Welcome Back, Susan Schwartz!

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

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of our fishies:

Our eel, Houdini:

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

What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

Who is your favorite author and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do your pets do when you are writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Susan

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

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

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

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The Amazing Goliath and His Incredible Talents

I met Carolyn Troiano in Richmond, Virginia. She and her husband Bill have trained their Rottweiler, Goliath to do some amazing things. See the video links at the bottom of the interview. This is my interview with Bill Troiano about Goliath, his training, his amazing talents, and their new books… ~Heather

Tell our readers a little about yourself and Goliath and his special talents.
Well, I grew up in Maine near a game farm, and I’ve always felt a special bond with animals. I’ve always had pets, including rescued raccoons and squirrels, and I’ve trained many of them over the years to be obedient and perform some tricks.
I first met Goliath at a local dog park that I was visiting with my American Bulldog, Angel. A gentleman came over with his 6-month-old Rottweiler puppy, and we started a conversation. He told me that he was moving out of state, and would not be able to bring his dog with him. He was looking for a really good home for him, and when I looked at the puppy, I could tell right away that he was special. We had an immediate connection. I brought him home to see how he would get along with Angel and another rescued male American Bulldog, “Spike,” who had joined our household earlier that year. The new puppy fit right in, showing great affection for our family and his new “siblings.”

After talking with my wife and son, we agreed to provide a home and much love for our new addition, “Goliath.” He was a gently puppy, and over the years, he grew to be a gentle giant.

Goliath has brought us more joy, laughter and love than any of us could ever have imagined. He is truly part of the family, and he works really hard, both in learning new skills and in building relationships with all of us.

How long did it take to train him? Did you all use any special techniques?
Dogs love to go for a ride, so whenever I would shake the car keys, Goliath understood what that meant, and got very excited. I would toss the keys on the floor and ask him to bring them to me if he wanted to go for a ride, and, of course, he brought them to me every time.

I did the same thing with his leash. I would ask him if he wanted to go for a walk, and, again, he would get excited. I would tell him to get me his leash, and he would bring it right to me.

Goliath seemed to understand that everything has a name, and if I communicated with him in that way, he would eventually begin to understand the words associated with each item I presented to him. Of course, it requires a lot of repetition, but he seems to learn more quickly with each item I present to him.

Goliath is a really fast learner, more so than any other animal I’ve ever trained. When I teach him the name of an object, or a new trick, he learns very quickly. He knows and can retrieve over 700 everyday objects, including stuffed animals, tools, sporting equipment and other household items. I’ve been working with him on these since he has been with us, and he’s now 6 years old.

I’ve also taught Goliath a lot of tricks. He can speak, stay, roll over, beg, play dead, give me his left paw and then his right paw, and then when I ask for a hug, he wraps his front paws around my waist. Goliath loves a good belly rub, and when I ask him if he wants one, he rolls over and raises his belly to be stroked.
I taught him to catch a treat that I would toss to him, which is a very common skill for animals, especially dogs. Once Goliath mastered the catch, I had him sit and then placed a treat on his nose, making sure I used a flat one, so that it would stay in place more easily. I told Goliath to “stay,” and continued to hold his head steady while he balanced the treat on his nose. Once he learned to balance it without my hand in place, I removed the treat and gave him a different treat as a reward.

Next, I taught him to flip it in the air and catch it in his mouth, building on what he had already learned. While holding a treat in my hand, Goliath learned that his job was to focus on the treat while remaining still. I then guided my hand closer to his mouth and said “catch,” with my hand close enough that he wouldn’t jump or move. The first time I did this, I guided the treat all the way to his mouth. I continued practicing the steps of catching and balancing with him for a couple of weeks before teaching him to flip the treat off of his nose and catch it in his mouth. At first, he ended up tossing the treat off of his nose, but after some repetition, and remaining positive, he eventually caught the treat.

Another important point to note is that your body language is critical to success. You have to remain calm and very positive, and never show any frustration if your dog is not catching on as quickly as you would like. Patience and repetition are key aspects to continuing progress.

I can also put a piece of steak under his paw and tell him to leave it, and he learned not to touch it or even look at it until I give him the “okay” command.
Rewarding his progress is absolutely critical. When I first started teaching him, I would give him a small piece of meat each time he retrieved an object. As the list of objects began to grow, I slowed that down and would reward him after retrieving seven items. You have to know how to balance the reward and tie it directly to his ability to focus.

When I use the phrase “bad guy,” he responds aggressively, barking very loudly. If I say “good guy,” he jumps up and gives me a hug. Every morning, I ask him to remove the covers on my bed, and he pulls them down, and then brings me my socks. If I’m wearing a hoodie, I’ll bend over and ask him to pull it off, and he’ll do that.

Goliath also loves to swim, and can retrieve a 50-pound log and bring it back to the shoreline. He’s an extremely agile dog, and loves to exercise. His breed is built for hard work, and the more you challenge them, the more they love it.

