Welcome, Connie Berry!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Connie Berry to the blog!

  1. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your blog! I write the Kate Hamilton Mystery series set in the UK, featuring antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. I grew up in the high-end antiques trades, so that’s a world I know. With parents who always bought more than they could sell, the house I was raised in looked something like a crowded museum. This seemed perfectly normal to me, of course, but my friends now admit they were afraid of the life-size marble state of Marie Antoinette in our living room. In addition to writing, I love to read mysteries set in the UK—or rather listen to them. I’m addicted to Audible. My other job is working trade shows for my husband’s marketing business. With northern European roots, I hate hot weather, so when things heat up in Ohio, my husband and I head for our cottage on a lake in the Wisconsin Northwoods (where I am now). That’s my writing time. And my knitting time. My other passion is travel. We usually fly somewhere out of the country twice a year. England will always be my favorite destination. Now I can call it research.

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

I have tons of destinations on my bucket list—return trips to Europe and Scandinavia, Japan, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. I have relatives in Melbourne. My Scottish grandmother’s older brother emigrated to Australia around the time she emigrated to the US. He sent me two things I treasure—a koala “teddy” when I was six and, years later, an antique copper teakettle he and his wife used daily for fifty years. I’d love to meet his grandchildren and great grandchildren one day. Number one on my bucket list, however, is staying overnight in one of the Scandinavian ice hotels. Unfortunately, this is NOT on my husband’s bucket list. Strategy may be called for.

  1. Did you have childhood pets?

I’ve always been an animal lover. As a child, I collected all sorts of pets—cats, birds, frogs, turtles, chameleons, white mice—even a baby owl that fell out of a nest near my elementary school. When one of our cats fell pregnant every nine weeks, my parents insisted she would be happier living with friends who owned a farm. To make up for the loss, they brought home a Pekingese puppy named Sunny. I fell instantly in love. Since then I’ve always had a small non-shedder to cuddle. My current fur baby is an adorable Shih Tzu named Millie.

  1. What does your pet do when you’re writing?

Usually Millie sleeps under my desk chair. Sometimes, though, she wants to be held. Have you ever tried to type with a fifteen-pound dog on your lap? Not that I’m complaining.

  1. What’s your funniest or most unusual real-life pet story?

My most unusual pet story involves the baby owl. I brought him home from school one day, bedraggled from the rain and looking adorably vulnerable with his round golden eyes. My saintly parents housed him in an old parakeet cage and called the vet who said to feed him meaty dog food with tweezers. He loved it. As he recovered from his ordeal and began to grow, he got testy and tried to take chunks out of our fingers. Then he started hooting at night. You can imagine how well that went over with my parents. The vet also told us we would need to begin offering him roughage, like tiny bones and fur (eek!). That was the last straw for my parents. We took him to those same long-suffering farmer friends and let him loose in their barn. I hope he learned how to hunt for himself. But then he wouldn’t have survived at all if I hadn’t rescued him.

  1. Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters?

Back home in Ohio, my protagonist, Kate, has a Scottish Fold kitty named Fiona, but since the books take place in the UK, we only hear about her. In the second book, A Legacy of Murder (out October 8th), one of the main characters, Miss Bunn, has an elderly, obese pug named Fergus. Fergus is terribly spoiled and doesn’t take easily to strangers, but Kate wins his confidence when she saves him from drowning. Fergus is very wise and possesses an uncanny ability to express his thoughts by grunting or winking or averting his eyes at appropriate moments. I’m currently writing the third in the series, A Pattern of Betrayal, where Fergus will once again play a leading role.

  1. What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. First published in 1999, the book has won tons of awards. The multilayered story focuses on the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the north of England. Even though I don’t write police procedurals, I adore them, and McDermid is a master of the genre.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

Now this is hard. I have lots of favorites: Susan Hill, Val McDermid, Elly Griffiths, Louise Penny, Charles Todd, Tana French, Sujata Massey, Anthony Horowitz, Jodi Taylor, Kate Morton. You can see a theme, can’t you? I love reading and writing stories set in the UK (well, Louise Penny’s are set in Canada, but I love that too). As for the classics, my all-time favorites author are Jane Austen and P. G. Wodehouse.

  1. What writing projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned, I’m currently working on the third in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, tentatively entitled A Pattern of Betrayal. Kate is back in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, running a friend’s antiquities shop while he recuperates from bilateral hip surgery. When a reclusive widow consigns an ancient Chinese hunping jar and promises to let the shop handle her late husband’s entire art collection, Kate is thrilled. But when the jar goes missing and a body is found in the shop’s back room, Kate finds herself on the trail of a missing daughter, a ruthless killer, and a centuries-old pattern of betrayal.

  1. When did you know you were a writer? How did you know?

My answer would have to be when I signed my two-book contract with Crooked Lane Books. My writing career was no longer a dream but a reality with things like deadlines and obligations to fulfill. Truthfully, though, I still struggle with the idea that I’m a writer. With each new book, I wonder if I can pull it off again.

  1. What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

First, that typing “The End” is only the beginning. As someone has said (can’t remember who), writing is rewriting. I had so much to learn—I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And second, that having a master’s degree in English literature and having read hundreds of great mysteries didn’t mean I could write one. I had no clue about story structure and the conventions of fiction writing. If I’d taken the time to learn my craft first, I might have saved years of fruitless effort.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

Take time to learn the craft. Join a writers’ group like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America. Take classes. Get feedback from published writers and take their comments to heart. And then persevere! Don’t give up. If writing is your dream, go for it.

About Connie:

After lecturing on theology for 25 years, Connie Berry turned to writing traditional mysteries, combining a layered sense of history with a modern take on the amateur sleuth. Connie loves history, cute animals, foreign travel, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable dog, Millie.

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Welcome, June Whatley!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome June Whatley to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write under the names of June Breland Whatley or June B. Whatley. I’ve been married for 48 years to my husband Jim. We have one son who is grown, married and has four children. My husband and I are both retired and live in Tennessee with our two fur babies Bear and Millie.

My first book, published in 1996, was for homeschoolers on the topic of socialization. We homeschooled our son junior high through high school and he went on to college and then got his Masters’ Degree.

My second book was published in 2016 and is available on Amazon. The title is #LifeChange: A Treasure Hunt for More. It is based on a dream from the Lord that shows how and why people fear having a relationship with Christ and shows why, even after coming to Christ, people are attacked by the enemy. The book leads the reader through steps of accepting Christ, learning how to pray, and how to protect themselves from the enemy after their salvation experience. It ends with a biblical explanation that shows the Kingdom of God is real.

My writing is driven by a need to introduce people to or draw people closer to the Lord. My belief is that the Return of Christ is coming soon. Time is short and people need to have a personal relationship with Jesus in order to be saved.

My current work, follows a similar pattern, but engages the younger reader in a story to aid in expressing these principles.

Tell us about your pets.

Bear is my ‘rescue’ dog. It took three trips to the shelter before I found him, then he ‘rescued me.’ J I was a cancer survivor and had undergone chemo, surgery and radiation. I was cancer-free, but my strength and lung capacity were not back to normal. I had little energy and was gloomy most of the time. Bear got me up, out and moving. He was a 9 lb ball of fur and energy, just what I needed to perk up my spirit and encourage me to be more active. Six and a half years later, he is now about 100 lbs and I’m still cancer-free and in much better health. Shortly after getting Bear, we moved to Tennessee.

