Welcome, Susan Schwartz

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Susan Schwartz to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing:

I began writing in 2006 with freelance articles. I wrote on all sorts of topics and researched these pieces thoroughly. I made a little money, but I was more interested in fiction writing. I joined the Virginia Writers Club and started learning how to write with style. I found good mentors and people who wanted to help me succeed. I took over leadership of the club for two years giving back to the writing community and helping to mentor a few new writers.

I have been an Operating Room Nurse for 18 years. As you can imagine, I see many interesting and gory things while working. I channel many of those sights and sounds into my stories. I love blood and guts, and I tend to write stories where people are getting killed or maimed in some fashion. I try to write them with a twist making you wonder what hit you at the end. I have enjoyed this genre immensely because of its ability to lead the reader into something they are not expecting.

I have three short stories published at present in the Nightmares & Echoes series. They are “The Sparkling Floor,” “I Thought You Did,” and “Blurred Line.  “Blurred Line” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in Long Fiction by the Horror Writers Association in 2016. My non-fiction piece in the Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology is titled “Using my Karate Chops in Nursing.” I also have a non-fiction book coming in the Spring of 2019 titled Haunted Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties. I am quite excited about my stories and especially, my Haunted book.

Please check out my website to see future happenings and new books coming out soon. https://www.susanschwartzauthor.com.

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

I have had up to 14 feral cats in the past. We just lost the last one, Mr. Imp, in 2015. At present, we have two kittens, Manchego and Speck. We have multiple fish tanks, and we also love on one leopard gecko named Zoey.

I do not use them in my writing, but Zoey likes to help me write sometimes. She inevitably always goes off on a tangent about finding lost crickets.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read three to four books at once. My list at present consists of:

The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis. I love most everything Patterson has his name attached to these days.

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. This one just sounded like an awesome book.

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Everyone has catastrophes to deal with, this was suggested to me by a neurosurgeon.

Dinosaurs in the Cornfield by William Hardison. I have known Mr. Hardison for almost 35 years, and this book is an amazing recollection of memories and life lessons.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I am starting to research for another haunted book, possibly in the eastern region of Virginia. I haven’t quite decided yet. I have a paranormal romance novel that I have been working on for several years that I want to finish. I also have about six short stories in the works for a couple anthologies and just from pleasure writing.

Who is your favorite author and why?

For horror influences, I look to Stephen King and Bentley Little. The medical drama comes from Michael Palmer and Robin Cook. For general fiction, I like David Baldacci and Michael Connelly.

All of these produce a great story with plenty of red herrings to make you think something else is going to happen. Then BOOM! The carpet is pulled out from under you. I love that.

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

Milo and Otis was definitely a favorite with the dog and the cat. I also so loved Homeward Bound. The voiceovers in both movies were simply the best. It always makes me wonder now when my cats are looking at me what they are thinking.

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

I started writing back in 2003 doing fanfic for several TV shows I watched at the time. They weren’t really great stories, but mainly continuations of what I thought should have happened. I really enjoyed writing the different views on some of the characters. Once these got some comments, I started wondering if I could write longer and more in-depth pieces. I am happy to say I can and I do.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Manchego and Speck are normally chasing each other back and forth through the house. Manchego is around nine months old, and we rescued her off the street on a cold winter’s night at the age of about two months. Speck is also a kitten that we found at the Goochland Animal Shelter in July to help Manchego get over her separation anxiety. He has been a welcome addition to the family, although it took about two weeks for Manchego to warm up to him.

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

I thought about this one. These weren’t really pets, but I took care of them for a length of time. We had a baby squirrel named Lucky that had fallen out of his nest, and his mother never came to find him. My father, knowing my love of animals, called me to come get him and take care of him. It was a fun experience for about four days until we found a Wildlife Rehabilitator that would take him. Fun Fact: Squirrels are lactose-intolerant.

