Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sharon St. George to the blog. (I think this is the first time we’ve had llamas visit!)
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I became interested in writing fiction quite a few years ago while working in an administrative position in a hospital. At that time, medical mysteries were becoming popular, and since my job involved a lot of insider information, and some intrigue related to the doctors who provided patient care, I thought I might one day try my hand at writing a hospital-based mystery. After leaving that position, I went back to school to finish my degree in English with a Writing Emphasis. From there, it was another few years before I had the idea for the Aimee Machado Mystery series. I gave Aimee one of my previous positions, Health Sciences Librarian, and gave her a mentor who holds my other former position, Director of Medical Affairs.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
Almost all of my pets have found their way into my series. The llamas, of course, since Aimee is living in a bunkhouse over her grandparents’ llama barn when the series begins. My husband and I have owned and hiked in the wilderness with llamas for a number of years. We still keep two llamas, although our hikes are less frequent these days. The llamas’ main duties now are to mow the pasture and to provide us with the pleasure of their company. Aimee’s grandmother has a cat, Fanny, who is a terror, somewhat modeled after one of my real-life cats. My husband’s king snake played a cameo role in the first book in my series, as did our cockatiel.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
Recurring pet characters in my series include Fanny, the “unhinged” feline, Bosco, the tough-talking cockatiel, two llamas, Smoke and Captain, who sometimes help Aimee and her boyfriend, Nick, in their crime-solving adventures, and the unnamed king snake who lives in Aimee’s grandparents’ guest room. In the second book, Nick acquired a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Ginger, whose role has expanded as the series has grown.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing book six in my series, Renewal, which explores the topic of drug overdose, which causes the death of a candidate running for the office of mayor of the City of Timbergate, the setting for the hospital where Aimee works. The question is whether the overdose was accidental, suicide, or murder. The story also draws from my past experience working as a grants coordinator for a multi-million dollar private foundation.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I grew up on an eight-acre ranch in rural Northern California where we had all sorts of animals. Always at least one dog, and often two. Frequent litters of cats. So many that I don’t think we even tried to give all of them names. My father considered them farm workers who kept the rodent population down. There were beef cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, all of which ended up on our dinner table. We always had a milk cow, and there were two horses, one for each of my parents. The social life back then involved a group of my parents’ friends who arranged horseback rides. I rode behind my mother, and my brother rode behind our father on these occasions. When I was around twelve, I was given my own dog, Buster, and my own mare, Ginger. The three of us spent every day after school going out for a ride together on our sparsely-populated country road. That ritual continued all the way through high school and even after, until I finished my first two years of college and moved to San Francisco at nineteen to experience city life.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
The llama herd and Bosco the cockatiel helped foil the bad guy on book one, Due for Discard. The llamas went along on a search in the wilderness for a missing hospital nurse in book two, Checked Out. Ginger the dog helped by using her tracking skills in book four, Spine Damage, and most recently used her cadaver dog training in book five, Primary Source.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
I’ve lived with animals all my life., all of the animal characters that show up in the Aimee Machado Mysteries are inspired by actual animals in my life. In a setting like Aimee’s, on a ranch in rural Northern California, it would seem unrealistic to write a story without including pets and livestock.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley was my favorite as a child. I had grown up on and around horses, and by the time I began reading the series, I was already pestering my parents almost daily to buy me a horse of my own. To my mind, life would not be complete until that happened. Alec’s relationship with the black stallion was exactly how I knew I would feel with a horse of my own. I still have my copy of the first book in the series with a copyright date of 1941. It’s tattered and the pages are dark with age, but I can’t imagine parting with it.
What’s your real-life funniest pet story?
A few years ago, I was on a phone call with a customer service tech who was helping me solve some sort of problem that required my concentration. My cockatiel, Bosco, was out of his cage, as I liked to give him a chance to spread his wings occasionally by flying around in the house. Just as our conversation was getting into a critical area, Bosco swooped into the room where I was and made a perfect landing on the top of my head. I told the man on the phone to please wait a moment, that my pet bird had just landed on my head and I had to go put him back in his cage. The man broke out laughing, but when he recovered, he waited while I put Bosco away, and then we finished our phone session.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
My cat usually wanders in and out of my office. Sometimes she hops up on a table near my desk and takes a nap. The llamas hang out in the pasture. Bosco is no longer with us, but he used to like to sit on my shoulder and peck at my earrings.
What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?
We have a king snake living in an aquarium in our guest room. It has already surpassed by almost double the age that king snakes are supposed to live and doesn’t show any signs of departing. His diet consists entirely of live mice, which is a little gruesome for my sensibilities, so I leave the feeding chore to my husband. He won’t donate the snake to our natural history museum because it was caught by his daughter when she was about ten years old and became her pet. For him, it holds sentimental value, even though his daughter is now a mom with ten-year-old twins of her own.
What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?
The lesson I’d like to share is that it’s a lot of work. First, you must learn the craft, and if you’re serious, that alone can take years. Then, you have to learn the business. More years. Then, when you sign the contract, you have to learn all the other things about being published that you had no idea you were going to have to know. How to maintain a good working relationship with agents and editors, and how to promote yourself and market your books. All of the above requires the writer to be computer literate in a dozen different ways, and that’s another learning curve.
During my years as medical staff director of an acute-care hospital, the intrigue and secret-keeping I witnessed inspired me to write the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series.
The first five titles, inspired in part by my additional experience working in health science libraries, are: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, Spine Damage, and Primary Source.
My degrees are in English and Theatre Arts, so when I have time for a break from writing, I enjoy taking on a role in a community theatre production.
I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and I serve as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit organization for writers in Northern California. I can be found at: www.sharonstgeorge.com