In Tennessee, I had seen the large, furry Great Pyrenees dogs and wanted one. I met a man who was giving away puppies. The first owner had neglected them terribly, so Stan purchased them from him, and worked to get them healthy, then he was giving them away. I drove to his house and Millie greeted me at my car. She waddled her three-month-old, 37 lb body up to my car. I called Stan to be sure he still wanted to give her up and he did, so I put her in a travel cage in my car and headed for the veterinarian’s. She was checked over, given a bath and declared in good health so I took her home.

By this time, Bear was so spoiled, people questioned how he would get along with another dog, but I wasn’t worried. When I opened the door, and set her down on the floor. Bear, now about 39 lbs. and Millie looked at each other, their eyes lit up and they started chasing each other around, inside the condo. It was adorable. They’ve been best buds ever since.

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. It is by far the best book I have read on the subject of writing or crafting a story or novel. The book that I have in progress, is ‘finished,’ but now I am going through Mr. Maass’ book and literally addressing every area that he discusses. I thought my book was good before, but now I see what was missing. Hopefully this book will reach many young people and show them the love of Christ and God.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book for ages 8-12+ readers called, Beware the Fallen. It is the story of three siblings from a Christian home. The middle child, Ashton age eleven, feels left out and unloved, but neither is true. It takes a life-changing event (being kidnapped by a dragon and nearly losing his life) to bring him to a true relationship with the King and His Son.

This also brings love and understanding into his relationship with his older brother, Mican (thirteen) and younger sister, Shayla age ten. The story follows them for the next year and their many visits to talk with the King. The sequel follows Mican, Ashton and Shayla on their travels through time portals where they witness Biblical scenes, as they happen.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I love Jane Austen. Her characters and scenery are so vivid. I also love Agatha Christie. Her mysteries are intricate, without being gory. And a more recent author, Andrew Peterson is a new favorite. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is amazing. It is great for young people, but held my attention to the end.

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

When I was a kid, we had three acres. That’s not vast, but allowed us to have dogs and cats. I still remember all the names of my dogs: Peanut, Snowball, Pharaoh, Blue, and Foots. When we found Foots, he was a puppy, but had enormous feet, that’s where the name came from. He turned out to be mostly Great Dane and was huge.

My favorite cat and there were many, was Persia, a smoky gray Persian.

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

In my new book, the animals are not pets, they are characters in their own right. Some of the animals are in the service of the King. For example: Warrior, a noble horse; Patrice the leader of the butterflies; Ozwan the swan; Omuth the dragonfly; and of course a dove (the Holy Spirit).

Why do you include animals in your writing?

For this book, Beware the Fallen, it was a logical progression to use animals.

Since the new book takes place partly in a fallen, Garden of Eden-type setting, the dragon (Satan) has his followers. These animals are villains who inhabit the mysterious garden and create havoc for the three main characters.

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.

The animals that I mentioned by name in question #7, who are in the Kings’ service are not ‘service animals’ as we use the term, but they do the King’s bidding, such as guiding the children to safety in various instances. They also talk and teach the children lessons during their journey.

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

As a fifth grader, I needed to do a book report and I found Black Beauty. I was a very slow reader, but I’ve always loved horses, so the horse in the book got me through. I now understand that there is a ‘lag-time’ between when my eye sees a word and when my brain registers it. “Way back then,” they didn’t understand problems like mine. I had a large vocabulary, but I always struggled to read. I never let it stop me. I went on to get a Master of Arts Degree from Regent University.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

Take time to learn your craft. There is much more to writing than grammar and punctuation. Read contemporary best sellers in the area in which you want to write.

Contemporary, because although Jane Austen is amazing, most young people won’t sit still long enough to get through all of the details in the way she wrote. It is a different time that we live in.

And my best advice to any writer would be, ‘don’t be in a hurry.’ When I started writing I believed that God had a ‘mission’ for me and that I needed to hurry and get it done. Now I realize that even with a calling, waiting and timing are important.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?

Hire an editor to do deep edits, not just to put commas in the right place. It is pricey, but it is very necessary. Sometime you are so close to the story, you mentally read in what should be there. Your readers don’t have that luxury and an editor needs to check continuity and other issues. Use an editor that is in the business, not just a free-lancer. You can also learn a lot about the business side of publishing from an editor.

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Welcome, Linda O. Johnston

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Linda O. Johnston to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m Linda O. Johnston. I used to be a transactional real estate lawyer but I’m now a full-time writer. I write both mysteries and romantic suspense, and I’ve also written paranormal and time-travel romance. I have written four mystery series: the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series and the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. I’m also currently writing for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. And nearly all my recent stories include dogs!

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

I’m addicted to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Right now, my Cavaliers are Mystie, a Blenheim (red and white color) and Cari, a tricolor. They’re my babies!

My first mystery series was the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her tricolor Cavalier, Lexie. At the time, I was also a practicing lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills, and Lexie was our tricolor Cavalier. Unfortunately, our Lexie is no longer with us.

So far, none of my other stories have included Cavaliers, but that could always change!

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

The protagonists in my mysteries always are owned by dogs. In my current mystery series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, the protagonist Carrie, a veterinary technician who also owns a barkery where she sells the healthy treats she’s developed, as well as a human bakery, has a dog named Biscuit, a golden toy poodle-terrier mix who hangs out a lot in the barkery and accompanies Carrie most other places she goes.

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

When I was a child I had a brindle Boston Terrier named Frisky. Frisky was frisky! I really loved her, and she inspired me to want to become a veterinarian, though that didn’t happen for many reasons. But she did help to increase my addiction to dogs.

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

The animals, primarily dogs, in my writing are characters in their own right, though I don’t get into their points of view. But they’re there for their owners, who are the major characters in my stories, providing emotional support, humor and love.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

Because I love animals, especially dogs! They add so much to people’s lives, whether they’re pets or just there inspiring us to help them and to be better people.

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.

K-9s and service dogs show up sometimes in my stories, In Second Chance Solder, my first K-9 Ranch Rescue story for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, the story takes place at–what else?–a ranch where dogs are trained to be possible police K-9s. The hero Evan Colluro is a former military K-9 trainer and moves to the ranch with his former military K-9 Bear to help train the pups there. The sequel to this story is Trained To Protect, which also takes place at the K-9 ranch. There will also be a spin-off series soon about rescues, but I’m not sure how many K-9s will be involved there.

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

I suppose I’ve always known I was a writer. I started my first book, which remains unfinished, in high school, and I always enjoyed assignments where we had to write an essay or anything else.

The professions I’ve had also involve writing: advertising, public relations, and transactional lawyering–yes, contracts are a form of creative writing! I started getting short stories, then novels, published when I was a practicing attorney, and got up an hour earlier than anyone else in my household so I could write before getting the kids ready for school.

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

Well, my husband and I have been talking about the possibility of taking an African safari–which, these days, is fortunately to see and photograph animals, not harm them in any way. Why? Because I love animals, and this could be an amazing experience!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Mystie and Cari hang out with me, or with my husband, or stand on our front porch looking out the locked gate and telling me when other dogs walk by–or when one of our wonderful neighbors arrives with treats for them. When they want something, such as to go outside or for me to open the front door or anything else, one or the other of them will come into my office, sit down beside my chair, and just stare at me. Or sometimes Mystie will bark at my shoes in the kitchen to let me know she wants to go out.

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

I can’t count the number of TBR piles in my house, or the number of books in them, but you can be sure that most of them involve dogs!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

Just do it! Write! It’ll come to you even if you think you don’t know how. The other thing I’d suggest is to join one or more of the many writing organizations, particularly those specializing in the genre you want to write in, and attend as many chapter meetings as you can. Writers are very supportive of each other.

