Celebrate!

Over the years, it’s been my pleasure to promote other authors and share news about their work. Today I’m delighted to join in the launch day celebration of Fur Boys, the sixth book in the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. In addition to enjoying this great series, I love the author’s bio blurb: C. A. Newsome is an author and painter living in Cincinnati with a former street urchin named Shadda and a one-eyed swamp monster named Gypsy. She and her furry children can be found most mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park.

Here’s a Q&A with the author, plus “buy” links at the end. Happy reading!

What’s the premise behind the series?

The series is based on my mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park in Cincinnati, where people who would otherwise have little to do with each other bond over poop bags because they show up at the same time every day.

My quirky gang of sleuths includes starving artist Lia Anderson, New Age woo-woo queen Bailey, gun-toting right-winger Terry, his uber-liberal roommate Steve, and Jim, a retired engineer. While Lia is in her thirties, her partners in crime are in their fifties and beyond. Lia has a love interest, hunky good guy, Detective Peter Dourson.

What role do dogs play in your books?

If you own dogs, you know that you have to consider them at every turn, just as you do children. They have distinct personalities and needs. My dogs are real dogs. You can’t just stuff them in the closet with the Dyson when it’s time to catch a killer.

Dogs bring my characters together and often are intrinsic to plots. They sometimes assist with investigations. Not in a “Lassie the dog sleuth” way, but in a “my dog ate the evidence” way. Canine characters provide entertainment and moral support, and the dog/human relationships provide a counterpoint to the human/human relationships.

Tell us about Lia.

Lia Anderson is my leading lady. She’s a struggling painter who takes on a wide variety of commissions to make ends meet. I wanted someone relatable, so she starts the series clueless about investigating crimes or handling violent confrontations and suffering from a serious case of denial.

Lia’s background has made her distrustful of intimacy and family ties mean little to her. She’s had to rely on herself all her life and feels more secure with casual relationships while she loses herself in her art. The first Lia Anderson Mystery brings this issue into focus with the introduction of Peter Dourson, for whom home and family are core values. Lia has a rational approach to relationships that often mystifies Peter. The series follows Lia and Peter’s evolution as their relationship grows.

Tell us about Peter.

Peter is a low-key, everyday hero who tries to do the right thing. When I created him, I asked myself, “What is the most amazing thing a guy can do?” For me, it’s listening to the needs of the woman in his life and being willing to meet her on her terms. What makes Peter extraordinary is his willingness to step away from his inbred and very traditional ideas about relationships in order to be with Lia.

What’s exciting about Fur Boys?

The murder of a music school diva results in high drama, played out on a big stage. We get to see much of the story through Peter’s eyes, and the types of observations he makes as a detective. It was great fun, working out how Peter would respond when he and Lia stumble onto a live crime scene. I also loved creating the suspects and all their entanglements.

Fur Boys

When starving artist Lia Anderson stumbles upon a dead diva, it’s no walk in the dog park.

Meet Buddy, Dasher, and Rory, three adoring fur boys often in the care of Hannah, the ever-efficient admin at Hopewell Music Academy, site of Lia’s latest mural commission. Hannah can juggle anything the academy tosses at her, except the Machiavellian voice professor who owns the fur boys and whose demoralizing and career-crushing ways are the dark underbelly of the prestigious academy.

When the professor is murdered, it’s impossible to find someone who doesn‘t want him dead. Good thing it’s not Peter’s case, not since the Cincinnati Police Department created a centralized unit to handle homicides. But a mysterious informant is determined to involve him. With Peter hamstrung by departmental politics, it’s time for Lia and the dog park gang step in.

Read more about the author and the series on C.A. Newsome’s website. To purchase, follow these links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Kobo

Carol and Gypsy

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Happy reading!

