Welcome, D. A. Spruzen!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome D. A. Spruzen to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up near London, England and came to the U.S.A. in 1966.  In the 80’s I became Manager of Information Systems in the high-tech industry, then Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.  I had wanted to write fiction for many years and technical writing didn’t quiet the itch.  I’d abandoned my artistic background, which included a degree in dance education, leading to a stint on the faculty of a London theater school.  Finally I resigned, taught ballet again and ran my own art business, but still craved the music of the written word and the vivid images I could create with stories rather than paint.  When I turned 60, I woke up.  If not now, when?  I took workshops before working with a mentor, who urged me to apply to graduate school.  I earned my MFA in creative writing with a concentration in fiction.  Now I do what I love: not only write poetry and fiction, but also teach other adults with a dream and watch them progress.

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

At the height of our menagerie, we had five cats and three dogs, not to mention hermit crabs, birds and fish! I only have one dog now, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, Samson. Sam is a sweet cuddlebug and perfect company. We have a house on the Chesapeake Bay and it’s easy to pack a dog in the car and go. Not so easy with a cat—they don’t appreciate change.

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

Samson appears in my novel in progress, Sleuthing with Mortals. I’m quite sure he will show up again. I’ve had him for a couple of years, adopted from a friend when he was two. My late Jack Russel terrier Henry appeared in Not One of Us, and my late top cat Jaspar appears in a short story.

What are you reading now?

I just finished the latest Bruno, Chief of Police (Martin Walker) mystery, to my sorrow. It’s always hard to leave the south of France. I’m about to embark on the new Matthew Pearl novel The Dante Chamber.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I should be working on two sequels; one is the third in a mystery trilogy about a female serial killer, and the other historical fiction—a sequel to The Blitz Business. However, after a number of personal losses, I found myself in a slump and realized I had to break free and do something entirely different. I’ve always loved Scandinavia and Norse mythology, so I decided on urban fantasy. Thus, Sleuthing with Mortals was born, in which a Norse goddess living in a Northern Virginia suburb decides to become a private detective. Lots of opportunity for sequels!

 Who is your favorite author and why?

British author John Lawton is a favorite. He is a former investigative reporter who writes a mystery series set in London just before, during and after World War II (my favorite historical period). His protagonist is the son of a naturalized Russian aristocrat, a wealthy publisher. He has to overcome the disdain of his colleagues, who find it hard to believe a young man from an aristocratic family, educated in the finest schools, could possibly prove himself a competent and courageous detective. Lawton writes beautifully and with historical accuracy. His diverse characters are made of whole cloth.

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

Rover was a Welsh Border Collie, who used to try to herd the family on walks. He lived to be sixteen.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I like to immortalize my pets in my work. I’ve used four: Sam, Henry, Jaspar, and a Siamese cat named Sascha. I tend to use them as creatures that help heal their people of whatever troubles them.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

I won’t go into the entire series of events. We were living in Saudi Arabia at the time and had an irascible Sudanese servant named Abdul, who disliked our cat, whom our children had imaginatively named Mr. Cat. In one misunderstanding of many, I thought Abdul was complaining about a backache. I gave him some Tiger Balm (like Ben Gay) and told him to rub it in. When my husband came home he emerged from his room and talked quietly with him, before going back into his room and slamming the door on Mr. Cat, who sat outside making strange noises. My husband came inside and asked, “Whatever did you give Abdul Karim for his hemorrhoids?” I could have sworn that cat was laughing.

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

I love Oman and its people. The Royal Botanical gardens is still under construction. It will hold each plant that grows in Oman (some only grow in Oman), maintain a store of seeds and conduct research. It promises to be an impressive accomplishment. When it is open to the public, I want to visit. Also, the Royal Opera House in Muscat is an incredible state of the art venue. When I go back I will also attend a performance there. Then off to a resort in the south! The father of the current Sultan was quite reactionary and kept Oman back. In just forty years, the Sultan has achieved first rate systems for education, health, transportation, and infrastructure. While it is a traditional society to a point, Omanis are easy going and hospitable. Foreigners are welcome and made to feel comfortable.

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

I have no idea how many books I have in my queue! Kindle is a problem that way. I see a good review in the Washington Post or a friend makes a recommendation and, clickety click!

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

I have my own study that has a window looking out on the front yard. But my favorite place when I am alone is what we call the Garden Room, which looks out on the back yard with a birdfeeder strategically placed so I can look up from time to time to see who has come to call. I like to paint there, too.

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

Learn your craft! Attend classes and workshops, be part of a community of writers. Work at it. Understand that writing the first draft is the easy part. The real work comes in the revision process.

About D. A.

Dorothy Hassan, who writes as D. A. Spruzen has lived in Northern Virginia since 1971, except for a two-year hiatus in the Middle East. She grew up near London, U.K., where she graduated from the London College of Dance and Drama Education before joining the faculty of  London Theater School. Many years later, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and teaches writing for the McLean Community Center when she’s not seeking her own muse.  She also runs private critique workshops in her home and is a past president of the Northern Virginia Writers Club. In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.

 Dorothy’s short stories and poems have appeared in many publications, most recently in three anthologies, Joys of the Table (poetry, Richer Resources Publications), the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference anthology, and Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag). Her novel The Blitz Business, set in WWII England, was published by Koehler Books in August 2016 and a poetry collection, Long in the Tooth, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. Dorothy self-published the first two novels in her Flower Ladies Trilogy and Crossroads, two novellas. When she’s not writing, Dorothy likes to read, paint, and garden.

