Welcome back, A. R. Kennedy!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome A. R. Kennedy back to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book.

My new book, Sleuth on Safari, was inspired by my travel to South Africa a few years ago. I love animals, especially my two pups, and I love to travel. My favorite trips combine seeing new places and its wildlife.

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

I have two dogs. One is a rescue, H, and one is a miniature schnauzer, River. I’m sure their antics will be used in upcoming books and short stories.

My previous schnauzers, L & H who are still dearly missed, were the inspiration for Laude, in my Nathan Miccoli Mystery series.

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

Animals are a huge part of all my novels. In Saving Ferris, failed out of service school golden retriever Ferris is the star of the book. In the Nathan Miccoli series, Laude is a scene stealer. In Sleuth on Safari, different types of animals play a role—the local wildlife. Searching for the Big Five, and other animals, on the game drives are key parts of any safari. I hope the reader finds themselves immersed in Naomi’s observations of the animals.

What’s your real-life, funniest pet story?

Shortly after graduating college, I got a beautiful black schnauzer puppy, L. One day, while walking the pup, I saw a neighbor who I was holding a package for. My puppy was rambunctious and quick. When I opened my apartment door, my pup saw my roommate’s cat and took off! Taking me with her. I fell flat on my face. I slowly got up, got the package and handed it to the neighbor. She never passed me again without laughing.

What’s the most interesting/fun/dangerous thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your books?

I didn’t know it at the time but it was on the safari. I slept in a treehouse by myself! It was miles away from the lodge. I was the first in the group to go so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a night filled with fear, anxiety, and amazing sights. Everyone at the lodge, guests and staff, was so impressed I stayed out there the whole night by myself!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

I only write at home. The rescue pup is usually on my lap. The puppy is running wild, anywhere and everywhere. I think she wants to be involved in the writing because she loves to chew on my glasses, pens, paper, phone and even my computer!

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

I would give the advice that was given to me when I started by German novelist Beate Sauer — Write. Take a writing class.

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

Start branding and marketing months ahead of the book’s release. You need at least a six month plan for your release. The ‘write it and they will buy it’ strategy won’t work without a structured plan leading up to the novel’s release.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Wreak havoc. No, that’s just the puppy. I’m fortunate my mother loves her ‘grand-puppy’ and watches her for me so I can write.

What’s next for you with your writing projects?

The Traveler Cozy Mystery series continues in Iceland. We follow Naomi as she travels with another family member and investigates another murder. The yet to be titled book 2 is expected Summer 2020.

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Welcome, Gabriel Valjan!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Gabriel Valjan to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

My name is Gabriel Valjan and I write crime with a love and respect for Italy (my Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing) and an enjoyment of intrigue (my Company Files, again with Winter Goose, and my forthcoming Shane Cleary series with Level Best Books). In all my writing I try to create a group of characters that readers can enjoy and root for, while giving them slices of culture and lost history they may not have known.

The Roma Series is contemporary crime fiction with an American expat abroad. Readers should expect a story with some technology, politics, and Italian culture and food. The Company Files introduces readers to the early days of the intelligence community and the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. The Shane Cleary series will take readers back to 70s New England, this time to South End Boston—not to be confused with Whitey Bulger’s South Boston. The first of five Shane books, Dirty Old Town, is slated for publication in January 2020.

I’ve been publishing since 2010. My short stories have appeared online, or in anthologies. I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Prizes, and I received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest.

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

I have one cat named Squeak aka Buttons, a rescue tuxedo cat. My followers on Twitter expect to find some missive from Squeak on Caturday (Saturday in the Twitterverse). Squeak has been my writing companion and the inspiration for one of two cats in Roma Series Book 5: Corporate Citizen. In Dirty Old Town, the first Shane Cleary novel for Level Best Books, readers will meet Delilah, my main character’s cat and voice of conscience.

Many writers have pets and I’ve found that readers both enjoy the distraction and interpret how the character treats his or her pet as indicative of their morality. I think it’s true to say that many people find unconditional love and a nonjudgmental attitude with their fur-companions. Buttons and my late cat Squawk aka Banzai have been a joy in my life.

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

Buttons is Bogie, the male in the couple of Bogie and Bacall in Corporate Citizen. Bianca, my main character, is rather prickly and standoffish but Bogie and Bacall elicit a warmer and caring side of her personality. The real treat for readers is how Silvio, a gifted translator of sorts, communicates with cats. Silvio had also adopted a cat orphaned when his owner was murdered.

Delilah or Dee in the Shane Cleary series takes Shane to task on some of his choices. Without giving away too much, she sits and stares at him (literally) when he comes home after doing something that he shouldn’t have. Shane knows it and he ‘talks’ to Delilah. She won’t have any of it and lets him know it in no uncertain terms.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Murder List and Edwin Hill’s The Missing Ones, and am anxious to get my mitts on Louise Penny’s The Better Man. In the interim, I’m reading a brief short story collection by Italo Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun. I read between books I’m writing to avoid undue influence. I find short fiction a welcome palate cleanser.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am editing Dirty Old Town for Level Best Books. In revisiting the writing, I want to make sure everything ‘adds up’ and that I’ve seeded the book with questions that will get answered as the series progresses. I have written five books and had a long-arc view of conflicts and resolutions.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I enjoy many authors for different reasons. As an only child, I found solace and company in reading books. I was also fortunate to have teachers who thrusted books into my hands. My seventh-grade teacher gave me a copy of Agatha Christie and I proceeded to read all of her work in the next two years. As a child of the Seventies, I had a fondness for historical sagas that were all the rage, so Clavell, Hailey, Jakes, Levin, Peters, and Wouk are nostalgic touchstones for me. As for contemporary historical fiction, I’ve enjoyed Robert Harris’s trilogy on Cicero.

As a writer, you feel ‘on’ most of the time and oftentimes your inner critic interferes with your enjoyment. When I sit down with a writer I enjoy, I like to think I’m spending time with an old friend or making a new one. Good writing like good food is sustenance; it can offer escape and yet fortify you against the troubles in Life. In terms of style, I’ve come to appreciate the clean and elegant sentences of Margaret Millar, her husband Ross Macdonald, and Rex Stout. I began writing with poetry and moved to short stories. Short fiction is a difficult art form and I think most readers avoid it because they’ve been traumatized by high school English classes. Stefan Zweig was a master of the form, and I admire the stories we get from Bonnie Jo Campbell, EJ Levy, and Art Taylor.

I read broadly, but yet I’ve tried to seek out writers who are different from either how I’ve experienced the world, or how I would write a story. Writers I have enjoyed: RG Belsky, Andrea Camilleri, Bruce Coffin, LA Chandlar, J. California Cooper, Dick Cass, Colleen Gleason, Maurizio de Giovanni, Peter Hamill, Cheryl Head, Reginald Hill, Jim L’Etoile, Laurie King, Dannie Martin, Gabriel García Marquez, Eryk Pruitt, Stephen Mack Jones, Sara Paretsky, William Martin, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Walter Mosley, James Ziskin, and many more.

