Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies Authors Visit WWK

Wildside Press released the SinC Chesapeake Chapter’s latest anthology, Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies,in March. There are thirteen delightful tales of crime in which animals play a role. I enjoy animal stories, and these tales were top notch. But they aren’t exclusive of only those animals having fur and feathers. Some have hide (Barb Goffman), exoskeletons (Linda Lombardi), and, as WWK’s Shari Randall suggests in “Pet,” perhaps some human skin.

I loved seeing the point of view in Josh Pachter’s “The Supreme Art of War” and in WWKer KM Rockwood’s “Rasputin.” And a dog’s critique of human deductions in Marianne Wilski Strong’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” And the animal who wasn’t there, in Robin Templeton’s “Hunter’s Moon.” Or perhaps my favorite was the placebo dog in Alan Orloff’s “Bark Simpson and the Scent of Death,” or maybe the memory of long-gone pets in Eleanor Cawood Jones’s “A Snowball’s Chance.” But I never heard of a pet crow—Carla Coupe’s “As the Crow Flies” sold me on the idea. 

I decided to ask each author one question or two about their stories. Please welcome these authors to WWK.                                                                                                             E. B. Davis

“Katya felt the pearls tighten around her neck as Carol fastened the clasp.”
                                                            Shari Randall, “Pet”

What separates man from beast?

Shari: Didn’t Mark Twain say, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to”? Animals are always essentially themselves. A cat doesn’t pretend to be a dog, or a bird to be a cat. But homo sapiens, those deceptive creatures, can wear many masks. An enemy could pretend to be a friend, a mentor could be a monster.

In my story “Pet,” Katya is a naïve young woman I think of as prey. Her gifts are gentleness and kindness, qualities that brought her to the attention of a wealthy heiress who loves her dog more than she loves her children. But these same qualities make Katya vulnerable.

“Pet” is my attempt at a story with a bit of California noir. I hope you enjoy it.

“Leighton’s mouth snapped shut and his face twisted into a reluctant smile. ‘Crows are more intelligent than I expected.’”
Carla Coupe, “As the Crow Flies”

Do we underestimate animal intelligence?

Carla: Absolutely! From ‘dumb animals’ to ‘bird brains,’ many cultures, especially western culture, dismiss the intelligence of animals. Research now shows that many animals, especially ravens and crows, make tools and can solve multi-step problems. So it’s not much of a leap using a crow as a sleuth—or at least as a sleuth’s faithful companion.

In “As the Crow Flies,” I was intrigued by the puzzle of how a crow could be involved in the story, have his own personality, help solve the central crime, and yet remain a recognizable crow. Hermes has been friends with the protagonist, Beryl Mayhew, since he was a fledgling, and knows Beryl as well as she knows him. They understand each other, and that understanding allows them to communicate on an instinctual level—very useful when you’re solving a mystery! It was also a lot of fun to figure out how to plant clues in ways that use a crow’s innate behaviors, and to let Hermes literally fly to Beryl’s rescue.

“I learned long ago that it’s hard to make sense out of all that yakking, so most of the time I don’t even try.” [Rasputin the dog’s thoughts.]
KM Rockwood, “Rasputin”

Do you ever take Rasputin’s advice?

KM: Rasputin was named after an evil genius, and though he may be lacking in both the evil and the genius departments, he is insightful. He sees no reason why the world has to make sense, so he doesn’t waste his time and energy on things that aren’t important. He’s more than willing to embark on adventures with his friends, and he sees everyone as a potential friend. Companionship, a dry place to sleep and regular meals are top priorities. Not to mention the cool drinking water in the big white bowl in the bathroom.

My life would be calmer and a lot less complicated if I did follow Rasputin’s advice and example more often.

“Oh, ye of little faith. I’ve got something up my sleeve.”

Alan Orloff, “Bark Simpson and the Scent of Death”

Where did you get the idea for your story?

Alan: A couple of years ago, I went to a picnic put on jointly by the local chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. A speaker came to the event to talk about cadaver dogs, complete with a real live dog! I was fascinated, and on the car ride home, I’d already decided that I was going to write a story featuring a cadaver dog—or at least a dog that aspired to be one. I “appropriated and adapted” a plot device from an old episode of M.A.S.H, came up with a cutesy title, and then “mashed” everything together to come up with “Bark Simpson and the Scent of Death.”