How did you know Goliath had a special aptitude or talent?
You just have to look into Goliath’s eyes and see that human quality about him, it’s just amazing. It’s as if he can read your thoughts. He seems to understand things at a much deeper level than any animal I’ve come across in my life. I think our connection has really been at the heart of his desire and willingness to learn. He always wants to please me and he works really hard. In fact, he thrives on it, as many of his breed do, as they’re in the working dog group.

Goliath has an unusual ability to memorize the names of objects. It all started with a couple of stuffed animals. I noticed how incredibly fast he learned the names of them. My wife gave Goliath a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal that talks and vibrates when you press its belly. Goliath loved this, and the next day, I asked him where Winnie-the-Pooh was, and he immediately ran downstairs and retrieved it. The other amazing thing is that he never forgets what he learns. I can put away an item he knows for several months, and, sure enough, when I take it out again and ask him to retrieve it he does so perfectly and without hesitation.

Most dogs will identify a few favorite toys, but as I said earlier, Goliath has learned the names of over 700 items. I’m always at garage and yard sales looking for unusual objects to bring into the mix. In fact, this week I taught him to retrieve a man’s roller skate. He loves this one, in particular, because I send it rolling across the floor, and he chases it and brings it back to me. With toys, I usually let him play with each one for a while before teaching him to retrieve it by name. He always gets excited when I bring home something new.
I also continue to challenge Goliath and test his skills. He knows I believe in him and he trusts me implicitly. Just as with people, dogs have talents that will remain hidden unless you unleash them (pardon the pun).

One big fallacy is that dogs can’t see colors. Goliath has proven that he can distinguish objects by color. I have six golf balls in different colors, and if I ask him to get the green one, or the yellow one, and so forth, he gets it right every time. The same is true with some other items, such as combs in different colors, but which are otherwise identical.

Then I started testing him on colors using objects he had never seen before. I have an orange cone that I use for teaching tennis, and he knows that it’s a cone. So I brought in cones in several other colors and asked him to get the yellow cone, the green cone, the blue cone and the red cone. He retrieved every one of them correctly, just based on knowing colors.

Goliath has two toothbrushes, a yellow one and a purple one, and he can pick them out by color. He also has a bunch of different footballs, and knows the red one, yellow one and black one. He knows the football that’s half blue and half orange. Goliath also knows two different NFL team footballs with the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers colors and logos. He knows them all by name and never misses.

I have a number of stuffed animals and other objects that are identical in every way except for size, and Goliath can retrieve the big one and the little one of each character correctly every time. I have three stuffed reindeer that all look very much alike, but he knows the difference because one I call “Rudolph,” a second one is “Talking Rudolph” and the third is “Coach,” which is the character who plays the reindeer coach in the old “Rudolph the Reindeer” TV movie.

Tell us about some of Goliath’s adventures. Where has he visited?

Goliath spends most of his time locally, in parks, on trails, and in ponds, enjoying the outdoors with his “siblings” and other dog friends. He has traveled to many locations in the region where he performs at Pet Expos and SPCA events. Goliath has a lot of trophies, and also comes home with a lot of “SWAG” from these shows. I often laugh that he brings in enough snacks and other items to support the rest of our pets.

How long has Goliath lived with you?
We’ve been blessed with Goliath for the last 5 ½ years.

Do you have any other pets?
Yes. We have three more Rottweilers, all rescues, along with Angel, our American Bulldog, a one-year-old cat, and two very large parrots. One is a Military Macaw and the other is a Double Yellow-Headed Amazon, and they both speak. They all get along and are respectful of each other. We’ve had as many as twenty-one pets at one time, mainly rescues, covering seven different species: dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots, ferrets, raccoons and squirrels. They were introduced to each other at a very young age, and forged relationships that would defy conventional thought. They always had fun and it was incredible to watch them devise games to play with each other. They learned from each other in ways that confounded us, and as “siblings,” they often teased each other. I often think that we, as humans, can learn so much about how to relate to other people just by observing animals and the relationships they build and nurture.

What’s your funniest Goliath story?
Goliath learned to close the door after coming in from outside. If someone leaves the refrigerator door open for too long, he’ll come by and close it. He even opened up the front door for my wife when she locked herself out. She stood by the latch, asking him to give her a hug, and the neighbors, who were out on their front porch, kept asking if she wanted help, assuming the dog would never open the door. Lo and behold, within a couple of minutes, Goliath flipped the bolt open to everyone’s amazement, but my wife knew he could do it, and I’m sure Goliath sensed that she had complete faith in him. He truly can sense that you’re rooting for him and I think that’s just an amazing quality that differentiates Goliath from other dogs.

What is your favorite place to visit with your dogs?
There are a couple of ponds that we take Goliath to swim in, and we meet up with friends and their dogs for a play date. Goliath loves to see his dog friends, and he absolutely loves the water. I think the water exercise is a really important thing for animals to keep them healthy and even psychologically happy.

