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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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.

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