Lessons Along The Journey

It’s been a month since Sasha came into our lives. What an adventure we’re having!

Who could resist that face?

Sasha Feb 2016

After so many years without a dog of my own, I’ve come to the conclusion that this adventure comes with a learning curve for all of us. For Sasha, everything’s new after losing whatever home she knew when she was surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office. (From what little I’ve learned, it wasn’t much of a home, but still…) Buddy the Cat unexpectedly gained a housemate, and we humans found ourselves in unknown territory as we integrated a rescue dog in the family mix.

Sasha came to us with various minor health issues, poor skin, and a pitiful short, thin coat—problems most likely caused by poor diet and a lack of attention. With the final round of antibiotics and other prescription meds now complete, we’re focused on improving her stamina and overall good health. I’ve spent the last month transitioning her to quality food. (If you’re new to the world of dogs, consider sampling different foods and remember to make any switch a gradual process.)

After addressing her health and dietary concerns, we started training in earnest. She came to us knowing a few of the basics and at least one new-to-me skill: she can sneeze on command. (Yes, really!) After working together every day, I’ve learned three essential lessons (so far) along this journey.

Lesson #1: Be patient.

There’s a scene in chapter 1 of Deadly Ties when veterinarian Angus Sheppard is looking over a Beagle rescued by my protagonist, Maggie Porter. Maggie’s concerned about Mr. B’s health and his transition to a new way of life. In response, Angus said, “Look at it from the dog’s point of view—he’s lost everything he’s ever known. That can haunt you for a long time.”

I wrote that scene years before Sasha came into my life. I’m reminded of those words, though, every time we hit a bump in the road. She’s over a year old, but she was as clueless as a puppy at the end of a leash. The volunteer who fostered her handed her over with a retractable leash (that didn’t retract) attached to a cheap collar. I can only guess what her life was like before coming to us, but it’s a safe bet that it was nothing like her life now. She came to us afraid of loud or unexpected noises and strange places, skittish around strangers and around men in general, leery of other dogs, and super-stressed when put in a vehicle. As Shelties tend to be VERY vocal when nervous, agitated, or excited, I confess I’ve had to refrain from shrieking myself more than once!

Every time we head out for a neighborhood walk I remind myself to be patient as Sasha encounters new sights and sounds, and to see every “moment” as a training opportunity. And after one wild experience near the pond when assorted ducks, geese, dogs, and children proved too much excitement at once, I now take greater care in planning our route!

Lesson #2: Make training a daily habit.

I started all her daily training sessions in the house, then moved to the backyard before venturing out onto our quiet cul-de-sac and eventually the busier streets of the neighborhood. After two weeks she’d mastered the sit-stay command at a distance of 50+ feet and I was convinced training her myself would be a breeze.

Not quite.

Sure, she’s doing a great job of the basics in the house, the yard, and even the neighborhood—just as long as there are no people, dogs, moving cars, ducks, squirrels…well, you get the picture.  So off we went to basic obedience class. I cringed at the thought of managing her in a room full of strangers with all sorts of dogs, but Sasha needs both training and socialization time. And how did she handle the noise and confusion? Take a look:

 March 8th 2016

Sasha in a down-stay of her own choosing 3-8-16

Once we got past that hurdle I thought we were home free. Then came the clickers. She didn’t like the sound of one clicker when we practiced at home, and a room full of people clicking repeatedly (with their dogs happily responding, I’ll note)  proved too much for her.  I stashed the clicker and rewarded her with yummy treats as we ran through the exercises.

This week our training focus is learning how to walk on a loose leash (that’s test #4 on the Canine Good Citizen test). We fitted her with a martingale collar; that was essential, as Shelties are prone to “back out” of a regular collar. (If you’d like to learn more about this type of training collar, check out the No Dog About it blog. Great info!)