Years ago, we had a female Rottweiler, “Venus,” who lived to be 15 years old, and I attribute that to the fact that we lived on Lake Anna at the time, and swimming was part of her daily regimen. In fact, one morning I let the dogs out and forgot the gate to the dock was open. Venus leaped off the dock and right into a bass fishing boat. One of the guys in the boat jumped overboard out of fear, while Venus jumped in the other guy’s lap and started licking him. When his friend surfaced, the guy in the boat was laughing his head off. I’m sure he’ll be telling that story for years to come.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
“Marley and Me,” by John Grogan, is a book about the lovable Labrador Retriever and his time spent with his family. It was filled with joy and sadness. We’ve had many dogs, and reading the book, I could only think of all the laughter and passion we felt for these animals as they enriched our lives. There is no greater love than that which an animal confers on his master, and no greater gift than the loyalty and love they return so selflessly and so eagerly. All of my dogs exhibited the same characteristics and I could really feel that sense of loyalty and unconditional love that Marley gave to his family. We’ve truly been blessed by the animals that have come into our lives, depending on us for their existence and trusting us to treat them with respect. It’s a bond you can’t explain in ordinary terms.

What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’m reading an old book about a raccoon. It’s called Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, written by Sterling North about his childhood in Wisconsin. He writes about spending a year of his childhood raising a baby raccoon, during WWI, and the story also chronicles the changes in his family and the area around him during that time. It speaks to transcending loss, and finding humor in the small things in life. It reminds us the importance of taking care of those around us who need that special care until they can take care of themselves, and the lessons of life that we can learn from each other.

There was a raccoon that used to come to my window when I was younger, and I named him “Bandit.” In the 1990s, my wife and I raised three orphaned baby raccoon brothers, “Huey,” “Dewey” and “Louie,” in the 1990s, as part of an animal rescue program. Watching them grow for two years, before introducing them to the creek behind our house, was an adventure. It was sad to let them go, but life has its cycles and everything must be done in its time. We loved having them with us for that time, but they were ready to migrate up the creek and join the rest of the raccoons. They were ready to mate.

What advice would you give to new dog owners or folks interesting in adopting a new, four-legged family member?
Ask yourself why you are contemplating bringing a pet into your life, and remember, it’s not just coming into your home, but into your life. A pet is a living member of your household, not an accessory to your home. With dogs, the breed is also crucial to your decision. Make sure you understand what kind of dog you’re thinking about bringing home and how they would fit in.
Are you home a lot, or do you travel? Do you have someone who can look after your dog if you do have to travel or be away from home? Do you like to be outside in the yard or take walks in the park? Are you willing to spend the time and patience to train your pet to obey?

You also need to think about potential allergies when selecting a pet. How much work are you willing to put into cleaning up after them? Some dogs shed a lot during certain times every year. You also need to think about unforeseen veterinary bills, as you never know what it will take to keep your pet healthy throughout its life.

What advice would you give folks about dog training?
You must be patient. As with any living creature, they all have a certain level of ability and you have to set your expectations accordingly. Know your dog’s breed and what their typical strengths and weaknesses, but don’t automatically box them into those categories. Just be aware of them. As with children, you have to encourage them and guide them, and praise all of their work. Don’t set unrealistic expectations or get frustrated if they don’t deliver according to your needs or desires. It’s not about you. It’s about giving your love to a creature of the earth, and not expecting anything but love in return. Animals are individuals, and you have to find out what makes them special and makes them thrive, and focus on those talents.

Does Goliath have any upcoming events?

Well, a story about Goliath will be in The Total Rottweiler Magazinewhich is published in 134 countries.

He has done a number of shows at local and regional SPCA events and Pet Expos, most recently at The World of Pets Expoat Hampton Coliseum, in Hampton, VA, on February 18, 2019.  Goliath won the talent contest.

That was Goliath’s 6th birthday, and he celebrated in style with his “sibling” Rottweilers.  You can see some of the video and pictures on Goliath’s Facebook page, showing the gang in their party hats, waiting to dig into the birthday feast.

Goliath’s next appearance will be at the Dog Gone Dog Show,” sponsored by the Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, in Kilmarnock, VA, on April 20, 2019.

Goliath is also a YouTube sensation, with many videos showing his ability to retrieve items by memory, and to do tricks.  Most recently, I was contacted by someone who would like to do a documentary on Goliath, so that will be very exciting!

Goliath is usually very busy with shows through year-end, and he is especially fond of the “Southside SPCA” events in Farmville, VA, doing a charity show for them every year in December.  We definitely like to do the shows that will benefit other animals and promote the idea of providing homes for those animals in need.

Tell us about your books.

We’re putting together a series of children’s books called ­“Goliath Loves to Learn.”  Each book is based on a particular theme for learning.  Children will love to learn about colors, shapes, sizes, and other themed topics, alongside Goliath, who is always eager to learn about new things.  I think kids will really appreciate these books, as they’re based on a real dog and his capabilities.  If Goliath can learn, then hopefully they’ll realize that they can learn too.  I think it will be very encouraging for them, and show them that anything is possible, if you just give it your best.  Goliath loves new challenges, and we hope he can convey that “can do” attitude to children.

