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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Catching Several Birds with One Book

by Sheila Webster Boneham

The manuscript of Shepherd's CrookAnimals in Focus Mystery #4 (coming October 2015) is now safely in the hands of Terri Bischoff, my editor at Midnight Ink, and I'm taking a (very short) break from a four-year writing marathon. Among other things, I'm catching up on my reading, and that includes listening to audio books - including the Audible recordings of some of my own books (I'll be blogging soon about that experience). For now, thought, I've just finished listening to The Money Bird, book #2 in the series, and I thought I would re-visit that book here. 

The Money Bird begins when 50 something photographer cum accidental amateur sleuth Janet MacPhail sees her friend Tom's dog, Drake, retrieve something mysterious during a retriever training session. As in the first book, the setting for the story includes an animal-oriented activity taking place in northeastern Indiana. I've been involved with animal sports since I was a kid -- first with horses, then with dogs -- and I've been writing about dogs and cats for nearly 20 years, so I know this world and its many characters well. 

I know too that there's more to the world of animals, even those we bring into our homes as companions, than sometimes meets the public eye. Although my first goal as a mystery writer is to spin an entertaining story, I also hope to tickle my readers' curiosity bones. I believe that fiction can raise people's consciousness without beating them over the head, which is why my mysteries all quietly raise issues for consideration. In The Money Bird, the issue is wildlife trafficking, specifically the ugly but lucrative trade in tropical birds, many of them members of endangered species. 

So in The Money Bird we have dogs -- lots of dogs, many of them wet! -- and Leo, Janet's heroic little cat, and some birds who shouldn't be flying around a lake in northern Indiana. And aside from all this, Janet has to continue to meet her normal challenges: she's running a business, dealing on many levels with her mother's dementia, and trying to sort out just what she wants her relationship with Tom to be. That's a lot of birds - let's hope Janet has a big net!


Sheila Webster Boneham is an award-winning writer who writes across genres and interacts across species. She is the author of the best-selling Animals in Focus mystery series from Midnight Ink and of seventeen nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters: How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine Publications, 2009, updated 2013). Sheila also writes creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poems, and she teaches writing classes and offers individual mentoring for aspiring writers. Find her online at www.sheilaboneham.com, on Facebook, or by e-mailSheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog and the companion Facebook group. Sheila holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University and MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine.  
Sheila lives in North Carolina with her husband Roger and Lily the Lab (that's her, not Sheila, in the photo!). 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

One Writer's Work & Working Process

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Whenever I speak to readers and other writers, certain questions about my work and my work habits tend to come up frequently. I thought I would ask and answer a few of the common ones today.

What am I working on?

As usual, I'm working on several projects. One is novel set in the high desert of Nevada. It's about half finished, and I have worked on it in fits and starts between other books already under contract. I just delivered Shepherd's Crook, the fourth book in my Animals in Focus mystery series, to the publisher -- look for it fall 2015 -- and I'm playing with ideas for possible new series. I also write "creative nonfiction," including a number of essays published in the past year, and I have a memoir about dogs, family, and other things underway, as well as several new essays, short stories, and poems in various states of completion. Writer's block has never been a problem for me!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Good question, and the answer depends on which of my works we mean. For now, I'll stick to my mysteries. The Animals in Focus series has (surprise!) animals who are vital characters in the stories. They are not, however, "humanized." They don't solve crimes or answer phones, and I don't presume to speak for them other than through their own behavions. In other words, in contrast to a lot of fictional animals, I strive to make mine as realistic as possible. 

The main human characters in my books are in their fifties and sixties and very active, and that's a little strange in genre fiction, it seems.

Before I turned to fiction and literary nonfiction, I wrote seventeen books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue. Breed Rescue (Alpine Publications, 1998), winner of the 1998 Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, was the first comprehensive book about starting and running a canine rescue program, and Rescue Matters! (Alpine Publications, 2009) expanded the scope to include cats and other household pets. 


Why do I write what I do?

That is an interesting and, I think, unanswerable question. In creative work, I'm not sure that we entirely choose our subjects or our genres. A psychologist might get to the bottom of some of my reasons for writing what I do, and occasionally I have some deep and startling insight as I'm writing or walking (or dreaming). But all in all, it's all a bit mysterious.

How does your writing process work?

