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

Instagram: anxious_geek

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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