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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fictional Dogs Honor the Dogs of Our Lives

by Lou Allin

“I wish my dog could talk.” If you’re an author, they’d ask for a role in your books. Limpid brown eyes with questioning brows, a whimper of excitement at keyboard sounds, a paw on the computer table, and a nose snuffling the bookshelf. They want in.
Freya, a German shepherd, was eight when she worked her way into my first series. Belle Palmer was a realtor, living in the Northern Ontario bush in a cedar-sided home on gigantic lake and owned a snowmobile.  A companion was important, especially for hikes in bear territory.
So fictional Freya got her favourite chair, kibble and toys, and her idiosyncrasies. The only problem occurred in the final hundred pages,  a page-turning chase, lost in a blizzard or in the bush, pursued by the villain. It was impractical to have her with Belle at that point because Freya would have torn a strip from any attacker. So I added ruses like going to the vet’s overnight for a late afternoon tooth cleaning or a trip to the neighbour’s. The only time Belle took a dog along was when she had to babysit a mini-poodle pup called Strudel in Bush Poodles are Murder. Belle and Strudel toughed it out in a snow cave during a blizzard. Strudel, aka Friday, is with me today at age thirteen, blind but running the house, whispering in my ear as I sleep, “Return of the Bush Poodle. Just do it!”
My next shepherd emerged in an academic mystery called A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing. I have a chronicle of Nikon bumping down stairs on his rump like a frog and running off chasing birds. They grow up so fast.
Then I moved to Vancouver Island, Canada’s Caribbean, where Nikon saw his women safely to the island and joined Freya at the Bridge.
Enter a rescue border collie named Shogun. They are not soul mates like German Shepherd Dogs, living for the master’s pleasure and serving without questions. They prefer to be worked or entertained. And often they believe that they know best. 
Shogun’s name had been Hogan, then Logan, so Shogun seemed a small stretch and the name matched his mighty bark.  Shogun was also a chowhound.
He accepted his agility training, but only for the kibble. He stopped in the middle of the competition ring, demanding the next directive. This tunnel? That jump? The dog walk? Make up your mind! Shogun used that expressive plumed tail like a vampire’s cape, sweeping it over other dogs as if to say, “I never drink...wine.”
He got his own role in my new series with RCMP Corporal Holly Martin in a small detachment west of Victoria. Not long after we got another border collie, Zia, Shogun joined the shepherds at Rainbow Bridge, but in “his” books, he’s still warming up. His fictional character was rescued by Holly’s professor father, and he’s also in agility. In the upcoming fifth book, Shogun will make a key appearance solving the crime overshadowing the series: the disappearance up north over ten years ago of Holly’s mother, a Coastal Salish lawyer dedicated to helping abused women on the island.
As for my other books, Man Corn Murders, a standalone set in Utah, had a Nova Scotia duck toller called Tut.  My two Rapid Reads for Orca Books had an old golden retriever, Bucky and a border-collie rescue called Scout. The latest includes a Malinois, who serves as protector for a woman with a suspiciously hostile neighbour.
Pets are not accessories, nor part of the furniture. It’s true that my mini-poodle had her own fleece parka with her initial on pockets for hand warmers over her back, but at -25C? Pets are an integral part of our lives and often reflect who we are, whether the animal is a dog, cat, bird, ferret, rat, or garter snake. Like Janet Evanovich’s hamster Rex in the soup-can house, animals comfort us as companions, help us think things through, and get us out of the house even in snow and rain. But they do not speak English.

There is a time-delay. In traditional publishing, the book may not appear until two years after it’s written. The ghosts of animals past haunt the pages, but what better memorial? Just like the settings of my books are love affairs with a place, giving my pets their own roles is a way of paying tribute to woman’s best friend.

