Writing, Dogs, and Change

I’m delighted to welcome award-winning author Sue Owens Wright back to the blog. She is a twelve-time finalist and three-time winner of the Maxwell Medallion–that’s the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious award for excellence. She joins us today to talk about writing and dogs, along with photos and a commentary on life, loss, and change.

It’s been a while since your last visit to dogmysteries.com, and it’s possible some readers haven’t yet discovered your delightful dog-themed fiction. So let’s backtrack a little…what led you to create the Beanie and Cruiser mystery series?

The Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, featuring Native American Elsie “Beanie” MacBean and her basset hound, Cruiser, has been inspired by many things in my life. Since childhood, I have loved dogs and reading books about dogs. I adored the Albert Payson Terhune classics about his Sunnybank collies. I also read all the Judy Bolton Mysteries by Margaret Sutton. Secretly, I dreamed of writing a book of my own. When I was eight years old, I tried to write a chapter of a mystery, but decades would pass before I actually wrote the first novel in what would become an award-winning mystery series.

My writing has been greatly influenced by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series about a Yorkshire veterinarian. I once aspired to be a vet myself, but at college I did much better in English than science courses. In the 1990s, I had the thrill of visiting Thirsk, the picturesque village that inspired the fictional Darrowby, and seeing the location of Alf Wight’s (James Herriot’s) veterinary surgery. [Click to enlarge the photo below for more detail.] I also toured the set where the original British TV series was filmed. (The latest adaptation is currently showing on PBS “Masterpiece.”) I bought several of the author’s autographed books at the village bookstore.

Touring the TV set of James Herriot’s surgery for All Creatures Great and Small (from the first 1970s series); in front of James Alf Wight’s surgery in the village of Thirsk. Photos ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission.

It so happened that the owner of the lovely cottage where my husband and I stayed was a close friend of the famous author. She said he often passed by on his walks up to Sutton Bank, an outcropping that overlooks the breathtaking panorama of the Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet him.

Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire Dales seen from Sutton Bank. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s the setting for your own series?

The setting for my mysteries came about from my love for Lake Tahoe, where I’ve visited since I was a child. My family owned a cabin that was surrounded by the El Dorado National Forest. In the late ‘90s, I began writing the first book, “Howling Bloody Murder” while sitting on the deck gazing out into the dark, mysterious woods, which sparked my wild imagination. The plot began with one question: What might be lurking out there?

Lake Tahoe has a wealth of history and local lore to inspire a writer. Whenever I stayed at the cabin, I worked on my Beanie and Cruiser novels. Many of the adventures I write about in the books were based on my own. One example is the forest fire that breaks out in “Ears for Murder,” winner of the 2018 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. I was at the lake in 2010 with my two bassets when the Angora firestorm forced us to evacuate. It was terrifying! That catastrophic event impressed upon me for the first time since I’d been coming to admire the Jewel of the Sierra, with its pine-covered landscape, that forests can and do burn.

Why Basset Hounds?

I’ve had eight basset hounds over the years, so naturally one or two would end up featured in my series. Cruiser and Calamity are canine characters based on my own dogs. They have provided me with endless plot twists and plenty of humor. My easy-going male bassets, first Bubba Gump and later Beau, were the real dogs who inspired the fictional Cruiser. They embodied all the delightful qualities and quirks of this funny, endearing breed. Cruiser is the star of the first three books, but I later introduced Calamity, who is the polar opposite of laid-back Cruiser. Calamity is a composite of my two most challenging rescued bassets, Peaches and “Crazy” Daisy, as I often called the wackiest dog I ever knew. Crazy Calamity causes plenty of trouble for Beanie. She has many of the same experiences I had with my own dogs, not all of them good.

Like Cruiser and Calamity, my bassets were rescued from shelters. Shelter dogs are often unfortunate victims of past lives with people who don’t understand the breed and can’t tolerate their obstinate nature. Buyers who are charmed by adorable basset puppies with those long, floppy ears don’t do their homework before embarking on becoming a basset slave, as fanciers laughingly refer to themselves. Don’t be fooled by the basset hound’s laissez faire demeanor; there’s a keen mind inside that pointy noggin, and it’s plotting the next assault on your dinner table. They are also champion counter surfers. Truth to tell, basset hounds are much better at training us than we are them.