“That night, after taking Bede’s advice and gently breaking things off with Doug, Cindy slept restlessly and dreamed about long-forgotten events.”
Eleanor Cawood Jones, “A Snowball’s Chance”

We trust our gut—but is it instinct or our subconscious mind, which records everything, reminding us at appropriate times of truth we have forgotten?

Eleanor: Wow. Great question. I think instinct is more immediate and tied to survival, and the subconscious, while guiding us using the information it stores, is more subtle and often rears its head when we have the luxury of downtime. Time to examine that nagging feeling we’ve never taken time to explore.

In this story, a child who finds herself in a place and situation she has no business being is faced with having to make an instant decision to protect her pet, and acts on reflex (instinct) to do so. An older adult, in the same situation, follows instinct as well to protect the child. But this child’s subconscious is capable of suppressing what was around her because she was so busy reacting through instinct, and only years later pokes at her. "Look at me!" This allows her the bigger picture view, which is such an integral part of the story.

I suppose instinct and subconscious both tap into the same source, but instinct feels more reactionary to me. Maybe the gut is made up a bit of both.

 “The hunter’s moon was due tomorrow night. I never paid much attention to such things in Arlington, but here in the mountains, a full moon drew you outdoors to watch the show—orange to yellow, yellow to white. It was magical.”
Robin Templeton, “Hunter’s Moon”

Is there such a thing as a hunter’s moon? Does it appear only at the end of October? Does it have mystical significance?

Robin:  A hunter’s moon frequently occurs in October, but not always. Technically it’s the first full moon after the harvest moon, and the harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox.

The hunter’s moon is sometimes called a blood moon as well. October and November are traditional hunting months in North America, especially for larger game like deer. Wildlife fattens itself before winter, making the prey slower and more succulent for an aspiring hunter—whether the hunter is man or beast.

All full moons are associated with magic and mysticism, but I chose this particular full moon as a theme because of its close association with hunting. And, if you read “Hunter’s Moon,” you’ll know why!

“An explosion erupted from the Randalls’ farm. I turned toward the blast and saw chunks of something flying right at us. Holy cow! It was cow!”
Barb Goffman, “Till Murder Do Us Part”

Peppermint-scented masks? Are they for real? Has anyone ever told you—you might have a sick sense of humor?

Barb: We mystery writers are blessed with an incredibly giving community. Not only do authors help one another, but subject-matter experts help us too. They give classes and write blogs and answer emails, helping authors get details in their stories right. I relied on just this type of help to get the details in my police-procedural story “Till Murder Do Us Part” correct. So yes, I can confirm that the peppermint-scented masks mentioned in my story are based on real life. Some police officers and crime-scene investigators use them to deal with the smells that can emanate at crime scenes, just as the chief deputy, Jackson, does in this whodunit story about the murder of a man who rents out his barn for weddings. I also am fortunate to have a few friends who grew up on farms and were able to supply details about exploding cows, which brings us to your next question. 

Do I have a sick sense of humor? I guess I do. I’ve certainly heard that before, and I take pride in it. I work humor into much of what I write. Sometimes it’s slapstick. Sometimes it’s wry. In “Till Murder Do Us Part” the humor is pretty black, but that works because cops often use black humor to deal with difficult situations—and what could be more difficult than murder? So I used humor to lighten the mood in this story. My goal always is to lure the reader into wanting to turn the pages not just to find out whodunit or what happened or what’s going to happen, but to enjoy the ride on the way to the end. Humor helps me do that—as do exploding cows. 

“I opened my eyes wide. ‘You mean God killed Ditch?’ Buddy yawned. Aunt Sophie tilted her head and nodded. ‘Yes, Josephine, I believe he did. I believe God put him right in the way of justice.’”
Marianne Wilski Strong, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”

In the mystery genre, it is said that there is no such thing as coincidence. What about accidents?

