A Calico named Shammy

April 23, 1991 was a very good day. It was the day that Glen and I adopted Shamrock Leah King, a gorgeous long-haired calico, affectionately known as “Shammy.”

We first saw Shammy the day before at the Holiday Humane Society in North Hollywood, California. The shelter required a waiting period of 24 hours before letting us take her home.  When she walked us to the door—no other cat did—we knew that we’d been picked!

At home, Shammy was sweet but timid, with self-esteem issues and a fear of men, including Glen. She came to adore him and became more comfortable with other men. But while her confidence grew, a touch of melancholy stayed with her.

When Glen and I moved from Los Angeles to Virginia in 1996, Shammy accompanied me on the plane. Thankfully it wasn’t full so she didn’t need to stay under the seat in the small carrier the airline required. She was not happy and the tranquilizer the vet had prescribed didn’t seem to take. But she endured the ordeal with her customary dignity. In fact, she fared better than I did!

Eventually Shammy fell prey to that common and dreaded feline condition: kidney disease. By the time she died at home one March morning in 2002, she had lived with us for eleven years. She had always preferred cuddling to lap sitting, but during her last months, she sought comfort in our laps.

We buried her in the backyard of our home in Earlysville, Virginia. I cried for days.

When the Albemarle County SCPA built a new facility, we purchased a brick and dedicated it to our special friend. When we visited the SPCA this past September, we looked for, and eventually spotted, the brick (there were lots of them).

Shammy also lives on in my Hazel Rose Book Group series. Hazel’s backstory reveals that her beautiful calico cat named Shammy accompanied her when she moved from Los Angeles to the east coast and settled in Richmond, Virginia.

Sound familiar?

 

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Meet Laurel Peterson

www.utechristinphotography.com

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Laurel Peterson to the blog!

Before I answer any questions, I just want to thank you, Heather, for having me on your blog. I’m really honored to be here and I enjoyed answering your questions.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a poet and a novelist, as well as a community college professor—which allows me to eat and pay the mortgage! I’ve got three books of poetry out, and have always thought of myself as more of a poet than a fiction writer. However, I love mystery novels, starting with Nancy Drew, and decided about a decade ago that I wanted to try the form. It’s been great fun testing and honing my storytelling skills, as well as thinking about ways I can use the genre to communicate messages about human experience. My first mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in 2016.

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

The main character in my Clara Montague mystery series is too fastidious to be a dog person, but her police chief lover definitely needs a dog. I love Labrador retrievers, which is the dog I had as a child—all my father’s brothers and their children ended up with Labs—because they are so friendly and patient and sweet. My dog wants nothing more than to hang out with us and to chase things we throw. His favorite game is to chase a Frisbee, which he then refuses to give back until he’s good and ready.

What are you reading now?

There is always a huge pile of TBR books on the floor.  At present, I am enjoying Tomas Transtromer’s the great enigma, and William Kent Krueger’s Sulfur Springs.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book of poems about flying and the stars. My father was an airline pilot and a conspiracy theory lover. Somehow those two themes cross in this book, and I’m having fun playing with the various directions they are taking me. I’ve also had fun with sources: NASA posts pictures from the international space station; FermiLab puts out newsletters on particle physics research (toned down for people like me who don’t understand the half of it), and of course, looking at old photos of my father in various flying garb.

I also woke up this morning thinking about the next book in my Clara Montague series. In this one, she works with an underwater archeologist. At least that’s the version this week.

Who is your favorite author and why?

In the mystery genre, my favorite author is Sara Paretsky. She’s just so smart, and I love smart people. I learn so much from them, and Paretsky is no exception. She has a PhD in history and an MBA from the University of Chicago, and you can see that attention to detail and accuracy in her novels. In addition, I love that she takes on issues in her work—faulty body armor or race relations. The mystery is about more than a murder; it’s about the fault-lines running through our communities and our nation. Attica Locke is another writer who is taking on issues. Black Water Rising and Bluebird, Bluebird both deal with race issues in America, as well as presenting an interesting whodunit.

