I am very pleased to welcome Sheila Webster Boneham to my blog today to do a guest post. Sheila is 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. She is also the author of Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the Animals in Focus Mystery series. For the past two decades she has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. (Two of my favorite breeds. But my handsome black lab and stories about him are for another post!) She has also bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Sheila holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and lives in Wilmington, N.C. The reason Sheila is here today is because she is doing a tour with Great Escapes Virtual Tours for the release of her second book in the Animals in Focus Mystery series, The Money Bird. You will find all of Sheila’s links at the bottom of the post as well as the other stops on the tour. Be sure to say hello in the comments and pay her a visit on some of her other stops. And click for a Rafflecopter giveaway and a chance to win one of three books Sheila is giving away.
In my mysteries, dogs and cats and other animals are vital characters. After all, the series isn’t called Animals in Focus for nothing. My series concept is that each book spotlights a different “animal activity”—a type of competitive event, or noncompetitive sport, or non-sporting activity such as pet-assisted therapy–and each mystery hinges on an animal-related issue. Just as they do in real life, serious issues can create major problems for writers in a genre that discourages “nittygrittyness.” So one of the challenges I face is balance: how do I balance some really tough realities with the conventions of the cozy?
In the first book, Drop Dead on Recall, we meet animal photographer Janet MacPhail and her Australian Shepherd Jay at a canine obedience trial, where a top-level competitor keels over. Soon Janet, Jay, and their very important feline family member Leo find themselves embroiled in a series of murders that seem to be linked to breeder ethics (or lack thereof) and cut-throat competitiveness. I’ve spent many years deep in the world of dogs. Purebred, mixed breed, rescued, responsibly bred—I love them all. And honestly, I like the vast majority of people involved with dogs in various ways. If I’ve learned anything, it is that no serious issue is simple, and that there are good, responsible people involved in all parts of the “dog world.” There are also some of the others.
In The Money Bird, coming in September, Janet has her lens focused on retrievers training for AKC retrieving tests, especially the handsome Drake and his almost-as-handsome person, Tom Saunders. When Drake retrieves something unexpected at a practice session, Janet quickly finds herself face-to-face with illegal trafficking in endangered tropical birds, a very nasty business that is all too common and lucrative in the real world.
A number of challenges presented themselves as soon as I began writing The Money Bird. First, this series falls under the “cozy” umbrella, meaning that readers have certain expectations:
- Murder and sex are fine; graphic details are not.
- Adult humans may be killed; children and animals may be threatened, but can’t be harmed. (And why would I want to?)
- Serious issues may be presented, but soap-boxes should be kept mostly tucked under the writer’s desk, not plunked down on the page.
Knowing these “rules” is helpful in some ways, restrictive in others. After all, I’m writing about creatures and issues that stir intense feelings in me as well as in my readers, and it isn’t always easy to stifle myself. Many authors face this problem in fiction, where characters and story (plot, if you prefer) are the real focus. So how do we strike a balance? Not all of us do – I’m sure we’ve all read books in which the author’s passion for a cause overshadowed everything else. If you’re like me, you may have quit reading. I do read serious books, but I go into them knowing what to expect. Most of us don’t like to be bludgeoned when we’re reading mostly to be entertained.
On the other hand, I do like to learn new things and want to live consciously. More than one novel has teased me into digging deeper into an issue that I didn’t know much about.
I hope I’m striking that balance in my own fiction. In The Money Bird, wildlife trafficking is the larger issue woven into the plot. It’s an ugly business, and I’ve tried to present it in a way that will encourage people to learn more without overdoing it. While I wait to find out whether readers think I’ve succeeded, I’m working on the next book in the series. Activity and issue, you ask? For now, they will remain a mystery.
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail knows that trouble is in the air when Labrador Retriever Drake fetches a blood-soaked bag holding an exotic feather and a torn one-hundred-dollar bill during a photo shoot at Twisted Lake. One of Janet’s photography students reports seeing a strange bird at the lake, but he turns up dead before Janet can talk to him. When she learns that the mysterious retreat center near the lake is housing large numbers of tropical birds, Janet is sure there’s a connection and decides to investigate between dog-training classes, photo assignments, and visits to her mom at Shadetree Retirement. With help from her Australian Shepherd Jay and her quirky friend Goldie, Janet is determined to get to the bottom of things before another victim’s wings are clipped for good.
Janet MacPail is a photographer and her boyfriend Tom Saunders is an ethnobotanist and they are both dog lovers and owners. Tom with his black lab Drake and Janet with her Australian shepherd Jay (and cat Leo). They are out with the dogs when Drake discovers a blood soaked canvas bag containing a rather exotic red feather. Janet is convinced there is something amiss and that sets them off on a trail of discovery about the import of illegal exotic pets, in particular rare tropical birds. It all seems connected to a cult like religion or organization called ‘Treasures on Earth’. Janet is also dealing with a mother with Alzheimer’s disease and questioning how serious she wants to be with her relationship with Tom. But that is put on the back burner and the investigation ramped up when one of Janet’s photography students is murdered. This is a good mystery that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Some very funny scenes as well. Like when at a vet’s office full of animals, Janet gets bitten in the butt – by a child. And watch for the scene with the Realtor®. Very, very funny. The Animals in Focus Mystery series is going to be one to follow. ♥♥♥♥♥
If you would like an autographed copy you can place your order here.
September 2 – Shelley’s Book Case Review & Interview
September 3 – rantin’ ravin’ and reading Review & Guest Post
September 4 – A Blue Million Books Interview
September 5 – Omnimystery Interview
September 6 – Mochas, Mysteries and More Review & Guest Post
September 9 – Kaisy Daisy’s Corner Review
September 10 – Melina’s Book Blog Review & Guest Post
September 11 – Read Your Writes Book Reviews Review & Guest Post
September 12 – readalot Review
September 15 – Brooke Blogs Review
September 17 – THE SELF-TAUGHT COOK Review
September 18 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book Review & Guest Post
September 19 – Musings and Ramblings Guest Post
September 20 – A Chick Who Reads Review