Even with the martingale training collar, teaching Sasha “no pulling” is another exercise in patience. Every time she pulls I stop walking, which brings her attention back to me. Being a Sheltie, she always has some comment to make even as she stops pulling and waits to start again! We’re still in the stop-wait-start-again phase but it’s gradually improving. She’s aced loose leash walking in the house and backyard. Beyond that, she’s only good at it once she’s worn out from running around the park. (We have a big open field and I put her on the long line and let her run circles around me.) The walk home is always good. It’s a start…

Lesson#3: Praise, laugh, and love.

Sasha is one happy dog! She pops out of bed eager for whatever the day brings, and we make sure she hears lots of praise whether we’re training or not. Every day sees her more energetic and playful, and it’s clear she feels safe in her new home. She and Buddy the Cat are often nose-to-nose and have recently begun to chase one another around the backyard and through the house. She’s learning hide-and-seek and now has a basket full of toys all her own. Add in a couple of gel memory foam beds, a collection of yummy treats, and walk-and-play time every day, and the result is a wonderful new member of the family. Here’s the latest photo; the bare patches have filled in and her skin and coat are already showing signs of loving attention!

Backyard shot 3-6-16 1 month

My Sasha, one month after joining the family

 

And the Winner is…

congratulations

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.

Sharing a Love of Mysteries

One of my favorite places in the world is a library. That’s where I’ll be today, visiting with fans and friends at the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Susan Holmes Book Discussion-Signing 10-11-15

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I’ll be back here soon to share more about facts and folktales in regional mysteries. Remember there’s a giveaway in progress, so be sure to leave a comment!

Folklore in Fiction

Yoachum Dollar Sprinkle CoinsI’m an “up close and personal” kind of researcher. So when I’m working on my regional series, that means I’m often out in the hills, meeting people and listening to the stories that have been handed down, one generation to the next, keeping the old legends alive. The story of the Yokum Dollar is one of those legends that I heard on multiple occasions, with each storyteller claiming some connection with the families involved. I stayed true to the heart of the tale when writing the legend into my own book, while fictionalizing elements as needed to suit the plot. Here’s the excerpt from Deadly Ties:

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….Maggie wandered among the exhibits, watching craftsmen make brooms and baskets, tapping her foot to the dulcimer music, and listening to the storytellers who had drawn a sizable crowd in the shade of tall oaks. She stopped to listen to a woman dressed in a style Maggie imagined was common among frontier women long ago. Sturdy boots peeked out from beneath the hem of her skirt, and the simple cotton blouse she wore looked homespun. Her steel gray hair was tucked beneath a bonnet.

“This here story has been handed down through my family ever since 1826,” the woman told the audience. “That’s about the time the first Yokum—that’d be Jamie Lee Yokum—settled along the big river herabouts. My family farmed the land down-river from the Yokum place, which is how I come to know this tale.”

“This land belonged to the Chickasaw tribe, and they were good neighbors, always sharing what they had. They were good traders, too, and pretty near famous for their beautiful silver jewelry. They always had plenty of silver but nobody knew—’cept the Indians, of course—where it all came from. Some said it was from a silver mine, and some claimed it was Spanish silver, but nobody knew for sure.

“When the government decided they wanted the Indians’ land, the Yokums traded some of their wagons and supplies in exchange for information about the source of that silver. As the story goes, the Indians shared their secret with Jamie Lee. They told him where he might find some of that silver, and he told his brothers. Times being what they was, and money being about as hard to come by as an honest politician, the Yokums decided to use that silver and make their own coin. They minted their own dollars with that there silver. For years, people all over the Ozarks used the Yokum dollars as legal tender.”

The storyteller looked across the crowd. “Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The federal government didn’t take too kindly to somebody else making money. They didn’t like the competition, my granddaddy said.” There were chuckles and murmurs of agreement from some in the crowd.

“The federal agents confiscated all the Yokum dollars they could get their hands on. What they really wanted was the source of that silver, but Jamie Lee wouldn’t tell ‘em where to find it. After a while, the agents gave up and went back to Washington.”

