Posts Tagged ‘Mystery’

Guest Blog: Virginia is for Mysteries – Volume II

March 7, 2016 1 comment
Virginia is for Mysteries – Volume II
VIFM2 Cover
Heather Weidner and Teresa Inge are blogging today about their experience coordinating the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology series.
Virginia may be for lovers, but to nineteen authors, Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II. The anthology of nineteen short stories, set in and around the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as Virginia Wine Country, the Poe Museum, Luray Caverns, Colonial Williamsburg, the Great Dismal Swamp, Nimrod Hall, the Barter Theater, and Mill Mountain, to name a few. The stories transport readers across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape, filled with killers, crooks, and criminals.
Where did you all get the inspiration for Virginia is for Mysteries?
Teresa: Inspired by the state logo, Virginia is for Lovers, I brainstormed the idea of coordinating a Virginia based anthology with Sisters in Crime Central Virginia and Mystery by the Sea chapter members during Mystery Day at the Library of Virginia in 2011.
How did you market the anthology?
Heather: We held over 52 events and signings for the first anthology, and we have quite a few events planned for Volume II for 2016. We have a website, blog, Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Our authors blog and post regularly about their stories, Virginia locations, and writing. We have been part of events in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.
How did you find a publisher?
Teresa: Based on the suggestion of Jayne Oremod, a Virginia is for Mysteries author, I contacted Koehler Books about publishing the anthology.  When Koehler offered to publish the book, this became the icing on the cake – having a respected Virginia publisher on board.
This is your second in a series. Tell us about some of the opportunities you’ve had with these books.
Teresa: We’ve travelled across the state of Virginia participating in over 52 book signings, panel discussions, and writing sessions.
Heather: It has been such a pleasure to meet so many mystery fans and readers on this journey. My favorite moment was when we signed a copy for Dr. Hal Poe, a relative of the Father of the Mystery, at the Poe Birthday Bash in Richmond, Virginia.
Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced with an anthology.
Teresa: Working with multiple authors, schedules, and timelines can be a challenge.  Since each author has valuable input about how to market and promote the series, finding a happy medium through brainstorming ideas is a plus for any anthology series.
Heather: We are fortunate to have so many talented writers as part of these projects. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to make decisions and plans when we’re spread out across the Commonwealth of Virginia. But our size is also our biggest asset. We have an incredible social media reach when we work together to promote the books.
What is one thing you would recommend to a group who wants to put together an anthology?
Teresa: Assign two book coordinators, a marketing coordinator and other book tasks to authors to ensure each author is involved and tasks are completed in a timely manner. It takes a village to coordinate a successful series.
Heather: Work with your planning team to define the rules and expectations up front. Everyone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something to promote the books. We are so much more successful when we work together.
To learn more about the Virginia is for Mysteries authors, check out the following links:
Teresa Inge Photo

Teresa Inge

Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hot rods. She assists two busy executives and is president of the Sisters in Crime Virginia Beach Chapter. Teresa is the author of “Shopping for Murder,” and “Guide to Murder” in Virginia is for Mysteries, “Fishing for Murder” in the FishNets anthology and has coordinated anthologies. Visit Teresa on Facebook, Twitter, and

Teresa Inge’s Website:

Heather Weidner

Heather Weidner has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.  Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather lives in Central Virginia with her husband and pair of crazy Jack Russell terriers. When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys kayaking, photography, and visiting the beach as much as possible. She is President of the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter. Heather’s story “Washed Up” appeared in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her debut novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes, will be published in May 2016. She writes the blog Crazy for Words and is a guest blogger for a variety of sites. Visit Heather on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.


Jaden Terrell – Jared McKean Mystery Series Author – Guest Interview


Author Jaden Terrell

Author Jaden Terrell

An Interview with Jaden Terrell – Jared McKean Mystery Series Author  


DHG: You write a very character-driven series…tell us something about it?

JT:  The seeds of the character—Jared McKean—were sown during the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. I watched those young men being cut to pieces, the surf turning red, and they just kept getting out of those boats, pushing for the shore. And I thought, “This is what we ask our men to do. And then we expect them to come home and be loving husbands, gentle fathers, and loyal friends. And they do. For the most part, they do.” I wanted to write about that man—not necessarily about a military man, because Jared served in law enforcement rather than the military—but about a man who is strong enough and brave enough to do what needs to be done but is able to hold onto his kindness and compassion. Jared lives in a dark world, but he is not a dark man.
DHG: You’ve said you developed a supporting cast to showcase various aspects of Jared’s character. What can you tell us about that?