However, my absolute favorite, my desert island author is Shakespeare.

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

I did. My mother had a miniature poodle named Lulu, who was a terror and spiteful force of nature. To give you one example, she hated baths so she would run outside and roll in the dirt the minute she escaped the tub. She got on with my mother and nobody else. My grandparents had a German Shepherd named Nero, who was the most chill and calming living thing I’ve ever encountered. Protective, intuitive, and a gentle being.

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

I try to stay true to how animals function in our lives. They are our friends and family; they understand us in ways our biological relations do not, and they do so without judgment. Buttons helped me get through aggressive radiation treatment. He’d wait at the door when I came home and snuggle up to me until I fell asleep. That was selfless and compassionate. Then he would eat. If you know him, you know he likes his food, but when I was sick, I came first and I’m grateful to him for that. There’s an understanding there I think people don’t understand.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing for the same reason people infuse humor into their stories. Pets add dimensionality, reveal our humanity, our shortcomings, and I think we are quick to defend animals because they are innocent and unconditional. Think of Tony Soprano, a killer, who became upset and distraught when the horse Pie-O-My and the dog Cosette died. Even he, despite his sociopathy, understood pets deserved to be protected.

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

Not until after I was 40. I’ll be honest: as a reader all my life, I never gave thought to writing a novel or anything. When I turned 40, I set myself a goal of writing a short story a week for one year. My earliest artistic impulses were in drawing and painting. When started writing, I accepted the fact that most of it would be terrible. I had slapped together a novel, just to get certain things out of my system. A year later, I had a handful of stories that I thought were decent (I’m very critical of my own work), so I submitted two stories to magazines, and both were published. One of them was shortlisted for the Fish Prize in 2010. I wrote most of the Roma Series while dealing with the aftermath of radiation; there’s a reason why food is a thread throughout the novels. My later novels were born of my own curiosity and explorations in history.

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

Respect your reader’s intelligence and their time. Give them a story and an experience, and not your ego for 300 pages where you demonstrate your wit and vocabulary. People thirst for intimacy and a hardscrabble few will pick up a book instead of the TV remote. Write authentic. I can’t define what that means for you, and perhaps that is why I waited until I was 40 years old.

You are the sum of a lifetime of reading and your relationship with language. What you do with language is unique to you, so find it and cultivate it…in workshop babble, it’s called Voice, and it can’t be taught in any MFA program. The rest of it…humor, how you turn a phrase comes from your own peculiar way of observing the world around you.

Don’t make excuses. Set aside distractions. Trust me, you’ll make the time for what is important to you. Set aside distinctions such as genre and literary and create a where you want to spend time in and swim in. There’s a good chance others will enjoy it. If you enjoy a particular writer, break it down for yourself what it is you enjoy about them, and think about how they did it, and then do it your way. Learn craft, the ways of creating character, pacing and rhythm, and dialogue. Yes, you can learn it from a book or from a teacher, but I think it’s best to teach yourself, on your own terms because you’ll never forget the lessons or tools you created for yourself. Last but not least, it’s easy to be a critic, so be selective about what you allow into your sphere. Keep writing and strive to improve your skills.

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

There are no guarantees. Be careful of how you define success. There are a lot of ‘successful’ books that are nothing more than soapboxes for ego, that lack structure, or are formulaic stories. I’ve learned that books that I thought were successful because of awards and vigorous marketing were poor in sales. Publishing is a business and money is what matters. Right time. Right place. There are too many variables, so write what you are proud of and can speak for you when you’re not in the room.

About Gabriel

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series and the Company Files with Winter Goose Publishing. The first of five Shane Cleary novels with Level Best Books is scheduled to appear in January 2020. Gabriel is a member of Sisters in Crime, and attends Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. He lives in Boston.

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Welcome, Michele Peters

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Michele Peters to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I grew up in a large Midwest town (St. Louis), have lived in Arizona for the past nine years with my husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. I have two children, my son lives in Arizona and my daughter in NY.

How we came to Arizona is a story onto itself filled with happenstance, circumstance and crazy timing, an out-of- the-blue job offer that ended up with my having three weeks to move from a lifetime in the Midwest. The task of packing, moving, selling and closing up a house we lived in for over 27 years fell squarely to my husband. On January 2nd I left with two suitcases and enough clothes to get me through until the rest of my things could be shipped. And that is a whole other story.

 Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions in corporate, university and non-profit, basically in marketing, advertising and development. Previous writing experience includes feature articles on everything from fashion to NASCAR races and a local reporter. The best writing gig I landed, even to this day, was an assignment to write a three page feature article on a small cruise ship vacation experience to the British Isles. This is where I fell in love with Ireland and Scotland and will most likely set a few of my stories in these fascinating locales.

In December 2018, I left the position Managing Director of a classical theatre company to concentrate full time and pursue my life-long dream of writing fiction. Always an avid reader from an early age (I was that “bookworm” kids teased); a BA in communications from Lindenwood University reinforced this passion but added a new appreciation for the beauty and power of language. During this time I also read early Russian literature (Pushkin, Leskov, Gogol) which created a new dimension for me in character description and development.

When we had to write our thesis (capstone), while other students complained about having to write 90 pages, I was trying to figure out how to keep it to only 90 pages.

I discovered cozies quite by accident last summer while visiting a friend, have been studying this genre and working on the first of a series ever since.

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

My husband and I, over the years have had numerous pet dogs, all rescues and always two or three. All were fairly large, mixed breed rescues. We adopted an abused Irish setter who I nursed back to health. My vet laughed when I told him I put Shayna in our guest bed and fed her home-made chicken soup; she lived to 14 years old; he originally said she wouldn’t live the year (she was about two years old at the time). We’ve had Bootsie and Pepper; Matty and Abby; Crackers and Shayna. And then Clancy, a 125lb Irish setter who thought he was a lap dog. Since we are older, we not only downsized our house but our pets. Sophie and Rocky are two small Chihuahua mixes, who I am quite certain, believe we are just funny forms of them.

Clancy will be featured in my cozy mystery as well as on the cover. In his own crazy way, he helps the protagonist uncover and dig up clues needed to solve murders.

What are you reading now?
Like so many of us, I have more than one book started. Reading Ellen Byron’s Body on the Bayou; a collection of stories by Daphne duMauier, Echoes from the Macabre and Dianne Freeman’s A Ladies Guide to Gossip and Murder. Just finished Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and constantly adding to my collection of her works.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
The first in a series of cozy mysteries and a WWII mystery. Doing research on a historical fiction manuscript. In between, every so often I am asked to write marketing copy for a few freelance clients I have retained.

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

Growing up we had beautiful white and tan collie mix named Fluffy; she was more our third sister. We painted her toenails, she let us dress her up, she slept with me and I read books to her. I’m certain at some point she will be featured in one of my books. She had such a sweet, loving nature…a truly gentle soul.

My love of animals, especially dogs, is simply a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. One of my “causes” is pet rescues and shelters. I still support the ASPCA in St. Louis and the Humane Society in Arizona. All donations are given in honor of my pets.

