Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: April 2021

The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. – Lori Lesko, Wise Famous Quotes.

Indie Issues

Lately, I’ve been increasingly bothered by a cluster of tendencies I call “Indie issues.” They crop up in the writing of otherwise-competent self-published authors, and they happen often enough that I’ve started to recognize them.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, too. No, I’m not talking about plain old bad writing. Of course, beginning writers often write less well than seasoned pros. And yes, a number of Indie writers don’t yet know their craft. To get to “good,” a writer has to go through a period of “bad.”

If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good. –Steven Galloway, Wise Famous Quotes.
(Steven Galloway/Wise Famous Quotes)

Those aren’t the “Indie issues” I’m calling out. I want to focus instead on the problems that happen when otherwise-good writers try to produce a certain kind of book too quickly, in a format that’s too short.

“Indie issues” described

A book that’s not the right length for the story develops all kinds of problems. It may have the potential for a great plot. Maybe the characters have interesting quirks or intriguing problems. There may be some pretty sound action sequences.

But the book comes off feeling half-baked. The pacing doesn’t always feel natural. Characterizations come off oddly shallow. Contrived plot twists may sometimes force the action. The novelist may attempt to grapple with important themes or interesting problems, but these don’t resonate through the characters’ lives in authentic ways, because everything is moving too fast. The writer does more “telling” than “showing.”

The result may be good enough writing. But it’s not great or memorable writing. And that, I would argue, comes from trying to keep the story too short.

A perceived need for speed

Before new writers launch into independent publishing, they may harbor illusions about being able to tell the story they want to tell, with no gatekeepers to interfere.

Then they learn about Amazon’s algorithms. They bump repeatedly into the seemingly iron rule that to succeed financially in this business they must write as fast as possible. Ideally, they should publish a new title at least every three months. Wait too long and people will forget who you are! Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

There’s a sound reason for this push to write fast. It works! Publishing new stories frequently will  catch the attention of Amazon’s algorithms—and that will bring the story to more readers’ attention. Write fast, publish as often as humanly possible, and focus on small collections of books (trilogies and tetralogies). That’s the formula.

Traditional publishers do this, too. And it’s currently the most reliable Indie approach for actually making money on this writing thing. As long as what you write is well-suited to the “speed” model, you can write some really excellent, entertaining, worthwhile, and vivid fiction.

Here’s Diane Kelly with her dog Junior and the 9 covers of her “Paw Enforcement” Series.
Here’s Diane Kelly (with her dog Junior). She provides an excellent example of the “shorter and often, but good” model. (Artdog Adventures/The Weird Blog).

What does “well-suited to the model” mean?

I don’tmean “formulaic.” I don’t mean falling back into clichés. I don’t mean sloppy writing or shallow characters or other such flaws.

The stories best-suited to the “fast and often” model are generally fairly short (between about 250-350 pages). Genre can be anything. Mysteries, adventure novels, thrillers, romances, westerns, and a host of others can and often do sparkle at this length.

From humor to grimdark and all things in between, it’s fully possible to conceive, write, and polish a really excellent story in a matter of just a few months, once a writer has unlocked the necessary discipline and skills.

Length makes a difference

Depending on a number of characteristics, any given story has an ideal length. The idea will just naturally “work best” at that length.

(Lorrie Moore/Writers Write)

Some ideas are best-suited to flash fiction. Some work better as classic short stories (the SFWA standard for the Nebula Awards is up to 7,500 words), while the “sweet spot” for others ends up about novelette (7,500-17,500 words), or novella (17,500-40,000 words) length. Technically, anything longer than 40,000 words is a novel.

But I’d like to argue there are “degrees of novel,” too. And a lot of great story ideas are perfect for that 250-350-or-so page-length. A lot—but not all. I think the “Indie issues” I’ve encountered lately stem from a mismatch of story idea to length.

No, you can’t just trim down some ideas

If you’re locked into the idea that to have a serious career you absolutely have to publish a book every three months, six months, or other arbitrary (but short) time period, your mission is clear. You absolutely must develop a mindset that creates ideas well-suited to that length.

All well and good. But what if the idea that feeds your soul and keeps you up at night needs more room? What if the story’s more complex, the interactions more multilayered, or the setting/culture(s) require more words? What if you have a lot of “moving parts” to orchestrate?

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. – Maya Angelou, Wisdom Quotes.
(Maya Angelou/Wisdom Quotes)

Going to greater lengths

What if, to shoehorn it all into a 350-page novel, you’d have to amputate major elements and essentially destroy the story?

If you’re an Indie who only gets ideas for long, richly complex books that take a lot of labor and time to create, you have a real problem—and potential “Indie issues”—if you’re convinced the “write fast and publish often model is the only way to go

I beg of you, please don’t amputate big chunks and publish half-baked books. There is another way. It may be harder and longer, but it exists.