JT: I always wanted to start with the typical tough-guy detective and then show his deeper, more complex interior landscape. He’s good friends with his former partner on the homicide squad, and their interactions show his ability to detach, his competence as an investigator, and his tougher side. His relationship with his ex-wife is complicated. They still love each other deeply, but their core needs are diametrically opposed. She needs safety and security, but his Galahad complex constantly leads him into danger. He takes risks. “You’re a hero looking for something to die for,” she says. He doesn’t have a death wish, but he does have a serious need to be—and be perceived as—heroic. Her remarriage to a steady, less exciting but good man is a challenge they all have to work through.

His housemate and best friend is Jay, Renfield, a gay man living with AIDS. They’ve been friends since kindergarten, and their relationship, along with Jay’s illness, has helped develop Jared’s compassionate side and his tendency to take up for the underdog.

His son, Paul, has Down syndrome, and I think that relationship, more than any, reveals his gentler side.

DHG: You were a special education teacher. How did your experience in the classroom influence Paul’s character?

JT: I knew from the beginning that Jared would have a son with a disability, because that experience would give him a greater sensitivity to others. Paul began as a composite of several students I taught. By the time I finished the first book, he’d developed into his own individual person, but several of his traits, such as his taste in movies and his love of Beanie Babies, came from children I worked with. There are a few exchanges that came straight from real life. One of my favorites is when Paul has his eighth birthday, and Jared asks how old he’s going to be. Paul says, “Seven.”

Jared says, “No, Sport, you’re going to be eight.”

“Eight?” Paul says. “What happen to seven?”

I loved the innocence and wisdom in that exchange, so of course, I had to use it.

DHG: How do you balance the character development with the plotting of the mystery?

JT: It’s one of the hardest things for me. My first drafts are over-full of Jared’s personal life—I’m especially guilty of putting in more and longer scenes with Paul than I should. In subsequent drafts, I pare all that way down. It’s like panning for gold. You sift out the extra words and if you do it well enough, you’re left with the clearest essence of the relationship. At the same time, I punch up the action. I’m always asking, “How could this be worse?”

DHG:  What are the names of the books in your Jared McKean mystery series?

JT:  Racing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight.

DHG: Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

JT: I just finished the third book in the Jared McKean mystery series. It’s called River of Glass and is about human trafficking. In the opening chapters, when the body of an Asian woman is found holding a decades-old photo of Jared’s father, Jared learns that the man he’s spent his whole life trying to live up to had a secret life—and a second family—in Vietnam. A few days after the body is found, the sister he never knew he had arrives on his doorstep asking him to help her find her daughter, who has been taken by traffickers. The book comes out in October but just became available for preorder. Meanwhile, I’m working on book four.

DHG: Where can readers learn more about you and your books?

JT: My website is the best place: I always love to hear from readers and other writers, too. You can reach me on my Facebook author page or email me at Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog.

                      ~ ~ ~ ~ ~Beth_by_Tam

Shamus award nominee Jaden Terrell is the author of the Jared McKean mysteries and a contributor to Now Write! Mysteries, a collection of exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin for writers of crime fiction. Terrell is the executive director of the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference and a recipient of the 2009 Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at


March 26, 2014 2 comments
Harriette Sackler

Harriette Sackler


I recently had a short story, Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! published in the Mardi Gras Murder anthology. Of the thirteen stories included in the book, Queen of the King Cakes by Harriette Sackler particularly caught my attention so I decided to interview Harriette.

1. Tell me about your writing and your motivation to write.

Harriette: Of my many interests, writing is close to the top of my list. When I began writing short stories, I was motivated to continue when my first story, “Mother Love,” which appeared in the Chesapeake Crimes II anthology, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story.

2. Give me a plot teaser about your Mardi Gras Murder story.

Harriette: “Queen of the King Cakes” is about a young woman who is determined to fulfill her dream of achieving success in an area she is most passionate about. However, one decision changes the course of her life.

3. How did you come to write Queen of the King Cakes? Where did you get the idea for the story?

Harriette: I find that somehow, my stories just come to me. Some of them are based on observations or incidents that have stuck in my mind over time. This story actually revolves around a woman who lived on our block when I was a little girl and the wonderful times I spent with my grandmother who shared a passion similar to my protagonist.MGMFrontCover

4. Did you need to do research for the story?

Harriette: Yes, I did research for this story. I read about the history of King Cakes, the geography of New Orleans, and the Louisiana penal system.