Lou Allin is the author of the Belle Palmer mysteries set in Northern Ontario, and the RCMP Corporal Holly Martin RCMP series on Vancouver Island. Lou also has written That Dog Won’t Hunt in Orca’s Raven Reads editions for adults with literacy issues and in 2013 won Canada’s Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award for Contingency Plan. She lives across from Washington State on the Juan de Fuca Strait with her border collies and mini-poodle. Her website is www.louallin.com and she may be reached at louallin@shaw.ca.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writing Serious Issues in Entertaining Mysteries

by Sheila Webster Boneham

If you have read any of my Animals in Focus mysteries, you know that dogs and cats and other critters are vital characters. After all, the series isn't called Animals in Focus for nothing. In fact, each book in the series spotlights a different "animal activity" and each mystery hinges on a serious real-world issue. Just as they do in real life, serious issues can create major problems for writers.

In, Drop Dead on Recall, we meet 50-something animal photographer Janet MacPhail and her Australian Shepherd, Jay, at an obedience trial, where Janet watches as a top-level competitior keels over in the open obedience class. Soon Janet, Jay, and their very important feline family member, Leo, find themselves embroiled in a series of murders that seem to be linked to breeder ethics (or lack thereof) and cut-throat competitiveness. 

In The Money Bird (2013), Janet has her lens focused on retrievers training for AKC retrieving tests, especially the handsome Drake and his almost-as-handsome person, anthropologist Tom Saunders. Drake, too, is inspired by the three Labs I've owned and and the many I've rescued over the years, especially my first Lab, Raja, a big chocolate field-bred goofball. Here he is with my beautiful Malcolm, who was one of the real-life models for Leo.

In Catwalk (coming fall 2014), Janet spends time competing in both canine and feline agility. Yes, it's true -- competitive sports are not just for dogs anymore! (Cats are often lured through agility courses, but in Catwalk, Janet clicker trains Leo just as she does Jay. Here's a video of clicker-trained agility cats - I LOVE this kid and his cats!) The very politically and emotionally charged issue in the book is feral cat colonies and the Trap-Neuter-Release approach to managing them. 

A number of challenges presented themselves as soon as I began writing the series. First, I decided early on that I wanted to stay away from graphic or gratuitous violence and sex. Sure, people are killed, and Janet and Tom are fully engaged romantically, but I prefer to let readers use their imaginations rather than spell everything out. And since I am turned off by violence or sex that serve shock value rather than the story, I assume many other readers are as well.

The second major challenge was to find ways to introduce serious issues without shouting from one of my soap-boxes. Those, I knew, needed to be tucked under my desk, not splashed all over my books.

Setting these limits on myself is helpful in some ways, restrictive in others. After all, I'm writing about creatures and issues that stir intense feelings in me as well as in my readers, and it isn't always easy to stifle myself. Many authors face this problem in fiction, where characters and story (plot, if you prefer) are the real focus. So how do we strike a balance? Not all of us do - I'm sure we've all read books in which the author's passion for some cause overshadowed everything else. If you're like me, you may have quit reading. I don't like to be bludgeoned when I'm reading mostly to be entertained.

On the other hand, I do like to learn new things, and I have often read fiction that teased me into looking for more information about something.

I hope I'm striking that balance in my own fiction. In The Money Bird, wildlife trafficking is the larger issue woven into the plot. It's an ugly business, and I've tried to present it in a way that will encourage people to learn more without overdoing it. Judging by reader response, I think I've managed to open some eyes and inspire some research without detracting from the story itself. At least I hope so! 

Catwalk is in production for its release this coming fall, and I'm working now on the next book in the series. Activity and issue, you ask?  Livestock handling (i.e., herding), and rustling. Yes, we still have cattle and horse rustlers in our midst. But more on that later....
For more information about the Animals in Focus mysteries, and the series, please visit my website Mysteries Page, and 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. 

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Inspiration—German Shepherd Style!

by Tracy Weber

I’m delighted to join all of you here on Writers & Other Animals! As a certified animal nut, I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be. Since my mystery series revolves around a feisty German shepherd named Bella, I decided to share a little about the two German shepherds that have most inspired my writing.

I barely remember the far-from-perfect German shepherd my parents owned when I was a preschooler out on the farm. She barked, chased cows, and had a passion for hunting skunks, porcupines, and most any other critter that would fit in her mouth. In my mind, Duchess was a veritable Lassie. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t agree. After an ill-fated altercation with a neighbor’s cat, Duchess was sent to a new home. I never quite got over the loss, and I vowed that I would someday own a German shepherd of my own.

