Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I’m originally from Northern Virginia where my husband and I lived on a rural farm and raised our family. There we rescued ex-racehorses, dogs and cats, plus a snake or two for over twenty years. As an avid reader with a 4-5 book a week habit, I loved reading but never considered writing.
When we reached empty-nest syndrome, we moved to California. I worked in production on film projects and attended UCLA to expand my understanding of film. One class I attended was about evaluating writing for screenplays. At the time, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was in manuscript form and about to be published. Ghost (with Patrick Swayze) had just opened in theaters. Those were two of the projects we studied. And that’s when I became hooked on screenplays and changed my studies to screenwriting.
For a couple years I wrote screenplays that won some nice awards and were optioned by directors and production companies, but none have been filmed yet. I had a wonderful mentor from Women in Film, Sara Parriott Graham (Runaway Bride, Descendents 1&2), who loves animals as much as I do. She suggested I write our family memoir about our life on our farm and our animals as a book first, before a screenplay. So I took her advice and, with my husband and daughters, wrote The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. We wrote it from my husband’s fish-out-of-water point of view.
The outcome of writing The Reluctant Farmer was unexpected. I had gone back to UCLA to study novel writing in preparation for The Reluctant Farmer and attended other novel and memoir writing events. To my surprise, I discovered I loved writing books and I loved the camaraderie with other authors. So I followed that one with a mystery, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra which became an Amazon/Kindle Scout Selection.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
Lexi, the protagonist in Land Sharks will be acquiring a West Highland Terrier named Frosty in the next sequel. Frosty will be a recurring character and be involved in future books of the series as appropriate.
In The Reluctant Farmer, some of the main animals throughout the book are Junior – a thoroughbred show horse with a sense of humor who loved to play games, Figgy – a Connemara pony escape artist who could put Houdini to shame, Pork Chop – the runaway steer, Amy, a very special rescue dog, and Wood and Duck – two Manx cats who arranged their environment to suit themselves.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just started reading Midnight, Texas by Charlaine Harris and am enjoying her writing. On my book pile, there are a sprinkling of interesting books written by fellow members of Sisters in Crime. Some of those include Plantation Shudders (Ellen Byron), Secret Lives and Private Eyes (Heather Weidner), Fallout (Sara Paretsky), and Moonshine Inn (Maggie King).
What writing projects are you currently working on?
I’m writing the sequel to Land Sharks. It takes place in the Australia Outback.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I could spend a week on my favorite authors. And there are so many wonderful ones I haven’t even had the chance to read yet.
The things I enjoy reading or viewing tend to fall into six categories: physical comedy, quirky comedy, caper, mystery, suspense and action-adventure, but I’m open to all genres. I like books and films that take me somewhere different, either physically or mentally. I like writers whose stories or characters have a sense of humor and protagonists that care about the people around them. Also unusual characters with a moral compass. Here are a few of my favorite authors and my favorite book by each, but I love most of their work and re-read them often.
Michael Connelly – The Concrete Blond
Robert Crais – LA Requiem
Dick Francis – Blood Sport
Elizabeth Peters – The Street of Five Moons
John D. MacDonald – The Deep Blue Goodbye
James Herriott – All Creatures, Great and Small
Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games Trilogy
Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park Carl Barks – Uncle Scrooge Comics
Sara Paretsky – Indemnity Only
Dorothy Gilman – Unexpected Mrs Polifax
Sue Grafton – A is for Alibi
Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Complete Sherlock Holmes
Cornell Woolrich – Rear Window
Thornton Wilder – Bridge of San Luis Rey
Mary Stewart – My Brother Michael
Andrea Camilleri – The Shape of Water
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
We had a wonderful family Dalmatian named Cindy that my parents bought as a puppy during the Minnesota State Fair. Cindy went everywhere with my sister, brother, and I as young kids. She even climbed the twelve foot metal ladder of a local school playground slide which had flat steps, and would slide down behind us. When Cindy was about six, our family moved to a new house about twenty minutes away. As the family station wagon traveled back and forth with our belongings, Cindy grew more and more concerned. Normally she traveled with the family (because she was family). She wasn’t allowed to visit the new house because every square inch of the car was packed with boxes.