A different kind of books

Did you ever notice that some writers only publish a book every one or two years? That’s not because they’re lazy or slow, or because they need serious editing.

It’s because they write a different kind of books. Books that need more “room” (400-500 pages or sometimes more). And books it’s impossible to write, polish and publish in just a few months. Let’s look at a couple of internationally bestselling mystery writers whose books follow this “bigger books” pattern.

Author Louise Penny with soon-to-be-released “Inspector Gamache” novel #17, “The Madness of Crowds.”
Longer novels, produced at longer intervals, have catapulted Canadian author Louise Penny to much-deserved international bestseller status. Have you discovered her books? (BookPage/GooglePlay).

Maybe you’re familiar with the work of Louise Penny and her “Inspector Gamache” novels. Or perhaps you’re a fan of Deborah Crombie and her “Kincaid and James” mysteries. If you are, you know that they have wildly successful series and tens of thousands of devoted fans.

Looking at some facts, ma’am.

I collected some statistics on both writers’ careers. The stories they needed to tell weren’t shorter, faster-to-produce stories in a variety of trilogies or other short series. Instead, each has developed a long-tailed series that follows the stories of the same handful of “core” characters.

Penny is set to release Book #17, The Madness of Crowds, in August (it’s already a bestseller, based on presales). Crombie’s most recent was #18, A Bitter Feast, released in October, 2018 (yes, that long ago. That’s an eternity in “Indie time,” but her devoted fans are willing to—impatiently—wait).

Deborah Crombie with the cover of her book “A Bitter Feast.”
Photo of Deborah Crombie from her website is by Steve Ullathorne. The cover photo for A Bitter Feast is from the detail page on Crombie’s website. (Deborah Crombie/Artdog Adventures/The Weird Blog).

Since Book #13 of each series, these two award-winning masters of their craft have produced consistently longer books than the “Indie standard” of 250-350 pages. Penny averages 412 pages per book, and she produces a new one approximately every 12 months. Crombie averages 447 pages per book. Her average interval is 19.3 months between books.

“Big Books” aren’t limited by genre

Some of the most influential books ever written fall into this “big books” category. For instance, in my “home genre” of science fiction, the hardcover edition of Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune weighs in at 528 pages, according to its Amazon listing. A game-changer when it came out in 1965, the genre has never been the same since.

We’ve heard a lot of buzz about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower recently. Its hardcover edition is 336 pages long, but the sequel, Parable of the Talents, goes to 416.

Big sf books are still being published. N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became weighs in at 448 pages in its hardcover edition. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun runs to 464 in its hardcover.

Dune by Frank Herbert, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin, and Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse.
Some “big books” of science fiction from the past through the present. (see IMAGE CREDITS below).

Is there a place for “big books” in Indie fiction?

I can hear the complaints already. “But those are all traditionally-published!” True. Big corporations with big promotional budgets have bankrolled all of my examples. Indies don’t have big bankrolls for huge promotions. Does this mean people who write “big books” can’t make it as an Indie?

I hope to God it doesn’t! What’s Bred in the Bone weighs in at 464 pages in paperback. And if I can get A Bone to Pick published by September, that’s a little more than 2 years’ interval between them. So I definitely have dogs in this hunt!

The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. – Lori Lesko, Wise Famous Quotes.
(Lori Lesko/Wise Famous Quotes)

A different model of success to counteract “Indie issues”

It looks to be a longer, much-slower-paying game for an Indie who writes “big books” and refuses to succumb to the “Indie issues” that go hand-in-hand with compressing a long story into an arbitrary shorter length.

But traditional publishing has made the longer form work profitably. The careers of Penny, Crombie, and many others demonstrate that truth. And that doesn’t only hold for the big-budget books. But it absolutely is a longer, heavier lift.

If we Indies can’t find a way to make “big books” work for us, then ultimately we aren’t going to have as many deeply-thought-out, in-depth books available to read in the future. And that carries with it the seeds of a profound loss for the field of fiction, as well as for the reading public everywhere.


Many thanks to Wise Famous Quotes for the Steven Galloway and Lori Lesko quotes. The montage of Diane Kelly and her “Paw Enforcement” series reprises its appearance on this blog. The Deborah Crombie illustration is also from this blog. I appreciate Writers Write for the quote from Lorrie Moore, and Wisdom Quotes for the quote from Maya Angelou.

I’d like to thank BookPage for the photo of Louise Penny, and GooglePlay for the photo of her The Madness of Crowds cover. Finally, I’m really grateful to the Bookmark for the cover image of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Thanks to Octavia Butler’s website for the covers of Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. I’m grateful to N. K. Jemisin’s website for the cover of The City We Became, and to Rebecca Roanhorse’s website for the photo of John Picacio’s striking cover for Black Sun. All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt.

