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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Things You Might Not Know About Chihuahuas

by Waverly Fitzgerald

I did not intend to fall in love with a Chihuahua. 
My first encounter with a Chihuahua when I was a child did not inspire me to seek any further acquaintance. My Aunt Catherine had a Chihuahua named Bunny. Bunny was a fat, asthmatic, cross-eyed Chihuahua, possibly mixed with pug since Bunny had bulging eyes and a constant snort. Bunny also wheezed and humped legs enthusiastically. 
So when my daughter decided to adopt a Chihuahua, I did not approve. But Shaw had moved out into her own apartment, and so I did not expect to have much contact with her dog. She set out to adopt a long-haired female Chihuahua and came home with a short-haired white male Chihuahua who she named Pepe. 
Isn’t that the way it happens?  No matter what we intend, our pets pick us. At least that’s how it happens for Geri Sullivan, the protagonist of the series of mystery novels I’ve written with my friend Curt Colbert. Geri goes to the pound to adopt a dog and comes home with a short-haired white Chihuahua, one of many Chihuahuas flown up to Seattle from Los Angeles where they are being abandoned in record numbers. To her surprise, he starts talking, in a mixture of Spanish and English, and introduces himself as Pepe. 
Despite a busy job and a busier social life, my daughter did a good job of socializing her Pepe. He went everywhere with her and as a result is very friendly. When I visited her I would occasionally take him for walks but other than that our contact was limited. Until my daughter moved back in with me, so she could attend the local college, and Pepe moved in too. For the first time, I was living with a Chihuahua and I found it fascinating. 
I sometimes think that Chihuahuas are more like cats than dogs. Pepe loves to cuddle—he is truly a lap dog—and he likes to perch on the top of the sofa, where he gazes out the window. He also loves to burrow and is often found under the pillows on the sofa. He  has various nests around the houses, boxes filled with blankets, and spends many minutes arranging the fabric around him, pushing at it with his nose and feet, until he is completely covered up. 
The origin of the breed is a mystery. Some claim they were raised by the Toltecs for food. Others that they were bred as temple dogs to be sacrificed to the Aztec gods. The latest research suggests that they descended from a breed of dogs found in Mexico called Techichi (a name which simply means dog). What seems clear is that they are used to being cosseted, admired and spoiled. No working dog here. Their main task is to be adorable.
Pepe worships the sun. Like a cat, he sprawls out on the carpet in the sunbeam. One of my seasonal markers is the phenomenon I call the Pepe plop. On a sunny day in early summer, Pepe will plop down in the warm grass during one of our daily walks and refuse to move. It encourages me to stand still, to feel the sun on my skin and sniff the scents on the breeze. 
Chihuahuas typically rank low in trainability. Some people think that’s because they’re stupid. I actually think it’s because they’re smart (but I recognize my bias). That’s another way they’re like cats. I believe they view us as servants. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how Pepe views me. 
Chihuahuas have some bad habits. Many are quite noisy, though Pepe is not. He only barks when we leave the house and only in one desperate volley as we go out the door. 
Pepe was a big hit at
Malice Domestic
He also suffers from Little Dog Syndrome. Whenever he sees another dog on the street, he growls and snarls. It’s terribly embarrassing especially when the other dog is a well-behaved pit bull or Great Dane who passes by without a glance. The owners, however, usually give me the eye, a contemptuous look which implies: “Why can’t you control your dog?” I don’t blame them. They have obviously put some effort into training their dogs and we could do much better at teaching Pepe to feel safe around other dogs. I assume he’s trying to scare them away by appearing to be much bigger than he is or maybe he’s trying to warn them away from getting too near his people. 
But he doesn’t behave like this around other Chihuahuas. I recently heard that Chihuahuas are the only dogs that recognize their own breed. I’m not sure this is true. But the dog who acts so ferocious around big dogs becomes mild-mannered when I take him to Chihuahua meet-ups. 
If you remember the scene in Beverly Hills Chihuahua which takes place in an Aztec pyramid valley full of Chihuahuas, you know what a Chihuahua meet-up is like: a number of small dogs wandering around aimlessly. Chihuahuas in a group don’t behave like other dogs. They don’t chase each other around or play wrestle. They just wander around, sniffing each other, and looking confused. 
My writing partner, Curt Colbert, does not have a Chihuahua of his own—in fact, he is much more of a cat person. So I often have to correct some of his misperceptions about the breed. For instance, he frequently writes scenes in which the Chihuahua is desperate for a treat, but the real Pepe is totally unmotivated by food. He would much rather play with his squeaky toys than eat. 
Curt also tends to write the fictional dog’s personality as grouchy and critical. I think maybe he’s channeling his cat. The real Pepe is sweet and good-tempered. I realize not all Chihuahuas are, but I feel lucky to have this little dog in my life. 
Two months ago, my daughter moved out and took her Chihuahua with her. Luckily, she is only next door so I still get to see Pepe frequently. But now I have the delightful opportunity to adopt my very own Chihuahua. The only thing I’m worried about: adopting Chihuahuas seems to be addictive. Instead of becoming a cat lady, I have an image of myself as an old lady, wandering down the street with my pack of Chihuahuas. 

