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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sophie Shapes My World

by Judy Alter

Every night when I’m ready to go to bed, I ask Sophie if she’s ready for bed. She trots to the dog bed next to my bed. We visit and she gets tummy rubs; sometimes I talk over the day with her, sometimes I just tell her what a sweet girl she is. When I say, “Okay, time to go to sleep,” she jumps up and goes to her crate (she’s housebroken but occasionally unreliable). In the morning the first thing I do is let her out of the crate, and we have another little love session, which me scratching her ears. I begin and end my day with my dog.
Sophie the day we
brought her home.
Sophie is a deliberate cross of a border collie and a miniature poodle. I badly wanted a Labradoodle but my physician-brother convinced me that a woman of my age with mobility problems does not need a dog that would be eighty lbs. at a minimum. So I opted for a smaller cross and, along with three children and three grandchildren, went to the kennel. The puppies were sweet but sleepy and passive—still only six weeks old. Then the breeder brought out Sophie. She was lively, mischievous, playful and irresistible. We all fell in love.
Sophie is not a perfect dog. In addition to occasional housebreaking mishaps, her unbounded enthusiasm and independent spirit gets us both in trouble. If anybody leaves a door a crack open, she is gone—headed for Canada. The only way to catch her is to drive by and open the car door—she loves cars. Even at thirty-two lbs., she is too strong for me to walk, although a younger neighbor occasionally walks her. She gets her exercise in the yard chasing squirrels. She is stubborn beyond belief—sometimes when I call her to come inside, she looks at me with an expression that says, “Really?” And doesn’t move. But she can be bribed with a treat.
She loves people and dogs but is sometimes wild in her greetings, bad about jumping on guests, until she calms down—which, now four, she eventually does. She has her favorites—my daughter and my grandson, a neighbor, the neighbor who tends my yard, almost anyone who gives her attention. Her fans, besides me, are legion.

Because I work at home, Sophie and I spend a lot of time alone together. She’s fierce about protecting me from unseen enemies—about half the time I can’t figure out what sets her off. In her crate, she is silent—off duty, as one neighbor says. If nothing alarms her, she’ll sleep in the easy chair in my office while I work. If I go to the kitchen, she follows, watching from a respectful distance in the dining room. If I nap, she goes to the dog bed. She is my shadow, giving me a much-needed sense of companionship by following me, staying wherever I am. Sometimes I talk over my problems with her—she’s an attentive listener.
She’s also the most vocal dog I’ve ever known. Many intonations and tones, from deep growls to almost a howling, that make us all wish we could speak “dog.” She so earnest about what she says to us. I answer conversationally and that sometimes satisfies her.
I cannot imagine life without a dog. Through a lifetime filled with dogs, I’ve loved them all—but Sophie is special. 

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 and Murder at the Tremont House and The Oak Grove Mysteries which debuted in 2014 with The Perfect Coed.
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.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Desperate for Death
Just when Kelly's life has calmed, she faces yet another of life's puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don't fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare "accidents" occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can't make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Interview with Author Amber Polo

Tell us a little about your journey as a writer.

I spent much of my life as a librarian surrounded by more books than I could ever read. After moving to Arizona I wrote two romances and then, looking around for a special story to tell, realized that I could combine my love of libraries, fantasy, and dogs. Besides, with the popularity of werewolves, why so few dog-shifters? Dogs have the wonderful noble qualities to be heroes and heroines.

Tell us a bit about your latest book.

Reprinted is the fourth in my Shapeshifters’ Library series. For centuries a magical race of shape-shifting dogs have protected the world’s libraries from evil book-burning werewolves. But when Chihuahua-shifter Pacifico Lopez, genius inventor of Zoogle, the world’s most powerful search engine, discovers a werewolf ebook pirate plot that threatens to destroy the world of books, he must team up with werewolf Atlandia Romero, editor at wolf-owned World Wide Publishing, and secret book lover. Pacifico and Landy are thrust into the heart of a tropical storm where they discover an e-book thieving sailing vessel called The Cloud, and a diabolical book distribution plant as they battle lies and uncover truth.

