Meet Nancy Northcott

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

As my bio says, I’ve always loved stories of adventure, romance, and mystery, and I fell in love with history at an early age. I also read comic books growing up, much to the vexation of my mother.  But I loved the superheroes and science fiction they offered.

I write mages (like wizards, but if you mention wizards, people tend to think of Harry Potter, and this is not that) because they’re kind of like superheroes but also incorporate elements of fantasy.  The mages battle ghouls and demons hoping to take over our world—more fantasy elements there, as well as action and adventure.

I’ve also written, but not published, historical romance and have published historical fantasy. The Herald of Day is the first part of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy.  I loved doing the research to build those historical worlds.

I just launched a romantic spy adventure series that lets me incorporate adventure, suspense, and action with hot romance.  Finally, I’m writing a space opera series with Jeanne Adams.

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

We just adopted a new dog, a black lab mix.  Whatever she’s mixed with is a smaller breed because she’s much smaller than the lab we had for a few years.  She’s still settling into our family.

We also had a very large, male golden retriever named Hudson at one point, and he’s the only one who is a story model to date.  At least for stories I share with the world.  I used to make up stories featuring him and Maggie, the golden/Irish setter mix we had at the time. He was kind of like an Edwardian gentleman, very proper, while she was just zany.  They offered a lot of character contrast. I told those stories to entertain our son when we were waiting in a restaurant or elsewhere, but I never wrote them down.

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

So far, my only recurring animal character is a very large golden retriever named Magnus in my Light Mage Wars series.  He’s the one modeled on Hudson. Magnus is the constant companion of Miss Hettie Telfair, a retired lawyer and recurring character in my imaginary town of Wayfarer, Georgia.  I’d like to think he has a personality even though he doesn’t play a big role in any scene.

I had a mare named Calypso in The Deathbrew Affair, and we’ll see her again down the road.  The hero of the series is a horseman from North Yorkshire, so horses will figure in some of the books going forward.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m juggling three at the moment, the next Light Mages book, a Christmas novella for the space opera series, and a Christmas short story for the Light Mages.

 Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s hard to pick a favorite author among the many whose books I love. My all-time ever favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird because I like and sympathize with the characters and admire the way it addresses a crucial social issue.

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

I grew up with dogs that were treated as part of our family.  Over the years, we had a fox terrier/Chihuahua mix and a couple of English bulldogs. The bulldogs were very sweet but prone to breathing and skin problems, unfortunately.  The fox terrier/Chihuahua was also very sweet and generally pretty calm.  She liked to sleep on the foot of my bed in the winter, and I liked that.

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

Magnus is a character in his own right, though a minor one. The hero and his best friend in The Herald of Day, which is set in 17th-century England, each have a horse, Zeus and Neptune, but they figure primarily in the opening part of the books.  They’re not exactly characters but are more than mentioned in passing.

The Deathbrew Affair includes a mare named Calypso, whom we meet briefly before events pull the hero and heroine away from the riding ring.  We’ll see Calypso again, though.  Because the hero is an equestrian with an estate in the horse-breeding area of North Yorkshire, he’ll have a horse in a future book and the heroine will learn to ride.  The penultimate book in the series is currently planned to center on a horse.

The animals in the space opera series so far are not pets but creatures on the planet we created.  None of them actually qualifies as a character, nor are they likely to.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I like animals, and I like to have them in a story when there’s a reason.  I also think the way a character relates to an animal reveals that character. Magnus helps show us Hettie’s nature and has been a bridge between her and other characters.

Horses are a soft spot for controlled, plan-oriented Jack, the hero of The Deathbrew Affair and its siblings, but they were essential in The Herald of Day.  During the era when the book is set, they were the transportation for those who could afford them. The hero and his best friend have horses, and at one point we see the hero’s carriage horses.

When dealing with an alien culture, as in the space opera series, creating animals is part of building that world.

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

I enjoyed Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.  I generally avoid movies and books centering on animals because so many of them end tragically, but our son wanted to see that movie when he was small. I enjoyed the characterizations by the actors, and I loved that it had a happy ending.

