing). He was the 5th rescue who came into our lives and never left. He is the dog I write about in my stories. He always made me laugh and was devoted to me.

Pets are always in my books. I add some as rescues and usually they are modeled after a real life rescue like Meaux is in my stories. I had a dog named Justice that belonged to a Judge, and a dog named Valentine that was adopted by a lonely policewoman. My stories come from real life situations or things that have happened and then I fictionalize a story around them. My current pets are MoonPie Mooney, Mauser the Schnauzer (Maus for short because he is very small, only 11 lbs.), Murphy Mooney and Tweezer Mooney.

I read everything from food labels to mysteries, true crime, and anything set in Europe. Currently. I’m reading LISBON War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945 which is a little different for me.   I recently went to Liston and found Portugal fascinating. I came across this book and how Portugal stayed neutral and out of World War II making me want to learn more about the country.   Mostly, I look for Scandinavian authors and one of my favorites is Henning Mankell who recently died. I read all the Wallendar series, The Man from Beijing and The Fifth Woman. Anything international, spy, thriller or espionage gets on my reading list.

I’m working on the release of Book 7 in the Summer Snoops UNLEASHED box set due to launch July 23rd. My story is Fireworks, Forensics & Felonies is the latest book in my series, The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles, a Brandy Alexander Mystery.   I’m trying another series based more on women’s stories and I’m having fun writing those.

My dad brought home dogs all the time, before the days of rescue. I did not come by the pet rescue calling by accident. I believe I inherited it. My dad brought home big dogs, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and a Chow, while my mother liked small dogs. She had several Chihuahuas over the course of our childhood. We played with the big dogs while my mother kept her dog inside.

I include animals in my writing because I feel they can offer a dimension to the character that tells the reader what that person is like. If someone is kind or helpful to animals, they are generally nice as a rule, and if they aren’t, then they are the villain.

I don’t have a favorite book or movie with an animal as a central character but I do like and watch all pet movies when they come out. I cry at all of them.

Since I do rescue, most of my stories are not funny, but sad with happy endings when the rescue trusts people again and I find someone to love them and give them a safe home.

My funniest pet story is about Meaux. He was the fifth dog that came into rescue and both my husband and I fell in love with him. When he got older he started having health issues and required a lot of medication. Meaux always took anything I gave him, pills included. Meaux listened to me like a person would.  At one vet visit Dr. Kevin suggested we change his pills and start him on them as soon as I got home. I said,” I can give it to him now.” Dr. Kevin said it could wait until I got home since it was a pretty big pill.

I took the pill from him and asked Meaux if he wanted this blue pill cookie. Meaux sat down and I handed him the pill which he promptly swallowed. No pushing it down his throat or hiding it in a pill pocket. Dr. Keven stood there looking at Meaux for what seemed like a long time and finally said, “I’ve never seen anything like that. How did you get him to do that?”

I said, “I just call it a cookie.”

The number one item on my bucket list is to take the Orient Express Train from London to Istanbul. Of course, now it doesn’t run all the way to Istanbul without a stopover. However, I could be very happy stopping over in Venice for a day or two. This has been my dream since I first read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

My pets keep me on the clock every day, not just when I’m writing. Tweezer has a special bark in the morning, sometime between 5:00 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. when she wants to rise and go outside. The others sit and wait while she sounds revelry.   They come paw me when they need to go out at noon, so that is my break for lunch. During the day one or two will come and paw or bark at me to rub, pet or scratch their chest. Sometimes they bring a toy and drop it by my chair for me to throw for a play break. They come back at exactly five o’clock (how do they tell time?) and paw or bark for dinner. At that point, I’ve been at it all day so it’s time to start their dinner and ours. My husband says he is the doorman letting them out or back inside, and I’m the cook!

If you want to be a writer, then write. Write everyday. Write about things you love or want to do. I write to entertain myself and I’m fortunate that others also find it amusing and enjoy my stories. When I realized there wasn’t a Sisters in Crime chapter in New Orleans, I started one. Get involved and it will further your writing endeavors.

While the hardest thing for me was to let someone else read what I wrote, I would recommend getting into a writing group and critiquing others and lets others critique you. Join a group of like minded writers. You can find them online, at the library or in university classes. Join a Sisters in Crime chapter near you or the national organization and take online classes. There is a wealth of information to help you out there and a lot is online but nothing beats getting together in a group/class and sharing your work. Sharing your work and reading the work of others will make you a better writer.

About Colleen

I am a southern girl from New Orleans. All my family was born and raised here. We are from the Irish Channel and are a lot like boomerangs or homing pigeons. If we move away, we always come back.

I’ve relocated to Birmingham Alabama, Madison New Jersey, New York City, Atlanta Georgia returning to New Orleans in between each move before leaving again. If you count Katrina, I have moved out and back four times. I plan to stay put now.

I started in the public grade school system until there was an opening in the Catholic school. My mother transferred me to St. Christopher Catholic Grammar School. From there it was onward to Sacred Heart of Jesus High School and I graduated from Loyola CATHOLIC University of the South with a B.S. in Guilt, or maybe it was something else. What stuck with me from all this Catholic education was never take no for an answer, and if you aren’t afraid of a nun, you aren’t afraid of anything.

I worked in the AT&T system and was down-sized, up-sized, and re-sized until I spent 20+ years there before retiring.

I have been an avid Scuba diver and Underwater photographer, owned and raced sailboats in the Gulf of Mexico and the BVI. I love to travel, and my mother always said I was born with a suitcase in my hand.

I have been a member of many Mardi Gras Krewes, Super Krewes, and organizations. I paraded in the Krewe of Cork, Orpheus, Iris, Tucks, Joan of Arc and the Halloween Krewe of Boo. I never met a parade I didn’t like.

I am an ardent animal lover and am the Director for a breed rescue, Schnauzer Rescue of Louisiana. I love to write, and I write about what I know and love! You can take the girl out of New Orleans, but you cannot take the New Orleans out of the girl!

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Feel free to email/contact me at any of the following:

Email: colleen@colleenmooney.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/colleen.mooney.716

Twitter: www.twitter.com/Colleen Mooney@mooney_colleen

Website: www.colleenmooney.com

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/colleen-mooney

amazon.com/author/colleenmooney

 

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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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Newsletter: https://samcheever.com/newsletter/
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Website: https://www.SamCheever.com
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/samcheever
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/samcheever
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sam-cheever

 

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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

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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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