...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on 2014

by Sheila Webster Boneham

I've never been big on making resolutions for the New Year. First of all, I spent so many years attached to academic schedules as a student, a university faculty member, and wife of a professor that I tend to think of January as the middle of the year. More importantly, resolutions are usually too big, too rehashed, and too vaguely framed. I'm more of a goal-setter, with specific benchmarks that I can track. (Yes, I make spreadsheets for everything -- running and long-distance walking goals, writing goals, whatever.)

Still, I do like to mark the end of each year with a look back. This year, I thought I'd share some of the ups, downs, and whirligigs. I'd also like to say 

to everyone who has been part of my journey this year. 

Writing, as most of you know, is central to my life and my identity. It's natural, then, that many of the ups, downs, and whirligigs of 2014 have been linked to writing, publishing, and not publishing. Here's a summary....
Drop Dead on Recall (Midnight Ink, 2012), the first of the mysteries, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. 

The Money Bird, mystery #2, was nominated (that is, it is a finalist) for the 2014 Maxwell Award (winners to be announced in February 2015).

  • My agent, Josh Getzler, sold mystery #4, Shepherd's Crook, to Terri Bischoff, acquisitions editor at Midnight Ink. It's almost finished, and scheduled for publication in the fall.
  • My essay "A Question of Corvids" won the 2014 Prime Number Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and for the 2015 Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. Please note - I almost didn't enter the contest but my friend & brilliant writer Penny Guisinger gave me a shove. Thanks, Penny! Please also note - this essay was declined by seven other magazines in 2014.
  • I had three essays and three poems published in literary magazines.
  • I received twenty rejections from literary magazines for essays and poems. 
  • I've written and am about to turn in mystery #4, to be published in the fall. 
  • I have another novel, several essays and poems, and a memoir in progress, and more ideas cooking. I won't be bored any time soon!
  • I taught several writing classes and mentored two writers privately over the past year. I love teaching, both for whatever little help I can give an aspiring writer and for the many things I always learn from the experience.
  • I attended some inspiring writerly events - the North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference in Charlotte and the Press 53 Gathering of Writers in Winston-Salem were outstanding!
  • Best of all, I've had the support of a terrific network of people - the MFA community at the Stonecoast Program; the many readers and writers I see in real life and "see" on social media; my husband Roger; my lovely Labrador, Lily (who reminds me that there laptops are for cuddling, too!); Pomegranate Books, whose owner Kathleen Jewel, is a champion of authors, particularly local authors, and of readers; my Sea Quills critique-group buddies Nancy Gadzuk, Charlene Pollano, Georgia Mullen, and Mike Connolly. 
Without life at large, of course, the only thing I would have to write about would be me, me, me, and even I would get bored with that limited subject matter, so I do make an effort to live away from the page. Adventure and joy and beauty are essential, and sadness, too, plays a part. Some "life" highlights from 2014 include....
  • I took a wonderful train trip in May - I flew to Washington, DC, then took the Capital Limited to Chicago, the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, the Texas Eagle back to Chicago, and the Capital Limited back to DC. I'm ready to go again! Choo choo! (Two of the essays I mentioned above are about train travel - if you'd like to read them, they are "The 'I' States" and "Nocturne: Nebraska"
  • We said farewell to a number of the Australian Shepherd puppies we bred - they were all around 13 years old, and they had wonderful lives with their people, but every one of them was still "our puppy."
  • I spent many wonderful hours walking around this beautiful area of southeastern North Carolina where we live. I'm especially fond of walking on Wrightsville Beach and at Airlie Gardens, a place filled with magical scenes like the one you see here. I'm hoping to take a long-distance walk in the coming year. 
  • I started and completed a Couch to 5K walk/run training program, and have been running three days a week for four months now. Wahoo! 
There was more, of course. It's impossible to write a whole year in a few words. It's been a good year, all in all. So here's wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, & creative 2015! I hope you'll follow this blog - and perhaps find me and the Writers & Other Animals Group on Facebook, too! (That was another thing I enjoyed in 2014 - starting this blog. If you have a little time, scroll back through some of the terrific posts by terrific authors who have shared the journey!)

Sheila Webster Boneham is an award-winning writer who writes across genres and interacts across species. She is the author of the best-selling Animals in Focus mystery series from Midnight Ink and of seventeen nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters: How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine Publications, 2009, updated 2013). Sheila also writes creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poems, and she teaches writing classes and offers individual mentoring for aspiring writers. Find her online at www.sheilaboneham.com, on Facebook, or by e-mail.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

from Sheila & a few of the dogs 
behind the Animals in Focus Mysteries

 I hope you enjoy our "antique" Christmas cards.