 

There Came Along A Kitty

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in book #2 (Dangerous Deeds) that were inspired by real events. One of those is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

The roots of that story go back to the mid-1990s when my own beloved spaniel Alix found a raggedy bundle of fur in our yard and dropped it at my feet with a “Fix this!” look. Beneath the raggedy coat was a near-starved Calico we promptly named Katie. We nursed her back to health under the watchful eyes of the dog Alix and Amy, our Silver Tabby (another rescue). The three of them immediately became collaborators, conspirators, and loyal-to-the-end friends.

About six months before we lost Katie—the last of the three—in 2012, Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten weighing just 2½ pounds. One of the reasons he’s called the Wonder Cat is because it’s a wonder he’s still alive. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion he injured his foot, fracturing or dislocating most of the bones and mangling one of his claws. In the fear and pain that followed, Buddy’s feral instincts came roaring back and nobody escaped unscathed before the vet managed to get him sufficiently sedated to examine. If the vet clinic keeps a “Look out for…” list, there’s probably a picture of Buddy with the warning “don raptor gloves before handling.”

Thanks to the fabulous skill of our veterinarian and the clinic crew, our only reminder of that experience is one razor-like claw which to this day does not retract. I channeled a good bit of Buddy the Wonder Cat into the fictional feline you’ll meet in Dangerous Deeds. (That probably explains why he tends to sprawl on the desk when I’m writing.) In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.

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At the Crossroads (Again) of Fact & Fiction

In a previous post I mentioned the issue of breed-specific legislation is a key part of the plot in  Dangerous Deeds (#2 in the Waterside Kennels mystery series).  In that fictional world, community members take sides over a proposed “dangerous dog” ordinance to ban specific breeds, and the kennel staff is caught in the crossfire. For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter agrees with the AKC that breed-specific legislation (BLS) is not a viable solution.

In the real world, breed bans and similar dog control measures continue to cause controversy in many communities and countries. The latest  comes from Ireland following the death of a woman attacked by dogs.  (You can read the entire article here.) Whatever your personal opinion of dog control laws might be, we can all benefit by being informed about the issue.

In The Irish Times article, correspondent Tim O’Brien reports increased interest in a review of current legislation concerning control of dogs. He cites Professor Ó Súilleabháin with the National University of Ireland at Galway (NUIG) who notes breed-specific legislation is falling out of favor in some areas of the United States as well as Europe. According to the professor, “This is because there is evidence to show that dog breed is not a factor in what caused dogs to attack.” Summarizing the professor’s remarks, O’Brien writes:

Dr Ó Súilleabháin said there was substantial peer-review research available that showed any type of dog could show aggression. The animal’s behaviour and training were closely connected with the behaviour of their owners.

However, he did not think a law requiring owner and dog training to be undertaken before a dog licence was issued was a good idea. Instead, he called for measures to create a community where dog owners would act responsibly and where those who did not educate themselves and train their dogs would be targeted by enforcement officers.

He said it should be possible for an individual to report a dog behaving aggressively, leading to a visit from a dog warden who could order the owner and animal to undertake education and training. The media had some responsibility in creating misguided calls for a ban on specific breeds, when a dog mauls someone, he added.

Some research suggests that legislation controlling dangerous breeds may actually make the problem worse. If you’re interested in a historical overview of this issue in the UK, check out https://www.bluecross.org.uk/if-looks-couldnt-killHere in the United States, the American Kennel Club published an issue analysis in 2013 and contends BSL is ineffective; you can read that online at: http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/issue-analysis-breed-specific-legislation/.  And more recently, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior published a position statement opposing breed-specific legislation. The policy statement includes statistics and evidence from myriad countries, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Key points from the position statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans. The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation—often called breed-specific legislation (BSL)−is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.

The importance of the reduction of dog bites is critical; however, the AVSAB’s view is that matching pet dogs to appropriate households, adequate early socialization and appropriate  training, and owner and community education are most effective in preventing dog bites. Therefore, the AVSAB does support appropriate legislation regarding dangerous dogs, provided that it is education based and not breed specific.

….