Photos of five featured buildings, “Bosco Verticale,” Parkroyal on Pickering, Namba Parks, Ivry-sur-Seine, and the Chicland Hotel.

Literally Green Buildings

Happy 51st Earth Day! Followers of Artdog Adventures may remember earlier posts about environmentally-friendly architecture. I tend to post them around Earth Day. People sometimes talk about “green buildings.” But there’s “green” as in eco-friendly, and then there’s “green” as in literally green buildings. And some are both.

What do I mean by “literally green buildings”?

When I say “literally green buildings,” I mean green with plants. Lately, more and more architects think about plants from the very start of planning. This goes way beyond landscaping for curb appeal. They plan to make the plants part of the building.

I have lots of reasons to be interested in this intersection of beneficial plants with built environments. I’m both a lifelong gardener and the daughter of an architectural design professor who instilled a love of buildings in me. And Rana Station, the fictional setting for my XK9 stories, is kind of the ultimate “built environment with plants.”

This montage shows “25 Verde,” Boeri’s “vertical forest,” and the Chicland Hotel with vines cascading from each balcony.
At left, two views of “25 Verde,” in Turin, Italy (Haute Residence). In the center, three views of the “Bosco Verticale” or “Vertical Forest” in Milan, Italy (stacked photos: Stefano Boeri Architetti. Full-length view: Green Roofs / Laura Gatti), and two views of VTN’s concept design for the Chicland Hotel in Da Nang, Vietnam (ArchDaily / VTN).

In previous posts I’ve spotlighted projects such as Luciano Pia’s “urban treehouse25 Verde, and Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, or “vertical forest.” The Italians don’t have a corner on that market, of course. VTN Architects in Vietnam create many spectacular, plant-centric designs. So do others.

Literally green buildings since before history

People have always loved to incorporate plants into their living spaces. That’s nothing new. Trees probably provided our first shelter. And evidence of prehistoric and early-historic dugout shelters can be found all over the world. Sod roofs date into antiquity in Scandinavia for highly practical reasons.

Green roofs then and now, as described in the cutline.
Green roofs are nothing new. At left, sod roofs on log buildings in the outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum of Oslo Norway (by Kjetil Bjørnsrud – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia), contemporary green roofs that include trees on a high-rise complex (Urbanscape Architecture), and Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, where goats graze on the grassy roof (Country Living / Flickr / Jesse Lisa).

In the same way, sod homes for European migrants on the North American plains, winter houses for Aleut peoples in Alaska, and others have sheltered humans for centuries. Often grasses grew/grow on them. Sometimes animals graze on them. “Green roofs” started to get popular on city buildings in the early 1970s. That trend is still growing. They offer quite a list of benefits.

Literally green” means built for plants as well as people

For this post I’ve chosen developments that bring green spaces and plantings into exterior architecture. They are literally green buildings. Many studies have shown the benefits of green spaces and trees. And that goes double for cities.

People also incorporate “Green Walls” into indoor and outdoor spaces. I’ll focus on them in a future post. But for now, here are glimpses of three that caught my eye. I hope you like them, too.

Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris, France

Welcome to Communist France! Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, is organized as a commune—one of several in France. And communist ideology inspired this residence development. The married architectural team of Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet designed them as affordable housing. Built between 1969 and 1975Les Etoiles” (“the stars”) are built with sharp angles on multiple levels, with many green spaces. They’re quite a unique vision. They’re also literally green buildings.

Five views of the Ivry-sur-Seine housing complex near Paris France.
Called “Les Etoiles” (“the Stars”) because of their angled shapes, these buildings present an earlier melding of nature and architecture than our other spotlighted sites. The two photos on the left are from the “KUDOYBOOK” blog, the center photo comes from @TopAmazingWorld on Twitter, and the two on the right are from Solarpunk Aesthetic on tumblr.

Namba Parks Shopping Center in Osaka, Japan

The curving lines, many levels, and distinctive plantings make this beautiful shopping district a Pinterest favorite. That’s where I first glimpsed it. Winner of an Urban Land Institute Award of Excellence in 2009, it creates a “natural intervention” in Osaka’s dense urban space. There’s a rooftop park, a “canyon” walkway, and eight levels of offices, shops, dining, and places to relax. Next door: a 46-story residential tower and a 30-story office tower.

4 views of Namba Parks from above.
Photographers from high above in neighboring high-rises have caught some great photos of Namba Parks. Top left and right, as well as the bottom photo are from ArchDaily’s article “Namba Parks / The Jerde Partnership.” Top-center “View from Above Namba Parks” is by 663highland, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia.

