Award-winning author Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Although best know 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.
Drop Dead on Recall is your latest mystery, and it stars animal photographer Janet MacPhail and her Australian Shepherd, Jay. How did this duo move from a featured role in Racing Can Be Murder to their own mystery series?
Janet and Jay, and their housemate orange tabby Leo, were already around when I wrote "Tracks" for the anthology. I was revising the manuscript of Drop Dead on Recall when the Speed City Sisters in Crime decided to put together an anthology of stories linked by the Indianapolis 500. At first I didn't think I could write for the anthology - what do I know about race cars? But I had been to the museum at the track, and I track with my dogs, so it all came together in a story at the track with a tracking dog!
I noticed that you have teamed up with Canine Health Events (CHE) and the Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute (ASHGI) and with Pomegranate Books, and independent bookstore in Wilmington, NC, where you live, for a “Virtual Book Launch”. How will your book benefit these societies?
I love cooperative ventures – everybody wins! So to mark the launch of Drop Dead on Recall, I have teamed up with Canine Health Events (CHE) and the Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute (ASHGI) and with Pomegranate Books, an independent bookstore in Wilmington, NC, where I live, for this “Drop Dead for Healthy Dogs,” a virtual book launch which runs through October 11.
10% of the purchase price of Drop Dead on Recall and some of my other books, including Rescue Matters, will be donated to CHE or ASHGI (buyer's choice) to support canine health research.
For readers in the Wilmington area, I wll also have a real live book launch party at Pomegranate on October 11 at 7 p.m. Information is online at http://www.sheilaboneham.com/dropdeadforhealthydogs.html
Do you compete in obedience trials with your Australian Shepherd? If not, how did you gather so much detailed information about this entertaining and competitive sport?
I've been competing with my Aussies and my Labrador Retrievers since 1991. Most of my dogs have earned obedience titles, and three of them have been ranked in the top ten nationally. I've had the honor to help my dogs achieve titles in not only in obedience, but also in conformation, tracking, and rally obedience.
Three of my Aussies ranked in the top ten Aussie obedience dogs, and many of the puppies we bred have achieved national ranking in multiple sports. I recently was approved as a conformation judge for Aussies by the Australian Shepherd Club of America, which is n honor and a way to give something back to one of my favorite breeds.
Many of my dogs have also worked as therapy dogs in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation programs, nursing homes, and other venues. We've trained for fun in agility, retriever fieldwork, herding, and "dancing with dogs." Just like people, different dogs like different activities, and I love playing with my dogs, so it works out!
Janet MacPhail is an animal photographer. Are there really people who specialize in taking pictures animals? And how do you anticipate this will expose her to the nefarious side of life (as in lots of murders)? And how will Jay participate?
Oh, yes, there are some terrifically talented pet and animal photographers. I didn't base Janet on anyone in particular, but oddly enough, after I wrote the first draft of Drop Dead on Recall I got to know Cheryl Ertelt, a pet and wildlife photographer who trained her dogs where I did in Fort Wayne. More recently, I've become friends with Helen Peppe, a photographer and writer in Maine. If you want to see some lovely photos, google these talented women.As for Janet tripping over dead bodies....She is accidentally sucked into a series of murders in Drop Dead on Recall because the victims are members of her dog training circle. Book two, coming next year, involves the illegal trade in tropical birds, and Janet's camera does get her into trouble there.
You have several non-fiction books about animals, Six of which have been named best in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers Association (CWA) annual competitions, and two of herother books and a short story have been finalists. The different books cover many breeds. How do you decide which breed you're going to research, and how do you set about getting a book's worth of information on dogs?
Right, I have published seventeen books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue, and I wrote four others that are sitting with the publisher. Most of the books have come from ideas I pitched to the publishers, but some of the books about specific dog breeds came about when the publisher asked me if I would be interested in writing them.
Getting enough information isn't usually the problem! Cutting it down to a manageable length is the more typical challenge. Every breed, and all mixes, offer a world of material related to their histories, original purposes, typical temperaments and talents, potential challenges for owners and potential inherited health issues, and more.
After many years involved with rescue, breeding, and teaching public obedience classes I believe that most of the problems people have with their pets (which too often land those pets in shelters, rescues, or worse) come from people making poor choices when they get pets, so I write in hopes of helping people make better choices, or helping them learn ot make up for poor choices by learning why their pets do what they do and what they can do to work with, not against, the pet's traits.
I love that many of your books focus on rescuing pets. (Buster is a rescue.) What's one tip you would give someone interested in rescuing a pet?I'm going to give you two tips. First, choose with your brain, not just your heart. There are lots of animals whose looks make my heart beat faster, but I know that I would not be the right person for them and they would not be the right pet for me. There is no one size fits all with pets, and the best dog for your Uncle Bob may be a nightmare for you. Love is a great start, but it is NOT enough!
Secondly, choose your source carefully. Whether you adopt from a rescue group or shelter, or buy from a breeder, please support only those who are responsible to the animals who rely on them AND to the people who take those animals into their homes and hearts. There are excellent rescue programs, shelters, and breeders out there, and some really bad ones. For the good of the animals, on't support the bad ones. There's lots of information out there about how choose, but for a start, readers migt check out my books at http://www.sheilaboneham.com
What's next for you?
I'm wrapping up the sequel to Drop Dead on Recall, and it should be out October 2013. I'm also working on some nonfiction about dogs and about traveling the U.S. by train, and have more fiction in mind. And since we recently lost the real Jay, who inspired the protagdog in the mystery series, I expect there will be a new dog in the family sometime in the next year. For now, when I'm not writing or teaching, I play with Lily, my Lab. Always something to do!
Thank you, Sheila! Don't forget to check out Sheila's books, and you can benefit charity at the same time!