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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

M.P. Barker on Riding and Writing

Horses play a central role in my historical novels A Difficult Boy and Mending Horses. In the first book, a horse helps two indentured servants overcome their differences and outwit their tyrannical master. In the second, horses help heal the broken lives of three misfits—a peddler, a young runaway, and an Irish horse whisperer--who join a traveling circus in 19th-century New England.  
I guess that’s only natural; as a kid I was one of those horsey girls. I read every Black Stallion book I could get my hands on. I cut horse pictures out of magazines and played with them the way my sister played with paper dolls. I assembled a make-believe horse of old trunks and suitcases in the basement and pretended to be National Velvet leaving the competition in the dust. Long before My Little Pony, my favorite toys were my plastic horses. I followed televised races passionately, falling in love with Secretariat and weeping inconsolably when the beautiful filly Ruffian died in 1975.
The only thing missing from my passion for horses was an actual horse. My family could afford neither horse nor riding lessons, so the occasional trail ride was the closest I ever came to the fantasy horses galloping through my imagination. Then I went to college and put away my horsey dreams. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I could finally afford to take riding lessons. Frankly, as an adult learner, I stank. Much as I enjoyed working with horses, I had the hardest time getting the feel for riding. I could tuck in my elbows, keep my heels down, hold my posture, and keep a light hand on the reins until the cows came home, but I didn’t really connect with the horse the way I’d read about in my favorite novels.
Then the stable hired a new instructor, who had an intuitive method of teaching. She showed me how to feel with my entire body what the horse was doing, to relax into the horse’s motion and communicate with my legs, my seat, my hands, in a way that none of her predecessors had shown me. While previous instructors had focused on showing me how to control the horse, she showed me how to listen to the horse. And all of a sudden, I could actually ride—not just sit on a horse without falling off. What had been a challenge became a joy, and I finally understood what the connection between horse and rider was supposed to feel like.

It wasn’t until Sheila invited me to guest-blog here that I realized how many similarities there were between my experiences with riding and writing. In addition to my horsey fantasies, I enjoyed childhood dreams of becoming a novelist. But as with riding, I set that fantasy aside. I did write non-fiction as part of various jobs. But those were mostly “just-the-facts-ma’am” projects, with minimal creativity required. It wasn’t until my thirties that I decided to give fiction another whirl—not as a prospective profession, but as a hobby, the way one might take up knitting or woodworking…or horseback riding.
Unlike my first experiences with riding lessons, though, fortunately my first attempts at writing didn’t stink (at least not too badly!). Instead, I discovered the same sense of rightness that I’d felt when I’d finally gotten the feel for a horse. It was as though I’d been plodding along with the non-fiction writing I’d done in the past, and all of a sudden fiction allowed me to break into a lovely, soaring canter.
For me, the relationship between story and writer is very much like the relationship between horse and rider. It seems that the harder I try to control the story, the harder it is to connect with it. Like a horse, the story moves more smoothly when I relax a little, when I strive more for guidance than control. I’ve found that writing involves a lot of listening to my characters, even letting them have their heads at times. And when everything goes just right, there are sudden joyful breakthroughs when the story gallops along, and all I have to do is hang on and enjoy the ride.
I still don’t have my own horse, and probably never will. But I got to create a fantasy horse in Ivy, the mare at the heart of both my novels. So I guess, in a way, fulfilling my writing dreams fulfilled my riding dreams at the same time. As an author, I can have all the horses I want for free, right there on the tip of my pen—and no need to muck out the barn after I’m done with them.   

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, October 19, 2014

Excerpt from Seven Days to Goodbye

by Sheri Levi

Chapter One


Sydney and I wrestled in my bedroom until I giggled so hard my insides ached and his barking made me deaf.

I crossed my arms on my chest and said, “Freeze!”

He stopped in motion, panting. His head tilted, eyes glued on mine, while he waited for the next command. I always made sure Sydney got to be a regular puppy. Even when he became someone’s service dog, he’d still have playtime.

Momma’s voice boomed through the door, “Trina, are you packed?”

“Sort of.” I gave Sydney the release word, “Okay,” and he pounced at me. I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face in his freshly shampooed, red, brown, and white-freckled fur, and breathed in his clean vanilla scent. His trainer’s words echoed in my mind, “Trina, you’ve done a terrific job with your first dog. He’s ready to return to my kennel for his final months of training.”