Jay & Lily

Rowdy & his son Mac

Dustin & Annie

Lily & Jay

Jay & Lily

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dog's Winter A Poem

by John Sheirer, Author of Libby Speaks: The Wit and Wisdom of the World's Wisest Dog

John Sheirer and his coauthor Libby, a delightful Border Terrier, are hard at work on a new book that combines the striking photography of Libby Speaks with beautiful poetry and even some vocabulary development for good measure. The book will be called Little Dog, Big Words. Each poem will correspond to a photo of Libby and contain three SAT-level words (in bold print below) with definitions. Sheirer draws on his background of nearly three decades as a college English teacher and publishing poet. A 2015 publication date is expected.

This is the first time John and Libby have previewed one of the book's poems and photographs for the public.

John Sheirer is the coauthor and photographer of the book, Libby Speaks: The Wit and Wisdom of the World's Wisest Dog, as well as several previous books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives with his wonderful wife Betsy in Northampton, Massachusetts and is a full-time faculty member teaching English and Communication at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut. Libby and John welcome everyone to visit Libby's Facebook page for news about their lives and writing careers. John can also be found at his homepage.

Previous posts by John & Libby: 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Excerpt from Dog Dreamzzz by Susan Waller Miccio

Dog Dreamzzz (2014), the second Abby Swann Mystery, continues the adventures of Abby and her two Tibetan Spaniels, Dawa (“Moon”) and Senge (“Lion”), and introduces Ah Choo, a sassy Siamese. The challenge of writing Dog Dreamzzz was to integrate the human and animal characters in distinct but interwoven plotlines—murder mystery, history mystery and fantasy mystery—and bring the three to a unified and thrilling finale.

The murder mystery gets underway during the aftermath of a hurricane when the Tibbies find the body of the mayor of Murderkill Beach sprawled in the marsh. The history mystery begins when Dawa unearths a cache of letters hidden in the 18th century museum house where Abby volunteers as an interpreter. In the fantasy mystery, Dawa’s recurring dreams reveal a former life in ancient Tibet.

While stories that “anthropomorphize” animal characters make many writers cringe, I’ve never had qualms about putting thoughts into the minds and words into the mouths of the intelligent, inquisitive and talkative Tibetan Spaniel. As you’ll see in this short excerpt, narrative featuring human characters is in first person, but the animal characters’ story is told in third person.

▫ ▫ ▫

Chapter Fourteen

“Your tongue is sticking out,” Dawa whispered. She was lying on the pillow next to a mound of mussed sun-streaked hair, all that was visible of Mom.
“What?” Senge muttered and, lifting his head, blinked at Dawa. “You woke me up.” Closing his eyes, he plopped his head back onto the yellow and blue quilt and smacked his lips. “Go back to sleep, Sister.”
“Well, your tongue was sticking out, Brother,” Dawa retorted. She flexed her forepaws and stretched languorously.
“Mmmmft,” said the mound.
Senge opened one eye. “You’re gonna wake Mom,” he growled. “Go back to sleep, Sister.”
“I had the dream again,” Dawa murmured.
“Brrrt!” said the cat.
Both Tibbies glared at the interloper perched atop the mahogany chest-over-chest.
“What dream?” asked the cat in a gravelly voice. His tail swished.
“None of your business, cat,” grumbled Senge. “Heh! You can talk!”
“Of course I can talk,” the cat said.
“You’ve been here two weeks without saying a word!” Senge snapped. “And you’d better get down from there. Mom doesn’t like us getting on the wood furniture.”
With his delicate sable paw, the cat reached down, lifted the brass drawer bail and dropped it—CLACK.
“Sh-h-h! You’ll wake her up!” Senge hissed.
“What dream?” the cat repeated and raised the bail again.
“Stop—don’t drop that again!” Dawa growled. “I’ll tell you.”
Ah Choo gently lowered the bail with barely a clink and, lifting the paw, scrutinized his toes. After smoothing his toe-fur with his tongue, he hunkered and then leapt in one smooth, graceful motion, landing on the bed next to Senge with a barely perceptible bump.
Senge snorted and bristled.
The cat dismissively flicked the tip of his tail and stalked to the head of the bed where he sat in front of Dawa.
“Who are you?” asked Dawa.
“They,” the cat said, glancing at the mound on the pillow, “call me Ah Choo, but my real name is Mongkut.”
To Tibbie ears, his voice sounded like a squawk. Dawa watched him lick his paw and rub his cheek with it. He fixed her with a chilly blue stare.
“What dream?” Mongkut aka Ah Choo asked again.
“I dreamt I was a monk.”
“Ahhh,” replied Mongkut with a twitch of his whiskers, “another life.” He settled into sphinx position and curled his tail at his side. “Tell me all.”

“Will you three hush up?” I muttered as I dragged myself upright in the bed and pushed my hair out of my eyes. The cat launched himself from the tall four-poster and disappeared through the door to the hall. The Tibbies scrambled down the bedstairs and pursued him with scritching of nails on the hardwoods. I sighed and squinted at the clock.

“Jeeminny. Six freakin’ A-M on a Sunday morning. Gimme a break.” With that, I fell backward, pulled the quilt over my face and was soon oblivious.

