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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My One-Minute Commute by Edith Maxwell

For the past four years I was a full-time technical writer and a full-time fiction writer. I wrote three and a half books: Speaking of Murder (as Tace Baker), A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, and ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, plus several short stories. I wrote fiction around the edges of commuting an hour each way to my job in the software industry in the greater Boston area. I carved out Saturday mornings and three-day solo writing retreats. It was very stressful, but writing fiction makes me happy, so I did it.

Last May, though, I took the plunge and left my day job. Now my commute is one minute long: upstairs to my lovely home office in our antique New England house. An oil painting titled “Edith’s World” hangs on the wall and features me writing at a desk with my imagination in the background. Next to it is a map of my town from over a hundred years ago. My writing buddy Birdie sometimes keeps me company.

It was a little financially imprudent to quit my job when I did. After a good friend was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago at age fifty five, though, I did some deep thinking. If I found out I had only one more year to live (we are grateful Susan is still alive and pretty well, by the way), would I want to spend it writing technical documentation or murder mysteries? The answer was clear.

Now every morning I get my coffee and sit down at my desk. I first check email, Facebook, and favorite blogs for about an hour. I push out news of the day’s topic at my group blog, wickedcozyauthors.com. And then I open Scrivener and start writing. I began the third book in my Local Foods Mysteries series, Farmed and Dangerous, on September first. 

I set myself a goal of writing at least one thousand words every weekday. That gets me a first draft finished by December thirty-first, which leaves me four additional months to polish it before my deadline of May first. So far I’m on schedule. When I get stuck I glance up at the drawing of “The Muse Most of Us REALLY Need.”

I usually accomplish that goal by around eleven. Then I go to the gym or for an hour’s brisk walk. I use the afternoons for writing guest posts like this one, arranging new speaking or signing gigs, or doing any of the other many pieces of work that being an author entails. Sometimes I sit in my grandfather’s rocker and read. Occasionally I squeeze in a nap on the futon couch (which opens up to be a guest bed when we need it).

"Edith's World"
So I’m still working full time. I have had a couple of short-term tech writing contracts, but I now fit those in around the edges of my fiction. I was able to finish Bluffing is Murder, the second book in the Speaking of Mystery series, and send it to Barking Rain Press. I’m plotting a third series, this time historical mysteries with a Quaker midwife as sleuth protagonist and her friend and mentor, the very real John Greenleaf Whittier, in the 1880s. And I couldn’t be happier.


A former organic farmer, Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries with organic farmer Cam Flaherty, the Locavore Club, and locally sourced murder (Kensington Publishing). She writes (as Tace Baker) the Speaking of Mystery series from Barking Rain Press featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and is a member of Amesbury  Meeting of Friends. Edith also writes award-winning short crime fiction, belongs to MWA, and is the secretary of Sisters in Crime New England. A mother and fourth-generation Californian, she lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Memoriam

To commemorate Memorial Day, I am rerunning a post from my personal blog. Here are some thoughts about the animals who do not make wars but live, and die, in them just the same. - Sheila

Our Companions in War

by Sheila Webster Boneham

My grandmother was a poet. Squarely in the sentimental Victorian tradition, her poems were published in Scottish and Canadian newspapers and small-press collections in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have several fat notebooks filled with her poems, handwritten and pasted in from print sources. Years ago I read my way through them as a way to know the woman who had faded a bit in my mind (I was five when she died). I read most of the poems, but honestly, only one stands out in my mind. It began, "Farewell, my noble friend, farewell," and even now I can’t think of it without feeling the tears well up. The copy in the notebook was yellowed and frayed at the edges. On the facing page was a clipping, a picture that had run in the Drumheller, Alberta, paper and, I’ve learned, many others. It immortalizes the death of a war horse and the grief of his soldier at his death.