The storyteller paused for a sip of lemonade. “It wasn’t long after that when Jamie Lee Yokum passed away. His two brothers died soon after, crossing the Rockies on their way out to California. Those men were the only ones who knew the Indians’ secret and they took that secret to their graves, but they did leave some clues in letters they’d written to their cousins. Over the years, a lot of people have searched high and low for that silver, but nobody’s ever found it. But who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to learn the truth about the Indian Silver Legend.”

Deadly Ties © 2013

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To this day, people continue to search for the famed silver, with many a treasure hunter convinced a mine or cave does indeed exist somewhere in the hills. Some believe the answer lies near or under Beaver Lake in Arkansas while others argue the location is Table Rock Lake in Missouri. And so the legend lives on…

Fact, Fiction, and Folklore

Books Image croppedI’m honored to have been invited once again to the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library for a book discussion and signing of Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series. If you’re in the area, please join me from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 11th. This presentation will explore the art of blending fact, fiction, and folklore when writing a regional mystery series, with a focus on the Ozarks where I’ve set my books.

In honor of that event, I’ll be running posts through the month about the Ozark legends and folklore which inspired my series. You’ll also find stories and information about dogs—after all, this is dogmysteries.com! At the end of the month, I’ll share a teaser from Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Enter to Win iconEven better—through the end of October, I’m running a special giveaway here on my site. Leave a comment and you’re automatically entered into a drawing for a 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. Keep for yourself or give as gifts! You’re welcome to comment as often as you like from now through October 31st; every comment equals one entry for the drawing. On November 1st the winner will be selected at random and announced here, so stay tuned!

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Being a total research geek, I loved digging through the archives for stories about the region, and was thrilled to have regional historians like Phillip Steele share their knowledge with me. In addition to helping me sort through stories, Mr. Steele kindly introduced me to others, including some whose families settled here a century ago. One of the stories I came across repeatedly involved the famous Yocum Dollar. I should note there seem to be almost as many variations in spelling of Yocum as there are versions of the tale!

I first came across the Yocum Dollar in a 1985 article published in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly whose author, Lynn Morrow, suggested that “for the past 150 years various folk legends about silver have circulated in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.” Morrow notes:

Beliefs in secret mines and buried treasures form a substantial part of the folklore of the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains….From the 1880’s to the Depression, regional newspapers reported numerous silver and gold “discoveries”; and the “Legend of the Indian Mine” in Arkansas’ Boone County tells of a mine which contained “such an abundance of silver that the Indians shod their horses with it.” Petroglyphs in Ozark caves have been reported to be codes for the location of gold and silver bullion, and as late as 1882 a family owned business—the Yocum Silver Mine Corporation—purchased a clam-shell crane with a six-ton bucket and a bulldozer to dig out the “famous Yocum mine.”

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Another version of the Yocum Dollar story comes from the genealogical records of H. Ronald Gines and Wanda Lee (Brink) Gines. While I haven’t yet discovered their connection to the Yocums, their narrative, like Morrow’s, refers to a government agent’s description of an “outlaw character” named Solomon Yocum who devised a plan involving Indians, liquor, and silver:

 

Making peach brandy, while perhaps providing Solomon and the Yochums a bit of local, short lived infamy in connection with their Indian “clientele”, somewhat pales on a historical note compared with the most popular bit of Yoachum, and Ozark history. While some may take slight exception in referring to the Yocum silver dollar as history, and not strictly as mere “legend”, enough has been told, and written about it to qualify it as a true icon of Ozark history. Perhaps no other legend, (as we might as well refer to it), in American history has yielded a more profitable return than that of the Yocum dollar. An entire industry, theme park Silver Dollar City, and its off shoots have now “mined” the legend for what must surely be billions of dollars.

