Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Q&A with Sheila Webster Boneham

This week, we sat down with Sheila Webster Boneham, author of the Animals in Focus mysteries. Her latest, Catwalk, is available now!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Sheila Webster Boneham: I started writing as a child. I wrote my first “book” when I was 7 or 8—it was about a Cocker Spaniel named Sandy, illustrated with pictures I cut out of magazines. My first publication was a poem in a state-wide magazine when I was in seventh grade. In high school I was on the school newspaper and took journalism as an elective. I don’t think I even considered not writing! My first grown-up publications were in academic journals (I have a PhD in folklore), and from there I moved to feature articles for a variety of magazines. Breed Rescue was published in 1998 by Alpine Publications and was the first of seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats. I guess the publication of Drop Dead on Recall, the first Animals in Focus mystery, brought me full circle!

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
SWB: Tremendous influence. No one writes in a vacuum—as writers, we are part of a long heritage and a global community of ideas, traditions, and techniques. When I read, even for pleasure, I can’t help noticing what other authors do that works—or doesn’t work—for me as a reader.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
SWB: Honestly, I can’t imagine not being a writer, but I do also enjoy many things—photography, hiking, training and showing my dogs, travel, teaching. In fact, I do all those things, and without them I wouldn’t have much to write about. It all fits together.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
SWB: I write full time now. I used to teach university writing, literature, and folklore, and I still teach writing classes and workshops.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
SWB: On a day-to-day basis, I would say take long walks in natural places, read, and play with animals. If I can get away, I love to travel. I’m especially fond of train travel, and have written about it.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
SWB: I assume you mean aside from Janet MacPhail of my series! I get a kick out of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum because she makes me laugh, and I also like J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady. Both strong women in different ways.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
SWB: Not really. I like cases that keep me guessing (as a writer as well as a reader), but there are so many excellent mysteries out there, and so many ways to structure a plot, that I don’t think I can pick a favorite.

MI: What was your inspiration for  the Animals in Focus Mysteries?
SWB: The characters, human and animal, all come from my own experiences in the world of serious animal fanciers. I’ve been involved for decades with showing dogs, rescue work, volunteering with dogs and cats in shelters, teaching obedience classes, training and competing with my dogs, breeding highly competitive Australian Shepherds, volunteering with my therapy dogs, and just playing with animals. In the course of doing all those things, I’ve met all kinds of people and animals, and the fictional characters in my books are inspired (but not copied!) from life. As far as being inspired to write myteries with animals, I must credit Susan Conant and Laurien Berenson for leading the way with their brilliant work. Like me, they both had extensive experience beyond pet ownership, and I have always appreicated that the animals in their books are realistic. When I started Drop Dead on Recall, there weren’t many dog mysteries; now there are packs of them! But Conant and Berenson led the way.
Jay, the inspiration for fictional Jay
MI: How do the Animals in Focus Mysteries compare to your past works?
SWB: The mysteries are a whole new venture for me as all my previous writing was nonfiction.  In addition to many feature articles in magazines, I had written seventeen nonfiction books, several of them winners of awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers’ Association, before I wrote Drop Dead on Recall. My background has given me the knowledge based to keep the animals realistic and the information accurate in the mysteries, which many readers and reviewers have noted. Drop Dead on Recall won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America in peer-judged competition, and was an NBD Petside Top Ten Dog Book of 2012 in an almost all nonfiction field.

MI: Tell us about Janet MacPhail (and Leo and Jay)!
SWB: Janet is a mildly eccentric animal lover and professional photographer in her fifties. She loves to play with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, and her orange tabby, Leo, both of whom are full-fledged characters—and heroes!—in the series. Janet becomes an accidental

Lily with her books

sleuth in each of the books while also wrestling with issues well-known to many women her age. She’s been divorced and independent for years, and isn’t sure she wants to give that up, but a good-looking guy with a good-looking dog show up and stick around. Janet’s mother is battling dementia, and since Janet’s brother isn’t dealing with it very well, Janet has to make a lot of decisions. She’s also battling those ten (okay, twenty) pounds that just won’t seem to go away. And then there are those pesky dead bodies to deal with!

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
Jay shows off his agility skills
SWB: Of course! At the moment we have only one dog, an eight-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever named Lily. This is the first time in decades, though, that we haven’t had multiple dogs and cats. The real Jay, who was born into my hands in 1998, died in 2012. Fictional Jay is based largely on Jay’s loving personality, with some behaviors added from the many other Australian Shepherds we’ve had. And Drake, Tom’s Lab in the books, is a composite of Lily and my two previous Labs, Raja and Annie. Janet’s tabby Leo is based on several cats in my life—Leo, Malcolm, George, Mary, Kitty, and Smokey, as well as cats I’ve known in shelters.
Jay and Lily

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
SWB: Beans (red or black) and brown rice, with some salsa on top! (Okay, and carrot cake with cream cheese icing. That’s dairy and veggies, right?)

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
SWB: Confession: while I am not Janet and Janet is not me, we do share some traits, and one is not cooking. Luckily, my husband, Roger, is a great cook, and of all his yummies, I’d have to say his spaghetti sauce is my favorite.

MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
SWB: Sense of community with my fellow authors. This is a great bunch of people with a wonderfully diverse assortment of stories to tell, and I’ve found them also to be very supportive and generous with information, mutual promotion, and friendship.

Catwalk, the third Animals in Focus mystery, is available in bookstores and online now!


sheri levy said...

Loved all of the information! A nice way to get to know you a little more from the computer!!

Billie Jackson said...

Thanks, I loved the interview. I have rad bits and pieces but really enjoy know about the inspiration of a book, especially when it is a dog or two.