For the Love of Island Dogs

© Anna Landry

© Anna Landry

Note: this post was originally published in July of this year. I’m reblogging now in celebration of the 2nd anniversary of Reading Recommendations, which is the brainchild of Susan Toy. Susan is a staunch advocate for writers and readers around the globe, and it’s my pleasure to revisit the island dogs of Bequia, the fine work of artist Anna Landry, and Susan’s own writing. There are more than 250 authors featured on Reading Recommendations (including me), and I hope you’ll you’ll browse the list and find “new to you” books. Join the anniversary celebration November 18th on Facebook and/or read the special blog posts to find out how you might win one of the terrific giveaways!


Last year, I was honored to be recognized by Susan Toy and included in her Reading Recommendations. As a result, I met some wonderful authors and found fabulous books for my own “must read” stack.

Susan Toy photo

Susan M. Toy, Author & Publisher

I include Susan as one of those wonderful authors, and anyone who enjoys a good story set in an exotic locale will love her work, too. Here’s a mini-version of Susan’s bio:

Susan M. Toy is a Canadian author and publisher who shares her time between Canada and her Caribbean home on the island of Bequia. She has previously published Island in the Clouds, a mystery novel set on the island. One Woman’s Island is second in the Bequia Perspectives series and will be ePublished in 2015. Susan’s life has always been filled with cats, but she numbers many dog-lovers among her friends. (Read more about Susan and her literary journey here.)


I love this teaser for Island in the Clouds: “Part travelogue, part mystery, Island in the Clouds takes a long, hard look at the reality of living in a place that seems perfect — from the outside, anyway.” Who can resist that sort of book? Even better, it’s the start of a series that will offer an up-close view of island living, with characters (both two- and four-legged) we’ll want to spend time with. (You can read the first chapter here.)

The second in the Bequia Perspectives series is One Woman’s Island, and Susan has generously sent along an excerpt for us to enjoy. (Find that at the end of this post.) As a reader, I love fiction that gives me the opportunity to learn about different places, customs, and traditions (even the not-so-happy ones). As a writer, I appreciate the authors willing to tackle those issues when they fit the story, as Susan has done so well in her work. I felt as though I’d been transported to that island, that boat, and wanted to bring those dogs home with me.

In addition to sharing this excerpt, Susan also sent along some fabulous work by the artist Anna Landry. She has this to say about Anna:

Anna Landry, Artist

Anna Landry, Artist

Inspired by her parents’ interest in art and stimulated by a lifetime of travel, Canadian-born artist Anna Landry was painting and drawing from a very young age. In the mid-90’s, a two-week painting holiday in the sun resulted in nine years spent living, working and continuing to paint on the island of Bequia in the West Indies. Anna has most recently been busy sailing…discovering, photographing, collecting inspiration from the Windward and the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. Most of her paintings are created in her Bequia studio she has shared with many dogs over the years.

One of the truly great things about talking with artists (and I include writers, poets, painters, sculptors, and the like in that category) is the opportunity to hear the inspiration for their work. For both Susan and Anna, one source of inspiration was a Norwegian sailor named Mariann Palmborg. Susan tells me Mariann called Bequia home for several decades where she was a friend to many, “but especially to the numerous dogs and cats on the island. She was the inspiration for the character Solfrid (Mariann even named the character!) and the subject of one of Anna’s paintings. Mariann sadly passed away in 2009 and is still sorely missed by all her many two-and-four-footed friends.” Here’s Mariann, as painted by Anna:

Mariann WhyKnot by Anna Landry

Mariann WhyKnot © Anna Landry

In addition to sharing the image above, Susan scanned other paintings and photos by Anna, with an invitation to include as I wished. I couldn’t choose between them and so included them all in a slideshow. I hope you enjoy both the excerpt and the images as much as I did, and add Susan Toy to your own “must read” list!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And now as promised: Excerpt ONE WOMAN’S ISLAND by Susan Toy 

You can follow Susan on Twitter, browse her website,  catch up with her on Goodreads, and check out her Amazon author page.  For more information about Susan’s books and where to find them, visit Happy reading!


