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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Never trust a man a dog doesn’t like

by Judy Alter

I feel a bit like George W. Bush here, the time he got mixed up on “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice” and ended with “Aw, you know what I mean.” But the saying I have in my mind is “Never trust a man who doesn’t like dogs; always trust a dog who doesn’t like a man.” Or something like that.
It’s an accepted fact that dogs have some kind of sensitivity that humans either lack or ignore. Scientific studies have shown, for instance, that trained dogs can sense their owner’s seizure before the owner can because the dog recognizes changes in chemistry, behavior, probably even scent. Guide dogs operate on a similar sensitivity to their owners’ needs and anticipate such problems as stairs, solid objects, etc.
But what about your average pet? I had an Aussie who could sense a thunderstorm hours before it hit—scientists think now they feel earth vibrations that we don’t. Scooby would begin to pace when there was no sign of a storm, and his panic grew so bad the vet prescribed tranquilizers. Trouble was I waited until the storm was close to give him the pill, and it had long passed when the pill took effect and then he was somnambulant.
After years of owning several dogs, I am down to one—sometimes I call her my dotage dog. She’s a deliberate cross of a miniature poodle and a border collie, and she’s loveable, adorable, and fierce when protecting the house from the inside. I can tell in the night from the tone of her bark whether or not it’s something I need to get up for. Usually not. But sometimes there’s a deep, low-throated growl that gives me the shivers. What would she do if I was ever attacked…or one of her favorite people, like my grandson? I don’t know, hope I never have to find out. Sophie’s a friendly, happy creature so believe me if she ever growled at someone, I’d take it seriously. I wonder though why one minute she is sleeping peacefully in her bed in the bedroom and then with a yelp is racing to bark furiously out the front door. What signal did she get?
In my new mystery, Murder at Peacock Mansion, a dog’s intuition plays a big part, and I’m not sure scientific experiments would verify this. The dog is at Kate Chamber’s house, in the backyard, going crazy—barking, pacing, all the things that dogs do when upset. Kate is having her own anxiety attack because her partner/lover missed dinner the night before and she can’t find him by phone. She plans to go to his house to check on him, but Huggles, the dog, refuses to let her go without him.
Turns out Huggles instinct or intuition was right on. Someone has burned the house down. Kate assumes David is dead, but Huggles leads her to his car, parked a bit away, where David lies, gravely beaten and barely alive. Now that part can be explained by science—Huggles sensed probably body odors, fear, a trail—all believable. So is what he did next—jumped on David to keep him warm.
But is it possible that Huggles knew, from fifteen miles away or so, that David was in danger? Or was he picking up on Kate’s anxiety? Did he realize David was missing? Until we can teach dogs to talk, we’ll never know for sure. But I prefer to believe that the dog, a labradoodle, sensed one of his owners was in trouble over that distance. And it worked well for the plot.

Murder at Peacock Mansion
Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows who to suspect.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six 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, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion. Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.
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 and the WWA Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Interview with Author Suzanne Adair

I'm delighted to welcome author Suzanne Adair to WOA to talk about how the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War sets the scenes for her books. ~ Sheila

Tell us a little about your journey as a writer (one reasonably short paragraph)

I started writing fiction when I was in second grade in Florida and completed my first novel-length manuscript when I was twenty-two, around the time I received a BS in Microbiology. Fifteen years later—after earning an MBA in Marketing in Georgia, getting married, having two children, and starting my own business—I signed on with my first of several literary agents. However I wasn’t published for another eleven years, and by then, I’d completed ten novel-length manuscripts, gotten a divorce, and moved with my children to North Carolina. After publishing my first three books, the press I’d signed with went out of business. I struggled to find another publisher and finally decided to self-publish the remaining books in the series. I use a professional editor and professional designers for the cover and interior layout to make sure that the quality of my books equals that from traditional publishers.