The Parkroyal Hotel in Singapore

Billed as a “Modern-Day Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” the sustainably-designed Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering opened in 2013. It gives another eye-opening melding of plants with architecture. The Singaporean architectural firm WOHA was already known for incorporating a lot of greenery into their buildings. They designed the balconies and other green spaces to support the weight and root systems. They also designed the plantings and specifically chose the species for ease of maintenance. I think it’s safe to say that the luxury Parkroyal on Pickering really takes the “park” part seriously.

8 photos of the Parkroyal on Pickering from a variety of angles.
If the Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering isn’t the most-photographed hotel in Singapore, it’s got to be right up there in the top ten. I found so many great shots of this place it was hard to narrow it down to just eight! Most of the photos in this collection are from Trip Advisor’s enormous gallery in its article on this highly-rated luxury hotel. That includes the one at lower left from a contributor identified as “Mcfulcher,” and the dizzying view down past the balconies to the street next to it, by a contributor identified as “cwydyy.” Others came from the hotel itself, except for the side-by-side photos at top far left and left. They’re courtesy of Forbes, provided by WOHA, the architectural firm that designed this unique bulding. You can especially see the deep, sturdy structure that securely supports all the verdant plant life in the photos at far left.


It worked out better this time to ID the photo credits in the cutlines for each montage. See those for the most complete information.

The exception is the Header photo. In that montage, which doesn’t get a cutline. I collected five of the most unique buildings featured in this post. L-R: First the “Bosco Verticale” or “Vertical Forest” in Milan, Italy (Green Roofs / Laura Gatti). Next, the Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering in Singapore (Trip Advisor / “cwydyy”). At center, “View from Above Namba Parks” in Osaka, Japan (663highland, CC BY 2.5 / Wikimedia). Next comes a view of “Les Etoiles” of Ivry-sur-Seine near Paris, France (@TopAmazingWorld / Twitter). At far right, VTN’s concept for the Chicland Hotel in Da Nang, Vietnam (ArchDaily / VTN).

Kirby with Dan’s 2019 Airstream Sport 22FB parked at the Marfa Yacht Club.

Airstream + Dog = Happy Trails (and Tails)

by Guest Blogger Daniel J. Hale

RV travel with Man’s Best Friend is an irreplaceable bonding experience. It’s also the very best kind of travel, especially during a pandemic. Airstream + Dog = Happy.

Montage: Kirby outside the RV and in its doorway.
Here’s Kirby with Dan’s 2019 Airstream Sport 22FB: At left, parked at the Marfa Yacht Club. At right, on the doorstep of adventure. (Daniel J. Hale).

I’d been jonesing for an Airstream since I saw several of the streamlined aluminum travel trailers during a road trip to the Great American Southwest in 2001. By early 2019, after my second stint as Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. (best known for the Edgar® Awards), I’d logged roughly a million miles on commercial airliners. I was tired of flying and leaving my dog in the care of others. My laid-back border collie dude Kirby had already transitioned to life as a senior dog, and I became increasingly aware how much each moment with him mattered. I made a firm decision to take Kirby with me whenever I traveled from that point on.

Travels with Kirby

In July 2019, I bought my first Airstream from a terrific dealership in Fort Worth, Texas. Kirby and I traveled with it a lot. We towed the shiny trailer to Marfa, Texas; Natchez, Mississippi; the Florida Panhandle; Lajitas, Texas; the pine thickets of Southwest Arkansas; the French Quarter in New Orleans (yes, there’s an RV resort there); and the Caddo Lake area. I grew more and more fond of the experience with each trip. Kirby seemed to love it as much as I did.

Kirby sees the sights: at left, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, LA. At right, outside the Airstream with Lajitas Mesa in the background. (Daniel J. Hale).

Being able to work from a place like New Orleans was key. When I took a break, I could leash up my pup and walk to Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. There are few things in this world better than strolling through the French Quarter at dawn with your pup, his nose still sprinkled with the powdered sugar from the pastry he tried to pilfer from the table. I’m forever grateful for the quality travel time I was able to spend with my good boy Kirby.

Airstream + Dog = Happy Memories

In April 2020, the pandemic in full swing, I headed west with the Airstream. My new rescue, a sweet shorthaired border collie I’d named Fox Mulder rode shotgun. The original plan was for us to go to Southern California and back with stops at the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Monument Valley and Joshua Tree. I’m here to tell you that towing a mobile studio apartment is a great way to stay safe while traveling during a pandemic. I’ll also let you know that, at the time, the constantly changing menu of various state restrictions made travel unpredictable and precarious. We got as far as Marfa, Texas, and then we dropped anchor.

Two scenes of Fox Mulder the border collie traveling.
On the Road with Fox Mulder: at left, Fox finds the Airstream’s forward bed acceptable. At right, he and Dan get the heck out of Dallas. (Daniel J. Hale).