Waverly Fitzgerald writes with Curt Colbert under the name Waverly Curtis. Together they’ve written three books featuring Pepe, the talking Chihuahua, and his owner, PI-in-training, Geri Sullivan: Dial C for Chihuahua , Chihuahua Confidential, and The Big Chihuahua.  An e-short, A Chihuahua in Every Stocking, is coming out in October of 2014. 

 A version of this article was published on June 15, 2013 in King’s River, an online magazine that often features reviews of animal-related mysteries.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)

by Nina Milton

It’s often said that characters in books resemble their authors. But in my case, I seem to be following in my heroine’s footsteps. Sabbie Dare has been keeping hens from the beginning of the Shaman Mystery Series. In the first book, In the Moors, we meet the hens in Chapter One, when something rather awful happens to some of them. Sabbie goes out early to collect the eggs…At the henhouse door I dropped my empty basket and cried out in raw distress. Slaughter lay at my feet. Saffron, the biggest of my hens, was gone, and Pettitgrain, my favourite, lay dead from a clean bite to the neck

Unlike Sabbie, we had never kept chickens. A small garden in the city suburbs just didn’t seem like the right place. But when we moved to the Welsh countryside, we went out and got ourselves four hens. Since then, we’ve been totally enamoured with the little lovelies, just like Sabbie Dare. In the second of the Shaman Mystery Series, Sabbie confesses… I definitely fell in love with hens. They’re feathered like queens and feel as soft as duvets when you pick them up. But I chose ex-battery hens, the sort without feathers and a lifetime of ‘stuff” that no analyst could attempt to heal… (Unraveled Visions by Nina Milton, Midnight Ink, release date September 2014)

We started out with four hens, but it wasn’t long before their numbers swelled. In the spring our Jersey Black, Ceredwin, went utterly broody. We tried explaining to her that her eggs weren’t going to hatch as she’d never as much as been sniffed at by a cockerel, but she wasn’t listening to us. She growled and pecked every time we tried to move her out of the nesting box. Then our friend Jane, who has got almost one hundred hens of various breeds, all free range, brought us a clutch of six eggs from her chickens, who are lucky enough (!) to be getting chicken-nooky from Jane's not inconsiderable number of cocks.

Ceredwin (of the golden cape) didn't seem to mind in the least that these were not her own eggs. She sat on them for more than 23 hours a day, coming off only when I made her, taking a quick drink of water, a peck at some corn, and a quick poo (she kept the nest spick and span at all times), before rushing back to her babies.

She loved making clucking noises at her eggs in practice for when the babies arrived, as if she thought the chicks inside could already hear her. Perhaps she knew they would hear her. She grew feathers on her feet, to aid the warmth and cosiness of the nest, but lost all her breast feathers, which helped line the nest, and created a 'hotspot' for the eggs. All we had to do was check she was okay - she did the rest by herself.

Twenty-one days later she was safely delivered of five strong (and noisy) chicks. I came out early in the morning to find two very wet and bedraggled little chicks under my hen. I'd lifted her in the usual way, but she ran back quickly without even drinking, knowing the other eggs were hatching still.
Our lack of experience showed with egg number six. I saw Ceredwin pecking hopefully at it, but left her to it; I should have actually helped her get the chick out of the egg. Five out of six is apparently a good ratio though, and although we couldn't possibly be as proud as Ceredwin is, we think they are the most gorgeous things in the world right now.

Ceredwin is a proud mum, fiercely over-protective of her brood. She was timid before her checks hatched – right at the bottom of the pecking order – but now she’ll face up to any of the bigger hens – fight them with beak and claw if needs be, and ready and willing to draw my blood, if I try to pet one of her darlings. I can practically hear her whispering to them, “beware of the Big Boots! Don’t go near the Big Boots!” But if we offer them mini mealworms, which chicks love, she will bring them out for a photoshoot. 

