by Jean Rabe
Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win either a copy of Jean’s latest book The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge, and links to purchase it.
I have a one-eyed pug pup asleep on my lap. She’s a breeder surrender, and she squeezes between me and the keyboard. I manage to write like this.
There is a rather large Labrador that came from a farm; he’s curled in the niche under my desk, his head resting on my left foot. The Boston Terrier—a breeder surrendered her eight summers past and a local shelter turned her away (she had issues)—stretches to my side with her head on my right foot. The Boston’s only issue now is whether she’ll get fed first at dinnertime.
They’re scratch and dent dogs, and I love them.
I also love writing mysteries, and so I combine the two.
My office and my life are filled with dogs and books.
Dogs don’t figure into the plot of my books, but I sprinkle them in the chapters. I put Wrinkles, my senior black pug who passed away in 2019, in the first Piper Blackwell book, The Dead of Winter. And he’s made an appearance in the others. Wrinkles will always live in the novels. He’s in a few scenes in The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge, the fourth Piper novel that came out July 15.
Some of my characters have dogs in their lives. My fictional canines, and Piper’s cat, are not from breeders or pet stores; they’re pass ‘em downs and rescues. I champion rescue organizations, so that part of my spirit finds its way into my pages. And Piper’s pets are seniors. Old dogs are the best, dontcha think?
Robert B. Parker also loved dogs and gave his Jesse Stone and Spenser of Spenser for Hire fame canine companions. And Parker was often pictured with one of his dogs in his author photo on book jackets.
Dogs and writers are a good fit. Gets you away from the keyboard for a walk or a vigorous game of toss-the-tennis-ball-until-your-arm-hangs-limp. They keep you writing so you can sell books and earn money to buy high-quality dog food and fill their bin to overflowing with toys. And they provide inspiration for characters. I once wrote a fantasy trilogy called Goblin Nation, and many of the main characters were based on dogs I’d had through the years. My editor loved the characters … I never told him where they came from.
So, back to The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge.
Dogs make cameo appearances, they don’t get hurt, and they don’t have anything to do with the mystery or murder. My good guys have them. One of my bad guys has one. And one of my supporting characters gets to adopt one.
The supporting character is Nang, an enterprising young man who runs Phan’s Quick Stop in a bitty burg in Spencer County, Indiana, where my sheriff solves her crimes. Besides selling gas and working on cars, Nang is a chef and runs a small Vietnamese restaurant out of the Quick Stop … he also caters.
Nang allows me to bring another of my favorites into fiction—Vietnamese food. His menu changes weekly, and the sheriff and her deputies stop there for lunch. It lets me list tasty dishes I’d like to fix. I scour Vietnamese restaurant websites to make my Quick Stop menu choices. Nang entered the baking contests at the county fair in The Dead of Summer, the third Piper mystery. And I’m pretty sure he’s going to enter a seriously big cooking contest in the fifth Piper book, which I have not yet started.
So when I construct a Piper mystery, I settle on the murder, add a secondary crime, and sometimes a third, as a sheriff’s department always has more than one thing to deal with. Then I add the suspects, figure out which one of them did it and why, and lay out the chapters. When I’m done with that planning, I sprinkle in the dogs, and I figure on at least one trip to Phan’s Quick Stop, where my deputies can eat good Vietnamese food and chat about the case.
The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge includes a stop at Nang’s. Here’s an excerpt:
“I’m probably not pronouncing it right, but I’ll have the cai xao nam. And this looks new, the rau muong xao toi,” Basil said, glancing up at the menu above the counter in Phan’s Quick Stop.
“What is it?” Oren wondered. “That new one?”
“First time on the menu.” Nang grinned. “Rau muong xao toi, which Detective Meredith pronounced fine, is a special water spinach. I just discovered a market in Owensboro that carries it. I fry it with garlic. It is an excellent side dish. The cai xao nam is bok choy served warm with shitake mushrooms over rice and with soy sauce.” He looked at Oren. “I recommend both.”
Oren liked Nang’s food, but he was iffy on ordering something that might have too many mushrooms. He didn’t care for them on pizza either. “It’s good, right?” He looked down at his cell phone and sent a text. “The spinach?”
“Very,” Nang said.
“Okay. I’ll try that water spinach then, but I’ll pass on the nam. And give me three spring rolls.” Oren looked at the menu again. “And a bowl of beef pho soup. I’m hungry, skipped breakfast. And a big mug of coffee. Black, one sugar. No, two sugars. Maybe something for dessert. We’ll see.”
Find The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge on Amazon by clicking here.
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