Are any of the other characters based on real animals or people?

Do characters ever emerge completely from imagination? I think all the people in our lives are examples of personality types. Heads in the Clouds is set in my own Arizona neighborhood and I used some of my neighbors as minor characters. Only one couple is sort of identifiable and they have a great sense of humor, thankfully. Some authors say when people you know read your books they either are upset because they see themselves as characters or upset because they don’t.

In my fantasy series, where all my librarians shift into dogs, I patterned types of librarians after people I worked with in the past. And at least one character was inspired by a real dog. The hero of Released is a headmaster/librarian who shifts into an Old English Sheepdog. I’ve had many beautiful smart Old English Sheepdogs, but my first, Pellinore, seemed most like a man in a dogsuit and I honored  his memory in my fantasy. And I can’t forget my dear Jonathan who stayed with me through many life changes.

Which do you consider more important, plot or character?

Plot and character are equally important and I’d add location. I love putting a character into a new location to see what happens.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

The most challenging parts of telling the story often turn out to be my favorites. When Reprinted was almost completed, I’d put my hero and heroine in a mysterious pyramid during a hurricane. But I didn’t know what they’d discover inside. I spent weeks staring out the window, going back to my research, and trying to imagine what they found. But when the answer came, it became my favorite part of the book.

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

I’m working on an alternate history, using the backstory from the world of my Shapeshifter series.

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

I believe there is nothing more important than books and imagination. Find a creative outlet for your imagination. Read widely. Sample many genres and authors. Step boldly into new worlds.


Amber Polo is the author of the award-winning The Shapeshifters’ Library series (Released, Retrieved, Recovered, and Reprinted), an 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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Skunked by Susan J. Kroupa

A beautiful day with a bright sun shining and the promise of spring in the air. The prospect of a long leisurely walk through fields and woods. 
What could possibly go wrong? 

Photo by Brian Garrett, Flickr

Normally, when we start out on a walk, I have Shadow on leash. But on this day I decide to work on reinforcing his off-leash “heel”, because the previous week’s snow has melted and the mud has dried to the point that we will be able to walk over to our favorite field rather than keep to the road. 

So we set off down our driveway, Shadow cheerfully vacuuming up treats for being at my side (I really need to learn how to fade rewards), when suddenly he raises his head and takes off across our dirt road to the neighbor’s yard.  Seconds later, he’s frantically rolling in the grass, pawing at his face. Too late, I see a skunk smack in the middle of the neighbor’s yard, trotting away, tail high. In broad daylight. 

What? Skunks are supposed to be nocturnal. Later, I will read that, while normally nocturnal, skunks sometimes will come out in during the day to look for food, especially in the early spring. 

Now the day’s plan changes from walking the dog to bathing the dog, itself a form of aerobic workout. 

Shadow soaking in tomato juice.
In the last Skunked episode, the year before, as soon as I got home from our walk with a very stinky dog, I jumped online and learned about a peroxide formula that chemically changes the oil that causes the skunk’s punishing odor. But at the time, we had only a tiny amount of peroxide in the house and it was too late to get supplies at the nearest store, five miles away. It would have been an hour’s round trip to get it. 

 So instead, we foolishly bathed Shadow with dish detergent. That set the smell so effectively that multiple baths later, alternating shampoo, tomato juice and detergent (poor pup!), we realized that the only solution would be a haircut. A very short haircut. 

Extra short, please!
Fortunately, we learned from our mistake. This time, we have quarts of peroxide in stock. I make up a few gallons of the solution and a couple of treatments later, my spouse, a man with a sense of smell to rival a dog’s, declares Shadow  to be odor free. 
If Shadow were only like Doodle, the fictional narrator of the Doodlebugged Mysteries. Like Shadow, Doodle manages to get into a lot of trouble, and in this scene from Dog-Nabbed, he is lost in the woods.
“I awake several times in the night, once to the haunting sound of coyotes. I can’t tell if it’s the same pack I heard earlier or not, but I snuggle down in my hole, glad they’re too far away to be a danger. Another time, the stench—there’s really no other word—of a skunk assaults my nose. I lift my head to see one waddling to the creek. I cornered a skunk once in my service dog days. Not a good experience. Let’s just say, Lesson Learned. I watch it from my hiding place without moving.” 