My stomach did cartwheels. I sucked in a breath and fought to hold down my breakfast. This week at the beach would be my last with Sydney.


Using the bottom hem of my pajama top, I wiped the wetness from my eyes before I retrieved my duffel bag. While separating last year’s summer clothes into two heaps, my dirty pile grew larger than the clean, minus one sock. “Syd, where’s my sock?”

He darted back into the closet. Strutting out, his little stub of a tail wiggled as he dropped the soggy sock on my lap.

“You’re so smart, Mr. Sydney.” Everything he did was a game.

Staring at my small stack of clean clothes, I shrugged, twisted a wild curl that didn’t want to be included in my pony tail, and looked into his golden eyes. “You won’t care if I wear some of these a few times, will you?” His tail jiggled.

I dressed in my regular jean shorts and concert T-shirt with the words PINK & PURPLE swirled across my chest. The front of my T was purple and the back pink. My best friend Sarah’s was just the opposite. We always wore these matching tops on special outings. Three years ago our parents had attended the band’s concert and surprised us with the shirts as souvenirs. As ten-year-olds, we wore them as long tees with leggings. This year Sarah had grown so much, hers fit like a t-shirt should. Mine stayed a longer T. But we still matched.

Minutes later, I rolled the bag into the garage.

Sydney’s floppy ears drooped. During his year with me, he’d learned that the duffel bag meant a trip somewhere and he wasn’t always invited. “Surprise, Sydney. You get to go!” His mouth stretched over his teeth like a grin as he spun in circles. Skidding into his learned Sit, he waited for the next command as I opened the car door.

His eyes locked with mine. Pointing at his face, I counted one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three in my head, and then said, “Okay!” He leaped to the backseat. I climbed in and he nuzzled his forehead with mine. This summer we’d explore a dog-friendly beach, and I’d make Sydney an expert water dog.

Our parents spent every weekend together, but Sarah and I hadn’t hung out since soccer season started months ago. Every time her team won, they moved on to the next level, eventually winning the championship. I had stayed busy training Sydney in public places, working at the barn, riding, and missing Sarah’s company while feeding the horses apples at night.

Dad drove Momma and me down the street to Sarah’s to caravan. As we went up her driveway, there she stood dribbling her soccer ball and wearing a baby-blue tank top layered over a green one with lace at the bottom. They matched the blue and green sea shells along the cuffs of her white shorts. I gasped, and my eyes widened.

She must have outgrown her PINK & PURPLE shirt entirely.

Sarah looked bizarre kicking a soccer ball in such a fancy outfit. Darby, her black and white Springer spaniel, chased the ball, barked, and wagged her stub of a tail. Sydney and I wedged our heads out the window. “Wow. You’re all dressed up? Where are your soccer clothes?”

“Gone.” She tittered, fluttered her eyelashes and twirled, flinging her blond French-braid. “Mom took me shopping.”

Her eyes matched her top, but I kept that to myself. No reason to add to her new coolness. Going to the beach had never required worrying about clothes or my red hair. But today, no way could I let on that my bathing suit was under my T and shorts. Somehow, I just knew hers wasn’t under those new fancy clothes like every other summer, and changed the subject. “So are you and Darby riding with us?”

“I will. Darby can go with my parents.” She climbed in with her backpack. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.”

“Hi, Sarah.” Momma turned around. “You look very pretty.”