One of my treasured pieces of jewelry is a bracelet. On the outside is inscribed “Wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge” and on the inside are the names of all my dogs who are waiting for me at that bridge. I wear this almost every day.

 

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Clancy was probably the funniest pet we’ve had. He quickly learned how to open doors and drawers. He also decided fences, screen doors, screened windows were simply objects to move out of his way. After being away for almost an entire day, we came home to discover he opened the sliding doors to our hall closet, pulled everyone’s coat down from the hangers and piled them up in the middle of our living room. He created a nest of sorts from our coats and was perched on top of the pile of coats as happy as could be. Gotta love a pet that will do that.

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

I always loved to read but began to embellish or rewrite the stories I was reading as early as grade school. I can easily trace back my certainty to become a writer to a 7th grade writing assignment where we had to create a Greek myth. My teacher told me… “You need to be a writer.” It has taken me ¾ of a lifetime, but I am following my heart and her advice.


Apparently some of my friends knew I was destined to become a writer. My closest high school friend gave me a Roget’s Thesaurus as a graduation present. Inside she wrote, “For your writing career.” I still have that thesaurus.

All will be confirmed the day I sign a publishing contract.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
That is funny – and how did you know I have more than one TBR pile?

I have three TBR piles since I am working in two different genres and one I call ‘just for fun’. My mystery pile has several books by Agatha Christie, my historical fiction has Judith Starkston’s Priestess of Ishana and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy at the top, and my for fun has Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon and The Power by Naomi Alderman at the top. I would use up all the space we have here to list all of the books in my TBR piles.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
a) Writing novels, no matter what genre, is very different from writing marketing copy, press releases, feature articles or reporting. This is truly a craft that needs to be learned, honed and practiced.

b)To start reading books and attending conferences focused on the “art or craft” of good writing; to learn some of the well- known and lesser known necessities good stories must contain – the beat sheets, the 3-act formula, editing, pacing, character arcs and development, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Read, read and read. Once you’ve settled on a genre, read good writers. Read the classics – they have survived for a reason. Also begin to build your own library about the craft of writing; plot and structure, conflict, self-editing etc.

Realize you will write, edit, write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, rinse and repeat. It is all part of the process to achieve your best work.

Join one or two writers groups where you are comfortable. I tried 4 or 5 before I settled on the AZ Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths (and the Guppies Group). Attend conferences if possible. Some of the most valuable advice and hints I learned were at conferences. Writing is a solitary profession – you need others who understand what we go through to finish a book. Build your own community.

Right now I am learning that I just have to be tenacious and keep writing – until I can write those glorious words…The End.

What is one lesson you learned about writing or publishing that you’d like to share?
If you self-publish or go with a house, you will be expected to be your own marketing dept. Learn social media, learn who your target audience is and what they are reading. In addition to writing time, you will need to set aside time devoted only to marketing.

About Michele
Now able to concentrate on her second career and life-long passion for writing, Michele Peters is working on the first in a series of cozy mysteries set in a fictional New England town, doing research for an upcoming WW II mystery while a story and characters set in medieval England keep her up at night. Writing has always been a part of her life in some form or another; writing marketing copy, feature articles, press releases or reporting, writing is always there. Michele now lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two rescue dogs, Sophie and Rocky. Her son and daughter are on auto-pilot, the dogs have settled in and Michele is now able to focus on writing. She retains a few free-lance writing clients but happily pursues her long-awaited dream.

 

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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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Congratulations to Jodi Rath on Her Latest Mystery!

Jodi Rath

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Jodi Rath, back to the blog. Congratulations on your new book!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. I LOVE to read, write, research, and do art projects. I’m a weirdo because I am happy to be home 24/7 working—my work feels like play to me! I love my home, my hubby, my nine cats, and my business which is split between teaching online courses to OH teachers, writing monthly for educational affiliations, and writing my culinary cozy mystery series. I also do individual marketing consultant work with authors on an hourly basis. I work all the time—all hours of the day—seven days a week. BUT, it feels like I’m a kid playing, not like work.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? My hubby and I have nine cats now. In the seventeen years we’ve been together, we’ve had sixteen cats total (never at once). Like so many pet lovers, we’ve lost many along the way but always find room in our hearts for me. Recently, we adopted three five-week-old kitten sisters Lily Rose Rath, Luna Belle Rath, and Lulu Bean Rath (all of our cats have middle names! LOL)

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names? Every book cover for The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series will have a picture of one of our cats on it. Book on, Pineapple Upside Down Murder, had a picture of my 19-year-old D.J. Book two, Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder, had a picture of our one-eyed cat, Stewart, on it. My protagonist, Jolie Tucker, has four cats (all of which I have in our home). Her on again—off again beau, Mick Meiser, has adopted Stewart recently. The story of how Meiser and Stewart met is true to how my hubby met our Stewart.

What are you reading now? I’m reading Leslie Budewitz book Death Al Dente! I love Leslie! She has been a mentor to me, and I love her Food Village series!

What writing projects are you currently working on? Right now, I’m writing book 2.5 which is a Thanksgiving holiday book coming out 11/15/19 called Turkey Basted to Death. This is my first time writing a holiday themed book. It is SO much fun to write, but it’s really weird to be writing it in June of 2019. It’s making me crave turkey sandwiches a lot!

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing? I think as a new writer, in book one, my cats were mentioned somewhat in passing. They had scenes and were comic relief at times. I noticed in book two that my cats took on more of characters and helped take the villain down! I’m hoping to continue to develop more animals in each novel I write.

Why do you include animals in your writing? I have always been an animal lover and advocate. I pay into ASPCA monthly and I’ve helped our local vet with many rescues. Also, my local vet, Dr. Libby, is a character in the series too!

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them. In book two, Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder, I have a new character, Mirabelle, who is a lady with Down Syndrome who has sight issues. Mirabelle is the hostess with the mostess, as Aunt Fern says, at Cast Iron Creations restaurant. She has a seeing-eyed dog named Spy. The two are a dynamic duo! I’m thrilled to have them in the series!

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why? I just had this conversation with my hubby the other day. I told him that in my life I wanted to be in a solid, happy, strong relationship with someone that is my best friend. Also, I wanted to raise a family of happy and loved pets. Lastly, I wanted a career I loved. I have all of that. So, whenever it’s my time to go, no one has to feel sad for me. I’ve been blessed to live this life for the last seventeen years—and I will continue to cherish it daily!

What do your pets do when you are writing? LOL, I shared a picture of the three new kittens. That is them getting ready to nap while I write. That’s on a good day! Somedays they are crawling on the keyboard or climbing on me for attention.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing? I wish I knew how wonderful the readers would be. I was afraid of having people not like me, or people being mean for the sake of being mean. I’ve found that my readers are so kind and wonderful in cheering me on. Also, I ask that all my readers either leave a honest review or email, text, or FB message me to let me know what they like and didn’t like about my books. I take notes on what my readers say to me to improve as I continue to grow as a writer. I am also a teacher and I will never stop learning. I have the best readers and I’m so thankful for all of them!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? I will read anywhere, anytime. I have my Nook on my phone, tablet, and both laptops. I love reading in bed before sleep though.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? Be you, take the jump, study marketing!