About Linda:

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes the Barkery & Biscuits Mystery Series for Midnight Ink.  Her fifth and final book in the series, For a Good Paws, is a May 2019 release.  She has also written Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Pet Rescue Mystery Series and Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  Linda also writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and nearly all her current stories involve dogs.u!

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I CAN Have it All by Jayne Ormerod

Dogs and vegetable gardens do not go well together. Call me a germaphobe, but I just don’t like the idea of dog poo in my oregano.

My instincts were confirmed in an article in yesterday’s local paper, The Virginian Pilot. The opening paragraph caught my attention:

“Animal waste tainting fresh produce is one of the major causes of food-borne ailments. So farmers markets and pick-your-own growers who fear fecal contamination are increasingly guarded about tolerating pets near their edibles.” You can read the entire article by clicking here.

My reaction was, “People really need to be told the basic sensibilities of life?”

But alas, yes, it seems people need to be told everything to think, feel, and do anymore. But that’s another topic for another more socially conscious blog. This one is about dogs.

I have waged a battle my entire adult life…do I want fresh grown vegetables and herbs or do I want playful pups? Pups won out, every single time! Fresh herbs can be procured at the market, puppy snuggles cannot.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon what I thought would be the perfect solution to my little dilemma. A stackable garden higher than an aging girl dog could pee, and I could tuck it discreetly away from the spot in the lawn where she routinely (more like religiously) did her business.

 

Problem solved! That year we enjoyed what I called the Scarborough Fair medley of fresh herbs (Really? You don’t know what the Scarborough Fair medley is? Why, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, of course!) (Old Simon and Garfunkel song. You can listen to it here.) (I fear my age is showing…again!)

Anyway, things changed when we got the puppies, Tiller and Scout. Perhaps more aptly named The Destructo Brothers!

 

Don’t let that innocent look fool you. That stack of tissue paper did not shred itself! They LOVE to chew on anything and everything.

I let them out in the backyard one sunny afternoon and ran inside to do something real quick, and raced outside seconds later, to find my herbs scattered hither and yon throughout my backyard. Not full plants, but tiny pieces parts as if each tender little plant had provided 3.2 seconds of a tug-o-war before they’d moved on to the next. Three tiers (12 plants) gone in the blink of an eye.

When my husband came home with two flats of fresh herbs, I knew I had to do something. He very kindly cobbled together a fence made of castoffs and garbage-day finds. Voila! A little side yard for my garden that was safe from the pups. He then suggested I channel my inner farm girl. Nope, not gonna till that earth that had been a popular potty spot for the pups. I let my fingers do the shopping on the Internet and found the perfect solution. Something three feet off the ground, and would be tucked behind the aforementioned fence. It is 6 feet long and 2 feet wide. It is filled with over 2 dozen little (but growing quickly!) plants! It took a lot of fresh soil to fill the basin. A lot. Like 13 bags. Overall, I figure the one sprig of thyme I put in my last casserole cost me $50. It’s gonna be a long time before this little garden pays for itself, but in the meantime, it’s safe from the beasts. Any time a recipe calls for a soupçon of tarragon or a snip of fresh chives, I can walk outside and harvest all I need. All the time singing another old favorite song, “Old McDonald had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.”

So, in this wonderful world of imaginative people who solve all sorts of problems, I CAN have it all…and more! If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by and harvest some basil or cilantro, I think planted more than I can use in a lifetime!

That’s all from this dog-loving city farmer this round. Next time I’ll wax poetic on the joys/horrors that are part of the every day life with rescue pups. In the meantime, I’m working hard on writing my second Mutt Mystery, tentatively titled “Yappy Hour.” Watch for more info on that, soon!

 

ABOUT JAYNE

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck, as well as a doze other short stories and novellas. Her most recent releases are Goin’ Coastal and To Fetch a Thief.

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Welcome, Gayle Bartos-Pool

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gayle Bartos-Pool to the blog.

(Q) Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. (A) I grew up with a dad in the Air Force. We lived in a few foreign countries and I got a terrific education. When I started writing I thought I would write spy novels using my dad’s experiences and my imagination to come up with stories. Ten years of research and writing later, I had three books, very long books, but no publisher. Then my husband said: “You used to be a private detective. Why don’t you write a detective story?” Yes, I used to be an undercover private investigator. So I started writing detective novels. I now have three series in print: the Gin Caulfield series featuring an over fifty gal who still packs heat; the Johnny Casino Casebook series about a private eye with a past, he just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him; and Chance McCoy in his first book, Second Chance, about a private detective who dies on a case, but he gets the opportunity of a lifetime. But my writing also includes a trio of Christmas stories and a pair of short story collections filled with murder and mayhem and a few laughs along the way. There are a few other books with my name on them as well. I guess you could say: “Writing is my life.”

(Q) Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? (A) My husband and I have had a passel of pets over the past thirty-three years and yes, many of them have made guest appearances in my books. Gin Caulfield and her husband Fred have two Italian Greyhounds named Sherlock and Foxtrot, named after the two boys we got from the Los Angeles Pound one Fourth of July weekend. I saw Sherlock first and fell in love, then this other skinny guy walked over to him and put his paws on Sherlock’s back like he was protecting him. Needless to say, we took both dogs home. Watson came from Pooch Heaven, an animal sanctuary that rescues animals. Candy came to us when some neighbor kids knocked on our door and said they found this mutt walking down the street and they thought it might be ours. I was holding her in my arms by then. I said she wasn’t ours. They said they would take her to the pound. I said, “No. We’ll keep her.” And we did and have her still. Cookie came from a guy outside of VONS who was giving away dogs. Sir Winston was gotten from the Glendale Humane Society after I heard that soldiers going off to the Gulf War were dropping off their dogs since they couldn’t take them into battle. I spotted Winston and adopted him. His health wasn’t the best and after a few years we lost him. Cookie had grown quite attached by then and his loss was hard on her. I saw an ad for a found dog in the local paper. I called up and said the dog wasn’t ours, but if they couldn’t find him a home, we’ll take him. We got Noodles a few days later. Duffy came from the Glendale Humane Society. Angel, a cat, was found wandering through a vacant lot. Sylvester was given to me by co-workers when I lost Duffy. Cat (that was his name) was a stray and Duffy’s best friend. And then there was Fred. I’ll tell you about him a little later. You asked if these guys show up in my work. You bet.

(Q) What are you reading now? (A) Currently I have been reading the works of E. Phillips Oppenheim. He wrote almost a hundred years ago, but his mysteries and spy novels read like they were written yesterday. I found his book Spies and Intrigues, a collection of novellas and short stories, on line. I also bought a collection of 100 of his novels (you read me right – 100) in e-book format on line as well. I am 72% through the e-books. There are a few other writers that wrote nearly a hundred years ago as well. Let me introduce you to Anna Katharine Green. She started by writing very intricate plots with clever details and clever sleuthing techniques. She wrote stories about a young debutante who solved crimes, a young man who analyzed a crime scene down to the lint in the victim’s pockets, and a spinster lady who helped out the local police in solving crimes.

If this sounds a little too much like Nancy Drew or a young Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple, let me mention that Anna Katharine Green was born in 1846. Her books predated the great writers of these previously mentioned tomes. She is considered the Mother of the Detective Novel. Women weren’t writing much more than poetry back then and there were very few male writers of fiction, much less mysteries. She had to discover new territories and did it unbelievably well. She did get reviews and notoriety. In fact, the Pennsylvania Senate debated whether or not a woman could have actually written her first book, The Leavenworth Case. She wrote it and 39 more stories. The Pennsylvania Senate had to eat a little crow. I also like Mary Roberts Rinehart. She wrote a batch of mysteries nearly a century ago. Her books are fantastic.

