I'd like to welcome Sheila Webster Boneham to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Sheila writes the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Catwalk is the third in the series and was just released last month.
SWB: Photography has one of my hobbies since my teens. I’ve taken a number of photography courses over the years, and have had a few of my photos hung in photo and art shows. I’m particularly fond of photographing birds, and, of course, my own animals. Still, I’m not a pro, and I don’t have all the snazzy equipment I would like to have.
I have had professional photos taken of my dogs, and I have two friends who are professional animal photographers. I met Cheryl Ertelt of Fort Wayne, Indiana (the setting for my mysteries) while I was trying to sell Drop Dead on Recall, the first Animals in Focus mystery, to a publisher. We both trained at the Fort Wayne Obedience Training Club, and Cheryl took some gorgeous photos of the real Jay and of my Lab, Lily. So that was fun. And I met Helen Peppe, a writer and photographer from Portland, Maine, about two days after the Animals in Focus series was acquired by Midnight Ink. Cheryl and Helen have both answered questions for me and shared some of their experiences, and some of that shows up in the books. It’s a lot of fun when an author starts meeting her characters!
Kathy: In Catwalk, Janet is training her cat, Leo, for his first feline agility trial. I'm familiar with agility for dogs, but I haven't heard of feline agility. I, for one, would love to see that. Have you ever been to a competition?
SWB: Sadly, no, not yet. I hope to get to some in the next few months. I have seen many videos, though, and in fact I’ve written a piece about the sport, with video links. Here are three to give you a taste:
Here’s a dose of cuteness—a kitten beginning to learn about agility on a kitten-sized course--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nka1BTUikcw .
Here are two spectacular clicker-trained agility cats - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3dXT301i8k
Here are some beginners in competition - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycQSxCYE9qw
Cat shows in general are lots of fun—very different from dog shows!
Kathy: Dog lovers can be partial to certain breeds. While I love all kinds of animals I prefer large mixed breeds when it comes to dogs. I'm drawn to Siberian huskies and German shepherds while my "dream dog" is the Owczarek Podhalanski-the Polish Tatra Sheepdog. The Animals in Focus Mystery series features Australian shepherds and Labrador retrievers. What draws you to these two breeds in particular?
SWB: Let me first say that I, too, love all dogs—purebred, mixed breed, big, small, whatever. I grew up with two Chihuahua, a big mixed breed, a spaniel mix, an Irish Wolfhound, and a Scottish Deerhound, and I brought a cute little mixed breed back from North Africa, where I taught. When the real Jay died in 2012, we adopted an 11.5 year old Golden Retriever from a Golden rescue group in Charlotte. There are many breeds I admire that I might some day want to have in my home, and others that I know would not me a good match for me or my husband. No breed is right for everyone, and I don’t think any person is ideal for all breeds. That said…
First, the Aussie, since that’s the “protagdog” of my series. Like many people, I was first drawn to the Australian Shepherd by the beauty of the breed. Then I met some Aussies and that was that. My first Aussie was a gorgeous red merle named Teddy (UCD Thistleridge Highland Dancer AKC & ASCA CD, CGC, TDInc), and in addition to being an eyeful, he was smart, funny, athletic, and up for anything I wanted to do. In my book The Money Bird, Jay the Aussie participates in water retriever training, and those scenes are based on my Teddy. He LOVED water. Twenty years later, I still love the breed for its beauty, athelticsim, versatility, intelligence, and sense of humor. But they aren’t for everyone! Here’s a recent piece I wrote about Aussies - http://tinyurl.com/lq7t2u7 .
And what’s not to like about Labrador Retrievers? When I was ready for my first “intentionally acquired” dog, I did a lot of research and decided the Lab was for me. My first Lab was a big, goofy field-bred chocolate boy named Raja, and he was my buddy, hiking companion, exercise coach, and best friend. I’ve had a Lab in my life ever since. I love the look of the old-style moderate Lab, their courage and work ethic, their playfulness, and their kindness.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
SWB: I was in a critique group with three writers who were working on cozies, and they were having so much fun that I thought for quite a while about trying to write one. I didn’t think I could make up a story, though—I had always written nonfiction. Then I was driving home from a dog show with Teddy, and the idea for Drop Dead on Recall popped into my head. By the time I got home, I had a good hunk of the plot, the main character, and the title. I didn’t really set out to make it a cozy; it just grew into one!