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

H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald, is a fascinating memoir of her time training a goshawk to hunt, as a way of mourning her father’s death. Mabel, the goshawk, becomes a character in her own right, and the development of their relationship is funny and sharp and dark all at once.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s not so much a one-time event as a pet habit. When my cat was still alive, we fed him in the basement, which he accessed through a cat door. This kept the dog from scarfing all his food. In the evenings, after the cat had eaten, he would come up the stairs and sit behind the pet door, waiting. The dog, smelling him there, would stand on the other side, staring. This stand-off usually lasted several minutes, with one of them poking at the door with a nose or paw to try to tempt the other into engagement. Finally, the dog would relent a little, the cat would burst through the door and speed past him in to the living room, and there would ensue a wild, but short-lived scramble before the cat popped onto the ottoman and whapped the dog on the nose with his paw. Every single time.

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

I think this is a really hard question to answer. I can point to a moment in my childhood when writing became important to me—after I was bullied on the school bus and wrote a story to get my private revenge—but I don’t think I identified as a writer until after I left college and discovered that all other jobs were to support my writing time. By the time I went to grad school in my late twenties, I was sure writing was where my heart lived, but calling myself a writer probably didn’t come until after I’d started publishing on a regular basis in my early thirties. It’s a good thing we have a lifetime to figure ourselves out!!

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

The number one item on my bucket list is to visit Greece. I have wanted to go there since I was in fourth grade and Mrs. Marshall taught us all about the Greek myths. (Coolest, scariest teacher ever. That’s what I aim to be.) Since my father was an airline pilot, we did a fair amount of traveling when I was younger, but we never made it there. I want to see Athens, the Greek islands, and those fascinating monasteries built up high on the cliffs in Meteora. Of course these things are all in different directions.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

I lost a cat last February and he’s been very hard to replace. He used to come and sit on my desk next to me when I wrote. He was a big black and white cat, with a rumbly purr and tendency to rub my cheek with his. I miss him and his sweetness and playfulness intensely. The dog sleeps until it’s late afternoon, and then starts bugging me for a walk and dinner. For the dog, it’s all about him.

 

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

I have one very large TBR pile. It has books of poetry, books about immigrant life in the U.S., a book by a French food writer (mmm, getting hungry), Irving Stone’s Depths of Glory, a book by a poet I have to introduce at an event in a month, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, John Cheever’s journals, and a DVD on yoga and relaxation which is, frankly, where I should start.

About Laurel:

Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College and her poetry has been published in many literary journals. She has two chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line Press) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat Press). Her full length collection, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? (Futurecycle Press) was released in January 2017. She has also written a mystery novel, Shadow Notes, which is available through Barking Rain Press. She currently serves as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate.

You can find her at www.laurelpeterson.com, on Twitter: @laurelwriter49, or on Facebook. You can purchase her mystery novel here: Buy and her poetry here: Buy.

SHADOW NOTES by Laurel S. Peterson

Clara Montague’s mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead. Clara suspects she and her mother share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.

Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.

Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma, and then there’s a second murder.

Clara Montague has been gone from home for fifteen years, but when she dreams her mother is in danger, she comes home. A few days later, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested. Can Clara find the connection between the murders and her mother’s past that will save her mother and finally heal their relationship?

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Pet Cloning — Yea or Neigh?

by Barb Goffman

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

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

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

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

Scout

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

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

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

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

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

Eggs (not the type involved in cloning)

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

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

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

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Poe, Chris Semtner, Edgar, and Pluto…

I am so pleased to be able to interview Chris Semtner, the Curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, about the museum, his work, and Edgar and Pluto, the museum cats. The Poe Museum is one of my favorite spots in Richmond. If you’re visiting the area, this is a must for your list of stops.

Please tell our readers about your role at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

I find new ways to share Poe’s works and life with a variety of audiences through performance, film, visual art, and exhibits. If people leave the museum with their own collection of Poe’s short stories or poems from the gift shop, I know I have done my job.

 Tell us about Edgar and Pluto and their roles. How long have they been ambassadors for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are the museum’s greeters and tour guides. Having grown up here for the past five years, they love nothing more than welcoming the museum’s many guests.

