Along Comes A Kitty

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.

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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

 

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.

Holiday Reading Magic

Long-time readers of this blog will remember I’ve previously featured award-winning author Susan Kroupa. (If you haven’t discovered her Doodle series, you’re in for a real treat!) I’m delighted to report the award nominations from the Dog Writers Association of America continue to roll in.
Sue has earned three nominations in the DWAA Writing Competition. The first is her blog about losing Shadow, Fly Away Home .  She earned another nomination for her serialized memoir-in-progress about raising a very independent Shadow in DoodlewhackedAnd the third nomination is for her short story Balance DueCongratulations, Sue!
And that’s not all. Sue’s Christmas Doodle book Bad-Mouthed is included in the Sisters in Crime  Book Club Central Holiday reads list (Sue says she sent the application in a might-as-well-try moment).
Bad-Mouthed is currently on a Kindle Countdown sale that runs through Friday, Dec 14th.
Read on for a sample of great writing by this terrific author!

Walter’s Christmas-Night Music

A little magic, a little Mozart, an unexpected miracle on Christmas Eve. . .

Nothing has gone right for Walter Gunther since his wife died. He had to sell his music store to pay her medical bills and take a job as a clerk in Disks Galore, a big box music store. His manager bullies him and knows nothing about the classical music Walter has cherished all his life. The man can’t even pronounce Mozart’s name correctly. But when Walter is forced to work late on Christmas Eve, he receives a musical gift beyond his wildest imagining.

Originally published in Realms of Fantasy (December 1997), “Walter’s Christmas-Night Musik” was hailed for its “affectionate musical expertise and good-natured charm,” by Locus reviewer Mark Kelly, who also chose it as the best story of that issue. A warm and wonderful story sure to delight music lovers everywhere.

 

A Most Magical Christmas

Brimming with hope. Touched by magic. . .

A collection of five Christmas stories by award-winning author Susan J. Kroupa. A hapless clerk working late on Christmas Eve, a telemarketer who starts receiving mysterious calls promising a once-in-a-lifetime offer, an airline mechanic trying to prevent a disaster, and a pair of dogs who show that second chances can come wrapped in fur, all find a little Christmas magic when they need it the most.

So grab your e-reader, cozy down with a quilt, and celebrate the season with tales to warm the coldest winter night.

***

Both “Balance Due” and “Walter’s Christmas Night-Musik“, which made editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Special Holiday Recommended Reading List, are in A Most Magical Christmas, and also available separately for $0.99. A Most Magical Christmas is priced at just $2.99 and it will be on sale on Kobo for 40% off Dec 12-17th. Find it on Kindle  and Nook and itunes and Kobo too!