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
SWB: I do. I recently won the 2014 Prime Number Magazine Award for Creative Nonfiction for an essay I wrote about encounters with different kinds of corvids—crows, magpies, ravens, and others--and I regularly publish essays, short stories, and poems in literary magazines.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
SWB: The Animals in Focus series features Janet MacPhail, a 50-something professional photographer and accidental amateur sleuth. She’s been living a reasonably quiet life in Fort Wayne, Indiana, taking photos of animals, training and showing her dog, and playing with her cat. In Drop Dead on Recall, she witnesses what turns out to be a murder, meets Tom Saunders, an attractive anthropologist, and wrestles with her mother’s advancing dementia. Each book in the series highlights at least one animal activity—canine obedience in book #1, retriever training in #2, The Money Bird, and both canine and feline agility in #3, Catwalk. The mystery in each book hinges on an issue of some sort—breeder ethics in #1, wildlife trafficking in #2, and feral cat colonies, endangered species, and run-away land development in #3. Of course, the other elements of Janet’s life continue through the series too—she has to deal with her mother’s declining health, and her own very mixed feelings about her increasingly serious relationship with Tom. A few of the other series characters have become popular with readers, too. And that includes the animals!
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
SWB: That’s like asking a parent which kid is her favorite! I’ll never tell—I love them all. I will tell you, though, that I get a lot of positive feedback about Janet herself, her quirky neighbor Goldie Sunshine, and fellow dog enthusiast Giselle Swann, who changes book by book. I guess you’ll have to read the books and pick your own favorites!
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
SWB: I’ve been involved with dog sports for two decades, and have had animals all my life. And who doesn’t know some quirky characters? The series just sort of grew out of my love of writing, books, and critters, and my varied experiences.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
SWB: I don’t know that I ever made such a decision. I come from an academic background in which publication is the natural goal. My first publication was in junior high—a poem in a state-wide magazine—and my first adult publications were academic papers (I have a PhD in folklore). Then I moved to writing feature articles for magazines, and in 1998 Alpine Publications published my first nonfiction book about purebred dog rescue. Catwalk is my third mystery but twentieth book.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
SWB: Walt Whitman (poet), Loren Eiseley (essayist and scientist), Jane Austen (novelist), and Agatha Christie (obviously!). Now that should be an interesting dinner!
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
SWB: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
SWB: I think I already have! But in addition to dog sports (especially obedience training and competition, and tracking) and photography, I also love to hike and take long walks, paint (mainly watercolors), and observe people and animals.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
SWB: Milk, pasta, fresh fruit, and carrots. But I confess, I rarely cook. Luckily for me, my husband Roger is an excellent cook. And Lily, my Lab, gets most of the carrots!
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
SWB: I’m working on Animals in Focus #4 right now (it’s scheduled for release in fall 2015). I’m also working on a literary thriller set in Reno, Nevada, and on several nonfiction projects.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
SWB: I’ll tell you two things, because writing is both a solitary and a social pursuit. On the solitary side, I love that I’m always learning something new. In fact, I can get lost in the research—one fascinating thing leads to another, and that’s just delicious. On the social side, I really enjoy meeting readers, whether individually in person or online, or in group events. I particularly enjoy meeting with book groups who have read my book and come with questions and feedback. I always learn a lot from my readers. One place I get lots of feedback is on my Writers & Other Animals Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/writersandotheranimals/
For more information about Sheila Webster Boneham, check out the following links:
Web - www.sheilaboneham.com
Facebook - www.facebook.com/sheilawrites
Blogs - www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com
Animals in Focus Mysteries:
Drop Dead on Recall (2012)
The Money Bird (2013)
Catwalk (September 2014)
Award-winning nonfiction, including
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