The terrific all-Airstream Marfa Yacht Club served as our home base for a month. Fox and I took side-trips to Lajitas, the Davis Mountains, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Alpine, Terlingua, Fort Davis and Presidio. (Big Bend National Park was closed at that time due to the pandemic.) After four weeks in Marfa, we towed the shiny aluminum trailer to South Padre Island. There, I showed Fox Mulder that wading into the ocean wasn’t scary but rather a lot of fun. Five weeks in close confines with the new rescue pup served as an irreplaceable bonding experience. By the time we returned to Dallas, Fox and I knew we belonged to each other.

Fox Mulder in a chair outside the Airstream, and in the surf at South Padre Island.
Fox Mulder, dog about Texas: at left, taking in the sights from beneath the canopy. At right, frolicking in the surf at South Padre Island. (Daniel J. Hale).

Airstream + Dog = Happy Family

The pull of the open road once again grew too strong to ignore after a few weeks in Dallas. While Fox Mulder remained well cared for at home, I once again set out for California. This time, I made it to San Diego and Joshua Tree National Park. I had no doubt that bringing Fox along would have carried additional risks – mostly risks to him – but Airstream travel just didn’t seem right without my fuzzy co-pilot. Lesson learned. When I made my last month-long excursion near the end of 2020, Fox Mulder was riding shotgun again. Balance had been restored to the world. To my world, anyway.

Many RV owners will tell you that they bought their expensive homes on wheels for and because of their pets. They may chuckle when they say it, but they’re dead-serious. So am I. Life on the road is good. Life on the road is much better with a canine (or two) in your entourage.

Three views of Fox Mulder in and around the RV.
On the Road Again: At left, Fox sits inside the Airstream. Center, Fox Mulder as Gladys Kravitz – on a stakeout. At right, Fox Mulder at the Marfa Yacht Club. (Daniel J. Hale).

Airstream + Dog = Happy Trails (and Tails)

Our Guest Blogger Daniel J. Hale is an Agatha Award-winning author and a two-time former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. He’s an FAA-licensed unmanned aerial vehicle pilot – his three aerial photography exhibits were sold-out shows. Hale speaks fluent French and is the recipient of the Diplôme Superieur de Français des Affaires de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris. He holds degrees from Cornell University, the Bowen School of Law and Southern Methodist University. When he and his trusty border collie are not in Dallas, you’ll find them traveling the country with their shiny silver Airstream in tow.

IMAGE CREDITS: All photos are courtesy of Daniel J. Hale Photography (Jan and G. recommend a deep dive into his gorgeous online galleries for some amazing and beautiful photos!). Many, many thanks! We deeply appreciate his willingness to share a glimpse of his adventures with his canine co-pilots on The Weird Blog and Artdog Adventures! Dan, you’re a rock star!

A healthy Chess makes the rounds in his back yard.

Rescue Me! Adventures as a Dog Rescue Volunteer

By G. S. Norwood

Rescue Me!

Over the years I’ve taken in a lot of strays, and helped many animals find good homes. In 2013, after I my beloved border collie, Liam, died, I contacted a border collie rescue group to find a new friend for my remaining dog, Tam. That’s when my adventures as a dog rescue volunteer really began!

WARNING: You may find some of the photos in this blog post disturbing. Please be assured this dog is now healthy, and has found his happily ever after.

I figured volunteering for a border collie group, and maybe even fostering a dog, would be a great way to meet a lot of dogs. After decades of having male dogs, I wanted a classic black and white female to befriend shy boy, Tam. But, to keep my options open, I regularly scanned the website for my local shelter. That’s where I spotted the picture of a dog whose face all but screamed, “Rescue me!”

Three shelter images of a very sad-looking dog.
Look at those eyes! You know he’s saying, “Rescue me!” (Collin County Animal Services).

Border Collie Enough?

I wasn’t even sure the dog was a border collie, although his overall conformation looked collie-ish. It’s hard to judge how large a dog is from a shelter picture, with nothing in the background to use for scale. I figured he was a big guy. His shelter name was Fontaine, but he looked like a Chester to me. He also looked like he was headed for big trouble. With no hair, he was a candidate for the Red List: marked as unadoptable and tagged for euthanasia.

Although I was living in a rented house at the time, my landlady allowed me to have two dogs. I only had one. So I contacted the rescue group’s intake coordinator and offered to foster this poor, unadoptable mutt. The intake coordinator agreed that he was probably “border collie enough.” I called the shelter as soon as they opened, and made a date to meet Fontaine. I even took off work early to make sure I got to the shelter before it closed.

Long Road to Recovery

Scraggly dog with bald patches, on a leash
One hour out of the shelter, and he was already a happier dog. (Gigi Sherrell Norwood).