They were so cute when they were bundles of yellow and brown fluff, but now they have proper feathers; they’re growing up quickly. Very soon we will find out how many hens we have and how many of the brood are male. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. One cockerel will be quite enough, thank you. In the meantime, I have finally stolen a march on my own character; none of Sabbie’s hens have had a brood of chicks…not yet, at least…

Nina Milton lives in west Wales with her husband and their hens, but 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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Excerpt from THE MONEY BIRD by Sheila Webster Boneham

In the following excerpt from The Money Bird, Animals in Focus mystery #2 from Midnight Ink (2013), animal photographer Janet MacPhail and her beau, anthropologist Tom Saunders are trying to have a quiet Sunday morning with their dogs, Jay and Drake, and Janet's cat, Leo. Good luck with that! Strange happenings at Twisted Lake have propelled them on a quest to identify an out-of-place bird, and they are about to get some help. 
Read an excerpt from the best-selling & award-winning first book in the series,  Drop Dead on Recall, HERE, and watch for Book #3, Catwalk, fall 2014 - excerpt coming to this blog  September 17. In the meantime, read about the making of the Catwalk book cover HERE.  ~ Sheila                             

Chapter 31
We had planned to sleep in Sunday morning for once, but a bright flash followed by a roar that sounded like a mountain being dragged across the roof landed two dogs on us when there was just enough light to see shapes in the room. One of those shapes was Leo. He was hunkered down on Tom’s dresser.
“Drake, you big weenie,” said Tom, but he wrapped his trembling dog in a securing arm and pulled him in close. He lay his chin on top of Drake’s head and grinned at me. “He doesn’t even flinch when we’re outdoors in a storm. I think it’s an excuse.”
Jay wasn’t bothered by storms, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. He had squeezed in between Drake and me and rolled against me into belly-rub position. Of course, I obliged.
An hour later the storm had passed and Tom’s backyard radiated summer scents of wet grass, mulch, and a chorus of flowers. I breathed it all in so deeply that I could almost taste the roses, lavender, flowering tobacco, sweet alyssum, and more that fringed the back of Tom’s house. Jay and Drake were getting noses full, too, although they were more interested in following some sort of track across the grass and under the fence.
A flash of red in the air made me jerk my head around. The image of a scarlet parrot flashed through my mind, but was quickly replaced by the male cardinal that had landed on a feeder in the neighbor’s yard.
“Open the door, please, ma’am.” Tom was inside the sliding screen holding a tray with two steaming mugs and two plates bearing whatever he’d been heating in the oven. More inspiring morning scents hit me when I liberated him. Coffee, cinnamon, and yeast.
“You baked cinnamon rolls?”
“Sure,” he said, pulling a kitchen towel out of his pocket to dry the table and chairs. “Was up at four mixing and kneading and working my fingers to the bo....”
“Frozen, right?”
He held my chair out for me and said, “Refrigerated.”
When we had finished eating, Tom took the dishes in and brought more coffee and I cranked up my laptop. We had already emailed my photos of the three parrots – Persephone Swann’s lovely Ava, the dead bird on the island, and the live one – to George Crane, the ornithologist Tom had contacted. We were both eager to see what he had to say, but first I checked my own emails for anything critical, then passed my computer to Tom. As he signed into his account, he said, “It’s too soon to expect anything, you know. His auto reply said he was gone for the weekend.”
Jay and Drake raced onto the deck, a floppy flyer in one mouth and a tennis ball in the other. Dogs and toys were all sopping wet, mucky, and very close. “Not now, guys! Off! Off!” I waved them away, curling my legs up into my chair to keep from getting slimed. They looked so disappointed in me that I almost caved in, but the sound of Tom’s phone saved me from having to do a load of laundry before I could leave.
Tom got up to answer the phone and handed me my laptop. “You could leave more clothes here, you know, in case of wet dog attacks,” he said, touching my shoulder and grinning.
“Stop that,” I said.
“Stop what?”
“Reading my mind.”
He was laughing when he shut the door behind him.
I looked at the dogs. They were still on the deck, Jay lying in sphinx position with the floppy on his paws, Drake sitting, his lip bubbled out where it was caught between tennis ball and tooth. “He does, you know. He reads our minds,” I said. They wagged their tails in agreement.
The door slid open behind me and Tom said, “Janet, come here. Bring your computer.” When I turned I saw that he was gesturing for me to hurry, and seemed very excited. “Hang on,” he told the caller, and pressed the mouthpiece against his shoulder. “Set it up and open my email again. Here.” He re-entered his password and opened his account, then spoke in the phone again. “Okay, downloading now.”