Many people have searched away countless hours, days, months, and even years looking for the source of the legend, the famed Lost Yoachum Silver Mine. Some people believe that it is a canard, or hoax, the typical tale told often by the evening fire, usually with the sure knowledge of someone who knows someone that once saw one of the dollars, or the molds that made them, or knew of someone that knew of someone that had a map. Enough interest has been raised at various times to attract persons schooled in geology, mining, and formations, and reports of a professional nature seem to suggest that there is very little likelihood of silver being found in an quantity and quality to justify believing that a mine actually existed.

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Stories of the Yocum Dollar persist to this day, as evidenced by a 2006 post by Tom Maringer in the ‘US Coins Forum at Cointalk.com. Details included in the post and many of the comments match other accounts. One comment in particular sums up many of the tales I heard myself while visiting with families across the region:

Many people in that area believe wholeheartedly in the Yocum Dollar legend. In fact, I was taken to task by an elderly Yocum descendant for my analysis of the legend… and was told in no uncertain terms that her uncle actually had one, and as a child she’d seen it. But of course she couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like, and nobody in the family knows what happened to it after he died! Sound familiar?

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Thanks to the success of Silver Dollar City, the legend of the Yocum Dollar is alive and well today. I’ve adapted the stories I’ve collected for use in the series and hope readers enjoy the tales as much as I did. Tune in next time for an excerpt from Deadly Ties which tells the tale of the Yocum Dollar as it’s known among the storytellers inhabiting my fictional Hogan County, Arkansas.

Deadly Ties Audiobook Giveaway!

[To leave a comment, click on the title above & scroll down the page to comment box]
Enter to Win iconTo celebrate the launch this month of the audio edition of Deadly TiesI’m running a giveaway! Post a comment here for a chance to win one of three complimentary copies of my audiobook, narrated by the oh-so-wonderful Robin Rowan.

The contest runs through Saturday, October 4th, and the winner will be drawn at random on Sunday, October 5th. The rules are about as simple as you can get: just leave a comment. That’s all there is to it, and you’re entered to win!

I’m a newcomer to the world of audiobooks and I’m already hooked on the joy of listening to a great story. The creative process takes on a whole new dimension when a novel is transformed into an audiobook. Professional narrators do far more than just read the work–they bring the story to life. The collaboration of creative talents moves us beyond the printed text and into the world of performance art. And Robin is a true artist! (Click here to see a list of the many books she’s narrated.)

Some narrators prefer to read the entire book before they begin. Robin, though, takes a different approach. As she explained it to me, she wants to experience the story just as the reader does. So you can imagine my delight when she sent me this note:

My heart was pounding—POUNDING—at the end of Chapter 41!!!

Wow! I’m riveted!!!

And now, here’s your chance to get your own heart racing! Listen to a sample of Deadly Ties. Then leave a comment (remember to ask a question!) for a chance to win a free audio edition of Deadly Ties.

Readers, Listeners, & Book Lovers!

books with headphones
In early August, I shared the exciting news that I’d signed a contract for an audio edition of my book. (Missed that post? Find it here.) Today, I’m thrilled to announce the audio edition of Deadly Ties is now available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Listen to the sample here: http://tinyurl.com/oaxdanq.

Robin Rowan photoThe narrator is the wonderfully talented Robin Rowan. She’s a top producer and one of the very best in the business. Robin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she majored in oral interpretation of literature. (And how perfect is that for a voiceover artist?) She’s credentialed as a top Audible producer and is  a member of the Audio Publishers Association, the World Voices Organization, and the National Forensics League.

I count myself fortunate indeed to have Robin with me on this creative journey. She’s matched the voices I hear as I’m writing this series, and it’s been a joyful experience listening to her. I wanted all of you to have a chance to learn a bit more about the work that Robin does, and how she came to work on this project. Questions and comments most welcome; Robin and I will both do our best to answer any questions you might have.

Why did you audition for this book? What attracted you to Deadly Ties?

