Meet Ellen Byron

Pens, Paws, and Claws is excited to welcome author, Ellen Byron!

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

All of our dogs found their way into my books. In 1999, we rescued a basset hound through Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California. Her name was Lucy, and she inspired my protagonist’s family pet, Gopher – so named because he’s a basset hound who likes to dig holes and rest his tushy in them to stay cool. When Lucy was 13, we adopted Wiley from a local rescue called The Amanda Foundation. I call Wiley a corgi-jack-huahua. We thought Lucy was on her last legs, but she lived to be almost sixteen. After she passed, we thought Wiley could use a friend, so we went back to the AF and adopted Pogo. I call him a cherrier because he’s a Chihuahua-terrier mix. In Body on the Bayou, the second book in my series, I created a stray named Jolie who’s inspired by Pogo, even though she’s a girl and our Pogo’s a boy. I felt badly for Wiley because he was immortalized in a book that still hasn’t sold, so I created a subplot in A Cajun Christmas Killing involved a darling doggy named King Cake who looks a lot like Wiley!

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

Gopher is in every book because he’s the family pet. In Body on the Bayou, Maggie finds a mama cat guarding a litter of kittens and puppies. She tracks down the pup’s mother – the aforementioned Jolie – and eventually finds homes for the kittens and pups. It turns out the mama cat and dog belonged to neighbors who are on sabbatical in Hawaii. Their irresponsible housesitter let the pets out and then disappeared. The Crozat family is looking after Jolie and Brooke – the mama cat – until their neighbors get back, which probably means forever in book series time. Jasmine, one of the puppies, is pivotal to the story. Xander, the son of Maggie’s boyfriend Bo, has Asperger’s. He falls in love with Jasmine and his relationship with the pup helps him break through a case of selective mutism.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Murder in Shadow, An Acton & Doyle Mystery, by Anne Cleeland. I love this series. I’m also lucky enough to be reading an advance copy of Hair of the Dog, the third mystery in Carlene O’Neil’s wonderful Cypress Cove Mystery Series.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Emily Bronte. She only wrote one book, Wuthering Heights, but it’s absolutely extraordinary. I bought a used copy of it at a store called The Haunted Bookshop in Vermont when I was fourteen and on a family vacation. The bookshop was housed in an old Victorian mansion across from a cemetery. Everything about the situation added to the wild atmosphere of that book, and I was enthralled. Although I recently re-read it and I thought, wow – Heathcliff was a total psychopath!

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

Our first dog, Chips, was a Sheltie who was very high-strung. He once bit my father, and my father bit him back! He didn’t hurt the dog, he just ended up with a mouthful of fur. But he was upset because he’d never had a pet as a child so having one fulfilled a childhood dream, and he wanted that dog to love him. After Chips passed, my father was in an elevator at work – he was an advertising Mad Man – and heard a man talking about how he and his wife, who ran the Westchester NY SPCA, were fostering a litter of puppies that had been found with their mother in the town dump. By the next night, we were the proud pet parents of two puppies, Teddy Bear and Teena Bear. My mother spelled “Tina” “Teena” because she mistook Teena for female when we first got them, and she thought that was a more masculine spelling of the name. They were a mix of springer spaniel and poodle. My mother always put “Sprudel” as their breed when she sent in for their licenses, and it always came back “mutt.” She was ahead of her time!

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

Oh, they’re very much their own characters. As I mentioned, they even get their own storylines. And Maggie often uses Gopher as her ear when she needs to talk something out.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I’m a proud, passionate pet parent. When my husband and I began dating, I made it clear that if he wasn’t interested in having dogs, we could end the relationship right then and there. He’d never had pets, so he was nervous, but he’s just wonderful with our boys. I think animals add humanity to any story, odd as that sounds. They offer a great path into character. We get a sense of whether we like someone or not by how they relate to animals… and how the animals relate to them. We may think a character is likeable, but then a dog or cat takes a dislike to them and we’re like, uh oh.

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

I’ve always avoided books and movies that have animals as central characters because they’re often so dang sad. I have to share this story from fourth grade. Our teacher assigned us categories to read, and one was “Animals,” meaning we had to read a book where the story revolved around an animal. I confided in the school librarian that I didn’t want to do the assignment because too often animals in books were either injured or died, and the stories upset me too much. She said, “I’ll find you a happy animal story.” And she did, God bless the kind woman.

