Spotlight: Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries

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!

Sue Owens Wright

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?

Dusty and me

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.

 

Dolly (left) and Patience, on Kiva Beach at Lake Tahoe

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

 

How to Spot Fake Authors

In my last post I mentioned that author Courtney Milan offers excellent suggestions to help writers whose work has been stolen. For readers, the question remains: how can you spot fake authors? You can’t rely on price alone, since many real authors and reputable publishers may hold short-term sales and post promotional offers. And some writers are truly prolific and turn multiple books out in a year. (Not me. In fact, I might be in the running for Slowest Writer on the Planet.)

For insight, I turned to acclaimed author Lynne Connolly who writes historical, contemporary, and paranormal romance through Kensington Publishing Corporation and Tule Publishing. She’s a dedicated writer who cares about the art and craft of writing, and about the readers who deserve the best we can offer.

I came across Lynne’s “how to spot a fake” in the comments section of Nora Roberts’ blog post and am sharing excerpts here with her written permission. I’ll note she’s writing this from the perspective of her genre. Clever readers (you!) can easily tailor the list for just about any genre.

While there’s no one guaranteed way to spot a fake, Lynne suggests readers dig a little deeper if they see three or more of the following traits:

1. An alliterative name (Lord knows why, but a lot of them do that).

2. Only on Amazon, and enrolled in KU.

3. Romance writer (because I haven’t looked at other genres).

4. Single woman on cover, taken from a stock site. For historical romance they use a woman in a wedding dress and then colour it. Very often with garish colours to attract the attention.

5. The book is permanently 99 cents.

6. No photo of the author, or one taken from a stock photo site.

7. Hundreds of 5 star reviews, with a bunch of 1 and 2 stars which say the book is badly edited, inconsistent, poor grammar etc. When a poor review is put up, they usually buy some more to keep it off the top.

8. Somebody you’ve never heard of, or met, but is, or claims to be, a USA Today best seller. She never goes to conventions, she isn’t a member of a professional organisation like the RWA, RNA or Ninc.

9. Recently they’ve started doing very basic websites, usually on Wix (presumably because it’s free and fast). But they do have the same pattern. The individuals who buy their books will take a bit more care, but the groups will not.

Oh yes, and you look at the excerpt, then at the 5 star reviews and wonder if they were reading the same book!

***

You can find Lynne Connolly online at lynneconnolly.com or on her blog at lynneconnolly.blogspot.co.uk. She’s also on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter @lynneconnolly.

***

In my experience, real authors–from the Big League to the stumbling newbie–care about the craft and their readers. We have trackable digital footprints. Read our blogs. Follow us on social media. Subscribe to our newsletters. Check us out in libraries and bookstores. Send us email or invite us to your online discussion groups–we love to talk to readers almost as much as we love to write!

And speaking of real authors, come back next week to meet Sue Owens Wright and enjoy a blurb from her award-winning book Ears for Murder. If you love dogs, you’re going to love her Beanie & Cruiser series!

Fighting Back

“The reader deserves honesty.”

Nora Roberts

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, Nora Roberts’ post Plagiarism, Then and Now is worth your time and serious reflection. In that post she shares her own heart-wrenching experience and confronts what she calls “this ugly underbelly of legitimate self-publishing.” It’s both humbling and awe-inspiring that a writer of her stature would stand and fight in defense of honest authors, whatever publishing path they choose.

I hope you’ll read the post in its entirety.

***

The more I read about the plagiarist-pirate-thief Cristiana Serruya the worse the story becomes. While it’s possible her thievery did not extend to mystery fiction, it’s unfortunately quite probable that another wordsnatcher is out there raiding our work. (For the record, I cannot claim to have coined wordsnatcher; a quick search online turned up this post on the No Bad Language blog.) If you’re a writer whose work has been stolen, Courtney Milan has excellent suggestions to help you here.

I have to thank Nora Roberts for linking to Courtney Milan’s site, as she’s a new-to-me author. I checked out her website and discovered she’d posted this:

If you’re just discovering my books and want to know what to read first, here are some recommendations. If you’ve already read all my books, and want to know which authors I enjoy reading here are some more recommendations.

