by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Terell Byrd
Sacramento mystery author Sue Owens Wright talks with Lorie about her writing, her books and her love for Basset Hounds, and Terell Byrd reviews Sue’s latest book Embarking On Murder. At the end of this post is a chance to win a copy of this book.
Lorie: What is your latest book?
Sue: My most recent book, Embarking on Murder, was released in mass-market paperback earlier this year by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery.
Lorie: What about your next book?
Sue:The next book in the series is titled Braced for Murder, but I don’t have a release date yet. In this one, Beanie investigates the murder of a reviled manager at the local animal shelter. I also introduce Calamity, a troublesome basset hound Beanie rescues from the shelter who becomes Cruiser’s canine partner in crime in this and future books. (Two or more bassets working together in a field trial is called a “brace.”)
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Lorie: What was your first novel?
Sue: Howling Bloody Murder came out in 2001. In Howling Bloody Murder, I introduced Washoe Indian Elsie “Beanie” MacBean and her basset hound, Cruiser. In this book, land disputes surrounding Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe between developers and the Washoe turn deadly, and it’s up to Beanie to clear a Tribal Elder’s name.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries?
Sue: Since the age of 8, I aspired to write mysteries. Having this series published was a lifelong dream come true for me. I write both fiction and nonfiction, but the focus has always been on dogs. I’ve also written two nonfiction books, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs and What’s Your Dog’s IQ? I also write a pet column, Pets and Their People, which won a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) in 2004. One of those stories was recently published in an anthology to benefit homeless bassets, titled Lost Souls: Found! Inspiring Stories about Basset Hounds.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your series?
Sue:I’ve always loved Lake Tahoe, dogs, and mysteries, so I combined them all in the Beanie and Cruiser series. Tahoe has a wealth of natural history and Native American legends that lend intrigue to my plots. I love going up to the “Jewel of the Sierra” to soak up more inspiration for future books, as I did over the summer. I’d love to live at Tahoe, but I don’t know if I could handle the harsh winters. Guess I’ll have to be content to live vicariously through Beanie.
My main characters are Beanie and her basset hound, Cruiser, though many other characters populate my mysteries, like her grown daughter, Nona, and her human sidekick in crime, Deputy Skip Cassidy, and most recently Calamity, a rescued basset with a basket load of behavior issues, based on one of my own bassets. She’s the antithesis of easygoing Cruiser.
Lorie: How many books are in your series and how many more do you foresee doing?
Sue:Thus far I have a trilogy in print (Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking on Murder) but I have two more books completed or near completion. Cruiser will waddle on in more Tahoe adventures until I run out of ideas, which is never, I hope. I love escaping to Beanie’s world.
Lorie: Why did you choose to include Basset Hounds in your books?
Sue:I’ve been owned by eight basset hounds, seven of which were rescued from shelters. I know the breed very well, and since their scenting ability is second only to the bloodhound, they seemed like the perfect partner in crime for Beanie. Cruiser and Calamity are also rescue dogs. Bassets are unflappable (except for those long ears) and persistent, which are perfect attributes for any sleuth. By their nature and appearance, these hounds offer plenty of comic relief in my murder mysteries. My own dogs, with their endearing ways and hilarious antics provide me with endless material.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Sue:I write primarily to entertain, but because my mysteries are set at Lake Tahoe and environmental concerns are always at the forefront in the region due to overdevelopment, wildfires, logging, and the resulting loss of clarity in the lake, these issues find their way into my books. Other themes that regularly appear in the series are animal welfare and wildlife preservation.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Sue:I find I’m most productive in the afternoons, when I can get away to a favorite café, away from household distractions. It’s my creative oasis and something I look forward to every day.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Sue:I don’t embrace the stringent type of outline we learned in school, but I do write down copious notes and block out scenes as they come to me. (I tried using a tape recorder while out on walks, but I hate to transcribe tapes.) Of course, things can change as I delve further into the book and new characters and plot twists reveal themselves to me. For me, that’s the most pleasurable part of writing a book. I love surprises!
Lorie: I’m with you on that one. If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Sue:I wish I were one of those early birds who always awake a dawn bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but I find I come to life later in the day. Caffeine helps. I’m definitely a p.m. pen pusher.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Sue:I got 18 rejections before my first book was finally accepted for publication. In hindsight, I wish I’d held out longer before signing on with an indie publisher. Some really famous authors have gotten far more rejections on their first book than I did, but beginners can sometimes be too impatient and eager to sign a contract.
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Sue:Not many rejections from editors seem to come with critiques, unfortunately, though I did receive a few early on that I should have paid more attention to. Some even invited me to resubmit, but I was so fixated on being rejected at the time that I never bothered. Bad mistake. But I remember how happy I was when my first book was accepted for publication. I was literally howling for joy, along with my two bassets, who were in the room with me when I received the e-mail. There’s really no feeling for a writer to compare with that first book acceptance. Another memorable experience for me was receiving two Maxwell Awards from the DWAA for the best writing on the subject of dogs. I’ve been nominated nine times over the past decade.