Tasha and Tracy
Fast forward about thirty-five years to the day I picked up my eight-week-old bundle of fur. I vowed to not repeat the mistakes of my parents. I was determined to do everything “right.” I studied books about German shepherds and enrolled in multiple dog training classes. I told everyone my dog would be the paragon of proper doggy behavior. I even believed it.

I should have known I was in for trouble the day Tasha chewed up all of my dog training books.

Cursed with a variety of illnesses and a fearful temperament, Tasha will never be the poster child for German shepherd temperament and behavior, but every day I get to spend with her is a gift. Tasha has taught me patience and creativity, and she’s forced me to learn how to give up control. Most of all, she’s shown me that I can give love unconditionally, even when the recipient is far from perfect. Tasha has made me a better human being.

My first mystery, Murder Strikes a Pose, involves a yoga teacher, Kate Davidson, and her German shepherd sidekick, Bella. Like Tasha—and Duchess before her—Bella is huge, often unruly, and smarter than most human beings. She sometimes gets Kate into trouble, sometimes saves her from it. Above all else, she’s the love of Kate’s life.

I can’t wait to see how their path unfolds in the rest of the Downward Dog Mysteries. Writing about yoga, dogs, and murder. What could be more fun?

Murder Strikes a Pose introduces Kate Davidson, a feisty Seattle yoga instructor who’s more interested in savasana than solving crimes, until she stumbles over a body in the studio’s parking lot. The police dismiss the murder as drug-related street crime, but Kate knows that George—a homeless alcoholic she had befriended—was no drug dealer.

Kate stretches herself and takes on two new challenges. First, solve George’s murder. Second, find someone—anyone—willing to adopt his intimidating, horse-sized German shepherd, Bella, before Animal Control sends her to the big dog park in the sky. But with Bella’s time almost up and the murderer hot on her trail, Kate will have to work fast, or the next time she practices corpse pose, it may be for real

Praise for Murder Strikes a Pose:

“Kate Davidson’s pluck, humor, and determination make her a welcome addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths. Reading MURDER STRIKES A POSE made me want to study yoga.”

“A delightful debut novel. Namaste to Weber and her fresh, new heroine!”

“Great characters, keep-you-guessing plot, plenty of laughs, and dogs—what more could we want?”

Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she currently lives with her husband and German shepherd. Weber is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and Sisters in Crime. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. Murder Strikes a Pose is Weber’s debut. For more information, visit her online at TracyWeberAuthor.com and WholeLifeYoga.com.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cat Detectives, Part 1

By Toni LoTempio

Cat Detectives, anyone?

As a writer of cozy mysteries featuring an extremely communicative cat (the Nick and Nora mysteries, debut December 2014) I must confess to being partial to mysteries that feature cats! (not that I don’t like dogs, or give dogs equal time, I do, I do!  But when you own a twenty-two pound blogging cat, your loyalties are naturally going to gravitate toward the feline end!).

I thought I’d list a few of my favorite cozy series that prominently feature cats here, FYI.  (Sorry I can’t add mine yet – MEOW IF IT’S MURDER doesn’t debut until December – but don’t worry, more on that to come!).

The Magical Cats Series, by Sofie Kelly.

This series centers around Kathleen Paulson, a librarian from Boston, and two stray cats with special powers, Owen and Hercules, in fictional Mayville Heights, Minnesota.  Kathleen has moved to Mayville Heights from Boston after her fiancĂ©e marries a waitress after an argument, and ends up adopting two strays, a tabby named Owen and a tuxedo named Hercules. Turns out the cats have magical powers: Owen can turn invisible and Hercules can walk through walls!  Which provides quite a bit of humor!  There is also a bit of romance in the form of uptight detective Marcus Gordon.   Plenty of quirky characters and homespun charm!  Kathleen finds herself a murder suspect in the first volume setting up the romantic tension between herself and Detective Gordon for future adventure.  In the latest entry, FINAL CATCALL, Kathleen’s ex-boyfriend Andrew shows up, desperate to win her back, but Kathleen’s unsure just where she stands with Detective Marcus. And when a local theatre festival relocates to Mayville Heights and its insufferable director is found shot, Kathleen (and her cats) are in the thick of a puzzling mystery once again.

The Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda (aka Dean) James.

Set in the fictional town of Athena, Mississippi, the action centers around librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel.  Diesel is quite large for his size, but very lovable, and Charlie walks him on a leash and takes him pretty much everywhere he goes.  Unlike the cats in the “Magical Cats” series, Diesel is more of a sidekick for Charlie than an active participant in the mystery solving – although he does lend a paw from time to time.  The series has many charming characters, some of which have even been put into a spin-off series by James.  The most recent entry, THE SILENCE OF THE LIBRARY, revolves around a library exhibit to honor YA novelists – in particular, one octogenarian, Electra Barnes Cartwright, the author of the beloved “Veronica Thane” series.  Once news of the author’s appearance goes viral, another rumor surfaces – that of five unpublished manuscripts – drawing out one rabid fan who will stop at nothing short of murder to get hold of the rare books.  Series book devotees will find the references and facts about actual series books interspersed throughout the book interesting, and it adds to the mystery.  Charlie and Diesel should be around entertaining us for many years to come.

The Mrs. Murphy Series by Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown)

What can you say about a mystery series co-authored by a cat!  The first adventure, WISH YOU WERE HERE, published in 1991, introduced us to Mary Minor Haristeen, (aka Harry) and her constant companions, Mrs. Murphy, a tabby and Tucker, a Welsh Corgi.  Harry is the postmistess of the town of Crozet, Virginia, a job that puts her in an excellent to figure out who is murdering, in ghastly fashion, various pillars of her community. Postcards are sent to a wealthy contractor shortly before parts of his body are found in a cement mixer and then to a storeowner whose corpse, tied to a railroad track, is cut in three parts by the express. The cards alert Harry and friends to a plot that will take more lives before they discover the treasure that inspires the violence.  Quirky is the middle name of most of the characters in this long-running series, and Brown always gives a brief rundown of all the characters at the beginning of each book, apparently to keep readers from becoming confused at the large cast.

The most recent release, THE LITTER OF THE LAW, is the 21st adventure!  Autumn has descended and crops are being harvested all over Crozet, Virginia, ideal conditions for a scenic drive for Harry and husband Fair. Bucolic views are all well and good, but Harry’s nose for trouble leads her straight to a cornfield’s macabre scarecrow—an all too real murder victim that frightens all but the noisy crows!  Nothing, however, frightens the irrepressible Mrs. Murphy, because we all know that while it’s Harry who receives the credit for the crime solving, it’s really Mrs. Murphy and her friends, Pewter the cat and Tucker the dog, who are the real detectives!
These are just a few of my favorites! There are many more out there…soon to be joined by Nick the cat and Nora! Stay tuned!

Toni LoTempio – admin by day, writer by night, As T. C. Lotempio,she pens cozy mysteries, debuting with the upcoming Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkeley Prime Crime. (MEOW IF IT’S MURDER, Fall 2014).  She and her cat ROCCO do fundraising for Nathan Fillion’s charity, KIDS NEED TO READ, when they aren’t interviewing authors on ROCCO’s blog! You can keep up with all the latest interviews and news (including her 2014 releases!)  at www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Owney, The Globe-Trotting Mail Mascot