Goodby, Old Man by Fortunino Matania

This image, long ago burned into my psyche, is a big reason that I have no desire to see the movie War Horse. I didn't know it at the time, but Italian illustrator Fortunino Matania not infrequently focused on the sad deaths of animals, especially horses, in the war.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. This holiday, celebrated on the final Monday of May each year, is meant to honor those who have served in the American military. Originally May 30 was known as Decoration Day because one tradition of the day is the decoration of the graves of veterans, a practice that began during or just after the American Civil War (1861-65). The first official observation of remembrance was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. By 1890, all Northern states had adopted the holiday, but most Southern states refused to do so until World War I, when the holiday was extended to honor the dead of all American wars.

We usually focus our national pageants on the human price of war. Here today, for a few moments, I ask you to again expand the meaning of Memorial Day and give a thought to the millions of animals who have served, suffered, and died in human wars over the centuries. Think not only of the heroes given our attention and honors, but also of the vast majority of animals recruited into military service who did as they were asked and died unsung. Spare a thought, too, for the millions of animals, domestic and wild, who died as "collateral damage" or by intentional slaughter for political or other purposes. (Hitler, for instance, had non-German breeds of dogs systematically exterminated in Europe.)

Books have been written on animals in war, so I won’t attempt any kind of thorough commentary. Instead, I give you a few photos and a few links to more information, and ask that, as we remember our service people, we also remember the animals.

Horses, Donkeys, and Mules

I can't think of an animal more suited by nature to peace than the equines, and yet horses, donkeys, and mules have been used in human warfare since, probably, the first person threw a leg over an equine's back. Without horses for speed and donkeys and mules for stamina, we as a species would certainly not be where we are today, and our history, especially the history of conquest and war, would have unfolded very differently.

"L" Battery, R.H.A. Retreat from Mons
This British Horse artillery unit made a heroic stand against advancing German troops during the retreat from Mons, Belgium on 1 September 1914. Mons stayed in German hands until liberated by Canadian troops on the last day of the war, 11 November 1918. L Battery R.H.A. How our Gunners Won the V.C. and Silenced the Fire of the German Guns in the Face of Overwhelming Odds. Retreat from Mons 1st September 1914. Print by Fortunino Matania. Canadian War Museum

There are many websites and books about horses in war, but a few I've found especially interesting include the following:

Horses, mules, and donkeys naturally became less important to most militaries after World War I, but they aren't out of the service entirely. In fact, they are being used by American forces today in Afghanistan, as shown on Olive Drab's page.

Carrier pigeons

Carrier pigeons have nearly as long a history in military service as do the equines. During World War I, the U.S. Signal Corps deployed at least 600 pigeons in France alone, and Britain used some 250,000 carrier pigeons during World War II. Paddy, an Irish carrier pigeon, was the first pigeon to cross the English Channel with news of success on D-Day. One of hundreds of birds dispatched from the front, Paddy flew 230 miles in 4 hours and 50 minutes. He is one of 32 carrier pigeons to be awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest British decoration for valor given to animals. Another recipient was an American pigeon, GI Joe (below).

To learn more about carrier pigeons who have served, start with these site:

The Dickin Medal

The PDSA Dickin Medal, recognised in Britain as the animals’ Victoria Cross, is awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units. The Medal has been awarded to dogs, horses, pigeons, and one cat. The citations on the Rolls of Honour are moving tributes to the role animals play in our service during war, and to the courage of the individual animals who have received the medal.

No such medal exists in the United States as far as I know (please let me know if I've missed it in my search). In fact, in 2010 the Pentagon refused the request of military dog handlers to establish an official medal for valorous animals.

You're in the Navy Now

Although we tend to think of dogs and, sometimes, horses when we think of animals in the military, cats have also served in the military, often in the navy, like Pooli (below). For more great photos of cats in the Navy, visit Cats in the Sea Service .

"War Veteran - 'Pooli', who rates three service ribbons and four battle stars, shows she can still get into her old uniform as she prepares to celebrate her 15th birthday. The cat served aboard an attack transport during World War II." Los Angeles, 1959

Dogs, too, have served aboard ship, often as ship's mascots and de facto therapy dogs. Imagine how much fun the sailors on the USS Texas had with this gang in 1915. The Texas is now a museum near Houston and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is one of six surviving ships to have seen action in both World Wars. Check out the U.S. Naval Institute's Sea Dogs page for more canine sailors.