About Jodi

Moving into her second decade working in education, Jodi Rath has decided to begin a life of crime in her The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. Her passion for both mysteries and education led her to combine the two to create her business MYS ED, where she splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers and creating mischief in her fictional writing. She currently resides in a small, cozy village in Ohio with her husband and her nine cats.

About Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Murder

 Welcome to Leavensport, Ohio where DEATH takes a delicious turn!

Financial fraud of elderly villagers in Leavensport, an urban sprawl threat to the community, disastrous dates, cross-sell marketing gone wrong, and another murder? Jolie Tucker is ready to try dating again. Well, she has no choice—since her family auctioned her off to the highest bidder. Her best friend, Ava, has agreed to a double date, but both friends find out hidden secrets about their partners as well as deception by one of the village’s own, who will soon be found dead. This plot is sure to be spicy!

Release Date: 06/21/19

Cover: Attached

Links to purchase book:

Amazon: http://authl.it/B07Q1K4DN3

All other e-platforms: https://books2read.com/u/bOAYyK

Newsletter link to A Mystery A Month—sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive a free Mystery a Month and a chance to win prizes for those who guess the right answers! http://eepurl.com/dIfXdb

Website: www.jodirath.com

FB Author page: @authorjodirath

Twitter: @jodirath

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jodi-rath

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

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Welcome, Merrilee Robson!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Merrilee Robson to the blog.

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

I’ve loved to make up stories for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in pencil when I was eleven. I found it a few years ago in a closet at my parents’ house and a few elements made their way into a short story, The Flamingo Diamond, that is being published later this year in a magazine in the UK.

Six of my mystery short stories have been published or are scheduled to be published this year. I have a few more in the works.

My first published novel, Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op in Vancouver.

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

I have two male cats, Oswin and Jordan. They are 14 and 12 years old and were both adopted from a shelter. Oswin was around two when we adopted him and Jordan came a while later as a six-month-old kitten with a broken leg. I was supposed to be fostering him but his stay inevitably became permanent. My cats aren’t models for any pets in my books but I have always had cats in my home, so they seem natural to include in fiction.

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

In Murder is Uncooperative, the protagonist, Rebecca, is a single mom desperately looking for a home in Vancouver’s expensive housing market. She needs an affordable apartment that is wheelchair-accessible for her disabled father. A lot of rental apartments won’t allow pets, so her search is complicated because her family also includes her young son Ben’s kitten, Maui.

Rebecca is delighted when she finds an apartment in Waterview housing co-op, which she thinks is going to be perfect. But then she finds a body in the co-op’s office.

  1. What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I love the characters in this series and this was my favorite one. Now I’m on to Murder in Midtown, the second in a new series by Liz Freeland.

  1. What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a sequel to Murder is Uncooperative and I’ve just completed a historical mystery set at the start of the first World War. I’m pleased that the manuscript for that is a finalist for the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore award.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. When I first read her books as a teenager, I was much more focused on the romances. But now that I’m older I appreciate her social commentary more. I’m terribly impressed that her books get funnier the more often you read them.

In mysteries, I’m a fan of Canadian authors Gail Bowen and Louise Penny. Both have an admirable knack of writing a complete mystery in each book but continuing the arc of the characters’ lives and relationships throughout the series.

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

The cat I had growing up was named Minou. She was the runt of a litter of feral kittens found in a crawl space under a house across the street. She was so small, I fed her with milk in a doll bottle for the first few weeks. She was a wonderful cat, who seemed to regard us kids as her kittens.

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

When I first got one of our cats, Jordan, he had had surgery on his broken leg and then got an infection, so he was on antibiotics and pain meds. I was allowed to cuddle him for comfort but most of the time he was supposed to stay quietly in a kennel and rest. But nobody told him that. So he’d try to walk around and the meds upset his stomach. One day I came back to find everything in his kennel in complete disarray, his food kicked out of his dish, his bed rumpled, his litter scattered over everything, and absolutely everything, including him, covered in cat poo. So I had the challenge of trying to keep him calm and still, while trying to clean him and every single thing in his kennel.

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

I’m fascinated by history. I have always wanted to go to Egypt to see the pyramids and temples, and go on a cruise down the Nile, hopefully without the Death on the Nile aspects, although I do love the Agatha Christie archeology adventures.

  1. What do your pets do when you are writing?

My cats like that I sit still for so long. They would prefer to sit on my lap and I sometimes have to balance my laptop in the air and try to type with one hand. But mostly I write while sitting on the couch and they sit on the back of the couch, within petting distance.

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

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Writers are so often plagued with self-doubt but it is so much easier to edit a bad draft than a blank page. And even if you only write a page a day, eventually you will have written a book.

About Merrilee:

Merrilee Robson’s first novel, Murder is Uncooperative, is a mystery set in a non-profit housing cooperative in Vancouver. Her latest manuscript, a historical mystery set in the month before the first World War is a finalist for the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore award and an earlier version was shortlist for the Freddie Award for Writing Excellence, presented by the Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter at Sleuthfest.

Her most recent short stories have been published in this year in Mystery Weekly, Mysteryrat’s Maze podcast, and The Desperate and the Damned, a new anthology from Toe Six Press. Other stories are upcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and the People’s Friend.

She has just completed two years on the board of Crime Writers of Canada as the regional rep for BC/Yukon/NWT. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime – Canada West, the Historical Novel Society, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

Let’s Be Social:

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The DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM Authors Talk Writing, Mysteries, and Pets

My pals from the Deadly Southern Charm mystery anthology are my guests today.  Please welcome, Lynn Cahoon, Frances Aylor, Kristin Kisska, J.A. Chalkley, and Stacie Giles. They’re here to talk about writing, books, their pets, and our new anthology.

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

 Heather: We have two crazy Jack Russell Terriers, Disney and Riley. They’re from the same litter, and they keep us on our toes.

Lynn: Right now, our house is a little quiet. We lost our long-time companions, Homer (14) and Demon (19) in January of this year. They were Pomeranians. Homer was attacked by neighbor dogs in HIS yard and Demon decided it was his time a few weeks later. So it’s just Thor right now. He’s my way too tall cat. But next week, we’re getting two new puppies –Keeshonds. Dexter and Quinn.

Frances: Over the years I’ve owned a cocker spaniel, a labrador retriever, five cats, several goldfish and a hamster. The lab was a frisky, high-spirited dog that I took to obedience school so I could learn to manage him. While there I saw two beautiful, well-trained German shepherds. The German shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab combines the beauty of those dogs with the friskiness of my lab.

Kristin: I’m sorry to report that I don’t have any pets at present—not for want of loving them! That said, I drew on my experience horseback riding English saddle, both as a teen and an adult, to write my short story, “Unbridled.”

J.A.: I don’t have any pets at the moment. My last pet was a border collie mix named Woody. He was a rescue, and I later found out he had a brother named Cowboy.