The second unusual animal we loved on was a Silverback Bat. This guy had fallen on our front porch and didn’t move. We were worried he was dead. We got a plastic container, much like the ones we kept crickets in for our gecko, and scooped him up with it. Over time, he started to move by hopping, so we named him Scooter. We also took care of him for several days until we could find a Bat Rehabilitator in the area. We discovered that he had burned up one wing. If he couldn’t fly, he couldn’t hunt for food. Sadly, he passed away a couple days later. I still have fond memories of him though, and I love to walk at dusk to see the bats flying. Fun Fact: Bats look just like puppy dogs in the face. Check out some pictures.

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

The best advice given to me by many authors in different genres is to read that which you are trying to write. The greats in this genre, such as Stephen King, Bentley Little, and Richard Laymon, have shown me how to write and what people are looking for when they read this genre. Stephen King also wrote a book, On Writing, which has helped me a great deal as well.

Write what you know and love. Writing becomes much easier when you know where you want to go with a particular piece. I always know the ending. I leave my title for when I finish because you want to write a great story, and then finish it with a title that encompasses all that is inside.

Don’t stop because someone told you No. This just means you have to go another way instead of the path you are taking. Keep trying and don’t give up. You can do it!

About Susan

Susan Schwartz RN, MSN, MSHA has been an avid writer for 10 years writing freelance articles, editing manuscripts, and proofing medical competencies. She has published three short stories in the anthologies of Nightmare & Echoes I, II, and III and a non-fiction piece in the Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology. Her alter ego is an Operating Room Nurse/Nurse Educator who loves creating tales from the interesting and weird things she has seen. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Virginia Writers Club where she is serving as President of the Richmond Chapter. She also has two novels in the works, a paranormal romance and a medical thriller. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel to foreign lands, and traipse through old graveyards and cemeteries. Please leave feedback at susanschwartzauthor.com.

 

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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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Tales with Tails … (and some without!)

by Barb Goffman

Jingle doing time! (This is my dog the day I adopted him from a shelter.)

It started with an idea: Everyone loves animals. They’re cute. They’re furry. They’re begging to be written about.

Next came a call for stories for the eighth volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short-story series. It said in part:

“We want animals. More than six out of every ten homes in the United States has a pet. Be they dogs, cats, birds, pigs, or lions or tigers or bears—or even snakes­—people love animals. They love playing with them and caring for them and, we’re happy to say, reading about them.

“That’s where you come in. We want crime/mystery short stories involving animals. The animal could be the sleuth or the sleuth’s sidekick or merely a part of the plot. We could hear the animal talk or think or do neither. Any kind of crime/mystery story you can come up with that involves an animal, be it furry or feathered, warm- or cold-blooded, is good with us. So bring on your animal stories!”

The authors of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime did not disappoint.  To paraphrase McGruff, our authors took a bite out of crime! And now, finally, the book has been published. Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies offers mystery readers who love animals a bevy of options.

Like dogs? Then this book is for you. We have several stories involving dogs and crime. But we don’t stop with dogs. Oh no. We have stories with crows, cows, crickets, and cats; rabbits, ferrets, an octopus, and rats. And fish. Mustn’t forget the fish.

Like police procedurals? We have three of them. How about historicals? We have a trio of those too. One story will take you back to nineteenth-century England, another to 1930s Hollywood, and the third to 1950s Pennsylvania. If you like amateur sleuths, you’re in luck. We’ve got some of those. Like dark stories? We’ve got ’em. Stories from the animals point of view? We’ve got those too. Funny stories? Check. Paranormal? Check. Stories where animals save the day? Check. Check. Check.

Basically, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you enjoy mystery short stories, then this book is made for you. We hope you’ll check it out. You can buy it in trade paperback or in e-book format.