As for contemporary writers, I totally love M.M. Gornell and her Route 66 stories. Ms. Gornell takes us to these small towns along Route 66 and we meet the most intriguing people. Her latest, The Movie-Maker, had an ending that knocked my socks off. Sasscer Hill writes books about the racetrack much in the vein of Dick Francis. Matt Coyle has a marvelous series featuring Rick Cahill. Jacqueline Vick has a bunch of books. Her Civility Rules is a hoot. They all write mystery/detective stories, but that’s what I like to read.

(Q) What writing projects are you currently working on? (A) For several years I was Speaker’s Bureau Director of Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles. I set up author panels, but I also had the opportunity to teach a few writing classes to help fellow members work on short stories that they wished to submit to our anthology published every other year. I enjoyed teaching the class, but in preparing for that job I realized that I actually had a method in the madness that we call writing. I formatted a class curriculum and wrote up a lengthy handout for attendees. A little while after I began those classes, I turned that class handout into a book called The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It consists of fairly basic prompts and thoughts about writing not only short stories, but things that might help with other writing endeavors. I happen to belong to a web blog with fellow writers that I have known for a number of years. We all are published, but we all learned many things from each other as we went down this path to publication. Our blog has a purpose: “We are a group of published writers who come here weekly to entertain, inform, and encourage you in your writing and your reading journey. Grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and join us.” https://thewritersinresidence.com/ That is our mission. As one of the members, I have been penning articles on writing based on the short bits from my workbook, expanding the thoughts and turning them into more detailed pieces. I am just about finished with the book to help writers called: So You Want to be a Writer. It will debut next year.

(Q) How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? (A) Animals do appear in my work. In the Gin Caulfield books the two dogs just share the house with Gin and her husband. They don’t get involved with the detecting… yet. The two humans spend the bulk of each story hunting for the bad guys. In my Christmas stories, the case is quite different. In the very first book, Bearnard’s Christmas, a Polar bear features predominantly in the story as well photos of many of the Christmas decorations in my home and miniature houses that I built. I have nearly 5000 Santas in my collection. It’s the story about Elaine Ivy, a woman who loves animals, but sometimes she gets herself into trouble trying to defend them. Even her husband tells her she can’t save them all. At a Christmas Party she is given a stuffed Polar bear. A magical voice tells her its name is “Bearnard.” On Christmas Eve, Elaine falls asleep under the tree and wakes up at the North Pole where she meets Santa Claus, Mrs. C and a big Polar bear named, of course, Bearnard, and a bunch of other furry and feathery friends. But it turns out even the animals at the North Pole need a little help, but it will take more than human kindness this time to make everything right. For this book I built the Santa castle and fashioned many of the inhabitants including Santa, Mrs. C, and Bearnard out of clay. This was truly a labor of love.

(Q) Why do you include animals in your writing? (A) Animals are included because they are so much of my life. From my first dog, Sukoshi, that I got on my eighth birthday to the ones we rescued from the pound or the street or were given to us, pets have always occupied a large part of my heart. They each have had a personality so naturally they show up on the pages of books I write.

(Q) What’s your real-life funniest pet story? (A) There are many funny or touching stories about the pets I have had, but one that comes to mind goes all the way back to when my dad was stationed in France back in the 60s. Before we got the house we were to stay in for three years, we stayed in a nice hotel in Laon, France. Our dog Sukoshi got to accompany us on the ship that took us to France along with our 1956 pink and white Plymouth. Sukosh would be relegated to the hotel room while we were out getting breakfast or shopping. One time we came back to the hotel and were told Sukosh was in the dining room with the owner. It seems that the Beagle had been barking and the owner decided it best to keep her downstairs with her. We had dinner that night at the hotel and Sukosh was allowed to sit at our table. This was France, after all. The waiter said he would bring her some steak tartare as a treat. The raw, chopped steak was set before the little Beagle and she turned up her nose. No raw meat for her. The waiter took the plate back to the chef and they cooked it. She ate that. I guess Southern Beagles didn’t know French cuisine.

(Q) When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? (A) Back in about the sixth grade we were given one of those forms asking us to list three occupations that we might want to be when we grew up. My answers were: writer, writer, and writer. Even before that, in 1955, when I was eight, I put together my first book. It was several newspaper clippings for the movie The Lady and the Tramp glued onto paper and folded into book form. I loved the movie (It was about dogs for goodness sake.) and wanted to have a remembrance. I still have the book.

(Q) Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? (A) I read in bed in the morning after Richard goes off to work and sometimes in the evening for an hour or two before I join him in the living room for some television. I turn on one of the music channels on the TV and enjoy the background sounds. I tell this part to people attending my writing classes. I mention that there should always be somebody to root for in their story. I also say that I want the main characters to be people I would invite into my house because when I am sitting in bed, I don’t want anybody in there with me that I don’t like. That always gets a laugh, but I am serious. I have closed books that had such disagreeable characters that I didn’t want to spend any of my time in bed with them. I hope my students got the hint.

(Q) What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? (A) Years ago I worked in a bank. I was writing my first book back then, writing from eight at night until midnight. At the stroke of twelve, whether I was in the middle of a paragraph, a sentence, or a word, I stopped and went to bed. Several of my co-workers knew my ambition to be a writer, a published writer. One guy introduced me to a young man who wanted to know how to be a writer. I asked him what he had written so far. “Nothing,” he said. This young man was not a writer. Writers write. I didn’t tell him: “You’ll never be a writer, fool, until you sit down and write something, anything. Read it, edit it, and keep writing. Finish a story or even a book and then come back and ask me that question again.” No, I didn’t “jump in his chili,” as it were. But I did tell him he needed to think of a story, write a paragraph about it, then expand it to a short story and then flesh it out into a novel. I never heard from him after that. But my advice goes to anyone who wants to be a writer. The advice: WRITE.

(Q) What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share? (A) Whether you are just starting out in the writing field or you have a few books under your belt, always remember that it’s your name on the front of that book you wrote. You want it to be the best product you can produce. That means editing it a few more times than you first thought was necessary. It means asking advice from others in the writing field, but take the advice with a grain of salt. If your book is rejected by an agent, try another one. If a publisher doesn’t think your book would fit their imprint, try another one. If people tell you not to follow your dream, tell them that’s not the direction you want to go and it’s not a dream. There are always other avenues. Always do your very best. Never give up. It isn’t a dream.

(Q) What book would you like to mention today? (A) Since the Pens, Paws, and Claws Blog is mainly about those feathery and furry loves of our lives that might also turn up in the pages of our books, I wanted to mention Second Chance that has a rather “coincidental” tie-in to the subject of pets. The book blurb under the title on the first page reads: Chance McCoy just got the opportunity of a lifetime.

The blurb on the back of the book reads:

Chance McCoy is a private detective killed during a routine case, but he is given a second chance to make good. But with his track record as a P.I., he just might blow this chance, too.

That book blurb tells us about Chance, but no pets… so far.

All through the book, Chance views people he encounters as some kind of pooch. Droopy Bloodhound eyes on one guy. A teenage girl’s bodyguards are viewed as Bulldogs. Another set of hired muscle are called Rottweilers. Chance even enlists the services of a cadaver dog named Maurice to see if a body is buried in someone’s backyard.

It really wasn’t a coincidence on my part to make these comparisons because, you see, I dedicated the book to Freddy J. Feathers, our beloved parakeet who had recently passed away. I found Fred wandering in the backyard about six years earlier and he got a “second chance” with us. That fact fit perfectly with this particular book. And the short section at the end of the book ties my love of pets up with a big red ribbon. You see, Chance is asked to go to the local pound and… Wait a minute. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens there.