Stacie: I grew up with a “guard” chihuahua named Taffie who used to boss all the neighborhood dogs and cats, including our other pets. Taffie and I were so close that my parents kept her death during my freshman year of college from me for weeks, thinking it would make living away from home too hard for me! I still miss the first dog I had as an adult, D’Artagnan–we called him D’Art–who was loving and lively, and would play fetch for hours. Now I enjoy an aging Staffordshire Terrier named Tinkerbell who patiently follows me everywhere, and endures the teasing of our cat who simply cannot leave poor Tinkerbell alone.

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

 Heather: Most of my short stories and novels have animals. In my Delanie Fitzgerald series, Margaret, the English bulldog is a fixture in the private eye’s office. She’s a brown and white log with legs. I partnered with three other dogs on a novella project, To Fetch a Thief. My story is “Diggin’ up Dirt,” and it features a JRT named Darby who was based on my dog, Disney.

Lynn: Of course! Emma is Jill’s Golden Retriever in the Tourist Trap series. She even found a missing boy in an early book. Cat Latimer just got a barn cat and four kittens in book four of the series. And Angie from the Farm to Fork series has Dom – a St Bernard, Precious – a goat, and Mabel – the last remaining hen from Nona’s flock.

Frances: Webster is a German Shepherd puppy in my thriller Money Grab. He’s purchased by one of the characters as a guard dog, but his care and maintenance fall to the wife, who’s not a pet person. My main character Robbie later adopts the dog and considers him a faithful companion. He will be a recurring character in future novels.

 Kristin: I’ve only ever featured animals in one of my stories, “Unbridled.” The three show horses—Bay, D’artagnan, and Spade—all board at the same equestrian center in South Carolina’s Low Country. As readers soon find out, they are as commanding as their rider/owners.

J.A.: I’ve been working on a detective novel where the lead character owns two tabby cats, named Lenny and Squiggy. I’m telling my age with that reference.

Stacie: As I develop my main character, I plan for her to have a Siamese cat named Loopy who is almost preternaturally attuned to Vera’s recurrent migraines.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

 Heather: I am working on a cozy mystery novel, and it features a Jack Russell Terrier named Bijou. I am also working on a dog mystery for the second Mutt Mysteries series. It features a Rottweiler named Oscar, and the story’s called “The Fast and the Furriest.”

Lynn: As I write this, I’m working on book 4 of the Farm to Fork mystery series. The working title is DEATH ON A STICK. It’s set in my home state of Idaho and I love writing a late summer weather scene while the snow outside my window keeps getting deeper. After that, I’m doing my first Farm to Fork Novella which will have snow, but maybe I won’t be so sick of it by then.

Frances: I’m finishing up the second book in the Robbie Bradford mystery series. In this one, Robbie goes to Switzerland with a client, to help her manage some issues with family money. The third book will be set in either Egypt or Jordan, both of which I recently visited. I’m also working on financial presentations for various groups, to give people guidance on how to manage their money.

Kristin: I’m polishing my second suspense novel, which is a quest for a missing Faberge Egg throughout Prague and other Central European cities. I’m also in the process of drafting my third novel, a domestic suspense, which features Lulu the tabby cat.

J.A.: I’m working on a short story for a sci fi/fantasy magazine submission

Stacie: Actually, I am currently working on a nonfiction project, a college-level online resource on the United States Intelligence Community, drawing on my background as a CIA analyst. I’m also trying to hone my fiction writing skills and develop a series of short stories set in Memphis, Tennessee from 1920 through the 1960s in which Vera and her policeman cousin Burnell navigate the turbulent social changes of the time while solving crimes in a way that is both merciful and just.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

 Heather: My Jack Russell Terrier Riley has a thing for paper. One day, I set my open purse on the floor next to my desk while I was working. When I got up, I noticed the ATM receipt for $40 was wet and on the floor. Curious, I rummaged through my purse. Riley had pulled it out along with a twenty. He ate one of my twenty-dollar bills.

Lynn: Thor (the cat) liked to hide behind the television when the dogs went out first thing in the morning. Then he’d pop out and stand on his hide legs and pretend to be an attacking bear. One morning, Homer wasn’t having it. He bulldozed the cat into the television stand, then went to stand by the door waiting for us to let him out. Thor stopped playing that game after that.

Frances: When I was a child, we visited a family friend whose dog had recently had puppies. When my parents got ready to leave, they found me sitting on the floor in the utility room, with all five puppies lying on my outstretched legs, determined that I was going to take them home with me. My dad convinced me that the pups were too young to leave their mother, but promised I could come back later and pick out one for myself. That cocker spaniel puppy and I grew up together.

 J.A.: We adopted Woody for my son, who was seven at the time. They grew up together. Woody would listen to everyone, but my son. Woody wasn’t allowed on the bed, yeah that rule didn’t last long. When he heard our bedroom door close at night, he would jump on my son’s bed. Anytime he heard the door open he’d jump down and play innocent.

Stacie: My children were young when hyperactive D’Art joined our family. The kids would put on roller skates to take him on “walks” which were really mad careening around the neighborhood! They could only stop by collapsing on the lawn or, occasionally, running into a tree!

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Heather: There are two dog beds on either side of my desk in the office. They nap mostly while I’m writing or editing. Sometimes, they help with plotting.

Lynn: Thor sleeps on my desk. I’m hoping the new puppies will hang out under my desk. (As long as they don’t chew on the cords.)

Frances: My lab was an outdoor dog who enjoyed exploring the woods behind our house.

 Kristin: Oh, I wish I had a cat. If it were like my previous fur babies, it would ignore me actively until I tried to pet it, then shun me. Is there anything more divine than purring???

Stacie: Tinkerbell lies on the floor just outside the open door of my office. She seems to feel she is guarding me. The cat Azzie has to climb on my lap or, if I’m standing up using my sit/stand desk, he’ll reach up and claw my legs until I pick him up and let him investigate what I’m doing. Once satisfied, he’ll curl up in a comfy chair near me and snooze.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

 Heather: I grew up in a suburban house. We had a couple of gold fish over the years. My dad, a 46-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Police force, had a police dog once. I didn’t have dogs until I moved out.

Lynn: I had a grey cheek parakeet once. She was part of a breeding pair. She didn’t like men. So she’d bite me every time my husband or my son would come close. But she did like drinking Coke out of the lip of my Coke can.

Frances: We once had an aquarium filled with exotic fish. I especially liked the neon tetras, the angelfish, and the whiskery catfish.

Kristin: My family had lots of pets while I grew up, from dogs and cats, to fish, birds, and gerbils. The most unique pet, though, was our ferret, Bartles.

J.A.: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but somehow we always seemed to have farm animals. Over the years there were chickens, calves that needed to be bottle feed till they were big enough to release into pasture, and goats. My mother loved goats. We had at least one for years. There were dogs, cats, hamsters and for a brief period rabbits.