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

I don’t, but honestly, my dogs are like service animals for me. I’ve always said that when it comes to my mental health, it’s pets or Prozac. If I’m anxious or depressed, I’ll snuggle with Pogo or Wiley or pet them, and I immediately feel better. Animals are the world’s best anti-depressants.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Basset hounds are notoriously sedentary dogs, and our Lucy was no exception. I’m not kidding when I say she probably slept twenty-three hours a day. When our daughter Eliza was around four, we were at a friend’s house and she began playing with their senior citizen cat. My friend cautioned her to take it easy on the old thing, and Eliza said, “I’m sorry. I’m not used to a pet that moves.”

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

Not only is Wuthering Heights my all-time favorite book, I’m obsessed with the Brontes. So the number one item on my bucket list is to make a pilgrimage to Haworth Parsonage in the north of England, and walk the moors where Emily, Charlotte, and Anne once walked. Emily was a passionate animal lover. She got along better with her dogs than she did with people. Here’s a sketch of her beloved dog, Keeper.

 

What do your pets do when you are writing?

They keep me company in the office. Wiley’s old now – I’m guessing around fourteen – so he sleeps a lot. Pogo’s about ten, but he’s still got puppy energy. He’ll sleep, but then he gets bored and brings me a tennis ball to throw or tries to climb in my lap. Once when I went to get the mail, I made the mistake of leaving my lunch on the table next to my computer. When I came back, Pogo had figured out how to jump onto my office chair, then onto my desk, and he’d eaten my lunch!

My pets are such an important part of my life. Thank you, Pens, Paws, and Claws, for giving me a chance to share how my furbabies mean to me.

About Ellen…

Ellen writes the award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called her new book, A Cajun Christmas Killing, “superb.” Body on the Bayou, the second book in the series, recently won the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for a Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award. Her debut Cajun Country Mystery, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Ellen is also a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant from the Malice Domestic Convention.

Her TV credits include Wings, Still Standing, and Just Shoot Me, as well as network and cable pilots. She recently served on the Editorial Board for the UCLA Writers Program’s books, Cut to the Chase and Inside the Room. As a journalist, she’s written over 200 magazine articles for national publications. Her plays, published by Dramatists Play Service, include the popular Graceland and Asleep on the Wind.

A graduate of Tulane University, Ellen lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, daughter, and the family’s spoiled rescue dogs, which they describe as a “corgi-jack-huahua” and a “cherrier.” A native New Yorker, Ellen still misses her hometown… and still drives like a New York cabbie.

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Meet Author Nancy Raven Smith

 

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What writing projects are you currently working on?

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

Who is your favorite author and why?

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

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

Michael Connelly – The Concrete Blond

Robert Crais  – LA Requiem

Dick Francis – Blood Sport

Elizabeth Peters – The Street of Five Moons

John D. MacDonald – The Deep Blue Goodbye

James Herriott – All Creatures, Great and Small

Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games Trilogy

Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park Carl Barks – Uncle Scrooge Comics

Sara Paretsky – Indemnity Only

Dorothy Gilman – Unexpected Mrs Polifax

Sue Grafton – A is for Alibi

Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Cornell Woolrich – Rear Window

Thornton Wilder – Bridge of San Luis Rey

Mary Stewart – My Brother Michael

Andrea Camilleri – The Shape of Water

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you include animals in your writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Raven Smith – Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet Sandra Cody

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sandra Cody and her pets, Missy and Henry.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up surrounded by a family who loved telling stories, but I’m the first to write them down. In the midst of a big, noisy family, I was the quiet one who loved listening to everyone else’s stories. As for my own storytelling, I was a late bloomer – really late. I was a grandmother before I was a published writer. I write mostly mysteries. I love stories where good triumphs over evil and justice is served and that’s the essence of a mystery. I also write short stories which are not mysteries unless you consider (as I do) the bump and jostle of day-to-day life a mysterious thing. There are seven books in the Jennie Connors series. Jennie is Activities Director in a Retirement Community where the residents are lively, alert and just bored enough to love it when there’s a murder to solve. My recent books have featured Peace Morrow, who was abandoned as an infant and, in the process of discovering something about her birth family, has a couple of mysteries to solve. This was never meant to be a series, but Peace needed answers to some questions and I had to help her find them.

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

Our only pet at the moment is Missy, a cat who was dumped in our son’s front yard. He already had 5 cats, 2 dogs, and a ferret, so his house was getting a little crowded. However, it was unthinkable that Missy not be taken in, so … well, I don’t have to tell you what happened.

 

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

Peace Morrow has a black Lab named Henry. I’ve already told you that Peace was abandoned as an infant. The woman who found and adopted her was led to her by a barking dog (a big, black Lab) who had become the baby’s protector. Since then, Peace has never been without a big black dog. Henry is as much a character as any human in Love and Not Destroy and its sequel, An Uncertain Path.