But pets, or members of the family as we call them in our house, have been a large part of my life and they seem to have played a big part in my writing as well. I guess we do leave bits of our heart in everything we write.

And one more thing about Second Chance, all the profits from the sale of this book go to pet rescue sites. So far we have donated to Best Friends Animal Society, Karma Rescue, and the ASPCA after Hurricane Harvey. It may not be much, but we do what we can.

About Gayle:

A former private detective and a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) has numerous books in print: The Johnny Casino Casebook 1- Past Imperfect, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, and The Johnny Casino Casebook 3 – Just Shoot Me; Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence in the Gin Caulfield P.I. Series; From Light To DARK and Only in Hollywood, collections of short stories; Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Second Chance, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, Every Castle Needs a Dragon, and Who Killed Christmas? Other stand alones: CAVERNS; Eddie Buick’s Last Case; Enchanted, The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier. Spy novels: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, Star Power. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

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Teresa Inge’s Interview with Alison Fechino

Alison, tell us a little about yourself and how did you get involved with animal welfare? 
Thank you so much for having me! I have always loved being involved in animal welfare. I started volunteering in a shelter at age 13 and continued to do so through college. I studied Animal and Poultry Sciences, which gave me a broader understanding of what “welfare” means with regard to more than just companion animals. I adore chickens and even became president of the Virginia Tech Poultry Club. I got my first job in animal sheltering at the Virginia Beach SPCA in 2013, and I never looked back.

How many animals do you have and what are their names and ages? 

I have two dogs – more than that and my landlord would kick me out! My first dog, Addie, has been with me since high school. She’s a Chow Chow mix who is about 12 years old. Addie is a complete priss who thinks she’s better than everyone else. My other dog, Colin, is 5 years old. He’s a Shetland Sheepdog/Whippet mix which means that he has a long snout with giant eyes. People tell me he looks like an anteater. Colin loves eating and will do anything for a snack.

What is a typical or non typical day like for you while working at the Chesapeake Humane Society? 
A lot of folks think working in animal welfare is sad. While its true that there are sad and trying moments in this field, there are even more moments to celebrate. Every day, I see volunteers give their time and energy to improve the care our animals receive. The staff work tirelessly to attend to our clinic patients and educate their caregivers. Donors stop by to drop off donations of food, cleaning supplies, or funds without even being asked. Adoptable pets find loving homes, and families celebrate all the unique ways their dog or cat makes them happy. All my days, typical or not, show me how much people really do care about the animals in our community.

Anything else you wound like to share with our readers about yourself, the Chesapeake Humane Society, upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or supporting the Chesapeake Humane Society? 
Chesapeake Humane Society recently went through an exciting expansion! We hired a second veterinarian and have added additional veterinary services, such as mass removals and other soft tissue surgeries, in order to better serve pets whose owners could not otherwise afford such lifesaving care. We are thrilled to be able to offer this option to our community in addition to spay/neuter surgeries, dental procedures, and vaccinations. The programs we offer are supported by annual fundraisers, like our 5K and 1-Mile Doggy Dash coming up on May 4th, and contributions from individuals and businesses. Those interested in learning more about our services, volunteer opportunities, or ways to give can visit www.chesapeakehumane.org for more information!

Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hot rods. She assists two busy executives and is president of the Sisters in Crime Mysteries by the Sea chapter. Teresa is the author of “Corked for Murder” in Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II, “Shopping for Murder,” and “Guide to Murder” in Virginia is for Mysteries, “Fishing for Murder” in the FishNets anthology and has coordinated several anthologies.

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A New Puppy by Sheri Levy

After our older dogs, Jake, a black Labrador, and Sydney, our first Australian shepherd; passed on to doggie heaven, we adopted an eight-week-old, Aussie, we named Donovan. He was a beautiful, puppy with lots of splotches of white and copper and loving, amber eyes.

It didn’t take long to pick up on his strengths and weaknesses. Sydney, our first Aussie, learned every word we spoke. My husband and I had started spelling. Sydney picked up on our spelling and we laughed when he recognized our words. We no longer had secrets.

Donavan didn’t have the ability to learn as fast as we expected. We loved his sweet temperament, but his hyper-activity kept us on our toes. He didn’t learn his limitations and would leave our front yard to go visit with the neighborhood children.

We decided Donavan needed a playmate. A friend sent us a brief email brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.”

The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted.

Straight through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. Curiosity defeated my reservations. I inhaled, requested information, and hit ‘send.’ What could a few questions hurt?

Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. A teen girl eventually caught the terrified dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy held him. We agreed he needed immediate help.

Driving home, Murphy grinned. “There’s a term, “Mulligan,” golfers use when they take a, ‘Do Over.’ What about naming him, Mulligan?”

I cradled Mulligan. “Perfect! He’s getting a second chance.”

My husband added an electric fence to our large backyard and I trained the dogs to stay in our yard. Mulligan understood but Donavan was resistant. As I worked upstairs in my office, writing, Donavan crept across the fence, and Mulligan followed. I went outside to check on the dogs and they were gone. I caught my breath and my heart trembled.

Friends helped Murphy and me look for our dogs. We lived out in the country, with lots of open land. Murphy started searching close to home. My friends walked and drove around different streets, calling them by name. As the evening grew dark, we knew there was no more time to look. Terrified, we hoped they’d come home for dinner. But that didn’t happen.

In the morning, our wonderful friends started looking again. We walked the empty fields and in the woods around the neighborhood. A few hours later my phone dinged. Murphy called and I nervously jabbered about all of our friends looking for the dogs.

He caught his breath and added. “I found Donavan miles away on a very busy street.” He paused and I heard him inhale. “He was hit by a truck and is dead on the side of the road. I’m bringing him home. I have no idea where Mulligan is.” And he hung up.

I stood on the driveway and waited for him to return. We both cried while Murphy buried Donavan.

“I’m going to look for Mulligan.” I drove up our long street and noticed a black dog curled-up in a grassy front yard. I pulled onto the drive way and got out of the car. I called “Mulligan.” His head lifted. He was so exhausted from running he didn’t move.

I sat next to Mulligan and poured my bottle of water into a bowl I’d brought. He slurped happily and after a few minutes he stood. Before we adopted Mulligan, we had learned he had been hit by a man with a stick. It didn’t take long to understand his fear of Murphy.

Two weeks later, Murphy said, “Mulligan is probably going to be your dog and I am going to need a puppy.”

My heart sank. “Okay. I understand.”

Murphy researched a litter of Aussie puppies and we drove to Georgia. Mulligan rode with us in the car and he played with the other dogs while Murphy chose his new puppy. He picked a black and white-merle Aussie. I drove home and Murphy held Slater, who looked like a piece of marble slate.

At home, Murphy sat on the den floor, and played tug with Slater. Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood at the opening to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting. A couple of minutes passed. Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and slipped into the den. His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I sat in my chair holding my breath. I didn’t say a word. My hand covered my racing heart.

Mulligan sauntered up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso. Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. Seconds later, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.

Murphy stopped playing with Slater and his eyes filled with emotion, as did mine.

This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined. Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.

These two dogs have been brothers for eleven years. Our days with these two special dogs are counting down. Mulligan turned into a very loving and secure dog. Slater had cancer and has totally recovered.

We are enjoying every moment with these guys and will forever cherish our memories.

by Sheri Levy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome, J. L. Canfield!

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes J. L. Canfield.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello, I am originally from Jacksonville, Florida, was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, have lived in upstate New York, (Clifton Park, a suburb north of Albany), Portsmouth, VA, Charlotte, NC, and now reside in the Richmond, VA area.

I am an award-winning writer of mysteries and women’s fiction.