There was an email with photos attached, and he opened the first one. It could have been a portrait of Ava, I thought, although I’d have to see the photos side by side to be sure. The lovely creature was perched on the shoulder of a grinning, bare-chested child with the bowl haircut characteristic of Amazonian Indians. Tom opened the second photo, then the third. Two more parrots, or possibly the same bird. In one shot, the crimson bird was perched on a branch, and the photo was obviously taken at considerable distance from beneath, meaning it was a very tall tree. The third photo showed a parrot in flight, and aside from the forest in the background, it might have been the bird flying around Heron Acres. But one small red parrot in flight looks pretty much like another to me.
“What are we looking at?” asked Tom.
The voice on the other end of the line was speaking fast and sounded agitated. I couldn’t make anything out, but Tom’s forehead had puckered up in his worried-and-potentially-angry look. I’d have to settle for the retelling, I guessed, so I went into Tom’s office and turned on his printer. I’d loaded the printer software onto my computer a week or so earlier when I needed to print something. I found some photo paper on a shelf, so once I slipped it into the feed tray we were all set. I went back to the computer and sent all three photos to print, then opened my own parrot photos and printed them. At least we could compare them side by side.
“No, really, plenty of room,” Tom was saying into the phone. “In fact, you can have the house to yourself if you like.” He winked at me. “Great. See you Tuesday.” He paused, then said, “Right. Nothing until then. Thanks a lot.”
I retrieved the photos and spread them on the counter.
“Wow,” said Tom, frowning and shaking his head.
“He’s coming here?” I was leaning over the pair of Avas. “Do you have a magnifying glass handy?”
“He wants to see the birds for himself, but he’s pretty sure....” He disappeared down the hall and came back with the magnifier.
“Sure of what?”
“Two endangered species,” he said.
I raised my head and gaped at him. “What?”

“That’s what he thinks. This one,” he said, pointing at the photo of the bird that looked like Ava, or whatever his name was now, “is an endangered Amazonian parrot. He’s emailing us the names, but wants us to keep it to ourselves until he gets here. And these,” he pulled the other photos toward himself, “are, he thinks, a critically endangered African species.”

Sheila and her BFF Lily (UCDX Diamonds
Perennial Waterlily AKC CD, RN, TD, CGC;
Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Her Animals in Focus mystery series features animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her tabby cat Leo. Their lives and adventures are based largely on the author's long experience as a competitor in canine and equine sports, rescuer, shelter volunteer, breeder, therapy volunteer, author of dog & cat books, and life-long animal lover. 

The Money Bird is the second book in the series; #3, Catwalk, will be out this fall. Sheila's Books are available in print, ebook, and Audible formats from your local bookseller and online from amazon.com and other vendors. For personally autographed copies click Here 

Six of Sheila’s non-fiction books have been named best in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers Association (CWA) annual competitions, and two of her other books and a short story have been finalists in the annual competitions. Her book Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009) has been called a "must read" for anyone involved with animal rescue.

Although best known for her mysteries and her popular nonfiction about dogs and cats, Sheila also writes literary fiction, nonfiction, and  poetry. Her essay "A Question of Corvids" won the 2014 Prime Number Magazine Award for Creative Nonfiction, and her work has appeared in a number of literary magazines. She is currently working on a series of essays about traveling the U.S. by train, a memoir about human-canine and daughter-mother connections, and a new novel. You can learn more about her writing and teaching at www.sheilaboneham.com. Sheila holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University, and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program/University of Southern Maine.

Sheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog (you are here!), and the companion Facebook Group. Join us!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just the Facts: How to Know What to Put In and What to Leave Out

by Sparkle Abby

We write fiction. Cozy mysteries, no less. We make that point because sometimes we have to remind ourselves.

We feel strongly about certain things, such as pet rescue and that’s why we’ve chosen to write a mystery series that focuses on animals. The series features two cousins, one a pet therapist and the other, the owner of a pet boutique. So the animals are not simply sidekicks in our books, they are truly the heart of the stories.

However, even though we write fiction we do our very best due diligence to thoroughly research the information we intend to use. As a result of that research we learn fascinating and sometimes disturbing facts. That was the case with our most recent book, Fifty Shades of Greyhound.

Fascinating facts

Greyhounds are bred and built for speed but they are often referred to as 40 mph couch potatoes. They are exceptionally calm dogs and generally don’t bark much, if at all.

The greyhound is one of the oldest breeds. The source of the name is somewhat uncertain, but regardless of its origin it has nothing to do with the greyhound’s color. Gray is actually not a common color for greyhounds.

Each racing greyhound puppy is registered with the National Greyhound Association (NGA) and tattooed with the pup’s birth date (month and year) in the right ear and their litter number in the left. The NGA keeps ownership records of all registered hounds and details about a racer’s bloodlines.

Racing greyhounds aren’t used to being alone because they’re housed with other racers during their career. They make excellent companions and are very loyal and affectionate dogs.

Disturbing facts

Before the 1980s most greyhounds were put down at the end of their racing career. (In recent years, thanks to the efforts of people in the industry and dedicated rescue groups, there has been a dramatic change. Tens of thousands are now adopted. However, more work remains to be done.)

Most Greyhounds are at the end of their racing careers at two to five years of age, but they still have a lot of life to live. The average lifespan is twelve to fourteen years.