Love and War

Not all who serve fight, of course, and just having an animal to touch, to care for, and to love can be vital to a service man's or woman's emotional health.

Marine Pvt. John W. Emmons, and the Sixth Division's mascot dog sleep beside a 105mm howitzer on Okinawa, 1945. The Sixth Division suffered almost 2700 casualties during the battle, with another 1,300 being evacuated because of either exhaustion or fatigue. ( U.S. Naval Institute's Sea Dogs)

"Accepting her fate as an orphan of war, 'Miss Hap' a two-week old Korean kitten chows down on canned milk, piped to her by medicine dropper with the help of Marine Sergeant Frank Praytor ... The Marine adopted the kitten after its mother was killed by a mortar barrage near Bunker Hill. The name, Miss Hap, Sergeant Praytor explained, was given to the kitten 'because she was born at the wrong place at the wrong time'."
Korea, ca 1953 (From "Cats in the Sea Service")

As you prepare for your cookout or whatever else you have planned for the holiday, please take a moment to pause and remember what it's really about, and raise a glass to the all the souls - human, canine, equine, feline, avian, and more - the day is meant to honor.

Then hug your animals.


Sheila Webster Boneham the Animals in Focus Mystery series. She is also the author of seventeen nonfiction books about animals, including the highly regarded Rescue Matters!How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion AnimalsHer work has appeared in literary and commercial magazines and anthologies, including the forthcoming 2015 Best Science and Nature Writing anthology edited by Rebecca Skloot.  Sheila’s work has won numerous honors, including the Prime Number Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award and multiple Maxwell and MUSE awards in fiction and nonfiction.  Sheila also writes narrative nonfiction and poetry, teaches writing workshops, and, yes, competes with her dogs. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com, or keep up with Sheila’s latest news on Facebook or at Sheila”s_Blog .

Sheila's books are available from retail and online booksellers. You can support independent bookselling and get your personally autographed copies of Sheila’s books from Pomegranate Books – information here: http://www.sheilaboneham.com/autographedbooks.html 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Dogs Talk by Amber Polo