Peaches, our last in a long line of beloved bassets, sadly had to leave us for Rainbow Bridge on July 3, 2019 at the age of 16, a very long life for a basset hound or any dog. Three months later, my mother passed on. We adopted her dog, Piccolo, an aging Shih-Tzu/Yorkshire terrier mix, or a “Shorkie,” as we call him. In 2011, I took Mom to the local SPCA, where she rescued him, so he’s actually been rescued twice. But who rescued whom? Piccolo turned out to be a 10-pound blessing. He has seen me through the traumatic loss of my mom and Peaches and the deadly pandemic of 2020. I caught the virus early in March, which fortunately did not require hospitalization, but it took me a month to fully recover. Piccolo may be a mutt, but he’s a registered Emotional Support Animal (E.S.A.), or Extra Special Animal, as my husband and I call him. We both adore that sweet, little guy. We’ve downsized from 60-pound hounds to our first toy breed, but I confess I’m still a basset lover to the bone. I fully expect that another one may waddle into my life at some point.

Meet Bubba Gump, the main inspiration for Cruiser’s character. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s next in your Beanie and Cruiser series?

A sixth Beanie and Cruiser Mystery is in the works, though progress on the manuscript has been slow this past year. I do my best writing in coffee shops, and I can’t wait until they can open up again. I have more books to write!

Like my Sierra sleuth, Beanie, I’ve never met a dog I didn’t like, even crazy ones. Other dogs besides basset hounds have found their way into the series, including a Newfoundland, a Pomeranian, and a Scottish terrier. You never know, my little E.S.A. may inspire a new canine character that will join Cruiser and Calamity in a future Tahoe adventure.

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Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries, in order of release:

Howling Bloody Murder

Sirius about Murder

Embarking on Murder

Braced for Murder

Ears for Murder

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They are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Waterstones (Britain and Ireland), Booksamillion, and Walmart.

Visit www.sueowenswright.com for more information.

The Writer’s Dog

Photo © Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio

Writers, readers, and dog lovers of all kinds will appreciate today’s post, brought to us by the  award-winning author Juliet Mariller.

According to her website, Juliet was born in Dunedin, New Zealand – the most Scottish city outside Scotland itself – and now lives in Western Australia and writes historical fantasy.  A former music teacher and public servant, Juliet now focuses on writing novels that combine historical fiction, folkloric fantasy, romance and family drama. The strong elements of history and folklore in her work reflect her lifelong interest in both fields. Above all, you’ll find a focus on human relationships and the personal journeys of the characters.

The post The Writer’s Dog was previously published on the Writer Unboxed site, and is shared again here with Juliet’s generous permission.

 

The Writer’s Dog

The writer’s dog is a multi-talented individual. He or she carries out a support role essential to the creative process. The writer’s dog is companion, confidante, inspiration, distraction, time keeper, and monitor of all matters health-related: nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep. His or her job includes keeping the writer mostly sane, reasonably fit, and for the most part on task.

I speak from personal experience here. For a long while I’ve worn two hats: writer and crazy dog lady. I spent some years as a foster carer for a canine rescue group, specialising in old and frail dogs, and I have seen quite a few little ones come and go from the household. These days I am down to three permanent dogs, two of whom were ‘foster fails’, that is, animals with whom the foster carer falls in love and cannot bear to part. It is perhaps no surprise that I’ve written so many dog characters into my novels, or that I love reading stories with great dog characters in them, including a few by WU’s own Barbara O’Neal.

I write full time from a home office. My dogs have my working day well under control, with suitable breaks for walks, snacks, and administration of their various medications, of which there are many. If I sit at my desk for longer than an hour and a half at a stretch, they have several techniques for drawing my attention. One, come and sit by my feet, gazing up piteously until I respond. Two, run to the front door barking wildly. Sometimes this means a real person is at the door, sometimes it’s only someone walking up the road (person with dog or dogs gets an extra loud bark), and sometimes it is solely an attention-grabbing ploy. It always works. Fergal may be very small but he has a mighty voice. Three involves tipping over the kitchen bin and scattering the contents on the floor. Four is to sit alone in a distant part of the house and wail as if the end of the world is coming.

The correct response to all of these is to get my eyes off the screen, stand up and take a break. Such breaks must include cuddles. They should involve moving out of the office to an area where at least one dog can get on my knee, and the dispensing of snacks for all.

Dogs love naps. They especially enjoy taking naps with their writers. I take a break from work in order to do this most days, and stay up later to compensate. The dogs give me the sign when it’s time, more or less herding me into the appropriate area and settling around me.

Dogs don’t like deadlines. When a deadline is looming, writers don’t stick to the sensible program the dog expects of them. They sit at the desk far longer than they should, they forget the established protocols and they miss the very clear signs that it’s time to take a break. At such times the writer can be tense and cranky. They may even shout and throw random objects. Basically, they are not a lot of fun to be around. Dogs will make their displeasure clear. We should try to take notice. A quick walk reduces tension. Dogs know this.

However long a writer has dogs, there’s always something new to be learned from them. Today I learned that the most unlikely canine can be an emotional support animal.

It’s easy to feel amused at stories of travellers taking their emotional support peacocks or guinea pigs on a plane to alleviate their anxiety. Travel is not a huge source of stress for me, but I don’t love the publicity that goes with being an author, and I particularly dislike having my photo taken. I have a set of studio photos that were taken with my dogs, and I use those as my official author shots. However, a new publisher needed a standard author ‘head shot’ – just me without a dog. The photographer did the shoot at my house, with Fergal, Reggie and Pip running around at foot level. When I explained how hard I find it to relax in photos, and how having the dogs in the pictures had made my previous shoot easier, he suggested I sit and hold Fergal on my knee while he did the head and shoulders shots. So all those pictures that don’t show a dog actually do have a dog in them, sort of. And they have a much more relaxed-looking writer. (Actually we did sneak in one or two with Fergal visible – he had been such a good boy.) Did I mention that Fergal is a wispy little one-eyed dog with Addison’s disease and glaucoma? His name means ‘valorous’ and in his own way he truly lives up to it.

Fergal (left) before his eye operation and Zen on the right. © Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio

Last but not least, the writer’s dog takes his human through highs and lows of emotion. I’ve written before about the traumatic loss of a beloved dog to an unprovoked attack. We lost another dear old man about two weeks ago, this time from a mystery illness which, compounded by his severe heart murmur, meant it was time to let him go. Zen came from a situation of neglect, and proved to be the gentlest, sweetest dog I’ve ever known, spreading peace and calm wherever he went. He especially loved babies and small children. It was sad to say goodbye. I write this with tears in my eyes, but such a shining example of goodness can only be remembered, in the end, with joy.

A writer learns many things from a dog. A dog allows us to set free emotions we might not express in front of another human. A dog can show us qualities we may not find in another human. Dogs teach us wisdom that feeds into our creative work, not only when we write about animals, but when we write about life. They teach us sorrow, they teach us hope, they teach us utter joy and blissful contentment. They teach us unconditional love and deep forgiveness. In the end, they teach us pain and they teach us acceptance. I say thank you to each and every one of them, the easy and the challenging. But especially to you, Zen. You sure lived up to the name I gave you.

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While enjoying her website, I learned this new-to-me author has written twenty novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. She’s currently working on a new fantasy trilogy for adult readers, Warrior Bards, of which the first book, The Harp of Kings, will be published in September 2019. Her short novel Beautiful, based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, comes out as an Audible Original on May 30.

When not writing, Juliet is kept busy by her small tribe of elderly rescue dogs. You can learn more about Juliet and her work on her website at http://www.julietmarillier.com/.

 

 

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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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).