Putting the Claws in Pens, Paws, and Claws

by Barb Goffman

I love a good animal mystery. There are tons of them aimed at adult readers that involve dogs and cats. So you’d think a large animal with sharp claws would appear in a lot of mysteries too. After all, the sharper the claws and the bigger the animal, the bigger the threat. But when I sat down to research adult mysteries involving one particular type of large, sharp-clawed animal … alligators, yes, alligators, well, let’s just say this swamp wasn’t so full. While there’s an abundance of mysteries for children and tweens involving alligators–it seems eco-mysteries for young readers are hot–mysteries with alligators aimed at adults appear to be few and far between. Here’s the few I found:

  • Hip-Deep in Alligators, by Robert Campbell — a mystery set in Chicago involving a crocodile, according to its online description. (Yes, crocodiles and alligators aren’t the same thing, but since the title mentions alligators, I think we have a winner.)
  • Rumble on the Bayou, by Jana DeLeon — the first in the humorous A Miss Fortune Mystery series, set in Louisiana. This book’s online description begins with, “Deputy Dorie Berenger knew the day would go from bad to worse when she found a stoned alligator in the town drunk’s swimming pool.”
  • Later Gator, also by Jana DeLeon — this ninth book in the A Miss Fortune Mystery series focuses on gator poaching.
  • “Gator Aid,” a short story by Lesley A. Diehl set in a rural Florida swamp chock-full of alligators.
  • The Sound and the Furry, by Spencer Quinn — this is the sixth book in Quinn’s fantastic Chet and Bernie series, about a PI named Bernie and his sidekick, Chet, a large dog who narrates the books. In this novel, Chet and Bernie travel to Louisiana, where Chet tackles with a legendary gator.

And that, my friends, is all she wrote. Or at least all I could find–except … last week a new anthology came out called Florida Happens. It’s this year’s Bouchercon anthology, full of short stories set in or inspired by the weirdness that is Florida. It includes two short stories involving alligators. (Well, maybe more than two. I haven’t read the whole book yet. But at least two!) They are:

  • “There’s an Alligator in my Purse,” a funny story by Paul D. Marks.

And … my newest story:

  • “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast,” by me, Barb Goffman. This is a story about aging with dignity. The main character, Bev, lives with her husband, Charles, in a retirement community near the Everglades. Their home looks out on a lake in which an alligator named Romeo lives. The couple has always loved watching Romeo. But now Charles has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Romeo has become a source of stress. And these two don’t need more stress. Bev gets injured, so she hires an aide to help care for combative Charles. But when things start to go missing, Bev doesn’t know who she can depend on. A friend suggests the aide isn’t trustworthy, but Bev begins to wonder if the real person she can’t trust is herself.

You can read “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast” in Florida Happens, out now in trade paperback and e-book versions from Three Rooms Press. Here’s a link to the Amazon copy, if you’re interested.

And with that, I’m going to say farewell to all the readers here at Pens, Paws, and Claws. I’ve enjoyed being part of this blog since its start, learning about authors, their pets, and animal issues and mysteries. But I find myself stretched too thin, so I’m giving up my spot on the rotation to allow another author the opportunity to blog with you all.

Thank you, dear readers, for visiting and commenting on the blog. And thank you to my fellow PPC bloggers, especially our founder Heather Weidner, for making this blog a success. I will continue to check in and comment. And if you’re interested in continuing to follow me, you can find me–and many posts about my dog, Jingle, pictured above–on Facebook.

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Tales with Tails … (and some without!)

by Barb Goffman

Jingle doing time! (This is my dog the day I adopted him from a shelter.)

It started with an idea: Everyone loves animals. They’re cute. They’re furry. They’re begging to be written about.

Next came a call for stories for the eighth volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short-story series. It said in part:

“We want animals. More than six out of every ten homes in the United States has a pet. Be they dogs, cats, birds, pigs, or lions or tigers or bears—or even snakes­—people love animals. They love playing with them and caring for them and, we’re happy to say, reading about them.

“That’s where you come in. We want crime/mystery short stories involving animals. The animal could be the sleuth or the sleuth’s sidekick or merely a part of the plot. We could hear the animal talk or think or do neither. Any kind of crime/mystery story you can come up with that involves an animal, be it furry or feathered, warm- or cold-blooded, is good with us. So bring on your animal stories!”