I appreciate writers who take the time to spotlight other authors. I also appreciate those writers, their publicists (hat tip to Laura who took time to answer my email about this post), and other support staff who share behind-the-scenes details and information. My latest discovery is the Index O’Answers on Nora Roberts’ blog.

p.s. If you’re curious about the different legitimate paths to publishing, check Jane Friedman’s website to see the chart Key Book Publishing Paths (updated annually).

Showcase: Into The Light

Note: I received a complimentary copy from Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours  and enjoyed the book so much that I purchased a copy. Look for my review very soon.

Into the Light

by Darcia Helle

on Tour February 1-28, 2019

Synopsis:

Max Paddington refuses to go into the light until he finds his killer. This presents a dilemma, since Max is even less competent as a spirit than he was as a live person. No one sees or hears him and he can’t manage to get anywhere or do anything on his own.

Joe Cavelli is a private investigator, living an ordinary life. Then one day he walks across a parking lot, gets yelled at by a ghost, and his life only gets stranger from there.

Max and Joe team up to find Max’s killer. In the process, they form an unlikely friendship and change each other’s lives in ways they never expected.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Paranormal Suspense
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: July 14th 2011
Number of Pages: 250
ISBN: 146364020X (ISBN13: 9781463640200)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Audible

Read an excerpt:

Joe fumbled with the lock on his door. Once inside, he flipped the deadbolt and headed straight for his bedroom. He didn’t bother with lights, didn’t undress. He sprawled face down on the rumpled sheets and exhaled a long sigh.

Mysterious voices and dead people. This night could not get any crazier. Lydia must have spiked his drink with some sort of hallucinogenic. Maybe she thought he’d enjoy the trip. Or maybe she was crazy. He should call Chris, make sure he was okay.

“Not a bad place, Joe. You live alone?”

Joe shuddered, a tiny shriek escaping his lips. He sounded like a scared girl. Jesus. “Don’t do that!” he shouted.

“Sorry,” Max said. “I forgot that you can’t see me. I’m still here. Ain’t that cool? I wasn’t sure. Thought I might get stuck in your car, like I was stuck in that awful parking lot. But I blinked and here I am, in your place.”

“Perfect.”

“So have you thought about it? Will you help me?”

“Help you what? You’re not even real!”

“I am real. Well, like we discussed before, I’m as real as any dead person could be.”

“Go away.”

“I can’t. I mean, even if I wanted to, I don’t know how. I can’t figure this ghost thing out.”

“There is no dead guy in my house.”

“Hey, you must have a computer, right?” Max said. “Everyone has a computer these days. Look it up. Even us nobodies have to make the news when we get murdered. You’ll see. I’m real!”

Joe flipped over and stared into the darkness. Nothing there. Not even a tiny blip. No weird shadows, no floating orbs. So much for what they claimed on all those ghost-hunter programs.

Before he could give it much thought, Joe found himself grabbing his laptop from the top of his dresser. He sat on the edge of his bed, waiting for it to boot up, and thinking about how crazy this all was. He hadn’t watched the news last night or at any time today. Someone could have been murdered in that parking lot yesterday.

But a ghost, following him home? Crazy.

As he opened a browser page, that nasally, disembodied voice said, “Max. Max Paddington. I was at Chili’s. Then I got shot in that bank parking lot.”

Joe typed the name into a Google search. He found the story on TBO.com. He scanned the article, not sure whether he should be happy or mortified. A man named Maxwell Paddington had been murdered in that parking lot last night. Shot in the head by an unknown assailant. The police had no leads, though they believed it might have been a carjacking gone bad.

“Carjacking,” Max sputtered. “How ridiculous is that? It wasn’t about my car! That person shot me. Just shot me!”

“What person?” Joe heard himself ask.

“I don’t know! Someone in a ball cap. Or a cap, anyway. I don’t know if it was a ball cap or some other kind of cap.”

“Someone wearing a hat shot you.”