▫ ▫ ▫

Susan Waller Miccio is the internationally recognized author of nonfiction books about Tibetan Spaniels plus the two Abby Swann Mysteries. Her classic, The Tibetan Spaniel—A Gift from the Roof of the World, is still the go-to book for Tibbie owners worldwide. When not working full-time for the State of Delaware, Susan writes and volunteers with Tibetan Spaniel rescue. She is a member of the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America, the Potomac Valley Tibetan Spaniel Club and the Dog Writers Association of America and patron of the Tibetan Spaniel Association of Victoria (Australia). Susan and her “attitude” of Tibbies—Coco, Twyla and Suzy Q—live in rural Delaware where she is plotting her next mystery. Visit Susan on www.susanwallermiccio.com and Facebook.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Novel Settings - Beyond Geography*

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Setting is an essential part of many mysteries, as well as other types of fiction. Some settings are important enough to be regarded as "characters" of a sort – Tony Hillerman’s Southwest, John Connolly’s Maine, J.A. Jance’s Arizona and Seattle, Carl Hiassen’s Florida – well, I could go on for pages!

My own mystery Animals in Focus mystery series featuring 50-something animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her orange tabby Leo, occupies a number of settings, if you will. Some of these might be unnecessary in a stand-alone novel, but because this a series with an “accidental” amateur sleuth, several series sub-plots weave through the stories, and each has what I call a “sub-setting.”

Downtown Fort Wayne at night.
The major setting is, of course, geographical: Janet lives in Fort Wayne and gets around to other parts of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. I chose the area partly because I grew up there and know it well, and partly because it is a beautiful part of the country that often gets short shrift from outsiders who think all of Indiana is the fairly flat stretch of farmland from just west of Toledo to just east of Chicago. To dispel the "nothing but corn, beans, and steel mills" stereotype, I send my protagonist, Janet MacPhail, to the lakes, rivers, forests, and ravines of the state as well as the cities, small towns, and occasional quirky attractions. (Seriously, have you ever been to a pickle festival?) She also gets around her hometown a lot, and spends her time and money in local small businesses like The Firefly Coffee House and The Cookie Cottage (real places and worth a visit!). (I've written about stereotypes of the Midwest elsewhere, including this essay - The "I" States).

The Animals in Focus mystery series is also set in the world of canine and feline competitions, training, and other activities. Drop Dead on Recall (2012), the first book, opens when a competitor keels over during the “drop on recall” exercise in an obedience trial, and much of the action takes place in “doggy” settings. I have been involved in that world for more than two decades as a competitor, breeder, rescuer, instructor, judge, and writer, so it’s a setting I know well. Even better, it’s populated with all manner of characters, with and without fur.

Book two, The Money Bird (2013), finds Janet and Jay at retriever training sessions with Janet's friend Tom and his Labrador Retriever, Drake. Catwalk (f2014) takes us to canine and feline agility rings and a cat show. Janet's cat, Leo, finally gets his due!

Please note – although I don’t mind an occasional talking critter (Carole Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie is one of my favorites!), the animals in my books are as realistic as I can make them. They don’t talk, and we don’t get into their heads except through their behaviors (although personally I would give a lot for five minutes inside a dog’s, cat’s, or horse’s mind!). I just happen to think animals are far more interesting as animals than as “fur people.”

Finally, Janet’s mother is wrestling with dementia, and Janet has to meet that challenge with a lot of help from her new friend Tom Saunders and a little less help from her brother, Bill. So the third setting in which Janet spends some time is the Shadetree Retirement Home, complete with therapy cat  and dog, and a garden therapy program. 

Each setting is a little world of its own, but they overlap and provide a textured background in which the series can play out. 

For more information about the Animals in Focus mysteries, and the series, please visit my website Mysteries Pageand for immediate news join me on Facebook or Twitter.

Autographed copies of Drop Dead on Recall, The Money Bird, and my nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters, from Pomegranate Books. - Holiday Special! All three Animals in Focus Mysteries for $39! Ho ho ho!

Also available from your favorite bookseller (think Indie!) and online: Paperback and Kindle editions HERE Audible editions HERE

Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She started this blog as a way to bring readers and authors together over all sorts of writing that involves animals in some way. Learn more at Sheila's Website

*An earlier version of this post ran on Writers & Other Animals in April, 2014.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Interview with T.C. LoTempio and Her Blogging Cat, ROCCO

I'm delighted to welcome, special guest ROCCO, the blogging cat, and his sidekick  T.C. "Toni" LoTempio, Author of the Nick and Nora Mystery Series.
Even though she’s never committed murder in real life, Toni has no problem doing it on paper! As T.C. Lotempio she pens the Nick and Nora mystery series for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime, the first of which debuted December 2!  Her cat, ROCCO, (the inspiration for the character of Nick) also runs a blog, www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com, which interviews authors each month.  They live in beautiful New Jersey, where Toni is hard at work on the next Nick and Nora….and Rocco is hardly working!