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

I have two dogs, a Cavachon (female)and a Cavapoo (male). They are my only family and my muses. I did use them in a children’s story I wrote for a kid lit class I took. But they have not made an appearance yet in any work. Spoiler alert: That changes in book three of my mystery series. In the women’s fiction which will be released in May, a golden retriever named Tucker does play a role in a decision the female lead makes regarding the next step in her life.

What are you reading now?

I have been working my way through Bernhard Cornwell’s The Saxon Tales series, but I needed a break from that, so I am now reading Jacqueline Winspear’s In This Grave Hour.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am finishing up book two in the detective mystery series starring Philip Samyn and have sketched out ideas for his next story. I am in the research and plotting phase of another women’s fiction which I will begin writing this summer, if not before.

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

Animals are a physical extension of humans and feelings. For me, my dogs got me through my divorce. My ex-husband and I fought over them. He wanted, in our settlement papers, to have the first right to them when I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford to keep them. I counter with a demand for puppy support in exchange for visitation twice a month. He dropped the issue. In the upcoming Icy Roads story, the young woman who is the central character is dealing with ever-changing problems in her marriage. She really wishes she had a dog both in her happy state and more so when her marriage falls apart.

In the third book of the Samyn mystery series, he too will be changing things in his life, and I have plans for an animal, not sure what species yet to appear in his world.

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

My father shielded me from many childhood stories and books with animals. Usually, it was the ones where the animal dies (think Bambi, Sounder). I was a very tender-hearted child. I wouldn’t eat pork (he had a farm with pigs) or deer meat ( I often saw deers up close), and I would cry when their meat was in the house. So my favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I wanted to see it since Bob Hoskins was in it and I admired his acting. Also, it intrigued me this concept of live action sharing screen time with animation. I think it’s funny, well written, with gifted actors pulling this together.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

My father bought my mother for their anniversary precisely what she wanted, a white German Shepherd. It was a beautiful puppy which she named Rascal Von Stuckey. However, the dog really didn’t like her, and it really disliked my half-brothers. It bonded with me though. Maybe because I was the smallest in the house and its instinct to protect me when my father was away. I don’t know. What I do know is the dog stayed by me whenever I was home which was great since my brothers loved making me cry. When I was five or six, I contracted mumps on both sides of my face. Rascal stayed in my room. He would not go out unless I stood on the porch so he could see me. We also found out he would not take food from anyone except me. My father was a huge man who most people found intimidating. He stood over 6’ had a shaved head, and weighed around 250 or so. Since my mother’s teenage sons were afraid to feed him, my mother had managed to do so once when she got him on the porch and threw food out the window to him. My father was home and said he would take over my chore until I was well. My father’s hand spread from pinkie to thumb was about 12 inches. He opened Rascals food, leaned over to place it in his bowl and Rascal took my father’s hand and his food in his mouth. When my father managed to pull his hand out of the dog’s mouth, he came into my room and told me it didn’t matter that I was sick, I would have to feed the dog. Someone would get the food in the bowl, but I would have to put it down for Rascal.

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

I wrote my first play when I was six and in second grade. I was a ferocious reader, and the idea of creating stories fascinated me. I wanted to do it. Every year in elementary school I wrote a class play. In middle school, I worked on the school newspaper because I then wanted to be an investigative reporter thanks to the movie All The President’s Men. High School, I took creative writing and theatre classes. During college, I took writing classes but was told by my mother (who wasn’t paying for my education) not to major in writing because I would never make money at it. One of the BAs I received was in Broadcast Journalism. I considered it a compromise. It wasn’t until my divorce that I rediscovered my passion for writing. It helped me get through a four-year war with my ex. It gave me outlets for my emotions. It wasn’t until I received the PenCraft award that I could say the word author. It took a lifetime for me to think I could write and people would like it. All I ever knew was after I did a good day of writing, I walked away with the best high in the world.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

My Cavachon, Baroness Sassafrass Von Brong, and Cavapoo Sir Remington J. Wigglesby lay on their bed under my desk or on the daybed I have in my writing room. They are always near me ready to listen when I need to read a passage out loud.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

Think hard about it. Writing is not for those who dream of big dollar signs and fame. Most writers do not earn enough to live on, and that’s according to statistics. If you are a person who cannot take rejection or critical commentary of your work, then avoid being a writer. If you have difficulty in thinking up story ideas along with plots and twists, then think twice about writing.

Writing is painting pictures in readers heads with words. Like other artists, writers struggle for an audience, for being satisfied with their creations, with self-doubt, with acceptance, with selling their work, but those who know the only way they can achieve a personal sense of a euphoria that comes from crafting something from nothing are ones who were gifted with the skills needed to be a writer. If that describes you, then dive in. Just make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons, working to become something you love, not to live out a fantasy you have. Writing is tough, it’s harder than reading a book. But it is to me the best job in the world.

About Julie:

J.L.Canfield was born in Florida, raised in North Carolina, lived for a short time in upstate New York and now resides in the Richmond, VA area with her two dogs, Sassie and Remy. When not planted behind her laptop harvest words from her brain, she’s outside with a camera trying to capture the beauty she finds in nature. When possible she’s busy sleeping in the sun while baking on a beach.

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Amazon Book Link: What Hides Beneath

https://amzn.to/2GtBHIM 

http://www.blackrosewriting.com/literary/whathidesbeneath.

Icy Roads Preorder link:

http://www.blackrosewriting.com/literary/icyroads.

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The Amazing Goliath and His Incredible Talents

I met Carolyn Troiano in Richmond, Virginia. She and her husband Bill have trained their Rottweiler, Goliath to do some amazing things. See the video links at the bottom of the interview. This is my interview with Bill Troiano about Goliath, his training, his amazing talents, and their new books… ~Heather

Tell our readers a little about yourself and Goliath and his special talents.
Well, I grew up in Maine near a game farm, and I’ve always felt a special bond with animals. I’ve always had pets, including rescued raccoons and squirrels, and I’ve trained many of them over the years to be obedient and perform some tricks.
I first met Goliath at a local dog park that I was visiting with my American Bulldog, Angel. A gentleman came over with his 6-month-old Rottweiler puppy, and we started a conversation. He told me that he was moving out of state, and would not be able to bring his dog with him. He was looking for a really good home for him, and when I looked at the puppy, I could tell right away that he was special. We had an immediate connection. I brought him home to see how he would get along with Angel and another rescued male American Bulldog, “Spike,” who had joined our household earlier that year. The new puppy fit right in, showing great affection for our family and his new “siblings.”

After talking with my wife and son, we agreed to provide a home and much love for our new addition, “Goliath.” He was a gently puppy, and over the years, he grew to be a gentle giant.

Goliath has brought us more joy, laughter and love than any of us could ever have imagined. He is truly part of the family, and he works really hard, both in learning new skills and in building relationships with all of us.

How long did it take to train him? Did you all use any special techniques?
Dogs love to go for a ride, so whenever I would shake the car keys, Goliath understood what that meant, and got very excited. I would toss the keys on the floor and ask him to bring them to me if he wanted to go for a ride, and, of course, he brought them to me every time.

I did the same thing with his leash. I would ask him if he wanted to go for a walk, and, again, he would get excited. I would tell him to get me his leash, and he would bring it right to me.

Goliath seemed to understand that everything has a name, and if I communicated with him in that way, he would eventually begin to understand the words associated with each item I presented to him. Of course, it requires a lot of repetition, but he seems to learn more quickly with each item I present to him.