I chose Deadly Ties for an audition on ACX because a) it was a mystery/thriller (my favorite!), b) I really liked the audition script and wanted to read more, and c) it centered around dogs. I’m not sure someone who didn’t love dogs could do justice to the script, right? So I put myself out there and hoped that Susan could “hear” that I was the right fit for her book. Thankfully, it all worked out!

Do you have a special studio where you work?

As the narrator, I have to become immersed in the story and live it 24/7 while I’m in the recording process.  When I’m recording a book, I can’t wait to get into the studio. My studio is a converted walk-in closet about 8’ x 6’ right off of my bedroom. But you don’t need much room at all, and as long as the space is fairly well soundproofed, it doesn’t matter where you put it. I actually left one wall of hanging clothes on the street side of the studio because clothes serve as an excellent sound-deadener. I also utilize giant 4’ x 2’ acoustic panels on the other walls and ceiling to deaden the sound as much as possible.

How do you develop a “voice” for each of the characters?

I was lucky that Susan provided me with a list of characters and their descriptions—a bonus for the narrator (publishers and authors, are you listening?). Otherwise, narrators need to pick up clues about each character from the context, which can be tricky. I spend a good deal of time “learning” personalities—the laid-back, kindly sheriff Lucas Johnson, the feisty but genuine Sylvia Bridger, the elderly and gossipy Abigail Simmons. Once I have an idea of how to portray my characters, I’m ready to start.

As I record a character, I take a snippet of their lines and save them as separate files (e.g., “Maggie”). So if a character appears on page 27 and not again until page 53, I can call up the character’s file and listen to how he or she was portrayed.

Could you walk us through your recording process, and how long it takes per book?

I get a huge glass of Milo’s sweet tea (it uses corn syrup) to keep my whistle wet and cut down on mouth noises, and put on a little “Kiss My Face” lip gloss for the same reason. That might sound funny, but narrators do whatever we can to keep lubed up when we’re reading for hours on end! Slices of green apple also come in handy.

So I fire up the computer, open the recording software, and find the page or chapter where I left off in the manuscript. I always read off of the computer screen—first, because there’s no paper noise of turning pages and I can highlight areas for special emphasis or perhaps if I have a question for the author or publisher. I can also spell out unfamiliar words phonetically next to the word in the text itself.

I record one chapter at a time, and when I make a mistake, I snap my fingers to mark the spot (which you can see easily when you go back to edit), then re-record the line I flubbed and keep going. I save my work and go on the next chapter. I can spend 4 hours at a time recording and you know when to stop when you hear your own voice start getting a little ragged. I go back and edit out mistakes, some breaths, and any extraneous noises, and then listen again to the entire chapter to proof it with the manuscript. Each finished hour takes between four and five hours in the studio.

As a dog lover yourself, do you have a favorite canine character?

Although Sam is a fine dog and very talented, my favorite canine character has to be Mr. B. He experienced some PTSD and was fairly uninvolved in his surroundings for most of the book. Once he met Zak, though, he started to come out of his shell and he and Zak had some kind of bond that no one else had. You get the sense that he would continue to improve under Zak’s watchful eye and tender care.

Anything else?

I’ve recorded more than 30 books, and Deadly Ties is my favorite book to date.  I love this career, and services like ACX that make collaborations like this possible. The ACX web site has been a boon to people like me, and to people like Susan, since it exists simply to bring book narrators and authors/publishers together. I look forward to continue recording for many years to come!

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And there you have it, folks! I’m new to the world of audio books and grateful to have an experienced professional join me on this adventure. She posted chapter segments to the production page, which gave me a chance to listen to each chapter and provide explicit feedback. (Some narrators don’t do this, so writers contemplating a project like this should discuss this with their narrators before they start.) Because Amazon uses “Whispersync for Voice” so you can switch between listening and reading, it was essential we got everything exactly right. Robin’s work was phenomenal, and I’m very proud of our finished product.