Stacie: We had some geckos when we lived in Hawaii. They were amusing to watch climb the walls and ceilings! But it wasn’t amusing when my husband brought home flying cockroaches from work to feed them! Of course, the cockroaches got away. Sigh.

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

Heather: Writing is a business. You need to treat it like that. It includes a lot of record-keeping and marketing. You also need to guard your writing time. There are so many distractions and obligations. You really do need a writing schedule.

Lynn: It’s okay to stand up for what you want and how you want your book to look. You can’t wait for the muse to hit to write. Set a word count and meet it. Otherwise, the book won’t rise to the top of your to do pile. I write first because I’m better in the morning and I don’t write well late at night. Your mileage may vary.

Frances: Writing a novel takes so much longer than I thought it would. I have to schedule a time to write each day; otherwise, other projects intrude on my time. Marketing a book is even more time consuming. Mastering social media is a continuing challenge.

Kristin: I wish I’d known that once I type The End, an author is really only a third the way through the publishing process. The next third is revising and editing, and the last third is publishing/marketing the work (of course, while working through the next project). Also, many words can be written before sunrise. Use your time wisely!

J.A.: Writing is hard work. Not just the writing, but the business side of it.

Stacie: Well, I truly am just starting in fiction writing now. One thing I already know from my nonfiction work, however, is that writing takes rewriting, and rewriting, and double checking, and rewriting some more!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

Heather: I love to write at the beach when we’re visiting. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and I miss the ocean. When at home, I love to write on my deck on sunny days.

Lynn: I love writing at my desk because I have a desktop with a 32-inch screen. But I can and do write anywhere. Reading, I need good light. My favorite place to get story now is during my commute in my car.

Frances: Most of the time I write on my laptop at my office desk. In warm weather, I take the laptop out to the gazebo. Most of my reading is done in bed at night, just before I go to sleep.

Kristin: I get my best writing done in my silent, quiet writers cave at home. Even better, when everyone in my family is either asleep or away. Reading, however, I can do absolutely anywhere, but my favorite place is in a bookstore café.

J.A.: I have an office space set up in my she cave at home. It’s quiet and comfort.

Stacie: I am happy as a clam to read wherever I am! But for writing, I prefer my office, where I’m surrounded by all the things I need – all kinds of materials and, most importantly, a comfy chair and a lovely view out the window when I need to clear my head!

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

Heather: Be persistent. Don’t give up. Writing and publishing are hard. You need to keep at it.

Lynn: Make sure it’s really what you want to do. You spend way too much time working and alone for it to be just a whim.

Frances: Know why you want to write. This is a very competitive business. If you’re writing to be rich and famous, perhaps you should pick another line of work. If you’re writing because you have stories you want to share with others, then stick with it.

 Kristin: The only requirement for being a writer is to actually write. All other rules you hear are merely suggestions and guidelines. It also helps if you read a lot, too. Good luck!

J.A.: Read a lot. Find authors who’s style you like and study it. Figure out why you like it. In the beginning you may find yourself imitating other writers, but with time you’ll find your own style.

Stacie: Remember that writing is fundamentally a solitary endeavor. You can and should make lots of connections with other writers and readers, but most of your time must be devoted to writing, something no one else can do with you. You’re on your own! Make sure you’re happy with the solitude.

Heather Weidner
Lynn Cahoon
Frances Aylor
Kristin Kisska
J. A. Chalkley
Stacie Giles

About Us

Frances Aylor, CFA combines her investing experience and love of travel in her financial thrillers. MONEY GRAB is the first in the series. www.francesaylor.com

Lynn Cahoon is the NYT and USA Today author of the best-selling Tourist Trap, Cat Latimer and Farm-to-Fork mystery series. www.lynncahoon.com

 J. A. Chalkley is a native Virginian. She is a writer, retired public safety communications officer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

Stacie Giles, after a career as a political scientist, linguist, and CIA analyst, is now writing historical cozies with a twist.  Her first short story is in honor of her grandfather who was a policeman in Memphis in the 1920s.

Kristin Kisska is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and programs chair of the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter. www.kristinkisska.com

Heather Weidner is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries. She has short stories in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 SHADES OF CABERNET and TO FETCH A THIEF. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and Jack Russell terriers. www.heatherweidner.com

Let’s Be Social

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LethalLadiesWrite/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LethalLadiesCVA?lang=en

Website: https://www.sistersincrimecentralvirginia.com/anthologies

Book Links

Wildside: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-paperback/

Wildside eBook: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-epub-kindle-pdf/?ctk=92a212b3-7ff7-473d-a5dd-78ab99163c27

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Southern-Charm-Mystery-Anthology/dp/1479448397

 

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Welcome back, Nupur Tustin!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Nupur Tustin back to the blog. Congratulations on your new book!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, let me say that it’s wonderful to be back! Last time I was here, I told your readers that I misuse a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate murder in Joseph Haydn’s Austria.

I have to confess, I’m still at it. Prussian Counterpoint, the third Joseph Haydn Mystery, came out just about thirteen days ago.

When I visited last year, I was in the throes of writing the novel, and although I plot all my novels, this one was written a little more intuitively than others. If your readers have watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, they’ll know what I mean. That the experiences we encounter and engage in can influence the shape our novel takes—more so when we have a strict deadline to follow.

I talk about this quite a bit in Rehearsal Notes, the free companion novel I was offering readers who preordered the book. I’m happy to extend that offer to any of your readers who buy the book by the end of this month.

So, then did blogging for Pens, Paws, and Claws influence the third novel at all?

Funny you should ask, because, yes, it absolutely did. I remember being a bit apprehensive about being interviewed.

“But my novels don’t really include pets,” I protested. “Eighteenth-century individuals don’t appear to have viewed their horses and dogs as pets.” You allayed my fears.

And so I focused last time on explaining to readers why historical mysteries typically don’t involve pets, but I did mention a couple of odd characters who were very fond of their dogs: Marie Antoinette and Frederick the Great.

You wondered at the time whether Frederick’s dogs would be given a key role in the novel. Now I hadn’t really intended to do so, but your question gave me pause. And the more I considered the matter, the more of an excellent idea it seemed. And so Frederick’s Italian greyhounds do get a small but significant role in the plot. They also provide Haydn with an important clue.

We’d love to read an excerpt.

Yes, of course. Now this is the first time that Haydn and the reader encounter Frederick’s spoiled Italian greyhounds. The servants had to address them using the formal “Vous,” instead of the more usual third person. The hounds were served special food in special bowls and were warmly welcomed in their royal master’s bed.

In this scene, they’re in the opera house and Haydn, as you’ll see, is rather uncomfortable about this situation:

“What think you of our opera, my dear Haydn?” The King, who had insisted the Kapellmeister be seated next to him, tapped him on the knee. The Italian greyhound at his feet shifted, flopping itself onto Haydn’s feet.

The Kapellmeister stiffened. He had nothing against dogs. On the hunting fields, no animal could be more useful. But what kind of man brought a dog into an opera house? God forbid, the creature should do its business on his shoes!