 How did they get their names?

Pluto was named after the title character from Poe’s tale “The Black Cat,” and Edgar was named after Eliza Poe’s baby boy.

 Do they live full-time at the museum? And are they good at keeping the squirrels/birds/chipmunks at bay?

The Poe Museum Cats were born in the garden and live here full-time. At night and in bad weather they stay inside one of the buildings, but during the day you can find them in the gift shop, in the garden, or on somebody’s desk. They are convinced they are excellent hunters, but the bells on their collars usually frighten the birds and squirrels in plenty of time for an escape.

 Did Poe have any animals in his life?

Poe grew up with animals, including a dog named Tib and a parrot who could speak French. As an adult, Poe had songbirds and at least two cats. Caterina was a tortoiseshell cat who liked to sit on his shoulder while he wrote. Poe published an essay about his black cat, who impressed him by being intelligent enough to turn a door latch in order to open a door.

 How do guests react to the Poe Museum kitties?

Most of the people who visit the Poe Museum seem to be cat people. Guests’ eyes light up when they see Pluto run up to them with a warm greeting. Young children especially enjoy spending time with the cats while their parents tour the exhibits. The best reaction, however, was from a group of sixth-graders who visited the museum after reading “The Black Cat.” As soon as they stepped into the garden Pluto bounded over the ivy to meet them, and one of the kids screamed.

 Did Poe write about any other animals besides the raven and the culprit in “The Murders on the Rue Morgue”?

Some of Poe’s stories feature dogs with Tiger from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym being the most notable. In the comedy “The Business Man,” the con artist bootblack trains his dog to get mud all over people’s new shoes as they approach the shoeshine stand. Poe also wrote about insects in “The Gold-Bug” and “The Sphinx.” Then he wrote an entire book about mollusks with The Conchologist’s First Book. Thanks to “Four Beasts in One,” Poe has the distinction of being the first to write about a Homocameleopard.

 Tell us about your research and latest publications.

I started by researching the Poe Museum’s most important Poe relics and what they have to tell us about Edgar Allan Poe’s life and writing process. Along the way, the project grew into an investigation of the turn-of-the-century Poe collectors who competed for each new Poe discovery, like the papers found hidden in his writing desk or the contents of his trunk. I had to know what motivated these collectors—who included an obsessed historian, the founder of an insane asylum, and a Spiritualist who believed Poe had been clairvoyant—to invest all their time and money into amassing hordes of Poeana, some of which was kept hidden until after their deaths. I told the story in The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, which will be released on December 11. 

My next project is a paper about Edgar Allan Poe’s unintentional influence on the Spiritualist movement for the International Poe/Hawthorne Conference next summer in Kyoto, Japan. I’m also doing some illustration work and some paintings for an upcoming exhibit.

 What’s the funniest thing that Edgar or Pluto has done?

During one tour, I joked with a group that Edgar Poe’s ghost might come down the stairs at any moment. When somebody called out Edgar’s name in jest, Edgar the cat trotted down the steps, right on cue, to meet his startled audience.

 Could you tell us about the “Unhappy Hours” and the Enchanted Garden?

The monthly Unhappy Hour, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month from April through October, is an excuse for people to relax in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden while listening to good music, sampling locally produced food and drink, and catching up with friends. Because it’s at the Poe Museum, we bring out some Poe-themed fun and games as well as the occasional performance or film.

 The Enchanted Garden is Richmond’s first memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. Back in 1906, the city could not muster up enough enthusiasm to support a Poe statue, and a decade later, they stood by while his office and home were demolished. The Poe Memorial Association had to the good sense to save the bricks and granite and to use them to turn an old junkyard into a Poe memorial garden based on Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise.” The founders wanted to recreate Poe’s poem in three dimensions and to fill it with the flowers and shrubs from Poe’s stories and poems. This became the Enchanted Garden, a living memorial where people can come to get inspired. In its early days, the garden attracted such visitors as Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft, and Salvador Dali. Later, Vincent Price, Ray Bradbury, and several other cultural figures made their own Poe pilgrimages here.

 What is the coolest item you have in the Poe collection?