My dogs talk. Not because they’re dogs, but because they are shape-shifters. They have to because they're librarians in their day jobs. You might think dogs and librarians don't have much in common, but as adventurous and loving protectors and guardians, they speak and sometimes speak for animals. My ancient race of dog-shifters have been protecting knowledge for thousands of years and if you believe their version of history, they taught humans to write on tablets, and created the ancient library of Alexandria. They are better than mere mortals, but also gentle, funny, and tough. Idealistic and moral. And I created werewolves to be the villains and comic figures. 
The biggest problem I faced in writing my series, besides not being able to include every breed of dog, was not turning the dogs into caricatures. I felt each needed to exhibit the most noble qualities of their breed and the canine world. In Retrieved I included the serious issue of censorship when the werewolf faction attempted to remove all anthropomorphic books from the library. 
Anthropomorphism is the attribution or personification that gives human characteristics to non-human entities. Primarily, this means gods or animals, but in children’s literature, objects like toothbrushes or toys also come to life. Anthropomorphizing makes unfamiliar things familiar. To the Greeks, gods were divine but also human. In literature, anthropomorphism is a common device, especially in fairy tales and fantasy stories. Humans have pursued transmutation throughout history. They want to be like like animals. They want to be animals. 
The stories in Aesop’s Fables are meant to teach, not be taken literally. Genuine literature just for children wasn’t written until the 19th century. Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, and Pinocchio are examples both children and adults still read and love. In these stories, animals represent facets of human personality. The use of talking animals also disguises social and political criticism, as in stories of Beatrix Potter and The Wind in the Willows. Using animals moves a story away from a specific culture, race, or ideology and makes the story more universal. 
When animals have human-like relationships, dilemmas, and thoughts authors can teach serious lessons in an entertaining and educational manner, especially if no humans appear. 
Many children’s books portray animals realistically but allow them to be wiser and more noble than humans in order to teach children about caring, friendship, and ways to treat others. Young animals are often wonderful protagonists and stories where animals take care of things entrance children.” 
Talking animals in children’s’ books (and many for adults) allow a character to say things a person might not get away with saying. 
Talking animals stimulate imagination. They are no more evil than teddy bears. Children understand fantasy. 
Here's an excerpt about Charlotte’s Web from Retrieved
From behind the circulation desk Taxi pointed to Ulfamer’s gawky wife and a man in overalls with a pink pig the size of a carry-on on a leash walking toward the Children’s Room. Taxi gestured for Godiva to follow and they stood at the entrance behind the pig man. Bliss, the Children’s Librarian, immediately stopped reading to a group of toddlers. 
The children turned and seeing the pig screamed. The pig squealed and the children ran to surround the man and his pig. Bliss called them back but they were captivated by the pretty pig so like the drawing on the cover of Charlotte’s Web. 
Bliss, normally so spontaneous, actually looked upset at having her story hour interrupted. “Why have you brought a pig here?” she asked as the pig began eating the pink sash of a little girl’s dress. 
Mrs. Ulfamer raised her chin. “I saw in the newspaper that you were reading Charlotte’s Web this morning. I thought Mr. Bullard would be a lovely addition to your program.” 
Bliss bristled. “I think my program is complete without the pig. We’re going to draw pigs and play Put the Pig in the Pen.” 
Godiva stepped up. “Wasn’t Charlotte’s Web one of the books you wanted removed from the library?” 
"Exactly. Since you love talking animals so much, I wanted Mr. Bullard to bring one of his special pigs to talk to the children.” 
Two small boys in the front row started jumping up and down calling, “Piggy, talk to me!” Just as the pig peed on Mr. Bullard’s boot. 
Taxi went off to find a mop while Mrs. Ulfamer introduced Malcolm Bullard the owner of Pigs Are Us. “He’s brought a pig exactly like the one in the book. Like Charlotte.”
Bliss shook her head. “The pig in Charlotte’s Web is named Wilbur. Charlotte’s a spider.”
“Does the name of a pig matter? The pig in the book talks.” 
Bliss face tightened. “The pig talks to the spider. Not to humans.” 
“It doesn’t matter.” Mrs. Ulfamer waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “In this book, which is read by children, the pig talks. Mr. Bullard, have you ever talked to this pig?” 
The children were hushed waiting for his answer. 
His face twisted in a smirk. “No, ma’am. I’ve been in the pig business for forty-two years and raise about a thousand pigs a year.” 
“And have you ever heard one of any one of these,” the werewolf paused, then raised her voice, “42,000 pigs utter a single word?” 
He shook his head and snorted. “Not one. ‘Course, we slaughter them before they’re old enough to get much education.” 
The girl with the pink sash started to cry and Bliss knelt and comforted her. 
Godiva asked, “Mr. Bullard, how much time do you spend with your pigs?” 
“Naturally, their feeding, cleaning, and watering is automated.” 
Godiva nodded. “Does your pig have a name?” 
Mr. Bullard reached down and grabbed the pig’s ear so roughly the pig let out a plaintive “Oink.” The pig magnate looked at the pig’s tag. “This here’s Pig P98263G.” 
Godiva turned to the parents. “Those of you who know the story of Charlotte’s Web, or saw the movie, know that these animals didn’t talk when the farmer was around. In fact no pig would talk to anyone who didn’t even know its name.” She faced Mr. Bullard. “Now, please leave the library!”
Amber Polo is the author of the award-winning The Shapeshifters’ Library series (Released, Retrieved, Recovered, and Reprinted), a canine cozy fantasy filled with books, librarians, dogs and a library everyone will love.
In addition to her award-winning fantasy and Arizona romance novels, she wrote Relaxing the Writer  to offer tips to help writers and readers relax.
After living in seven states, she happily calls a small town in Arizona home. To learn more about her books and read excerpts, visit her website and find her on Facebook and The Shapeshifters’ Library Facebook page filled with lots of dogs. E-mail her at amber@amberpolo.com

