Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Drop Dead on Recall

Today's guest is award-winning author Sheila Webster Boneham. Sheila writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Although best known for her writing about dogs and cats for the past fifteen years, Sheila also writes fiction, narrative nonfiction, and poetry. She is currently working on a series of essays about traveling the U.S. by train, and on a combination memoir and wide-ranging meditation on the human-canine connection. Sheila teaches writing workshops and classes, and is interested in speaking to groups about writing, creativity, and related topics. Sheila lives in Wilmington, NC, and can be found online at She will also be participating in Book 'Em North Carolina on February 23, 2013 and we hope you'll come by and meet her!


How did you get interested in writing?
I've been writing since I was a kid. As for serious writing, though, I suppose I first became really interested in writing for publication graduate school. I thought I was on track to for a tenure track position when I finished, and I started submitting papers to journals. They taught me about the perils of both rejection and acceptance, which of course brings post-publication criticism. Whee! I taught writing at several universities in the U.S. and abroad, and during that time my interest in writng narrative nonfiction really took hold. Life got in the way, though, and I didn't really start down that path until the late 80s.
How did you select your specific genre?
While I was teaching at the Univesity of Maryland and American University, I also worked part-time as a copy editor for a magazine, and that rewhetted my interested in publishing. I had some success with magazines, and that, plus my involvement in showing and rescuing dogs, prompted me to write my first book, Breed Rescue: How to Start and Run a Successful Program (Alpine, 1998), which was named Best General Interest Book of the year by the Dog Writers' Association of America. That led to seventeen more books about dogs, cats, and rescue, five of which also won "best in their category" awards from the DWAA and the Cat Writers' Association. It wasn't quite the direction I had planned, but it was great experience and I think meaningful work.
I really wanted to do more "creative" writing (as if any writing is not creative!), so I started to experiment. I tend to have several projects going at once, so I wrote Drop Dead on Recall, my first mystery, which has just been release while also working on new books about dogs and cats, and on a memoir and a travel narrative, both still in progress. I also recently picked up poetry again, and have a poem coming out in a literary journal this Fall. I've always been an eclectic reader, so it figures that I'm an eclectic writer as well.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
For many years I have had the habit of writing in the mornings, and usually in a cafe. My favorite haunt of the moment is the Panera Bread in Wilmington, NC. I'm there at least by 8 a.m., sometimes an hour or two earlier. My husband joins me for breakfast, and when he leaves, I get back to work. I normally write until noon, when the lunch rush hits. Very often I write again in the evening, usually from about 6 to 9 p.m.
What is the best part of writing?
Freedom! And the magic of getting into the flow of the process, really deep into the work, when the unexpected begins to happen and I discover what I'm there to say, and what I need to learn.
What is the worst part of writing?
I can't think of anything negative about writing itself, but the business of being a published writer can be difficult. Every new project has to find its own home, so rejection is always a possibility, no matter who we are (with perhaps three or four very notable exceptions - but even they have to keep producing work that readers want).
Who are your favorite authors and books?
Oh, my. How long do we have? I read across a wide range of genres, and really, as soon as I would give you twenty-five names, I'd have more to add. So, bearing in mind that this is NOT an exhaustive list, and is in absolutely no particular order, I'll list the first ten authors who come to mind - Barbara Hurd, Lisa Gardener, Mark Doty, Margaret Maron, Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Elizabeth Hand, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Harlan Coben, John Connolley. Whew! And of course more names and books and essays and stories are now calling "me! me!"
What are you working on next?
I'm finishing up the sequel to my mystery, Drop Dead on Recall. The second book will be out next year. I'm also working on two long narratve non-fiction pieces and a novel, and I'm beginning to think about the third book in my Animals in Focus Mystery series. Always something!


Drop Dead on Recall
Animals in Focus Mystery #1
Midnight Ink, 2012
ISBN 978-0738733067
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.


Someone outside the competition ring laughed, but I didn’t think Abigail Dorn was fooling around. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen the woman smile, and from all indications, she thought obedience competition was serious as a heart attack. Whatever she was doing now, though, had nothing to do with winning.

Abigail had keeled over at the judge’s signal. Pip, her Border Collie, had come flying when Abigail called, then dropped to the grass twenty feet out on her "Down!" command. According to American Kennel Club rules, Abigail should have called him again when the judge gave the signal. I’m no expert on the finer points of scoring, but I was pretty sure that falling flat on her face was a serious handler error. I mentally smacked myself for my irreverent thoughts, though, as it became more obvious with each crawling second that something was very wrong.

Ringside chatter had hushed to a low, sporadic hum, and the only other sound I could hear was the soft huff-huff of my own dog panting at my side. I shifted my focus from Abigail’s prone form to Bob Bradley, the judge, who was peering at Abigail over the top of his glasses. Either he was too surprised to move, or he didn’t want to interfere in case Abigail tried to fix her faux pas.

Greg Dorn, Abigail’s better half, dashed by me and vaulted the collapsible fence that defined the ring. "Abby!" He knelt beside her, rolled her onto her back, slid his left arm under her shoulders, and raised her upper body off the ground. Abigail’s startled gaze fixed on Greg’s face, and her right hand twitched as if it wanted to reach for Greg but couldn’t be bothered. As she began to gag and choke, Abigail’s face slowly darkened to muddy mauve. Greg squeaked, then cleared his throat and yelled "Help me!" to no one in particular.