5. Anything else you want to say about the story or the Mardi Gras Murder anthology?

Harriette: I truly hope readers will enjoy my story and would love to hear from them at I also want to give a shout-out to Sarah Glenn and Gwen Mayo for providing short story writers with another venue for their stories.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Harriette Sackler serves as Grants Chair of the Malice Domestic Board of Directors. She is a past Agatha Award nominee for Best Short Story for “Mother Love,” Chesapeake Crimes II.  “Fishing for Justice,” appeared in the Sisters in Crime-Guppies anthology, Fishnets. “Devil’s Night,” can be found in All Hallows’ Evil,” a Mystery and Horror, LLC anthology. “Thanksgiving with a Turkey,” appeared in a Shaker of Margaritas: a Bad Hair Day; and “The Factory,” was published in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder.

Harriette is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime-Chesapeake Chapter, and the Guppies.

She lives in the D.C. suburbs with her husband and their three pups and spends a great deal of time as Vice President of her labor of love: House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary. She is a proud mom and grandmother.  Visit Harriette at:


Guest Blogger S.L. Smith: Researching Everything Under the Sun!

February 23, 2014 7 comments
Author S.L. Smith

Author S.L. Smith

Researching Everything under the Sun! by S.L. Smith

Few things turn me off faster than books with factual errors. I tend to put them down—permanently. For that reason, it’s important I get it right. If I don’t know it, I research it. I’m talking about the smallest details. Some of the research is almost as fun as the writing. Some of it is a headache.

Let’s start with the enjoyable stuff. I ventured into writing mysteries only because a friend spent thirty-five years as a cop, and agreed to perform a reality check on the law enforcement aspects. One battle won.

It didn’t take long to discover I also needed a contact in the medical examiner’s office. I had to muster the courage to make that call. Thankfully, I connected with a gem. This investigator answered all of my questions for book one, Blinded by the Sight. When the book came out, I met him and gave him a copy. That paid off in spades.

He assisted, again, with Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery. At that time, he mentioned several items I should verify with my law enforcement expert. I explained this time my law enforcement expert needed, but lacked, an insider’s knowledge of the St. Paul Police Department.

He lined up two. One is the head of homicide. The other is a retired investigator/detective.  He obtained permission for me to call both men, and provided their direct phone numbers. Thanks to him, both St. Paul PD contacts took my calls and answered all of my questions. I was blown away! I learned so much from them.

I spoke with the St. Paul Fire Marshall to determine which vehicles would be sent to the scene, who would be in the vehicles, and what they’d do on site. Needing answers about hospital procedures and descriptions of the injuries, I connected with an emergency medicine physician. Both of those men were wonderful!

High school kids play a significant role in Running Scared. I called local schools to learn the times school starts and lets out. I had to know the procedures parents follow if their kids are ill. I needed the dress code. After all, the story occurs in Minnesota—in January. I had to put clothes on those kids.

Interviews are the fun part. The rest is interesting—but often a challenge.

The kids also needed names. The Internet provided popular names for the relevant decade. I use that same system to help select names for most characters in my novels.

One kid claims he wouldn’t play a part in the crime, because he’s intent on getting into Notre Dame. The Notre Dame website indicates whether the kid has an acceptance letter by the time the story occurs.

In Running Scared, the victim is struck by a car. The driver had to escape post haste, so the car couldn’t have air bags. Online, I determined the year air bags became01_RunningScaredfront_FINAL standard equipment. I selected a car, and still had to determine if it had air bags. Once I had the make and model, I also had to learn the exterior colors available that year.

The two investigators remark on the vehicle stolen to commit the crime, and the fact that across the street sat the car most commonly stolen at the time. Yup, I had to find out what car was most commonly stolen that year.

This book includes a U.S. citizen who works in Canada. I had to learn whether jobs in Canada are available to U.S. citizens, responsibilities for the selected job, common living arrangements for this transplant, travel methods and time required for this person to return to the U.S., as well as conditions that would delay an emergency trip home.

With help from a Facebook friend, I learned the age of homes in the neighborhoods playing a part in the book. I rode through those neighborhoods, getting a feel for the landscape and houses. I even learned the types of trees.

I wanted to know what the victim and attacker saw, so I could paint a realistic picture. For that reason, I repeatedly traveled the path they followed in the book.

