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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nine More Things You Might Not Know About the Animals in Focus Mysteries

by Sheila Webster Boneham

My first Aussie, Teddy (UCD Thistleridge Highland Dancer
Shepherd's Crook, the fourth installment in my Animals in Focus Mystery series, is scheduled for release in early October. Fifty-something photographer and accidental sleuth Janet MacPhail is once again sucked into a murder investigation as she wrestles with animal-rights extremists, an obnoxious neighbor, a new pet limit law, and her warring needs for love and independence. As I begin thinking about where Janet may be headed next, I thought it might be fun to share a few tidbits about the books. (Don't worry if you haven't read them -- no spoilers here!).

So here we go....

  1. The main characters in the books are not real people. Yes, yes, you're sure that person belongs to your dog-training or cat-fanciers' club, but s/he doesn't. Really. (Do be nice to me, though....)
  2. Some characters in the books are real people and animals, although as far as I know they haven't been caught up in murder investigations. But I have included a few real-life characters - human and animal. Some have won roles in the books by entering raffles to support canine and feline rescue or health research. A few others are friends.
  3. I strive to keep the animals in the books as true to their species as possible. Dogs do dog things, cats do cat things, and I don't presume to know what they think, although they certainly make their opinions and desires clear at times. But if an animal does something in one of my books, I have either seen an animal behave that way or have heard an anecdote from a friend. (Yes, I pump my friends for good stories!)
  4. Janet MacPhail, who tells the tales, never intended to be an amateur sleuth. She was perfectly happy photographing animals, landscapes, and occasionally people, and wrestling with the challenges of being 50-something. She had plenty of wrestling to do, too -- her mother drifts in and out of dementia, her business needs constant nurturing, and, as we all know, "The course of true love never did run smooth." But then people started dying....
  5. Janet's dog Jay is an Australian Shepherd. Yes, Aussies really are that energetic and smart. Really. 
    My Aussie Reno, playing in the snow.

  6. Each of the Animals in Focus books focuses (!) on one or two animal sports or activities, and the titles reflect one or more of them. In Drop Dead on Recall, we begin at an obedience trial, where a competitor keels over during an exercise called the "drop on recall." The Money Bird finds Janet's significant other, Tom, training his Labrador Retriever, Drake, for an advanced hunt title. A "money bird" is the last bird a dog retrieves in a trial (the one that wins the money) and the mystery involves illegal trafficking in exotic birds. Catwalk takes Janet to both canine and feline (yes, feline!) agility trials and into the emotional and political world of feral cat colonies. The title is a play on "dogwalk," an obstacle in canine agility. In Shepherd's Crook, Janet and Jay will be herding sheep, and running into crooks and killers.
  7. Each book also highlights a serious issue, and my goal is not to preach but perhaps to pique the reader's interest in learning more. Drop Dead on Recall grapples with breeder and rescue ethics. The Money Bird involves smuggling of exotic and endangered animals. In Catwalk, the issues are feral cats, over-zealous development of wild areas, and the rights of the elderly to make their own choices. Shepherd's Crook brings up the question of arbitrary pet-ownership limits and animal rights extremism.
  8. The series is not a dog OR cat series, but an animal series. Janet lives with dogs and cats and is interested in all animals, domestic and wild. If characters inherit traits from their authors, Janet got this one from me.
  9. Janet isn't me and I'm not Janet, but I have been active in many areas of the animal world for most of my life. I showed hunters and jumpers in my teens and twenties, and I've been involved in showing, training, breeding, rescuing, volunteering with and for, writing about, and loving dogs since the early 1990s. I've also had many feline friends and companions, and have volunteered with my local shelters to help in the "cat rooms." All that experience translates into accurate information and portrayals in the mysteries.

So there you have it. What else would you like to know? 