by Elaine Faber

I ran across an interesting story the other day about a little mutt dog that became the nation’s Post Office mascot from 1888 - 1897. Owney, a little mixed terrier, traveled for nine years across the nation’s railways on mail trains, always returning to Albany, PA, a key division point on the New York Central railroad system, one of the two largest railroads in the U.S. at that time. Over the years, he was given medals and citations by various organizations, as the country marveled at the little dog’s dedication to the mail service.
Once, it’s said, a mail bag fell from a delivery wagon. Owney jumped off the wagon and guarded the bag until a postal worker missed him and the mail bag and returned to find him sleeping on top of the bag, preventing anyone from touching it except a postal worker.
OWNEY’S MEDALS: Over the years, post workers around the country where Owney visited, hung medals on his collar until he had accumulated hundreds of medals. It was necessary to give him a vest on which to pin the medals. He jingled like sleigh bells when he walked.
Occasionally, Owney would jump on an outbound train and disappear for weeks or months until he would reappear in the Albany post office. A train trip into Canada got him into trouble once, when he was detained by the Canadians and held for ransom, demanding charges for his board. The Albany postmen pooled their money and bailed poor Owney out of Canada. He was returned once more to the Albany post office.
EUROPEAN TRAVELS: It is documented that in 1895, Owney traveled via steamship and rail, riding with mail bags throughout Asia and across Europe. He was fed and tended by postal workers along the way. The Emperor of Japan awarded him several medals bearing the Japanese Coat of Arms. His triumphant return to American was covered by newspapers nationwide. He became world famous after the trip.
As the years progressed, Owney’s eyesight and health failed. On orders of the local postmaster in Toledo, Ohio, they detained him (I suppose they thought for his own good) and him tied to a post in a basement. The report is that he became aggressive (probably from illness, and despair at being held against his will). The story is told that he bit a reporter. The postmaster ordered him to be put down. He was shot and killed on June 11, 1897, creating a good deal of resentment and problems for the post office between the workers and headquarters.
PRESERVED AND HONORED: The nation’s postal workers refused to bury their beloved mascot. They asked that the dog receive the honor of being preserved and taxidermied. His remains were sent to the Post Office Department Headquarters and eventually to the Smithsonian Museum. His remains required an extensive taxidermy makeover by 2011 when the USPS issued a stamp honoring Owney.
Owney has been the subject of five books. His remains now stand in a glass case in the Smithsonian Institute in the National Postal Museum atrium in Washington D.C., wearing his harness and surrounded by many of his tags.
MORE INFORMATION: You can read more about Owney online at these and other online sites.
 A YouTube video about the post office dog.
Owney, the Stuffed Dog - controversial end (more info about his death)
A complete article about Owney's life, career and preservation.

Elaine Faber’s short stories have been published in magazines and multiple anthologies. She is an active member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers and Cat Writers Association.
Elaine debut novel, Black Cat’s Legacy, will be available by April 1, 2014. Black Cat's Legacy is the first of three Cat Mysteries involving Thumper, the cat who solves mysteries with the aid of his ancestors' memories. Elaine lives in Elk Grove, CA, with her husband of 51 years. (That’s a marriage of 51 years, not a husband of 51 years!) They share their home with four house cats, and three more feral cats that stand in the chow line night and morning. Elaine’s cats are the inspiration for her Black Cat Mystery series. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mega Fauna of North America in Neanderthal Mysteries

by Kaye George

I’ll admit that I set my Neanderthal mystery series in North America because I’m in love with the mega fauna that roamed here before the last Ice Age, which is when that series takes place. The Neanderthals disappeared as a distinct race about 38,000 years ago. However, we now know, because of the advances in genetic science, that they’re not completely gone. In fact, I, personally, am 2.9 percent Neanderthal.
They have only been found in Europe and Asia, but I contend that, just because no traces of them have been found in North American, that doesn’t mean they weren’t here. However unscientific that may be--at least unverifiable so far--the evidence of the huge animals that lived here is clear and undisputed.
(See my guest blog on November 4th, 2013 for an account of my research at the Waco Mammoth Museum.)
Honestly, the animals here were gigantic. The mammoths and mastodons would tower over a modern day elephant. There were two kinds of mammoth, the wooly mammoth that lived in the north, near the glaciers of the Ice Age, and the Columbian mammoth that lived in what is not the southern part of the US. They were very similar, but the Columbian had a much thinner fur coat.
The giant sloth, which could reach a height of 17 feet would give me nightmares the rest of my life if I were to skip back in time and meet one! Look at the claws on that thing! This animal, technically called Eremotherium, probably came to North American from South American across the Panama land bridge 2.2 million years ago. That’s about when the Panama bridge came into existence. (giant sloth photo)
Wolves were called Dire Wolves. Sounds bad, right? They were above the size of a modern gray timberwolf, but heavier. They came here across the Bering land bridge 300,000 years ago.
Giant beavers reached a length of 9 feet and weighed 330 to 440 pounds, three times the size of modern beavers and over ten times the weight. Their beaver lodges and dams had to be a lot bigger, too. This animal probably survived much longer than the others I’ve mentioned, since there are several Native American legends about it. To my knowledge, this is the only continent where giant beavers have ever been found. These prehistoric beavers probably looked just like modern ones, but without the flat tail.
Saber-toothed tigers had those horrible teeth! North America had lions in those days, too, and a precursor to the modern-day camel called a camelops.