I am always impressed by Poe’s waistcoat, walking stick, and penknife. These are the kinds of personal possessions that really give our guests the feeling of meeting Poe face-to-face. History comes to life when you realize that Poe was once a working writer walking the same streets we are and facing a lot of the same struggles creative people encounter today.

 Are there any existing buildings in Richmond today where Poe lived or worked?

The Richmond buildings in which Poe lived and worked are all gone, lost for the sake a progress. We do, however, have a few places in which he spent time. The Elmira Shelton House on Church Hill was where Poe courted his last fiancée, and it would have been the Edgar Allan Poe House if he had lived ten more days and married her. On West Grace Street, Talavera is the place Poe gave his last private reading, and the owners through the years have preserved the mantel in the room where that performance took place. Near the Capitol, Monumental Church is where Poe attended Sunday services with his foster parents. Their pew is still marked with the plaque installed there when his foster mother died.

 We follow you all on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with antics of museum kitties. Do they appear in any of the marketing for the museum?

Edgar and Pluto are not in any of the marketing, but like having their pictures taken for social media.

 What upcoming programs do you all have planned in the near future?

The museum’s annual Poe Birthday Bash will take place on January 20, 2018 from noon until midnight. The day promises the opening of a new exhibit as well as a different performance, tour, or activity every hour until the midnight toast in the Poe Shrine.

 What’s one thing Edgar and Pluto want folks to know about the Poe Museum?

Edgar and Pluto want you to visit them at the Poe Museum any Tuesday through Saturday from ten until five or on Sundays from eleven until five. 

About Chris Semtner:

The Curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Chris Semtner has written several books on topics including Edgar Allan Poe, visual art, and cryptography in addition to contributing articles to Biography.com, Resources for American Literary Studies, Crime Writers’ Chronicle, and The Edgar Allan Poe Review. Semtner has been interviewed on the BBC, PBS, Travel Channel, Military History, NPR, CNN, and other networks. He has spoken about a variety of unusual, obscure, and macabre subjects to groups around the country and next year will lecture in Japan. An internationally exhibited fine artist, Semtner’s paintings have entered numerous public collections including the Virginia Historical Society and the University of Maryland. He has exhibited paintings at Viktor Wynd Fine Art, London; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond. His next book, The Poe Shrine: Building the World’s Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, will be released on December 11 by Fonthill Media. You can see Semtner’s art and learn more about his books at chrissemtner.com.

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Meeting Olive and Morris

Ever since that lucky day in 2012 when Morris and Olive came home with us from the Richmond Animal League, our lives haven’t been the same.

Morris is a handsome orange and white Manx (partly) while Olive is a glam and big-pawed Norwegian Forest cat with a hunting prowess that would have made the goddess Diana proud.

At the RAL, it didn’t take Glen and me long to pick Olive—or did she pick us? We first noticed her on the screened porch of the RAL, long brown hair shimmering in the sun.

I’d long wanted a black cat so we looked at the three or four the RAL had rescued. Then I spotted the orange and white Manx. Glen picked him up, proclaimed him heavy, and put him back in his cage.

The RAL needed to check our references, so we left, promising to return in two days. The next morning I woke up at a very early hour, thinking of nothing but that orange and white cat. No question, we had to bring him home.

Once we got them in the house and out of their carriers, Olive immediately toured the house, inch by inch. Morris dived under the sofa and stayed there for four hours. When he emerged, he jumped in my lap and curled up for a while before starting his own exploring.

Before we met Olive, we had planned to name her Lulu, but she seemed too refined for such a “party girl” name. At the RAL she was Olivia, so Olive was close (Glen thinks pet names shouldn’t exceed two syllables). Morris’s papers had him as “Kyrian”—not exactly to our taste. We picked the name Morris from a database of names for orange cats.

The two are social media stars. They often make Saturday (#Caturday) appearances on Instagram with their own hashtags: #OliveAnnKing and #Morristhecat.  They’re also characters in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, starting with Murder at the Moonshine Inn.