Wondering how all that fits into a single novel? Check out Running Scared.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

S.L. Smith, a lifelong resident of Minnesota, was born in St. Cloud and moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from St. Catherine University in St. Paul.  She is the author of Blinded By the Sight and Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery.  When writing mysteries, S. L. draws upon her degree in psychology, a career with vast amounts of law enforcement interaction, and her thrill for the investigative hunt.  A voracious reader since childhood and a lover of mysteries, she uses her knowledge of Minnesota and human nature to create stories.

S. L. is a member of Sisters in Crime.  Feel free to contact her at:





Guest Blogger Sally Carpenter: Five Days to Make a Sitcom and Solve a Murder

November 18, 2013 19 comments
Sally Carpenter

Sally Carpenter

Five Days to Make a Sitcom and Solve a Murder by Sally Carpenter

A mystery writer starting a novel has the perplexing task of structure—what events will happen and in what order. Plotters will painstakingly map out each plot point, sometimes on index cards or sticky notes that are endlessly shuffled. Pansters will dive in, hoping that they don’t get stuck halfway in.

One pleasure of writing my new book, The Sinister Sitcom Caper, was that the subject matter provided me with a built-in structure. My protagonist is Sandy Fairfax, a 38-year-old former teen idol making a comeback. He’s the guest star on Off-Kelter, the lowest rated TV show of the 1993 fall season. When a healthy young actor drops dead at his feet, Sandy unwittingly investigates.

I fit Sandy’s sleuthing around a standard sitcom rehearsal schedule of that era. Whereas most modern sitcoms are shot on location and given a laugh track, in the 1900s sitcoms were filmed in studio soundstages in front of live audiences, as with Off-Kelter.

A sitcom took five days to rehearse and shoot (the script and the set designs were finished before then). The rehearsal time ran from Monday through Friday or Wednesday through Tuesday, which allowed the camera crews to work on two shows per week and avoided a logjam of too many audiences on the lot at once.

The first day—Monday, in my book—began with a table read where the actors, director and writers sat around a table and read the script aloud. The actors gave their opinions on lines that didn’t work and the writers began revisions. Usually a lunch break followed with rehearsals in the afternoon and running through Wednesday.

My story begins with the table read, an easy way to introduce the characters as they arrive for rehearsal. To add more conflict, I made the director, Royce Jobbe, an obnoxious person that Sandy had worked/clashed with on a prior show.

The mysterious death occurs Monday afternoon. This allows Sandy only four-and-a-half days to solve the case (a nice “ticking clock”), since after the show is taped he will no longer have access to the studio lot. People are generally not allowed onto studio lots unless they are working on a show in progress or have a guest pass from an executive.

To break up the monotony of rehearsals, I gave Sandy a preshoot on Wednesday. Some scenes in a sitcom may be filmed in advance and then screened for the live audience. Preshoots are used for action filmed on location or in the backlot; a hazardous scene involving, fire, smoke or explosions; special effects; or scenes with children who may be tired during the live shoot. Sandy performs a dance routine in the backlot (actually the scene was just an excuse to have Sandy boogie. He’s a terrific dancer). The shoot turns deadly when he’s nearly drowned by the rain machine.

Thursday is camera blocking. The four cameras and crew are brought in so the camera setups for each scene can be fixed. Camera placements are marked with bits of colored tape on the floor. Since this work is long and tedious, stand-ins are used for the actors. This gives Sandy a big chunk of spare time to do some on-lot sleuthing, which ends up with him tied up by the villain inside an unused soundstage.

Friday is show time! The actual filming the show with the audience makes a natural climax for the book. The day begins with dress rehearsal. At 4 p.m. the cast and crew break for an early dinner. After eating, the actors get into makeup and costume while the audience is brought in and seated. Shooting starts at 7 p.m. A twenty-minute sitcom takes three to five hours to film, allowing time for retakes and costume changes.

Since Sandy only appears in a few scenes, he has time during the shooting to do some investigating. He escapes a death trap, catches the murderer, and puts in a great performance all in one evening!

To gently ease the reader back down after the exciting conclusion, the final chapter takes place on Saturday when Sandy, finished with his work, can relax and tend to family matters.

Not all stories will have such a rigid structure, but this book was fun to write and proved that solving a murder while working on a sitcom is no laughing matter!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier, with a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University, who now lives in Moorpark, California.   While in school, her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

Her initial book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. The second book, The Sinister Sitcom Caper, is due out this month.

