by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest Timber Creek K-9 Mystery by Margaret Mizushima, along with an interesting interview with Margaret. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Stalking Ground. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Stalking Ground: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery By Margaret Mizushima
Review by Cynthia Chow
Nothing makes Timber Creek, Colorado’s Deputy Mattie Cobb prouder than working with her K-9 partner, Robo. It’s unfortunate that their latest assignment has them searching for Adrienne Howard, a human and animal masseuse and the girlfriend of Deputy Ken Brody. Mattie and Brody may have had their differences, but she would never have wished this upon her worst enemy. Robo proves himself to be a fantastic tracker, but this is a time when the results do not bring good news.
Adrienne had recently been working with veterinarian Dr. Cole Walker, and none are more devastated by her death than his two young daughters. Already feeling abandoned by their mother, Cole’s eldest, in particular, begins to act out by behaving as only a teenaged girl can. Hiring a live-in housekeeper seems to add to Cole’s troubles as much as alleviate them, and it’s almost a relief when his time is consumed by treating a new client’s perplexingly sick horse.
Mattie is having family issues herself. Being a foster child who engineered her escape from an abusive household, she may finally have an opportunity to reunite with her brother. Mattie stayed in Timber Creek despite the bad memories in the hopes of finding her mother and brother again; what Mattie didn’t realize is that her recollections may not have been the truth. Fortunately, the arrival of Detective Stella LoSasso also means as much of a return of her forthright opinions as her intelligent investigative skills, both of which are greatly in need for Mattie if she wants to find peace.
Mattie and Robo together are an impressive policing duo, loyal and loving on both sides. Robo’s extraordinary takedowns are as remarkable as his tracking skills, and the author revels in displaying just how instrumental he is to the police force. The family complications of Adrienne Howard, Mattie, and Cole are as different as they could be, yet the novel succeeds in threading together the relationships into one cohesive theme. The new family Mattie has formed with the Timber Creek police, which of course includes Robo, may finally give her the support to reach out towards a new friendship. Mattie and Robo’s teamwork ensure a satisfying read, while Robo’s intimidating work ethic delivers a suspenseful and thrilling conclusion.
Interview with Margaret Mizushima:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Margaret: I began studying the art and craft of fiction writing around the turn of the [21st] century. Before that, I did a large amount of technical and professional writing as a speech pathologist.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Margaret: My first novel, Killing Trail, released December 8, 2015, introduces the Timber Creek K-9 series characters Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and single parent Cole Walker, DVM. The story starts with Robo finding the body of a teenage girl in the mountains outside Timber Creek, where Mattie also discovers an injured dog. She takes the dog to Cole for treatment, and discovers that the dog’s owner is his daughter’s friend. This triggers the need to interview the Walkers to see if they might know something to help solve the case, and their information sets Mattie and Robo on the trail of a killer.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Margaret: Initially, I wrote mainstream, and then historical romance. I placed in a few contests but didn’t get published. Switching to mystery came from my love of crime documentaries and crime fiction, as well as a little push from a friend.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book. And why did you decide to go with the idea of using a working K-9?