Marianne:By legal definition, murder is not accidental. It is deliberate and possibly planned ahead: malice aforethought. In my story, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” the murderer has planned well, but has left an “accidental” element: the victim himself might trigger the plan or might not. The murderer has taken into account place, weapon, timing, the behavior of the victim. The plan should work and does. But the murderer forgot to take into account that damn dog. This dog, as with all dogs, has detective skills that surpass even those of Holmes. Dogs can hear noises humans can’t hear. Dogs can smell things humans can’t smell. Dogs can follow trails, using their superior sense of smell. So, in my story, the dog Buddy, using these skills, knows who the murderer is and how the murder was committed. Now, as dog owners know, dogs make judgments about humans: this human is nasty – bark; this one is nice – put out the paw; this one has food – jump up. In my story, the dog Buddy has to put up with one not so bright human judgment after another. Buddy can’t help thinking what fools these mortals be. He knows who the murderer is; he has judged murderer and victim and judged them correctly. 

“You can’t trust an octopus.”
Linda Lombardi, “The Octopus Game”

Why not?

Linda: My story came out of my experience working in a rather odd little aquarium much like the one my main character manages. With its nook and crannies, complicated and often decrepit equipment, and prickly staff, it seemed like an obvious setting for a murder mystery, even setting aside any role for the resident animals. Of those animals, the one that caused me the most anxiety was the octopus. Octopuses are intelligent, agile, and curious, famed for being escape artists, and since they have no bones, can squeeze into incredibly narrow places. I dreaded every time I had to open the tank. I was sure I was eventually going to lose my job when it escaped and disappeared into the aforementioned nooks and crannies of equipment. While it couldn't really kill anyone, I was also sure I was going to die of embarrassment when it grabbed a pair of tongs and I couldn’t get them back, or worse, grabbed my arm and I had to call for help to get disentangled. Once the job was in the past and I had time to think it over, it was clear that if you ever wanted an aquarium animal as a partner in crime, it would have to be the octopus. 

"I ignored her and padded downstairs, taking care to avoid Mister, who is Emily’s lazy-ass cat, a big ball of fat dipped in dirty white fur, with a nasty disposition and a set of claws and a spitting hiss . . . everything you know and love in a feline, right?"
Josh Pachter, “The Supreme Art of War”

Your narrator doesn’t much like cats. How about you?

Josh: I am deathly go-to-the-hospital allergic to cats, so, no, I don’t like them much. No offense to those who do — and in fact I wish I didn’t have the allergy. Fortunately, Emily’s lazy-ass cat, Mister — who is, by the way, a female — doesn’t really play all that big a part in the story, in which the narrator, who lives with Emily, foils a late-night attempted break-in ... with Sun Tzu’s wise comment that "the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting" firmly in mind.

“But with a little money, she could start over. And by God, she deserved it for all the crap she’d been putting up with. But first, she needed to prove she wasn’t hurting Ma.”
Joanna Campbell Slan, “Killer”

Do you believe in Karma?

Joanna: Yes, I believe in Karma, although I don’t think it’s always a symmetrical response. In my story, an angry old woman mistreats her daughter repeatedly, and even takes her bitterness out on the daughter’s dog. When you put negativity out in the world, it’s bound to come back and bite you. (Sorry about the pun.) We talk a lot about “elder abuse” in our society, but I’ve seen where the elderly members of a family actively abuse their caregivers, and that was an idea I wanted to explore.

Outside the building, Whittaker wandered over to the
dead grass below Johnson’s balcony. He stared at it for a moment, then whipped out his smartphone and swiped it on. What are you looking up now?’ Freeman asked, rolling his eyes.”

Cathy Wiley, “Curiosity Killed the Cat Lady”

Will electric gadgets ever be able to replace us all?

Cathy: Obviously, the primary investigator in this story, Detective James Whittaker, is more comfortable using electronic gadgets than his technophobe partner Arthur Freeman, both during murder investigations and in life in general. However, Whittaker doesn’t rely solely on his gadgets to solve the murder of an elderly lady, who left behind eight adorable cats. 

Throughout the story, the detectives interview potential witnesses—aka potential suspects—and use their intuition, intellect, and instinctual knowledge of human behavior to determine the guilty party.