What are you reading now?

Right now, I reading The Silkman by Robert Galbraith. which I’m pretty sure you will recognize as the pseudonym of J. K. Rowlings. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. This woman can tell a story!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I just released An Uncertain Path so I’m not really into my next project. I do, however, have it in mind. I’m planning a new Jennie Connors mystery. That series is set in Memphis and I plan to have some fun with Elvis Presley connection. I have a title in mind – Love Me Deadly.  I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, but am going to try it out with this one. Real mixed feelings here. I’m not a fast writer and am usually embarrassed by my first stabs at a new story, but I’m excited by the possibilities of the program and hope to move beyond my limitations.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a tough one. If I have to choose just one, I’ll say Louise Penny. I love her characters and the world she has created in Three Pines. I also love some of the older writers, such as Pearl Buck, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, Jane Austen. The list could go on forever. Of course, there’s Shakespeare, Shaw, Twain. Why? When I look at the list, the common thing that jumps out at me is character. And humor. All of them have a knack for slipping in humor in unexpected ways.

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

Yes, always. I’ll tell you about my first pet. I was three when my parents took me to the SPCA to pick out a puppy, which they let me name. It was a mixed breed male. I chose Fancy Ann. They explained to me that this was a boy puppy and maybe a boy name would be better. I stamped my foot (a habit I’ve fortunately outgrown) and insisted – this was my dog and its name was Fancy Ann. What could they do? They’d made a promise and you don’t break promises to three-year-olds. So Fancy Ann it was. I don’t know what other people thought but I remember thinking he was the most wonderful dog ever, with the most beautiful name. Other pets: an Irish Setter named Lady, a Collie named Boots, a Beagle named Billy, cats too numerous to mention. All with unique personalities who added immeasurably to the family’s happiness.

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

As mentioned above, Henry is an important character in the Peace Morrow books. He’s Peace’s best friend, only sibling, most trusted confidant, and, if need be, her protector.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I think the way people react to animals says a lot about their character, plus it’s a way to bring instinct into a story that could become bogged down with intellectual reasoning and following of clues. It sounds strange to say, but animals make us more human (and humane).

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

The first one that comes to mind is the movie Old Yeller. I don’t know how many times my husband and I watched that with our sons. We all cried buckets each time.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

There’s a really soft blanket on the floor next to my chair and Missy usually settles there – with frequent trips to my lap, where she knows she can get my undivided attention by tapping the keyboard with her paws.

About Sandra:

I grew up in a rural area of Missouri (near St. Louis), attended Washington University, met the love of my life when I cut an Algebra class to go ice skating. Not too long after that, we were married, had two sons. Job transfers have taken us to different cities in various parts of the country and I can honestly say I’ve found something to love in all of them.. Wherever I’ve gone, books have been the bridge to my new community and new friends.

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Meet Kristina Stanley

This week, Kristina Stanley is our guest author for #WriterWednesday. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

 Thank you for having me on Pens, Paws, and Claws. It’s exciting for me to post about writing and dogs. My two passions in life. I’m the CEO of Fictionary. I co-founded Fictionary after I had 4 books published and had developed a process for performing my own structural edit.

My mysteries are very setting dependent. They take place British Columbian mountains, the Bahamas, and Loughborough Lake in Kingston Ontario.

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

Farley Mowat is a 9-year-old Wheaten Terrier. My previous dog, Chica, was a yellow Labrador. Not only are my pets models for writing, I use many other dogs in my novels. In Look The Other Way, there is a dog named Piddles. I met her in the Bahamas and decided she needed a role.

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

My Yellow Lab, Chica, died when she was four. It broke my heart. At the time I was writing Descent, the first in the Stone Mountain Series, so I gave her a role. It was a way for me to keep her with me.

Farley has a large role in Blaze, a cameo in Look The Other Way, and is a character (under the name of Mowat) in my work in progress, Evolution.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve finished the first draft of Evolution. Jaz Cooper’s husband dies under mysterious circumstances. Weeks later, Jaz rescues a dog from drowning and is wounded by the dog. The two incidents are linked, and Jaz tries to discover what really happened to her husband.

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

I’ve always had dogs, and I don’t seem to have a preference for a breed. In order of appearance in my life I had Frosty a Samoyed. Toby a Samoyed. Polo a Newfoundland. Mia a  Newfoundland. Arf a British Bull Terrier. Emmett a Dalmatian. And Zack a Standard Poodle.