Okay, maybe I was indulging in authorial wishful thinking when I wrote that. I suspect for Shadow, and for most dogs, the lesson will never be learned. So we’ve once again restocked our supplies of peroxide and baking soda. 
In case any of you have a calamitous skunk encounter—and, really, is there any other kind?—here’s the formula. 

It works. And it’s cheaper than the commercial skunk deodorizers on the market, which can be a good thing if you happen to have a big dog with a long coat. 
Especially one who, unlike Doodle, happens to be Lesson Impaired when it comes to skunks.

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, June 7, 2015

Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)…continued…

by Nina Milton

Last summer, I blogged about how Ceredwin, one of my hens, had a little brood of chicks. Heavens, she was proud! She grew feathers on her feet to help keep them warm, called them each time she found food. But there came a point where they didn’t look cute and fluffy any more; they weren’t smaller than Ceredwin anymore, either. She turned her back on them – she’d taught hem well and now she expected them to fend for themselves.

A year later those four chicks are part of our flock. Rhiannon bears a golden shoulder cape and Pwyll has grown into a distinguished cockerel. Littlewings (so called because she was the runt of the brood –when it was mini mealworm time she’d run up and down the edge of the nesting box, trying to scale the great height of 2 inches, to join the feast, and we’d cheer her on as if we’d put money on a hurdling competition), and, finally, there’s Redneck.

Redneck is a Transylvanian Naked-neck cockerel. I swear there’s a bit of turkey somewhere in this breed, because, although much smaller than Pwyll, he’s an odd contorted shape and sometimes he sort-of…gobbles. His neck is bright red, exposed through a ruff of white feathers. He so ugly, only his mother could love him, but his mother doesn’t love any of her brood anymore, so there’s no hope.

We love him, of course, because he affords us so much fun. Despite his diminutive size and challenging appearance, he’s made of stern stuff. “Never give up, Never surrender,” is his motto. Never give up chasing the hens, that is.

You see, Pwyll took over the entire flock with a confidence that comes from knowing you are a hen’s answer to Joshua Jackson – I’m sure he must have looked in a mirror at sometime – it’s clear he knows how handsome he is. His approach to Redneck’s advances is; “if you want these dames, you have to fight for them.”

I came out into the yard to find them scrapping; running at each other, crowing and flapping, flinging themselves into the air, crashing at each other a yard up from the ground, beaks and spurs ripping and tearing. There was blood on the ground and on the breasts of my two cocks. 

And it was all Redneck’s.

He sulked to the end of the garden to lick his wounds. Actually, hens (all birds, I think) have tongues, but I doubt he did much licking. I tried several times to catch him to patch him up, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Don’t worry,” said my poultry-expert friend, Jane. “Cocks are hardy beasts. He’ll survive.”

Redneck wears the scar showing prominently on his comb with pride. His life is lived on the edge, away from Pwyll. But Pwyll has four hens to husband; he can’t be everywhere at once, and, as soon as he takes his eye off a wife, Redneck is there, looking for a bit of lurve. If the hen that’s getting the amorous attention makes a fuss (anything from “I told you. I’ve got headache,” to “Rape! RAPE!”) Pwyll will half run, half fly across our plot to the scene of the trouble, while Redneck makes off in an opposite direction. But he never gives up. He’s always on the lookout for nooky behind Pwyll’s back.

Keeping hens is a clear case of character envy – Sabbie Dare, heroine of my Shaman Mystery Series, had hens long before me.

Sabbie is a 29 year-old shaman with a therapy business in a sleepy town in England. She helps her shamanic clients by walking between worlds...bringing messages for them back from the spirit world. She lives a self-sufficient life, growing vegetables and keeping a small flock of hens.

Book one in the series, In the Moors opens with the death of half her flock after a visit from a fox. Sabbie believes in omens and portents, so when a cocky detective called Reynard Buckley walks into her life that same day, it’s bound to mean trouble for Sabbie. 