Note: this tribute was published on November 11, 2015, by fellow writer (and dog lover) . My sincere thanks to Sue for allowing me to share.



“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

From ‘In Flanders Fields,’ by John McCrae


On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, the Armistice signed at Compiègne came into effect. 

Not for the mistaken glory of war, nor for their valour, nor the sacrifice of their lives on the altar of politics, but for Peace.

We will remember.

Reflections of Life in Fiction

fountain pen

I write mystery fiction. I write from experience, from observation, from research. The characters living in the world I create are good, bad, and sometimes both. They have virtues and vices. Some of my characters will share your view of the world and some won’t. In short, they’re the sort of people you already know or might expect to meet. And, like many people you know, some of these characters aren’t shy about voicing their opinions and fighting for what they think is right. And when opposing viewpoints collide, therein lies the conflict at the heart of the story.

My job as a writer, then, is to present those opinions and messages as part of the plot development. It’s far easier, frankly, to write a character whose values and beliefs match some of my own than it is to write a character at the other end of the spectrum. Both kinds of characters, however, are essential to the plot, so it’s my job as storyteller to present each as authentically as possible.

In Dangerous Deeds (forthcoming), you’ll find multiple characters with the common bond of military service but with differing opinions and interests. Writing these characters proved easy because I’m third-generation military. My paternal grandfather served in the Canadian Infantry in World War I, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, and I served in the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted a year after the fall of Saigon and served through the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s right through the first Gulf War before retiring from active duty in the mid-1990s. I was fortunate to serve alongside honorable and courageous men and women; the bonds we forged still hold and inform my writing.

While veterans of all ages share a common bond of service, our experiences vary and every generation has stories unique to their time. That’s where observation and research come into the writing process and allow me to create an assortment of characters of varying complexity. Take my protagonist’s neighbor Zak Henderson, for example, who was introduced in Deadly Ties. His time in uniform included three deployments to Afghanistan. If you were to say “Thank you for your service” to Zak, he’d likely nod and tell you that he was just upholding the family tradition of serving others.  Since leaving the military, he’s done his best to settle into civilian life as a single parent. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, Zak’s ready to stand in defense of what’s right.

Just like any other segment of the population, the military ranks include some who crave conflict and seek power over others. As much as we might like to believe everyone in uniform holds firm to the highest ethical standards, the reality is that some do not. In Dangerous Deeds, you’ll meet the character Karl Shackleford, former second-in-command to Sheriff Johnson’s corrupt predecessor. Karl opted for the Army rather than fall in line with the new law-and-order regime, and only came home after falling afoul of Army conduct regulations. Now he’s back on the job thanks to Veterans’ Reemployment Rights and eager to see his old boss reinstated as sheriff and resume his own position of power. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, legal or otherwise.

Some veterans return with physical or psychological wounds, and more than a few find themselves without a place to call home. Some estimates suggest that nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness because of poverty, insufficient support networks, and housing issues. That’s true for some of my characters, too.  In Dangerous Deeds you’ll meet Martin Grimes, homeless after the family’s hilltop farm was auctioned off while Martin served overseas. Now he’s getting by one day at a time, doing odd jobs that come along, spending nights rough camping in the woods not far from Waterside Kennels and wondering just what he’d been fighting for. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, he’ll have to decide, once again, where his sense of loyalty and honor will lead him.

Three men, all veterans, each with his own story to tell. Although fictional, each reflects some element of reality for military veterans today.

This week, the United States will recognize Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day in recognition of the ceasefire on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918 which ended World War I. If you’d like to learn ways to support military veterans in need, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans or learn about the Lifeline for Vets.

Veterans Day 2015


And the Winner is…


Congratulations, Barbara Tobey! You’ve won the 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Barbara, please email me (dogmysteries [at] gmail) and let me know where to send your prize! Remember you can keep for yourself, give as gifts–whatever you like!

