It’s been a busy week here at dogmysteries.com! Thanks go to our fabulous guest Susan Conant for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at her Dog Lover’s Mystery Series and her life as a writer.
As promised, everyone who posted a comment either here or on Facebook was entered into the drawing for a gift copy of Susan’s new book, Sire and Damn, the 20th in her series. I used www.random.org to generate a list and Susan picked a number (without knowing who’s where on the list) to make this as random as possible. And the winner is….Ramla Zareen Ahmad. Congratulations, Ramla! Please send a message to me [dogmysteries at gmail] and I’ll have your gift copy delivered right away!
I want to thank everyone who joined us for this week’s conversation with Susan. For those just discovering her series, you can see the complete list and purchase copies at Amazon. To keep up with the latest news about the series, follow Susan on Facebook.
Earlier this week, Susan Conant (seven-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Award) came by to discuss her Dog Lover’s Mystery Series. Today, she’s back to talk about the writing process and changes in the publishing industry–something that impacts writers and readers alike. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Susan so we can enter you into the drawing for a gift copy of her new book, Sire and Damn. We’ll announce the winner here Saturday, so check back!
Writing a long-running series takes talent, vision, and persistence. Susan introduced us to dog writer and dog trainer Holly Winter and her Alaskan Malamutes back in 1990. To my way of thinking, staying true to the heart of the series while allowing your characters to grow and change and learn takes a special kind of writer. Susan is that kind of writer, as evidenced by the enthusiastic reception each book in the series earns. Here’s what one fan has to say about Sire and Damn, the 20th in the series:
Susan Conant’s Dog Lover’s Mysteries are always a doggy good read, and this one is no exception. While the plot is strong enough for general readers, Sire and Damn (like all in this series) is a particular treat for Dog People (you know who you are!). There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s always such a relief to know someone truly *gets* what it’s like to be all dogs, all the time, even while solving murder mysteries.
Now here’s Susan, talking about the craft of writing:
What’s most important for you in telling a story?
My connection with my readers is everything. I want to lure in my readers so that they are lost in my story. In other words, what I’m after is hypnosis. Or seduction. I want to cast spells.
There seems to be a trend to “push” the murder to the very front of the story. What’s your opinion of this expectation that we produce a body by chapter 3?
Incredibly, there are still editors who will demand a rewrite unless the murder happens at the beginning of a book. Some editors, I suspect, assume that the writer is unfamiliar with a hackneyed formula that the writer is, in fact, eager to avoid. The formula: The murder occurs. As the saying goes, nobody cares about the corpse; the investigation is everything. The detective, amateur or professional, interviews suspects, collects evidence, and discovers that the murder was committed in some bizarre fashion, often by the least likely suspect. It’s a formula to be avoided unless your aim is to cure the reader’s insomnia.
The publishing industry has changed significantly since your first book. How have those changes impacted you and your series?
Hurrah! I am free! No more deadlines ever again! No more trying to be polite about cover art I hate! No more grinding my teeth about prices I think are too high!
I have just self-published my twentieth Dog Lover’s Mystery, Sire and Damn. I chose my own editor, Jim Thomsen, and my own proofreader, Christina Tinling. Jovana Shirley did the formatting. The gifted Terry Albert did the Kindle cover and the cover for the trade paperback. I love working with the people I chose, people who have become my friends.
Will the entire series be available in Kindle/ebook editions?
Yes. But not immediately.
Some visitors to this site are aspiring mystery writers. Suggestions for them?
Many years ago when my daughter and I were on a panel together at a mystery convention, I blurted out advice to aspiring mystery writers. In saying exactly what I really thought, I managed to annoy and offend some established writers, one of whom took me to task in public. My daughter calls this little event the Foot in Mouth Episode. The experience has left me wary of offering advice to aspiring mystery writers. Advice is usually wasted, anyway; the people who need it seldom take it.
That being said:
Write the kind of book you like to read. Never mind whether anyone else will like it! What’s certain is that if you don’t like it, no one else will, either.
Edit your work. Delete anything that bores you; if you don’t want to read a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole chapter, no one else will, either. Ditch it.
Look up everything. Use Merriam-Webster. Subscribe to the online Chicago Manual of Style. Cultivate pride of craft.
If you intend to self-publish, hire an experienced professional editor. Hire a professional proofreader. Have the book professionally formatted. Hire a professional to prepare the cover. A great many self-published books are amateur junk. They drag all of us down. Please help to lift us up!
Finally—Foot in Mouth, Part 2?—if you have struggled and struggled to write a mystery novel but can’t sense the living presence of the characters, can’t hear them speak, have no idea what happens next, and feel no driving compulsion to tell a story, stop! Consider the possibility that you weren’t born to write mysteries. Go back to reading mysteries. Write nonfiction. Run marathons. Study Mandarin. Grant yourself peace.