In book two, Unraveled Visions, Sabbie invites Mirela, a young Buglarian Roma, to stay at her house, and in this excerpt they are searching for the girl’s missing sister:

In the chicken coop were five eggs, two as big as a child’s fist. Ginger and Melissa didn’t lay all that often now, but when they did, their eggs were as full as bombs. I thought Mirela deserved an eggie breakfast.
Mirela was a charming combination of femme-fatal, innocent child and hoary old gypsy. She ate both double-yolkers, giggling when I called the bread slices “soldiers”.
“Do you have anything of your sister’s I could use? To help me find her otherworld?”
Mirela reached for her shoulder bag and brought out a zipped, plastic makeup case, stained with lipstick smears. From this she pulled a piece of shiny card. At first I thought it was a large postage stamp, but when she handed it to me I could see that it was a reproduction of an icon – the Virgin Mary in summer blue with a golden halo. I turned it over. On the back was a scribble of biro in Cyrillic script.
 I squeezed Mirela’s arm. “Your sister has to be somewhere. To be honest, some real world searching wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“Where I look?” She paused. “Where you look?”
Yep, there it was, that sinking feeling as my stomach hit my knees. I’d offered her a bed. I’d offered to work shamanically to find her sister. And now it looked like I was offering some practical help…
“Exactly when did Kizzy leave?” I asked. “Can you remember?”
“Yes, Easy. November six. She just start pack case right then and puff! She’s gone. Like that.” Mirela clapped her hands, once, loudly.
Suddenly, I wanted to find Kizzy badly. I was longing to give her a good slapping down.

Having had such fun with raising chicks myself, I was keen to let Sabbie Dare have a go, too. But Unraveled Visions is set in the deep winter, and no self-respecting hen is even laying eggs then let alone sitting on a clutch. But book three, Beneath the Tor, opens on Midsummer Eve on Glastonbury Tor, where beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Beneath the Tor continues the dark, atmospheric edge of the previous two books in the series. Sabbie witnesses the tragedy, and gets caught up in its dark aftermath. And in the middle of all this, Florence goes missing.

Florence was my secret favourite. She was a curious hen, bright eyed and comical. I’d had her and her siblings for over a year; a farmer had given me one of her recently-hatched clutches of Sussex hens and they’d been productive and so beautiful to look at. 
“Florence,” I called, even though she had no idea that was her name, “Flo, where are you? Chuck-chuck?”

Beneath the Tor is not due for release until December this year, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait to find out why Alys died on the Tor and what happened to Flo!


Nina Milton lives in west Wales with her husband and their hens, but sets her Shaman Series, out from Midnight Ink, in the mystical county of Somerset in the UK. The First in the series, In the Moors is available now and the second book in the series, Unraveled Visions is due for release soon.I also write for children; Sweet’n’Sour, (HarperCollins) and Tough Luck, (Thornberry Publishing), and love writing short stories which regularly appear in British anthologies.

Learn more about Nina Milton at http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/ . You can reach her and the hens at Kitchentablewriters@live.com

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Shepherd's Crook Cover Reveal!

I'll be writing about the making of this lovely cover for Animals in Focus Mystery #4 on June 28, but in the meantime, here 'tis! What do you think?

And in the meantime, check out the making of the Catwalk cover


Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheep-herding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that two dozen sheep have disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off in search of greener grass, but Janet sees and hears things that convince her the sheep's owners are right—the animals have been stolen.
Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom's wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead and the sheep's owner disappears, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. She sets out to find answers, putting herself and those she loves in the killer's crosshairs.
“A woolly tale sure to delight both animal lovers and mystery fans. Shepherd’s Crook knits together a unique setting, likable characters, and a mystery that will keep you guessing.”—SPARKLE ABBEY, AUTHOR OF THE PAMPERED PET MYSTERIES

Sheila Webster Boneham is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the Dog Writers Association of America Award in Fiction, Mystery, or Humor. 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. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has also bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and resides in Wilmington, N.C. For more information, go to SheilaBoneham.com.