Coming up: a sneak peek this week at Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Ghostly Tales, Legends, and Lore

To celebrate the spirit (pun intended) of Halloween, here’s a collection of literature and lore related to the Ozarks and to the land many of our ancestors called home. Leave a comment to be entered in this month’s giveaway; the winner will be posted on Sunday, November 1st.


Crescent Hotel

A local site said to be home of “the unusual and unexplainable” is the legendary Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In an excerpt of The Haunting of America by Troy Taylor, we’re introduced to lingering spirits:

Staff members receive frequent reports from overnight guests of strange goings-on in their rooms and in the hallways. Room 424 has had several visitations but the most famous haunted spot is the previously mentioned Room 218. Several guests and employees have encountered strange sounds and sensations in that room. Doors have slammed shut and some people claim to have been shaken awake at night. One man, a salesman, was asleep in Room 218 one night when his shoulder was violently shaken back and forth. He awakened just long enough to hear footsteps hurry across the floor. He saw no one in the room.

Who this particular ghost may be is unknown, although some believe it is the spirit of the man who was killed during the hotel’s construction. His body was said to have fallen just about where the room is currently located. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any particular macabre history about this room. A story of the hotel has it that the wife of one of the hotel’s past owners stayed in the room. At one point in the middle of the night, she ran screaming from the room, claiming that she had seen blood spattered all over the walls. Several staff members ran up to take a look but found no blood and nothing else out of the ordinary….

Another ghost of the hotel is that of a distinguished-looking man with a mustache and beard and who dresses in old-fashioned, formal clothing. He seems to favor the lobby of the hotel and a bar that is decorated in the style of the Victorian era. People who claim they have talked to the man say that he never responds, he only sits quietly and then vanishes. In an interview, a staff member recounted one odd experience with the silent ghost: “During the summer, we had two auditors work for us because we’re so busy. One of these men left the front desk to get a drink of water in the bar, after it was closed. He told me that he saw some guy sitting on a barstool, staring straight ahead. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t move. Our guy left to get his partner, who was still at the front desk. They came back and spoke to the man. They thought he was drunk”.

When the man again did not respond, the two auditors decided to leave him alone and go back to work. As they looked back over their shoulders on the way out of the bar though, they saw that the barstool was now empty. The man was nowhere in the room.

“One of them started searching for the man,” the staff member added. “He looked around the lobby, which is about 25 to 30 yards across, everywhere in that area. The auditor who was looking around went over to the steps (a staircase ascends from the lobby). The fellow from the bar was on the second-floor landing, looking down at him. He went up but as he got to the second floor, he felt something push him back down again. That’s when he got the manager and told him what had happened.”

Read a longer excerpt here.


Whether it’s lingering spirits or just the magical feeling you’ll find in the hills and hollers, the Ozarks seem to inspire generations of creative souls. That’s certainly true of Jack R. Cotner–author, artist, poet, and painter–who calls this place home. Here’s one of his poems, reprinted in full with his permission, that seems a perfect fit for the time when some believe the dead may walk among the living:

Goodbye My Love, Goodbye 

© Jack R. Cotner

Retreating inward from the pain,

I smell the sweetness of her hair

As we move along the path. I strain

Uphill, dragging muddied weight to where

Headstones squat like sacred peaks between

Mowed grass where walked mourning crones.

Stoic statues weathered, weeping, still serene,

Guarding lengthy rows of buried bones.

We halt. Crows pass, loud caws abating.

A portal beyond the pale awaits, silent.

The gaping hole lies open, waiting, waiting

For my dearest here quiet, broken, spent.

Farewell, sweet beauty, unfaithful miss.

I weep. Red lipstick on blue, icy lips

Beckons. Entranced, I take one final kiss

Before tossing splendor into the dark abyss.

Goodbye my love, goodbye.