I sighed.
Sydney wiggled onto Sarah’s lap, but she gently pushed him off. Bending her head, she said, “Thanks, Mrs. R.” and plucked dog hairs from her clothes.
With the air conditioner gusting and the radio blaring, Dad backed down the driveway. “Let’s hit the road.”
“Yay! We’re off to the beach, Syd.” Excitement spiked through my arms and legs like electric currents. His front legs stretched across my lap, putting weight on my thighs. I chuckled. “Look at you. Already sensing I need your calming techniques. That’a boy.” I stroked his back and twisted towards Sarah. “Remember last year? How we buried each other in the sand. That was so much fun.”
Sarah looked straight ahead. “Well, not this year. I just want to lie on the sand and work on my tan.”
“Really? That’ll get boring, quickly.”
Sarah stared out her window. I used both hands and scratched behind Syd’s ears, waiting for her response. Nothing. “Sarah, we need to learn to surf? Or boogie board? Even ride a wave runner?” My eyes pleaded with the back of her head.
Slowly she turned to me with a questioning scowl on her face. I swallowed. Had she changed this much?
Her head moved side to side. “Hmm... First, I’ll have to see how cold the water is, or how many jellyfish I see on shore.”
“But you know I can’t go to the beach without swimming.” When Sydney lifted his chin, I rubbed his neck. “The realtor said this house was kind of old, but right on the beach.”
“Oooo! Being on the beach will make it easier to stroll up and down.” Sarah’s eyebrows rose and gave me a sideways smirk. “And meet guys.”
I stared at her as if she spoke a foreign language. “Do WHAT?” Before blurting out something else crazy, I caught my breath and remembered back to the last day of school, only four days ago. Sarah and her class friend, Clayton, had huddled in a corner, talking, and passing pieces of paper. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. “But Sarah, this week is supposed to be about you and me, and our dogs.”
“Oh. Trina.” She gave me a bright, cheery smile. “It’ll be the perfect place to meet guys. No one will know us there. So it won’t matter if we goof up and say the wrong things.”
I scrunched my nose. Yuck. What a waste of time.
Sarah unzipped her pink backpack and pulled out a new pink cell phone. “Look. Here’s my present for staying on the honor roll?”
“Wow. Let me see. I still have Mom’s old phone. Why didn’t you text me?”
“You’re always busy with Sydney so I waited till today. Now you can see all my awesome apps.”
It had never mattered that my phone was for emergencies while at the barn and an occasional text to Sarah. But I leaned closer and whispered, “It’s almost my birthday. Maybe I’ll get one that does all that fancy stuff.”
I tapped Momma’s shoulder. “Look what Sarah got.”
Momma laid her book on the seat and turned around. “That’s very nice, Sarah.”
“Thanks Mrs. Ryan. It helps when I look stuff up for school and has a GPS. Now Mom knows wherever I am.” Then she snickered. “That part’s a bummer!”
Momma eyed Sarah and gave me an apologetic smile. “One day, Trina,” and returned to her book.
Sarah handed me her phone over Syd’s head. It chimed, so she jerked it back. “Just a minute.” She leaned over, started texting, and giggled.
Hmm. She can ignore me all she wants. I reached into my purple book bag, pulled out my book, Socializing Your Australian Shepherd and pretended to read. My eyes darted back and forth, hoping Sarah would talk with me.
Sydney moved between us and slept on the seat.
When Sarah set her phone on her lap, I asked, “Who was that?”
She exhaled, tilting her head towards her left shoulder, blinking her eyes, and drawing out the word, “C-L-A-Y-T-O-N,” and then her phone chimed again.
This time I bit my lip and twisted the same straggly curl around and around.
The realization hit the pit of my stomach. Sarah was different.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Turtles and Sharks

by C. Hope Clark

I didn’t realize how inherent animals and wildlife were to my mystery settings until the reviews started coming in.
Raised in South Carolina, and choosing to live in South Carolina after having seen the country, I defined my mysteries with this beautiful state. The locale meant I could write what I knew since I’d traveled and worked in all 46 counties and lived in six. But when I created settings for each of my four books, the animal factor somehow managed to slip in, too.
A pet lover isn’t fulfilled without animals in her life, and if that person is a writer, that means just what you think it does . . . no matter the story, animals matter in the telling of it. In my Carolina Slade series. I started with pets, giving the protagonist a dog and a cat. Just like she raised two children, I felt two pets gave perfect balance. They became entwined in the mystery as well, in their own unique ways whether standing between the children and a bad guy, or soothing a stressed character. My mysteries are not cozies, so the stress ranked pretty darn high.
The crimes played out mainly in the country in the Slade series, and suddenly egrets, alligators, deer, and ducks came into play. Mother Nature is indeed beautiful, and green is about the most beautiful color on the spectrum, but you do not come full circle in appreciation for her without hearing and appreciating what lives in her flora. Who can visit a lake without the katydid and tree frog serenade at dusk, cutting off abruptly around ten? Who can visit the coastline without water birds swopping overhead or dancing along the sea foam along the sand? I realized that setting wasn’t complete in my books without it showing other signs of life than just human.
My new release came out in September, Murder on Edisto, the first in the Edisto Island Mystery Series. Callie Jean Morgan had enough baggage for ten people, so she was petless. It wasn’t long, however, before she showed a keen interest in the loggerhead turtles that nest along the South Carolina coast. Outside her beach home at dusk, she listened for the clicking of raccoon searching for a loose garbage can lid and scurrying of squirrel up and down the palmetto trees. In one scene, she jogs introspectively only to be yanked from her thoughts by a kid playing with a baby hammerhead shark, and his parents enjoying a photographic moment as the ten-inch shark suffocated.