Greyhounds are sometimes returned or surrendered because they have snapped or growled at a family member. They are not aggressive dogs by nature but in their former life they did not romp and play with humans. It may take some patience to help them adapt to their new life.

Most retired racers have never been to a park or inside a house. They often have to be taught how to navigate stairs.

The more we researched the breed and talked with people, the more strongly we felt there was a lot about greyhounds that most people (us included) didn’t know.

But we write fiction. Entertaining, lighthearted, fiction. Additionally with a mystery, it’s especially important not to slow down the pacing and to make sure you don’t throw the reader out of the story with large chunks of background. Writers often refer to that problem as “info dump.” The approach we took in order to avoid “info dump” in Fifty Shades of Greyhound was to slip in kibble-sized bits of what we’d learned.

At the opening gala, Caro (our pet therapist amateur sleuth) notes the posters around the room with greyhound factoids. As Caro visits the rescue group and some of the greyhound owners, we slip in a little more info. What we hope is that we’ve not overloaded our readers with facts, but rather that we’ve stirred their interest and then hopefully they’ll want to find out more.

It’s also important to know which facts to include and where in the storyline those tidbits work best. Often we fall in love with a piece of research, but it doesn’t move the story forward, or add to the understanding of the character, or feed the mystery. As much as we may want to include that information, it just doesn’t fit.

It’s a balancing act, but we think it’s working. We’ve had several emails from readers who’ve shared that they learned a lot about greyhounds from our book. And a couple of emails from readers who say their next rescue may be a greyhound.

What do you think? How much is too much info for you?  Are there particular books that you feel do a great job with both educating and entertaining?

Please leave a comment. We’d love to send a copy of Fifty Shades of Greyhound to someone! (We’ll randomly select a winner after midnight.)

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They write the popular pet mystery series which features whodunits set in the wacky world of pampered pets, precious pedigrees, and secrets. They chose to use Sparkle Abbey as the pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets - Sparkle (ML's cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Yip/Tuck.  Fifty Shades of Greyhound is the latest in the series and will be followed by The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo.

They love to hear from readers and can be contacted via their website: www.sparkleabbey.com or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sparkleabbey

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Animals and Cozies

by Linda O. Johnston

Last time I blogged here at Writers and Other Animals, my topic was Animals, Novels and Me.  I described how all of my cozy mysteries, and some of my romances, involve animals.  Why?  Because I love animals!
Today I want to talk about how many animal themes there can be in cozy mysteries.  The answer, of course, is that the possibilities are infinite, as wide in scope as there are animals.
I'm especially a dog lover.  I think that's apparent by my focus on dogs in my mysteries, especially my Pet Rescue Mysteries.  My protagonist Lauren Vancouver runs a wonderful no-kill shelter that also saves cats, but she, too, is more of a dog lover so the stories are mostly themed around issues that threaten dogs.
And in my upcoming Superstition Mysteries, my protagonist there, Rory Chasen, who happens to own a lucky dog named Pluckie, will become the manager of the Lucky Dog Boutique.
I'm not the only one who centers cozy mysteries on dogs.  For example, my host here at Writers and Other Animals, Sheila Webster Boneham, writes the Animals in Focus Mysteries.  That's Animals in Focus, not Dogs in Focus.  Even so, many of those animals happen to be dogs.  Her upcoming book Catwalk obviously features a cat, but that doesn't mean dogs don't play a major role, too.
Then there are the Pampered Pets Mysteries by Sparkle Abbey, which likewise feature dogs... and cats.  And the Downward Dog Mysteries by Tracy Weber, where yoga is important, but so is the protagonist's dog.  And the Paws and Claws Mysteries by Krista Davis--also featuring both dogs and cats.  And the Barking Detective Mystery Series by Waverly Curtis, which happens to have a very special Chihuahua in it. 
Some mysteries feature cats without dogs, such as The Cat in the Stacks mysteries by Miranda James and the Magical Cats Mystery Series by Sofie Kelly.
Other animals can be the subjects of mysteries, too.  I took advantage of that in my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries.  Kendra happed to live in the Hollywood Hills, as I do.  She is a lawyer, as I was.  And she happens to own a tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexie, which, coincidentally, is a description of my older Cavalier.  You can guess by the titles of some of the Pet-Sitter Mysteries what animals besides dogs were featured in them: NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FERRETS, FINE-FEATHERED DEATH, MEOW IS FOR MURDER, THE FRIGHT OF THE IGUANA, NEVER SAY STY, and FELINE FATALE, to mention a few.
I haven't attempted to describe all the mysteries there are that happen to involve, or feature, animals.  That's partly because there are so many of them!  Plus, there are more being published all the time.  Apparently not only authors, but readers, too, enjoy animals in their mysteries! 
How about you?  Do you enjoy animals?  Reading about them?  Having them as pets? 

