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Showing posts from May, 2018

Killer Companions

GIF via Tenor We’ve spent the month discussing the many ways that animals, both domesticated and wild, can add wonderful color and layers of emotionally satisfying richness to a short story or novel. We’ve talked about how animal companions may become even more popular than the human protagonist who was supposed to be the star of any given series. But we have not explored how animals—that readers expect to always be warm and fuzzy—may in fact, be killer companions instead. Two instances jump immediately to mind. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle used animals as killers in two of his Sherlock Holmes titles. His third novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles , featured a large, spectral dog, the hound of the title, that was so eerie and terrifying in aspect that its mere appearance was enough to frighten victims to death. In Conon Doyle’s short story, The Adventure of the Speckled Band , the villain used a venomous snake trained to respond to his whistles. The snake slithered down a bell pull i

Fauna and the Kiddies

Kermit the Frog We've discussed cats, dogs, and other creatures in keeping with our fauna theme this month. One area we may have shortchanged, however, is their presence children's books. Many of our little ones have grown up on  Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  Cat in the Hat,  Charlotte's Web , the animals in Dr. Dolittle books. A lot of us read Black Beauty when we were young, as well as Where the Red Fern Grows —one of my son's favorites. Young children love animals and will often sit still for extended periods while we read to them from books about personified critters who can think and speak like humans. Henny Penny in  Chicken Little is convinced the sky is falling. Then we have the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood , who are being pursued by the big, bad wolf. Winnie the Pooh is a teddy bear, and Peter Rabbit , one of my father's favorites in the early 1900s, has survived for more than a century This short list of animal charac

#FridayReads - Fear on Four Paws

In Fear on Four Paws , the seventh entry in author Clea Simon’s Pet Noir Mystery Series, Pru Marlowe proves to be a complicated protagonist. She has a leg up when it comes to solving crimes because she can communicate telepathically with animals. The emotions and images they share with her often send her haring off in the right direction, at least when it comes to solving crimes. In other aspects of her life, Pru herself lets readers know things don’t run quite as smoothly. She has more than a passing fascination with drinking to ease her uncertainty and self-doubt. It’s not always easy to follow her line of thinking or to feel entirely comfortable with how harshly she sometimes treats people presented as her friends and clients. She sizes up men as potential bedmates in the same way that some people examine horses prior to making a purchase decision, doing everything but asking to examine their teeth. So, what does all this make her? A refreshingly different and modern amateur s

Cats and Cozy Mysteries Go Together Like Scones and Clotted Cream

~ We are delighted to welcome Pat Smith as the newest contributor to The Blood-Red Pencil ~ When I think of cats and mystery novels, my mind always swings to fond memories of reading Lilian Jackson Braun's delightful 29-book series, "The Cat Who...," launched in 1966 by E. P. Dutton with the publication of "The Cat Who Could Read Backwards." Starring the intrepid feline sleuths, Koko and Yum Yum, the series clearly favors the cats as they use their abilities to solve murders with only a bit of help from their human, a newspaper reporter named Jim Qwilleran. Koko, in particular, seems to have an almost psychic ability to point out overlooked clues and evidence so Qwill can solve the crimes and see justice done. But Qwill always gives credit to his beloved cats for their assistance and shows his gratitude by spoiling them shamelessly. While Braun was not the first and certainly will not be the last to feature a feline in her mystery novels, as both a cat lover

Eagle - Writing Prompt

If you cannot gasp When you see an eagle soar Work on your wonder ~ Drawing and haiku by Kim Pearson ~ Writing Prompt: Interrupt your protagonist's day with a chance encounter with an eagle that will leave her/him changed in some way. What happened? What did s/he have to do? How did s/he feel? What did s/he learn (about eagles, her/himself, or another person/group)? What might s/he do differently following this encounter?

Of Canaries and Cats… Pets in the Victorian Era

When I was researching for my latest Silver Rush book, A DYING NOTE, I used an 1886 “business directory map” to work out what businesses were in the neighborhood of my fictional D & S Music Store in San Francisco. That is where I bumped up against “A. C. Robison, Importer and Dealer in Birds and cages, etc.” My mind began churning. Birds, eh? What kinds of birds did people keep as pets in the late 19 th century? Birds were popular pets in the late 19th century. By Miami U. Libraries - Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Well, I couldn’t let a question like that go unanswered. I turned to the internet, and down the rabbit hole I went…. According to the article “ Our American Birds ,” by Michael K. Boyer, which appeared in Godey’s Magazine , September 1889, songbirds were popular. There is the canary, of course, but also a variety of finches: the goldfinch, the indigo finch, and the Nonpareil are mentioned. Other birds inclu