Finally, she just couldn’t stand it any more. When my father lowered the tailgate one morning to start loading the station wagon, Cindy leaped into the car, moved as far in as she could, and refused to get out. No amount of coaxing or food interested her. She was not leaving the car. My father finally packed a space around her and she went with us to the new house. After that, her stress disappeared, and she went whenever we kids did, riding stretched across our laps to save space.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
Animals are definitely individuals and each has it’s own character and personality. I often wonder if dogs and cats aren’t special gifts from the universe to teach humans about love.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
Animals have always been an integral part of my family and my life. They rightfully insist on being included.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
So many good answers to this question. I’m sure National Velvet, both book and movie have been mentioned before. I’ll choose Turner & Hooch, a big favorite in our family. It’d be hard to beat Tom Hanks and that wonderful French Mastiff, Beasley. I had the good fortune to take a screenwriting class with Dan Petrie, Jr in Los Angeles who was the Executive Producer on Turner & Hooch and a writer on the screenplay. During lunch, I mentioned the movie, and it turns out it was one of his favorites, too. He said that when they were filming, there was no way they could get Beasley to even look mean. So Tom Hanks started playing and roughhousing with him on breaks. Then when they filmed Beasley “attacking” Tom, they shot from different angles while they were roughhousing to make him look as if he was biting Tom. Tom still had to hold Beasley’s mouth near his throat.
On the mean side of animal behavior, One of my favorite scary movies with animals playing the villains is Ghost and the Darkness with Val Kilmer. It’s based on the non-fiction book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo by JH Patterson and tells the story of a pair of large, maneless, Tsavo male lions (with manes in the movie) who, in 1898, preyed on the construction crews who were building the Kenya-Uganda Railway. It’s a very bizarre story of aberrant lion behavior. Patterson, an engineer, was sent from England to build a railroad bridge over the Tsavo river. A crack shot, he started hunting the lions who were killing the workers, only to discover that the lions were stalking him. They also managed to escape every trap he set by very strange means. The lions were credited with killing over a hundred and thirty-five people before Patterson shot them. The actual lions are on display at the Chicago Field Museum.
I’m getting long-winded here, but I also have to mention the brilliant, original Family Dog from Steven Speilberg’s television show Amazing Stories Vol 2. It was written by Brad Bird (later known for The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille, and more) and supervised by Tim Burton (of everything Tim Burton). Don’t mix this version up with the later Family Dog TV series which I believe Brad Bird was attached to also.
It’s about an unloved family dog who gets his day and one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.
What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?
I’d love to visit Machu Picchu in Peru because of the architecture, the infrastructure, and the brilliant utility of functioning space at the site fascinates me.
Nancy Raven Smith – Biography
Nancy Raven Smith grew up in the Virginia horse country near Washington D.C. where she was an active member of the equestrian community. Not only did she compete on the national level, but she also managed horse shows, and rescued and retrained former racehorses. Raven Smith was a contributing writer and cartoonist for several sports magazines such as The Chronicle of the Horse and Practical Horseman.
While working at CBS Network News Bureau in Washington, DC, she grew interested in the entertainment business. Later, when she and her husband relocated to California, she traded her horse event experience for film work as a production coordinator and enrolled at UCLA to study screenwriting. Her scripts have won numerous awards, but after she wrote one idea as a novel, she discovered a passion for writing mysteries.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Women in Film, Romance Writers of America, & Mystery Writers of America. Her debut novel, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, has won several awards and was chosen as an Amazon/Kindle Scout Program Selection Winner by Kindle Press.
Let’s Be Social:
Reluctant Farmer on Amazon – http://amzn.to/1XoblsP
Land Sharks on Amazon – http://amzn.to/1JuIHku