Come visit me at my website:  www.LindaOJohnston.com   You can also friend me on Facebook.  I additionally blog weekly on KillerHobbies.blogspot.com   on Wednesdays, where my Killer Hobby is supposed to be pets--but we all know that pets aren’t hobbies.  They’re family!  I also blog on the 18th of each month on Killer Characters--or at least my characters do.  And I additionally blog on Inkspot, the blog of Midnight Ink authors, and on the 6th of each month at A Slice of Orange, the blog of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America.  As I've mentioned before, I blog a lot! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Interview with author Sheri Levy

Tell us a little about your background.

At the early age of nine, I fell in love with baton twirling and competed across the United States. Soon, I was qualified to teach twirling. These experiences led me to the idea of teaching children with special needs. After I married, I worked as an aide with all ages of severely, mentally handicapped children, and continued attending college at night. When my children entered school, I took my first job teaching a Multi-Handicapped class with all types of learning difficulties and emotional issues.
After adopting a neighbor’s German Shepherd, dogs became an important part of my life. Over the years, I have loved a white German Shepherd; my first, red-merle Australian Shepherd, Sydney; a rescued black Labrador; and to date, three more Aussies.
As I approached retirement, the desire of writing returned from my childhood. I took an online writing class, joined SCBWI, enrolled in other classes, wrote and rewrote about my favorite subject; dogs and their wild adventures.

Are any of the characters based on real people or dogs?

Yes. My first novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, is based on special adult friendships, my favorite beach, and the idea of training an Aussie, like my Sydney, as a service dog. By adding teens as the main characters, I created a YA book. Every morning as I walked my dogs, ideas would develop. To add authenticity, I researched PAALS, a service dog kennel, in Columbia, SC. Their work is incredible and I am proud to be a part of their fund raising.
I must say, creating the story seemed easy. I knew my setting from vacationing on Edisto Beach and the characters from a blend of friends and their children. The hardest part was creating an intriguing plot. After completing the novel and many revisions, I had an enlightening critique by Kirby Larson, author of an award winning series, Hattie Big Sky. In just a few words, she showed me how to find the emotional plot. I entered my first pages in a critique sessions with Martina Boone’s and Jan Lewis’s, YA Adventures in Publishing Blog, received wonderful suggestions, worked on the pitch, fine-tuned the first pages and plot, and won more critiques.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a writer and what keeps you motivated?

Probably, my biggest distraction is living close to my grandchildren. I have given myself permission to work on a flexible time schedule. Two days a week, I have obligations and write in the afternoon or evening. If it hadn’t been for my friends and critique group supporting me, I might have given up. Since I’m under a contract, it has given me a goal and a purpose.

What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

If there’s anything I learned right away, it would be two things. 1. Keep writing! 2. Join a supportive critique group! If you are meant to write, nothing will deter you from trying. Having supportive writing friends makes the experience less daunting. I could never have accomplished my goals if it wasn’t for getting tons of encouragement and having a determined nature.

Read the synopsis to Seven Days to Goodbye on my website www.sherislevy.com.
Read the award winning, magazine article, Scent with Love on my website.
Facebook SheriSLevy

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We Have a Winner! And What a Character She Is....

Lovely Lilly, an Australian Shepherd owned and loved by Jean Inman, was taken in, fostered, and eventually adopted out to Jean by ARPH - Australian Shepherd Rescue and Placement Helpline. Lilly has already achieved a lot, and now she's moving on to star billing in my fourth Animals in Focus mystery novel! (My own Lily is very proud.)

Shepherd's Crook*, Animals in Focus Mystery #4, is scheduled for publication by Midnight Ink in fall 2015. (That may seem a long way off, but in fact I'm writing the book right now, and will be turning it in to the publisher in about three months.) Here's a short working synopsis on Shepherd's Crook
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail knows that something is seriously amiss when she and her Aussie, Jay, learn that livestock have disappeared overnight from a herding trial. Then a man dies, and Janet unwittingly photographs the thieves in action, putting herself and those she loves in the killer’s crosshairs.

I've done character raffles to benefit not-for-profit organizations before - you can read about those events. So why Aussie rescue this time? 

If you've read the first two Animals in Focus mysteries, you know that Jay, the protagdog, is an Aussie, modeled on my own lovely Jay (left). Besides that, my husband and I used to breed Aussies under the kennel name "Perennial," and I helped found an Aussie rescue program back in the '90s. 

So BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Lilly - I can't wait to see what she does in the book! 

And thanks to ARPH for being receptive to this fundraising idea - I understand the raffle generated over $300 to benefit rescued Aussies. Yay! Way to go, everyone who entered -- you're all winners in my book!

Special thanks, too, to Crystal Aguilar, who coordinated the event and made a spectacular, beautiful, funny series of posters to promote it. You rock, Crystal!