Her short story, Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in, appears in the anthology Last Exit to Murder.  Faster Than a Speeding Bullet was published in the Plan B: Vol. 2, an e-book anthology. The Pie-eyed Spy, a Thanksgiving-themed short story, will appear in the Nov. 23 Kings River Life e-zine.

Sally blogs at  She is a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. Contact her at Facebook or

Guest Blogger Terry Shames: The One Thing That Defies Organization

August 18, 2013 18 comments
Terry Shames

Terry Shames

The One Thing That Defies Organization by Terry Shames

With the lead-up to publication of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, came months of unaccustomed work preparing for marketing and promotion. I had heard how much time and effort it took, but I was unprepared for the fact that everything else pretty much came to a standstill. I plunged in with great enthusiasm—and with a wave “goodbye” to my usual, organized self.

The novel came out mid-July, and at some point I realized I had to tackle the chaos in my life. I bought a filing cabinet and instigated a filing system; read through several months of “I’ll get to it later” emails, flagging and filing them; and made a list of the blogs I’ve posted for the last year so I know who I blogged for, and when. So I have managed to whip my professional life into shape, but what about my home life?

I had managed to keep up pretty well, but recently I took on the big one: I dragged out all the picture albums, boxes of photos, and negatives (remember those?) from the cabinet where they seemed to have multiplied. I thought I would take everything to one of those places that scans pictures into digital format. Before that, though, I was determined to ruthlessly throw out all the duplicates and the photos that meant nothing to me. How many pictures of a hike my family took in Colorado when I was 16 did I really need?

Looking through the albums, my first thought was, “Who are these people?” There were pictures of people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I don’t remember where they went—or even their names! The best thing I can say is that they remind me of my past. Then there were countless photos of my son’s friends from childhood—kids I don’t remember or recognize. They are darling pictures, but I don’t know who they are!

And then I started wondering whom I was going to all this trouble for. My husband and I are busy and don’t sit around reminiscing over photo albums. My sister has plenty of pictures of her own to deal with. My son hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. I can’t ever see him looking through these pictures and thinking fondly, “Oh, there’s my mom’s Aunt Lottie when she was in her 30s.” More likely, he’d say, “Who’s that?”

I have piles of pictures of me as a baby, and of my parents and their parents, taken when for some reason people thought it was better to take pictures of people standing far away. Half the time I can’t even see who is in the pictures. None of the people are famous, so it’s unlikely a future biographer will lament my profligate destruction of the pictures.

That’s not even to mention my husband’s family pictures. Removed from my mother-in-law’s apartment when she died a few years ago, the albums and loose pictures have stayed exactly where they were when they came into my house—in shopping bags in my husband’s study. Pictures of people I never knew.

So why do I keep all this stuff? All I know is that it makes me feel queasy to think of throwing them away. Do I worry that one of these days I’ll regret not having them? Do I imagine that one day I will want to pore over them? Who knows? I remember once going through a box of random photos with my grandmother. We ran across a photo of a man in a Civil War uniform. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandmother laughed, “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know why I have it.” And she tucked it back into the box.

I’d like to hear whether other people have the same impulse to keep all those pictures—and why?


Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where her grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery, the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.

Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at

Guest Blog: Sheila Webster Boneham – Dog Hair and Mysteries

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment


by Sheila Webster Boneham

A few days ago I popped into a local department store to look for a sweater. I found what I wanted, and headed for the check out. When I handed my credit card to the cashier, a rather prim older woman, I noticed the pained look on her face. Then she said, “There’s hair all over your shirt. What is that?” Granted, I was wearing a black pull-over and had cuddled my yellow Lab, Lily, earlier, but from the woman’s tone, you’d have thought I was spattered with blood!

I have killed people, but only in my books. Blood is not always involved. Hair (or technically in some cases) has always been a big part of my life, though, and it’s a big part of Drop Dead on Recall, my newly released Animals in Focus mystery. Not my hair, you understand (I’m barely interested in it anymore), but animal hair. Dog hair, cat hair, horse hair. My protagonist, Janet MacPhail, is a professional animal photographer, amateur dog-sport enthusiast and cat lover. She isn’t me, but we do have a lot in common. I’ve been active for more than two decades in canine activities, competitive and not – sort of a down-sizing of my younger days showing horses (hunters, jumpers, equitation). For me, as for Janet, animal activities are a hobby, although my professional life is also critter-centric. Janet takes pictures, and I write books (seventeen non-fiction books about dogs and cats and rescue), focused on animals.