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Welcome, Cheryl Russell

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Cheryl Russell to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

For many years, I was bedbound with severe ME, unable to do anything for myself. In 2013 God healed me and since then I’ve been building up my strength.

I’ve self-published 8 books which are a mix of genres. My first was historical fiction. Most of them are thrillers and one murder mystery. I wrote a nonfiction book about my life with ME and my healing.

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

I have 2 adorable gerbils called Tom and Jerry. I had gerbils through the early        years of ME but then had many years without them as I didn’t have anyone to        look after them. They are such beautiful animals. Very funny and cute. When they get themselves into trouble, they only have to stand up, and I’ll forgive them anything.

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 written a few short stories about gerbils. I used to attend a writing class and they soon realised my love of gerbils as I read our stories I’d written about them. I have also written about them in an email to a friend. She loves hearing about them. They make her smile and entertain her.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m editing a couple of historical fiction set around the second world war era. I’ve just begun writing another murder mystery, featuring the same female sleuths as in my last one. Its current title is Partners in Crime. Blood has been found in the bath but no body anywhere.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

I thought my gerbil Hattie had escaped or something had happened. I hadn’t seen her. I decided to put my hand in the cage as that would usually elicit a response. Nothing. Worried I rustled my hand in the bedding. Hettie emerged but no sign of Hattie. I continued but no Hattie. I suddenly saw the cardboard egg box move that I’d put there for them to play with. It seemed to move on its own, earning the nickname the haunted egg box. A little head peered out from under it looking so innocent, no idea of the trouble she’d been causing. Hattie had been sleeping under the box all the time.

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

I’ve always wanted to be a writer from a very young age. During those awful years when I was bedbound I’d lay there imagining lots of different stories. I pretty much had the entire plot of Lily of the Valley, my first book, in my head. As soon as I was able, I wrote all the notes I had and then the book made its way on to my laptop and then to Amazon. It was my baby and sending it out into the world was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Sometimes they will sleep like they are today and other times they’ll be busy playing kicking bedding everywhere or destroying cardboard, chewing it into little pieces. They are very distracting when they are playing as I just want to watch them and enjoy the entertainment. Gerbilvision is better than television any day.

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

A mixture of books. Plenty of thrillers, Christian books, anything that looks good. I have no idea how many books I have. Two piles of physical books and loads more on my Kindle.

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

Keep going, don’t give up. Do writing courses, go to a local writing class. Practise at every opportunity.

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

The writing is the easy part. If you go down the traditional publishing route its easier but still challenging. I chose to self-publish. It’s the marketing afterwards that’s difficult. Don’t give up.

About Cheryl:

Cheryl is a multi-genre author. She has written one historical fiction and is working on two others currently. She has written several thrillers and one murder mystery. A collection of short stories is also included in her list of published writing. In total, 8 books now.

Cheryl was bedbound for many years with the chronic illness ME. During those awful years when she could do nothing for herself she enjoyed spending time in her imagination writing books. Her debut novel was comprehensively plotted in her head, she just had to wait until she was able to put pen to paper and write it. She was miraculously healed by God in 2013 and has since been building up her muscles to get her strength back. This continues to be ongoing in 2019. It is a slow process, but she is doing well.

She was recently a runner up in the Student of the Year Award with the Writers Bureau. Last year she also achieved finalist in the Book Talk Radio Club Awards mystery category. Cheryl is very proud of these achievements as it shows just how far she has come from those awful days, and also it validates her writing ability.

When not writing she enjoys reading, going to an aqua fit class once a week. She is crazy about gerbils and currently has two called Tom and Jerry.

Cheryl is also autistic so has to work hard on dialogue. After finishing her debut novel, a friend looked through the first chapter and noticed the dialogue wasn’t natural. Telling her how it should be has really helped Cheryl improve that novel and improve her writing since then. Dialogue, although still difficult, has become easier to write and become more natural. She still has to check it carefully in the editing stages and correct it.

Cheryl has had to overcome so many challenges to reach the stage she is at now. Her lifelong dream of being an author has been realised.

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50 Fabulous Pet People That You Should Follow on Twitter

Sheri Levy is under the weather. We hope she’s feeling better soon. Heather’s filling in for her this week…

I love Twitter for keeping up with interesting people and cool ideas. And there are so many pet lovers out on Twitter. I started compiling a list and decided to share it. Here are 50 fabulous tweeters (in no particular order) that you should follow.