My first surprise, upon meeting him, was that he was actually tiny—only 22 pounds. The shelter estimated his age at 1-2 years, but they really had no way of knowing, beyond the fact that he had all his adult teeth, and they were pretty clean. He was a mess, with very little hair and scabby, infected skin. Mange, we figured. That meant I’d have to keep him quarantined from Tam and my four cats. The rescue group had a local vet, so I could get Fontaine treated right away. I put a rescue hold on him, and all the shelter workers cheered. He was a sweet guy. They didn’t want to put him down.

I’ll Call Him Chess

I took that Friday off work and picked up Fontaine as soon as the shelter opened. We went straight to the vet. In person, this happy little guy didn’t look like a “Fontaine,” and was much too sassy to be a “Chester.” I decided to call him Chess.

At the vet, Chess’s skin scrapes came back negative for mange. It took about six weeks to diagnose his problem as severe allergic dermatitis. During that time he lost almost all of his hair. But, looks aside, Chess turned out to be an absolute doll.

Two photos of a black dog with almost no hair. In one he wears a sweater.
At his worst, Chess lost almost all of his hair. (Gigi Sherrell Norwood).

Chess became my constant companion when I was at home. He played cheerfully with Tam, and was gentle with the cats. He learned everything I wanted him to do so quickly I only had to show him once or twice. And he grew. Starting at 22 pounds and about half Tam’s size, he eventually topped out at 44 pounds and every bit as tall as Tam, although much more delicate of frame. Making a quick calculation of adult teeth + half adult size, the vet and I figured Chess was only 5 months old when he was picked up by the shelter.

Finding Forever

Right from the start, Chess decided he had found his forever home. He snuggled up next to me on the couch, waited for me outside the bathroom door, and slept by my side all night long. He loved to go for walks, but preferred I leave “that other guy” at home so we could savor our walking time together. I kept telling him I was just a stopover, and that someday, when he was completely healthy, we would find him an awesome forever home. His hair grew back, and I started taking him to adoption events. Nobody paid much attention to him, but I figured sooner or later somebody would see what an awesome dog he was.

Beautiful border collie with a lustrous coat—hard to believe it’s the same dog.
I started to take Chess to adoption events. (Julia Rigler Photography).

Then, about ten months after I brought him home from the shelter, we went to an event at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Chess was Mr. Perfect that day. His hair was long, and starting to get wavy. He greeted potential adopters politely, and even let one little girl with Down Syndrome cuddle with him. As we roamed the Stockyards, side by side, he never pulled on his leash or barked at the longhorns. He even waited patiently until I was ready to share a bite of my burger.

Ya Think?

The intake coordinator who had let me pull him from the shelter was watching us. “When I decided he was ‘border collie enough,’ I didn’t realize he’d turn out to be a purebred,” she said.

“Chess? A purebred?” I was stunned. I was used to the classic black and white look and larger frame American border collies usually have. Chess was a delicate thing, with long, thin legs and a thinner muzzle. He had tri-color markings instead of black and white. And yet, when I looked at border collie web pages, I realized Scottish dogs often looked like Chess. Could it be?

Chess and a Scottish border collie look strikingly similar in this montage.
The dog on the left is Chess. The dog on the right was a poster boy for Border Collie Rescue Scotland. What do you think? (L: Eva Loukas; R: Border Collie Rescue Scotland).

The Light Dawns

“You know he never takes his eyes off you,” the intake coordinator said. “Adopters aren’t asking about him because they think he’s your dog. You maybe ought to think about that.”

I thought about that. When I got home, I posted on Facebook about my day in Fort Worth with Chess. A friend of a friend—a woman I know, like, and am sure would be a wonderful dog owner—responded to by saying, “I want Chess!”

And I thought, “Like hell! You’re not getting my dog.” Which is how I finally reached the same conclusion that Chess, and everybody else in the world, had figured out months ago. The sad, ragged dog the shelter called Fontaine—the one they’d red-listed for euthanasia because he was unadoptable—had finally found his Forever Home.

Happy, furry Chess claims a corner of G.’s office at the Dallas Winds headquarters.
Chess still likes to go with me everywhere—even the office. (Cora Allen).


Many thanks to Collin County Animal Services for the composite shelter photo of “Fontaine.” We also want to thank Julia Rigler Photography, Eva Loukas, and Cora Allen for other photos of Chess (see photo captions), and Border Collie Rescue Scotland for the photo of a beautiful Scottish Border Collie. Other photos, as noted, are by G. S. Norwood. “Naked Chess” and “Chess-Scottish Comparison” montages assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. With gratitude to all!

The authors featured in this post are Jen J. Dana, Kylie Logan, Margaret Mizushima, Jodi Burnett, Diane Kelly with dog Junior, and Ann Vanderlaan with dog R. Kane.