The authors of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime did not disappoint.  To paraphrase McGruff, our authors took a bite out of crime! And now, finally, the book has been published. Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies offers mystery readers who love animals a bevy of options.

Like dogs? Then this book is for you. We have several stories involving dogs and crime. But we don’t stop with dogs. Oh no. We have stories with crows, cows, crickets, and cats; rabbits, ferrets, an octopus, and rats. And fish. Mustn’t forget the fish.

Like police procedurals? We have three of them. How about historicals? We have a trio of those too. One story will take you back to nineteenth-century England, another to 1930s Hollywood, and the third to 1950s Pennsylvania. If you like amateur sleuths, you’re in luck. We’ve got some of those. Like dark stories? We’ve got ’em. Stories from the animals point of view? We’ve got those too. Funny stories? Check. Paranormal? Check. Stories where animals save the day? Check. Check. Check.

Basically, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you enjoy mystery short stories, then this book is made for you. We hope you’ll check it out. You can buy it in trade paperback or in e-book format.

The authors with stories in the book are: Karen Cantwell, Carla Coupe, Barb Goffman (yes, that’s me!), Eleanor Cawood Jones, Linda Lombardi, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Shari Randall, KM Rockwood, Joanna Campbell Slan, Marianne Wilski Strong, Robin Templeton, and Cathy Wiley. The book was edited by Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and me. The stories were chosen by Brendan DuBois, Mary Jane Maffini, and Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner). And the book was published by Wildside Press.

If you’ll be attending the Malice Domestic convention next weekend, stop by the Wildside Press table in the book room at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Nearly all the authors with stories in the book will be there for a mass signing. And if you’re in the Washington, DC, area on Sunday, May 20th, we hope you’ll come to our official launch party at the Central Library in Arlington from 2-4 p.m.

In the meanwhile, happy reading. We hope you enjoy our tales with tails!

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Pet Cloning — Yea or Neigh?

by Barb Goffman

Cloning is one of those things people joke about. Or maybe just I do. On busy days, I wish I had a clone to order around. Clone, do the laundry. Clone, edit that book. Clone, cook something. Anything!

Alas, the reality is there is no human cloning. And even if there were, an actual clone would not be like a robot you could order around to do chores. A clone is, essentially, an identical twin, simply born at a later date. The twins should look the same, but they’d have separate minds and thus separate personalities.

But even knowing all this, the idea of cloning appeals–especially when facing loss in the face.

Before my prior dog, Scout, got old, I made him promise he’d live forever. Of course he couldn’t live up to that promise. But he’s lived on in my heart and memories during the past four years.  And if I’d had the money to spare, I could have had him live on–sort of–in my house through … you guessed it … cloning. Yep, dog and cat cloning is here.

Scout

It appears there are several companies that offer this service. I recently read about one in Texas, Viagen Pets, that will clone your dog for $50,000 and your cat for $25,000. How does it work? According to Viagen Pets’s website, before (or very soon after) your dog or cat dies, you send a skin tissue sample to them so they can freeze/preserve the animal’s DNA. When you’re ready for your new pet, they take a donor egg, remove its genetic material, and replace it with that of your beloved pet’s. After that, an embryo is produced and then implanted in a surrogate animal. And you wait for your pet’s identical twin to be born.

According to their website, Viagen Pets has cloned thousands of animals. They say that each cloned puppy or kitten will share many attributes with its twin, often including intelligence, temperament, and appearance. It’s interesting that appearance is on the “often including” list because I would think a cloned puppy or kitten would always look exactly like the original (as a puppy or kitten) because they are supposed to be identical twins. But I’m not a scientist, so perhaps I’m missing something.

It’s interesting, too, that the company says the clones are often similar in intelligence and temperament.  I would think these attributes would vary from dog to dog. I would be interested in seeing study results on cloned animals to see how often the clones really are similar, as well as how similar, to the originals. I’d expect a clone of Scout would look like him as a puppy, but since the clone would be his own dog, with his own experiences and own mind, there’s no reason to think he’d act like Scout as he grew. But it’s nice to dream that he would.