  1. Jeanne Adams
  2. Judy Penz Sheluk
  3. Sheri Levy
  4. Teresa Inge
  5. Maggie King
  6. Tracy Weber
  7. Debbie DeLouise
  8. Kristina Stanley
  9. Samantha McGraw
  10. Ernie and Bertie
  11. Krista Davis
  12. Ellery Adams
  13. Sparkle Abbey
  14. Bill Blume
  15. Humorous Animals
  16. Jayne Ormerod
  17. Cuties Overload
  18. Kristin Kisska
  19. Nuzzies
  20. Rosemary Stevens
  21. Barb Goffman
  22. Rosemary Shomaker
  23. Mary Burton
  24. Sherry Harris
  25. Edith Maxwell
  26. Kathleen Kaska
  27. Mollie Cox Bryan
  28. Donna Andrews
  29. Daryl Wood Gerber
  30. Spencer Quinn
  31. Dogs and Coffee
  32. Amy Reade
  33. Bethany Blake
  34. Libby Klein
  35. Leann Sweeney
  36. Mary Feliz
  37. Ellen Byron
  38. Maggie Toussaint
  39. Leslie Budewitz
  40. Janet Evanovich
  41. Kathi Daley
  42. Cats and Coffee
  43. Shari Randall
  44. Judith Lucci
  45. Standard Pups
  46. Fiona Quinn
  47. Annette Dashofy
  48. Victoria Hamilton
  49. Pens, Paws, and Claws
  50. And me, Heather Weidner

Who else would you add to the list?

 

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Welcome, D. A. Spruzen!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome D. A. Spruzen to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up near London, England and came to the U.S.A. in 1966.  In the 80’s I became Manager of Information Systems in the high-tech industry, then Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.  I had wanted to write fiction for many years and technical writing didn’t quiet the itch.  I’d abandoned my artistic background, which included a degree in dance education, leading to a stint on the faculty of a London theater school.  Finally I resigned, taught ballet again and ran my own art business, but still craved the music of the written word and the vivid images I could create with stories rather than paint.  When I turned 60, I woke up.  If not now, when?  I took workshops before working with a mentor, who urged me to apply to graduate school.  I earned my MFA in creative writing with a concentration in fiction.  Now I do what I love: not only write poetry and fiction, but also teach other adults with a dream and watch them progress.

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

At the height of our menagerie, we had five cats and three dogs, not to mention hermit crabs, birds and fish! I only have one dog now, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, Samson. Sam is a sweet cuddlebug and perfect company. We have a house on the Chesapeake Bay and it’s easy to pack a dog in the car and go. Not so easy with a cat—they don’t appreciate change.

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

Samson appears in my novel in progress, Sleuthing with Mortals. I’m quite sure he will show up again. I’ve had him for a couple of years, adopted from a friend when he was two. My late Jack Russel terrier Henry appeared in Not One of Us, and my late top cat Jaspar appears in a short story.

What are you reading now?

I just finished the latest Bruno, Chief of Police (Martin Walker) mystery, to my sorrow. It’s always hard to leave the south of France. I’m about to embark on the new Matthew Pearl novel The Dante Chamber.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I should be working on two sequels; one is the third in a mystery trilogy about a female serial killer, and the other historical fiction—a sequel to The Blitz Business. However, after a number of personal losses, I found myself in a slump and realized I had to break free and do something entirely different. I’ve always loved Scandinavia and Norse mythology, so I decided on urban fantasy. Thus, Sleuthing with Mortals was born, in which a Norse goddess living in a Northern Virginia suburb decides to become a private detective. Lots of opportunity for sequels!

 Who is your favorite author and why?

British author John Lawton is a favorite. He is a former investigative reporter who writes a mystery series set in London just before, during and after World War II (my favorite historical period). His protagonist is the son of a naturalized Russian aristocrat, a wealthy publisher. He has to overcome the disdain of his colleagues, who find it hard to believe a young man from an aristocratic family, educated in the finest schools, could possibly prove himself a competent and courageous detective. Lawton writes beautifully and with historical accuracy. His diverse characters are made of whole cloth.

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

Rover was a Welsh Border Collie, who used to try to herd the family on walks. He lived to be sixteen.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I like to immortalize my pets in my work. I’ve used four: Sam, Henry, Jaspar, and a Siamese cat named Sascha. I tend to use them as creatures that help heal their people of whatever troubles them.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

I won’t go into the entire series of events. We were living in Saudi Arabia at the time and had an irascible Sudanese servant named Abdul, who disliked our cat, whom our children had imaginatively named Mr. Cat. In one misunderstanding of many, I thought Abdul was complaining about a backache. I gave him some Tiger Balm (like Ben Gay) and told him to rub it in. When my husband came home he emerged from his room and talked quietly with him, before going back into his room and slamming the door on Mr. Cat, who sat outside making strange noises. My husband came inside and asked, “Whatever did you give Abdul Karim for his hemorrhoids?” I could have sworn that cat was laughing.

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

I love Oman and its people. The Royal Botanical gardens is still under construction. It will hold each plant that grows in Oman (some only grow in Oman), maintain a store of seeds and conduct research. It promises to be an impressive accomplishment. When it is open to the public, I want to visit. Also, the Royal Opera House in Muscat is an incredible state of the art venue. When I go back I will also attend a performance there. Then off to a resort in the south! The father of the current Sultan was quite reactionary and kept Oman back. In just forty years, the Sultan has achieved first rate systems for education, health, transportation, and infrastructure. While it is a traditional society to a point, Omanis are easy going and hospitable. Foreigners are welcome and made to feel comfortable.