The Ice Age musk ox, was, surprisingly to me, little different than the ones who live in the Arctic today. It just looks primitive, doesn’t it? 

I love this mural. It shows the Dall sheep in the foreground, and behind it you can see the long-legged flat-faced bear, early horses, a pronghorn antelope, North American lions, dire wolves, and our beloved bison. The world belonged to them. It’s a safer place without them, but it’s kind of sad that those giants are gone.
One last comment. It’s very strange to me that horses originated in North America as little 50-pound things (eohippus). They roamed between North America and Asia while the Bering land bridge existed, then became extinct here when the mega fauna all died. They had to be brought here by the Spanish many, many eons later.

Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for three Agatha awards and has been a finalist for the Silver Falchion. She is the author of four mystery series: the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, the FAT CAT cozy series (coming in 2014), and The People of
the Wind Neanderthal series.
Her short stories can be found in her collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, as well as in several anthologies, various online and print magazines. She reviews for "Suspense Magazine", writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye lives in Knoxville, TN.

Books by Kaye George/Janet Cantrell~~
DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, Agatha Nominated Neanderthal Mystery~~
EINE KLEINE MURDER, Silver Falchion Finalist Musical Mystery~~
CHOKE, SMOKE, BROKE, Agatha Nominated humorous mysteries~~
FAT CAT AT LARGE by Janet Cantrell, Sept. 2014~~
Kaye's Website
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Smithsonian murals and saber-tooth skeleton photos by Kaye George
giant sloth photo from Smithsonian by Creative Commons license
musk ox from Wiki Commons

Coming Sunday! Author Elaine Faber on
Owney the Mail Dog!
Hope to see you then. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Doggy Lit

by Lois Winston

Over the last few years there have been many sub-genres of lit-fic cropping up. It started back in the late nineties with an onslaught of chick lit. These were stories not about furry yellow-beaked farm critters but about twenty-somethings with jobs they hated, serial bad dates, a tendency to indulge in too many margaritas, and an obsession with designer shoes and handbags. Chick lit led to lady lit, lad lit, mom lit, hen lit, boomer lit, and geezer lit.

And now we have doggie lit. I’ve noticed over the last few years that no matter the genre, whether romance or mystery or straight fiction, a huge percentage of books have dogs in them. It’s not just that the protagonist has a pet pooch. These dogs are becoming major secondary characters in many books. Sometimes they even have a point of view in the story.

I’m not sure how I feel about giving a point of view to a pet, but I do like the trend of making dogs in books more than just window dressing or a convenient way to get a character from Point A to Point B.  (Dogs do have to be walked several times a day.) If done well, dogs can add quite a bit of texture and color to the story because they have distinct personalities.

In my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille, a die-hard nineteen-fifties style commie, owns a French Bulldog she calls Manifesto (after the communist treatise.) Everyone else calls him Mephisto or Devil Dog. He’s got that kind of personality. Since the best stories always have characters who are polar opposites, thus creating conflict, I’ve given Manifesto his own nemesis, a corpulent white Persian by the name of Catherine the Great.

Catherine the Great belongs to Anastasia’s mother Flora, a former social secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Lucille, Manifesto, Flora, and Catherine the Great all live with Anastasia, her two teenage sons, and their pet parrot in a small suburban rancher where Lucille and Flora (and therefore Manifesto and Catherine the Great) are forced to share a bedroom. Not only do Flora and Lucille fight like cats and dogs, but so do their cat and dog. Conflict, conflict, conflict—the basis for all good stories, right?

Another component of a good stories is character growth. So I wondered, why should that growth be limited to the two-legged characters in a story? Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in my series, presented the perfect opportunity to delve into this subject. Because Lucille is in a rehab center convalescing from surgery, the rest of the family must care for Manifesto. The results are quite surprising, but I won’t spoil the fun for you. You’ll just have to read the book to find out for yourself.

