S.G. Tell us about yourself?
S.W.B. That could be a book in itself! I have a pretty eclectic background, and wildly diverse interests, but in a nutshell…. I’ve been seriously involved with animals since I was a teenager, and my background showing horses and dogs, volunteering with shelters and rescue programs, founding two rescue programs, breeding highly competitive Australian Shepherds, volunteering with my therapy dogs, and generally hanging out with animals—all that has influenced much of my writing, including the Animals in Focus mystery series. I also love to travel, and I spent five years studying and teaching in the Middle East before the world went crazy. Aside from writing, which is my full-time work, I paint (mostly watercolors), garden, take lots of photos, and walk/hike whenever I can, with and without canine companionship. About five years ago, my husband and I decided to try living in different parts of the country, so we sold our home in Indiana and moved to North Carolina for a year, then to Reno, Nevada, for 18 months. We’re back in North Carolina for now, but who knows? We could pull up stakes and move again!
S.G. What or who inspired you to start writing?
S.W.B. Like many writers, I feel I’ve always been a writer. Even when I had other jobs—teaching horseback riding, teaching folklore, literature, and writing at universities—writing was always part of my work. So I’ll go waaaayyyy back and credit my father, who spent many hours reading to me, and Dr. Seuss, whose stories still influence my life (especially the Horton stories—I believe in the littlest voice in Who). My mother, too, should get a huge helping of the credit. She was an avid reader, and always had books open in her hand or close by, waiting. And she arranged for me to meet my first real author when I was about 10. That was when I realized that real people write books, and I could be one of them.
S.G. What was the hardest part and the easiest part about writing this story?
S.W.B. Catwalk is, of course, part of the Animals in Focus series, so some of the groundwork was already done in Drop Dead on Recall and The Money Bird. I knew my main characters (although they still surprise me, as people do!), and I knew my setting. The hardest part of this book was letting go of my expectations—when I started, I thought I knew the plot, but I tend to let my stories tell themselves to a large extent. That always means that I have to be willing to let go of “favorite” scenes or plot twists that no longer work when new ones grow organically from the progressing story.
S.G. Who are your three favorite authors?
S.W.B. Oh, no, I can’t play favorites—as soon as I name three, six more will start shouting “Me! Me!” in my head. I read widely—mysteries of course, but also a very wide range of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and there are hundred of writers whose work moves me in different ways. I just can’t pick three, or even thirty!
S.G. What three things do you want your readers to know?
S.W.B. I’ll assume that you mean three things about my Animals in Focus mysteries…. First (because people ask me all the time), I am not Janet MacPhail, the protagonist, and she is not me. We do share some traits and behaviors, and I’m sure we’re good friends, but we’re not the same person. Second, the animals in my books are based on real life animals. I have been involved for decades in efforts to promote responsible pet ownership and understanding of our fellow beings, and I believe that many of our interspecies problems are due to people’s misperception of animals, especially pets, as “little furry people.” I find animals fascinating as animals, so I keep the ones in my books realistic. There’s certainly a place for talking animals in fiction, but I choose to present only what we can observe. Third, Catwalk is the third Animals in Focus mystery. I think it stands on its own, but some elements are richer when we know what happened in Drop Dead on Recall and The Money Bird. And #4 is underway, to be released in fall 2015.
S.G. If you could throw a holiday party and invite 5 author living or dead who would they be and what would be on the menu?
S.W.B.I make a different list every time I’m asked this question—there are no many fascinating authors! I believe I’ll start with Dr. Seuss—Theodore Geisl. Wouldn’t he be fun? I hope you include poets with authors, because I would have to invite Walt Whitman. How could a mystery writer not invite Agatha Christie, or a novelist not invite Jane Austen? And finally, a writer many of you may not have heard of but who has long been a courageous voice for women’s rights throughout the world—Egyptian author Nawal El-Saadawi. That group should make for some interesting conversation! And let’s see, what to serve…This will be a catered affair because, like my protagonist Janet MacPhail, I’m not much of a cook. So I’ll have to find a caterer who can provide green eggs & ham for Dr. Seuss; apple pie for Whitman, a most American poet; a “delicious death cake” for Agatha Christie (check your Miss Marples!); venison in white wine for Jane Austen. We’ll end the evening with some rich and fragrant Egyptian coffee.
S.G. What are the 5 books in your TBR pile?
S.W.B Only five? I think of it as TBR Mountain! But okay, a quick glance at the pile shows The Bright Forever by Lee Martin; Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore; Best American Mystery Stories of 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline; Creatures of Habit by Jill McCorkle; The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. I told you I’m eclectic!