Thank you, Olive and Morris, for the joy you’ve given us on a daily basis for almost six years. And a big thanks to the Richmond Animal League for rescuing dogs and cats and finding forever homes for them.

PS Olive turned out to be the Lulus of all Lulus!

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. Her short stories, “A Not So Genteel Murder” and “Reunion in Shockoe Slip” appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies. “Wine, Women, and Wrong” is included in 50 Shade of Cabernet: A Mysterious Anthology.

Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She belongs to James River Writers, the American Association of University Women, and is a founding member of the Sisters in Crime Central Virginia chapter. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, customer service supervisor, web designer, and non-profit administrator. Maggie has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband Glen and cats Morris and Olive. All her jobs, schools, residences, and pets have gifted her with story ideas for years to come.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: maggie8208

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2lLITpN

Richmond Animal League: http://www.ral.org

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Meet Author Nancy Raven Smith

 

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m originally from Northern Virginia where my husband and I lived on a rural farm and raised our family. There we rescued ex-racehorses, dogs and cats, plus a snake or two for over twenty years. As an avid reader with a 4-5 book a week habit, I loved reading but never considered writing.

When we reached empty-nest syndrome, we moved to California. I worked in production on film projects and attended UCLA to expand my understanding of film. One class I attended was about evaluating writing for screenplays. At the time, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was in manuscript form and about to be published. Ghost (with Patrick Swayze) had just opened in theaters. Those were two of the projects we studied. And that’s when I became hooked on screenplays and changed my studies to screenwriting.

For a couple years I wrote screenplays that won some nice awards and were optioned by directors and production companies, but none have been filmed yet. I had a wonderful mentor from Women in Film, Sara Parriott Graham (Runaway Bride, Descendents 1&2), who loves animals as much as I do. She suggested I write our family memoir about our life on our farm and our animals as a book first, before a screenplay. So I took her advice and, with my husband and daughters, wrote The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. We wrote it from my husband’s fish-out-of-water point of view.

The outcome of writing The Reluctant Farmer was unexpected. I had gone back to UCLA to study novel writing in preparation for The Reluctant Farmer and attended other novel and memoir writing events. To my surprise, I discovered I loved writing books and I loved the camaraderie with other authors. So I followed that one with a mystery, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra which became an Amazon/Kindle Scout Selection.

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

Lexi, the protagonist in Land Sharks will be acquiring a West Highland Terrier named Frosty in the next sequel. Frosty will be a recurring character and be involved in future books of the series as appropriate.

In The Reluctant Farmer,  some of the main animals throughout the book are Junior – a thoroughbred show horse with a sense of humor who loved to play games, Figgy – a Connemara pony escape artist who could put Houdini to shame, Pork Chop – the runaway steer, Amy, a very special rescue dog, and Wood and Duck – two Manx cats who arranged their environment to suit themselves.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just started reading Midnight, Texas by Charlaine Harris and am enjoying her writing. On my book pile, there are a sprinkling of interesting books written by fellow members of Sisters in Crime. Some of those include Plantation Shudders (Ellen Byron), Secret Lives and Private Eyes (Heather Weidner), Fallout (Sara Paretsky), and Moonshine Inn (Maggie King).

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the sequel to Land Sharks. It takes place in the Australia Outback.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I could spend a week on my favorite authors. And there are so many wonderful ones I haven’t even had the chance to read yet.

The things I enjoy reading or viewing tend to fall into six categories: physical comedy, quirky comedy, caper, mystery, suspense and action-adventure, but I’m open to all genres. I like books and films that take me somewhere different, either physically or mentally. I like writers whose stories or characters have a sense of humor and protagonists that care about the people around them. Also unusual characters with a moral compass. Here are a few of my favorite authors and my favorite book by each, but I love most of their work and re-read them often.