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

I have no idea how many books I have in my queue! Kindle is a problem that way. I see a good review in the Washington Post or a friend makes a recommendation and, clickety click!

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

I have my own study that has a window looking out on the front yard. But my favorite place when I am alone is what we call the Garden Room, which looks out on the back yard with a birdfeeder strategically placed so I can look up from time to time to see who has come to call. I like to paint there, too.

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

Learn your craft! Attend classes and workshops, be part of a community of writers. Work at it. Understand that writing the first draft is the easy part. The real work comes in the revision process.

About D. A.

Dorothy Hassan, who writes as D. A. Spruzen has lived in Northern Virginia since 1971, except for a two-year hiatus in the Middle East. She grew up near London, U.K., where she graduated from the London College of Dance and Drama Education before joining the faculty of  London Theater School. Many years later, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and teaches writing for the McLean Community Center when she’s not seeking her own muse.  She also runs private critique workshops in her home and is a past president of the Northern Virginia Writers Club. In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.

 Dorothy’s short stories and poems have appeared in many publications, most recently in three anthologies, Joys of the Table (poetry, Richer Resources Publications), the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference anthology, and Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag). Her novel The Blitz Business, set in WWII England, was published by Koehler Books in August 2016 and a poetry collection, Long in the Tooth, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. Dorothy self-published the first two novels in her Flower Ladies Trilogy and Crossroads, two novellas. When she’s not writing, Dorothy likes to read, paint, and garden.

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Welcome, Skye Taylor

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Skye Taylor to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

The saying, Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!” is my mantra. Life is an adventure and I’m still working my way through an exciting bucket list. I’m a mom and grandmother. I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes and love sailing, skiing, swimming, hiking and riding horses. I joined the Peace Corps in my 50s and had the most amazing experience in a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. And while I haven’t yet seen all the states, I’ve spent time in 28 of them and lived in eight. I’ve traveled on four continents, visited 15 countries and lived in two. I started out as a stay-at-home mom but have since been employed in several different fields and am thoroughly enjoying my latest career as a published author. I’ve hiked over glaciers, gone up in a helicopter, gone swimming with whales, crawled through lava tubes and dove into underwater caves. And just think of all the things I haven’t tried yet! One of the best things about writing novels is that I get to create characters who get to do some of the things I’ve done and some of those I haven’t had the time for yet.

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

My first dog was an English Bulldog named Salty who decided  after my dad posed me with him for a photo when I was about 6 months old that he needed to be in every picture of me thereafter. We rescued an abandoned baby squirrel when I was a kid and we’ve had gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, cats and fish too. Some of them are definitely models in my novels. My current pet, a mutt named MacDuff (picture attached) is my writing companion and my social director. I live on the beach and everyone in my neighborhood goes past my house to get to the sand. Duff has decided not only does he need to monitor this activity, but I need to come out to say hello to everyone who greets him on their way by. Which gets me out of my chair on a regular basis. It’s good for writers to be reminded to chat with real people now and then.

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

In my Camerons of Tide’s Way series there are pets in every book. But a couple of them are special. In Loving Meg, there is a police K-9 named Kip who is still grieving for his lost partner, and he intuitively takes on the task of helping my heroine, who is a Marine lieutenant just returned from a war zone with a ton of guilt and PTSD. Together they help to heal each other. While researching this book, I discovered a non-profit group, K-9s for Warriors in Northeast Florida that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them as service dogs for returned warriors who are suffering from PTSD. As of June 2018, this group has rescued 880 dogs and 445 soldiers. All my royalties from Loving Meg are donated to this cause. Kip has also appeared in other books in the series as has the kennel Ben Cameron runs and the program he initiated to train service dogs.

In my new series I have given my protagonist two pets: a cat with a lot of attitude named Seamus and a young lab named Murphy, for obvious reasons.

What are you reading now?

I just finished listening to Seeing Red by Sandra Brown and the newest Tom Clancy novel. On my phone I just finished the first book in a new series by J.H.Webber – a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth who is a real estate agent. The book’s title is A House to Die For. I’m also reading Death at Nuremberg by W.E.B.Griffin, and Sailing Away from the Moon by Ann Henry. I’m also reading a book I picked up at a conference titled, Bullies, Bastards and Bitches – How to write Bad Guys in Fiction, by Jessica Morrell. An awesome book considering my newest project.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

With Keeping His Promise, the fifth book in my contemporary romance series completed and released, I have turned my energy and enthusiasm to a totally new project, a mystery (I hope will become a series) with a female deputy sheriff detective as the protagonist. She’s lived the life her mother ordained for her right up until her husband cheated on her with a woman only a few years older than his own daughter. Now it was her turn to live the life she always wanted – to be a cop like her dad. And it turns out she’s good at it. To complicate her life, she has a disapproving mother, a son who barely speaks to his father and a daughter who thinks her dad’s new lady friend is far more interesting than her mom. Jesse’s partner, her mentor and the man who would like to be more than a friend round out the nucleus of this new cast of characters. Set in Northeast Florida, in a town named Coquina Beach, the series starts with a woman murdered in her own home. Her husband is the obvious suspect, but Jesse is convinced he didn’t do it, so who did?