“Yes! Because of my wife. She was mad about those golf clubs.”

Joe dropped his head into his hands. “No. Stop talking.”

“But—”

“Stop. Talking.”

The room fell silent. Joe waited a moment, then did what he always did when he was in trouble. He dug his cell phone from his pocket and called his big brother.

“Jimmy,” he said when his brother picked up. “Did I wake you?”

“No,” Jimmy said. “What’s up?”

“I think I might have lost my mind.”

Jimmy chuckled. “That’s not news. You lost that years ago.”

“I’m serious, Jimmy. I’m hearing voices.”

“Voices? What kind of voices?”

“Well, not really voices. A voice. One voice.”

“One voice? What the hell are you talking about?”

Joe quickly filled his brother in on Max. He heard the desperation in his own voice and forced himself to slow down. This was crazy. He was crazy. That was the only explanation.

After a brief silence, Jimmy said, “A ghost named Max followed you home? That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Yeah. I don’t feel crazy, Jimmy. I swear. But crazy people don’t ever really know they’re crazy, do they?”

“You’re not crazy, Joe.”

“The guy is real. Not real, like I can see him. But he was alive yesterday and now he’s dead. How the hell can this be happening?”

“Do you remember having invisible playmates when you were a kid?”

“This is not an invisible playmate!”

“I know that.” Jimmy paused, cleared his throat. “You heard voices when you were a kid. All the time. I’d walk into the room and you’d be holding a conversation with someone I couldn’t see or hear. At first, you’d do it only at home. Mom and Dad thought you had an invisible playmate, like a lot of kids do.”

“I remember that,” Joe said. “Vaguely. Felt real to me then.”

“Maybe because it was.”

“What?”

“Pretty soon you didn’t just do it at home. We’d be out at a store or a restaurant and you’d start talking to invisible people. Tell us their stories. Freaked Mom out. Dad thought you were schizophrenic. Made Mom take you to a shrink.”

“Jesus. I don’t remember that.”

“You were young. Maybe four.”

As Joe listened to Jimmy talk about the ghosts from his childhood, fragments of memories surfaced. All those voices talking to him. He’d thought it was normal, that everyone could hear them. Soon he’d realized how wrong he was, and he’d tried to keep them secret. His father, then the psychiatrist, had insisted there were no spirits talking to him. All of it was his imagination. His father had demanded he stop pretending and acting like a baby. The psychiatrist had scared him with his constant questions and disapproving eyes. Not long afterward, the voices had faded away.

“You’re saying I really heard the voices of dead people?” Joe said.

“That’s what Mom always thought.”

“She told you that?”

“Not directly. I heard her talking to Aunt Jeannie a few times.”

Joe sat with the phone pressed against his ear. He could find no words. Which was worse, being crazy or having real conversations with dead people?

“You should call Mom,” Jimmy said.

“She’s in Vegas. Left this morning with a bunch of her friends.”

“You want me to fly down there? I could take a few personal days.”

“No. Thanks. I’m okay.”

“This ghost, what’s he saying to you?”

Joe gave a humorless laugh. “He says his wife killed him over some golf clubs.”

“Well, there you go.”

“What?”

“He needs Joe Cavelli, Super Sleuth, to solve his murder.”

***

Excerpt from Into the Light by Darcia Helle. Copyright © 2019 by Darcia Helle. Reproduced with permission from Darcia Helle. All rights reserved.

 

Darcia Helle

Author Bio:

Darcia Helle is a Massachusetts native, who escaped the New England winters to write in the Florida sunshine. She lives with her husband in a home full of spoiled rescue animals and an occasional stray lizard. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative.