K9 Mysteries

“K9 Mysteries” is a category that doesn’t currently exist. Well, it doesn’t, if you ask Amazon or the BISAC categories. But I want to wrap up our Women’s History Month series (a day late; sorry!) on women writers of mysteries, romance, and science fiction with some brilliant practitioners of this officially-nonexistent art form.

The mystery genre is chock-full of subcategories: cozies, thrillers, police procedurals, noir, and on and on. And many of those categories have subcategories: paranormal thrillers, for example. Or cat, dog, or animal cozies. But there’s no official niche for K9 mysteries. This is how sometimes-bizarre mismatches happen in listings such as Amazon’s Top 100 Lists.

But I’m here to plead the case for a separate “K9 Mysteries” subcategory. These are often closer in focus and tone to a police procedural detective mystery than an “animal cozy.”

Why a separate “K9 Mysteries category?

K9 Mysteries center on a human handler and his or her working K9. The detective is usually a professionally trained dog handler: an FBI agent, police K-9 handler, or search and rescue specialist (sometimes more than one of those). Like many in law enforcement, many also have a military background. You’ll meet a few of these folks and their K9s below. The professional status of the detective alone should distinguish this class of stories from animal cozies, because by definition a cozy centers on an amateur sleuth.

Also, a well-trained working K9 (real or fictional) is usually a German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Bloodhound, or other such breed. Their nature and work has relatively little in common with typical cozy mystery companion animals such as cats, Yorkies, or Dachshunds (lovable and perceptive though they might be).

The XK9 Pack consists of ten fictitious, sapient police dogs.
A gallery of “Pack Portraits” showing each of the ten members of the XK9 “Orangeboro Pack.” Top L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

And yes, I fully admit that I have a Pack of ten dogs in this hunt. My XK9s would fit into yet an additional niche subcategory, Science Fiction K9 Mystery. Yeah, I’m not holding my breath for them to establish that one. Meanwhile, let’s talk about five female masters of the genre, who really know how to handle their K9 mysteries.

Diane Kelly

Among the first K9 mysteries I encountered was Diane Kelly’sPaw Enforcement” series. These books follow the adventures of Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K-9, Brigit, with regular appearances by Megan’s primary romantic interest, firefighter Seth Rutledge and his explosives detection dog Blast.

A former state assistant attorney general and graduate of the Citizens Police Academy in Mansfield, Texas, Kelly’s research has resulted in a realistic portrayal of a patrol officer’s daily life and the kinds of mundane—and not-so-mundane—situations first responders deal with. She writes about Fort Worth with an authentic understanding of the local geography and climate that I appreciate.

Kelly’s tone throughout the books is more lighthearted than some of the series featured in this post. There’s also a romance element that (mostly) takes a back seat to the police work and each book’s mystery plot line. As a reader, I enjoy seeing the relationship between Megan and Seth evolve slowly over the course of multiple books.

Here’s Diane Kelly with her dog Junior and the 9 covers of her “Paw Enforcement” Series.
Author Diane Kelly (shown here with dog Junior) writes the “Paw Enforcement” K9 mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Jodi Burnett

Indie writer Jodi Burnett’s website calls her writing “suspense with a hint of romance,” and there are plenty of both in her Amazon-identified bestseller Avenging Adam (now also available as an audiobook). The first of her F.B.I. K-9 series, of which there currently are four books. Burnett publishes exclusively via Amazon.

I’ve only read the first in the series so far, but I found it to be a compulsive page-turner. The K9 work came across as authentic (the intra-office romance was less so, for me). It certainly was entertaining enough that I anticipate reading the rest of them. Note that the series’ protagonists change with each book, moving among a group of agents who know each other and are associates. Example: the romance of the second novel is set up in the first. We also meet the third protagonist in the first novel.

Burnett lives on a ranch southeast of Denver, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain region about which she writes. The F.B.I. agents of the K9 series work out of the Denver office. This offers an interesting variety of locations for the action, from urban to remote wilderness. She also has written the “Flint River” suspense trilogy, set in Montana, and recently a new K9 mystery, Renegade, first in a new series set in the Black Hills of Wyoming.

Jodi Burnett wrote the four books of the F.B.I. K-9 Series.
Author Jodi Burnett writes the “F.B.I. K-9” mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Kylie Logan

The amazing Constance Laux has deep roots in Cleveland, Ohio and is the daughter of a Cleveland Police detective. She writes prolifically under (at least) ten pen names (!), including Kylie Logan.

She was an established romance and mystery writer before she turned her hand to K9 mysteries. Indeed, she has written many cozies, Including the “League of Literary Ladies” series, which includes cats (and also is set in Cleveland). But she made this list because of her current and growing “Jazz Ramsey Mysteries” series, featuring a protagonist who trains cadaver dogs.