Tell us a little about your background
TC:  I’ve been writing since I was seven years old, but only with an eye toward publication since 1997.  I’ve had a few books published by small press and some I’ve self-published at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  In 2008 I landed what I thought was my “dream agent” but actually it ended up being more of a nightmare. Then in 2011 I signed with my current agent, Josh Getzler, who really is a dream!  We were subbing a paranormal suspense when I got the idea for the Nick and Nora mysteries.  Josh sold it to Penguin in January of 2013, and it will be out in December of this year. I also write articles for a pulp magazine for collectors of antique children’s literature, Susabella Passengers and Friends.
ROCCO:  I, of course, with the human’s help (it’s tough typing with paws) developed the idea for my blog, catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com, in January of 2011.  Janet Evanovich was the first author we interviewed and it’s taken off from there with such notables as Carole Nelson Douglas, Brenda Novak, Michelle Rowen and Sheila Webster Boneham!  And, of course, I’ve provided the inspiration for the character of Nick in the human’s mystery series.
For TC:  Tell us about your pets, or other animals that inspire you
TC:  Well, ROCCO, of course.  He’d sit on me if I didn’t mention him first.  He’s a handsome tuxedo cat with what I can only describe as “cattitude.”  He was definitely the inspiration for the tuxedo cat Nick in the Nick and Nora mysteries, although his spelling is a tad rusty, unlike Nick’s.
Tell us a bit about the Nick and Nora Mysteries
TC:  It’s about a woman, Nora Charles, who returns to her hometown of Cruz, California, after a twelve-year absence to take over her deceased mother’s sandwich shop.  Nora was an ex-true crime reporter but several incidents in her life made her ready for a change to a quieter life.  In the first volume, MEOW IF ITS MURDER, she’s “adopted” by a tuxedo cat who appears on her doorstep one night.  She’s researching an article for an online crime magazine and suspects it’s not an accident as originally reported, and the cat seems to agree with her.  The cat, whom she names Nick, fuels this by spelling out clues with his favorite toy, Scrabble tiles.
ROCCO:  Even though Nora does the legwork, Nick is really the brains. After all, it is the NICK and Nora mystery series!
How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
TC:  A little of both, actually.  I work from an outline but it’s not detailed and the finished book usually looks nothing like my outline LOL.  I let the characters do the talking!
ROCCO: And me, of course.  I have been known to be very inspirational to the human.
TC:  Yes, especially when you want to play “fetch” right when I’m writing a crucial scene.
ROCCO:  Hey, no one’s purr-fect!
What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
TC:  Right now I’m working on another Nick and Nora, and the first book in a new cozy series (that features a cat, of course)
ROCCO:  And I, of course, work on my interviews and getting authors for the blog. It’s a big job, as I’m sure you understand.
What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
TC:  Well, I have a day job so I work from 6 a.m to three, then I come home, fire up the computer and write at least 2-3 nights a week for a few hours on my books.  I also spend at least four hours on Saturdays and Sundays. When I’m near the end of a book I put in at least two hours every weekday and six hours on the weekends. (Each day).
ROCCO:  Nothing about a cat’s day is typical.  Not one thing.
If you could take only three books with you for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
TC: Wow! That’s a tough one. There are so many – hard to just pick three! Probably the latest ones by three of my favorite mystery authors.
ROCCO:  Any of the CAT WHO mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun. A book with “CAT” in the title has to be worth reading!
What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
TC:  Never give up, keep reading, keep writing about what you love, and keep submitting.  If it’s meant to be, it will happen!
ROCCO: Adopt a tuxedo cat or kitten at your local shelter!  We are extremely inspirational beings!
Where can we find out more about you and your books?
TC:  ROCCO’s blog, www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com has all the latest news, and interested readers can also visit my website: www.tclotempio.com
Or email me at: toni@tclotempio.com

We love hearing from fans!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Excerpt from Dial C for Chihuahua by Waverly Curtis

Chapter One

Apparently the fad was over. All those actresses and models who thought a miniature dog stuffed into a Versace shoulder bag was so cute were now abandoning their furry “accessories” in record numbers. The Los Angeles shelters were so full of Chihuahuas they had to fly them to other parts of the country. My new pet was one of forty Chihuahuas who had been shipped to Seattle.

At the Humane Society, the Chihuahuas were all in one cage. Most were milling around or throwing themselves at the bars, barking. One dog sat by himself, away from the others. A ray of sunlight fell through the opening high in the cinder block wall and illuminated his white fur.

I knew as soon as I looked into his big, dark eyes that he was mine. He held his head high but he looked forlorn. It was a feeling I could totally understand.
My divorce had just become final. My ex had already bought a new three-bedroom house with his fiancée, while I was scraping by in a one-bedroom condo with his cat. To make things worse, the real estate market was crashing, and my career as a stager was in jeopardy. After suffering through a series of disastrous dates, I decided to adopt a dog. I was in need of some unconditional love.
My new pet was quiet during the drive home but he turned into a little white tornado when I set him down on the carpet inside my front door. He raced around the living room, sniffing around the edges of the furniture. Luckily I had locked Albert, the cat, into my bedroom before I went to pick up my new companion.

