I’ve heard it said there are close-knit groups of owners and handlers in obedience, agility, conformation, and (I imagine) just about every other dog-related activity. That seems to apply to the world of dog-related fiction, too. Our conversations and emails and social media accounts tend to be chock-full of All Things Dog. We commiserate through the rough times while we’re slogging through drafts, edits, rejections, and rewrites. We encourage and support one another through publication and beyond, and we celebrate when success comes knocking for any one of us. Today, we’re celebrating the latest award earned by author and fellow dog lover Sue Owens Wright.
The Maxwell Medallion is the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious award for excellence. For many, it’s considered the most celebrated award recognizing outstanding writing across myriad media–from newsletters to magazines to blogs to books (and a whole lot more). You can see the entire list of nominees and category winners here. To learn more about DWAA, visit their website.
If you’re already familiar with this series, enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the experiences and inspirations for the books. If Sue is a new-to-you author, I’m glad to have this opportunity to introduce her. If you enjoy mysteries with a regional flair (this one’s set around Lake Tahoe) and love Basset Hounds, here’s an author you’ll want to meet!
Q&A With Sue
You’ve won three Maxwell Awards from the Dog Writers Association of America. What were they awarded for?
Since 2001, I’ve been nominated 12 times for the Maxwell Award and have won this prestigious award twice before for the best writing on the subject of dogs: Best Magazine Feature in 2003 and Best Newspaper Column in 2005. In 2004, I received special recognition from the Humane Society of the United States for a magazine feature I wrote about stray dogs in Greece. Four of the five books in the Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series have been nominated for a Maxwell, but this is my first win for a novel, a dream come true. Third time’s a charm.
Why do you write about dogs?
My relationship with dogs goes back a long way. I had a dog when I was still in the womb. I have an old black and white photo of my mom when she was pregnant with me. In the photo with her is a tan mutt named Dusty. When I was born, there was Dusty, who would be my constant and best companion throughout childhood. I’ve never been without a dog since, and my bond with canines is unbreakable. I’ve lived with dogs, slept with dogs, traveled with dogs, and been sick as a dog with dogs, furry empaths who have been a great source of comfort. I’ve rescued dogs, and they rescued me right back. It stands to reason that I would spend my life writing about woman’s best friend. If there is such a thing as destiny, then for me it came with a friendly bark and a wagging tail.
What else have you written?
Poetry was actually the first writing of mine ever to be published when I was in college. Besides the Beanie and Cruiser mysteries, I have written some nonfiction books, including “150 Activities for Bored Dogs,” “What’s Your Dog’s IQ?” and “People’s Guide to Dog Care.” I also wrote a historical thriller, “The Secret of Bramble Hill.” For a decade, I wrote an award-winning pet care column for Inside, a Sacramento publication. I’ve written essays that were published in newspapers, magazines, literary reviews and anthologies, most notably “Fightin’ Words—25 Years of Provocative Poetry and Prose from the Blue-collar PEN,” along with Norman Mailer and other literary luminaries. I was a columnist and senior writer for Comstock’s Magazine. I have written science articles for a technology magazine and also wrote film scripts for an educational firm.
In what ways are your fictional dogs, Cruiser and Calamity, like your real dogs?
I’ve had eight basset hounds over the years, all but one of them adopted, and they have provided me with plenty of material for my fictional canines. My two rescued male bassets, Bubba Gump and Beau (he graces the book cover of “Ears for Murder” along with my now 16-year-old female, Peaches), inspired the Cruiser character, also a rescue. True to his breed, Cruiser is devoted, easy going, tenacious and stubborn. These low-slung hounds tend to make great speed bumps around the house for their people to trip over—and I have. Calamity, the troublesome basset hound introduced in my fourth book, “Braced for Murder,” is a composite of my two most challenging rescue dogs, “Crazy” Daisy and my fearful little Peaches. Daisy was the worst of the two; I sometimes refer to “Crazy Calamity” in the book. Like Calamity, both Daisy and Peaches were the unfortunate victims of puppy mills and backyard breeders who failed to properly socialize them as puppies. Daisy was an inbred anomaly that no amount of socialization could have helped. She was a strange canine case of Jekyll and Hyde. With her, I learned it is wise never to answer ads placed by someone rehoming an adult dog. There’s usually a good reason they don’t want you to know about. I found that out the hard way with Daisy, but I loved her and didn’t give up on her. Beanie doesn’t give up on Calamity, either.
Why did you decide to set your Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries at Lake Tahoe?
I’ve been traveling to Lake Tahoe since childhood. I was born in a valley, but my heart is in the high country. I have always enjoyed skiing, hiking and bicycling at Lake Tahoe. I once pedaled my bike all the way around the lake, a challenge even for the best cyclists. I discovered why Incline Village is so named.
I have long been inspired by this scenic alpine lake and its surrounding history and folklore, which is why I chose to set my series at Lake Tahoe. It has inspired other writers, too. How could it not? As Mark Twain wrote when he first glimpsed Tahoe’s serene and pristine beauty, the lake is the “fairest picture the whole world affords.” I couldn’t agree more. I often visit Lake Tahoe and wish I could live there. Instead, I live vicariously through my character, Elsie MacBean, who shares a cozy cabin in the woods with her basset hounds, Cruiser and Calamity. The idea for “Howling Bloody Murder,” the first book in my mystery series, came to me while I was sitting on the back deck of my family’s cabin with my own beloved bassets. Peering out into the deep, dark woods, I wondered what might be lurking out there waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting hiker. My imagination carried me away, and that is how the Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series came about.
Read an excerpt:
I quickly discovered that I had made a mistake in allowing Calamity off her leash for our morning walk. Before I could say Fleabiscuit, she scurried off, creating a cyclone of dust in her wake.
“Calamity, come back here!” I shouted, but she showed no sign of slowing her pace. Soon, all I saw was a dirt devil instead of the dog as she vanished from my sight. What had I done? I shouldn’t have trusted that dog off her lead for one instant. Nona would never forgive me if I lost her dog while she was away, just as I’d never have forgiven her if she lost Cruiser.
By the time I caught up with Calamity, I felt like I had sucked up half the mountain into my lungs. I sputtered and coughed, trying to catch my breath from running after her and inhaling all that dust. Why I’m not as svelte as my runway model daughter is anyone’s guess. It seems like I spend most of my time chasing after wayward canines. Cruiser had passed me somewhere along the trail and was busy helping Calamity investigate something. I approached to see what they’d found that was so doggone interesting that they made me run half-way up the mountain to see it. A couple of coyotes spotted us and vanished in a cloud of dust. That could have been the howling I’d heard and what attracted my dogs here. When the dust settled, I discovered something else besides my two hound dogs marking a surviving tree. They had led me straight to a man’s bloody corpse.
Excerpt from Ears for Murder by Sue Owens Wright. Copyright © 2017 by Sue Owens Wright. Reproduced with permission from author. All rights reserved.
Connect with Sue
You can follow Sue on her website at http://www.sueowenswright.com/.
Read her Dog Blog at http://dogearedbooks.blogspot.com/
Her publisher is the small press www.blackopalbooks.com
She’s a featured client with www.breakthroughpromotions.net