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Dogs and Mother’s Day

by Susan J. Kroupa

I don't need a national holiday in order to miss my mother, who passed away five years ago, or to miss my children and grandchildren, who live too far away. 
When my children were still at home, I had a love-hate relationship with Mother's Day. Sure, there was the chance for a dinner I didn't have to cook, but it often came packaged with depressingly exalted visions of mothers and motherhood that made me cringe. Or cry.
But now that my kids are out of the house, I'm less ambivalent and more hopeful about Mother's Day. Because it can mean phone calls. The kind where you hear your child's voice on the other end rather than see words from them in a text message box.
Doodle, the labradoodle narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries, wouldn't understand.
In fact, in Bed-Bugged, the first book of the series, he's baffled by ten-year-old Molly's obsession with her mother, who disappeared when Molly was only three. Molly keeps a book of photographs of the important events from her life, hoping that one day she'll be able to give it to her mother. Hoping, really, that one day her mother will want the book, will want to be back in her life. 
In the scene below, Molly digs out some treasures she's hidden in a trunk and shows them to Doodle. explaining why she keeps them secret from her father, the man Doodle calls “the boss.”

"I can’t tell Dad, because he says she’s probably gone back to Mexico to be with her family and is never coming back and the sooner I accept that the happier I’ll be.”
Still lost here. What are we talking about?
“I don’t even know what part of Mexico her family is from.” Molly points to a bright paper that hangs on the wall near her computer. “She could be in any of the cities on that map. Or maybe in a town too small to even make it on the map.”
She sighs and shuts the book and buries it again deep in the chest, and I’m thinking maybe it’s time to resume my nap. But she brings out something else. Another paper, this one looking like what the boss calls mail, the source of many of the bills he complains about.
She pulls a smaller paper out from the covering one and carefully opens it. Inside is a photo of a woman and a lock of hair. “My mom,” Molly whispers. “She called me María. That’s what Dad told me. María Maureen Hunter. Spanish, Irish, English. A blend. Kind of like a labradoodle, I guess.”
Again, no clue what she means, but I thoroughly sniff the photo. Paper and Molly, of course, like before, but the hair holds the faintest scent of another human. I linger over it, letting it fix in my memory even though I’m not sure why this makes Molly sad. Some type of human thing, I guess. I haven’t given my mother a second thought since I left her as a pup.
Doodle doesn't worry about the future the way humans do. "Live for the now is my motto," he likes to say. Probably a healthy philosophy, but for humans, to be a parent is to live in the past, the present, and the future all at once. I can't help but remember, when I look at my grown children, how they once fit in the crook of my arm, how they wobbled with their first step. I can't help but imagine what evils might befall them if I, as their mother, failed to ward off dangers with preemptive worrying.
My mother used to joke about birds tossing the fledglings out of the nest. "Just you wait," she'd say, smiling.  "When it comes time to leave the nest, if you don't do it on your own, we'll help."  For all the smiles, she meant it, because she believed that good parenting meant raising children to be happy, independent adults. 
But it didn't mean that she quit caring or worrying over her children, just as I can't keep from doing the same with mine.  Independence, it seems, can be a one-way road.
I've often wondered if one of the things that charms us so much about dogs (and other pets) is that they are like children who never grow up. No good parent would ever wish that for a child. But no good pet owner hopes to see the family dog get a job and move to another state.
Still, pets or not, most mothers miss their children, and children, young and old, miss their mothers living and dead. Hallmark understands this.
Doodle wouldn't. But then he's a dog.

*Bed-Bugged is on sale May 10-12 for only $0.99!  Read the book bestselling author Virginia Smith calls, “A triumphant beginning to a series that I hope will have many, many stories to come.”  Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ Kobo ◊  iTunes
**This originally ran on May 10, 2014 at www.susankroupa.com.

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