Catch Up With Darcia Helle On:
darciahelle.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

02/01 Showcase @ Waterside Kennels Mysteries
02/02 Showcase @ tfaulcbookreviews
02/03 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
02/04 Review @ Nesies Place
02/05 Showcase @ Eclectic Moods
02/06 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/07 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
02/07 Showcase @ Im All About Books
02/08 Review @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
02/08 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
02/09 Showcase @ Just Books
02/10 Guest post @ Mythical Books
02/11 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
02/12 Interview @ Cozy Up WIth Kathy
02/13 Review @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
02/14 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
02/15 Interview @ BooksChatter
02/16 Review @ Life at 17
02/18 Showcase @ Lisa-Queen of Random
02/19 Review @ Stacking My Book Shelves!
02/21 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/22 Interview @ Crack A Book Cafe
02/26 Review @ Instagram – Love My Dane Sailor
02/27 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Darcia Helle. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on February 1, 2019 and runs through March 1, 2019. Void where prohibited.

Enter to win: Rafflecopter Giveaway

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Kids, Dogs, and Mysteries!

Long-time readers of this site know I like to support and promote other writers. Today’s post introduces Deborah Taylor-French and the first in her Dog Leader mystery series.  Deborah is an active arts educator, writer, and blogger.  Read on to learn more about this author and her mystery series.

What do you and your sleuth have in common?

Although I am not the protagonist of my book, there are a few similarities. Born and raised in Northern California I lived in a few small towns. My heroine, Nevada, lives in a small fictional town in that geographic area. The best part of my young life happened while living along the Avenue of the Giants. In my early teens, my Uncle Scott gave me a horse. Due to a need to exercise my mare, Mischief, I gained enormous freedom. We left our small town to explore trails beyond the Eel River. In comparison, Nevada’s grandmother gives her a rescued keeshond dog to raise. Due to the need to train and exercise her dog, Nevada also begins to revel in her able to roam farther and farther afield.

In contrast to Nevada, I had trouble keeping friendships in junior high. I needed strength to withstand the loneliness, and the social rejection of those years. Nevada fights for her friendships. So, I admire her loyalty and determination.

 

Tell us about Red Sky At Night.

This novel entertains, excites, and shows readers, realistic young teens. Nevada and friends, Lee and Amy, run their own investigation. Each one must find ways to gain freedom and take chances to be more independent. On the way, they find adults who can be trusted with secrets, plus adults who behave badly. Like children everywhere these friends try to keep his or her parent from freaking out as their take bigger risks.

On their way tracking a criminal, each fifth-grade student must hide their deeper resolve to stop the wildfires. The three friends also struggle to trust each other. Naturally, parents, school work, and other pressures add to their individual and group trials. Close calls plague all three kids as they dive deeper into the mystery of the fires.

What do reviewers say?

“Dogs, horses and a 12-year-old animal lover with justice in heart is the core of this engaging mystery.”

“Nevada…is independent, smart, and compassionate.”

“Fell in love with Nevada. She’s a smart cookie!”

“Fantastic book to give to middle schoolers and enjoy yourself!”

***

To purchase a copy, click here.

 

Holiday Giveaway! Simply sign up for Deborah’s email list for the drawing held on December 31st. Win one of three paperback copies of her book.

***

About the author:

Deborah Taylor-French, Photo by Cindy Pavlinac

Deborah Taylor-French is the author of Red Sky at Night: Dog Leader Mysteries. She blogs at Dog Leader Mysteries. Her stories brim with action, dogs, positive dog leadership, and animal rescue.  The true story of Sydney’s adoption, “Punk Rocker with A Poodle Brain” was published in “Vintage Voices Four Part Harmony.” Her fiction and memoir has been published in over a dozen volumes of the  Redwood Writers Anthology, Changing Hurt to Hope, and in the North Bay Business Journal.

As an arts educator, Deborah has led over a hundred residences and teacher workshops. An active member of Redwood Writers, Deborah continues to serve as Author Support Facilitator. Redwood Writers is the largest branch of the California Writers Club.

Read an excerpt:

I stood between Lee and Amy as we peered down the long driveway we believed led to Morton’s house. Enormous cypress trees lined the drive, the twisted trunks forming an opening to another world. Dead branches jutted over the dirt driveway, which seemed to go on forever. Thick dust cloaked everything as if no one had been here in ages. Dust slept on tangled tree roots and low branches. Dust clustered on top of the split-rail fence. The wood fencing stopped after four sections, giving way to rusted barbed wire strung between the trees, hammered into the aged trunks. The place had an eerie look. Broken branches like broken bones seemed to warn, Stay back—or you’ll be sorry.