On the stage, Medea complained of having lost the love of Jason. A most unsuitable subject for the occasion, Haydn privately thought. This opera about a woman who forced her unfaithful husband to devour his children. But it was not the sort of remark one made to a King.

“It is a most intriguing subject, Your Majesty,” was all he could think of saying.

“Indeed.” A pair of piercing blue eyes fastened themselves upon Haydn’s features. “And why is that?”

Haydn took a deep breath and took the plunge. “One wonders how a man would react under the circumstances, Your Majesty.”

“A man would simply cut his losses and move on, Haydn. But women rather than accepting their fate try to interfere, thus spoiling everything.”

Haydn’s eyes flickered involuntarily to the Empress. Was that the King’s assessment of Her Majesty, then?

“My remarks appear to have hit the mark.” The King’s softly uttered words pulled Haydn’s gaze back. His Majesty’s well formed lips were curving into an amused smile. “You have the misfortune of being acquainted with such a woman, I suppose, Haydn.”

The Kapellmeister felt his cheeks burn at the insinuation. His nostrils flared. “Your Majesty is mistaken,” he said as calmly as he could manage. The sound of teeth clicking against metal reached his ears.

The infernal greyhound was chewing on the buckles of his shoes.

“Pepi!” The King called sharply, giving Haydn a start. But it was only the dog that His Majesty was addressing. So, the hound was christened Joseph, too! God be thanked, the King had not seen fit to nickname the creature Sepperl.

Explain Haydn’s reaction to the dog’s name.

The name Joseph, Haydn’s name, that is to say, had two diminutives. One was Sepperl. This is what Haydn’s parents called him. The other was Pepi. So naturally, Haydn gets a start when the King calls out this particular nickname. Can you imagine how insulted an eighteenth-century individual would feel about having a hound named after himself?

I like to think Haydn would’ve taken it in good spirit. He was never inclined to take himself seriously.

Do Pepi and his greyhound friends get any other scenes in the novel?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. They’re not particularly good guard dogs, too lazy to bark at anyone or even to take any notice of anyone who walks past them. This time, it’s the Prussian King’s principal court secretary, Anton Eichel, who encounters the dogs:

Eichel stepped out of the picture gallery to the sounds of an ever-growing commotion. It appeared to be coming from the cluster of rooms beyond the chamber he occupied as principal secretary.

The noise was loud enough to arrest his motion, but Eichel noticed that the King’s Italian greyhounds—sprawling lazily on their embroidered cushions—dozed on undisturbed. His own footsteps on the stone floor had merely caused one of the three dogs to open a single eyelid and glance reproachfully his way over a long, pointy snout.

Do make that infernal noise stop, Eichel, the creature seemed to be saying. We are trying to nap! In the principal court secretary’s head, the greyhounds sounded just like their master, with a voice just as high-pitched and mannered as the King’s.

What are you reading now?

I’ve been devouring Aaron Elkins’ art mystery series. He writes the Alix London series with his wife Charlotte Elkins and he’s also written a few standalones. I’ve just finished A Long Time Coming. A stupendous novel!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new series with a new character. Haydn has several more cases to solve, but he’s informed me that he wants to focus on his music for a bit before I confront him with his next dead body. I think the poor man must be heartily sick of stumbling upon corpses.

He’ll do his duty and stumble upon more at my request, but I can understand his need to focus on something a little more pleasant for just a little while longer.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This changes all the time. At the moment, it’s Aaron & Charlotte Elkins. I love the cozy-thrillers they write. The books are fast-paced with a strong sense of danger, but you still get still get that sense of place and the sort of local flavor that’s only possible in a cozy. And their characters are wonderfully drawn as well with such fascinating backstories!

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

I usually don’t—not in my historical series, at any rate—for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Prussian Counterpoint was an exception, and I enjoyed writing the dogs into the plot. For the most part, though, if the plot calls for animals, I’ll use them. That may not always happen, and that’s fine.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

This isn’t a funny story, but it’s one I fondly remember. About seven years ago, when my eldest was just a tiny baby, Chicken, our younger pit bull, trotted into the kitchen and nudged me back toward the bedroom. Rena had just woken up from a nap and was crying. Washing dishes in the kitchen, I hadn’t heard her. If it weren’t for Chickie, she’d still have been crying.

That wasn’t the first time, Chickie alerted me to Rena’s crying. While she slept, he and Fatty would sit on either side of her nap-nanny on our bed and watch over her. It’s memories like these that I’ll always cherish.

We’ve lost both our pit bulls, unfortunately. Some day when the kids are a bit older, we’ll get a couple more dogs. For now, we’ll have to make do with our memories. Both Fatty and Chicken were great dogs—and very patient with their three rambunctious human siblings!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
I think the most important advice anyone can give someone just starting out on this path is that you have to believe in yourself in order to stay the course. It’s easy to let other people and setbacks discourage you. But when you do that, the only person you’ve disappointed is yourself.

When I first conceived of the Haydn Mysteries in 2012, I never thought I’d get one novel written, let alone publish three! I’m glad I persisted. And I hope to keep writing until I draw my last breath.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Readers interested in getting a Complimentary Taste of Murder are invited to visit http://bit.ly/Haydn_Taste_of_Murder where I’m offering Three Free Mysteries.

About Nupur:

Bio: A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works.

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To Buy Prussian Counterpoint or the two previous Haydn Mysteries, visit:

Amazon: http://bit.ly/HaydnMystery3

Kobo: http://bit.ly/PrussianKobo

B&N Nook: http://bit.ly/PrussianNook

Apple iTunes: https://apple.co/2Sbja9i

 

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Welcome, Debra Goldstein

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome mystery author, Debra Goldstein to the blog this week.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, transplanted Yankee and civic volunteer are all words used to describe me. My writings are equally diverse. Although my novels are traditional mysteries with cozy elements, my short stories tend to be darker with unexpected twists. My non-fiction essays reflect emotional slices of life.

I am very excited about One Taste Too Many, the first of my new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series being published by Kensington. In One Taste, culinary challenged Sarah knows starting over after her divorce will be messy. Things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with her cat, RahRah, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her sister wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death – being in the kitchen!

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

Presently, I don’t have any pets (unless you count my husband), but in the past, I’ve had dogs. Traits from our toy poodle and bichon frise find their way into book two, Two Bites Too Many, but my limited knowledge of animals beyond dogs was a definite problem when I decided I wanted a cat to play a major role in the Sarah Blair mystery series. I remedied my lack of familiarity with cats by contacting a friend who has a very special Siamese cat, Suri. Suri’s behavior, tricks, and even appearance became the model for my absolute favorite cat, RahRah.