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Meet Laurel Peterson

www.utechristinphotography.com

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Laurel Peterson to the blog!

Before I answer any questions, I just want to thank you, Heather, for having me on your blog. I’m really honored to be here and I enjoyed answering your questions.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a poet and a novelist, as well as a community college professor—which allows me to eat and pay the mortgage! I’ve got three books of poetry out, and have always thought of myself as more of a poet than a fiction writer. However, I love mystery novels, starting with Nancy Drew, and decided about a decade ago that I wanted to try the form. It’s been great fun testing and honing my storytelling skills, as well as thinking about ways I can use the genre to communicate messages about human experience. My first mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in 2016.

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

The main character in my Clara Montague mystery series is too fastidious to be a dog person, but her police chief lover definitely needs a dog. I love Labrador retrievers, which is the dog I had as a child—all my father’s brothers and their children ended up with Labs—because they are so friendly and patient and sweet. My dog wants nothing more than to hang out with us and to chase things we throw. His favorite game is to chase a Frisbee, which he then refuses to give back until he’s good and ready.

What are you reading now?

There is always a huge pile of TBR books on the floor.  At present, I am enjoying Tomas Transtromer’s the great enigma, and William Kent Krueger’s Sulfur Springs.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book of poems about flying and the stars. My father was an airline pilot and a conspiracy theory lover. Somehow those two themes cross in this book, and I’m having fun playing with the various directions they are taking me. I’ve also had fun with sources: NASA posts pictures from the international space station; FermiLab puts out newsletters on particle physics research (toned down for people like me who don’t understand the half of it), and of course, looking at old photos of my father in various flying garb.

I also woke up this morning thinking about the next book in my Clara Montague series. In this one, she works with an underwater archeologist. At least that’s the version this week.

Who is your favorite author and why?

In the mystery genre, my favorite author is Sara Paretsky. She’s just so smart, and I love smart people. I learn so much from them, and Paretsky is no exception. She has a PhD in history and an MBA from the University of Chicago, and you can see that attention to detail and accuracy in her novels. In addition, I love that she takes on issues in her work—faulty body armor or race relations. The mystery is about more than a murder; it’s about the fault-lines running through our communities and our nation. Attica Locke is another writer who is taking on issues. Black Water Rising and Bluebird, Bluebird both deal with race issues in America, as well as presenting an interesting whodunit.

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

H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald, is a fascinating memoir of her time training a goshawk to hunt, as a way of mourning her father’s death. Mabel, the goshawk, becomes a character in her own right, and the development of their relationship is funny and sharp and dark all at once.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s not so much a one-time event as a pet habit. When my cat was still alive, we fed him in the basement, which he accessed through a cat door. This kept the dog from scarfing all his food. In the evenings, after the cat had eaten, he would come up the stairs and sit behind the pet door, waiting. The dog, smelling him there, would stand on the other side, staring. This stand-off usually lasted several minutes, with one of them poking at the door with a nose or paw to try to tempt the other into engagement. Finally, the dog would relent a little, the cat would burst through the door and speed past him in to the living room, and there would ensue a wild, but short-lived scramble before the cat popped onto the ottoman and whapped the dog on the nose with his paw. Every single time.

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

I think this is a really hard question to answer. I can point to a moment in my childhood when writing became important to me—after I was bullied on the school bus and wrote a story to get my private revenge—but I don’t think I identified as a writer until after I left college and discovered that all other jobs were to support my writing time. By the time I went to grad school in my late twenties, I was sure writing was where my heart lived, but calling myself a writer probably didn’t come until after I’d started publishing on a regular basis in my early thirties. It’s a good thing we have a lifetime to figure ourselves out!!

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

The number one item on my bucket list is to visit Greece. I have wanted to go there since I was in fourth grade and Mrs. Marshall taught us all about the Greek myths. (Coolest, scariest teacher ever. That’s what I aim to be.) Since my father was an airline pilot, we did a fair amount of traveling when I was younger, but we never made it there. I want to see Athens, the Greek islands, and those fascinating monasteries built up high on the cliffs in Meteora. Of course these things are all in different directions.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

I lost a cat last February and he’s been very hard to replace. He used to come and sit on my desk next to me when I wrote. He was a big black and white cat, with a rumbly purr and tendency to rub my cheek with his. I miss him and his sweetness and playfulness intensely. The dog sleeps until it’s late afternoon, and then starts bugging me for a walk and dinner. For the dog, it’s all about him.

 

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

I have one very large TBR pile. It has books of poetry, books about immigrant life in the U.S., a book by a French food writer (mmm, getting hungry), Irving Stone’s Depths of Glory, a book by a poet I have to introduce at an event in a month, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, John Cheever’s journals, and a DVD on yoga and relaxation which is, frankly, where I should start.

About Laurel:

Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College and her poetry has been published in many literary journals. She has two chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line Press) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat Press). Her full length collection, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? (Futurecycle Press) was released in January 2017. She has also written a mystery novel, Shadow Notes, which is available through Barking Rain Press. She currently serves as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate.

You can find her at www.laurelpeterson.com, on Twitter: @laurelwriter49, or on Facebook. You can purchase her mystery novel here: Buy and her poetry here: Buy.

SHADOW NOTES by Laurel S. Peterson

Clara Montague’s mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead. Clara suspects she and her mother share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.

Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.

Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma, and then there’s a second murder.

Clara Montague has been gone from home for fifteen years, but when she dreams her mother is in danger, she comes home. A few days later, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested. Can Clara find the connection between the murders and her mother’s past that will save her mother and finally heal their relationship?

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