Goliath is a really fast learner, more so than any other animal I’ve ever trained. When I teach him the name of an object, or a new trick, he learns very quickly. He knows and can retrieve over 700 everyday objects, including stuffed animals, tools, sporting equipment and other household items. I’ve been working with him on these since he has been with us, and he’s now 6 years old.

I’ve also taught Goliath a lot of tricks. He can speak, stay, roll over, beg, play dead, give me his left paw and then his right paw, and then when I ask for a hug, he wraps his front paws around my waist. Goliath loves a good belly rub, and when I ask him if he wants one, he rolls over and raises his belly to be stroked.
I taught him to catch a treat that I would toss to him, which is a very common skill for animals, especially dogs. Once Goliath mastered the catch, I had him sit and then placed a treat on his nose, making sure I used a flat one, so that it would stay in place more easily. I told Goliath to “stay,” and continued to hold his head steady while he balanced the treat on his nose. Once he learned to balance it without my hand in place, I removed the treat and gave him a different treat as a reward.

Next, I taught him to flip it in the air and catch it in his mouth, building on what he had already learned. While holding a treat in my hand, Goliath learned that his job was to focus on the treat while remaining still. I then guided my hand closer to his mouth and said “catch,” with my hand close enough that he wouldn’t jump or move. The first time I did this, I guided the treat all the way to his mouth. I continued practicing the steps of catching and balancing with him for a couple of weeks before teaching him to flip the treat off of his nose and catch it in his mouth. At first, he ended up tossing the treat off of his nose, but after some repetition, and remaining positive, he eventually caught the treat.

Another important point to note is that your body language is critical to success. You have to remain calm and very positive, and never show any frustration if your dog is not catching on as quickly as you would like. Patience and repetition are key aspects to continuing progress.

I can also put a piece of steak under his paw and tell him to leave it, and he learned not to touch it or even look at it until I give him the “okay” command.
Rewarding his progress is absolutely critical. When I first started teaching him, I would give him a small piece of meat each time he retrieved an object. As the list of objects began to grow, I slowed that down and would reward him after retrieving seven items. You have to know how to balance the reward and tie it directly to his ability to focus.

When I use the phrase “bad guy,” he responds aggressively, barking very loudly. If I say “good guy,” he jumps up and gives me a hug. Every morning, I ask him to remove the covers on my bed, and he pulls them down, and then brings me my socks. If I’m wearing a hoodie, I’ll bend over and ask him to pull it off, and he’ll do that.

Goliath also loves to swim, and can retrieve a 50-pound log and bring it back to the shoreline. He’s an extremely agile dog, and loves to exercise. His breed is built for hard work, and the more you challenge them, the more they love it.

How did you know Goliath had a special aptitude or talent?
You just have to look into Goliath’s eyes and see that human quality about him, it’s just amazing. It’s as if he can read your thoughts. He seems to understand things at a much deeper level than any animal I’ve come across in my life. I think our connection has really been at the heart of his desire and willingness to learn. He always wants to please me and he works really hard. In fact, he thrives on it, as many of his breed do, as they’re in the working dog group.

Goliath has an unusual ability to memorize the names of objects. It all started with a couple of stuffed animals. I noticed how incredibly fast he learned the names of them. My wife gave Goliath a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal that talks and vibrates when you press its belly. Goliath loved this, and the next day, I asked him where Winnie-the-Pooh was, and he immediately ran downstairs and retrieved it. The other amazing thing is that he never forgets what he learns. I can put away an item he knows for several months, and, sure enough, when I take it out again and ask him to retrieve it he does so perfectly and without hesitation.

Most dogs will identify a few favorite toys, but as I said earlier, Goliath has learned the names of over 700 items. I’m always at garage and yard sales looking for unusual objects to bring into the mix. In fact, this week I taught him to retrieve a man’s roller skate. He loves this one, in particular, because I send it rolling across the floor, and he chases it and brings it back to me. With toys, I usually let him play with each one for a while before teaching him to retrieve it by name. He always gets excited when I bring home something new.
I also continue to challenge Goliath and test his skills. He knows I believe in him and he trusts me implicitly. Just as with people, dogs have talents that will remain hidden unless you unleash them (pardon the pun).

One big fallacy is that dogs can’t see colors. Goliath has proven that he can distinguish objects by color. I have six golf balls in different colors, and if I ask him to get the green one, or the yellow one, and so forth, he gets it right every time. The same is true with some other items, such as combs in different colors, but which are otherwise identical.

Then I started testing him on colors using objects he had never seen before. I have an orange cone that I use for teaching tennis, and he knows that it’s a cone. So I brought in cones in several other colors and asked him to get the yellow cone, the green cone, the blue cone and the red cone. He retrieved every one of them correctly, just based on knowing colors.

Goliath has two toothbrushes, a yellow one and a purple one, and he can pick them out by color. He also has a bunch of different footballs, and knows the red one, yellow one and black one. He knows the football that’s half blue and half orange. Goliath also knows two different NFL team footballs with the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers colors and logos. He knows them all by name and never misses.

I have a number of stuffed animals and other objects that are identical in every way except for size, and Goliath can retrieve the big one and the little one of each character correctly every time. I have three stuffed reindeer that all look very much alike, but he knows the difference because one I call “Rudolph,” a second one is “Talking Rudolph” and the third is “Coach,” which is the character who plays the reindeer coach in the old “Rudolph the Reindeer” TV movie.

Tell us about some of Goliath’s adventures. Where has he visited?

Goliath spends most of his time locally, in parks, on trails, and in ponds, enjoying the outdoors with his “siblings” and other dog friends. He has traveled to many locations in the region where he performs at Pet Expos and SPCA events. Goliath has a lot of trophies, and also comes home with a lot of “SWAG” from these shows. I often laugh that he brings in enough snacks and other items to support the rest of our pets.

How long has Goliath lived with you?
We’ve been blessed with Goliath for the last 5 ½ years.

Do you have any other pets?
Yes. We have three more Rottweilers, all rescues, along with Angel, our American Bulldog, a one-year-old cat, and two very large parrots. One is a Military Macaw and the other is a Double Yellow-Headed Amazon, and they both speak. They all get along and are respectful of each other. We’ve had as many as twenty-one pets at one time, mainly rescues, covering seven different species: dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots, ferrets, raccoons and squirrels. They were introduced to each other at a very young age, and forged relationships that would defy conventional thought. They always had fun and it was incredible to watch them devise games to play with each other. They learned from each other in ways that confounded us, and as “siblings,” they often teased each other. I often think that we, as humans, can learn so much about how to relate to other people just by observing animals and the relationships they build and nurture.

What’s your funniest Goliath story?
Goliath learned to close the door after coming in from outside. If someone leaves the refrigerator door open for too long, he’ll come by and close it. He even opened up the front door for my wife when she locked herself out. She stood by the latch, asking him to give her a hug, and the neighbors, who were out on their front porch, kept asking if she wanted help, assuming the dog would never open the door. Lo and behold, within a couple of minutes, Goliath flipped the bolt open to everyone’s amazement, but my wife knew he could do it, and I’m sure Goliath sensed that she had complete faith in him. He truly can sense that you’re rooting for him and I think that’s just an amazing quality that differentiates Goliath from other dogs.

What is your favorite place to visit with your dogs?
There are a couple of ponds that we take Goliath to swim in, and we meet up with friends and their dogs for a play date. Goliath loves to see his dog friends, and he absolutely loves the water. I think the water exercise is a really important thing for animals to keep them healthy and even psychologically happy.