While he was exploring, I went into the kitchen to set up a water bowl and food dish for him. I opened a small can of Alpo Gourmet, hoping he’d like beef and vegetables with gravy. At the snick of the can opener, he scampered around the corner, his nails clicking across the tile floor, before I could even spoon the food into his dish.

Poor little guy, I thought, he must be terribly hungry. But instead of wolfing down the Alpo, he paused in front of his dish and just stared at it.

Maybe he didn’t like beef and gravy. Maybe he didn’t like vegetables. But I’d been in a hurry to get to the Humane Society before they closed and had just picked up the first can of dog food I saw at Pete’s Market. Maybe I should have bought an assortment of flavors.

I was about to tell my new companion that I’d get him a flavor he liked, when he looked up at me and said, “Muchas gracias.”

De nada,” I replied as he began gobbling up the food like he hadn’t eaten for a week.

Wait a minute…he couldn’t have spoken to me. And in Spanish, no less. I’d been alone too long. That was it. I was under a lot of stress. I was late with my homeowner’s dues and late with my mortgage payments. I had started looking for work on Craigslist, but so far I wasn’t making much progress. Thirty resumes out, but only one interview. That interview was with the owner of a private detective agency. Jimmy Gerrard had a sleazy appearance, a shabby office, and a weird way of talking about himself in the third person. Still, I was desperate and had tried to convince him I would make a good investigator. I have an eye for detail, I’m a good judge of character, and I speak a little Spanish.

The dog had emptied his food bowl and was licking his lips with his long pink tongue. He looked out toward the living room. “Tu casa es hermosa, muy hermosa.”

“What?” I agreed that my home was pretty, but I didn’t expect to hear it from him.

Tu casa es mi casa,” he said approvingly. He got it backwards, but I got the point: he felt at home.

He trotted into the living room and started looking around, more slowly this time. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay and followed him. He seemed to like what he saw, his head bobbing up and down as he poked his nose into the corners. I sank down on my chocolate brown sofa and set my wine glass on the end table. Before I knew it, I had a Chihuahua in my lap. He proceeded to give my crotch a series of vigorous sniffs.

“Stop that,” I scolded.

“I am a dog,” he said. “What can I do?”

I was about to shoo him away, when he lay down in my lap and curled up, snug as a kitten. He was so soft and cuddly, his short fur like warm velvet. His long ears were shell pink where the light shone through them.

I mused aloud, “What shall we call you?”

“My name is Pepe,” he answered in Spanish.


Sí.” He got off my lap and stood on the couch beside me, his huge brown eyes looking directly into mine. “And your name, senorita?” he continued, still speaking Spanish. “How are you called?”

“I’m Geri Sullivan,” I told him.

Bueno,” he said, with a wagging tail. “I am now, with great pride, Pepe Sullivan.”

I took another sip of my wine. This was too much.

Pepe looked me up and down. “You are muy bonita, Geri!”

I blinked. “Really?” It had been a long time since anyone had complimented me on my appearance.

Sí! Your dark, curly hair gleams like the wing of a raven. Your lashes are as long and thick as a camel’s. And your curves are as sultry as the Yucatan.”

“Pepe,” I said, “you are quite the flatterer.” Although I was still pondering the comparison to a camel. Was that a compliment?

“I do not flatter,” he said. “I speak only the truth. I can recognize a hot mama when I see one.”

“Well, thank you.” I said. They say dogs are man’s best friend, but this one was definitely woman’s best friend. He made me feel way better than any of the losers I had dated since the divorce.

“Geri,” Pepe asked, “have you any other dogs?”

“No, I don’t.” I said. For some reason, I was reluctant to tell him about Albert. Just as I was reluctant to let Albert know about the dog.

Buenísimo!” He nodded approvingly. “That makes me el jefe.”


Dial C for Chihuahua is the first in a series of humorous mystery novels written by Curt Colbert and Waverly Fitzgerald, under the pen name Waverly Curtis. Geri begins working for Jimmy G, the eccentric owner of a detective agency, and Pepe, of course, insists on going along. Soon they stumble upon the corpse of a Microsoft millionaire whose widow owns a lovely Pomeranian named Siren Song.

In the second novel, Chihuahua Confidential, Pepe and Geri travel to Hollywood to perform in a reality TV show called Dancing with Dogs. When Nigel St. Nigel, the judge everyone loves to hate, is found dead, Pepe and Geri are hot on the killer’s heels, while Pepe perfects his dance moves with his Pomeranian lady love.