In addition to poetry, Jack also writes a Celtic mystery series set in the 5th century. Many who settled in the Ozarks came here from the land of the Celts, and their descendants have kept some of the old ways alive though storytelling and more. Wander far enough in the hills and hollers and you just may come across folks paying homage to the ways of old and safeguarding traditions from one generation to the next. Having my own share of Celtic blood I appreciate the old legends and lore.  One such story is the story of Samhain, the original Halloween. This comes from the gifted writer Ali Isaac, “guardian of Irish mythology.” Here’s the tale:

People are watching a huge bonfire, a tradition with easter in Nort-West Europe.

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.

The ancient Irish divided their year into four seasons punctuated by the festivals of Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, according to the equinoxes and solstices. Samhain lies between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

At this time of year, the ancient people would have been very busy preparing for winter. They would have been storing their grain crops, bringing in their cattle and other livestock to lower winter pastures where they would be safer from starving predators; the weakest and least likely to survive the winter would be slaughtered for their meat, and so began the task of meat preservation. Firewood or turf would be collected and stacked up to keep the home hearths burning, homes shored up against the ravages of winter sure to come. Celebrating Samhain was a way of giving thanks for the bounty of Summer they had been given, rejoicing at the completion of all their hard work and preparation, and a time to welcome in the new year.

The lighting of huge bonfires was central to the celebrations. Not only did fire represent the nurturing heat and light of the sun, but it possessed cleansing and purification powers, and brought the blessings of the Gods. Evidence of these huge fires have been found at Tlachta on the Hill of Ward, an ancient site known to be associated with the festival of Samhain, and also at Uisneach, where fires were lit to celebrate Beltaine.

As with Beltaine, all hearth fires would be extinguished in anticipation of this most significant event. As the golden fiery orb of the sun slipped beyond the horizon and darkness took hold, huge communal bonfires were lit. Torches would be dipped into the sacred fire and carefully carried home to rekindle the hearth fires, thus representing the power of the sun keeping the dark winter at bay in peoples homes, and bringing the Gods blessings to the inhabitants. It must have been a quite magical and transformative experience.

It was believed that at Samhain, the veil between the mortal world and the Otherworld was very thin, and that the spirits of the ancestors could cross over and walk amongst the living again. There seemed to have been no fear in this; the ancestors were welcomed by laying a place for them at the dinner table, or leaving out food for them.

Read the rest at Ali’s website. If Irish mythology appeals to you, be sure to check out Ali’s wonderful books here.


Whatever your beliefs, wishing you a magical weekend!


Of Legend, Of Life


As promised, here’s another post about Ozark magic, folklore, and superstition. This one was written by  Joshua Heston and first appeared on June 11, 2014 on the State of the Ozarks website.

As I did while researching my series, Joshua drew upon the work of folklorist Vance Randolph, who traveled throughout the Ozarks in the 1920s and 1930s talking to the hillfolk whose families have called these hills and hollers home for generations.

I’ll note that Randolph, as the scholar and researcher he was, recorded those conversations faithfully, to include explicit descriptions and graphic narratives some might find amusing but others might consider the tales impolite. (If you’re easily offended, look elsewhere.)  If what you seek is a better understanding of the region and its customs, Randolph is an excellent source. As noted  on the back cover of the 1947 edition of Randolph’s Ozark Superstitions:

The Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas has long been an enclave of resistance to innovation and “newfangled” ideas. Many of the old-time superstitions and customers have been nurtured and kept alive through the area’s relative isolation and the strong attachment of the hillfolk to these old attitudes….Through casual conversations rather than by direct questioning, he has been able gradually to compile a singularly authentic record of Ozark superstition. His book contains a vast amount of folklorist material, including legends, beliefs, ritual verses and sayings, and odd practices of the hillpeople, plus a wealth of general cultural data.

To understand the Ozarks, one must understand the hillfolk and their roots–their fears, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. My thanks to Joshua for allowing me to repost this in its entirety.