Laux/Logan has written stories set in a variety of places, but the fictional Jazz Ramsey lives in familiar territory—Cleveland. Based on an interview by local author Charles Cassaday, it seems she was inspired to write about cadaver dogs after a presentation to a dog club she belongs to. An Urban Exploration tour of the Tremont neighborhood gave her the ideal setting. As part of her research, she observed cadaver dog training, which she described as “incredible.”

Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan, wrote the three books of the Jazz Ramsey K9 Mysteries Series.
Author Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan, writes the “Jazz Ramsey” mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Margaret Mizushima

We return to Colorado with Margaret Mizushima, who lives on a small ranch in the northern part of the state with her veterinarian husband. They have two daughters. The unmistakable parallels with Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries main characters that include a veterinarian with two daughters, living in essentially the same part of the world, explain some of the authentic “feel.”

The stories center on Sheriff’s Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9, Robo in the fictional town of Timber Creek, Colorado (there isn’t a town, but there is a campground by that name in Rocky Mountain National Park). The series begins when Mattie, a seven-year department veteran receives her first call as a K-9 officer. There’s a slow-burning, evolving relationship between Mattie and the local veterinarian, Cole Walker, a divorced father of two daughters with workaholic tendencies. Mattie, with a history in foster care, has her own personal issues to sort out, along with the perplexing murder cases that come her way.

Mizushima started writing after she sold a rehabilitation agency she’d started during her earlier career speech pathology. (See? It’s never too late!) Since then, she has won a variety of awards and become active in the writing community in the American West. She’s six books into the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries series. As a fan, I hope she continues it for a good long time.

The 6 books of the “Timber Creek K-9” Series with author Margaret Mizushima.
Author Margaret Mizushima writes the “Timber Creek K-9” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Sara Driscoll

Author Sara Driscoll, creator of the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series, is actually two people: she’s a collaboration between Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan. Confusingly, Fantastic Fiction uses Danna’s photo on the Ann Vanderlaan listing.

There’s a photo of The Real Ann Vanderlaan on her Amazon author page, and I also found it by way of her rescued dogs. (She’s sharing the photo with R. Kane, her rescued American Bully). So many aspects of the series and especially of protagonist Meg Jennings’ twin sister Cara (a dog trainers who owns two rescued dogs) suddenly made new sense, once I learned this.

The supporting cast in this series is one of my favorite aspects. Not only is Meg’s clever twin sister an ongoing part of her posse, but the women also have parents who run an animal rescue operation (and are quite a resource, themselves). And then there are their gentleman friends, Todd Webb (firefighter/paramedic) and Clay McCord (investigative reporter and avid local history buff). Together or separately, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Add to this combination a series of fascinating puzzles, new terrain and a new, fiendishly clever murderer in each book. It all adds up to a fascinating series in which I keep wondering how they can possibly top the last one—and then they do.

Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan write the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series under the pen name Sara Driscoll.
The “two sides” of Sara Driscoll, collaborating authors Jen J. Danna (at left) and Ann Vanderlaan (at right with R. Kane), who write the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Comments Welcome

I know I’ve barely begun to survey all the outstanding K9 Mysteries writers out there. I also haven’t even mentioned excellent male writers such as Steven Henry or Robert Crais, to mention only a couple. If you’d like to suggest others my readers and I should check into, please leave us a comment and tell me who I missed.

I also welcome other comments (keep them positive and relevant, please!) about this post if you have them. Perhaps you’ve met some of these writers, or have other thoughts. That’s why I’ve tried to make it as easy to leave comments as possible.


All montages in this post were sized and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. Many thanks also to the talented Lucy A. Synk, who painted the ten “Pack Portraits” (©2020) showing the characters in Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 books.

I’m grateful to Diane Kelly and her website for most of the cover images for her “Paw Enforcement” series (scroll down to it on the “books” page and click on individual titles for buying options), as well as her author photo. Thanks also to Barnes & Noble for the cover of the first book, Paw Enforcement.

Many thanks to Jodi Burnett and Amazon for the author photo of Burnett and the book covers for the F.B.I. K-9 Series.

I had to be something of a sleuth, myself, to dig down through the pseudonyms and find a decent photo of Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan. I am grateful to ScripType Publishing and photographer J. Kananian for the photo of Laux/Logan (holding The Scent of Murder, no less!). Many thanks to the Mystery Book Series website’s Kylie Logan page, for the book covers of the Jazz Ramsey books.

Many thanks to Margaret Mizushima’s website for both her author photo and the cover images of the “Timber Creek K-9 Mystery” series books. Click on the listings for book descriptions and varied buying options.

And finally, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to Jen J. Danna/Sara Driscoll’s website for the “F.B.I. K9 Novel” series covers, to the “Wording Well” blog, for the photo of Jen J. Danna, and to the “Coffee with a Canine” blog for the photo of The Real Ann Vanderlaan.

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