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

I have three TBR piles–one in a plastic bin, one on the shelves in my study, and one on my tablet. The piles mix various genres of romance (primarily historical, paranormal, and romantic suspense), science fiction and fantasy, and mystery/thriller books.

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

First, that there’s no one “right” way, that every author has to do what works for her. For example, I don’t write every day, in the sense of sitting in front of the computer.  I do think about the various projects daily, but many people don’t consider that writing.  It works for me, though.

Second, that the marketing department plays a huge role in purchasing decisions at traditional publishing houses. A book that veers too far off the center field line, unless the marketing people think it’s lightning in a bottle, will have a hard time finding a home.

Thank you to everyone at Pens, Paws, and Claws for having me today. I’d love to chat about people’s first pets.

About Nancy…

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman.  Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the romance and high stakes (and sometimes the magic) she loves in the books she writes.

She’s the author of the Light Mage Wars/Protectors paranormal romances, the Lethal Webs and Arachnid Files romantic suspense series, and the historical fantasy trilogy, The Boar King’s Honor. With author Jeanne Adams, she co-writes the Outcast Station space opera series.

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Meet Ellen Byron

Pens, Paws, and Claws is excited to welcome author, Ellen Byron!

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

All of our dogs found their way into my books. In 1999, we rescued a basset hound through Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California. Her name was Lucy, and she inspired my protagonist’s family pet, Gopher – so named because he’s a basset hound who likes to dig holes and rest his tushy in them to stay cool. When Lucy was 13, we adopted Wiley from a local rescue called The Amanda Foundation. I call Wiley a corgi-jack-huahua. We thought Lucy was on her last legs, but she lived to be almost sixteen. After she passed, we thought Wiley could use a friend, so we went back to the AF and adopted Pogo. I call him a cherrier because he’s a Chihuahua-terrier mix. In Body on the Bayou, the second book in my series, I created a stray named Jolie who’s inspired by Pogo, even though she’s a girl and our Pogo’s a boy. I felt badly for Wiley because he was immortalized in a book that still hasn’t sold, so I created a subplot in A Cajun Christmas Killing involved a darling doggy named King Cake who looks a lot like Wiley!

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

Gopher is in every book because he’s the family pet. In Body on the Bayou, Maggie finds a mama cat guarding a litter of kittens and puppies. She tracks down the pup’s mother – the aforementioned Jolie – and eventually finds homes for the kittens and pups. It turns out the mama cat and dog belonged to neighbors who are on sabbatical in Hawaii. Their irresponsible housesitter let the pets out and then disappeared. The Crozat family is looking after Jolie and Brooke – the mama cat – until their neighbors get back, which probably means forever in book series time. Jasmine, one of the puppies, is pivotal to the story. Xander, the son of Maggie’s boyfriend Bo, has Asperger’s. He falls in love with Jasmine and his relationship with the pup helps him break through a case of selective mutism.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Murder in Shadow, An Acton & Doyle Mystery, by Anne Cleeland. I love this series. I’m also lucky enough to be reading an advance copy of Hair of the Dog, the third mystery in Carlene O’Neil’s wonderful Cypress Cove Mystery Series.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Emily Bronte. She only wrote one book, Wuthering Heights, but it’s absolutely extraordinary. I bought a used copy of it at a store called The Haunted Bookshop in Vermont when I was fourteen and on a family vacation. The bookshop was housed in an old Victorian mansion across from a cemetery. Everything about the situation added to the wild atmosphere of that book, and I was enthralled. Although I recently re-read it and I thought, wow – Heathcliff was a total psychopath!