Drop Dead on Recall won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book in the 2012 Dog Writers of America Writing Competition, and was named one of the Ten Best Pet Books of 2012 by NBCPetside blog! The Money Bird was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Sheila's nonfiction books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue have won numerous Maxwell and MUSE awards, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her essay "A Question of Corvids."
Sheila's books are are available in the usual places and forms -- paperback, ebooks, large print, and Audible. If your local bookseller doesn't have them in stock, they can order them, or you can find them online or HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Over, Under, Around, and Through—Solving the Mystery of Cat Agility!*

By Sheila Webster Boneham

When I announce that Leo, the lead cat in my Animals in Focus mystery series, goes to his first competitive agility trial in my new book Catwalk, people respond with everything from disbelief to uproarious laughter. But it's true!

Most people know about canine agility by now, since it’s become popular enough over the past twenty years to be televised regularly. Although the most spectactular runs tend to be by lightning-limbed Border Collies and other speedy mid-sized animals, dogs of all sizes, breeds, and mixtures compete successfully. Check out these videos:

* Yes, that’s a Chihuahua!

* All kinds of dogs, and people, too! 

It looks fun, doesn't it? Well, it's not just limited to dogs--cats compete in agility, too!

In cat agility, the handler directs or—more often--lures the cat through tunnels, up and down ramps, over jumps, and through weave poles and other obstacles. Although it's a fairly new sport, it's growing in popularity in The U.S. and Europe. Here’s a dose of cuteness—a kitten beginning to learn about agility on a kitten-sized course. 

My lead mystery dog, Jay, and his Labrador buddy Drake get to indulge in lots of sports in the series—obedience in Drop Dead on Recall, retriever training in The Money Bird. In the interest of interspecies fairness, Leo insisted that it’s his turn in Catwalk. So Janet MacPhail, animal photographer cum amateur sleuth, has entered him in their first feline trial just a week after a doggy trial with Jay. She’s running her socks (if not those extra twenty pounds) off! The trial takes place at a cat show, and the mystery in Catwalk involves the politics of feral cat colonies and trap-neuter-release programs, so it all fits together. Oh, and Leo’s furbrother Jay is a hero when some newborn kittens are lost. Good dog!

Too many people still believe that cats can’t be trained. Not true! Cats are smart, athletic, and fun-loving animals, so the trick for would-be trainers is to find something that the individual cat finds motivating. Clicker training (operant consitioning) is a very effective way to teach new behaviors in a positive, reward-based way. Here are some more happily trained cats:

 * Spectacular clicker-trained agility cats

* Getting started

* Beginners in competition

Like all good training, feline agility provides a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between cats and their owners. It also gives participating cats a fun way to keep their bodies and minds in shape.

To be successful in agility, your cat must have an outgoing, confident personality; be in excellent health and physical condition; and love to play. The sport is open to all kinds of cats, so it might be just the thing for you and your feline athlete. Even if you aren't ready to participate, why not visit a trial when the leaping, tunneling cats come to town and see what it’s all about. You can learn more at http://agility.cfa.org/index.shtml

When animal photographer Janet MacPhail gets a frantic call from champion dog owner Alberta Shofelter about a "cat-napping," she and her Australian Shepherd Jay jump in to assist. Fur flies when the search turns into a nasty run-in with local big shot Charles Rasmussen, a bully who enjoys throwing his weight around. As Rasmussen makes good on his promise to cause trouble, Janet tries to keep up with her mom's romantic travails, figure out her own relationship with Tom, and train her animals for the upcoming agility trials. But when a body is discovered at the Dog Dayz event, 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 

Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first book in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America and was an NBC Petside Best Ten Dog Book of 2012. #2, The Money Bird, was a Maxwell Finalist in 2014. Sheila 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. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University, an MFA Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine, and lives in Wilmington, N.C. 

Sheila writes literary nonfiction and poetry as well, and teaches writing. You can keep up with Sheila’s latest news at  www.sheilaboneham.com and www.facebook.com/sheilawrites, learn more about animal-oriented writing—with some of your favorite authors!—at her Writers & Other Animals blog at www.writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com

*An earlier version of this post appeared at Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries, and Meows on September 26, 2014

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Animals Having Their Say by Author Lois Winston

I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of animals to communicate with each other and even more so with humans. It seems logical that animals would have some way of communicating within their own species. We constantly see examples of them working together, and in order to do this, they must have some way of communicating with each other.