Michael Connelly – The Concrete Blond

Robert Crais  – LA Requiem

Dick Francis – Blood Sport

Elizabeth Peters – The Street of Five Moons

John D. MacDonald – The Deep Blue Goodbye

James Herriott – All Creatures, Great and Small

Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games Trilogy

Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park Carl Barks – Uncle Scrooge Comics

Sara Paretsky – Indemnity Only

Dorothy Gilman – Unexpected Mrs Polifax

Sue Grafton – A is for Alibi

Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Cornell Woolrich – Rear Window

Thornton Wilder – Bridge of San Luis Rey

Mary Stewart – My Brother Michael

Andrea Camilleri – The Shape of Water

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

We had a wonderful family Dalmatian named Cindy that my parents bought as a puppy during the Minnesota State Fair. Cindy went everywhere with my sister, brother, and I as young kids. She even climbed the twelve foot metal ladder of a local school playground slide which had flat steps, and would slide down behind us. When Cindy was about six, our family moved to a new house about twenty minutes away. As the family station wagon traveled back and forth with our belongings, Cindy grew more and more concerned. Normally she traveled with the family (because she was family). She wasn’t allowed to visit the new house because every square inch of the car was packed with boxes.

Finally, she just couldn’t stand it any more. When my father lowered the tailgate one morning to start loading the station wagon, Cindy leaped into the car, moved as far in as she could, and refused to get out. No amount of coaxing or food interested her. She was not leaving the car. My father finally packed a space around her and she went with us to the new house. After that, her stress disappeared, and she went whenever we kids did, riding stretched across our laps to save space.

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

Animals are definitely individuals and each has it’s own character and personality. I often wonder if dogs and cats aren’t special gifts from the universe to teach humans about love.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Animals have always been an integral part of my family and my life. They rightfully insist on being included.

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

So many good answers to this question. I’m sure National Velvet, both book and movie have been mentioned before. I’ll choose Turner & Hooch, a big favorite in our family. It’d be hard to beat Tom Hanks and that wonderful French Mastiff, Beasley. I had the good fortune to take a screenwriting class with Dan Petrie, Jr in Los Angeles who was  the Executive Producer on Turner & Hooch and a writer on the screenplay. During lunch, I mentioned the movie, and it turns out it was one of his favorites, too. He said that when they were filming, there was no way they could get Beasley to even look mean. So Tom Hanks started playing and roughhousing with him on breaks. Then when they filmed Beasley “attacking” Tom, they shot from different angles while they were roughhousing to make him look as if he was biting Tom. Tom still had to hold Beasley’s mouth near his throat.

On the mean side of animal behavior, One of my favorite scary movies with animals playing the villains is Ghost and the Darkness with Val Kilmer. It’s based on the non-fiction book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo by JH Patterson and tells the story of a pair of large, maneless, Tsavo male lions (with manes in the movie) who, in 1898, preyed on the construction crews who were building the Kenya-Uganda Railway. It’s a very bizarre story of aberrant lion behavior. Patterson, an engineer, was sent from England to build a railroad bridge over the Tsavo river. A crack shot, he started hunting the lions who were killing the workers, only to discover that the lions were stalking him. They also managed to escape every trap he set by very strange means. The lions were credited with killing over a hundred and thirty-five people before Patterson shot them. The actual lions are on display at the Chicago Field Museum.

I’m getting long-winded here, but I also have to mention the brilliant, original Family Dog from Steven Speilberg’s television show Amazing Stories Vol 2. It was written by Brad Bird (later known for The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille, and more) and supervised by Tim Burton (of everything Tim Burton). Don’t mix this version up with the later Family Dog TV series which I believe Brad Bird was attached to also.

It’s about an unloved family dog who gets his day and one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.

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

I’d love to visit Machu Picchu in Peru because of the architecture, the infrastructure, and the brilliant utility of functioning space at the site fascinates me.

Nancy Raven Smith – Biography

Nancy Raven Smith grew up in the Virginia horse country near Washington D.C. where she was an active member of the equestrian community. Not only did she compete on the national level, but she also managed horse shows, and rescued and retrained former racehorses. Raven Smith was a contributing writer and cartoonist for several sports magazines such as The Chronicle of the Horse and Practical Horseman.