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have so many it’s hard to name them all, but for a start: Elizabeth Ogilvie, Georgette Heyer, W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Lee Child, A. E. Howe, Diana Gabaldon and Johanna Spryi. All of them because they write a great story with people I can really care about. Some of them write stories that keep me on the edge of my seat, others I can curl up with to enjoy on a cold rainy day or take to the beach.

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

In some of my stories, like Kip in Loving Meg, are an important character in their own right, in others they are there because it’s a way of life for me and there seems to be something missing when there isn’t a pet wagging in greeting at the door or winding their way through your legs as you try to put dinner on the table.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals in stories play a number of roles. Sometimes they are just comedic relief. Other times they give the author a great vehicle to show a human character’s good or bad side. How a man treats an animal says a lot about what kind of person he is.

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

See the answer to the question above. Kip started out his career as a Police K-9, but later becomes a service animal for Meg. In later books, he shows up as a therapy dog when Meg visits the hospital at Camp Lejeune to help injured Marines find a positive attitude in dealing with injuries, both physical and emotional.

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

The book, Until Tuesday, by Luis Carlos Montalvan is the true story of how a beautiful golden retriever named Tuesday rescued this seriously injured, both physically and mentally, soldier and gave him back his life. The beautiful, trusting relationship that grew for these two was heartwarming and gave such promise for other wounded veterans. There are several other books out about Tuesday and Montalvan telling how he used his success to motivate others.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

For this question, I’m just going to give you the link to my blog post about the time my dog took off in the middle of a thunderstorm to swim ashore (like that was safer than the solid wooden cottage he was in at the time)

https://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/237

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

Which pile?  The one beside my bed? The one on my desk? Or perhaps the one on the ottoman in front of my comfy reading chair? Then there’s the audible books on my phone and the e-books on my Kindle. And there’s Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader beside the toilet. Beside my bed is my Bible, two romances and a children’s book. On my desk are books on formatting, character development and police procedure. On the ottoman the pile changes constantly and includes magazines, newspapers and any other print book I’ve got going. Currently the aforementioned Bullies, Bastards and Bitches, and Jeff Shaara’s newest book, The Frozen Hours. On my phone in audio book are a half a dozen titles and at least 30 I haven’t read yet on my Kindle. I think I need to live to about 300 to get all of them read!

About Skye

Skye Taylor, mother, grandmother and returned Peace Corps volunteer lives St Augustine Florida, soaking up the history, taking daily walks along one of the prettiest beaches and writing novels. She posts a weekly blog and a monthly newsletter, volunteers with the USO and is currently working on a new murder mystery series. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Florida Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime. Her list of published novels include: The Candidate, Falling for Zoe, Loving Meg, Trusting Will, Healing a Hero, Keeping His Promise and Iain’s Plaid. Visit her at www.Skye-writer.com

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Welcome, Carol Hedges

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Carol Hedges to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 I write historical crime fiction, set in the Victorian period. My books feature the newly formed Detective Division of the Metropolitan police. The main characters are Detective Inspector Leo Stride, and Detective Sergeant Jack Cully. In some of the later books, they are joined by Inspector Lachlan Grieg, who has come to London from Scotland, to remake his life after a broken heart. The books have been compared to Charles Dickens, in their tone and style, a compliment that I find overwhelming!   I have chosen to set my books in the 1860s ~  at the time Dickens and his famous contemporary Wilkie Collins were writing. This is a deliberate choice: there are an awful lot of Victorian novels, past and present, set in the 1880s. I didn’t want to add to their number.

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

 I am a cat person. I have been owned by a succession of lovely cats. The present boss is a tortoiseshell/Siamese female called Halley (Kitteny, the grandchildren call her). All my lovely cats have been rescue animals ~ I would NEVER buy a pet when there are so many who have been abandoned and need a forever home. Halley is a wonderful mix of Tortie obstinacy and Siamese volume! She has far more character than a cat should have! I love her dearly, even though she isn’t a lap-sitter and cuddler, more a sitter-next-to. I am also aware, given my age and health, that she might be my last cat, so despite being a ‘cat that sits by herself’, she is cherished and very special to me.

What are you reading now? 