Tell us a bit about your latest book (or the book you are presenting here - or other project if you are an artist/photographer)

Here’s the book description for Deadly Occupation: A Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery:
A wayward wife, a weapons trafficker, and a woman with “second sight”—it’s a puzzle that would have daunted any investigator. But Michael Stoddard wasn’t just any investigator. Late January 1781, in coastal North Carolina, patriots flee before the approach of the Eighty-Second Regiment, leaving behind defenseless civilians to surrender the town of Wilmington to the Crown. The regiment’s commander assigns Lieutenant Michael Stoddard the tasks of tracking down a missing woman and probing into the suspicious activities of an unusual church. But as soon as Michael starts sniffing around, he discovers that some of those not-so-defenseless civilians are desperately hiding a history of evil. 
Deadly Occupation was originally the first book in the Michael Stoddard series. While I was searching for a publisher for this series, the editor at a traditional, mid-sized press read the manuscript and refused to believe that the civilians in Wilmington would have simply surrendered to the redcoats. The editor was certain that they’d have fought a la “Red Dawn.” Even when I offered to show my primary documentation to back up my depiction of the event, the editor still didn’t believe it.
 I had no intention of writing incorrect history, just to please an editor. However, I’d previously encountered difficulty with New York City editors believing the Southern setting for my series, and I wondered whether readers would disbelieve the occupation. So after unsuccessful additional attempts to sell Deadly Occupation, with a few keystrokes (just a few, as my books are stand-alone reads), I converted Regulated for Murder into the first Michael Stoddard book. This means I didn’t listen to my own advice below for “What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?” Several people who’d read Deadly Occupation kept bugging me to publish it and declared that it was too good to stay in a drawer. I finally listened to them. I’m so pleased with the way that Deadly Occupation slides right into place as the first book of the series. If I hadn’t told you all this, you’d be none the wiser about the effort I went through with the book. :-)  

How do you develop your characters? Are any of them based on real animals or people?

The eponymous, redcoat investigator protagonist of the Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery series initially showed up as a minor character in my early mysteries about the Revolution: Paper Woman, The Blacksmith’s Daughter, and Camp Follower. As Michael was a junior officer and investigator in those books, I decided to give him his own series when I made the decision to explore in mystery fiction the year 1781 in North Carolina. The Eighty-Second Regiment (British) occupied the port town of Wilmington, NC in January of that year and, through mid-November, successfully rallied loyalist allies and blocked the Continental Army from moving troops and supplies through the state. It was quite a success for the British—which is probably why American high school students aren’t taught about it in history class.
I transferred Michael to the Eighty-Second before the regiment arrived in Wilmington. Through his eyes, readers see that piece of history. They feel jubilation at the Eighty-Second’s achievements as well as dismay when word arrives of Cornwallis’s surrender in Yorktown (game over). Michael’s personal and professional goals are challenged throughout the series. I paint a very human face on this Yorkshire-born soldier.
Because most detectives (fictional and real) don’t work alone, I gave Michael an assistant investigator. At age eighteen, Private Nick Spry is about eight years younger than his boss, and he’s a raw recruit from Nova Scotia. Spry’s a smart fellow, and because he’s also fun loving, he’s a perfect complement to Michael, who has a stodgy streak. What gives Spry depth is his dark and knotty past—a past that, if known, could get him hanged.
While garrisoned in Wilmington for the better part of 1781, Michael is finally in one place long enough to acquire a love interest from among the locals. Kate Duncan, owner of a tavern, has earned the unflattering moniker “the Ice Widow” from her response to having her heart broken by her scoundrel husband before he died. But the interesting thing about broken hearts is that Michael has one, too.
A host of other “regular” characters weave in and out of the series. Some of them, like the double-spy and ranger Adam Neville, and the housekeeper Enid Jones, come from my first trilogy. Some are unique to Michael’s series. However no fictional journey would be complete or satisfying for the reader without a villain worthy of the protagonist. In each book, Michael brings a different adversary to justice. However he ultimately has to defeat his own demons so he can triumph over his nemesis, another British officer: the smooth and sociopathic Dunstan Fairfax, who has menaced Michael since Paper Woman.
Are any of these people based on real people? No. But the tribulations of Trouble the Bulldog in Deadly Occupation were inspired by what happened to Vick’s Pit Bulls. 