While working at CBS Network News Bureau in Washington, DC, she grew interested in the entertainment business. Later, when she and her husband relocated to California, she traded her horse event experience for film work as a production coordinator and enrolled at UCLA to study screenwriting. Her scripts have won numerous awards, but after she wrote one idea as a novel, she discovered a passion for writing mysteries.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Women in Film, Romance Writers of America, & Mystery Writers of America. Her debut novel, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, has won several awards and was chosen as an Amazon/Kindle Scout Program Selection Winner by Kindle Press.

Let’s Be Social:

http://www.NancyRavenSmith.com

http://www.Facebook.com/NancyRavenSmithWriter

http://TheReluctantFarmerofWhimseyHill.com

Reluctant Farmer on Amazon – http://amzn.to/1XoblsP

Land Sharks on Amazon – http://amzn.to/1JuIHku

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Meet Rhian Williams

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Rhian Williams, blogger and poet.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m a poet first, a writer of weird little stories and a blogger. I’m married with a kid living on the edge of nowhere Wales, work in a pharmacy to support my family and debilitating creative habits. I dabble in photography and art but writing is my life.

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

I have five cats (not by choice) and four chickens. Over the years I’ve had a number of dogs, rabbits, a guinea pig, over twenty hamsters and a few horses. And a ram called Major. Rather than model pets on them, I model people on them.

What are you reading now?

A book called The Girls Who Went To War about the women who joined the army, navy and war during the second world war. I wrote a piece of fiction about them some time ago and got it out for a dust off and decided to expand on it – which meant a little research.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve got a few short stories on the go as usual. Including the one about the Ack-Ack girls in the second world war, I’ve also got one set in the future in progress and a few bits of flash fiction about a post-apocalyptic magic future. It’s also OctPoWriMo – 31 poems in 31 days!

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

So, we had a lot of dogs growing up. When I moved to Wales we had a few acres of land and several horses (for breeding and showing not riding). Jenny-Lee was the friendliest horse. We have seven dogs at one point. Four terriers and three whippets. We’ve had rabbits (including one called Odd-Socks), hamsters (including one called Messy Pups who ate curtains), a peach face lovebird called Dickie and a ram called Major (as well as some sheep). I’d never had a cat until I was in my thirties though. I don’t like cats that much (honest).

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

Depends on the story and my wife and I are always coming up with children’s stories about the cats. We’ve finished one and hope to write another together about our murderous Kitten the kitten.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s a tie between the time our stallion got out of the field and spent half an hour being chased around the back garden by my step-dad while we watched from the window. Or the time we adopted Wiggles and the first thing he did (after jumping on my counters) was steal a pickle from my housemates sandwich. Not the meat, not the bread. The Pickle. We’d only had him half an hour.

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

I knew when I was about 17 that I was a poet, but there were signs that I’ve been a writer all my life. I have a book from when I was six that stories that I wrote (including one about aliens kidnapping my teddy bear that ends in a bit of a cliff-hanger).

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

To get a novel finished and published. I have a few half written – one I even won NaNoWriMo with and it over 58,000 words long so far but not finished. Eventually, I will finish it. Or one of the others.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Sit on me. Knead me. Stare at me. They in no way help me.

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

I have shelves of them but I tend to concentrate on the library books first. So I have Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett to read next.

The Cats…

Biography:

Rhian is a poet, blogger and geek living on the edge of nowhere Wales. They have five cats, four chickens, seven fish, another tank with dozens of snails in it and a thirteen month old. They write weird little stories and poems at Weird and Important. They also write about parenting, blogging, mental health and cats over at Queer Little Family.

Social Media Links:

Website: www.scruffy-duck.net

Blog: www.queerlittlefamily.co.uk

Twitter: anxiousgeek

Facebook:  facebook.com/rhianwilliamsthepoet

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Pinterest: anxiousgeek

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Meet Samantha McGraw

Thanks for inviting me to stop by Pens, Paws, and Claws; I’m delighted to spend some time with your readers.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve been a freelance writer for a several years now and I’m finally working on my first mystery novel. In the meantime, I’m writing for pure enjoyment over on my blog Tea Cottage Mysteries where I get to talk about my favorite things, tea and great mysteries. And when I have some free time, I love writing short stories, some of which I’ll be sharing soon on my blog.