Machines already assist in crime investigations: computers can analyze statistical probabilities, detect changes in behavior so small that humans might miss them, and they excel at recognizing patterns. And our smartphones and electronic gadgets are wonderful tools to look up information and do research—I hope the intelligence agencies never look into my search history. 

But I can’t believe that computers will ever have that intuition, that “gut feeling” that police and investigators use to keep themselves alive and get justice for victims. I don’t think that technology will be able to recognize those small clues, those seemingly unrelated evidence, and have that “a-ha” moment that we love in our mysteries.

And machines will never be able to replace animals. No robotic pet will ever be able to produce the unconditional love of a dog, or the disdain of a cat, nor the resulting joy that comes when the same cat deigns to allow you to pet her.

“‘Who’s Sunset Beauregard?’ 
‘His dog. Gorgeous Irish setter. His lucky charm he used to say.’”
Karen Cantwell, “Sunset Beauregard”

Do you believe in lucky charms?

Karen: Do I believe in lucky charms? To be honest, I’m not sure, but I’ll tell you who isn’t a believer: Johnny Roland. In 1936, Johnny rules the jungle known as Hollywood. He ain’t a smiling, chit-chatting kind of Joe. If you’re pinned for killing a big star like Beau Kellum, for instance, he doesn’t care if you did it or if you didn’t. He’s just there to clean up the mess and to be sure the headlines tell a story the suits the studio. So no, he doesn’t believe in lucky charms. Lucky charms are for the weak and powerless. He believes in his own grit and wit to survive in the backstabbing cesspool of Hollywood. But then, there’s this dog: Sunset Beauregard. And for some reason, tough guy Johnny Roland has a soft spot for the animal who has gone missing after his master’s murder. Is it possible Sunset Beauregard, loved by millions, could actually be Johnny’s lucky charm? Find out, by reading my story in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies

Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies is available at various retailers, including Amazonand Wildside Press


Kait said...

Delightful! Thank you for letting me begin a rainy Monday with the perfect group of shorts.

KM Rockwood said...

What fun! I enjoyed your questions, both the one you asked me about Rasputin and all the others. Thanks for highlighting this anthology.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Fun interview! Lots of twists on the anthology theme.

Susan said...

You always ask such great questions, Elaine!

Warren Bull said...

Cool! What a great post.

Shari Randall said...

Elaine, I loved all the questions you asked. Mine really got me thinking about my story in a new way. Thank you!

Grace Topping said...

Great interview, Elaine. I recently got a copy of "Furs, Feathers, and Felonies," and I'm looking forward to delving into it. I'm also pleased that I will be attending a launch party for the book on Sunday, May 20, 2:00 p.m. at the Arlington County Library, Arlington, VA. (main branch). If you are in the area, please come join many of the authors who will be there.

Barb Goffman said...

Thanks to everyone at Writers Who Kill for inviting the authors of Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies onto the blog today to talk about our stories in the book. And thanks to Elaine, especially, for reading the book and asking such interesting questions about our stories.

I'd also love to take this opportunity to let any readers in the Washington, DC, area know that we're having a launch party for the book this Sunday, May 20th, at the Arlington Central Library in Arlington, VA, from 2 - 4 p.m. (1015 N. Quincy St.) We hope you'll come. Most of the authors in the book will be there. And there will be a door prize too for one lucky attendee!

Anonymous said...

Fun to look behind the scenes of this excellent anthology. <3
I had heard of using Vick's under the nose . . . peppermint mask sounds nicer.

Ritter Ames said...

Terrific post/interviews and fabulous writers--what a great idea! Have my copy--now I just need to find the time to read it :)

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for having the authors of this latest Chesapeake Crimes anthology at Writers Who Kill. These were all such a great questions! I know I had great fun answering mine.

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks for letting us take over your blog for the day! (I hope we didn't make too big of a mess.) Great questions, and great answers!

E. B. Davis said...

Thank you authors for writing your wonderful stories and answering my pesky, nosy questions. I loved every story and read non-stop to the end.

eMDs said...

Great content as usual.Thank you so much.

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