I'm never entirely sure what people mean when they ask this. What I think of as my process, though, is this: I write every morning, and I have done so for years. Now, when I say "every morning," I mean almost, because there are days in which something else intervenes. But for the most part, I do begin my days by writing. I tend to fiddle for the first half hour or so, figuring out what I want or need to work on. Then I get down to it, and if I'm really lucky, I enter the deep, enveloping "flow," a creative place not unlike runner's high. Then I'm no longer in control, and all I can do is set the words down on the screen or, more rarely these days, on paper. 


Sheila Webster Boneham is an award-winning writer who writes across genres and interacts across species. She is the author of the best-selling Animals in Focus mystery series from Midnight Ink and of seventeen nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters: How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine Publications, 2009, updated 2013). Sheila also writes creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poems, and she teaches writing classes and offers individual mentoring for aspiring writers. Find her online at www.sheilaboneham.com, on Facebook, or by e-mailSheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog and the companion Facebook group. Sheila holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University and MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Times They Are A Changin’...by Author Susan Kroupa

Shadow’s barks, urgent in their “this is important” tone, made me look outside with curiosity. Outside, the air was a chilly seven degrees and the wind made the “feels like” temperature well below zero. What could he be barking at? He was at the end of the driveway, edging forward and then darting back as if something might be after him. 
In warmer weather, I might have worried about a bear. We saw one from our dining room window the October before, and once in early summer down by the creek. And Shadow’s voice those times had the same urgent quality. 
“What could he be barking at?” I asked my husband.
“Maybe it’s a toad,” he replied.
Okay. It’s true that bears haven’t been the only thing to render Shadow nearly hysterical. There was the time (he was still a pup) he sounded so hysterical we were sure Something Was Seriously Wrong. We rushed outside to find the object of his attentions: a small toad, blinking impassively while Shadow, his nose six inches from the little critter, rang the air with his alarms. And then there was the turtle. Actually there were several turtles.
So, given that history and the fact that seven degrees isn’t the kind of weather I’m dying to be outside in, I let him bark for a while. Finally, I pulled on my boots and suited up and trudged down to the end of the drive to see what was up.
Sitting along the edge of the road, across the street from our neighbor’s home (which Shadow feels is his to protect as well as our own) were two large dark green garbage bags. It looked like our neighbors had signed up for a trash service.
“Seriously?” I asked Shadow. “Garbage bags?” 
I could see in a second what they were, but all Shadow saw was that something in his world was different. An awareness of change, of something new or different in the environment is generally considered a sign of intelligence in animals, humans included. Shadow was once again proving he’s no dummy. He didn’t recognize the bags for what they were, and he was doing his best to alert us the Something Has Changed.
I laughed at him, because I could see how benign the change was. But, thinking about it, I realized I often react to change in much the same way: with fear and apprehension, imagination magnifying the possible negative effects with no idea how benign a certain change may or may not be.
And, to give him credit, the next week when the bags appeared, he didn’t even give them a second glance, ignoring them as if to say, “I’m so over that.”  He quickly adapted and that made me wonder just who really had the last laugh between us.
Because when I think about all the fear, worry, and negative thoughts I’ve expended just because something has changed—or worse, worrying about the fact that something might change—I wish I had his ability to quickly adapt.
Doodle, the narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries, is a catalyst for and often a creator of change in the lives of the humans he lives with. In Bed-Bugged, the first in the series, “the boss” Josh Hunter has the courage to give up a dead-end job in the Appalachian mountains and move with his ten-year-old daughter, Molly, to Arlington to start a new business. It’s a big change, and only the first of many, because Doodle’s nose and Molly’s independence lead the two of them into all sorts of trouble. Doodle is the kind of dog that embodies or perhaps generates the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” 
But Doodle, like his real-life counterpart Shadow, recognizes change and moves on. “Live for the now,” is his motto. He doesn’t spend time worrying about the future or obsessing about the past.
Good advice for all of us. Every day we are barraged with shouts that the sky is falling: in politics, in our laws, in the weather, in the publishing world . . . the list goes on and on. And while some of these changes might be the equivalent of a bear, they’re more often the toads along the highway of life. We can save a lot of energy if we don’t over-react, if we, like our canine friends, learn to acknowledge change and move on.

Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests.
She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog at http://www.susankroupa.com and visit her Amazon Author page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa

Sunday, February 1, 2015

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 learn how the cover of Catwalk came to be HERE. Please share with your friends - all species welcome! ~ 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 (2013) is the second book in the Animals in Focus series; Drop Dead on Recall (2012) was first, and Catwalk (2014) is #3. The fourth book, Shepherd's Crook, is scheduled for fall 2015. 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 has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her creative nonfiction and poetry have 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!