And that is what is likely behind the growth of this market. The desire to  essentially keep the essence of the pet you love–his/her personality–alive. I understand Viagen Pets has a waiting list of people who probably have similar dreams.

Of course, any discussion of cloning pets should address the potential inherent problems. Any owners who’d expect an exact duplicate of their beloved pets would bound to be disappointed, which wouldn’t be fair to the clone. And is it right for someone to bring another animal into the world when you can find one of the same breed, likely looking nearly the same as your own beloved pet, through your local shelter or a breed rescue? An animal that’s already alive and needs a home? (Of course, that question would apply to any animal purchased through a breeder.)

Eggs (not the type involved in cloning)

And then there are the logistics of the process to consider. The cloning company says they get a donor egg. How? Does this involve surgery on a female dog?  How hard on the dog is such a surgery? If it’s quite invasive (and I don’t know if it is), is it right to use a dog in that manner? It’s not like the dog is an adult human who can consent. And once the embryo is created, it’s implanted in a surrogate dog. How invasive a procedure does the dog have to undergo to become impregnated? (All these questions also apply to the donor cat and surrogate cat, who may or may not be the same cat.)

For those of you thinking it, I realize that all these questions could be asked of any owner who chooses to breed his or her pet. The dog or cat doesn’t ask to become a parent, to be used for breeding purposes. I’m not saying it’s wrong (or right) to do these things, ranging from breeding your dog to having your dog used as an egg donor or as a surrogate mother. I’m just thinking on the page. As moral questions, there aren’t any hard right or wrong answers. But the questions are worth considering.

So, what say you, dear reader? Would you clone your pet if you could afford it? And what do you think of the issues involved with cloning (and breeding)?

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Cats and Dogs and Groundhogs, Oh My!

By Barb Goffman

Actor W.C. Fields once famously said, “Don’t work with children or animals.” Well, children and animals might be hard to work with in the movies, but in fiction, they’re a dream. You want a dog to bark, alerting the family to an intruder? It barks. (Or in the case of a famous Sherlock Holmes story, it doesn’t bark.) You need buzzards to circle a dead body in a field, giving sleuths a clue of where to look? They do it. Even simply the presence of an animal can be important to a story. Showing someone who loves or hates a pet tells so much about his character. Indeed, animals can be such a big help with fictional plots, I use them often.

In my short stories I’ve had three dogs, two cats, a groundhog, and coming next spring, cows! My newest story is called “Crazy Cat Lady.” It’s a psychological suspense tale in which a woman comes home to find her home looking perfectly in order, yet she feels certain someone has broken into her house. Amongst her biggest clues: Her orange tabby, Sammy, doesn’t greet her at the door. If Sammy is hiding, she knows, something is wrong. Sammy plays an important role in the story, which you can read at the first issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, which was published earlier this month by Wildside Press.

If you like funny capers, you’ll enjoy my story “The Shadow Knows,” which involves a plot to kidnap Moe, the official groundhog of a fictional town in Vermont. Some people think that whether a groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd depends on what his handlers decide. Well, not my main character, Gus. He’s certain that Moe has special powers, and Moe is the reason his town always has long winters. Gus decides he has to save his town and get rid of Moe. But, of course, things don’t always go as planned. This story was a finalist for the Agatha, Macavity, and Anthony awards. You can find it in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, which has stories set on holidays throughout the year.

          

As for dogs, my story “Ulterior Motives” shows how a dog can help serve up a clue, hopefully without the reader even noticing it. In this mystery story involving a local political campaign, the main character has a dog (with a useful doggy door) who alerts her  to noises outside the house at night.  You can read “Ulterior Movies” in Ride 2, an anthology of stories involving bicycles.

And just to bring things back to cats once more, I have a whodunit called “The Lord is my Shamus,” in which a cat–and an allergy to it–plays a key role. This story won the Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2013 and was a finalist for the Anthony Award. It was originally published in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder and was republished in my own short story collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.

I’d love to hear from you about mystery/crime short stories you’ve written or read that involve animals. We hear so much about cozy novels with cats. Well, how about short stories? Readers, please share your favorites!

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