Margaret: I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Colorado high country, and I love the mountains. When I was younger, I hiked into the wilderness area with a packhorse to camp, and [I] climbed the local mountain peaks. I think the mystique and isolation of the Colorado wilderness is a perfect backdrop for a mystery or a suspenseful story. The town of Timber Creek and its surrounding area is fictional, but it’s based on several small towns near my childhood home, and my current book, Stalking Ground, takes full advantage of my time hiking the high country. Deputy Mattie Cobb and Robo were inspired by one of my consultants, who retired from K-9 work in Bellingham, WA. Her late patrol dog was named Robo, and she gave me permission to use his name in the series. The fictional Robo’s high-drive nature and outstanding skill level came out of listening to this officer’s many tales about her late partner.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Margaret: This is a tougher question than it appears on the surface. My primary goal is to write a gripping mystery that entertains the reader and gives the reader a break from daily life. That said, I also strive to include some of my own beliefs regarding acceptance of diversity, and that kindness matters, including treating our animals well. But I don’t like to soap box it, so I’ll always develop plenty of characters that don’t share my worldview, to give the Timber Creek mysteries an edge.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Margaret: I treat writing as a job and I show up for it almost every morning, including most weekends. Some stages of novel development are more intense, such as writing the first draft and doing content revisions, and during those stages I’m careful to stick to deadlines and daily word count goals. Otherwise, it would be easy to fall behind. Discipline is the key for me. I’ve found that even when my muse comes to work late, she always shows up if I doodle at the keyboard while I wait for her.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way to keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Margaret: I didn’t outline Killing Trail, and it took me three years to write and required a great deal of editorial revision. So, once I started writing under contract with one book due each year, I decided to try a different method: I wrote a “lacy outline” (i.e. one with lots of holes) for Stalking Ground and for my third book. No matter what my method, I usually know how each book will begin and end; it’s that important stuff in the middle that I have to figure out. Even when the outline evolves during writing, I’ve found that it keeps me on track so that I stay focused on which clues to plant, which new characters to introduce where, and what needs to happen to get from one chapter to the next.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Margaret: Definitely morning. My husband and I are self-employed, so I do the work I need to for his veterinary clinic in the afternoon, when I’m sometimes brain dead and on autopilot. He doesn’t seem to notice.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Margaret: I did. I believe finding an agent, an editor, and a publisher who all like your work takes a great deal of hard work, belief, and persistence—and a little bit of luck.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Margaret: Once in the days prior to email query submissions, an agent sent my query letter back to me with NO scrawled across it. Bummer.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Margaret: I have two daughters, and my eldest planned to surprise me by coming to Colorado from San Diego for my Killing Trail launch event, but I got wind of it early and ruined her surprise. Little did I know that both daughters were plotting. They pulled it off, and I remained clueless until a half hour prior to the event, when my youngest walked up behind me at the bookstore, tapped on my shoulder, and said, “Is it too early for you to sign my book?” Best. Surprise. Ever.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Margaret: I’m writing book three in the Timber Creek series now, and it’s scheduled to release September of 2017, published by Crooked Lane Books. They also want a book four (as yet nothing more than a twinkle in my eye), and it will release September of 2018. I might also write a short story or two.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Margaret: Currently my heroes are those authors who took the time to read my debut, Killing Trail, and to write an endorsement for it. It takes heart to support a beginning author and say, “Read this book, you might like it.” So my writing heroes include award-winning and best-selling mystery authors Margaret Coel, Bill Crider, Bonnie Hearn Hill, David Thurlo, Mark Stevens, and Scott Graham. I’ve read their work, and I can tell you, “Read their books, you might like them!”
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Margaret: The research I like best is shadowing canine handlers, whether they are police officers training patrol dogs, or handlers training for search and rescue. I’ve also attended police dog trials/competitions, and found them to be a great source for watching demonstrations of skills and police service dog behavior. I have law enforcement consultants I can contact about general procedures. My background and experience in training search and rescue, hunting, and cattle working dogs—as well as years of being a 4-H leader who taught kids how to train dogs for obedience and show—gives me depth in understanding dogs in general, as well as their behavior.
KRL: What do you read?
Margaret: I read mysteries, thrillers and suspense, mainstream women’s fiction, and occasionally something literary.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Margaret: I like crime documentaries on television such as Dateline and 48 Hours. For fun and excitement I like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead (violent, I know). I also like the Longmire series, and I loved watching the Downton Abbey series. Two movies that I’ve watched recently that I like are The Danish Girl and Brooklyn, and two old classics that I’ve watched repeatedly are The Princess Bride and Fried Green Tomatoes.
blockquote>KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Margaret: My best advice for aspiring or beginning writers is to attend writing conferences where you will learn about writing craft and the publishing business. I met both my agent and editor at writing conferences; that personal introduction will get you much further than a query letter or a slush pile submission.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Margaret: I want to thank my readers for their interest in the Timber Creek K-9 mysteries. I appreciate hearing from them, and they can email me through my website at hello@margaretmizushima[dot]com. It might take a few days, but I will write back.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Margaret: During my childhood my entire family participated in 4-H, an agriculturally based program for kids. My dad was a fine cattleman, and our main project each year was raising and showing 4-H Club calves. By age 10, I was responsible for the care and feeding of my steer and could lead this 1,200-pound animal around with a halter. Most of our family vacations away from the ranch involved going to cattle shows throughout the region. One morning while at the Texas State Fair, I ate breakfast with my mother and siblings at a food stand in front of the Cotton Bowl.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Stalking Ground, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “stalking,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 24, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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