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

One of the main characters in the Sarah Blair mystery series is RahRah the cat. Sarah married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight and in doing so swapped a luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment and a job as a law firm receptionist. The only thing she can show for the past decade is her feisty Siamese cat, who previously belonged to her ex’s mother. Knowing RahRah already probably spent one of his nine lives when he was rescued, as a kitten from a hurricane’s floodwaters, Sarah is very protective of RahRah – when she isn’t wishing she could have the resilience and confidence he has. Basically, RahRah owns the world.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

One Taste Too Many is the first of at least three Sarah Blair mysteries. I’m doing final edits on the second book, Two Bites Too Many, and am writing the third book, Three Treats Too Many. In my spare time, I’ve been writing short stories. Several of them will be published in 2019 including The Dinner Gift, which won an award in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable competition, Harvey and the Red HeadThe Eyes of Texas anthology, and Nova, Capers, and a Schmear of Cream CheeseFishy Business, an anthology compiled by the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

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

The earliest pet I remember having was a goldfish won at a school carnival. Sadly, it barely survived the transfer from its plastic bag to a small bowl. After a proper mourning period, my parents bought me three miniature turtles. I named them Turk, Dirk, and Lurk – perhaps a sign of the mystery bent my writing career would take. Later, we added a grey miniature poodle, Lord Silver Mist (Misty) to the family menagerie.

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

I believe animals have true personalities and impact the lives of everyone in a household. Consequently, when I use an animal in my writing, as I do with RahRah in the Sarah Blair mystery series, the animal must be a fully developed character. I want the reader to enjoy the animal’s behavior and interaction with the human characters, not simply be a reference to a cat or dog because the book or story has cozy elements. For me, the interaction between animals and humans can provide the impetus to move the story forward, be an instance of comic relief, or simply serve to illustrate another character’s personality. RahRah does all of these things at different points in One Taste Too Many.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I include animals in my writing because they allow me show, rather than tell, the reader about different aspects of the other characters’ personalities. For example, if a fussy animal rubs against the leg of a seemingly tough character, but the character unconsciously bends and pets the animal, we realize the tough guy has a soft side. My animals also create or dissipate tension through dramatic or comedic moments. Finally, I use animals because I like them.

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

My favorite book with an animal as a prominent character is One Taste Too Many because after living with it for the past year, I’m partial to it. Bambi is the movie with a central animal character that had a lasting impact on me because of its plot twists, but those twists are what keeps me from using the word “favorite” with it.

 Bambi was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I was three years old and the movie was a treat my father took me to because my parents had recently brought home this thing they called my sister. I’m not sure if they wanted me to have one on one time with a parent or simply thought it a good idea to get me out of the house because every time they asked me to help by handing them something for the baby, I threw it at her – don’t worry, we are very close now. Although I still smile when I think of Bambi and Thumper, the animals, the scenes when Bambi’s mother was killed and where the fire spread through the forest were so powerful they made a lasting impression on me. I watched the movie again as an adult and was again disturbed by those scenes, but now I understood them from a writer’s perspective. Each was a major plot point change where tension and conflict occurred. For a writer, Bambi is an excellent lesson in how to effectively manipulate the emotions of a viewer or reader.

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

When I first started writing, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought getting the story in my head on paper was all I had to do. I wish I had known more about the business side – agents, publishers, distribution, marketing, social media usage, and personal platforms. It has been a steep learning curve. The other thing I wish I knew when I started writing is how wonderful and supportive other writers would prove to be.

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

My favorite place to read or write is in an oversized club chair that my mother had made for my father for their first anniversary. My father wasn’t a big person, but he had long legs. She ordered the chair built with an extra two inches of length in the seat and plenty of back support. For years, my father used that chair to read the paper and watch television. When he wasn’t home, my sister and I used the arms of that chair as our imaginary horses and by covering it with a blanket, we often made it our tent or covered wagon.

When my father died, the chair, for the next decade, became the one my mother curled up in when she wanted to read or visit with any of her kids or grandchildren. If I was visiting, I’d wait for her to go to bed and then sneak into the chair to read or write. It just felt right. When my mother died, other than some art work, there was only one piece of furniture I insisted on shipping from California to Alabama. Today, the chair sits in my bedroom. I use it to read and write and our grandchildren have discovered how wonderful its arms are for make believe.

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

Do it! Passion should never be ignored.

About Debra

One Taste Too Many is the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series by Agatha and Anthony nominated Judge Debra H. Goldstein. Her prior books include Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Debra’s short stories have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. She is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppies, serves on Sinc’s national board, and is vice-president of SEMWA.

 

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Find out more about her writings at www.DebraHGoldstein.com , on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/ , or on Twitter @DebraHGoldstein.

One Taste Too Many is available in print and e-book from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Taste-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719476 ), Barnes & Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-taste-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1128297322?ean=9781496719478#/ ) and your local indie bookstores.

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Welcome, Morgan Summer!

Happy Holidays! Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author, Morgan Summer to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing. Currently, I am a 2nd year High School Biology teacher, married for almost 15 years with an 8 year old little girl. I write crime/detective novels as well as recently started writing an unnamed young adult mystery series. My first book Jean Stone Crime Series Volume 1: Stranger Among Us will be released early 2019.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing? I have two shelter rescues, Sheldon just turned 6 and is an 18 pound orange tabby cat and Chief is our 3 ½ year old Catahoula Mix. They are definitely apart of my book series.

What writing projects are you currently working on? Currently finishing up edits on Jean Stone Volume 2, writing Book 3 of Jean Stone, and Book 2 of my young adult mystery series.

Who is your favorite author and why? Edgar Allan Poe, his short stories were my first introduction to mystery and suspense, that day I fell in love with his writing and the genre. The Tell-Tale Heart is still my favorite of his numerous stories.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them. Too numerous to name. My dad was a veterinarian so we always had every type of pet imaginable brought home, cats, dogs, birds, lizards, turtles, etc. They still have a chinchilla named Jasmine who is about 18 or 19 years old.

Why do you include animals in your writing? My writing is about my life and my animals are just an extension of our human family members. There hasn’t been a time where I didn’t have a dog or a cat as a companion in my life. I will always include them in my stories.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know? I was always a reader, but as I got older I enjoyed putting my thoughts on paper. That turned into song lyrics since I wanted to be a county singer during my teenager years. College helped refine my writing skills, it was around that time I realized that I truly had a gift for writing. Then the day came that a fellow teacher jokingly told me that I should write a crime novel. Six weeks later, Jean Stone was born.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why? Visit Italy. Reading is my favorite past time which transported me to different places all around the world through the pages. After reading numerous novels set there, I decided one day I would go see for myself all the beautiful sights and sounds Italy has to offer.

What do your pets do when you are writing? Lay at my feet and snore or annoy me depending on their mood.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have? “FDR Letters” and “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America”, sadly I have so my TBR I can barely keep up!

Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why? Outdoors in the country away from the world with no technology. There are no distractions, just me, my pencil and paper, and my imagination.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer? Do not write for anyone else, write for yourself. Be a limited edition.

Author Bio:

Reading was always a love of Morgan’s, devouring crime novels by the dozens. A random conversation with a fellow mentor and coworker, would inspire her to write the book series in the genre she loved. This was how Jean Stone was born.

 She has worn many hats from being a Navy Wife for 13 years to currently teaching High School Biology. Currently living back in her home state of Texas, if she isn’t teaching, she is either writing, crocheting, or spending time with her husband and daughter.

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