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

They are characters in their own right. I’m very interested in how animals affect the lives of humans and how much a human gains from a relationship with an animal. I love to explore this topic.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I believe in writing about what you love. An author spends an awful lot of time with a novel, so for me, the topic needs to be a passion.

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

In my work in progress, Evolution, the main character is a dog trainer. And yes a service dog appears. Jaz, the protagonist, doesn’t realize she needs a therapy dog until she meets a yellow Labrador named Rose. When I’m writing, I imagine my yellow Labrador, Chica.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 When I was a director at Panorama Mountain Village, I changed the policy to allow dogs at work. There was a selfish motive. I brought my dog, Chica, to work with me. She was under 6 months old, and I thought, fully housetrained, so I let her run free in the office.

Unbeknownst to me, a meeting was happening in the conference room.

“Okay, someone admit it. Who did that?” says one of the resort managers. “I can’t take the smell anymore.”

Giggles around the table, but no one admits to the gaseous emissions.

Then, a knock at my office door. “Has Chica been in the conference room?”

“Sure,” I say.

“You’d better come with me.”

So I follow the manager down the hallway. A group of people is moving from one conference room to another.

The manager points to the rug below the table. And there it sits. One big pile of steaming…

Let’s just say everyone had a fun time laughing at me while I cleaned up.

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

Late one night in Unteruhldingen, Germany I was reading MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU by Mary Higgins Clark. The opening—a woman trapped in a grave. Darkness and silence surround her, and she doesn’t know where she is. I can still see her fingers clawing at the edges of the coffin.

Tucked in my bed, I knew a driver would arrive at 4 a.m. to carry me to the Zurich airport for a flight to London, England. The sensible thing to do was sleep. But I couldn’t. I turned pages until the car arrived. I was exhausted, bleary eyed, and excited. At that moment I knew I wanted to write something that forced a person to read and to forget about life for a while.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Farley is always with me when I’m writing. He sleeps at my feet. When he’s decided I’ve ignored him for long enough, he jumps up beside me. When he truly can’t control himself, he puts his head on my keyboard. Then I know it’s time for a walk.

About Kristina Stanley

Kristina Stanley is the CEO of Fictionary.co. Fictionary is an online tool that helps fiction writers turn a first draft into a great story.

 She is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, LOOK THE OTHER WAY, and THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES. She’s published by Imajin Books and Luzifer-Verlag.

 Her short stories have been published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

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Teresa Inge Interviews Southern Cozy Writer, Tonya Kappes

Today, we are interviewing USA Today Bestselling Author of southern cozy mysteries and animal mom, Tonya Kappes.

TONYA, TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
Oh gosh, that’s a loaded question. I’m a mother of four young men who are all in college. My husband and I live in Kentucky. I’ve got 45 published novels. They are southern, charming, and funny. I write full time and love it!

HOW MANY ANIMALS DO YOU HAVE?
I have two Schnauzers. Charlie is thirteen and he’s my hero. He has Congestive Heart Failure, ATP autoimmune disease, a slushy gallbladder, an amputated back leg and toe. He takes nineteen pills a day. Lovingly, we refer to him as our college fund. We also have Scooter who is twelve and full of life. He’s always ready for a good time whether it’s playing with his “grunt grunt” or a fun walk.

WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU WHEN WRITING & TENDING TO ANIMALS?
I get up around six a.m., but the dogs sleep until eight and then they eat. Scooter usually finds a warm quilt since I have several lying around. Charlie is my shadow. I can’t go from my deck to my kitchen to get a coffee refill without him following me. This entire time I’m writing. It I get up every hour for some exercise. I walk and the dogs follow me. Then it’s back to the office to write. Around noon, we walk around the neighborhood. I write all day and everyday. So this is a typical day. In the afternoon, I might move to the family room and sit on the couch with my laptop. Both dogs join me, I’m rarely without them.

Yes, I had a new release in my Kenni Lowry Mystery series. AX TO GRIND. There is a blood hound name Duke in the series. Kenni is a sheriff in a small town and Duke is her Deputy dog. He’s even gotten an award in bravery in earlier books. I write a dog in all my books. So fun! This is the third book in a ten book contract so I’m excited about all the things that Deputy Duke will be doing.
Thank you, Tonya for joining us today.

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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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An Interview with Lauren H., Puppy Trainer for Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with Pens, Paws, and Claws this week. We’re excited to have you on our blog. Lauren is a rising college freshman who started training dogs in high school for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated high school this past May and am attending classes at PVCC with the intention to transfer to another college after 2 years. I am most interested in becoming a counselor.

When did you know that you wanted to train dogs?