Years ago, we had a female Rottweiler, “Venus,” who lived to be 15 years old, and I attribute that to the fact that we lived on Lake Anna at the time, and swimming was part of her daily regimen. In fact, one morning I let the dogs out and forgot the gate to the dock was open. Venus leaped off the dock and right into a bass fishing boat. One of the guys in the boat jumped overboard out of fear, while Venus jumped in the other guy’s lap and started licking him. When his friend surfaced, the guy in the boat was laughing his head off. I’m sure he’ll be telling that story for years to come.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
“Marley and Me,” by John Grogan, is a book about the lovable Labrador Retriever and his time spent with his family. It was filled with joy and sadness. We’ve had many dogs, and reading the book, I could only think of all the laughter and passion we felt for these animals as they enriched our lives. There is no greater love than that which an animal confers on his master, and no greater gift than the loyalty and love they return so selflessly and so eagerly. All of my dogs exhibited the same characteristics and I could really feel that sense of loyalty and unconditional love that Marley gave to his family. We’ve truly been blessed by the animals that have come into our lives, depending on us for their existence and trusting us to treat them with respect. It’s a bond you can’t explain in ordinary terms.

What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’m reading an old book about a raccoon. It’s called Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, written by Sterling North about his childhood in Wisconsin. He writes about spending a year of his childhood raising a baby raccoon, during WWI, and the story also chronicles the changes in his family and the area around him during that time. It speaks to transcending loss, and finding humor in the small things in life. It reminds us the importance of taking care of those around us who need that special care until they can take care of themselves, and the lessons of life that we can learn from each other.

There was a raccoon that used to come to my window when I was younger, and I named him “Bandit.” In the 1990s, my wife and I raised three orphaned baby raccoon brothers, “Huey,” “Dewey” and “Louie,” in the 1990s, as part of an animal rescue program. Watching them grow for two years, before introducing them to the creek behind our house, was an adventure. It was sad to let them go, but life has its cycles and everything must be done in its time. We loved having them with us for that time, but they were ready to migrate up the creek and join the rest of the raccoons. They were ready to mate.

What advice would you give to new dog owners or folks interesting in adopting a new, four-legged family member?
Ask yourself why you are contemplating bringing a pet into your life, and remember, it’s not just coming into your home, but into your life. A pet is a living member of your household, not an accessory to your home. With dogs, the breed is also crucial to your decision. Make sure you understand what kind of dog you’re thinking about bringing home and how they would fit in.
Are you home a lot, or do you travel? Do you have someone who can look after your dog if you do have to travel or be away from home? Do you like to be outside in the yard or take walks in the park? Are you willing to spend the time and patience to train your pet to obey?

You also need to think about potential allergies when selecting a pet. How much work are you willing to put into cleaning up after them? Some dogs shed a lot during certain times every year. You also need to think about unforeseen veterinary bills, as you never know what it will take to keep your pet healthy throughout its life.

What advice would you give folks about dog training?
You must be patient. As with any living creature, they all have a certain level of ability and you have to set your expectations accordingly. Know your dog’s breed and what their typical strengths and weaknesses, but don’t automatically box them into those categories. Just be aware of them. As with children, you have to encourage them and guide them, and praise all of their work. Don’t set unrealistic expectations or get frustrated if they don’t deliver according to your needs or desires. It’s not about you. It’s about giving your love to a creature of the earth, and not expecting anything but love in return. Animals are individuals, and you have to find out what makes them special and makes them thrive, and focus on those talents.

Does Goliath have any upcoming events?

Well, a story about Goliath will be in The Total Rottweiler Magazinewhich is published in 134 countries.

He has done a number of shows at local and regional SPCA events and Pet Expos, most recently at The World of Pets Expoat Hampton Coliseum, in Hampton, VA, on February 18, 2019.  Goliath won the talent contest.

That was Goliath’s 6th birthday, and he celebrated in style with his “sibling” Rottweilers.  You can see some of the video and pictures on Goliath’s Facebook page, showing the gang in their party hats, waiting to dig into the birthday feast.

Goliath’s next appearance will be at the Dog Gone Dog Show,” sponsored by the Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, in Kilmarnock, VA, on April 20, 2019.

Goliath is also a YouTube sensation, with many videos showing his ability to retrieve items by memory, and to do tricks.  Most recently, I was contacted by someone who would like to do a documentary on Goliath, so that will be very exciting!

Goliath is usually very busy with shows through year-end, and he is especially fond of the “Southside SPCA” events in Farmville, VA, doing a charity show for them every year in December.  We definitely like to do the shows that will benefit other animals and promote the idea of providing homes for those animals in need.

Tell us about your books.

We’re putting together a series of children’s books called ­“Goliath Loves to Learn.”  Each book is based on a particular theme for learning.  Children will love to learn about colors, shapes, sizes, and other themed topics, alongside Goliath, who is always eager to learn about new things.  I think kids will really appreciate these books, as they’re based on a real dog and his capabilities.  If Goliath can learn, then hopefully they’ll realize that they can learn too.  I think it will be very encouraging for them, and show them that anything is possible, if you just give it your best.  Goliath loves new challenges, and we hope he can convey that “can do” attitude to children.

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Welcome, Gail Z. Martin!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gail Z. Martin to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, and comedic horror as Gail Z. Martin. As Morgan Brice, I write urban fantasy MM paranormal romance. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 14, and my first book was published when I was 45. We work with big publishers, small press and we also publish some of our books indie. My husband, Larry N. Martin, and I write full time, and several of our series are co-written. Behind the scenes, we both work on everything together.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing—We have a Maltese named Kipp and a Golden Retriever named Flynn. Kipp was definitely the inspiration for Baxter in my Deadly Curiosities stories, and Chase, our past Golden Retriever, was the inspiration for Bo in that series.

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

Baxter in Deadly Curiosities shows up a lot. Did you know that vampire glamor works on a dog and makes him stop yipping at the door? There’s a running joke about that in the Deadly Curiosities books. Bo is the ghost of the main character’s golden retriever and he’s her spirit protector. She can summon his ghost with a shake of his old dog collar/tags and he is a very good ally in a fight.

What writing projects are you currently working on?—I have lots in the works! My goal is to have sequels for all our current series this year as well as launch a couple of new series. That’s very ambitious, and we might not get everything done, but I’m going to try! right now, I’m finishing up The Rising, which is a Morgan Brice romance and is the sequel to Badlands. It’s a psychic and a cop in Myrtle Beach working together to solve supernatural murders, and this one involves pirates and lost treasure! After that, I’ll be working on the fourth Deadly Curiosities novel, the next installment in the Spells Salt and Steel universe with Larry, and a sequel in my new Night Vigil urban fantasy series.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.—Growing up, I had a gray tabby cat named Misty and a miniature schnauzer named Heather. Since Larry and I have been married, we had two black/black and tan cocker spaniels and then a golden retriever, two Himalayan cats, and now our current golden and Maltese.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?—So far, they aren’t the point of view characters or a central part of the story, but they are very important to the characters. That may change, since I have a shifter romance series in mind!

Why do you include animals in your writing?—I love my pets, and pets have always been very important to me. They don’t work for every character—some travel too much or aren’t in a situation where they could provide a good pet home. But I think that showing characters connected to other people and animals helps to flesh out their story and make them more real and relatable.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? —I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 14 and I figured out that it was a something you could choose to do. I had never really thought about who the people were who wrote the books before that. Once I made up my mind, I chose my college major, my graduate school major, and my career to support that someday goal!

What do your pets do when you are writing?—They ‘commute’ back and forth between my desk and my husband’s desk, keeping us both company!

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?—That the whole process can take a while to get off the ground, so don’t get discouraged!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?—I really love days when I can write on my screened-in porch, because it’s so pretty out there. The dogs like it, too, and come hang out with me. I can watch birds and squirrels and lizards!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?—Never give up!

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