Results of Breed-Specific Legislation Breed-specific legislation can have unintended adverse effects. Owners of a banned breed may avoid veterinary visits and therefore vaccinations (including rabies) to elude seizure of the dog by authorities and/or euthanasia. This negatively impacts both the welfare of dogs and public health. Similarly, owners may forego socializing or training their puppies, which increases the risk of behavior problems, including fear and aggression in adulthood.

….

Aggression is a context dependent behavior and is associated with many different motivations. Most dogs that show aggression do so to eliminate a perceived threat, either to their safety or to the possession of a resource. In other words, most aggression is fear-based.

 

The narrative is well-supported by reasoned evidence and information from nearly 40 sources and concludes with this compelling statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior invites you to share this position statement on breed-specific legislation to discount common fallacies of “easy fixes” that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.

In the book Dangerous Deeds, myths and falsehoods abound. What’s true is that, just as in the real world,  community members’ opinions vary widely on the subject, and the resulting tensions can escalate quickly and may ultimately set the scene for murder.

 

It’s a Dog-Meet-Dog World

I’m editing scenes from Dangerous Deeds in which my protagonist Maggie Porter is leading a Good Dog! class to help owners and their dog prepare for their Canine Good Citizen test. I first wrote those scenes before Sasha came into my life, so I had to rely on information from the AKC, training blogs, and YouTube videos. And while the test items seem relatively simple, achieving consistent results with a dog of my own is a bit more complicated than I envisioned.

Take, for example, test item #8, Reaction to Another Dog. If we take our test indoors, Sasha will (probably) pass this one with flying colors. She’s been close to other dogs in indoor training situations and in retail stores, and she’s been calm and quiet every time. And those of you with Shelties know quiet isn’t common behavior!

But life as we know it isn’t confined to indoor interactions, and many evaluators prefer outdoor venues as shown in the video above. We’ve made progress in reducing Sasha’s over-the-top reaction to leashed dogs but there’s still work to be done. If I see the dog in time I can move us out of the way and put Sasha in a down-stay or a sit-stay until the dog and handler pass by. (Mind you, she usually has something to say, but she tends to mutter rather than bark.)

Our current challenge, though, is the off-leash dog.

Maybe that’s happened to you in the local park, along a trail, or even in your own neighborhood. We’ve been accosted by off-leash dogs on multiple occasions, and most recently just this past week.  We were less than a block from home after enjoying a casual afternoon walk. Two Australian Shepherds bolted through an open garage door and came in low, fast, and silent. If I’d known they were in there I would have crossed the street to give us some distance, but I didn’t see them in time to take evasive action. They ignored their owner’s commands and came straight for us. They’re young, well-muscled, and already bigger and heavier than Sasha. And she most definitely Did. Not. Like. Them.

It didn’t help to hear the owner say “They’re friendly. Just stand still.” Seriously? I have no interest in taking advice from an irresponsible owner. I saw nothing to suggest this was a friendly meet-and-greet, so I backed Sasha up while staring down the dogs. The owner struggled to get handfuls of hair (no collars!) and held them long enough for me to get Sasha safely past them.

In the days since, I’ve worked to reduce Sasha’s renewed hyper reactions around dogs in general and I’ve done my best to keep her away from known trouble spots. Just this morning, though, we came across a dog who was loose in an unfenced yard. Sasha saw him as he headed our way and, predictably, reacted by barking fiercely. The dog’s body language suggested interest but no overt aggression, perhaps because we were in the street and about 20 yards away. I put Sasha in a sit-stay between my legs, held up my hand in the classic “Stop” gesture and said “NO! GO BACK!” The dog halted and immediately turned away when his owner called him. (Excellent recall demonstrated there!) Other than her initial outburst, Sasha sat quietly and, once we moved along, looked to me for approval—which of course she received, along with lavish praise and treats. She looked back just once (a big improvement over previous behavior), tossed out one last bark and then moved on.

If you come across off-leash dogs in your own neighborhood or park, you may find a flexible response strategy to be the most helpful. Consider, for example, these excellent suggestions offered by Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA in her 2015 dogster.com article “What to do when an off-leash dog approaches your leashed dog.”  And you can find more suggestions at VetStreet.com, where dog trainer Mikkel Becker talks tactics in her 2013 article “Managing confrontation with an off-leash dog.