Animals are in our lives, whether we own pets or not. They comprise a part of setting just like weather, trees, architecture, and horizon visages. They don’t have to be front and center in your story or play major characters, but animals exist wherever a story takes place. From insects to birds, mammals to reptiles, the animal kingdom deserves a mention in your story to give it three dimensions and make it more real to your reader.
C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and The Edisto Island Mystery Series, published by Bell Bridge Books. Her latest release is Murder on Edisto, September 2014. She is also founder and editor for FundsforWriters.com, an award winning website chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for over a decade. www.chopeclark.com

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Horses and Me with Author Judy Alter

Horses and Me—a Non-Relationship

by Judy Alter

I’m embarrassed to write this because there are so many mystery authors whose lives—and books—center around horses. Truth be told, I am not a horse person. Put me in front of a dog, and I generally make friends, slowly but easily. Not so with horses. I rode maybe three times as a pre-teen in Chicago—at a stable where you rode nose to tail around an indoor ring, English style. I was okay with it, not wildly enthusiastic. Then I had to miss a couple of lessons and when I went back I was uncomfortable. I think the only other time I’ve been on a horse was once in my twenties when a ten-year-old niece led me on a pony—bigger than most Shetlands (my brother denies knowledge now of what kind of pony it was). I felt like I was slipping and sliding off first one side and then the other. She kept assuring me not to worry. “I won’t let you fall, Aunt Judy.” I found it cold comfort.
Yet I’ve written a lot of books with horses a major part of the action, especially during the days when I wrote fiction for adults and young adults about women of the American West. One of my first projects was a young-adult trilogy about a girl named Maggie, whose mother wanted her to be a lady. She wanted to be a cowgirl, and she alone tamed the wild horse named Devildust that the men at her papa’s Texas ranch all shied away from. With a fancy that would I hoped appeal to ten-year-old girls, Maggie and Devildust go from the ranch to Hickok’s Wild West and Madison Square Gardens, with an episode of thievery and disguised horses thrown in.
There was Cherokee Rose, a novel loosely based on the life of Lucille Mulhall, the first woman to compete with men riding and roping professionally. She rode for the Miller 101 Ranch Wild West Show, then formed her own company and eventually produced a rodeo herself. Among Mulhall’s skills was roping several horses at one time. I learned about roping by asking good friend Joyce Roach, author of The Cowgirls, a thousand questions until she finally said, “Enough about roping, Judith. Get on with the novel.”  But always, when writing about things I hadn’t done or known personally, I asked people who had.
Libbie Custer was no slouch on horseback either. When her husband, General George Armstrong Custer, would quirt her horse until it bolted on the prairie, with her clinging to reins, mane, whatever she could, she generally stayed with and on the horse. Libby detailed her horseback adventures in three biographies, so that research was there for me when I worked on my fictional account of her life, Libbie.
Other than that, I guess I’ve lived in Texas long enough, gone to enough rodeos, and been around enough horse people that I picked up sufficient knowledge to get by. No one ever criticized my horse knowledge in reviews or comments, though they criticized a lot of other things.
My four children had an adopted uncle who helped me, a single mom, raise them, and one thing he taught them was how to ride. I was grateful that I didn’t transfer my fears to them, though I think only one of my daughters rides these days—and that maybe once a year on a dude ranch. I remember one time, though, being in a pasture with a whole lot of horses. That same uncle had taken me to visit a friend, a horse trainer, and I so trusted both of them that I walked among the horses.  Uncle Bob was impressed and kept telling his friend, Alan, that I would never do that for anyone but him.
I haven’t missed horses in my life, maybe because they showed up in so many books. On the other hand, I’ve always had dogs in my life—collies, an Irish wolfhound, cairns, labs, Aussies, a bearded collie or two, and now a bordoodle (border collie/poodle cross). I could not live without a dog in my life and my house, but strangely they rarely show up in my fiction and then in only minor roles. Go figure!
See Judy's earlier posts on Writers & Other Animals~

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, and Deception in Strange Places. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at the Tremont House. 
Before turning to mysteries, Judy focused her career on writing about women of the American West, both for adults and young adults. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her Bordoodle, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Watch for Deception in Strange Places, the fifth Kelly O’Connell novel, due out in late July. Alas, no horses in that one either, though a dog has a minor part, almost walk-on.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Midnight Ink Pet-themed Giveaway!

Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Midnight Ink Pet-themed Giveaway!: To celebrate the release of Catwalk and Lost Under a Ladder , we are running a fabulous, pet-themed giveaway on our Facebook page  to enter ...

Plotting a Series & Launching a New Book!

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Happy launch day to me! Catwalk, Animals in Focus Mystery #3, is now available! (Please see some purchase options at the bottom, or ask your local library to get all three Animals in Focus mysteries!

"I love the series because it is well written and the mystery is well thought out and plotted. The book works perfectly as a stand alone if this is your introduction, but I always add the caveat, start from the first and work your way through the series, it makes for a much richer experience. Once again, Sheila has brought us a winner with ♥♥♥♥♥" -- Kate Eileen Shannon, author of the Brigid Kildare mystery series 

Developing the plot of a book is one thing. Developing an ongoing “plot” for a series is something else entirely. Each individual book needs to have its own story arc and each major character needs to develop in her own way, but each book also needs to fit into a longer story that progresses through the sequence of books.
There are many ways to structure a series. In the case of my Animals in Focus mysteries, I see three driving forces behind the individual books and the ongoing series “story”—characters, animal-oriented activities, and critical issues.
I have no idea who these handsome
fellows are, but they could be Tom
and Drake from my series!
Let’s start with the characters, because to me they are the essence of the stories. Fifty-something animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her orange tabby Leo are at the heart of the series right from the start. Other essential characters include a good-looking anthropologist, Tom Saunders, and his black Labrador Retriever, Drake, who are both “persons of interest” to Janet. The progress and pitfalls of their developing relationship begins in book one, Drop Dead on Recall, develops in book two, The Money Bird, and hits a wall in book three, Catwalk. And in book four….well, I can’t tell you what I’m planning next!
The real Leo.
Another story line involves Janet’s relationship with her mother, who is battling dementia. In book one, Janet has to move Mom to a nursing home, and she isn’t going quietly. The nursing home that Janet moves her mother to is a good one, though, using several innovative approaches, including therapy animals and a therapy garden, which may be of interest to some readers. In book two, Mom is reasonably settled into her new life, but not so much that she can’t raise an occasional ruckus. And in Catwalk—something happens, but I don’t want to give it away. I guess you’ll have to read the book to catch up with Mom’s latest.
Janet’s neighbor and best friend, Goldie Sunshine, has ever more prominent roles as the series develops, and as so Janet's brother, Bill, and his husband, Norm. And then there’s Giselle Swann, who is on a trajectory even I didn’t see coming when I wrote the first book. (Understanding such characters’ stories is one reason to start at the beginning of a series, although each of my books can stand alone.)
The real Jay.
The plot of each book in the series sees Janet focusing on one or two of the animal sports or activities that she enjoys with Jay and Leo. In fact, each of the titles comes from the sport that’s in the spotlight. Luckily , Janet’s beau, Tom, is also active in dog sports with Drake, so they go to a lot of events together. In Drop Dead on Recall, we begin at an obedience trial and see Janet at training sessions and a rescue event. The title comes from an exercise in open-level obedience compeition called the “drop on recall.” In The Money Bird, Tom and Drake are training for an advanced retriever hunt test title, and Janet tags along to take photos. That title comes from a term used in field trials—the “money bird” is the last bird a dog retrieves, without which there is no money, or prize.
In Catwalk, Janet’s lovely cat, Leo, gets to show his stuff in feline agility. He’s already proven himself a hero in book one, but not he gets to play. And Jay, too, is running with Janet in dog agility, plus doing a bit of tracking. The next book, which is in progress at the moment and scheduled for fall 2015, finds Jay herding sheep and Janet doing her best to keep up. Across the course of the series, Janet continue to train in all her favorite sports, so the level at which she and Jay and Leo are training increases as we move forward.
Each book in the series also has a mystery, of course, and a murder or two, and those are linked (or not!) to a real-life issue. In Drop Dead on Recall, breeder ethics, animal rescue, and runaway competitiveness all come to the fore. In The Money Bird, the larger issue is illegal trafficking in endangered birds. The title, then, extends beyond retriever trials to the dirty money made by smugglers. In Catwalk, Janet finds herself drawn into the politics of feral cat colonies and trap-neuter-release programs as well as uncontrolled land development. I try not to beat my readers up with too much information, but I do hope that the books may lead some people to learn more about the issues.
Now I’m wrapping up book four. I won’t say much about it at this point, except that Jay gets to do what Australian Shepherds are bred to do—herd the woollies!--and there may be a two-legged varmint in the flock. And, of course, all the other series threads continue to continue!


