Terrie: Hi All. My pal Sheila Webster Boneham recently released her latest book, Shepherd’s Crook. If you know Sheila at all you know that animals are her passion and so is mystery. If you need proof just look at the cover of her newly released book .
Before Sheila says hello, let me give you a description of Shepherd’s Crook, the Animals in Focus Mystery #4
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheep-herding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that a flock of sheep has disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off in search of greener grass, but Janet sees and hears things that convince her the sheep’s owners are right—the animals have been stolen. Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom’s wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead and the sheep’s owner disappears, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. She sets out to find answers, putting herself and those she loves in the killer’s crosshairs.
Let me introduce Sheila so she can tell you a bit about herself and how she wound up writing the Animals in Focus mystery series. Thanks for stopping by, Terrie
Sheila: One of my favorite cartoons ran in The New Yorker years ago. Created by George Booth, it shows a man staring at a typewriter surrounded by dogs of all shapes and sizes. Lots of dogs. His wife is in the doorway, and she says, “Write about dogs!” I understand the sentiment!
My own writing career began with magazine articles about folklore and world cultures (I have a doctorate in folklore), but in the early 1990’s I shifted to writing about dogs and cats. I wrote for many of the major pet publications of the time—Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy, Dog World, and others. I also had started showing dogs, beginning with obedience (still me favorite sport) with my goofy big chocolate Lab, Raja. Once we earned Raja’s first title, I was hooked. I showed horses (hunters and jumpers) in my younger days, so I think of my venture into dog sports as a sort of “downsizing.” Here’s my lovely Rowdy earning a special award for high scoring veteran (older than seven) in obedience.
In 1994, I founded a rescue group for Labrador Retrievers and helped found another for Australian Shepherds. That experience prompted me to write the first book on running a rescue program—Breed Rescue: How to Start and Run a Successful Program (Alpine Publications, 1998) won the Maxwell Award for General Interest Nonfiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. From there I went on to write sixteen more nonfiction books about dogs and cats, including Rescue Matters (Alpine Publications, 2009), which expanded the ideas in the earlier book to include all household pet. A number of my books have won Maxwell Awards and, in the case of my three cat book, MUSE Awards and Awards of Merit from the Cat Writers’ Association.
I should add that while the ribbons and titles and other prizes are lovely, what really attracts me to animal sports and to writing is the (mostly) fun work of learning to be better. Part of the pleasure is the challenge, because every dog (or cat or horse or book) is different, and a good trainer and competitor has to adapt to the individual animal’s strengths and quirks. But mostly, training with modern non-coersive methods builds a bond of understanding and trust between person and animal that deepens the relationship. After all, every five-minute run in competition comes after hours—months!—of training. It’s great for dog and person alike. And as I think about it, I realize that it’s not unlike writing, or any other artful skill we choose to pursue. Whatever our goals, we’re lost if we can’t enjoy the journey itself.
Each of my Animals in Focus mysteries takes my 50-something protagonist, Janet MacPhail, to one or more venues. In the first three books she and her Australian Shepherd have competed in obedience, agility, and tracking, and her friend Tom’s Labrador, Drake, has refined his retrieving skills. In Catwalk, Janet’s cat, Leo, competes in his first feline agility trial (yes, there really is such a thing). And now in Shepherd’s Crook, the fourth book, Janet and Jay have entered a herding instinct test. Jay has no problem handling the sheep, but Janet…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how she does. This much I can tell you—sheep herding can be murder!
Over the past decades I’ve been involved with dogs outside of competition, too. I used to breed Australian Shepherds, and my pups have earned championships and titles in many sports—obedience, rally, tracking, agility, herding, flyball, and more. My Jay, who inspired the protagdog in my books, was born into my hands, and competed successfully in multiple sports. First and foremost, though, my dogs (and cats) have always been my companions and best friends. As such, they have volunteered with me as therapy dogs in schools, libraries, hospitals, shelters, and nursing homes. This is the real-life Jay’s mother, Sage, a champion and obedience titled Aussie and registered therapy dog, during a visit to a school for special needs children.
My dogs have been my hiking companions, and they’ve accompanied me to book signings and readings. They’ve brought many human friends into my life, and I like to think they’ve made me a better person with their fine examples of loyalty, courage, grace, and love. Naturally, they’ve inspired many of the scenes in my books. And they’ve snuggled up with me while I read or just rub bellies.
How do animals make your life richer?