Add caption
For the third novel, The Big Chihuahua, Geri and Pepe go undercover in a cult that worships an ancient dog warrior spirit named Dogawanda. The cult’s charismatic leader courts Pepe with promises of fame and fortune but Pepe and Geri are more concerned with figuring out who is killing her devotees. You can learn more about Pepe and his adventures at our web site

More from Waverly Curtis on Writers & Other Animals

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Do Our Pets Reflect Who We Are?

by Kathleen Kaska

Welcome to day six of Kathleen Kaska’s blog tour. She’s celebrating the upcoming release of her fourth Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Driskill (Austin, Texas) by writing about famous, infamous, and legendary locales in Texas’ state capital whose promo campaign is “Keep Austin Weird.” But today, she is digressing and attempting to analyze Sydney’s personality. At the end of the tour, she’ll give away a signed copy of the book. To be eligible, leave a comment on each blog.

I like to think of Sydney Lockhart, my protagonist in my 1950s mystery series, as a contradiction, not in her mind (How many of us see ourselves the way others see us?), but in the mind of her readers. Sydney likes to act the tough gal. She’s a wisecracking, gutsy, outspoken private investigator. For comfort, and often for disguise, she dresses in slacks, shirt, oxfords or cowboy boots, and a fedora. But, there’s a girly girl side to Sydney: one who likes to dress up in tart shoes and pencil skirts; one who melts when her PI boyfriend, Ralph Dixon, gives her “that look.”

Sydney comes with two pets: a white standard poodle named Monroe, as in Marilyn, and a tougher-than-nails cat named Mealworm, as in the larva stage of a darkling beetle. The dog represents glamour and the cat a sense of hardheartedness. I doubt Sydney selected these pets and named them to reflect her split personality. But in my latest mystery, Murder at the Driskill, twelve-year-old Lydia LaBeau picks up on Mealworm’s discontent. Lydia, whose middle name should be intuitive, bonds with Mealworm and believes her orneriness comes from what she represents. Whereas Monroe, the poodle, who never sheds, gets to visit her groomer and have her nails done, Mealworm’s orange fur seems to fly from her body like an unwanted houseguest and has to reply on her raspy tongue to clean herself.
Sydney merely scoffs at Lydia’s observations, until Lydia points out that Mealworm misbehaves only with Sydney; with everyone else, the cat is cuddly and sweet. Sydney believes changing her cat’s emotional state is an impossible feat. Lydia comes up with a solution:

Rename the cat Eva Gardener.

Visit these blog links for the entire blog tour:
11/24/ Condo Douglas kicked off my blog tour 11/25 Next you’ll find me at Lois Winston’s blog11/26 Look for me at Cyndi Pauwel’s blog, CP at Large11/28 Visit me at Helena Fairfax’s blog 11/29 Visit me at Lynn Cahoon’s place 12/01 Tomorrow I’ll be at Jenny Milchman’s blog, Made it Moment  

Now here’s a taste of Murder at the Driskill.

You’d think that newspaper reporter Sydney Lockhart, comfortable at home in Austin, Texas, could stay away from hotels and murders therein. But when she and her detective boyfriend, Ralph Dixon, hang out a shingle for their new detective agency, they immediately land a high-profile case, which sends them to the swanky Driskill Hotel. Businessman Stringer Maynard has invited them to a party to meet his partner/brother-in-law, Leland Tatum, who’s about to announce his candidacy for governor. Maynard needs their help because Tatum is hanging out with the wrong crowd and jeopardizing his chances for winning the election. Before Sydney can finish her first martini, a gunshot sounds and Leland Tatum is found murdered in a suite down the hall.

Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mysteries. Her first two books Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queens Book Group, the largest book group in the country. Kaska also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. Her Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida) was published in 2012.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with Author M.P. Barker