For example, all you have to do is observe a flock of birds flying in “V” formation. Watch as the leader slips back to allow another bird to take the lead. How do they designate the next bird to fly point? Instinct? I don’t think so. They must be communicating in some way. Otherwise chaos would ensue with birds constantly flying into one another.
We know that dolphins speak to each other. Whales, too. None of this is new. However, the other day I stumbled upon a news clip that claimed chimpanzees speak with accents. Not only that but these accents are learned.
Five years ago nine chimps were moved from The Netherlands to the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. The chimps originally used a high-pitched noise to ask for apples. However, after living with the Scottish chimps for a while, the Dutch chimps began to use a low grunt to ask for apples, the same sound made by the Scottish chimps. If you’d like to hear the difference between a chimp with a Dutch accent and one with a Scottish accent, you can view the video at http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/find-chimp-scottish-accent-sounds-28804416.
I often include animals in my mysteries and romances. In my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series Anastasia shares her home with a communist French bulldog, a Persian cat named for Russian nobility, and a Shakespeare-spouting African Grey parrot. They all communicate in their own unique ways.
In my romantic comedy Hooking Mr. Right, one of the secondary characters is a matchmaking alley cat named Cupid. He, too, has a very unique way of communicating with the humans in the story.
I’ve read mysteries and romances where the authors have assigned points of view to the pets in the books. I’ve never gone that far, probably because doing so would move me from writing reality-based fiction into the realm of fantasy. Even so, the animals in my books definitely have their say.

Hooking Mr. Right
Can a butt-ugly alley cat named Cupid bring together two people driven apart by secrets and lies?
After writing a doctoral thesis that exposed fraud in the pop-psychology genre, thirty-two year old professor Althea Chandler sacrifices her professional integrity to save her family from financial disaster. She secretly becomes best-selling romance guru Dr. Trulee Lovejoy, self-proclaimed expert on how to catch a man, even though Thea's a miserable failure when it comes to relationships -- especially those with the opposite sex.
Burned by a failed marriage, Luke Bennett finds himself pursued by Dr. Lovejoy toting women after a gossip columnist dubs him New York's most eligible bachelor. When he at first mistakes Thea for one of the women out to snare him, sparks fly, but the two soon find themselves battling sparks of a less hostile nature, thanks in part to that alley cat.
Luke believes he's finally found an honest woman. Unfortunately, Thea is anything but honest. She's got more secrets than the CIA and a desperate gossip columnist out to expose her. Cupid definitely has his work cut out for him.
Buy Linkspaperback (includes bonus short story Finding Mr. Right)KindleiTunesNook
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USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Tsu at www.tsu.co/loiswinston, on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/anasleuth, and onTwitter @anasleuth.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Author Interview - Tracy Weber

