Tales with Tails … (and some without!)

by Barb Goffman

Jingle doing time! (This is my dog the day I adopted him from a shelter.)

It started with an idea: Everyone loves animals. They’re cute. They’re furry. They’re begging to be written about.

Next came a call for stories for the eighth volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short-story series. It said in part:

“We want animals. More than six out of every ten homes in the United States has a pet. Be they dogs, cats, birds, pigs, or lions or tigers or bears—or even snakes­—people love animals. They love playing with them and caring for them and, we’re happy to say, reading about them.

“That’s where you come in. We want crime/mystery short stories involving animals. The animal could be the sleuth or the sleuth’s sidekick or merely a part of the plot. We could hear the animal talk or think or do neither. Any kind of crime/mystery story you can come up with that involves an animal, be it furry or feathered, warm- or cold-blooded, is good with us. So bring on your animal stories!”

The authors of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime did not disappoint.  To paraphrase McGruff, our authors took a bite out of crime! And now, finally, the book has been published. Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies offers mystery readers who love animals a bevy of options.

Like dogs? Then this book is for you. We have several stories involving dogs and crime. But we don’t stop with dogs. Oh no. We have stories with crows, cows, crickets, and cats; rabbits, ferrets, an octopus, and rats. And fish. Mustn’t forget the fish.

Like police procedurals? We have three of them. How about historicals? We have a trio of those too. One story will take you back to nineteenth-century England, another to 1930s Hollywood, and the third to 1950s Pennsylvania. If you like amateur sleuths, you’re in luck. We’ve got some of those. Like dark stories? We’ve got ’em. Stories from the animals point of view? We’ve got those too. Funny stories? Check. Paranormal? Check. Stories where animals save the day? Check. Check. Check.

Basically, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you enjoy mystery short stories, then this book is made for you. We hope you’ll check it out. You can buy it in trade paperback or in e-book format.

The authors with stories in the book are: Karen Cantwell, Carla Coupe, Barb Goffman (yes, that’s me!), Eleanor Cawood Jones, Linda Lombardi, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Shari Randall, KM Rockwood, Joanna Campbell Slan, Marianne Wilski Strong, Robin Templeton, and Cathy Wiley. The book was edited by Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and me. The stories were chosen by Brendan DuBois, Mary Jane Maffini, and Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner). And the book was published by Wildside Press.

If you’ll be attending the Malice Domestic convention next weekend, stop by the Wildside Press table in the book room at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Nearly all the authors with stories in the book will be there for a mass signing. And if you’re in the Washington, DC, area on Sunday, May 20th, we hope you’ll come to our official launch party at the Central Library in Arlington from 2-4 p.m.

In the meanwhile, happy reading. We hope you enjoy our tales with tails!

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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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