Okay, readers and fans: it’s your turn! Leave a comment here, or drop by Susan’s Facebook page, or you can leave a comment on my own Facebook page. If you’ve read the series, let us know if you have a favorite. You’re welcome to ask questions, too! We’ll enter your name in a drawing for a Kindle edition of Sire and Damnto be sent to you (or the gift recipient of your choice). The winner’s name will be posted on Saturday, so be sure to check back.
I’m delighted to share my site this week with the terrific author Susan Conant. A seven-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Award, Susan is the author of the Dog Lover’s Mystery Series. Since publishing A New Leash on Death in 1990, Susan’s given us years of enjoyment as we followed the adventures of dog writer and dog trainer Holly Winter and her Alaskan Malamutes. This year, she’s published Sire and Damn, the 20th in the series, and she’s here to discuss the series and her work as a writer.
Be sure to bookmark the site and return later this week when Susan will return to discuss changes in the publishing industry and talk about the writing process. Leave a comment here or on Facebook (links provided at the end of the post). When you post a comment, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a Kindle edition of Sire and Damnto be sent to you (or the gift recipient of your choice). Now here’s Susan, talking about her series and what’s next:
Along a range of say, lighthearted cozy to dark mystery, how would you describe the overall atmosphere of the series?
Although some of my books deal with serious subjects, my writing is lighthearted. My narrator, Holly Winter, is an extroverted optimist. The same could be said about her malamutes. She loves the world she writes about: she loves the dogs and the dog people. Her affection is, I hope, infectious.
You’ve been writing about Holly Winter (dog writer, trainer, and amateur sleuth) for many years. How has she changed over time?
She has become less judgmental and less naive over the course of the series. Also, in the early books, she is fiercely independent and never intends to marry. As it turns out, marriage suits her well.
Like most professions, the dog world has its own vocabulary, with much of it unfamiliar to people who don’t breed, show, or train dogs. How do you decide what (and how much) to include for readers unfamiliar with dog shows, breeds, or canine behavior?
What’s enough but not too much? It’s essential not to blather on in jargon that will make many readers feel left out, but it’s equally essential not to bore readers senseless by explaining terms they already know or don’t care about. Oy veh! Well, I always explain anything that’s necessary to understand the story. Not every reader will know that frozen means frozen semen! And canine semen at that.
Because I’m inviting readers to visit the world of dog training, breeding, and showing, I also try to make the invitation welcoming to anyone who is a stranger in that world. Furthermore, I love having fun with the eccentric language of the dog world: He bred to her. She has bad fronts. He threw woollies. I love that language. Fortunately, so do the people who are fluent in it!
Do you have a personal favorite in the series?
I’m particularly fond of The Dogfather because I have happy memories of writing the entire book in longhand. It was an utterly impractical way to write a book. I’m not recommending it, and I hope never to do it again. I did it because I had some irrational sense that it was how the book wanted to be written. In my illegible handwriting! But the story flowed, and I had fun.
I now have my first sheltie, Tori, who is my first herding breed and my first small dog. She is certainly a contrast to my malamutes and to the other dogs I’ve owned. I am so crazy about her that I owe her a book. I haven’t decided whether my sheltie story will be a Holly Winter mystery, a stand-alone novel, or the beginning of a series. I have a lot of scrawled notes about the book. Sooner or later, the story will come to me. I am waiting impatiently.
Susan Conant with Tori
Where can fans buy your books?
I own three Kindles, and I have Kindle apps on my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad. I subscribe to Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited. Amazon offers incentives to authors who decide to make their books Amazon exclusives. Amazon has taken over my life. Oh, the question. You can buy my books on Amazon.
Okay, readers and fans: it’s your turn! Leave a comment here, or drop by Susan’s Facebook page, or you can leave a comment on my own Facebook page. If you’ve read the series, let us know if you have a favorite. You’re welcome to ask questions, too! We’ll draw the winner of the Sire and Damn on Saturday, so be sure to leave your comment before then.
This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. As I edit a scene in the forthcoming Dangerous Deeds, I’m reminded that many people assume it’s always the dog’s fault. Even more often, people assume specific types of dogs are aggressors and push to enact breed specific legislation. Like the AKC, my character Maggie Porter will tell you that breed bans don’t address the real issues of owner responsibility and training. (Read the AKC issue analysis here.)
Having been bitten as a small child I can personally testify it’s a scary experience, but in my own case I was the guilty party. I put myself and the dog at risk. Thinking back, I’d agree with dog trainer Victoria Stillwell’s assertion that many dog bites are the result of “a perfect storm of situation and circumstance and environment.” She reminds us to focus on the behavior, not the breed. Here’s the entire clip, which I found posted to the AKC website:
This fact sheet, courtesy of the AKC, highlights key facts and statistics we should all know:
Here are a few links to help make your community a safer place for people and dogs alike: