With Thanks

As a child, I was very fortunate to have an older brother and sister willing to take me WAY across town to the public library. (Thanks, Jim Holmes and Maureen Kidd!) The wonderful librarians steered me first to the children’s section and, after I’d gone through those shelves, allowed me to read whatever I wanted as long as I showed them first. (How lucky was I???) I raced through biographies and travel guides and read about places I’d never heard of that inspired a love of geography and the library’s Map Room. I quickly fell in love with the glossy, sophisticated publications like Harper’s and the New Yorker as well as newspapers from around the world in languages I didn’t understand. (Thanks to the patient librarians who introduced me to the wonders of the world, and who unknowingly set me on a journey to travel the globe!)

Many of the stories I read referred to New York City as simply “the City.” When I was in the first grade, I had to make up a story about people in that particular city so, drawing upon what I’d read at the library, I referred to NYC as “the City” paying careful attention to capitalization, of course.

My teacher Miss Hess was convinced I stole the story “because first graders cannot possibly know things like that” and scored it an F. I cried all the way home. My mother, at a complete loss over how to deal with an hysterical 6-year-old, told me “just wait until your father comes home.” (Not your usual use of that phrase.)

My father went straight to the school with me in tow. Even though I had to wait on the steps outside the classroom, I clearly heard every word my father said in my defense. From that firestorm, a writer was born.

You should know our wonderful father made sure Santa put a dictionary under the Christmas tree for us and gave us a magnetic alphabet board so we could play with words. Despite his fiercely mathematical mind (genes I sadly did not inherit) our father was a literary aficionado who loved  to complete the New York Times crossword in ink. He was seriously good at the show Jeopardy, too.  He clearly understood this daughter of his was DIFFERENT (an understatement if you ask anyone who knew me then or now!) and knew I was prone to integrate what I read into whatever I was doing.  He’d read the story and it made perfect sense to him. Of course, my Dad loved to read the Horatio Hornblower series and would discuss those books and the Napoleon Wars with his kids, as long as we didn’t interrupt his reading time while eating supper after working late. (And yeah, I paid attention. Any wonder I followed his footsteps and joined the military?)

From my earliest days, my father was a champion of my writing. I carry his words in my heart and remember them often.

Thanks, Dad, for the gift of literature, and words, and the world beyond my doorstep.

 

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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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

 

Wishing You Joy!

Holiday candle

Holiday candle courtesy of http://www.torange.us  (Creative Commons license 4.0)

Wherever and whatever you celebrate, here’s wishing you a season of joy–and good reading, too! I’ll be back in mid-January with more great reads, plus updates about the next book in my Waterside Kennels mystery series.

~Susan

Digging for Treasure

Group_of_Gun_Dogs_from_1915

Gun dogs: in Dogs of All Nations (W.E. Mason, 1915)

While mystery fiction has quite a few dog-related series, none of them were set in a boarding kennel at the time Deadly Ties was published. Makes a great setting with plenty of characters coming and going—and dogs, of course!

The kennel becomes the physical “anchor” for the book, and for the entire series. As the series opens, kennel owner and dog trainer Maggie Porter is focused on attracting clients and getting the kennel up and running. Her opening coincides with the Merchants’ League’s latest campaign to promote tourism. It’s a new twist on a folktale: business leaders have created a regional “Treasures of the Ozarks” marketing campaign to encourage tourism. The world of business loves tag lines and slogans, and my fictional business leaders are no different. In the story, some clever PR person christens Waterside Kennels  “the newest treasure of the Ozarks.”

And here’s where I should confess: although I’m fascinated by Ozark myths and legends, I didn’t rush right out and buy a metal detector when I first heard the tales about buried treasure. I will tell you, though, that meeting  historian and folklorist Mr. Philip Steele fired up my imagination. With his encouragement, I began plotting a series of books that will include regional folktales and superstitions.

As I researched the old tales, I discovered a great many folks are convinced that treasure really exists, and they’re determined to find it. Others are just as convinced that the treasure talks are pure fiction, and are heartily sick of treasure hunters trespassing on their lands. Since many of those trespassers like to cut fences and dig holes—which they leave unfilled for some unlucky wanderer to fall into—I can certainly appreciate the landowners’ perspective, and I’ve taken care to alter some of the details I was given. That hasn’t stopped some from demanding more information. At one signing, a reader approached with a copy of the book in one hand and a map in the other, and wanted me to mark the location of the silver mentioned in the story!

I’ve also discovered that treasure hunting seems a recession-proof occupation. Since I started researching this series back in the late 1990s, I continue to see the topic of treasure active in online discussions. Even now the forums frequented by coin collectors have posts debating the best places now to use their metal detectors in their quest for Indian silver, Spanish gold, or Civil War relics.

One of the most active sites appears to be TreasureNet, with most participants passionate about metal detecting. That’s where I first came across the Treasure Hunter’s Code of Ethics. (Who knew?) You can find the code posted wherever you buy metal detectors; while the language might vary  from one site to the next, the key principles remain the same. It’s too bad the trespassing treasure hunters won’t abide by the Code.

The treasure hunters’ forums are full of tales and superstitions. And when a tale leads to a “find” that’s enough to keep them searching for more. And so the legends live on, and folktales are passed along, from one generation to the next, keeping the old tales alive. What’s truth? What’s not? Find the right mix, and you have a story waiting to be told.

The Beautiful Ozarks

When I travel, I’m often asked “What’s it like to live in the Ozarks?” Borrowing a Native American phrase I like to say that to live among these hills is to “walk in beauty.” You needn’t take my word for it, though. Here’s a slideshow of photographs taken by Arkansas photographer David Dedman:

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These photographs capture the beauty of our region with its clear waters, deep forests, rugged hillsides and deep valleys. This is the landscape of my mystery series. That landscape is at risk in book #2 when land swindlers and greedy developers set their sights on Hogan County. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want–even if that means murder. When you read the book, I hope you’ll think of David’s photographs and understand what the good people of Hogan County are fighting to preserve.

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David Dedman Photography is on Facebook. His work is for sale on the Fine Art America website. Click on any photo on that site and a page appears showing you the myriad media available (acrylic, framed print, canvas, etc.) You can enjoy his work on throw pillows, tote bags, greeting cards, and more.

Leave a comment and let us know which is your favorite among these beautiful photographs!

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…