How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I do a combination of outlining and “pantsing.” At the beginning of a first draft, I know how the book will start, how it will end, and a few points in between. I also know a good bit about my characters (but not everything because they can and do surprise me). I’ve learned to not outline at the very beginning, because the plot won’t follow the outline. So I start writing by the seat of my pants, aiming for one of those intermediate points. About 15 – 20% of the way in, my characters grab the helm away from me and show me how the story is supposed to progress. By halfway through the first draft, I’m making notes and crafting an outline for plot points that must happen and details I must include to make the ending wrap up correctly.
The external framework of Michael Stoddard’s series uses the actual history of 1781. A number of remarkable events occurred during the Eighty-Second’s occupation, and I wanted to write about them. Thus each book in Michael’s series showcases real history.
Meanwhile, Michael must grow internally as the series progresses. I use those external events to set up internal challenges and growth opportunities for him. 

Which do you consider more important, plot or character?

Character, absolutely. Characters and their needs drive the plot.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and how did you overcome it?

After the traditional press that published my first three books folded, I found that bookstores would no longer carry my books—not even the three traditionally published books. Some bookstores will now sell my books on consignment when I’m there for an event, but others refuse to return my phone calls or emails.
As many authors have discovered, books can be sold in places other than bookstores, such as libraries, festivals, conferences, workshops, and coffeehouses. I’ve gotten creative about where I sell. I go where my readers hang out. The beauty about writing historical mysteries is that I can sell my books at historic sites.
In the almost five years since my publisher folded, I’ve also established a good online presence with a blog and social media. I’ve learned what my readers want, and I give it to them.

Suzanne during a reenactment
What inspires you and keeps you motivated?

I love it when I’m teaching a workshop, and a point I’ve made connects with an attendee, and suddenly that person figures out how to fix a manuscript. I see the light go on in their eyes. Yes.
Readers write to tell me that they couldn’t put my book down, or it helped them get through a rough spot in their day, or they found the history so fascinating that they decided to do their own research. Yes.
And hey, the pressure is always on from those annoying characters in my head yammering at me to hurry up and tell their stories. 

What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m working on more Michael Stoddard books. At this point, it looks like there will be three more in the series, for a total of six. The fourth book, started during NaNoWriMo 2014, deals with one of those remarkable incidents from the occupation: the visit of William Hooper to Wilmington in July 1781, while under a white flag of truce. Hooper was one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence—quite a prize to be captured at a time when the British were imprisoning other patriot leaders—yet the British didn’t arrest him. In fact, they wined and dined him while he was there. This incident, like several others during the occupation, demonstrates that the motivations of people throughout history have been so much more complex than what they get reduced to in a history textbook.
I also have a science fiction series set in the 24th century. I’m three-quarters through the third draft of the first book, and next two books are complete at the first draft level.
And there’s a contemporary paranormal romantic suspense series that I want to revisit. The first three books are complete at the first draft level.
Oh, the whiplash I get when I jump from the 18th century to the 21st century to the 24th century.

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I can edit any time of the day, but I write the best before noon. If I’m in the thick of writing a novel, I may spend 40 – 60 hours per week writing. Often, though, I cannot spend that much time writing because I have to promote for part of the day. 

If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?

I kinda doubt I’d take more than a dictionary and thesaurus to a place like that. I’d definitely take plenty to write with. If there were no Internet, wow, the first few weeks would be painful.   
Tell us about your pets, or other animals that inspire you.

Since 1990, my dogs have spent a great deal of their snooze time curled up below my desk at my feet while I write. Calypso and Annabelle were Beagles. The dog I have now, Cleo, is a rescue and a “Beagliere,” an Australian “designer” cross between a Beagle and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. All three of these dogs have inspired me with their quiet companionship.