Tell us a little about your background.
I like to tell people I’m a time traveler. No, I’m not delusional (well, okay, maybe a little), but I spent eight years as a historical interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum that portrays 19th-century rural New England. That means I dressed in costume and basically lived in the 1830s for 40 hours a week. If you came to the Village in the 1980s or 1990s and saw someone covered in manure, sour milk, and dirt, that was probably me. I mucked out barns, milked cows, weeded gardens, made butter and cheese, and dyed wool, to list just a few of my chores. The great thing about the job was that it gave me the perfect background to write two historical novels, A Difficult Boy (Holiday House, 2008) and Mending Horses (Holiday House, 2014), which are set in New England in 1839. When one of my characters has to sit down and milk a cow, I can honestly say I know just how he or she feels—the character, not the cow, that is.
Tell us a bit about your latest book.
Mending Horses is about three misfits—a peddler, a young runaway, and an Irish horse whisperer—who mend each other’s broken lives as they heal a traveling circus’s mistreated ponies. My agent calls it a “family-friendly Water for Elephants.” The story takes place when the American circus was just beginning to evolve into its present form, so the research was lots of fun. In addition to traveling circuses, the storyline explores the challenges faced by Irish immigrants who came to New England to build factories and railroads. There’s also a little romance, a feisty female character, and lots and lots of horses.
The story focuses on Daniel, a sixteen-year-old Irish boy who’s newly freed from indentured servitude. Seeking guidance and companionship, Daniel joins Jonathan Stocking, a peddler and roving jack-of-all-trades who invites Daniel to join him and his assistant, eleven-year-old Billy Fogarty, a reformed pickpocket with a hauntingly beautiful singing voice, who is fleeing an abusive father. The trio joins a circus run by Fred Chamberlain, an old friend of Mr. Stocking’s. When an incompetent trainer abandons the show’s six “dancing ponies,” Daniel discovers his own talents as a horse whisperer, not “breaking” the animals, but mending the damage their previous trainer had done to them. Meanwhile, Fred transforms Billy into “Billy McBride, the boy with the voice of an angel,” the company’s star vocalist. With Mr. Stocking guiding Daniel’s training efforts and coaching Billy’s singing, the three grow from traveling companions into a peculiar sort of family. But past secrets catch up with them, bringing danger and heartbreak.
How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I’m definitely a “pantser.” I usually start out with a character and a situation, and just keep playing around with it until the characters start to take on their own voices, and it begins to feel as though they’re dictating the story to me. But for the longest time, I have no idea where the story is going. Once I’ve gotten the story about halfway written and have an idea of the ending, then I make an outline so I can see where I need to fill in holes and make connections.
Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Character, definitely. I’d rather read a book with a mediocre plot and great characters than one with lame characters and an exciting plot. I believe that plot often comes from character—after all, it’s the characters’ personalities that govern what they do, which is what creates the plot. As a writer, I always start with a character, then try sticking the character into different situations to see what will happen and how his or her personality will develop.
Tell us about your pets, or other animals that inspire you.
Midnight and Barker.
I’ve been lucky to have three wonderful dogs in my life—all of them second-hand. Our first was a Beagle mix, the second a Golden Retriever, and our current dog is a black Lab/Shepherd mix named Midnight. He’s not a great fan of my writing, though, and tends to heave major sighs when I’m working away for hours at “the box” (that’s what he calls my computer). He loves to rest his chin on my hand while I’m typing and say, “Look, there’s a beautiful dog here who’s being ignored.”

Where can we learn more about you and your books?
You can find out more by checking out my website – www.mpbarker.net

M.P. Barker is the award-winning author of two historical novels set in 19th-century New England—A Difficult Boy (Holiday House, 2008) and Mending Horses (Holiday House, 2014). A Difficult Boy received awards from PEN New England and the International Reading Association, and Mending Horses is a Kirkus Prize nominee. Her background includes work at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum, where she experienced 19th-century New England life firsthand. You can find out more at her website – www.mpbarker.net

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Excerpt: In the Moors by Nina Minton

In the Moors by Nina Minton: The rain-drenched moors near shamanistic counselor Sabbie Dare s home have become the scene of a chilling crime. When Detective Sergeant Reynard Buckley shows up suggesting her new client, Cliff Houghton a wounded, broken man has something to do with the body of a young boy found buried in the moors, Sabbie believes Cliff is being set up. Continuing the therapy she d begun with Cliff, Sabbie uncovers repressed memories hearkening back to a decades-old string of abductions and murders. But after another boy is abducted, only Sabbie can prove Cliff s innocence . . . and find the real culprit before any more lives are shattered.