Give Them A Reason

When considering whether to put an animal in a story, it is probably wise to decide what role the animal is going to play. Is it just to be there because you happen to like dogs, or cats, or rabbits, or birds? Or because you are trying to attract all the dog and cat lovers to buy your book? The books in the popular K9 series mentioned on May 8 by Patricia Stolty are good examples of animals being an integral part of the plot and characters in their own right. Not just a ploy to increase sales. Being a firm believer that all elements of a story need to be organic to the story, not just plopped in there, that is what I thought of when my co-author, Margaret Sutton, wanted to put a cat in Doubletake . I asked her why. "Because we both love cats," she said, as three cats wandered across her desk and bookcases in her office. My instinct was that that was not reason enough, but had a hard time articulating that to her at the time. It was later, after reading enough books

Shadow's Legacy

Shadow came to my home when she was about two months old. Approximately ninety percent timber wolf, she had definite ideas about who would be the alpha in our relationship, and she wasn't shy about showing her qualifications for that position. I, of course, disagreed. While it can be cute to watch a young wolf cub assert her dominance, it's far less cute to deal with an adult wolf living in a domestic environment do the same. My love for wolves began some years earlier when I became associated with a loosely aligned group of wolf owners. Most of the wolves were high-percent hybrids, but a few were pure wolf. (The state I lived in did allow people to keep hybrids; the purebreds may have been another matter.) My first encounter with an adult wolf came when while I was visiting a lady who belonged to the group. She was "wolf-sitting" for another member who was out of town, and she offered to let me in the pen with the animal to "get acquainted." It soun

Dogs in Fiction: From Lassie to Robo, Boy’s Best Friend to Woman’s K-9 Partner

I’ve loved dog books since I was a kid. Lassie Come Home (1940) by Eric Knight.  Old Yeller (1956) by Fred Gipson .   White Fang (1906) and Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London.  It wasn’t until I read Virginia Lanier’s bloodhound books that I became hooked on mystery series featuring working dogs. Lanier’s series featured Jo Beth Siddon who raised and trained her bloodhounds as trackers. Siddon worked with Georgia and federal authorities on cases that ranged from a missing child to an escaped killer. I loved that Lanier did not get her first book published until she was 65. Sadly, she passed away at age 72, but still had managed to get six of those amazing novels finished. Siberian Huskies starred in Joanne Sundell 's Watch Eyes Trilogy . Sandi Ault features a wolf in her Wild series. More recently, I’ve discovered K-9 dogs, trained in specialized skills ranging from search and rescue of humans to drug searches to bomb sniffing. Sara Driscoll is the ps

Worldbuilding: Imaginary Creatures

Fantasy and Supernatural stories are full of angels, demons, dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, gremlins, halflings, hobgoblins, orcs, ogres, trolls, vampires, witches, and warlocks. Cave-dwelling Gollum is a favorite of mine from J. R. R. Tolkein's The Hobbit . Alice in Wonderland had the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and perpetually rushed White Rabbit. In Frank Herbert's Science Fiction novel Dune , there were giant sandworms that gave me nightmares. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has too many to list fascinating creatures: thestrals, Hippogriffs, dementors, and ridgeback dragons. Hagrid had a menagerie including boarhounds, giant spiders, Fluffy the three-headed dog, and blast-ended skrewts. The offshoot movies Magical Creatures and Where to Find Them are populated with the niffler, obscurus, bowtruckles, and doxies, to name but a few of the enormous list of magical creatures . In my realism-based series, Mythikas Island , I kept the thr

A Sense of Place

I knew an architect years ago who designed stunning homes. One day, looking at some of his blueprints, I noticed some scribbles and the words Growy Stuff. "Growy stuff?" I asked him. "Yeah, you know... trees and flowers, that stuff. Around the house." I cracked up. Clearly the house meant more to him than what surrounded it. But in literature, what surrounds your characters is as much a character in itself as they are. A good writer creates a sense of "place" by giving a book a setting imbued with lots of personality. That often includes the stuff of nature. My current story is set in Colorado, tucked somewhere between the wide open plains and the Rocky Mountains. Look east and you'll see flat plains with yucca and sagebrush, cedar windbreaks, and deciduous trees planted by early settlers; look west and the land starts to roll, with stands of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine, the towering front range in the distance. It's wild and