My mom and I stopped by the grocery store one evening to pick up a few items and saw a group of dogs being trained. I asked a few questions and left there knowing this was something that I desperately wanted to do.

How did you find out about Guiding Eyes for the Blind? 

After a Google search for possible guide/service dog training organizations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the only one that wrote back letting me know that they were more than happy to have a teenager join their region. The coordinator that responded let me know that all three of her children raised guide dogs when they were teenagers.

Could you tell us a little about the organization? And what kind of training did you have to go through to start?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides dogs free of charge to blind people. They breed the puppies themselves and then foster them out to puppy raisers for approximately 13-14 months. At that point, they return to the New York facility for more intensive training before being paired with a blind handler.

To become a raiser, I attended three, two-hour training sessions and did a 5 day in home trial with a 6 month old puppy that had been going through training in the area. Once we received the puppy, we attended a once a week training class with the puppy for 12 weeks and then big dog training classes every two weeks after that.

Did you get to name the puppies?

No, Guiding Eyes names the puppies. They have the puppies that are a part of a litter all start with the same letter.

How old were they when they started their training?

Depends on the puppy. I have seen them anywhere between 7 weeks to 10 weeks.

Tell us about Wheat your first dog and where he ended up? 

Not all dogs end up being a good match for a blind person. Guiding Eyes has other organizations/career possibilities for when that happens. Wheat let it be known that she was more interested in sniffing down and finding items. The Connecticut State Police showed a strong interest in her, so she now is in their training program. She is due to graduate in December at which point she will wear a vest, a badge, and will be referred to as Detective Wheat.

What breed is she?

She is a Yellow Labrador

Tell us about Nirvana. How long has she been with you? 

We picked up Nirvana on the way home from the New York facility. While we will always have a place in our hearts for Wheat, it was very nice to be able to immediately put all the work and training we had done to use on another dog. We have her for about a month now, and she is definitely a different personality. She is a very gentle soul.  You can almost see her thinking about what you have said and is processing all of the information.

What’s the breed?

She is a black Labrador

Do you have any other family pets? 

We have a 7 yr olds dog that is a beagle mix and a 6yr old Norwegian Forest Cat.

If so, how do they get along with the pups you train?

In general, they like the dogs. There were times that Wheat’s energy level would be a bit much. At those times, they would escape to a private area. Being that Nirvana is a little slower going, the cat has actually been seen cuddling up to her.

How do you socialize the dogs to be in crowds or around people?

They teach you to start out small. In the beginning, it may be good enough to just walk in the door, sit there for a few minutes and go back out again. From there, it’s baby steps.  As the dog is more comfortable, extend the amount of time and start walking around. As far as around people, there are two approaches. When walking past people, you call the dog’s name as you are passing by someone and have a “puppy party” when they focus on you instead of the people. A “puppy party” consists of a few treats while very excitedly praising her for being such a good girl. When people ask to greet her, we have them pet her while we feed her several treats. This helps teach her to pay attention to her handler no matter what.

What is a typical day like when you are training the dogs?

That can really change with age and what the individual dog needs to work on.  House manners, walking while checking in with their handler, and socialization are some of the more common things worked on.

How do you juggle training, volunteer work with school and your other activities?

Thankfully, my family has helped me by seeing to her needs while I am at school or if I need to be out of town. It is actually very good for her so that she remains flexible as to who is working with her. The Richmond Region also has a great network of Puppy sitters that help out when our family happens to go on a trip where we can’t take dogs with us.

How much time do you spend with the dog each day?

Again, it depends on the age. A younger puppy needs much more sleep, so training times are shorter. As the grow, they can handle a little longer. It can also depend on the state of mind of the dog. Training classes help teach you to read the signs of whether a dog is in a state of mind where they are receptive of learning or not.

Congratulations on your recent award! Could you tell us a little about that?

Thank you!  The award is the President’s Volunteer Service Award.  Honestly, I knew nothing about it. Jodi, our regional manager applied for it for myself and a few other teenagers in the Prince William area. I was speechless and very honored when she presented the award.

What two dog training tips would you give to pet owners?

1) Making sure your puppy has 10 minutes, three times a day of chew time on an appropriate dog toy will help to significantly reduce the chance of the pup chewing on other items.

2) Make sure whatever you allow your puppy do, that you will still be okay with them doing that same thing when they are full grown. Stopping what may be unwanted behaviors or habits upfront may save a lot of stress and extra work later.

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with us and telling us about your work with the puppies and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. And congratulations again on your President’s Volunteer Service Award!

Lauren and Wheat

 

 

 

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