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

I have a feisty tuxedo cat who tends to be a bit of a diva, and I love it! She’s very strong-willed and strong-minded. Her favorite place to spend time is on my heat blanket or a pile of clean clothes just out of the dryer.

I also have a sweet, snuggly tabby who was abandoned in our neighborhood about 2 years ago and decided he wanted to live at my house. Now he spends his days sunning himself on my back deck or visiting my neighbor’s house and his nights curled up on heat blanket, not to be outdone by the diva.

Cats have always been part of my life so it just feels natural for me to include at least one as a character in my book. The cat in my story is a blend of my 2 babies.

Above: Madi and Mitty

What are you reading now?

I almost always have 2 or 3 books going at once. At least one to actually read and always one on audio that I listen to in my car or while cooking dinner. With a TBR pile that never seems to shrink, this helps me keep it under control.

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Ellery Adams’ new book, The Secret, Book, & Scone Society, which was one of the best book I’ve read all year. Be sure to get it when it releases.

I’ve been craving an Agatha Christie so I’m trying to decide which one I’ll read next.

On audio, I’m listening to Lisa Scottoline’s Exposed. I love Mary DiNunzio, and I always enjoy Lisa’s work.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

There’s always something! Right now I have my first novel and two short stories in the works.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a tough one, there are so many I love. There are two at the top of my list though. Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton. I love Agatha’s stories because she’s so clever about “hiding” clues right in front of your face. You really have to pay attention or you’ll miss something very important. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple challenge me to be at the top of my game to compete against them.

As for Sue’s Kinsey Millhone, I just love her. She has to be one of my favorite fictional characters. I wish she was real because I’d want to be her best friend. Sue is also very talented at hiding the obvious right in front of your face. When I get to the end I always feel like saying “Of course! I should have seen that!”, but I didn’t!

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

Charlotte’s Web! What’s better than a spider trying to save a pig’s life? 😊

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

My husband and I still laugh about this one. We were sitting up in bed one night watching a movie and our diva kitty was snoozing in a box on the bed (if you’ve ever had a cat, I don’t have to explain the box obsession). She was sleeping so soundly she was snoring; it was adorable. Out of nowhere, my husband lets out a HUGE sneeze. I mean so loud I think the neighbors heard it. Huge! The cat jumped straight up in the air from a dead sleep and fell right off the end of the bed. She just sat on the floor, dazed and confused, shaking her head and trying to figure out what just happened. We laughed so hard we cried! She didn’t come back to the bed for the rest of the night!

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

I’ve always known; it’s just part of my soul. My mother would tell you that she knew from the time I learned to spell my name. I never stopped writing and I always had at least one book with me at all times. When I was about 7, I would call all my aunts and uncles to find out what was new then I would hand write a “family newsletter” for everyone and make my mom send them out to every family member.

When I was 10, my grandfather bought me an Underwood typewriter so I wouldn’t have to keep writing by hand. I guess he always knew too.

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

I don’t really prioritize my bucket list; it’s just ongoing. But one thing I can’t wait to try is a hike down to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. It’s at least a two-night camping trip to really enjoy it and I’m not much of a camper, but the trip is worth any struggle I may have to endure. I’m hoping to go in the next few years. If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. Now! You’ll be glad you did.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Diva kitty sleeps all day and only bothers me when she’s hungry, and my snuggle buddy is usually outside. But if the weather’s bad and he has to be inside, he’s in my lap, tapping at my hand to stop working and pet him instead.

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

I have 2 TBR lists. One for books and eBooks, one for audio. My book list has a couple of Agatha Christie’s, 3 books from authors who have visited or are about to visit my blog, several books from my Sisters-in-Crime friends, and a new-to-me series that someone recommended.

My audio list is almost complete, but Mary Burton just released a new book that I’m dying to check out and there’s a new David Baldacci book coming in November. I always drop everything to listen to his latest when it releases!

Biography: Samantha is a freelance writer and aspiring mystery author who shares her passion for all things mystery and tea on her blog Tea Cottage Mysteries.

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Cats and Dogs and Groundhogs, Oh My!

By Barb Goffman

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

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

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

          

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

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

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

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