The authors with stories in the book are: Karen Cantwell, Carla Coupe, Barb Goffman (yes, that’s me!), Eleanor Cawood Jones, Linda Lombardi, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Shari Randall, KM Rockwood, Joanna Campbell Slan, Marianne Wilski Strong, Robin Templeton, and Cathy Wiley. The book was edited by Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and me. The stories were chosen by Brendan DuBois, Mary Jane Maffini, and Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner). And the book was published by Wildside Press.

If you’ll be attending the Malice Domestic convention next weekend, stop by the Wildside Press table in the book room at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Nearly all the authors with stories in the book will be there for a mass signing. And if you’re in the Washington, DC, area on Sunday, May 20th, we hope you’ll come to our official launch party at the Central Library in Arlington from 2-4 p.m.

In the meanwhile, happy reading. We hope you enjoy our tales with tails!

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Meet Jennifer Leeper

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Jennifer Leeper to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I started writing fiction in high school and it was bad – very bad. I published a lot in my 20s and early 30s, but not fiction. As a Journalism graduate, I got used to seeing my byline above newspaper stories and even in some local magazines, but accomplishment in fiction writing was really where my aspirations reached, and it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I published my first fiction work, a short story called Murder Brokers, in an anthology put out by Hen House Press.

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

I’ve had several amazing pets over the years. At one time, we had two dogs and two cats, but sadly, we’re down to one cat named Karina. She’s a short-haired, gray girl who loves lap naps and is just the right balance of dependent/independent. I don’t model my writing on my pets, however, I find they are a great comfort to me while I’m writing.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey. I rarely read nonfiction, but I couldn’t resist this read because it spotlights one of my favorite, natural spots on the planet.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a crime/mystery/thriller set outside Vegas, with a female and a male protagonist, working together to solve a crime.

Who is your favorite author and why?

If you had asked me this question a few years back, I would have said Jack London or several years before that, Sinclair Lewis, but these days, it’s Tony Hillerman. I love how he elevates the regional and cultural settings of his books to main character status in his stories. His description of the southwestern U.S., particularly parts of New Mexico and more specifically, Navajo reservation culture, engages as much as Hillerman’s adept and authentic portrayal of crime-solving.

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

I tend to mention animals in passing, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t influential in the context of my storylines, and the animals I mention tend to be wild, not domesticated species. For example, I lean toward writing about desert locales, so lizards, wolves, rabbits, and coyotes tend to catch my fancy in my fiction, more so than cats and dogs.

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

That’s easy for me. Any of Jack London’s books where a dog is a central character is my favorite because he instilled humanity in these animals and that’s no so far-fetched to me.

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

I knew I was a writer when I was around 12 years old and my English teacher selected my poem to submit for display at the state capitol with other pieces of writing from youth statewide.

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

At the top of my bucket list is finishing and publishing a novel of 50,000+ words. Thus far, I’ve published many short stories, a novella, collection of stories, and a novel of around 40,000 words, but I really want to publish a longer work. A close tie is summiting a 14-er. A 14-er is a 14,000-feet mountain peak.

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

In my reading slush pile are the following: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

About Jennifer:

Ms. Leeper is an award-winning fiction author who’s publications credits include Independent Ink Magazine, Notes Magazine, The Stone Hobo, Poiesis, Every Day Fiction, Aphelion Webzine, Heater magazine, Cowboy Jamboree, The New Engagement, Alaska Quarterly Review and The Liguorian. She has had works published by J. Burrage Publications, Hen House Press, Inwood Indiana Press, Alternating Current Press, Barking Rain Press, Whispering Prairie Press, and Spider Road Press. In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel, Tribe. Ms. Leeper’s short story Tatau was published in the journal, Poiesis, and was short listed as a finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015, and nominated by Alternating Current for Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best of Small Fictions of 2016 Prize. In 2016, The Saturday Evening Post honored Ms. Leeper’s short story Book of the Dead with an honorable mention in its Great American Fiction Contest. Ms. Leeper’s short story The Bottle won second place in the Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize through Spider Road Press.

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