Ozark Magic & Hoodo

Our rational, scientific world filled with textbook knowledge and an overabundance of electronic equipment has little room for the unknown or inexplicable.

“Faith” is carefully relegated to quiet, predictable corners of our lives where it won’t interfere with the larger, homogenized world around us. And old beliefs — let’s just call it superstitious folklore and be done with it — are left in the increasingly dim past or the pages of a dusty library book.

North America is an amalgamation of peoples — and an amalgamation of beliefs. It is common knowledge many Europeans — Protestant sects and Catholics alike — fled to the New World to avoid religious persecution.

But how many escaped Europe only to be persecuted for their beliefs here — beliefs animistic and pagan? We’ll likely never know the real numbers for people hiding in the shadows rarely keep accurate roll calls.

“A moment after he said he could see a great serpent moving about the room, and became considerably excited. I saw nothing with any definite shape, but thought that black clouds were forming about me. I felt I must fall into a trance if I did not struggle against it, and that the influence which was causing this trance was out of harmony with itself, in other words, evil.” — page 34, The Celtic Twilight, W.B. Yeats

Across the world, oppressed peoples have oft-retreated to the wild places for safety: the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Forest, the mountains of Haiti, of Appalachia, the bayous of Louisiana, and the rough hill country of the Ozarks all became — at one time or another — refuge for those civilization attempted to destroy.

And it is there the lines between dark and light, magic and faith, heaven and hell, can become thin indeed.

The Ozark Mountains were a meeting place of diverse and underground cultures: Native American tribes (the Delaware, Osage, Cherokee), African-American slaves, wild, tempestuous Pentecostals, and dark, Europeans sects rarely found in the history books.

An amalgamation of ideas — some secret and hidden away, some loudly expressed — came together in these hills ultimately populated by a sequestered people not in the habit of sharing their ways with outsiders.

Vance Randolph would write, sometime in the 1940s, “Some of them [Ozarkers] will even deny that they ever heard of witches or witchmasters. The truth is, however, that a great many Ozarkers do believe these things. I meet people everyday who are firm believers in witchcraft, and I have been personally acquainted with more than a score of so-called witches myself.”

To modern sensibilities, this is the stuff of legend, of mythology and pointless folklore.

To those who believe, however, it is life and power.

The tangle of cultural influences hang like a mass of river vines over dark water. Truly, how different is the interpretation of Mark 16 — “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them” — and the rituals of Vodou’s Damballah, a snake loa celebrated in New Orleans for life and wisdom?

“Of course, we had our snake-handlers too. Those who took up serpents, they were called. They were good people, and I noticed others seemed afraid to say anything against them, because they showed such love, and wore such sweet countenances. You’ve got to walk a straight walk, walk a good walk, walk with real faith if you’re going to pick up one of those rattlesnakes fresh out of the mountains.”— page 26, Up On Melody Mountain, by Betty Jean Robinson

Into this land came dispossessed Christian sects, European witchcraft cults, faith healers, Indian medicine men, hoodoo practitioners (the “country cousin” of vodou). Join with that the Ozarks’ dark places of the earth — deep and mysterious holes in the mountains and dim, shadowy coves — and you have a hidden culture no less real than the supernatural religions of West Africa or Southeast Asia.

These old mountains are littered with place names reflective of a darker past: Devil’s Den (Notch), the Devil’s Backbone (Ozark County, Missouri), the Devil’s Kitchen (Cassville), the Devil’s Racetrack (Welcome Home), Devil’s Well (Aker’s Ferry), Devil’s Rock Pile (Douglas County, Missouri), Devil’s Half-Acre (Mena), Devil’s Promenade (Joplin).