As soon as the front door clicked shut behind me, I knew there was something wrong in the house. There was an aura of suspicion about the place and a smell of mistrust. Oh yes, and the telly – which I have to say was my strongest clue – was blaring out some gormless afternoon programme. I hadn’t left it on.
I let my backpack slide to the floor and eased the door kitchen open. I had to scan the room twice before I saw Ivan, resting in comfort on my sofa, his left ankle balanced on his right knee.
“Where have you been?” he demanded.
The accusation threw me. I’d been about to say, what’re you doing here? The words faded before they could reach my lips.
“I said where have you been, Sabbie?” He shifted position putting both feet on the ground and leaning forward, one hand punched into the palm of the other. “I’ve been waiting for you all fucking night. All fucking night and all of this morning.”
“You’ve been here since yesterday?”
“Too right I have.”
“How did you get into my house?” I heard my voice falter.
“That’s not the issue here. The issue is you, Sabbie.”
“How did you get in?”
He raised his fisted hand. My spare set of keys dangled from the fingers. I rushed forward and snatched them from him. There was a heat behind my eyes. “I told you. I don’t want to see you again. Ever. I said no, Ivan, and you didn’t listen.”
He grinned at me. “Women always say no and mean yes.”
“For your information, this girl means no. You tried to rape me. I could’ve had you carted off to a police cell. And I can promise you that is one place you would not like.”
He didn’t reply. Without taking his gaze from my face, he stretched a hand over the side of the sofa. I could see his laptop case lying against it, but he wasn’t reaching for that. I was looking at a gun. A rifle as long as my arm. Its butt was of glossy yellow wood and along its length was a complicated sight of polished steel.
I took a breath to steady myself. “Did you get that from your loft?”
Ivan smiled. His eyes lit up. He lifted the gun onto his lap as if it were made of crystal glass. “I’d forgotten what it was like to use it. I took it out for a practice run and I’m still pretty good.”
That smell I’d detected in the hall was much stronger now I stood in front of its source. It was the overwhelming odour of control, of the power that certain things give certain men; money, authority, or in this case, the clout of a loaded weapon.
“The fox has gone.” I managed. “There’s no need for a gun.”
His eyes were sharp as slivers of glass. “Isn’t there?”
My whole body became ice cold. “You haven’t been shooting at my hens, for old Mab’s sake!”
He chuckled. “Don’t be daft, woman. Why would I want to do that?”
I shook my head, unable to respond. I leaned against the kitchen worktop. My legs felt gelatinous, unable to support me. “I want you to take that thing out of my house. Now. Take it away. Please.”
His face hardened. I could feel my words bounce off it, as if his skin had toughened into steel.
“The gun isn’t the issue, Sabbie.”
“What?” My heart stopped its racing and stood still. If he raised the gun now, how badly could he hurt me with it?
“You need to tell me this instant,” he said. “You need to be honest. Have you been with another man?”
I closed my eyes. Perhaps I hoped he might disappear, but when I opened them again, he was waiting and I hadn’t answered. The only answer I could think of was…are you crazy? but that didn’t seem like the right one, just then.
“There isn’t any man in my life at the moment,” I said at last. “And that includes you, Ivan.”
“Of course I’m in your life. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Without an invite. With a gun.”
“Sabbie, Babe. All I’m asking is where you’ve been. That’s the only issue. Where you have been…all night.”
It was like he was on rails, his head caught up in a single obsession. I knew I couldn’t reason with him. I knew I shouldn’t anger him. I gave him a big, artificial grin. “If you must know, I’ve been locked in a police cell.”
 I picked up the kettle and took it to the sink. Every particle of me was on high alert. I could feel the roots of my hair prickling. But I filled the kettle and put it back in its base as calmly as I could. I pulled off my damp outer clothes and shoes and dropped them by the back door. “It’s been a long and stressful night.”
His forehead furrowed. “You’re in trouble with the police?”
“I think I am the trouble. I’m the sort of person who has to poke their finger into all the holes marked, ‘do not insert’.”
I saw his eyes shift their gaze around the room, as if he didn’t know what was going on. As if he had to check in the dark corners to make sure he was in control.
“I’ve got to have a hot drink,” I said, reaching for a mug as the kettle clicked off.
“Great. Got any decaf?”
With a gun across his legs, I was kind of expecting Ivan to draw a hip flask from his pocket. The sudden normality in the midst of all the insanity made a stupid chuckle well up from my queasy stomach.
“What’s so funny? I don’t see proof that you’ve been locked up for the night.” He grimaced. “Might have been knocked up, not locked up.”
“Don’t you remember the bodies I found under some floorboards?”
“They were real?” squeaked Ivan, destroying his hard-man image. “You never said.”
“You were the one that told me to go to the police. Which I did. Now they’ve discovered that two people were buried in this derelict cottage.”
“What?” Clearly, it wasn’t the direction Ivan’s mind had been taking. “They think you murdered someone?”
“Not exactly,” I tried to shrug my shoulders. “I’m sort of helping them with their enquiries. In fact, I’ll have to go out again, in a moment.”
Ivan smiled. He was swallowing the story. I’d half forgotten that I was telling the complete truth. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and lit one. Ivan knew that I won’t have people smoke in my house – we had that conversation the very first night he was here. The gesture was telling me he was now in charge.
I didn’t say a word. I turned to the worktop, poured water onto coffee and turned round again to hand the mug to him. He was standing, his expression alert, and his gun was in his hands.
“You’re not going anywhere, sweetie,” he said. Smoke filtered down his nose. I thought of Garth’s dragons. “Not without me. And I’m not going anywhere. I think it’s time for bed, don’t you?”
Stupidly, I lost it. I screamed at him, flinging the cup of coffee across the room.
“Get out of my house!”
The coffee sloshed across the floor, so luckily the mug was pretty empty when it hit his chest. I watched his mouth form a round “O’, as slowly as a dream.
I couldn’t move. I just stood there, the coffee pooling on the floor between us, ready for the gunshot and the pain.
The pain came, like an explosion in the head, centred across my left eye. I waltzed across the room until the worktop stopped me.
He’d hit me with the butt of the rifle. I put my hand to my face. The blood on my hand blurred as my vision faltered.
“You do as I say.” The words sounded garbled and echoing. “I am sick of watching you play ice bitch. That is not how it should be with us.”


Nina Milton lives in west Wales with her husband and their hens (about whom she has blogged for WOA!), but she sets her Shaman Series, out from Midnight Ink, in the mystical county of Somerset in the UK. The First in the series, In the Moors is available now and the second book in the series, Unraveled Visions is due for release soon.I also write for children; Sweet’n’Sour, (HarperCollins) and Tough Luck, (Thornberry Publishing), and love writing short stories which regularly appear in British anthologies. Visit Nina’s page on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Nina-Milton/e/B00E748CT6   or join her on her vibrant blogsite,  http://www.kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com