Click to learn how this
photo became a book cover!
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer. Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

"Animal photographer Janet MacPhail's latest adventure will delight dog lovers, cat lovers, and mystery lovers. Janet is excellent company, and although Leo the cat plays a starring role, I'm happy to report that Leo does not eclipse Jay the Aussie, who has become one of my favorite fictional dogs. Indeed, if Jay ever needs to move out of the pages of Sheila Boneham's mysteries and into a nonfiction house, he'll be more than welcome in mine. Five stars for CATWALK!" ~ Susan Conant, Author of BRUTE STRENGTH and other novels in the Holly Winter series of Dog Lover's Mysteries

Ancient artifact - Sheila and Kitty
in 1994
Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, successfully crossing the lterary-popular “divide.” Drop Dead on Recall (Midnight Ink, 2012) 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 is available now (See links below). Sheila is working on the next book in the Animals in Focus series.

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. Her essay on corvids (crows, magpies, etc.) won the 2014 Prime Number Magazine Award for Creative Nonfiction.

Sheila’s books are available in paperback, ebook, Audible, and large print editions from all the usual sources. Autographed copies can be ordered here: http://www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html. You can keep up with news about Sheila’st books, current promotions, and more at Sheila’s blogs/websites: www.writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com and www.sheilaboneham.com. You can also connect with Sheila on Facebook at her personal_page and her  Writers&OtherAnimals_Group.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Making Sure "The Nose Never Lies"

by Susan Kroupa 

"The nose never lies" is a favorite phrase of Doodle, the narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries. Doodle trusts his nose completely, but, in Out-Sniffed, he fails an odor recognition test and the humans around him wonder just how good a nose he has.  
Odor recognition tests? Probably not a familiar term unless you're in a business or organization using sniffer dogs. Then they're crucial, because a dog/handler team that can obtain a certification from a reliable organization has proven skills. Or, as Josh Hunter, Doodle's "boss" puts it, certification for a dog/handler team means "I'm not just a guy with a dog and a business license." 
The tests are designed to make sure that dogs properly alert on the target scent. Whether a team searches for narcotics, mold, explosives, dead bodies, food or contraband (for US Customs), or, yes, bed bugs, the team must take odor recognition tests to verify that the dog finds the target scent. And—just as important—that the dog alerts on nothing else. 
The trick in the certification tests is to make sure that there are protocols to ensure the accuracy of what is being tested. For example, the World Detector Dog Organization (WDDO), and the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) require the targets or "hides" be placed in the exam area for at least 30 minutes before the test, to allow time for the scent to pool enough that it can be detected. 
The test must be double blind, with neither the handler nor the proctor knowing where the hides are placed. Remember Clever Hans, the horse who seemed to be a math whiz but actually was adept at reading his owner's body language? The double blind test seeks to prevent that. In addition, the handler is not allowed to touch or move anything in the room, or indicate to the dog through body language where to look other than to make sure a dog thoroughly clears a room. A sure sign of an improperly trained dog is one that does not independently search but keeps looking to the handler for guidance. 
Some of the hides must contain distracters, often termites or other insects, sometimes food, to make sure the dog isn't alerting on anything but the target.  A dog must only find live bugs. Dead bugs don't count. The find has to indicate a current infestation, not the residual scents from a past one. And pseudo scents—commercial products that mimic a scent and are used for training—are not allowed. Finally, the test proctors, or judges, must be experienced in scent detection and have no financial or other interest in the outcome. 
Of course, all these rules make a mystery writer immediately wonder how one could get around them. Because any organization can have members who are crooks.
"So how can you fake a test?" was one of the first questions I asked Doug Summers when I interviewed him as part of the research for Out-Sniffed. 
Summers, along with Bill Whistine, helped train one of the first bed bug detection dogs in the U.S. (in 2005) and has first-hand knowledge of the protocols, issues, and controversies surrounding odor recognition tests for bed bug dogs. 
I wanted to know how a test could be manipulated either to pass or fail a team. In a highly entertaining interview, Summers told me funny and sometimes hair-raising anecdotes about the life of a scent-detection dog handler. And he gave me several ingenious suggestions that made their way into the book. 
You can watch a video of a dog/handler certification test on http://www.wddo.org/certification/.
And, if you'd like to find out just how such tests might be compromised, read Out-Sniffed, on sale this week. You can find links to copies in most formats at http://susankroupa.com/books/ or on http://www.laurelforkpress.com, or on my Amazon Author Page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excerpt: Sabaska’s Tale by J.A. Campbell

She ran, using every trick Cahir taught her to stay quiet in the woods. Adrenalin surged through her, keeping her going though her head spun. The presence in her mind guided her in the right direction. 