Revenge of the Crafty Corpse
Anastasia Pollack’s dead louse of a spouse has left her with more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at, and teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center seems like a harmless way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.  

Buy links:

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Other books in the series includes Death By Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly and the ebook only mini-mysteries Crewel Intentions and Mosaic Mayhem.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s a literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer. She
often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter @anasleuth.


Coming Wednesday....author Kaye George on researching the mega fauna of North America for her Neanderthal mystery series. (If you sign up at the right to follow this blog, you won't miss a thing!)
- Sheila

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Animals in Focus Mysteries Characters Help Real Animals in Need

by Sheila Webster Boneham


Do you know any pet owners who wouldn't like to have their own pets appear in a a novel? When I asked myself that question a couple of years ago, I couldn't think of anyone, so I pitched an idea to two organizations whose causes I strongly support. My proposal was this: let's team up to raffle off guest parts for two dogs - one for each group's winner - in The Money Bird, my second Animals in Focus Mystery. I wrote about the raffles last year in "Could Your Dog Be a Sleuth?"

The first group to hold its raffle was LABMED,  an Internet-based non-profit organization created to distribute financial aid to injured or ill rescued Labrador Retrievers around the country, giving them a second chance at adoption and love from a permanent family. Since The Money Bird spotlights retriever training, and since character Tom Saunders has a black Lab named Drake, LABMED was a natural choice.  (Besides, I've had Labs in my life since 1988, founded Labrador Retriever Rescue of Indiana, Inc., in 1993, and wrote the award-winning Simple Guide to Labrador Retrievers, so how could I not support Labby dabbies?)

LABMED made $200 on the raffle to help with medical expenses for a rescued Lab. The winner of the LABMED raffle, seen here with his owner Diana Holman, is Lennen, who was a ten-year-old rescued boy who was turned in by his owners. They had kept him out in the backyard all his life. Aside from having landed in heaven with Diana, her six other Labs, with a comfy indoor couch to sleep on, Lennen also landed a part in The Money Bird, my second Animals in Focus mystery. Doesn't he look pleased about it all? Sadly, Lennen is now playing at the Rainbow Bridge, but he lives on in his fictional role ~ a heroic one, at that! ~ and I'm sure he is smiling at us from the Bridge.

I won't tell you what he does in the book, but the "Money Bird" Lennen has an interesting job, to say the least. You can tell by the grin on his face that Lennen liked the idea.
The second raffle was sponsored by Canine Health Events, a diverse gathering of dog lovers from across the country who are dedicated to improving the lives and health of dogs. Using normal dog events, they raise money for canine health research both through entry fees and additional fund-raisers, such as raffles, auctions and sponsorships. They held the main part of the raffle online, with additional sales and their drawing at their big agility trial on June 8, 2012. I'm delighted to say that CHE raised $2,000 with this raffle, all of which went to support research on canine health issues. 

The winner of the CHE raffle is Pilot, whose official name is MACH3 V-NATCH Gallopin'Jet Pilot CDX JH FTC WC VCX ADHF CCA CGC PS1. According to owner and compeitition partner Stephanie Schmitter, Pilot "is a very athletic and versatile golden retriever." That should be obvious from his titles! (For the unitiated, he is a Master Agility Champion three times over and has additional titles in agility, obedience and field, with a lifetime ranking of #66 for Golden Retrievers in AKC agility). Stephanie says, "He loves field work and will retrieve on land or in water until you make him stop" - which makes him perfect for The Money Bird, which features retrievers of all flavors training in the water and on land!

Stephanie writes, "Pilot will retrieve just about anything and is very helpful in picking things up around the house, including any shoes left around as well as his food bowl when he is finished eating.  But the thing he loves most in life is a tennis ball.  Although he is 8 years old, he acts like a puppy when he sees a tennis ball.  And he loves to carry 2 balls at a time!"

The third book in the series, Catwalk, has canine and feline agility, a cat show, and a feral cat colony, so when it came time to think about a character raffle, I went to the cats. Mackenzie, pictured here and owned & loved by Matt & Lisa Chin, won a guest role in the book, and her raffle ticket helped Support F.I.P. Research. Sadly, FIP took Mackenzie much to young, but she lives on in her fictional role and in hope for healthy cats.