Lorie: Do you have a most interesting book-signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Sue:That would be when I was invited to attend the 2002 Illinois Basset Waddle to benefit Guardian Angel Basset Rescue. Over 1,000 basset hounds were there to waddle down Main Street with their owners; that’s ¼ of the human population of the little town of Dwight, where this amazing event is held yearly. I have drawn from my hilarious experiences at the Basset Waddle in Braced for Murder. Another time was when my basset, Bubba Gump, accompanied me to a local Barnes & Noble dressed as Sherlock Holmes. My husband led him around the store in his costume to spark patron interest in my appearance. It worked!
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Sue:I plan to self-publish some of my books I have written but haven’t yet found a publisher for. I grow tired of the waiting games writers have had to play with publishers for so long and of being at the bottom of the publishing food chain. Happily, with the arrival of the Kindle and other e-readers, the tide has turned and authors are finally in the driver’s seat. There are more hats to wear, but we have to wear a lot of them with traditional publishers, anyway.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Sue:Anne LaMott, who wrote one of the best books ever on the subject of writing, Bird by Bird. I love her literary voice. I adore Jean Shepherd’s humorous stories about his childhood. James Herriot’s animal tales are wonderful (I got to visit his real surgery in the English village of Thirsk and bought his autographed books in the little book shop—we stayed at the home of his daughter’s childhood friend, which he passed every day on his walk up to Sutton Bank, an outcropping which affords a breathtaking view of the Vale of Pickering).
Lorie: What do you read?
Sue:I love rereading the classics, but find I enjoy horror novels the most. Saki, Shirley Jackson, and James Herbert are some favorites of mine. I’ve always liked chills and thrills, and I’m a longtime fan of Stephen King’s work. He’s a brilliant, entertaining writer and a master of description. His book, On Writing, is probably the best of its kind.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Sue:Law and Order–Special Victims Unit, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Sue:I live with my husband of 38 years and two rescued bassets, Peaches and Beau. My mother just turned 88. I have a younger brother, niece, and nephews.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Sue:Never, ever give up! Keep on writing, no matter what. Take writing courses and read books to hone your skills. Get your story down on paper first before you edit. Edit a lot! Then release it into the wild. If you get rejected, try not to take it too personally. It’s just one editor’s opinion. The next one may love it. If not, revise and resend. Should you discover that your desire to have written exceeds your desire to write, find another occupation you do enjoy because life is too short to waste on something you aren’t passionate about. Write about what you love. For me, that’s dogs, dogs, dogs.
Lorie: Any thoughts/feelings on the future of paper books as opposed to e-books?
Sue:I treasure our dwindling forests and realize a paperless industry helps preserve the environment but confess I still enjoy the feel and smell of a new book in my hand. There is still no feeling that compares to seeing a book I’ve written displayed in a bookstore. I’m not sure I want to spend all my time in front of an LCD and doubt if it’s healthy to do so. Paper books don’t ever need a battery recharge, but like it or not, you have to change with the times. Looks like we’re entering a new age of publishing, and I’ll go with the flow to be read. I still hope my future books come out in print at some point, though.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Sue:I’m really grateful to everyone who has supported me from the outset and those who write encouraging e-mails and letters saying they love reading my books and look forward to reading the next one. It’s what keeps writers writing.
You can learn more about Sue and her books and basset’s on her website.
Embarking On Murder by Sue Owens Wright
Review by Terell Byrd
This book is the third in the Beanie and Cruiser series. Beanie is the nickname of Elsie MacBean and Cruiser is her faithful basset hound. I had not read any of Wright’s writing before this novel, so I can assure you that this volume can be enjoyed alone. Beanie is Washoe, the Native American tribe that lived in the Lake Tahoe area and she has a log cabin in the woods above the lake. By trade she is a freelance reporter and by choice she does private investigator work.
Fifty years old is a turning point in our culture. It is the point at which people realize they are becoming old and the landmark age at which many seem to find acceptance of self. Beanie, a widow for several years, celebrates her fiftieth birthday with her daughter, Nona and best friend, Sheriff Skip Cassidy, on a dinner cruise on the Lake. Alcohol and emotion are an explosive mixture, a husband and wife have a very public argument and shortly thereafter the wife disappears into the cold water.
As Beanie works to find the murderer, there are increased sightings of ‘Tessie’ the huge elusive creature that some think makes its home in the deep blue waters of Tahoe. Like the Loch Ness monster, there have been glimpses, especially at dawn and dusk, of a long slender neck and head, a giant tail and evidence of something massive moving through the deep blue waters. Beanie has been assigned to write about Tessie for the local paper and joins forces with a famous paleontologist to search for the truth about the animal. Beanie tries to act her age and remember she is a journalist, while the handsome Professor Crispin Blayne persists in being more personally than professionally interested in her.
A local hermit and staunch promoter of the truth of the stories about Tessie vanishes and Beanie is nearly run off the road. Apparently, someone wants to stop her investigations, permanently. What is really going on in and on Lake Tahoe? Read the book and find out!
This mystery is a charming cozy. It offers local history and legend as well as a beautiful setting in the high Sierras. I enjoyed it immensely!
To enter to win a copies of both of Embarking On Murder, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Bark”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 17, 2011. U.S. residents only.
Sue has written a couple of guest articles for KRL-Oh Rats! and one on the Basset Rescue of Central California. You can also enjoy a fun short story by Sue in this week’s issue featuring her Basset Hound character in her novels, Cruiser.
If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.