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” reads Exodus 22:18 and more than a few back country churchgoers took that word literally, giving strength to what Vance Randolph would record as “witch masters, white witches, witch doctors, faith doctors, goomer doctors and conjure folks,” —

“I once knew a man who spent half-an-hour or so every evening playing with a wooden spite doll, which was dressed to resemble a local woman who could ‘do things.’ Time after time he would thrust the little image into the fireplace, until the feet touched the glowing embers, and then snatch it out again. The expression on his face was most unpleasant. I am quite indifferent to the ordinary superstitions of the hillfolk. I visit graveyards at night, shoot cats on occasion, burn sassafras wood without a tremor. And yet, something akin to horror gripped me, as I watched the witch master’s sadistic foolery. I should not care to have that man burning a poppet wrapped in my undershirt.“ — page 289, Ozark Magic & FolkloreVance Randolph.

It is a history of persecuted peoples — the lost and wandering — despised and misunderstood by the civilizations around them, all hidden away from a larger world. It is a story of quests for power and security, love and revenge.

Ultimately, this is a story of choices between light and dark, heaven and hell, all in those strange in-between places where the lines are inexplicably blurred.

Perhaps it is not just old timey folklore after all.

–Joshua Heston (June 11, 2014)


To read more by Joshua Heston and to learn more about the Ozarks, visit, a site “dedicated to the celebration and preservation of Ozark culture.”

Gone to the Grave

Having just visited the Eureka Springs cemetery for the Silent Voices living history tour, this post seems perfectly timed. I’m reblogging a book review of Gone to the Grave, which was written by the scholar and researcher Abby Burnett, gives us a fascinating snapshot of the customs and traditions practiced in the Ozarks for generations. My thanks to fellow Arkansas author Jack Cotner, whose work ranges from poetry to short stories to novels. His most recent work, Mystery of the Death Hearth, is an expertly crafted murder mystery involving the Celtic and Roman cultures as they might have been in the 5th century. I highly recommend it!


The leaves cross over our graveyards

When the cold wind blows and raves

They whirl and scatter on the frozen ground

Then settle on the sunken graves

They put me to mind of the children of the earth

The mournful condition of us all

We are fresh and green in the spring of the year

And are blown in the grave in the fall.

–Florence Elizabeth Rutherford, 1873-1889

Rutherford Cemetery, Independence County Arkansas


Abby Burnett’s Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950 is an interesting, intriguing read exploring the traditions surrounding death, local customs and rituals concerning bereavement, and the burial practices in the Arkansas Ozarks. It is excellent in its research, narrative, and visual presentation. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in such subject matter.

I had the pleasure to meet author Abby Burnett, a former freelance newspaper reporter, at the Books In Bloom event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas May 2015 and again this past week during her presentation at the Fayetteville, Arkansas Public Library. Her speaking and presentation abilities are every bit as impressive as her knowledge and expertise on Arkansas burial history and customs.


 “This painstakingly researched and thoroughly engaging book is as much an anthropological and sociological study as it is a historical and folklorist account of death, dying, and burial in the Arkansas Ozarks…there is virtually no source of information that Burnett hasn’t explored—epitaphs, business ledgers, funeral home records, obituaries, WPA questionnaires, health department regulations, oral history interviews, ministers’ journals, censuses, mortality schedules, doctors’ notes, undertakers’ record books, historical photographs, museum collections, and newspaper accounts…”

–Allyn Lord, Director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas


I hear a voice you cannot hear

Which says I must not stay,

I see a hand you cannot see

Which beckons me away.

–S. N. Lyle, 1875-1932

Lowes Creek Cemetery, Franklin County, Arkansas


I previously hosted Abby Burnett here on the blog. She shared some wonderful stories about her research, to include burial customs involving pets (something she’s continuing to research). You can find that here.

Jack Cotner’s name may be familiar to you, as well. That’s because I chose one of Jack’s poems (Do the Dead Call?) to read on air as part of National Public Radio’s National Poetry Month. And if you like poetry with a bit of a twist, here’s another of his that’s perfect for the season: Goodbye, My Love, Goodbye.

I also featured Jack’s book Mystery of the Death Hearth on this site. Find that here. That same post includes information about his short story collection titled Storytellin’: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas

As you can see, the Ozarks are home to some terrific writers. I highly recommend all these books!