And please note - you can still help animals when you order my books!

From now through December 1, when you order any of my books from Pomegranate Books, a wonderful independent bookstore in Wilmington, NC, owner Kathleen Jewell will donate 10% of your purchase price to support the not-for-profit group you choose - Aussie rescue, feline health, or animal health. CLICK HERE TO ORDER

For more information about the work of these groups, 
please visit their websites.

Australian Shepherd Rescue & Placement Helpline at http://www.aussierescue.org
Winn Feline Foundation at http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/
Morris Animal Foundation at http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Excerpt from Scapegoat by Susan J. Kroupa

A haunting retelling of a rainmaker myth, Scapegoat is set in the barren mesas of northern Arizona, after a brutal war has destroyed modern civilization. The story originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy. (Oct 1996).



The night Nuva was born was like too many other nights that autumn. The wind raged across the land shrieking like a spirit come face to face with Masau, God of Death, himself. But it was barren, as all the winds that season had been. It brought the cold, but no snow, not even a cloud to shadow the mesas. A barren, old-woman wind.
Tiyo huddled against a juniper trunk where he could keep a wary eye out for coyotes and cursed. The wind meant a miserable night and most likely his uncle's wrath the next day. Mana, fat as a cow though she was only a goat, had been restless and crying all afternoon, and Tiyo was sure she was ready to kid, goats always picking the worst weather for birthing. Her babies would have rough going in this cold. And if they died, his uncle would probably blame him, as if it were his fault that Mana had bred late and had to kid in the fall when the wind blew endlessly, sucking the life from the land.
He caught a motion among the goats bedded down in the hollow. His hand tightened around his bow. But it wasn't a coyote. Mana bleated and struggled to her feet then sank back to the ground, as if Tiyo's very fears of her kidding had brought it to pass. Grabbing his bundle of rags, he ran to her side.
Now his uncle's best goat--she usually had triplets--would probably lose her kids and maybe even her own life to the cold. If he had been closer to home, he could have sheltered her in the goat pen that sat below Second Mesa. He could have run up the twisting, rocky trail to the village on top, to his uncle's house on the plaza, and sought help. But there hadn't been any grass or forage within a day's journey of the mesa since the snows stopped coming, and it seemed that every day Tiyo took the goats farther from home.
Still, his uncle expected miracles and Tiyo wished with all his heart that he could provide one. He didn't want to see the anger twist his uncle's face or hear the words spat out like rattlesnake venom. Hear him ask, to anyone within earshot, why he had to be burdened with such a clumsy child, too young to be any use, why Tiyo's mother couldn't have raised her son before she died.
Mana heaved, breaking her water, and the first kid came sliding out. Tiyo rubbed at it furiously with a rag. A second kid followed and then a third. He dumped the bundle of rags over one while he dried the other, racing against the wind's deadly bite. Finally, they were dry. He tried to coax Mana to her feet so that the babies could nurse. But Mana wouldn't budge.
"Get up!" he said angrily. Couldn't she hear her babies crying as they shivered in the cold?
Then he saw it. Another kid, a fourth, slid to the ground, bloody and still. Dead, he thought, but instinctively picked it up, wiped its face and blew gently into its nostrils. With a snort and a shudder, it began to breathe.
Mana struggled to her feet and nuzzled her babies, calling to them in urgent, throaty tones while they bobbed underneath her thrusting for milk.
Tiyo held the last born in his arms. A doe, so tiny that with her long Nubian ears she looked more like a rabbit than a goat. He knew what his uncle would want. He'd want her dressed out and in a pot of boiled corn before midday.
"Puny," he'd say. "She'll only rob the milk from the strong ones.
And there was no milk to spare. Not while the Cloud People ignored their prayers and the land lay gasping for water.
The doe trembled in his arms as he fingered the handle of the knife at his side. But then she suddenly cried out and nuzzled him, and he was undone; the cry was too close to a human infant's. Releasing the knife, he rooted through the pile of rags for a clean one and rubbed her dry. He pulled away one of the other kids and gave her a turn at Mana's teat.
Finally, Mana lay down heavily and the other three kids crowded against her. Tiyo tucked the little doe inside his shirt and eased to the ground, bending over Mana and her kids to use his back as a windbreak. Suddenly tired, he forgot about coyotes and wind and even about his mother, and fell asleep.
The silence woke him, the silence and the sun on his back. He sat up, stiff and disorientated, jolting the little doe awake so that she cried out in a high, plaintive voice.
He put the little doe on the ground to try her legs. She was pure white and her coat glowed in the light of the rising sun. Watching her stagger about, the only white against the dull browns and greens of the desert, he named her. To the west, he could see the sacred mountains that his people called Nuvatukya'ovi--snow-covered peaks--but they had not been white once in the last three winters.
So he named the little doe for his heart's desire, for his people's desperate need. He called her Nuva, snow, and plotted to hide her from his uncle.
Read more from Susan J. Kroupa on Writers & Other Animals ~ 

Susan J. Kroupa is an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters.
She has lived and worked on both the Hopi and Navajo reservations. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, American Forests, and the Bristol Herald-Courier. 