We’ll keep working to build Sasha’s confidence when meeting dogs, whether they’re leashed or loose. Every day brings new encounters with different dogs, and that’s great training for my Canine Good Citizen in training!

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Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, weaves a tale of mischief and mayhem that sets neighbor against neighbor and disrupts the quiet life Maggie Porter longs for. A major part of the plot revolves around a proposed ‘dangerous’ dog ordinance that’s based on breed-specific legislation (BSL) enacted in hundreds of communities across the country and in multiple countries around the world.

For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter shares the AKC position that BSL doesn’t work, in part because it fails to address the issue of owner responsibility. Unfortunately, some nefarious community members have targeted Maggie’s opposition to the proposed ordinance to further their own agenda. Their efforts generate ripples of dissent throughout the community, leading to boycotts, threats, and death too close to home.

Dangerous Deeds is on track for publication this year. Stay tuned!

Move Over Miss Marple

Move Over Miss Marple WordleI’m delighted to announce that in April I’ll be leading a course for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Fayetteville, Arkansas. More commonly known as OLLI, the institute is a division of the University of Arkansas. I’m glad to have this chance to return to a place that holds such happy memories; I earned my master’s degree at the university and taught undergraduates there for four years before moving on in pursuit of my doctorate.

During the OLLI course, we’ll be exploring the role of female sleuths in mystery fiction since the days of Miss Marple. The course is structured to run in two-hour sessions meeting once weekly, which allows participants to research authors and writing practices as well as giving everyone time to read excerpts in between sessions. I’m already collecting material to share and looking for more—see details at end of this post.

First, here’s the description for “Move Over, Miss Marple” from the OLLI spring catalog:

This course will explore the role of female sleuths in American and British mystery fiction. The first session will introduce types of female characters—both amateur and professional—in crime solving fictional roles. We’ll explore the differences in character roles and responsibilities within the context of the genre.

In the second session, we’ll discuss how the characters’ dialog and action help bring a region to life in a mystery series. We’ll investigate the way writers create a sense of place, blend fact with fiction, and address social issues and controversies as part of plotting the sleuth’s role.

Our final session will focus on the increasingly popular sub-genre of crime fiction known as the ‘cozy’ mystery. We’ll analyze key structural elements and characteristics defining a cozy mystery. Using the information developed in the first two sessions, we’ll study the variety of types and sleuths within the sub-genre.

The course is appropriate for both writers and readers looking for a deeper understanding and appreciation of women in the mystery genre.

I’ll be sending advance packets via email to registered participants and plan to include “Recommended Reading” lists and (hopefully) excerpts of books that relate to our session topics. And while the main focus is on American and British mystery fiction, I can easily extend that to Canada or the Caribbean. That’s where you all come in!

READERS: who are your favorite female sleuths? Share details in the comments (author, book/series title) and a brief explanation why you’d recommend these to others. I’ll add your name to a drawing for a free copy of Deadly Ties (Kindle or Audiobook edition, your choice). Keep for yourself or pass along as a gift!

Have a favorite website that features cozy mysteries and/or female sleuths? Share that, too! This could be a great way to drive more traffic to sites you enjoy and want to support.

WRITERS: if you have a female sleuth, I’d love to consider promoting you and your work—to include excerpts or sample chapters—as part of this course. Email dogmysteries [at] gmail dot com for details.

You’re also welcome to post in the comments of this post for additional publicity. And if you’ll suggest other authors’ work for inclusion , I’ll add your name to the drawing, too.

READERS AND WRITERS: I’d be very grateful if you’d help me get the word out via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Reblogging in part or whole is welcome with a link back to my website. My goal is to introduce course participants to as many authors, books, and websites as possible.

In addition to sharing the “Recommended Reads” with registered participants, I’ll happily post the collection here by the end of April so we can learn about “new to us” authors and celebrate books together!