Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series, and has published seventeen nonfiction books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue. Her animal-centered work rests on a foundation of lifelong involvement with animals, including competitive sports with her dogs (and, when she was younger, horses), animal rescue, breeding highly competitive Australian Shepherds, teaching canine obedience, volunteering with her certified therapy dogs, and just hanging out in the company of dogs, cats, and other critters. Sheila enjoys speaking to groups, and often teaches writing workshops and classes. She holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine/Stonecoast. You can find her online at http://www.sheilaboneham.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sheilawrites.
I’m excited today to have award-winning author Sheila Webster Boneham as my guest. In searching for new mystery series to read, I’m pleased to have discovered Sheila and her Janet MacPhail mysteries. Welcome, Sheila. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your latest mystery.
1. The Money Bird is your second book in the Janet MacPhail mystery series. How did Janet come about? Does she share any of your traits?
There’s a loaded question! I have had people tell me after reading Drop Dead on Recall or The Money Bird that they felt as if they had met Janet before wink wink. Ha! So yes, we do share some traits. That said, Janet is not me, and I am not Janet, and her issues and strengths and hang-ups and desires are all her own. It’s interesting, too, that as the series progresses, I feel that the differences are becoming more and more clear. That’s a good thing, I suspect! On the other hand, we share a profound love of animals, and Janet’s participation in canine activities is founded in my own long background in that arena. And, alas, I’m every bit as organizationally challenged as Janet is. So the short answer (I know—too late!) is “yes and no.”
2. How long have you been writing? What was the motivating factor that got you started?
Forever! Seriously, I wrote my first “book” when I was eight. I put out a newsletter (horses!) when I was in my teens, and had a poem published when I was in junior high. My adult publishing, though, started when I was in graduate school, and I taught writing at several universities. I had some academic papers published, then some feature articles in a variety of magazines, and then I began to write nonfiction books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue. Then the mysteries. I also write short stories and narrative nonfiction, and I still write poetry. I don’t like to be pinned down!
3. You’ve written seventeen nonfiction books about animal rescue, dog breeds, and how to choose pets. Several of these have received notable awards. Of which award are you most proud?
I have been honored to have six books win major awards in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA) competitions, and to have several other books and a short story designated finalists. The competition is always tough in these organizations, and selection is by peer review, so any level of recognition means a lot. I would say, though, that my first Maxwell Award from the DWAA for Best General Interest Book for my first book, Breed Rescue: How to Start and Run a Successful Program (Alpine, 1998) was the biggest thrill. I still remember getting the phone call! (And I must say that I’m honored this year to have Drop Dead on Recall nominated as a finalists for a Maxwell for fiction—winners will be announced in February. It was also named one of the ten best dog books of 2012 by NBCPetside.)
4. What do you want most for you readers to come away with after they read your books?
I assume you mean my fiction…. My first goal, of course, is to entertain, and since these are mysteries, entertainment has to involve a tingle of suspense and the challenge of a puzzle. I’m not entirely frivolous, though, and each book in the series revolves around a serious issue. In Drop Dead on Recall, it’s breeder ethics. In The Money Bird, the ugly business of animal trafficking. And in Catwalk, the landscape of feral cats and TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs will be in the spotlight, as well as a problem at the nursing home where Janet’s mother resides. The point, though, is to tickle the reader’s curiosity, not to bludgeon from atop a soapbox.
5. What is in store next for Janet MacPhail?
Janet’s brilliant orange tabby, Leo, takes Janet to a cat show! Think feline agility, and more! And then there’s that whole relationship with the good-looking anthropologist….
6. Tell us about your perfect writing day.
I like to write early, and sometimes late. In the mornings, I write mostly in my favorite café, and I try to get there soon after they open—6:30 is perfect. My husband joins me for breakfast around 8. I get back to writing around 8:30, and write until the lunch rush, so 11:30-ish. My typical daily goal is a thousand words, but I often write more than that. In the afternoon I like to go for walks, read, take a nap…. And of course there’s lots of dog time in there throughout the day! In the evenings, if there’s nothing going on, I write for another couple of hours, or sometimes I paint (watercolors, not walls). I do believe, though, that writers should engage with and support other writers and artists, so I go to as many writerly events as I can in the community.
7. Tell us about your marketing strategy.
8. What is the last book you’ve read purely for pleasure?
Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood. It’s brand new, and several of my friends have essays in it, and although I don’t knit (and felt that Elizabeth Berg’s essay was just for me!), I really love this book.
9. What advice would you give unpublished writers?
Invest in yourself. Read, read, read. Read widely, read across genres. Read books and articles on craft. Write, write, write. Write every day if you can, but if not, that’s okay, too—just make writing a habit, no matter how little time you have. Support other writers. If you can’t buy their books, ask your library to do so. Read good writing! Attend readings by other writers, not just the big names, but the debut and aspiring writers as well. Take a class or workshop if you can, and consider taking one in a genre you don’t think interests you. Write.
10. What interview question have you always wanted to answer but have never been asked?
“Do you teach?” Why, yes, I do! I will be facilitating a retreat/workshop for women writers in March (information at http://seaviewinn.com/specialweeks-writers.php ). I also teach from time to time at conferences and for writers’ groups.
Check out my blog Friday, January 3, 2014 for my review of The Money Bird. Stop by if you have a chance and leave a comment.