“You’re wrong,” Lee grumbled. “Nobody lives here. We ran here for nothing.”

I muttered, “Um, we followed the map. Right?” I twisted the loop on Henry’s leash.

Hands on hips, Amy said, “It’s got to be the place.”

“Yep,” I said. “Lee, this matches the number on Morton’s envelope.” The numbers on the mailbox at 1505 Cider Springs had faded, and each missing numeral had left outlines in rust. That was not our problem.

On the way here, Amy had set a brisk pace. Complaining he didn’t like feeling sweaty, Lee had lagged behind the whole way. Now the three of us stood facing a sign: Private Property, No Trespassing. The freshly painted, all-caps letters had been underlined in red marker. A smaller Keep Out sign was tacked below, the letters sloppy and dripping.

In the dark cypress shade, I felt lost. Was there a house somewhere at the end of the drive? The driveway bent, leading out of sight. Then I spied tire tracks in the dirt, and my gut spun like a hamster on a wheel.

Lee ended our silence. “Too desolate. I say we go back.” He squinted at me from behind his rectangular glasses, which perched askew on his nose. “Race to the park gate?”

I snorted. “You think you might beat Amy? Or me?” I choked back a laugh because I needed his help. “Lee, aren’t you a tiny bit interested to see if Morton lives here?” I bent and gave Henry a splash of water from my bottle. “You said you wanted to have him arrested for animal abuse.”

Once I’d straightened, I smiled. “Don’t you think a no-trespassing sign is an invitation to adventure? Grand has ignored no-trespassing signs dozens of times to save abandoned pets.” Listening for any sign of interest, I noticed Amy standing motionless, squarely facing the gate. At least she was game.

Lee slouched on a gatepost. “Aw, you just made that up. No grown-up thinks that.”

I said with forced confidence, “Come on. Have a look.”

“Let’s not,” he said, flattening his stand-up hair.

Amy hissed, “Sure, stay here.” Then she ducked under the bar of the gate. “Nevada, let’s go.”

“No way am I going to stay behind,” he said hotly. “Here’s a plan: we keep to the trees and dodge out of sight if … if needed.”

“Okay, Professor. Let’s be invisible,” I said, sliding sideways under the bar of the locked gate. On leash, Henry followed under the bottom rail. Then Lee ducked low. All of us walked by the no-trespassing sign and into the trees.

I shivered in the chilly shadows as pinpricks of blue-green light dappled our faces. We wove our way around trees, over roots and dead branches. Then Amy said, “It’s odd that whoever lived or lives here didn’t take care of these …” I nodded, helping Henry around fallen tree trunks and low, sharp branches. A thicket of deadwood under old trees was a huge fire hazard. Even the fields to our left had not been mown as a fire-prevention precaution. The summer-dried grasses were as tall as Amy.

At last, the long drive ended the way I had hoped. “Hey, this is the place I told you about. Remember, I saw it from the cliff? A box-shaped house, a shed, and busted trucks. But where are the horses?” I didn’t see the starving dog or the blue van either.

Lee froze. “Did you hear that?”

“Sure,” Amy said, angling her chin toward a trickle of water that was slowly filling an old bathtub. The trickle built into a small stream and cut a gully through the pasture. As I listened to the spring, a short blowing noise made me jump.

“Ouch!” Lee yelped as I landed on his foot.

“Since when, Nevada, are you scared of horses?”

“Oh.” I turned and saw a skinny white horse. Ears pointed, riveted in our direction, the colt stood alert among the trees as if he were keeping out of sight too. After a minute, his ears flicked, and he relaxed, chewing a mouthful of grass. I gave a long exhale, relaxing too. Then I turned to my friends. They were studying the rundown house. A dense vine hung dangerously low over the front steps. I could only see the bottom of the doorway. Walls of cracked brown stucco and peeling trim boards made me think no one had been here for half a year.

