Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Cherie O’Boyle to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
There are currently five full-length mysteries and a short story available in my Estela Nogales Mystery series. This fall I’m hoping to release a more ambitious stand-alone kidnapping/K9 search & rescue/forest fire suspense.
When I started the mystery series, I first created the setting, Arroyo Loco, a small village in the coastal hills of central California. I added a variety of diverse characters, including dogs, cats, vultures, and a few wild boar. And then I introduced one unusual occurrence—finding a neighbor dead—for example. I plopped my writerly self into the middle and let the action carry me away. One of the aspects of being slightly older than average that I enjoy is how many quirky characters I have known and loved in my life, making for a rich mix in my fiction.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
My pet family currently includes two border collies, Shiner, because he has one big black eye, and Sky, or Dog Who Fell From the Clear Blue Sky (she’s a rescue), and one perpetually irritated cat who is called Patience, but not because she’s got any. Shiner is the model for one of the border collies in the mystery series. Both the real dog and the fictional one are sheepherding dogs, and both are titled in the sport of herding, among other dog sports.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
So far, all of them are recurring. And so far, they all behave about the way you would predict dogs and cats to behave. Itches, the beagle, regularly escapes her yard and runs off to chase rabbits on the hills. Zero, the basenji, is happier if strangers stay out of his yard. Helen’s cats hate dogs, and Estela’s border collies are forever trying to round her up. The wild boar who occasionally roam Arroyo Loco are not exactly pets, although they do offer opportunities for the neighbors to get to know one another better.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
Some of my characters, both human and non-human, play only passing roles, and others linger longer. Interacting with the animals in their lives provides insights into the personalities of the human characters. The animals help solve the mysteries, but only by doing what animals would normally do. For example, in one mystery, a strategically placed pile of poop gets stepped in and tracked all the way back to the villain’s front porch, providing important evidence.
In other places, the animals help the neighbors understand one another. Here is a scene where Estela recruits Helen to capture a cat after her mistress suffers an unexpected expiration:
I picked up the phone to call Helen and tell her about her impending good fortune.
“Oh, dear! Well, of course, I’ll be right down,” Helen agreed. “Just let me gather my supplies.”
“Your supplies? What on earth do you mean?” I wondered out loud.
“Well, the carrier, of course.”
Of course. Silly me.
“And some kibble in a crinkly bag.”
“Hmm.” Yes, of course that too.
“And some yarn and other toys.” I could hear her rummaging around while she spoke. “And rub some catnip around here and there … and a huge bath towel in case she gets obstreperous, and my leather gardening gloves. Okay, that should about do me.”
“Good. So I’ll leave you to it then.”
“Wait, Stel, what’s the cat’s name?”
“Her name? How do I know?”
“Well, how do you expect me to persuade her to come to me if I don’t know her name?”
“I don’t know Helen. Does a cat’s name really matter?”
To that I got a stony silence.
“I mean, don’t they all come to ‘here kitty, kitty’?”
“You mean you think cats are dumber than dogs, and don’t know their own names?”
“I guess I never thought about it. Dogs come when you call their names. Cats come when they feel like it. Isn’t that how it works?”
Why do you include animals in your writing?
Aside from the fact that animals are in our lives, I include them in my stories as part of an on-going campaign to encourage respect for non-human animals, what they contribute to our lives whether as food, as clothing, or as companions. My goal is not to anthropomorphize, but to show how we are all animals. We all seek safety, care for our young, and experience life.
Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.
Both in my stories and my life, most of my animals are working animals. For example, my character Estela’s border collies herd sheep on a working sheep ranch. Working with her dogs often gives Estela insights about the mysteries she is working to solve. Her older dog also accompanies her to the counseling center on campus where she works as a therapist. Here’s an example of the adventures of a service dog:
We were just getting (an injured student) settled when another student started caterwauling about a dog in the health center. Seriously, what do people think is so superior, or even different, about humans? We’re all just mammals. It may be true that I bathe more often than my dogs, but then they don’t sweat either.
One of the over-wrought nurses confronted me. “Get that filthy dog out of here,” she said, pointing toward the door. I gave her the shrugged shoulders, outward palms and raised eyebrows look. “Fleas?” she said, as though that was a foregone conclusion.
“Therapy dogs don’t have fleas!” I said, indignant. I gestured around us. “Lice? Scabies? Yeast infections? Venereal disease?”
“Well, this is a health clinic, Estela! Of course we have sick people here.”
“That’s true. C’mon Scout, let’s get out of here before we catch something.”
What are you reading now?
I am currently reading a wonderful non-fiction, Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson. I chose this as source material for my K9 search and rescue suspense Work in Progress (WIP), and have fallen in love with the story.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
My current WIP is On Scent, the story of a kidnapping gone wrong in which the search dogs must ultimately find and rescue everyone. I’m happy to let you know when that is released if you subscribe to my semi-annual news page on my website.
Cherie is Professor Emerita of Psychology at California State University, San Marcos. Prior to adopting her current career as a writer of mysteries, and before earning her PhD in Psychology, Cherie owned and operated a general building contracting firm and worked as a framing and roofing carpenter. She was raised in the San Francisco east bay area and still lives today in Northern California.
Cherie happily squeezes in as much time with her fictional Arroyo Loco friends as she can, in between adventures with friends, family, and her real life border collies, Shiner and Sky. Shiner is titled in flyball and sheepherding and loves to swim and fetch balls. Sky enjoys lure-coursing and walks nicely on a leash. Both dogs are hoping to title in nosework this fall.
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