A new character raffle is in the works for the fourth book in the Animals in Focus series ~ I will share details in a month or so, so please stay tuned! I'd like to thank EVERYONE who enters these raffles, because in my book ~ the big book of life ~ you're all winners for supporting such worthwhile causes and having faith in my new mysteries, too.

For more information about the Animals in Focus mysteries, and the series, please visit my website Mysteries Page, and for immediate news join me on Facebook at my author's page.

Autographed copies of Drop Dead on Recall, The Money Bird, and my nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters, from Pomegranate Books.

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


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sparkle Abbey on Why Writing Is So Doggone Hard

by Sparkle Abbey

Why It’s So Doggone Hard

We have a confession. Writing is hard. Writing for publication? Even harder.

We always smile when people just assume we crank out our light-hearted mysteries with little to no effort. If you’re paying attention, you might even catch us giving each other “the look.” The look that says, “If they only knew.”

We just turned in book five in our Pampered Pets series, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, and you’d think it would get easier. But the reality is, it hasn’t. We write light, humorous cozy mysteries. The different between writing the type of book we write and heavy, dark, intense books is, well, just the tone. It still requires the same research, attention to craft, tight plotting, etc. as any other book. In fact, you know the old adage, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” We concur. Writing humor is hard.

The truth of the matter is it doesn’t matter what type of book you’re writing. Writing for publication, writing something you hope others will read, is hard. Much harder than you realize at first. Sort of like owning a dog.

At first, it’s just cute and fun.

As young writing pups, the images in our imagination easily turned into words on the blank page. We filled pages and pages with stories and characters that entertained us. Mostly because we didn’t know any better. In our hearts we were storytellers, and that’s what we were doing—telling our stories. Now we know the truth. Writing is hard. So you have to love it a lot in order to get to the next step.

Training is important if this is going to work out

We’ve each studied the craft of writing for more years then we care to admit; and we’re still learning. The more we learn, the more we realize what we don’t know. We find we must: continue to learn and grow, figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and learn from the experts and others in the business. Writing is very much like owning a dog; with good training you’re going to love it even more. And, by the way, it’s an ongoing training process – sit, stay, fetch. Repeat.

Training a puppy, or training your writing muse, requires stamina.

It takes talent to tell a good story, but it takes stamina to polish a good story into a great one. It’s that polishing process that makes the story shine. Just as you must stick with it when training a puppy, you don’t always get it right the first time. It takes time. It takes practice. The more you practice, the better you get. So you continue to refine and improve. Does it get a little easier? Sure. Which means it’s time to take it to the next level.

You’ve got to love it!

What makes it possible to hang in there for your puppy or your writing is that you love it. As writers we push on. Not just because we have a deadline, although a deadline certainly helps. As writers, we continue to pull word, after word, after word from our souls because, after all, we’re storytellers. We love that we get to entertain real readers with these fictional characters and these worlds we’ve created. We love to hear that we’ve created an escape for our readers for a subway ride or an afternoon on the beach.  

Writing is hard because it makes us vulnerable. Writing is hard because as writers we push to learn more in order to become better storytellers. Writing is hard because it takes time in addition to talent. The reality is that writing a good story is hard because takes work.

Our advice?

Sit - Write a lot. Enjoy telling your story.
Fetch - Hone your craft. Get advice. Continue to learn.
Stay - Stick with it. Don’t give up.
And play - Remember to love it!

Because if writing weren’t so doggone hard, it wouldn’t be so doggone rewarding.  (Much like owning a dog.)

Wishing all you writers out there the best with your writing!

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of national best-selling mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series set in Laguna Beach, California. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescued pets - Sparkle (Mary Lee’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). They reside in central Iowa, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and depending on the time of day either an iced tea or a margarita.

They  recently finished the fifth book in the Pampered Pets series, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, and continue to enjoy hearing from readers about the previous books: Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Yip/Tuck.
Twitter: @sparkleabbey

Next Up on Wednesday - Mystery Characters Help Real Animals in Need