Right now, apart from researching for the seventh novel, I am reading Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd. For someone who is Jewish, and lost family in the Holocaust, this may seem an odd choice, but I am trying to understand what is happening in my country (the UK) and in the US and wider afield. The book shows how ordinary people gradually began to accept the terrible philosophies and actions of Hitler and the Nazis; how what started out as horror became the everyday. It is terrifying to see, in my opinion, history repeating itself. I am very active in the ‘Stop Brexit’ movement in the UK: I have marched, lobbied my MP, waved flags outside Parliament. I have even managed to get my German citizenship ‘restored’ so that should the UK follow down the same route as the US, I and my family will have options. I’d recommend the book to anybody who wants to understand how one powerful and evil person can completely and effectively impose their will upon an entire nation. It is salutory reading.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

 I have just finished the sixth book in the Victorian Detectives series. It is called ‘Fear and Phantoms‘. It is on its way to my second editor, and will, I hope, be ready for you to read in September. In theory, I am supposed to be writing the seventh one. I have written three thousand words, including the ending (I write like that), but a lot of other stuff has intervened, so I am not beating myself up, and will wait until some time emerges. I had major cancer surgery in December, followed by a month of radiotherapy in January, so I guess I am still in recovery mode.

Who is your favorite author and why?

 It is VERY VERY hard to pick just one writer, as I read different authors for different reasons. Of course I love Charles Dickens, for the whirling plots, the characters, and the political anger behind so many of his books. OK, can I narrow this down? A writer whose books I always buy as soon as they are published is Robert Harris. He writes thrillers, frequently set in the near past (Archangel, Enigma). His style is impeccable, and, unlike many writers, he seems to be able to maintain the same standard and quality in each book. His last book was Conclave; I actually bought it in hardback. That’s how much I enjoy reading his work.

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

I had hamsters when I was growing up. The good thing about hamsters is that they are low maintenance, and you learn a lot from keeping them. The two main things you learn about are responsibility ( because you have to feed them and clean them out daily) and death (because hamsters don’t live much beyond two years). I always wanted a cat, and pleaded for one, but my mother refused to let me have one. Thus, as soon as I had moved out, the first thing I did was get a cat!

A real life funniest pet story

 When we first got Halley, as a small feisty kitten, I was working away at my laptop, when I heard the most FEROCIOUS yelling and growling coming from the garden. Thinking she might have been attacked by a fox or some other animal, I rushed out to see what was happening. There was this tiny kitten, fluffed to twice its size, incandescent with rage, patrolling round and round a tree while making a noise that could be heard throughout the whole neighbourhood. Up the tree, and looking bug-eyed with fear, was the local HUGE black bully-cat. He was staring down, terrified. She’d got him treed and trapped! Guess who got extra tuna for her tea?

When did you first know you were a writer?

 I have always written stories, ever since I could write. I remember making teeny-tiny books for my soft toys to read (bit like the Brontes ~ though I’m not comparing myself with their geniuses). I used to tell stories to my younger brother when we went on long car journeys. We had a set of running characters (I can’t remember them now) and I’d relate their latest adventures, which stopped the endless ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ that drove my parents mad. I think the first inkling that I might become a writer for REAL was at secondary school. I was fortunate to have a teacher who valued creative writing and used to set us intriguing titles each week. I loved producing a story, or a piece of descriptive prose. I loved that feeling when the ideas just arrived out of the blue.  I always came in the top three, and my efforts would be read out. The thrill of seeing my book on top of the pile, and hearing my words read out made me think I’d like to do this when I grew up. Of course it took a lot longer, and there were a great many rejections before I saw my first actual novel in print (I was forty). But that excitement has never left me.

 What does you pet do when you are writing?

Halley is such a clever little cat! She has developed this *thing* she does. Let me tell you: I usually write in the afternoons, as the morning tends to be taken up with chores or dickering about on the internet (it’s MEANT to be research, but as all writers know, it’s just an excuse NOT to be writing). So, I go upstairs to the back bedroom, where the little purple laptop that isn’t connected to the internet lives. Halley is usually asleep on the bed. I start writing. She sleeps on, unperturbed. BUT as soon as I leave the room, to make a cup of green tea, or answer the door, the cheeky cat leaps off the bed and curls up on my writing chair. And she is VERY difficult to dislodge, once she is ensconced in what she clearly considers to be *her* seat!

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

 Follow your dreams. But make sure you have a day job.

About Carol:

Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 17 books for Teenagers/Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Her ebook Jigsaw Pieces, which deals unflinchingly with many of the problems that beset today’s teens, is available on Amazon as is her Dystopic Fantasy The Last Virus.

 Carol is also the writer of ‘The Victorian Detectives’ ~ a series of novels set in 1860s London and featuring Detective Inspector Leo Stride and his side-kick Detective Sergeant Jack Cully. 

The five books in the series are:

 Diamonds & Dust

Honour & Obey

Death & Dominion

Rack & Ruin

Wonders & Wickedness

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Bits of her writing life can be viewed on her blog: http://carolhedges.blogspot.com

 Her Amazon page is at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carol-Hedges/e/B0034PUES6

 Connect with Carol Hedges via Twitter: @carolJhedges

 Visit her Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thecuriousVictorian/

 

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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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