Someone must have been here, though, because someone had slapped turquoise paint on a section of house trim and then left the paintbrush to stiffen. The bright color stuck out on the dead grass.

Fresh-cut firewood was stacked between the house and the shed. The shed’s door jutted open. Inside, a jumble of gas cans, stacks of junk, rags, and piles of newspaper made me gasp. “Those things—there—fire setters use them.” I pointed. “See? Right there.”

I brought Henry as I walked toward the shed to investigate.

When a dog snarled, Henry and I whipped around. Morton’s starving dog slunk out of the trees not far from the skinny white colt. The dog!

“We found the dog!” I cried.

The dog dashed toward the open front door. He made a pitiful spectacle, snarling and cringing. After circling Henry and me, he cowered. Too afraid.

Henry’s ears pricked. His nose pointed behind us.

A man charged out of the house. “What the hell?”

Morton.

For a long moment, we froze in place.

Morton yelled, “Hell and damnation!” Hobbling toward the dog, he unleashed a string of swear words.

Henry burst into intense barking. The starving dog ran from Morton, cowering behind the woodpile. As the poor dog stood frozen in fear, Henry and I sprinted toward him. As we charged, I reminded myself that running at a scared dog was a stupidly dangerous thing to do. The hair on the dog’s back rose as he bared his fangs. Three feet from the woodpile we stopped. My heart banged a crazed rhythm.

Instead of biting, the starving dog flipped on his back. Whimpering, belly up, he seemed to say, Don’t hurt me.

“You can’t starve him anymore!” I yelled at Morton. “I’m rescuing him.”

Instead of answering, Morton hurried stiff-legged into the shed. When he strutted back out, he was carrying a shotgun. Red and purple lines spread over his shrunken apple of a face.

“Now I’ve got you, you little witch.” Pointing the shotgun at me, he laughed.

A part of me left my body, flying into the blue sky. This was crazy. Would Morton kill me? Over a dog? I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t budge.

“Get back,” he snapped, swinging his weapon toward Lee and Amy. Jerking the gun muzzle back at me, he said, “Get over there with them.”

“Okay.” Amy’s voice rang high-pitched. “We’ll leave now.”

“Too late. Can’t any of you morons read? This is private property.” Morton walked toward me. “Dammit. Move back, back with them.”

As he advanced, I walked backward, matching each of his steps with one of my own. Never taking my eyes from his weapon, I steadily pulled Henry’s leash. Henry was straining against the leash so much that he was suspended from his harness, his front paws hanging in the air, his muzzle fixed on Morton. My face flushed, and I stopped. Henry had the right idea.

I started walking toward Morton. “You won’t shoot.”

“Nevada,” Amy warned, “d-d-don’t be reckless.”

Morton grunted. I grunted back. Risking a sideways glance, I stumbled. Lee’s eyes stayed fixed on the shotgun. Before I knew what to do, Morton fired. The pellets hit the woodpile, sending pieces flying.

Morton chuckled as I raced to Amy and Lee. I urged, “Quick, into the woods.”

My ankle twisted, and I fell headlong into Amy and Lee. We all hit the ground together. My head landed on Lee’s arm, and my knee hit the hard pasture between Amy’s sprawled legs. The leash, looped over my wrist, dragged Henry on top of us.

Lee moaned, “Oh no, you broke my arm.” His face contorted in pain.

Again, a blast hit something. Not such a long way off.

Don’t shoot!” I yelled. “Don’t shoot anymore.”

Amy untangled her leg from mine. Henry kept pulling tighter, struggling to get free. My ankles buckled. At last, I broke free, the leash stretched tight around my knees. Two seconds later, Morton walked out of the house, holding his weapon low in one arm. With the other hand, he pressed a phone to his ear. “Yes, I’ll wait for the officer,” he said with a crooked smirk.

***

Excerpt from Red Sky At Night by Deborah Taylor-French. Copyright © 2018 by Deborah Taylor- with permission of author. All rights reserved.