Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, C. J. Shane to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I wear two hats because I’m both a visual artist and a writer. This all got started because my first grade teacher told my class to write a poem and then illustrate it. So I had the idea from an early age that words and pictures were equally important and often go together. In the arts, I work in oils, pastels, relief prints, and also I create artist’s books. As a writer, my first job was as a newspaper reporter. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines and published eight nonfiction books. My first novel, Desert Jade: A Letty Valdez Mystery, was published in 2017, and the second Letty mystery, Dragon’s Revenge, comes out in mid-November 2018.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
I had cats as a child and then was lucky to be introduced to dogs by a boyfriend when I was a young adult. So there’s been a cat or a dog or both in my life from an early age. Currently our family dog is a model for Millie in the Letty Valdez Mysteries. Her name is Sunday and she’s a rescue from the Tucson Humane Society shelter. I also fairly recently lost a wonderful dog named Yuma (a border collie-greyhound mix) who was a rescue from Yuma, Arizona. He grew old, and he couldn’t walk anymore. Just before he went over the Rainbow Bridge, I gave him a big spoonful of peanut butter – his favorite treat in the world. I miss him.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stores. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
In Desert Jade Letty found Millie abandoned and dying in the desert. Millie is short for “Milagro” which means “miracle” in Spanish. Here is an excerpt from Desert Jade where Letty finds Millie who had been stolen from her family and used as a bait dog in a dog-fighting ring.
Millie looked up at Letty with adoring eyes as Letty stroked the dog’s back. Millie had big patches of bare skin on her tan and white short-haired body. Her ears were chewed up, and there were scars all over her neck and chest. Her front left leg hung limp and almost useless from too much nerve, tendon, and ligament damage. The dog used the leg mainly for balance. Millie was small for a pit bull, maybe only 45 to 50 pounds. She had obviously been used as bait in dog fights. When the scumbags were done with her, they just dumped her out in the desert on the edge of town. They hadn’t even bothered to kill her, but just left her to die a slow, miserable death in the hot summer sun.
No telling how long the dog had been out there before Letty found her. That was entirely accidental, too. Letty remembered suddenly that she had forgotten to return a call. She pulled over to the side of the road when some movement in the hot sand caught her attention. Letty got out of her car to take a look. She spotted the dog right away. It was emaciated and had several open wounds. The dog hadn’t had any water for who knows how long. It was on its side, panting short, shallow breaths, eyes sunken and glazed. The dog shifted its amber-colored eyes to focus on Letty. Then the dog’s tail began to wag feebly.
“Damn,” Letty muttered to herself, but she didn’t hesitate. Who could resist a dog on death’s door that would wag its tail when it saw you coming.
I’m very interested in rescue dogs and in seeing that they find a good home. Millie performs a heroic deed in Desert Jade. In the next Letty book, Dragon’s Revenge, Millie gets a friend. His name is Theodore Roosevelt, but they call him Teddy. He’s a black lab sniffer dog who flunked out of sniffer school! Teddy performs admirably as a sniffer dog in Dragon’s Revenge even if he didn’t earn his certificate from the sniffer school.
What are you reading now?
Letty Valdez is a veteran of the Iraq War. She was a medic and saw of lot of difficult things. I’m reading a nonfiction book about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars titled The Fighters, by C.J. Chivers so I can know more about what Letty experienced. I’m concerned about our veterans and I want them to have good support.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Oh dear! Only one? Well, one that comes to mind at the moment is the Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman. I had a reader tell me once that I should stick to the plot, focus on action, and forget any “exposition.” I don’t really agree. I really like how Laura Lippman includes “exposition.” She tells us about Tess, her family, her friends, her life both as an investigator and her life away from investigation. I want to tell Letty’s story in the same way. Letty is a child of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, a Chicana/Native American who takes care of her young siblings, who fights the bad guys and who loves her doggie pals.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
You know what they say, “If you want a friend, get a dog (or a cat).” People are sometimes really cruel. I want to get across the idea that being kind to animals and rescuing a homeless animal is the best thing we can do for ourselves because it makes us more human and humane. A dog or cat will always be important in the Letty Valdez Mysteries.
What’s on Your Bucket List?
I’ve traveled a lot on four continents. I went as far as ZhouZhi in western China and Mildura on the Murray River in interior Australia. But I’ve never been to New York City. The Big Apple is on my bucket list. I also hope to write several more Letty Valdez Mysteries, and I have a plan for a new group of mystery-suspense-romance novels.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
I’m going to say only one thing which has turned out to be very important to me. Having come from a background in journalism and nonfiction writing, I thought of writing as a logical, orderly process. Do research, make an outline, do more research, start writing a draft. Edit and proofread.
Fiction turned out to be quite different. I had to learn how to get out of the way of my characters and let them speak for themselves. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said that she was a “medium” for her characters. She had that right!
Two examples. A character showed up one day. I didn’t create him. He was just there! He told me everything about himself, even the tattoo on his chest. He made it clear that he would accept a small role in Dragon’s Revenge but in future Letty Valdez Mysteries, he will be a very important person. Another example is Dante the Big Orange Tom Cat who will appear in the next book. Dante showed up one day and made it clear that he is El Jefe (The Boss). He will not accept any disrespectful behavior from those two totally useless dogs who try to steal his kitty kibble, Millie and Teddy. So there!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
a) read a lot; b) take walks or bike rides, enjoy the natural world, and let your mind become serene and quiet so your characters can talk to you.
About C. J.
C.J. Shane is a native Texan transformed into an Arizona desert rat after many years in Tucson. She is both a writer and visual artist. She is a former newspaper journalist and academic reference librarian who has lived and worked in Mexico and China. She is the author of eight non-fiction books, among them Voices of New China. Dragon’s Revenge (2018) is her second Letty Valdez Mystery following Desert Jade (2017).
Here are some reviewers’ comments on Desert Jade, the first Letty Valdez Mystery:
~~I was pulled in immediately by well-crafted characters and fine descriptions of the southwest and local culture. …. An international mystery embroiled with the border between Mexico and Arizona and the Chinese underworld.
~~Reading Desert Jade, I couldn’t help thinking that Tucson has an author to fill the void left by recently deceased best-selling Sue Grafton, who wrote the Alphabet Murder series.
~~This has a strong southwestern flavor, a reminder of the Tony Hillerman books about the Navajos and the Hopis…The diversity of the characters may surprise you as the author pulls in a Chinese connection that is unexpected. It will be interesting to see if this develops into a series. I think it has great potential for that.
Google +: https://plus.google.com/+CJShane