Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the Dog Writers Association of America Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book. Sheila Webster Boneham is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has also bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and resides in Wilmington, N.C. Today, Sheila is with us as she tours with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for the third Animals in Focus Mystery, CATWALK. And now Sheila will compare tracking and writing for us. Be sure to leave her a comment or any questions and for a chance to win a copy of CATWALK, go HERE.
Tracking Down the Story
Tracking down a story can be challenging for a writer, just as tracking down quarry can be challenging for a dog. When I start my first mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, I had been writing nonfiction for decades and wasn’t sure I could write fiction. And although I can’t ask her to verify, I’m pretty sure that when my dog Lily started training for her tracking title, she wasn’t sure she could track a stranger, either, at least not in the precise fashion required by the rules. The analogy may seem a little far-fetched, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I often see parallels between writing and canine sports.
Catwalk, my latest Animals in Focus Mystery opens with Jay, the leading dog, searching a kidnapping victim with Janet MacPhail, the 50-something protagonist of my series. So the notion of writing as a kind of tracking makes sense to me.
Writers begin with some basic tools. We have fabulous words and we have grammar to help us arrange them into meaningful order. Above all, we have the universal human instinct to frame experience as “story.” We explain, excuse, argue, teach, and entertain through narratives that we structure with beginnings and endings, suspense and surprise. Beyond that, a story always finds an audience, because we human beings love to have plots and characters and wordplay presented to us. Whether we listen to them over coffee or read them in bed, we love stories.
Even very young puppies can begin tracking training. I started training my Labrador Retriever, Lily, when she was seven weeks old. Here’s Lily tracking a strange person’s scent at twelve weeks of age.
Dogs also begin with some basic tools. They have fabulous noses some 125 to perhaps 300 million scent receptors, depending on the breed (compared to our measly fifty million). Unlike a newborn puppy’s eyes and ears, which remain sealed for the first ten days to two weeks while they finish forming, the nose works delightfully well at birth. I used to breed Australian Shepherds, and I’ve seen puppies follow their twitchy little noses to the milk bar before they’re fully out of the birth canal. “Smells good, Mom. Yip!” Our puppies learned within the first few minutes to identify their mothers and their pack – including my husband and I – purely by scent, and a stranger’s scent, even within a few hours of birth, would elicit a startle response. In fact, a puppy’s olfactory abilities are way ahead of a child’s story-telling skills for a good few years!
Back to the original story…. when I decided I wanted to try writing fiction, and I wasn’t at all sure I could make up a story, especially a big enough story to make a novel. And then one day I was driving home from a canine obedience trial, and an opening line popped into my head. It was brilliant! And not only did I have a brilliant opening line, but I could see the whole brilliant book – not the cover or spine, but the guts! I had a story. All I had to do was write it….
Lily and Sheila tracking Jim Huang’s “missing” daughter Miranda at a meeting of the Speed City Sisters in Crime in 2009. Photo courtesy of Brenda Robertson Stewart.]
Like most writers, I do a lot of other things besides write. I paint, I hike, and for many years I’ve trained and competed with my dogs. While I was working on my first novel (in between nonfiction books), I was also competing in obedience with my Aussie, Jay, and starting my Labrador puppy, Lily, in obedience and tracking. Lily took to tracking like, well, a Lab to water. But just as I had to learn new writing skills in order to craft a story that people might want to read, Lily had to learn to follow the scent trail that I wanted her to follow so that she could find something I wanted her to bring me. (And I had to learn to trust that we were both on the right tracks!)
Lily earned her American Kennel Club Tracking Dog (TD) title before she was two years old. I finished my first mystery when I was…well, never mind! That brilliant first line is long gone, but I’m now three books into the Animals in Focus series, with number four in the works. I’m pretty excited about that. Lily, now eight years young, still thinks lost gloves are more interesting the piles of paper, although she does nap beside me while I write.
Website – www.sheilaboneham.com
Blogs – www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com
Agility can be murder for cats, dogs, and people!
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “kidnapping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing party, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies and endangered wetlands.
Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But the discovery of a body on the canine competition course stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.
Yet another series you will want to follow. I noticed the series because I am a dog lover. I love the series because it is well written and the mystery is well thought out and plotted. The book works perfectly as a stand alone if this is your introduction, but I always add the caveat, start from the first and work your way through the series, it makes for a much richer experience. Once again, Sheila has brought us a winner with ♥♥♥♥♥
October 1 – Back Porchervations – Review
October 2 – Booklady’s Booknotes – Review, Guest Post
October 3 – Read Your Writes Book Reviews – Review
October 4 – Kelly P’s Blog – Guest Post
October 5 – Chloe Gets A Clue – Interview
October 6 – readalot blog – Review
October 7 – rantin’ ravin’ and reading – Review, Guest Post
October 8 – A. Literary Mafia – Interview
October 9 – Kaisy Daisy’s Corner – Review
October 10 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review, Interview
October 11 – Brooke Blogs – Guest Post
October 12 – Cozy Up With Kathy – Interview
October 13 – Community Bookstop – Review
October 14 – Melina’s Book Blog – Review, Guest Post