She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia with her husband, two cats, and a trouble-prone labradoodle who's the inspiration for her Doodlebugged mysteries. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Excerpt from Drop Dead on Recall, Animals in Focus Mystery #1

by Sheila Webster Boneham

The following excerpt is from Chapter 2 of Drop Dead on Recall (Midnight Ink, 2012). The speaker is Janet MacPhail, 50-something animal photographer. She has taken charge of Border Collie Pip after his owner, Abigail Dorn, collapsed in the competition ring. Drop Dead on Recall  won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book from the Dog Writers Association of American and was named a Top Ten Dog Book of 2012 by NBC Petside. The sequel, The Money Bird, was released in August 2013, and Catwalk will be out in fall 2014. Watch for excerpts from those two novels, coming soon to this blog!

I stroked Pip‘s silky head and looked into his black-brown eyes. We set off for the Calf Barn, a sprawling white building on the edge of the fairgrounds where the Dorns’ equipment was set up. “You’ll have to stay in your crate for a while, Pupper.” Pip glanced over his shoulder at the ring and whined, but then trotted beside me in the opposite direction, panting and grinning and waving his white-tipped tail. His nose lifted and twitched as we stepped into the barn and its faint bovine memory of last summer’s 4-H fair. A siren warbled off to the west, muted but growing louder and more shrill with each wail.
We passed a cluster of six huge crates, five of them occupied by adult Malamutes, the sixth by a half-grown pup. Two were sitting, three standing, one lying down, but all of them listened intently, heads tilting side to side to locate the sound, ears twitching, a faraway look in all twelve eyes. Thick gray fur poked out between the wires of the crate walls where the big lupine dogs leaned against them.
Sheila's Aussie, Jay, competing in
open obedience. Jay's official name
was UCD Perennial See You At The Top
Toward the center of the barn I found a collapsible metal crate with Pip’s nameplate on its top-of-the-line white epoxy-coated door – “OTCh MACH CH Paragon’s Pip UDX.” Obedience Trial Champion, Utility Dog Excellent. In other words, a helluva competition dog, with top level titles in obedience and agility, and a breed champion for good measure. Pip’s also a helluva pleasant dog to be around. You’d think that would be true of all obedience stars, but it isn’t. Like so many human celebrities, some top dogs are nearly perfect in the competition ring and thoroughly obnoxious outside it. Not their fault, of course. Some of their owners are just so caught up in the pursuit of titles and high scores that they neglect to teach basic canine-to-human etiquette. Whatever I thought of Abigail and her own behavior, I had to admit that her dogs were mannerly and happy.
“In you go.” I slipped Pip’s collar off and checked the water in the stainless-steel bucket attached to the crate door. I was laying his collar and leash on a green folding canvas chair next to a show catalog with “Dorn” scrawled across the cover when I felt the little warning hairs on the back of my neck stand up, an unwitting response to the distinct sense that I was being watched.

I glanced around. I saw only one other person in the building, and all I could see of her was the back of her jeans and marigold sweatshirt, and a flash of what I took for a red hat as she disappeared out the other end of the barn. I went back to what I was doing, but the feeling lingered and grew, and unease skittered up and down my skin.
Sheila and her BFF Lily (UCDX Diamonds
Perennial Waterlily AKC CD, RN, TD, CGC;
Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Her Animals in Focus mystery series features animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her tabby cat Leo. Their lives and adventures are based largely on the author's long experience as a competitor in canine and equine sports, rescuer, shelter volunteer, breeder, therapy volunteer, author of dog & cat books, and life-long animal lover. Sheila's Books are available in print, ebook, and Audible formats from your local bookseller and online from amazon.com and other vendors. For personally autographed copies click Here 

Six of Sheila’s non-fiction books have been named best in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers Association (CWA) annual competitions, and two of her other books and a short story have been finalists in the annual competitions. Her book Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009) has been called a "must read" for anyone involved with animal rescue.

Although best known for her mysteries and her popular nonfiction about dogs and cats, Sheila also writes literary fiction, nonfiction, and  poetry, and her work has appeared in a number of literary magazines. She is currently working on a series of essays about traveling the U.S. by train, a memoir about human-canine and daughter-mother connections, and a new novel. You can learn more about her writing and teaching at www.sheilaboneham.com. Sheila holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University, and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program/University of Southern Maine.

Sheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog, and the companion Facebook Group. Join us!