She almost screamed as something large moved and snapped a branch in the dense forest. The creature nickered and Anna cried tears of relief. She fell to her knees, gasping for breath and unable to run anymore. The adrenalin fled her system, every ache and pain and burn making itself known all at once. None of that mattered because Sabaska was with her. The Traveler nickered again, nudging her. 

“I know, we have to go.” She sucked air into her starving lungs and fought the need to curl up and sleep. She struggled to her feet and staggered on unsteady legs. A tree caught her and scratched her arm, adding to her growing list of wounds, but the branch kept her upright until her vision cleared. Using a log, she climbed onto Sabaska’s back and whispered, “Get us out of here.” 

The Traveler walked and the world blurred like wet ink. Anna shut her eyes, grateful to be safe.


Sabaska finally stopped and Anna sagged in the saddle. Her wrists felt like they were on fire and she was afraid to look at the damage. Flaps of skin bunched where the blisters had popped and dried fluid covered her arms. She knew she risked infection if she didn’t clean the burns, but the thought of touching them at all was unbearable. 

Dismounting was agony. Her body ached in places she didn’t know existed and every movement jarred, or scraped or otherwise aggravated the pain in her wrists. She wanted to curl up and die, but she drove herself–getting Raymond’s saddlebags, and swearing every time her wounds touched something. She hunted for salve and found a jar of pungent-smelling goo. Sabaska nickered, nodding her head. 

Despite everything, her wrists were remarkably clean so she gritted her teeth and spread the salve over her injuries. At first the pain was sharp, like she touched raw nerve endings. Then a cool numbness spread out from the salve. If she could market this stuff, she’d make a fortune. They didn't have anything as good on her home world. She hacked a clean shirt into strips with a knife and used her teeth to bandage her wrists. By then, she was exhausted, and starving. Unfortunately, there was no food hidden amongst the things she emptied on the ground. 

“I’d kill for a hamburger,” Anna said sadly. 

Sabaska nickered sympathetically then started grazing, flicking her ears as if amused. 

“I’m almost hungry enough to eat grass with you.” 

The horse nickered again, this time in laughter. 

Anna sighed, and started stuffing things back into the saddlebags. “If I had any money I’d make you take me to a drive-through.”


 About Sebaska's Tale

To Anna, horses were more than a fascination, they were everything. Luckily, she had the opportunity to spend every summer on her grandmother's horse ranch in Colorado. Life was perfect, until she received the devastating news that her grandmother had been tragically killed. Anna knew she was the only member of her family who could take over the ranch and hopefully find new homes for her grandmother's beloved Arabians.

Anna wasn't alone for long. Her grandmother had hired a local teenage boy to help tend the horses for the summer. Anna didn't stand a chance against Cody's quiet charm and the two rapidly become friends. However, even with the responsibilities of the ranch, Anna quickly discovers the secrets her grandmother had been hiding and a legacy that sends her on an adventure she never thought possible. An adventure in the saddle of a horse that wasn't a horse at all. Sabaska, her grandmother's favorite Arabian, was a Traveler; a magical being that could travel between worlds. With Anna at the reins, they find themselves trapped in a fight against evil with the highest of stakes… Their very survival. 


J.A. Campbell has been many things over the last few years, from college student, to bookstore clerk and an over the road trucker. She’s worked as a 911 dispatcher and in computer tech support, but through it all she’s been a writer and when she’s not out riding horses, she can usually be found sitting in front of her computer. She lives in Colorado with her three cats, her vampire-hunting dog Kira, her new horse and Traveler-in training, Triska, and her Irish Sailor. She is the author of many Vampire and Ghost-Hunting Dog stories and the young adult urban fantasy series The Clanless. She’s the editor of Steampunk Trails fiction magazine and a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Dog Writers Association of America.

Find out more about Julie at  www.writerjacampbell.com  and follow her on twitter @Pfirewolf

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