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

Our first dog, Chips, was a Sheltie who was very high-strung. He once bit my father, and my father bit him back! He didn’t hurt the dog, he just ended up with a mouthful of fur. But he was upset because he’d never had a pet as a child so having one fulfilled a childhood dream, and he wanted that dog to love him. After Chips passed, my father was in an elevator at work – he was an advertising Mad Man – and heard a man talking about how he and his wife, who ran the Westchester NY SPCA, were fostering a litter of puppies that had been found with their mother in the town dump. By the next night, we were the proud pet parents of two puppies, Teddy Bear and Teena Bear. My mother spelled “Tina” “Teena” because she mistook Teena for female when we first got them, and she thought that was a more masculine spelling of the name. They were a mix of springer spaniel and poodle. My mother always put “Sprudel” as their breed when she sent in for their licenses, and it always came back “mutt.” She was ahead of her time!

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

Oh, they’re very much their own characters. As I mentioned, they even get their own storylines. And Maggie often uses Gopher as her ear when she needs to talk something out.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I’m a proud, passionate pet parent. When my husband and I began dating, I made it clear that if he wasn’t interested in having dogs, we could end the relationship right then and there. He’d never had pets, so he was nervous, but he’s just wonderful with our boys. I think animals add humanity to any story, odd as that sounds. They offer a great path into character. We get a sense of whether we like someone or not by how they relate to animals… and how the animals relate to them. We may think a character is likeable, but then a dog or cat takes a dislike to them and we’re like, uh oh.

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

I’ve always avoided books and movies that have animals as central characters because they’re often so dang sad. I have to share this story from fourth grade. Our teacher assigned us categories to read, and one was “Animals,” meaning we had to read a book where the story revolved around an animal. I confided in the school librarian that I didn’t want to do the assignment because too often animals in books were either injured or died, and the stories upset me too much. She said, “I’ll find you a happy animal story.” And she did, God bless the kind woman.

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

I don’t, but honestly, my dogs are like service animals for me. I’ve always said that when it comes to my mental health, it’s pets or Prozac. If I’m anxious or depressed, I’ll snuggle with Pogo or Wiley or pet them, and I immediately feel better. Animals are the world’s best anti-depressants.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Basset hounds are notoriously sedentary dogs, and our Lucy was no exception. I’m not kidding when I say she probably slept twenty-three hours a day. When our daughter Eliza was around four, we were at a friend’s house and she began playing with their senior citizen cat. My friend cautioned her to take it easy on the old thing, and Eliza said, “I’m sorry. I’m not used to a pet that moves.”

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

Not only is Wuthering Heights my all-time favorite book, I’m obsessed with the Brontes. So the number one item on my bucket list is to make a pilgrimage to Haworth Parsonage in the north of England, and walk the moors where Emily, Charlotte, and Anne once walked. Emily was a passionate animal lover. She got along better with her dogs than she did with people. Here’s a sketch of her beloved dog, Keeper.

 

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They keep me company in the office. Wiley’s old now – I’m guessing around fourteen – so he sleeps a lot. Pogo’s about ten, but he’s still got puppy energy. He’ll sleep, but then he gets bored and brings me a tennis ball to throw or tries to climb in my lap. Once when I went to get the mail, I made the mistake of leaving my lunch on the table next to my computer. When I came back, Pogo had figured out how to jump onto my office chair, then onto my desk, and he’d eaten my lunch!

My pets are such an important part of my life. Thank you, Pens, Paws, and Claws, for giving me a chance to share how my furbabies mean to me.

About Ellen…

Ellen writes the award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called her new book, A Cajun Christmas Killing, “superb.” Body on the Bayou, the second book in the series, recently won the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for a Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award. Her debut Cajun Country Mystery, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Ellen is also a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant from the Malice Domestic Convention.

Her TV credits include Wings, Still Standing, and Just Shoot Me, as well as network and cable pilots. She recently served on the Editorial Board for the UCLA Writers Program’s books, Cut to the Chase and Inside the Room. As a journalist, she’s written over 200 magazine articles for national publications. Her plays, published by Dramatists Play Service, include the popular Graceland and Asleep on the Wind.

A graduate of Tulane University, Ellen lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, daughter, and the family’s spoiled rescue dogs, which they describe as a “corgi-jack-huahua” and a “cherrier.” A native New Yorker, Ellen still misses her hometown… and still drives like a New York cabbie.

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