by Sheila Webster Boneham
A few days ago I popped into a local department store to look for a sweater. I found what I wanted, and headed for the check out. When I handed my credit card to the cashier, a rather prim older woman, I noticed the pained look on her face. Then she said, “There’s hair all over your shirt. What is that?” Granted, I was wearing a black pull-over and had cuddled my yellow Lab, Lily, earlier, but from the woman’s tone, you’d have thought I was spattered with blood!
I have killed people, but only in my books. Blood is not always involved. Hair (or technically in some cases) has always been a big part of my life, though, and it’s a big part of Drop Dead on Recall, my newly released Animals in Focus mystery. Not my hair, you understand (I’m barely interested in it anymore), but animal hair. Dog hair, cat hair, horse hair. My protagonist, Janet MacPhail, is a professional animal photographer, amateur dog-sport enthusiast and cat lover. She isn’t me, but we do have a lot in common. I’ve been active for more than two decades in canine activities, competitive and not – sort of a down-sizing of my younger days showing horses (hunters, jumpers, equitation). For me, as for Janet, animal activities are a hobby, although my professional life is also critter-centric. Janet takes pictures, and I write books (seventeen non-fiction books about dogs and cats and rescue), focused on animals.
At first glance it may seem that showing animals and writing are completely different sorts of pursuits, but they have more in common than you might think. I’ve considered the similarities in my passions before, but a few months ago I entertained myself as I languished in an airport after judging a dog show by jotting down a few parallels. Assuming that I’m a reasonably consistent human being (potentially a topic for another time), I figure that dog sports and writing must have elements in common to keep me so passionate about them for so many years.
The first element that comes to mind is aesthetic appeal. Beauty, yes – a well-turned phrase, a gorgeous head. But there’s more to aesthetic appeal than beauty. There’s rhythm, function, timing, and all the other things that come together to stir us to respond emotionally and intellectually to the thing before us. A dog may be beautiful in itself, or in its performance, or – ideally – in both, just as a piece of writing may be beautiful for its language and rhythm, or the way it moves us, or – ideally – both. That’s me, by the way, with my beautiful Reno at a show several years ago.
Then there’s the challenge of doing well in either arena. Training a dog to compete successfully is a lot of hard work for trainer and dog alike. Learning to write well is also a lot of hard work. This is, of course, true of anything we want to do well. To the casual observer of the finished product – the book, the competitive performance – it may appear to be no big deal. Trust me, it is. In fact, novices in both fields are often amazed to discover that they have to work, and work hard, if they want to make what they do look effortless.
Of course, no matter how good you are, you don’t win every time. Editors say no thanks. Judges put you and your dog at the end of the line. Reviewers write bad reviews. Dogs and people trip and fall and make dopey mistakes. Rejection is part of both games, and rejection sucks. But here’s the thing…. the people who win a lot – with book contracts and in canine competitions – have also lost a lot. You just keep playing, and learning to play better, and eventually you win more often.
I thought of a few other parallels before we started boarding the plane, but the one that stood out – that has stood out for me for many years – is that I write and I show dogs because they’re both so darn much fun. In fact, despite the hard work and disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory, I’ve found some of my best friends through both writing and through my dogs. I’ve laughed until I cried, and cried without laughing, and I’ve experienced profound and moving and really silly moments. Janet MacPhail, the protagonist of Drop Dead on Recall, experiences similar joys and disappointments, albeit through photography rather than writing. And that’s not all we have in common. Janet’s Australian Shepherd Jay and her orange tabby Leo are nothing if not furry, and I suspect that Janet has horrified a cashier here and there, too, with her fur-spattered clothing.
Drop Dead on Recall is available in print and ebook formats through the usual sources. If you would like an autographed copy, please consider my Drop Dead for Healthy Dogs benefit event. Your purchase of a personally inscribed book will support canine health research and small business. Visit http://www.sheilaboneham.com/dropdeadforhealthydogs.html for information.
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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.
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Sheila Webster Boneham is the award-winning author of Drop Dead on Recall, the first book in the Animals in Focus mystery series, and seventeen nonfiction books about animals, including the highly regarded Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals. Sheila earned her doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and has taught writing at universities in the U.S. and abroad. Knowing there’s always more to learn, she is currently completing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.
Sheila has been deeply involved with animals most of her life and is a strong advocate for both responsible rescue and responsible breeding. In the past two decades, she has trained and competed with her own dogs in several sports; bred highly successful Australian Shepherds under the kennel name “Perennial”; organized rescue organizations and fostered dogs; trained, handled, and assessed therapy dogs; judged dog shows. She has also given millions of belly rubs and flicked countless dog and cat hairs off her clothes!
Sheila would love to hear from you. You can follow her news and events or contact her at the following places: Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sheilawrites Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/sheilaboneham or @sheilaboneham Website at http://www.sheilaboneham.com Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/author/sheilaboneham