Who are your literary heroes? (Writers whose work you love)

In no particular order: Daphne du Maurier, Robert Louis Stephenson (we have the same birthday), Mary Stewart, Ellis Peters, Rudyard Kipling, Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, and J. R. R. Tolkien.

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

General advice: It took me more than twenty-five years to get published. To succeed, you have to have faith in yourself, persevere, and listen to your instincts. There are a lot of killjoys out there, and you may receive misdirection. Ultimately, you’re the one who knows what’s right for your writing career. If you can envision it, you can become it.
Advice for writers of historical fiction: There’s only so much you can comprehend about the past by reading and listening. Historical accuracy and attention to detail help make history come alive for readers, so you cannot afford to be “armchair” about it. To make an adventure in the past real and establish your storyteller credibility with twenty-first-century readers, you have to get out there and live the time period. Become involved with a reenactment group. Live in historically accurate clothing for a weekend event. Explore the technology, food, and weaponry available from that time period. Visit the historical site. Readers can tell if you’ve never worn period clothing, discharged a period weapon, or “been there.”

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Kindle USKindle UKNookAppleKoboPaperback
Social media links:
Web site andblog.Quarterlyelectronic newsletter.FacebookTwitter

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Fifteen Fun Facts: Sheila Webster Boneham

Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Fifteen Fun Facts: Sheila Webster Boneham:

This week, Midnight Ink presents Fifteen Fun Facts about Sheila Webster Boneham, author of the Animals in Focus mysteries. Her latest, Shepherd's Crook, was released earlier this month.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Shepherd's Crook Launch to Benefit Rescued Aussies

Shepherd’s Crook, Animals in Focus Mystery #4 from Midnight Ink, is officially launched!
To celebrate the launch  I'm once again teaming up with Pomegranate Books from now through Oct. 20 to benefit ARPH (Aussie Rescue & PlacementHelpline). Two former ARPH dogs, Lilly and Edith Ann, have important roles in the book. In fact, Lilly is pawtographing copies of Shepherd's Crook at the Australian Shepherd national specialty show this week week. But not everyone can go, so we're also offering signed copies online, with 10% going to support ARPH’s efforts on behalf of rescued Aussies. You can order your book(s) here.

Lilly, owned & loved by Jean Becker Inman, was
adopted from Aussie Rescue & Placement Helpline -
. Last year, Lilly won an ARPH fundraiser raffle
for a role in SHEPHERD'S CROOK, the 4th book
in my Animals in Focus Mysteries
SHEPHERD'S CROOK - Fifty-something animal photographer Janet MacPhail and her Australian Shepherd, Jay, set out to help locate a missing flock of sheep. But when thievery turns to murder, Janet finds herself in the killer's crosshairs. #4 in the Animals in Focus Mystery series by Sheila Boneham. Learn more here

Edith Ann was born into Aussie
Rescue, fostered by Kay Marks,
on December 27, 2012. Her
mama was an Aussie, and her
daddy? Who knows? And who
cares? Owner Kathy Glaes writes,
“She is energetic and funny and
loveable, and will fetch balls or
frisbees until the humans are
pooped. Then she will look for a
tuggie or will play with Happy.
She is a very lucky dog, having
won contests, raffle prizes, a spot
 in a calendar, and a turn as a
character in Shepherd’s Crook!”

"Solid writing and unexpected plot twists help make this series a delightfully fun and rewarding read." - Cynthia Chow in King's River Magazine Lite
"Smart characters and intricate plotting."—BOOKLIST

“Janet MacPhail's latest adventure will delight dog lovers, cat lovers, and mystery lovers.” —Susan Conant, author of the Dog Lover's Mystery Series

Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, often focusing on animals and environment. She is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award in Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America Award, and The Money Bird was a 2014 finalist. The fourth book, Shepherd's Crook, will be out this fall. She is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association as well as a number of essays, short stories, and poems. Boneham has shown her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports and participated with them in canine-assisted therapy. She has bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. For more information, visit SheilaBoneham.com.