Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? That’s certainly true for writers–at least, for some of us. I’m frankly awed by those who produce well-crafted novels every year (and sometimes more often than that) and I’m the first to agree I’m not in that league. Instead, I’m comfortable doing things my way in my own time. Since the major plot lines for the series are drawn from both life and legend, the research process for each book is proving to be an adventure all its own.
Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, tackles two hot topics that are rumbling through the region: land fraud and dog ownership. Researching these real-life issues led me to courthouses, community meetings, newspaper archives, legal records (both on- and off-line) and animal shelters. Along the way I’ve interviewed county deputies, elected officials, and environmentalists as well as kennel owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and community activists. Along the way I learned that people are prone to what scholars term confirmation bias–that is, they’re most likely to believe whatever evidence supports their personal beliefs. They’re vocal in expressing their opinions and quick to dismiss opposing perspectives.
Take the issue of “dangerous dogs” for example. You can find plenty of anecdotal information supporting the position that some specific breeds are inherently dangerous and should be banned. Look further and you’ll find scholarly studies disputing that. Based on these studies, it would appear that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a flawed approach while Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) takes a more responsible view. In summary:
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation – breed-specific legislation (BSL) and breed-neutral legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multi-factorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog’s behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations – regardless of a dog’s appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our breed legislation page. For public safety and to reduce dog bite incidents, the data and scientific studies both validate that the most effective solutions are breed-neutral and address the human end of the leash.
While there are some who may question the value of this source, the inclusion of scholarly studies, reports, and position statements from credible associations suggest it’s worth taking the time to review the information and links before making up your mind.
And despite the plethora of peer-reviewed studies and expert positions, there are many who prefer instead to support boycotts and breed bans. I’ve drawn upon real-life incidents, actions, and attitudes reflecting both sides of the issue to create authentic conflict for my protagonist as she finds herself in legal jeopardy when an opponent is found murdered on her property. To save herself, Maggie must unravel the web of deceit and discover the truth before nefarious foes can succeed in their efforts to destroy all she holds close to her heart.
As a child, the public library introduced me to the world of possibilities. As an adult, my career obligations sent me to many new towns, new countries. No matter where I was, stepping into the library was, for me, coming home.
Whatever their size, wherever their location, libraries are truly mystical, magical places. Over the years, librarians have found a way to make books available to the public. At the start of the 20th century, for example, Washington County Maryland launched what’s believed to be the first bookmobile using a horse-drawn carriage:
Mary Titcomb’s Book Wagon
While urban areas transitioned from wagons to gasoline-fueled vehicles, people living in isolated rural communities in the Appalachian Mountains were served by the Pack Horse Library Project:
Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Digital Library
Meanwhile, county libraries in many states incorporated book wagons of their own:
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Many early libraries depended on the generosity of philanthropists such as the industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Here’s one reputed to be the earliest Carnegie Library in Wisconsin:
This quote by the gifted Ray Bradbury sums it up perfectly:
Eight years ago, a two-pound kitten named Buddy adopted us. He was on his own for the first 12 weeks of his life, and the memory of his feral days resurface whenever we go to the vet clinic. I suggested falconer’s gloves to our veterinarian, who laughed and said “This ain’t my first cat rodeo” before tackling my tiny wild beast. That vet deserves a medal or at least a lifetime supply of Betadine and Band-Aids.
In the past few years, Buddy’s real-life adventures have rivaled those of even the most daring fictional kitty. He’s been cornered by predators and captured by brambles and the resulting rescues inevitably required ladders, clippers, brave volunteers, and a whole lot of swearing. (By humans, that is. No idea what Buddy was saying, although it’s safe to assume it might have been “Get me out of here!”) He’s broken or dislocated more bones than I can name and now sports a non-retractable razor-sharp claw. And, despite being uncoordinated to the point of being unable to climb trees–not a bad thing, in my opinion–he’s managed nonetheless to scramble over a tall fence more than a few times, only to discover he couldn’t get back over the way he came. Once, he landed in a yard owned by a pit bull. (To be fair, their meeting was entirely Buddy’s fault and the dog wisely retreated before the interloper attacked.) Is it any wonder we call him Buddy The Wonder Cat?
He watches Westminster dog show every year, and he’s not shy about announcing his favorite (last year, it was the Great Pyrenees). We no longer let him watch any shows with lions, though, after he imitated their habit of dragging off their kill. In Buddy’s world, he drags off whatever he decides to claim as his own, and good luck finding his booty once he stashes it. To date, that includes the electrician’s pliers, the plumber’s wrench, a house guest’s scarf, the dog’s leash, and every string he can find. The strings are the only things that routinely turn up–in his food dish and water bowls.
Since Sasha joined the household, he’s decided he likes having a dog of his own. He joins her for training sessions and scent games and is apt to “help” her when she loses the trail or overlooks something I’ve hidden. He watches over her while she eats and keeps her company whenever she’s crated. When she’s out of the house without him, he paces until she returns and he can see for himself that she’s okay.
You’ll meet Buddy The Wonder Cat’s fictional self in Dangerous Deeds (book #2 of the Waterside Kennels mystery series). While that’s making it way through the book pipeline, here’s a slideshow featuring the many faces of the kitty who came to stay.
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.