Thank you so much for having me today on Writers and Other Animals. It’s always a pleasure!
Tell us about your pets, or other animals that inspire you.
My true love is a dog named Tasha, and she’s been the subject of many blog articles.  She is a ten-year-old, 100-pound German shepherd who is much like Bella, the German shepherd in my series.  I have also been owned by many cats throughout my life, but I have been catless since my kitty Maggie passed on recently.
I have to say, however, that my writing is inspired by many animals.  Bandit the Jack Russell Terrier in A Killer Retreat is loosely modeled after a cutie-pie Jack Russell terrier owned by one of my yoga students.  My next book, Karma’s a Killer, includes a pigeon named Mister Feathers, a crow named Blackie, and a barred owl named Spook, all of which were modeled after birds I’ve “met” in real life.  Animals inspire me every day!
Do you try to keep your characters relatively unchanged throughout your mystery seris, or do you try to develop them over time? 
People in real life change as a result of what happens to them. Why would characters in a mystery series be any different?  I can’t imagine an amateur sleuth that could be touched by murder yet not impacted by it. I don’t have an agenda for my characters, but they do transform and learn over time.  Kate, in particular, has a character arc that will span at least six books, maybe more.  
In my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, Kate struggles to make peace with her father’s death and to forgive herself for her actions in his last days.  As a result, she shuts herself off from the world and refuses to give herself the compassion she gives to others.  She is brash and sometimes lashes out at those she loves most, at least in part because she unconsciously wants to keep people at a distance.  
By book 2, A Killer Retreat, she has begun to allow people into her life, but she still has significant attachment issues and she often stumbles over her own weaknesses.  By the end of A Killer Retreat she’s at the precipice of major change. In book 3, Karma’s a Killer, she confronts her darker self and starts to take steps to overcome it. 
Kate would love to right all the wrongs of the world, but ultimately she realizes the only person she can change is herself. 
How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
My characters show me their stories. I literally see scenes as if I were viewing them through Kate’s eyes. When the scenes get clear enough, the story writes itself. Characters don’t always reveal themselves fully to me when I start writing, but by the end of the first draft, they are usually pretty solid.  Likewise, the plots form in my heart long before I write them down.  I simply transcribe what’s already in my head and call it a first draft. 
After that draft is complete, I outline what I have already written and use that outline to identify plot holes, time line issues, and inconsistencies.  I “fix” the first draft based on that outline, and then refine the story from there.  
Clues appear after the first draft, timelines get solidified, and details change.  But the characters—their likes and dislikes, their personalities and quirks—reveal themselves to me in the first draft and rarely change significantly. 
Tell us a bit about your latest book
A Killer Retreat is a lot of fun. Yoga teacher Kate Davidson has been given the opportunity to stay at Elysian Springs, a vegan resort on picturesque Orcas Island, Washington. All she has to do is teach yoga to the wedding guests of the center’s two caretakers. The trip seems like a perfect, much-needed vacation until Kate’s boyfriend Michael starts hinting that he’s ready to pop the question and her best friend shows up unannounced and hiding a secret.
Then there’s the loud, public—and somewhat embarrassing—argument Kate has with Monica, the bride-to-be’s stepmother. When Monica’s body is found floating face-down in the resort’s hot tub, Kate becomes the investigators’ number one suspect. Kate will have to solve Monica’s murder quickly, or her next teaching gig may last a lifetime—behind bars.
What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I recently turned my third book, Karma’s a Killer, in to my editor at Midnight Ink. In Karma’s a Killer, Kate agrees to teach Doga (yoga for dogs) at a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. While there, she witnesses a violent argument between two strangers. One of the strangers turns out to be a person from Kate’s past who has been missing for over three decades. The second stranger is murdered.
Kate, Michael, Rene, and Bella each have a role in solving the murder, but that’s not the only mystery in the story.  The biggest enigma Kate struggles to understand is herself. I don’t want to give anything away, so you’ll have to read the story to find out the specifics.  Suffice it to say, at least two of Kate’s neuroses will make a lot more sense by the end of this book.
As always, animals play major roles. Not only Bella, but her nemesis Bandit, the birds I mentioned earlier, goats, and even cats. Researching this story was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to share it with my readers.
Unfortunately, the publishing industry moves slowly, so Karma’s a Killer won’t be released until January, 2016. In the meantime, I plan to start book number four, tentatively titled A Twisted Death.
Where can we learn more about you and your books?
So many places!  Getting discovered by readers is extremely difficult, so I try to have a presence in as many venues as possible.  My top two recommendations are my author website http://tracyweberauthor.com/ and my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tracywe.  You can learn about my books and my writing on the author page, but you get to know me, my dog, my hubby, and all of our eccentricities on Facebook.  Any way I can connect with readers is awesome!

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Tracy loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.
Tracy and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. 
Visit her at TracyWeberAuthor.com, friend her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tracywe, or e-mail her at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com