At first glance it may seem that showing animals and writing are completely different sorts of pursuits, but they have more in common than you might think. I’ve considered the similarities in my passions before, but a few months ago I entertained myself as I languished in an airport after judging a dog show by jotting down a few parallels. Assuming that I’m a reasonably consistent human being (potentially a topic for another time), I figure that dog sports and writing must have elements in common to keep me so passionate about them for so many years.

The first element that comes to mind is aesthetic appeal. Beauty, yes – a well-turned phrase, a gorgeous head. But there’s more to aesthetic appeal than beauty. There’s rhythm, function, timing, and all the other things that come together to stir us to respond emotionally and intellectually to the thing before us. A dog may be beautiful in itself, or in its performance, or – ideally – in both, just as a piece of writing may be beautiful for its language and rhythm, or the way it moves us, or – ideally – both. That’s me, by the way, with my beautiful Reno at a show several years ago.

Then there’s the challenge of doing well in either arena. Training a dog to compete successfully is a lot of hard work for trainer and dog alike. Learning to write well is also a lot of hard work. This is, of course, true of anything we want to do well. To the casual observer of the finished product – the book, the competitive performance – it may appear to be no big deal. Trust me, it is. In fact, novices in both fields are often amazed to discover that they have to work, and work hard, if they want to make what they do look effortless.

Of course, no matter how good you are, you don’t win every time. Editors say no thanks. Judges put you and your dog at the end of the line. Reviewers write bad reviews. Dogs and people trip and fall and make dopey mistakes. Rejection is part of both games, and rejection sucks. But here’s the thing…. the people who win a lot – with book contracts and in canine competitions – have also lost a lot. You just keep playing, and learning to play better, and eventually you win more often.

I thought of a few other parallels before we started boarding the plane, but the one that stood out – that has stood out for me for many years – is that I write and I show dogs because they’re both so darn much fun. In fact, despite the hard work and disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory, I’ve found some of my best friends through both writing and through my dogs. I’ve laughed until I cried, and cried without laughing, and I’ve experienced profound and moving and really silly moments. Janet MacPhail, the protagonist of Drop Dead on Recall, experiences similar joys and disappointments, albeit through photography rather than writing. And that’s not all we have in common. Janet’s Australian Shepherd Jay and her orange tabby Leo are nothing if not furry, and I suspect that Janet has horrified a cashier here and there, too, with her fur-spattered clothing.

Drop Dead on Recall is available in print and ebook formats through the usual sources. If you would like an autographed copy, please consider my Drop Dead for Healthy Dogs benefit event. Your purchase of a personally inscribed book will support canine health research and small business. Visit for information.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


When a top-ranked competitor keels over at a dog obedience trial, photographer Janet MacPhail is swept up in a maelstrom of suspicion, jealousy, cut-throat competition, death threats, pet-napping, and murder. She becomes a “person of interest” to the police, and apparently to major hunk Tom Saunders as well. As if murder and the threat of impending romance aren’t enough to drive her bonkers, Janet has to move her mother into a nursing home, and the old lady isn’t going quietly. Janet finds solace in her Australian Shepherd, Jay, her tabby cat, Leo, and her eccentric neighbor, Goldie Sunshine. Then two other “persons of interest” die, Jay’s life is threatened, Leo disappears, and Janet’s search for the truth threatens to leave her own life underdeveloped – for good.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sheila Webster Boneham is the award-winning author of Drop Dead on Recall, the first book in the Animals in Focus mystery series, and seventeen nonfiction books about animals, including the highly regarded Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals. Sheila earned her doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and has taught writing at universities in the U.S. and abroad. Knowing there’s always more to learn, she is currently completing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.

Sheila has been deeply involved with animals most of her life and is a strong advocate for both responsible rescue and responsible breeding. In the past two decades, she has trained and competed with her own dogs in several sports; bred highly successful Australian Shepherds under the kennel name “Perennial”; organized rescue organizations and fostered dogs; trained, handled, and assessed therapy dogs; judged dog shows. She has also given millions of belly rubs and flicked countless dog and cat hairs off her clothes!

Sheila would love to hear from you. You can follow her news and events or contact her at the following places: Facebook at Twitter at or @sheilaboneham Website at Amazon at